SEC Notebook: Ole Miss remains in West contention

The Sports Xchange

October 25, 2015 at 2:26 pm.

Oct 24, 2015; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels wide receiver Markell Pack (11) attempts to catch a pass against Texas A&M Aggies defensive back Noel Ellis (4) and Texas A&M Aggies defense back Brandon Williams (21) during the game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 24, 2015; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels wide receiver Markell Pack (11) attempts to catch a pass against Texas A&M Aggies defensive back Noel Ellis (4) and Texas A&M Aggies defense back Brandon Williams (21) during the game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday may have lacked the drama of the past month and what the next two weekends portend in the SEC with Florida-Georgia coming up on Halloween and Alabama-LSU to start November, but the day was not without its moments.

Perhaps Mississippi made the most significant statement.

Ole Miss won what was seen as an “elimination game” in the SEC West with a 23-3 decision over Texas A&M. The win kept the Rebels as a one-loss team in the division race, and the defeat saddled the Aggies with a second SEC setback.

It also was a mental boost for Ole Miss which was coming off a nonconference loss at Memphis the previous week.

“I was really shaken after last week, and it is important for me to set the tone every day,” junior tight end Evan Engram said. “We have great leaders on the team, and the coaching staff does a great job of getting us pumped.

“It is just holding my team accountable to being consistent, 100 percent effort on every play, every drill, every period, and every day.”

With the win the Rebels continue to lurk in the division race.

Already with a victory over Alabama, if it can win out — which would include a victory over LSU in Oxford on Nov. 21 — Ole Miss would represent the West in the SEC Championship Game.

“We have to win each and every day, and we did that this week,” Engram said. “I need to make sure my guys do not get comfortable at all, and we have to keep playing for each other.

“Forget what the media says, and it is a one game season each week.”

In another interesting sidelight, Vanderbilt took what Commodores coach Derek Mason acknowledged as a “big step” with its first SEC victory of the season. It wasn’t a thing of beauty — a 10-3 win over a Missouri team struggling with issues on offense — but it was a big boost to the ‘Dores’ confidence.

“It is definitely a great win, and the first SEC win for coach Mason,” junior linebacker Stephen Weatherly said. “But it’s only the beginning. It’s the first step. We just keep going up, and we will see where this thing takes us. Momentum is key.”

ALABAMA (7-1, 4-1)

Game: Alabama 19, Tennessee 14. RB Derrick Henry scored on a 14-yard run to cap an eight-play, 71-yard drive to give the Crimson Tide the decisive touchdown after the visiting Vols had scored to take a 14-13 lead with less than six minutes remaining in the game. Henry also scored on a 20-yard run in the first quarter en route to 143 yards rushing for the night, the junior’s fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season and 10th of his career.

Takeaway: Alabama put together the drive it needed to get the go-ahead score and the defensive stop it needed to secure its fourth consecutive victory. QB Jake Coker had two big completions on the final Alabama scoring drive (29 yards to WR ArDarius Stewart and 15 to Calvin Ridley, the latter on third down) before turning the game over to Henry for the final three runs. The defense then came up with two sacks on the ensuing Tennessee possession, the second forcing a fumble that allowed the Tide to run out the clock. “We knew it was going to come down to defense,” CB Cyrus Jones said. “We knew the offense was going to make plays when they had to. It was just about execution. We executed when the time was needed.”

Next: Vs. LSU, Nov. 7.

ARKANSAS (3-4, 2-2)

Game: Arkansas 54, Auburn 46 (4OT). Senior QB Brandon Allen threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to WR Drew Morgan and then hit FB Kody Walker for the two-point conversion, and the Razorbacks’ defense sealed the win by holding the visiting Tigers to one yard on four plays on the ensuring series. Allen was 19-of-31 passing for 233 yards and three touchdowns, and RB Alex Collins rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries to lead the Hogs.

Takeaway: Coach Bret Bielema had particular praise for Allen, who in addition to his passing had a net 11 yards on six rushes plus an 11-yard reception. “I can’t say enough about BA,” Bielema said. “We are trying to make him into this athletic quarterback who is even a receiver now. He got banged up on it, but he persevered. I can’t say enough about him. Hopefully, this is a catalyst to finish this thing off on a high note for him.” The Hogs must win three of their last five games to reach the six-win level for bowl eligibility. It won’t be easy. Among their remaining games are outings at Ole Miss and LSU. The Hogs also have home games remaining against UT-Martin, Mississippi State and Missouri.

Next: Vs. Tennessee-Martin, Oct. 31.

AUBURN (4-3, 1-3)

Game: Arkansas 54, Auburn 46 (4OT). The Tigers sent the game into overtime on PK Daniel Carlson’s 41-yard field goal with just four seconds remaining but couldn’t make the plays in the extra periods to finish the job. The Razorbacks scored touchdowns on all four of their possessions and the Tigers couldn’t answer the last one, gaining only one yard and throwing incomplete passes on the next three downs on their final series.

Takeaway: The Tigers were in danger of being blown out early, trailing 14-0 early in the second quarter and with the Razorbacks at Auburn’s 27-yard line. But LB Kris Frost came up with a big interception to end the threat, and momentum seemed to shift Auburn’s way. The Tigers overcame deficits of seven and three points in the fourth quarter to get the game into overtime. “I thought our guys played with a lot of heart, a lot of character,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “Especially to get us to overtime. That was a tough deal.” In losing a third SEC game, the Tigers are out of the division race and at 4-3 need to win two of their last five to become bowl eligible. “We definitely have something to play for,” QB Sean White said. “We have three losses. It’s not the end of the world. Our goal now is to go 9-3. We have plenty of big games left. There’s plenty to play for.”

Next: Vs. Ole Miss, Oct. 31.

FLORIDA (6-1, 4-1)

Game: Idle.

Next: Vs. Georgia, Oct. 31 (at Jacksonville, Fla.)

GEORGIA (5-2, 3-2)

Game: Idle.

Next: Vs. Florida, Oct. 31 (at Jacksonville, Fla.)

KENTUCKY (4-3, 2-3)

Game: Mississippi State 42, Kentucky 16. The Wildcats led 10-7 at the end of the first quarter but gave up three touchdowns to the Bulldogs in the second to fall behind 28-13 at the break. They managed only a field goal in the second half, turning the ball over twice on interceptions.

Takeaway: The key point in the game came when the Wildcats couldn’t cash in on CB Chris Westley’s interception in the second quarter. The Wildcats got two first downs but then were forced to go for a long field goal. PK Alex MacGinnis was good on his first try from 48 yards, but coach Mark Stoops had called a timeout, and MacGinnis was just a bit wide left on his second attempt. The Bulldogs responded with a 69-yard touchdown drive on their ensuing series, then got another score just before the break, setting up the touchdown with the first of their three interceptions for the game. Stoops said the Wildcats had been living on the edge to that point. “We were getting a few stops, but I knew it was going to be difficult and I really wanted to get out of that half,” he said. “I think we threw three incompletes and missed a field goal, and the rest is history from there. It really went downhill from there.”

Next: Vs. Tennessee, Oct. 31.

LSU (7-0, 4-0)

Game: LSU 48, Western Kentucky 20. Sophomore RB Leonard Fournette rushed for 150 yards — his ninth consecutive game in triple digits rushing — and sophomore QB Brandon Harris threw for a career-high 286 yards and three touchdowns on a rainy night in Baton Rouge. The visitors amassed 428 yards in total offense with QB Brandon Doughty completing 37 of a remarkable 61 pass attempts for 325 yards three scores.

Takeaway: The heavily favored Tigers had a fight on their hands for 2 1/2 quarters before finally putting away the visitors. The Hilltoppers pulled to within 17-13 on Doughty’s 39-yard touchdown pass at the 8:36 mark of the third quarter, but LSU responded with PK Trent Domingue’s 43-yard field goal, a short touchdown drive following Nick Brossette’s fumble recovery at the WKU 24-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, and Harris’ 61-yard touchdown pass to freshman WR Tyron Johnson that made it 34-13 entering the fourth quarter. “They made us earn a victory tonight,” coach Les Miles said of the Hilltoppers. “It’s interesting when the opponent keeps playing and throwing the football and we keep answering.”

Next: At Alabama, Nov. 7.

MISSISSIPPI (6-2, 3-1)

Game: Mississippi 23, Texas A&M 3. RB Jaylen Walton rushed for 107 yards and QB Chad Kelly threw for 241 and two touchdowns as the Rebels bounced back from their disappointing loss at Memphis. The Rebels’ defense held the visiting Aggies to just 58 yards rushing and a mere 154 through the air.

Takeaway: The Rebels had an opportunity for a more comfortable victory, but four turnovers — three on interceptions — and 108 yards in penalties stymied their offense. The defense, however, saved the night. The Rebels limited A&M QB Kyle Allen to just 12 completions in 34 attempts, including a streak of 14 consecutive incompletions over the second and third quarters, and the Aggies were only 6-of-20 on third-down conversions. “We defended the run really well,” coach Hugh Freeze said. “We did not finish it as clean as we liked to. Chad had some big plays and some he could improve on. We just have to coach him better. Just extremely happy for our fans and our team.”

Next: At Auburn, Oct. 31.


Game: Mississippi State 42, Kentucky 16. The Bulldogs took command of the game with a 21-point second quarter that resulted in a 28-13 cushion at halftime. The defense clamped down on the Wildcats over the last two quarters, coming up with two interceptions and holding the visitors to 195 yards in total offense with 75 of that coming on Kentucky’s final drive when the issue had already been long decided.

Takeaway: Senior QB Dak Prescott had a big night, completing 25-of-35 passes for 348 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 117 yards and three more scores. The six touchdowns tied Jackie Parker’s school single-game record. “The guys were giving me running lanes,” Prescott said. “It was something I wanted to do. I wanted to take advantage of the lanes they were giving me. It was something I have to do going forward.” The one downer in his performance came in the second quarter when on his 289th pass attempt of the season he was intercepted for the first time in 2015. The Wildcats didn’t get any points from the takeaway, however, and Prescott made up for the mistake by guiding the Bulldogs on a five-play, 69-yard scoring drive that gave his team a 21-10 lead.

Next: At Missouri, Nov. 5.

MISSOURI (4-4, 1-4)

Game: Vanderbilt 10, Missouri 3. The Tigers managed only 188 yards in total offense and saw their last drive for the potential tying or go-ahead score end at Vandy’s 13-yard line when QB Drew Lock’s final three passes were incomplete. That was the deepest penetration of the game for the Tigers, who got their only points on PK Andrew Baggett’s 35-yard field goal when a drive late in the second quarter stalled at Vandy’s 18-yard line.

Takeaway: LB Kentrell Brothers had another huge night for the Tigers. He record 12 tackles, including a big fourth-down sack on fourth-and-one to end a Vandy drive at Mizzou’s 40-yard line. “We’re frustrated because we’re playing really good defense and poor on offense,” coach Gary Pinkell said. Missouri was 0-for-14 in converting third downs and had seven series of three-and-outs in 12 possessions. “We get really tired, that’s for sure,” Brothers said. “When we are on the sideline, after we catch our breath, the first thing we do is catch some corrections. If it is three-and-out, three-and-out, like a couple times tonight, then we are right back on the field.”

Next: Vs. Mississippi State, Nov. 5.


Game: Idle.

Next: At Texas A&M, Oct. 31.

TENNESSEE (3-4, 1-3)

Game: Alabama 19, Tennessee 14. Tennessee got 92 yards and a touchdown rushing from RB Jaylen Hurd and QB Joshua Dobbs passed for 171 and another score, but the Vols couldn’t stop Bama after taking a 14-13 lead late in the fourth quarter. The Tide marched 71 yards on 14 plays for the decisive score, and the Vols managed only one first down on the ensuing drive before surrendering two sacks, the last resulting in a lost fumble that allowed the Tide to run out the clock.

Takeaway: Every loss is painful, coach Butch Jones said, but he also could see hope for the future after his team’s gritty performance on the road against the Tide. “We’re going through some growing pains right now, but I see great progress,” Jones said. “It’s about closing games out, making critical plays when the game is on the line. But, we’ve got a group of resilient young men in that locker room and I hurt for them. We all hurt together, but we’re going to come back to work tomorrow and continue to improve and get stronger from it and continue to progress and move forward.” Dobbs said the Vols simply must put the loss behind them. “We can’t let this loss beat us twice,” he said. “We have to be ready to go, because Kentucky doesn’t really care about what happened this weekend.”

Next: At Kentucky, Oct. 31.

TEXAS A&M (5-2, 2-2)

Game: Mississippi 23, Texas A&M 3. The Aggies never could get anything going offensively, managing only 192 yards in total offense with just 58 on the ground. They lost three turnovers — two on fumbles — and QB Kyle Allen was only 12-of-34 passing for just 88 yards before giving way to QB Jake Hubenak, a sophomore junior college transfer who was seeing action in just his second game.

Takeaway: As if the problems the Aggies were having trying to get their running and passing games going weren’t enough, they compounded those problems with penalties. Many were on defense, but the offense had issues with flags as well, like a false start that turned a third-and-2 into a third-and-7 on their very first series. “We couldn’t move the ball, turnovers, penalties,” coach Kevin Sumlin said. “We couldn’t get off the field fast enough on defense in the first half. We did get opportunities we had at midfield or short field, but we weren’t able to stay on the field and move the football.” The second conference loss, especially to another West contender, puts the Aggies on the outside looking in as far as the division race is concerned.

Next: Vs. South Carolina, Oct. 31.

VANDERBILT (3-4, 1-3)

Game: Vanderbilt 10, Missouri 3. The defense was in command all game and came up with a big stop on Mizzou’s final series to preserve Vandy’s first SEC win of the season, ending an 11-game losing streak in conference play. The Commodores got their only touchdown on RB Ralph Webb’s one-yard run that capped a 72-yard drive in the first quarter.

Takeaway: Vanderbilt ran the ball 49 times for 168 yards and passed it only 28 times with 17 completions good for a mere 136 yards. But the emphasis on ball possession helped the Commodores limit the visiting Tigers to just 53 plays that were good for only 188 yards in total offense. “From what I’m seeing in this conference, the game will be close,” coach Derek Mason said. “If you can run the ball, you give yourself a chance.” The effectiveness showed on Missouri’s last drive, which took the Tigers from their own 20-yard line to Vandy’s 13 in the final minute. “We kept them out of the end zone, but then again we want to hold them to the minimal amount of yards,” LB Darreon Herring said. “There were some mental mistakes and bad coverages on our end, but it’s nothing we can’t fix for the next game.”

Next: At Houston, Oct. 31.


–Mississippi and Texas A&M combined for seven turnovers Saturday, with three coming in an 11-second span late in the second quarter of the Rebels’ 23-3 victory.

First, A&M’s Christian Kirk muffed a punt and C Will Few recovered for the Rebels at the Aggies’ 24-yard line. Then, on first down, A&M S Armani Watts wrestled the ball away from Ole Miss RB Jordan Wilkins, giving the Aggies possession at their own 14.

Then QB Kyle Allen’s pass on the following play was picked off by Ole Miss CB Kendarius Webster, and the Rebels had the ball back at the A&M 22-yard line.

After one first down, however, the Rebels stalled at A&M’s four-yard line and settled for a field goal and a 16-3 halftime lead.

–It didn’t take long for LSU to start looking ahead after getting the 44-20 victory over Western Kentucky. The Tigers have a bye week coming up before visiting Alabama the first week in November.

“We’re very excited,” senior right tackle Vadal Alexander said minutes after the win over the Hilltoppers was secured. “I’m excited to get the work in to prepare for the game. We are going to be focusing during these next couple weeks.

“We’ll be ready.”

Junior WR Travin Dural agreed that the Tigers are ready for the Crimson Tide.

“We are a lot more prepared,” he said. “We’re getting better every week. The bye week is going to help us out a lot. It will give us a chance to get off our feet and rest a little while.”

–Alabama also is looking forward to its first bye week of the season before playing host to LSU.

“We were tired out there today, and we didn’t look really quick or fast,” coach Nick Saban said after the 19-14 victory over Tennessee. “We didn’t have a lot of energy like we usually do, and I think that’s due to playing eight games in a row.

“The best thing I can say is that you have to really respect a team that finds a way to win and makes plays when they have to make plays.”

–The four overtimes Arkansas and Auburn played made their meeting the longest game of the season in the SEC. But it doesn’t even make the top three in Razorbacks history.

The Razorbacks twice have played seven-overtime affairs, beating Mississippi 58-56 in 2001 and Kentucky 71-63 in 2003. They are the two longest games in NCAA history. In between, in 2002, the Hogs lost a six-overtime duel 41-38 to Tennessee.

The 54-46 win over the Tigers thus will go down as the fourth-longest in Arkansas history and gives the Hogs a 10-5 record in overtime affairs.

“Well, I’m glad the game was at 11 or else we would be here until midnight,” Hogs coach Bret Bielema said, noting the early kickoff time.

–Vanderbilt gave true freshman QB Kyle Shurmur his first collegiate start when the Commodores hosted Missouri. He is the seventh true freshman to start at the position in school history, joining Wade Freeback (2014), David Wallace (1998), Kenny Simon (1993), John Gromos (1985), Tim Richardson (1985), and Mike Wright (1975).

Shurmur was 10-of-20 passing for 89 yards and had 11 yards in losses on three rushes (two sacks) in Vandy’s 10-3 win.

“I have a lot of work to do, for sure,” he said. “I’m glad we got the win. The older guys stepped up and helped me the whole entire way.”

Shurmur shared time with sophomore Johnny McCrary, who was 7-of-8 passing for 47 yards.

“We wanted to get Kyle comfortable,” coach Derek Mason said. “It wasn’t pretty, but what you saw is that this guy is going to be good, just like Johnny. Our rotation was two series for Shurmer, one series for Johnny, and then we’d see what happens.”
–Mississippi welcomed offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil back to its lineup for the first time this season. Tunsil, rated a top NFL draft prospect, had been sidelined while eligibility issues regarding his status. The NCAA finally decided to dock him with a seven-game suspension, which ended last week and allowed him to play against Texas A&M.

Coach Hugh Freeze held off on grading Tunsil’s performance, but it was significant that A&M DE Myles Garrett, who came into the night with 8.5 sacks, didn’t have any against the Rebels.

“I can’t tell what exactly happens on every play,” Freeze said. “However, that was a great matchup of two quality players that are two of the best in the country, and he handled it very well.

“I can’t tell exactly, but having him back and having everyone in their regular spot that we planned on having them at the start of the year helped our offense rush the ball against a defense that hasn’t given up much this season except their previous game — I believe part of that being because of Laremy’s return.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I love it. I’ll sleep well every night. Some people want to see high-scoring games. Two weeks from now, it’ll still be 10-3 and will still be a win.” — Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason on the Commodores’ victory in the low-scoring affair with Missouri.



1. Mississippi showed new life in its win over Texas A&M. After the lackluster win over Vanderbilt and losses to Florida and Memphis following the win over Alabama (ignoring the rout of hapless New Mexico State), the Rebels looked very much a contender again with the return of LT Laremy Tunsil and a revitalized defense.

2. Kentucky’s season may be at a tipping point. The Wildcats’ two previous defeats were by a total of eight points, which raised hopes of a bowl game in their future, but the 26-point thrashing at Mississippi State raises some doubts about that prospect.

3. Is Texas A&M’s 2015 campaign headed for a repeat of 2014? The Aggies were 5-0 with Alabama coming to town but now have lost two in a row, which might evoke memories of last year when they also started 5-0 before losing five of their last seven regular-season games.

4. Arkansas has this multiple-overtime thing down pretty good after its four-OT win over Auburn. If opponents have the option of going for a two-point conversion and a potential win or kicking a PAT for a tie late against the Razorbacks, they might give the two-point play more consideration than usual.

5. Is the replay official paid by the review in the SEC? Eight times the Vanderbilt-Missouri game was stopped for reviews with four plays getting overturned, including the opening kickoff return which both teams had assumed had been fumbled and lost by the Tigers.