SEC Notebook: Tide downs LSU; Gators win East

The Sports Xchange

November 08, 2015 at 7:22 pm.

Nov 7, 2015; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) leaps over Alabama Crimson Tide defense during the fourth quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama won 30-16. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 7, 2015; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) leaps over Alabama Crimson Tide defense during the fourth quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama won 30-16. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The SEC East race was settled Saturday.

Florida’s hard-fought 9-7 victory over Vanderbilt punched the Gators’ ticket to Atlanta and the conference title game on Dec. 5.

The West?

Officially, it is still open, but Alabama’s dominating 30-16 victory over previously unbeaten LSU left little doubt about the Crimson Tide’s chances.

With a 5-1 league mark, the Tide still has some work to do. LSU, with a 4-1 conference record after losing for the first time this season, and even Ole Miss (after its loss to Arkansas) and Mississippi State (after its victory at Missouri) with two league losses each, are still mathematically alive.

But the way things went in Tuscaloosa, who is going to doubt the Tide now?

It’s a rhetorical question. You needn’t bother answering.

“I was really proud of our team, the way they competed in the game today,” Bama coach Nick Saban said. “They really did everything we ask them to do.”

No doubt about that. The Tide shredded the Tigers with 434 yards of total offense and held LSU to just 182, allowing LSU Heisman candidate Leonard Fournette only 31 net yards on 19 carries. That works out to a 1.6 per-carry average. He was averaging 7.7 coming into the game.

As late as the fourth quarter Fournette had more carries (15) than rushing yards (13) until finally breaking loose for an 18-yard gain, his longest of the evening.

“I’d like to tell you there were well-blocked holes. I’d like to tell you that we gave Leonard an opportunity to run. I don’t know if we did that,” LSU coach Les Miles said, as reported by the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate. “We’ll have to see. I’m not putting it all on the offensive line either — maybe some of the things we did and it may have been Alabama. I noticed several plays where they were right there sitting on top of us.”

Back to the East, Florida was expected to coast in as the division champion but needed a late field goal to escape with a win over Vanderbilt, a struggle that is sure to raise the voices of some critics.

But not first-year coach Jim McElwain.

“We can talk and talk and talk about all of the mistakes, the what-ifs, the whys,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, there was a group of guys in that locker room that gave everything they had for this university and the state of Florida to win that ballgame.”

ALABAMA (8-1, 5-1)

Game: Alabama 30, LSU 16. After a scoreless first quarter, the Crimson Tide went to the locker room up only 13-10 at halftime, but senior LB Dillon Lee’s interception on LSU’s first play from scrimmage of the second half set the Tide up in business at the Tigers’ 28-yard line. Junior RB Derrick Henry scored the second of his three touchdowns to put the Tide firmly in control with a double-digit lead.

Takeaway: Yes, the Tide amassed an impressive 434 yards of total offense against an LSU defense that was holding its opponents to about 316 a game, but it was Bama’s defense that dominated the night in Tuscaloosa. The Tide held the Tigers to just 182 total yards (302 below their average). “We did a good job up front on defense in stopping their running game,” coach Nick Saban said. “They did hit a few big play passes on us. In the first half, they quick-snapped us a couple times. They were kind of messing with the substitutions, and we were getting in late and not getting lined up and they hit a couple big plays on us. Other than that, it was really a well-played game by our team.”

Next: At Mississippi State, Nov. 14.

ARKANSAS (5-4, 3-2)

Game: Arkansas 53, Mississippi 52 (OT). Senior QB Brandon Allen threw a nine-yard touchdown pass in overtime, then given a second chance because of a face-mask penalty against Ole Miss on the extra point try, capped the win with a cutback run for the two-point conversion and the win. Allen passed for a career-high 442 yards and a school-record six touchdowns to lead the Razorbacks to a third consecutive victory.

Takeaway: Hogs coach Bret Bielema had his mind made up that his team would go for two points after scoring in the first overtime. He actually had given some consideration to going for two after scoring the tying touchdown with 53 seconds left in regulation. “But I didn’t want to put that on our guys mine before that series,” Bielema said. “I said before we started overtime, be prepared to go for the two- point conversion. During the long delay” — officials reviewed Alex Collins’ fumble on fourth down in the overtime to get the correct spot — “I told the players if we make this touchdown, stay on the field and go for it.” Bielema had particular praise for Allen and his play. “He is an example of a gladiator,” Bielema said. “He made some adjusted throws, and he was accurate all day long.”

Next: At LSU, Nov. 14.

AUBURN (5-4, 2-4)

Game: Auburn 26, Texas A&M 10. The Tigers jumped on the Aggies early, scoring their first two possessions for a quick 14-3 lead and putting together a season-high 443 yards in total offense sparked by a season-high 311 rushing yards. The defense held the Aggies to just 303 yards for the night, forcing A&M into a punt and a turnover on downs on its only two possessions in the fourth quarter.

Takeaway: QB Jeremy Johnson came back in a big way in the win over the Aggies. The junior who was supposed to lead the Tigers to the SEC crown but instead lost his starting job after three games, was back in the role in place of an injured Sean White. He met the challenge with a steady all-around game, going 13-of-17 passing for 132 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions — the latter the problem that had cost him his job. Despite facing one of the top pass rushing teams in the conference led by DE Myles Garrett, the nation’s No. 3 sack leader, Johnson wasn’t caught behind the line of scrimmage once. Afterward, he said he was having fun. “That’s the biggest thing I was missing at the beginning of the season,” he said. “I was just too uptight. Keeping a smile on my face made things better.” Coach Gus Malzahn didn’t tell Johnson he was starting until the Thursday before the game. “He just did a phenomenal job running the offense,” Malzahn said. “He really played well.”

Next: Vs. Georgia, Nov. 14.

FLORIDA (8-1, 6-1)

Game: Florida 9, Vanderbilt 7. Junior PK Austin Hardin’s 43-yard field goal with 2:22 remaining after a shanked punt gave the Gators a short field to work with and provided the decisive points. Florida scored a touchdown in the first quarter on junior RB Kelvin Taylor’s 3-yard run, but turned the ball over on four of its next 10 possessions, including junior WR Demarcus Robinson’s fumble at Vandy’s 12-yard line early in the fourth quarter, and managed only 93 yards rushing and 165 passing.

Takeaway: Florida has clinched the East Division title and berth in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, but to have a chance to get into the College Football Playoff picture it’s obvious the Gators are going to have to pick up the pace offensively. This was the third time in the last four games the Gators have failed to get over the 100-yard mark in rushing, and the 165 yards passing gives them only 320 yards through the air the last two games combined. “Obviously, we have a long ways to go on our offense,” coach Jim McElwain said. “Don’t take anything away from what they did on defense. They took it to us upfront. They didn’t do anything to us that we didn’t see, other than beat us to the punch. When you are on a championship run — let’s call it what it is, we are on a championship run — sometimes there are games like this, and champions figure out ways to win them.”

Next: At South Carolina, Nov. 14.

GEORGIA (6-3, 4-3)

Game: Georgia 27, Kentucky 3. The Bulldogs led only 10-3 at halftime but scored touchdowns on their first two possessions of the third quarter to break the game open. The Bulldogs rushed for 300 yards with sophomore TB Sony Michel going for a career-high 165 on 24 carries.

Takeaway: Georgia’s defense throttled Kentucky’s offense, holding the visiting Wildcats to just 180 yards in total offense, including a meager 79 on the ground. Georgia’s dominance on the ground helped the Bulldogs run off 71 plays to Kentucky’s 47. “I was very pleased with what happened up front,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It was a line-of-scrimmage game, and we won in the trenches today on both sides of the ball. We had a situation where we had a comfortable lead, and we were able to pound the ball and chew up the clock.”

Next: At Auburn, Nov. 14.

KENTUCKY (4-5, 2-5)

Game: Georgia 27, Kentucky 3. The Wildcats never could get their offense in gear, managed only 180 yards in total offense against the Bulldogs, a season low and the fewest since they had only 170 in a loss to Alabama on Oct, 12, 2013. QB Patrick Towles was only 8-of-21 passing for 96 yards with two interceptions.

Takeaway: After winning four of their first five games, the Wildcats have lost their last four and must win two of their final three (Vanderbilt, Charlotte, and Louisville) to get to the six-win level required for bowl eligibility. “We have three games left so we just have to keep our heads up so we don’t have the same results as last year,” junior RB Jojo Kemp said, referring to the six-game skid that closed out last season. “Our guys will come back to practice on Monday and just keep fighting. We will continue to work and get better.” Coach Mark Stoops called the setback “a very difficult loss, tough to swallow.” It wasn’t just the offensive problems that led to the loss. “As I said over and over again, we’re certainly not built to win a game on any one side,” he said. “We need to play well on offense, defense and special teams. We really didn’t play well enough on any one side to win.”

Next: At Vanderbilt, Nov. 14.

LSU (7-1, 4-1)

Game: Alabama 30, LSU 16. After a slow start, the Tigers trailed only 13-10 at the half after Bama’s Adam Griffith kicked a 55-yard field goal just 14 seconds before the break. But sophomore QB Brandon Harris’ interception on the first play of the third quarter gave the Tide a cheap touchdown to start the second half, and the Tigers never recovered, falling behind 30-10 before getting a late touchdown.

Takeaway: With the Tide bottling up sophomore RB Leonard Fournette, limiting him to just 31 yards on 19 rushes, it fell up on Harris to open things up with the passing game. Harris had a 37-yard strike to junior WR Travin Dural early and a 40-yard touchdown pass to Dural for a second-quarter touchdown but otherwise struggled. He was only 6-of-19 passing for 128 yards and in addition to the interception was sacked twice. “If Brandon Harris would have just ran the edge, that’s a different play,” coach Less Miles said of the key pick. “I think that’s some growth there that needs to take place on offense.”

Next: Vs. Arkansas, Nov. 14.

MISSISSIPPI (7-3, 4-2)

Game: Arkansas 53, Mississippi 52 (OT). The Rebels seemed to have things well in hand after backing up Arkansas into a fourth-and-25 situation in overtime while holding a 52-45 lead, but the Hogs converted the play into a first down with RB Alex Collins taking a lateral to the 11-yard line. The Rebels then gave up a touchdown and gave the Hogs a second chance for their decisive two-point conversion because of a face-mask penalty by sophomore DE Marquis Haynes that negated his sack.

Takeaway: Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze called the finish to his team’s loss a “very difficult way to the end the game.” The Rebels were nearly unstoppable on offense, rushing for 222 yards and getting 368 yards passing from junior QB Chad Kelly, but they had little success trying to stop the Razorbacks. The visiting Hogs had 605 yards in total offense and took just eight plays to drive 75 yards for the tying touchdown after the Rebels had taken a 45-38 lead with 4:55 left in regulation. “The number of big plays that we gave up was very disheartening,” Freeze said. “They all rose up at the end to get it done, then the craziness occurred. We obviously just did not play very well.” The visiting Hogs dominated time of possession, holding the ball for just over 41 minutes of the game. “We had a good plan offensively, and we just didn’t get nearly enough possessions or snaps,” Freeze said. “Arkansas controlled a large portion of the game for sure.”

Next: Vs. LSU, Nov. 21.


Game: Mississippi State 31, Missouri 13. The Bulldogs put the game away with a 17-point third quarter after going to the locker room up only 14-13 at the halftime break. Senior QB Dak Prescott threw for two touchdowns in the period and the ‘Dogs held the Tigers to just 161 yards in total offense in the second half, including only 27 in the third quarter.

Takeaway: The Bulldogs had two receivers go over 100 yards for the night with junior WR Fred Ross getting 115 on 11 catches and junior WR De’Runnya Wilson 102 on four receptions to account for 217 yards of Prescott’s 303 passing. “I’m really pleased with how we came out in the second half offensively,” coach Dan Mullen said. “We executed. We were able to stay pretty balanced, running and passing in the second half, even though we were run heavy in that fourth quarter.” The Bulldogs now have won four in a row going into the season’s critical closing stretch run against Alabama (home), Arkansas (road), and Mississippi (road).

Next: Vs. Alabama, Nov. 14.

MISSOURI (4-5, 1-5)

Game: Mississippi State 31, Missouri 13. The Tigers were within one point at the half when senior TB Russell Hansbrough capped a 77-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run with less than two minutes left in the second quarter. But after falling back 21-13 when the Bulldogs scored on their first possession of the third period, the Tigers turned the ball over when QB Drew Lock’s first-down pass was intercepted. The visitors then cashed in with a field goal and added another touchdown their next possession to complete a 17-point third quarter that broke the game open.

Takeaway: At least the Tigers scored a touchdown in this one. Hansbrough’s score was the first Missouri touchdown dating back to Oct. 3 in the fourth quarter of against South Carolina, which coincidentally is the date of their last victory. That covers a span of 13 quarters and 47 consecutive series. They also found a running game in rushing for a season-high 215 yards. “Russell looked better last week then he did all the last week in practice,” coach Gary Pinkell said. “My comment was on Thursday that it’s the best week he’s had since he got hurt. He played like that a little bit.” Hansbrough finished with 62 yards on 16 carries, third on the team behind senior TB Tyler Hunt’s 85 on six runs and sophomore TB Ish Witter’s 81 on 12 runs. “Tyler Hunt came out and did some good things,” Pinkel said. “Ish did some good things. Just not executing well enough.”

Next: Vs. BYU at Kansas City, Nov. 14.


Game: Tennessee 27, South Carolina 24. South Carolina overcame deficits of 17-0 and 24-17 but couldn’t answer after the Vols took what would be their final lead of three points in the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks had to punt on their first two series after that but were moving the ball on their final possession when senior tight end Jerrel Adams fumbled at Tennessee’s 18-yard line with just 42 seconds left in the game after fighting for more yardage out of a 25-yard reception.

Takeaway: Interim coach Shawn Elliott lamented what he called “bonehead plays” that led to his team’s early deficit against Tennessee. The Gamecocks missed a field goal after recovering a Volunteer fumble at Tennessee’s 32-yard line on their third series and turned the ball over on downs at Tennessee’s 30-yard line after losing three yards on two plays after facing third-and-2 at the 27. “You call a pass protection and you hand the football off,” Elliott said. “I’m not really sure what the communication error was with some of those things.” Elliott used LB Johnathan Walton in a three-back set on offense, and the junior responded with a 10-yard reception for a touchdown and could have had another earlier in the game. “Just some things that uncharacteristically were happening,” Elliott said. “You’re not too hyped. You’re not too ready to go out and play. The focus should have been better.”

Next: Vs. Florida, Nov. 14.

TENNESSEE (5-4, 3-3)

Game: Tennessee 27, South Carolina 24. Sophomore PK Aaron Medley kicked a 27-yard field goal with 9:14 left in the game to break a 24-24 tie, and the Vols made that stand up for the win after recovering a fumble on the Gamecocks’ final drive. Junior QB Joshua Dobbs passed for 255 yards and two touchdowns as the Vols moved to within one win of bowl eligibility.

Takeaway: The Vols blew a double-digit lead for the fourth time this season but this time recovered in time to get the win. They were up 17-0 in the second quarter before the Gamecocks came back to tie it and led 24-17 in the third quarter before the visitors tied it at 24-24 going into the final quarter. After going up by three points in the fourth, the Vols stopped the South Carolina’s final drive when junior NB Malik Foreman forced a fumble at Tennessee’s 13-yard line in the final minute and junior LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin recovered, denying the Gamecocks the opportunity for the win or tie. “Well, what can I say?” coach Butch Jones said. “We found a way to win. This is a week-to-week league. That’s why it’s the toughest conference in all of college football. I’m proud of our players. We had a number of individuals step up and make critical plays at critical moments of the game.”

Next: Vs. North Texas, Nov. 14.

TEXAS A&M (6-3, 3-3)

Game: Auburn 26, Texas A&M 10. Early mistakes helped put the Aggies in an early 14-3 hole, and they never really got their offense moving on a consistent basis against the Tigers. The Aggies had only 303 yards in total offense — which was eight fewer yards than Auburn had on the ground alone — a week after Kyler Murray had amassed 379 yards running and passing all by himself in a 35-28 victory over South Carolina.

Takeaway: As if three turnovers weren’t harmful enough all by themselves, the Aggies magnified their impact with two of Murray’s picks coming in the end zone in the first quarter, denying the Aggies what could have been game-changing touchdowns. Their third interception came on A&M’s first drive of the third quarter. “Turnovers were the difference,” said coach Kevin Sumlin whose Aggies have lost three of their last four after starting out by winning their first five games. “We lost the turnover battle 3-0 and we gave up over 300 yards rushing. It’s hard to win a game that way.” The Aggies lost Murray to an undisclosed injury in the third quarter when he went to the locker room and never returned. “Once you take a guy inside and he doesn’t come back out, he’s not available to play,” Sumlin said. Sophomore QB Jake Hubenak took over but couldn’t get anything going either, going 5-of-12 passing for just 32 yards.

Next: Vs. Western Carolina, Nov. 14.

VANDERBILT (3-6, 1-4)

Game: Florida 9, Vanderbilt 7. The Commodores had the Gators on the ropes for over 57 minutes, leading 7-6 until Florida junior PK Austin Hardin kicked a 43-yard field goal for the deciding points with just 2:22 remaining in the game. Sophomore RB Ralph Webb got Vandy’s score on a 74-yard run in the second quarter on his way to 118 yards, his second 100-yard rushing game of the season.

Takeaway: The defense, obviously, was outstanding for the Commodores and could have resulted in a win if the offense had been able to get much of anything going. The Commodores held the Gators to just 258 yards in total offense, but the ‘Dores managed only 175 themselves, a season low and their second straight game under the 200 mark. “I thought we played extremely hard, and I think these guys did a great job of staying in there, hanging in there, working hard to compete through downs,” coach Derek Mason said. “We did exactly what we said we needed to do in order to stay in this ballgame. We didn’t turn the ball over, and we wanted to stay ahead of the chains. We just didn’t make enough dynamic plays in the passing game, and that’s what this game came down to.” Sophomore QB Johnny McCrary was only 3-of-14 passing for 30 yards.

Next: Vs. Kentucky, Nov. 14.


–LSU sophomore RB Leonard Fournette may have been the SEC’s top Heisman candidate entering the night, but Alabama junior RB Derrick Henry looked to have assumed that role after the Crimson Tide’s 30-16 victory Saturday.

Fournette managed only 31 yards on 19 carries with 18 of them coming on one play late in the game after the issue was no longer in doubt.

Henry, however, smashed his way to 210 yards on 28 carries and scored three touchdowns to Fournette’s one.

“The guy’s having a great year,” coach Nick Saban said. “He had a great game today. It couldn’t have happened at a better time against a very good defensive team.

“But I think he’d be the first one to tell you that the offensive line did a really good job today, and I think it was the whole offensive team being well prepared for what they did and going out and blocking their front. He did a great job of carrying the ball, so it was special.”

Henry finished in triple-digits in rushing for the sixth time this season and 12th time in his career. He has rushed for 1,254 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.

“Everybody did a great job — tight ends, receivers, just everybody did a great job,” Henry said of the support he got from his teammates. “We had success, and we played physical. That’s what we did all week, that’s how we practiced all week.

“How we wanted to play was to come out here and do what we just did.”

–In a year of wild finishes (i.e., Michigan State’s blocked punt and return against Michigan, Georgia Tech’s return of a missed field goal for the winning score against Florida State, Miami’s series of laterals on the decisive kickoff return against Duke), Arkansas came up with its own version in the overtime win over Mississippi.

The play didn’t result in a touchdown but was a still a very big one.

Trailing 52-45 in overtime and facing fourth-and-25 at the 40-yard line, QB Brandon Allen completed a 14-yard pass to TE Hunter Henry, who tossed the ball backward 16 yards before being tackled far short of the first-down marker.

There RB Alex Collins picked up the ball and raced across and down the field inside the 10-yard line, where he fumbled. But WR Dominique Reed recovered for the Hogs at the 11-yard line, and Arkansas had new life.

The Hogs scored and then eschewed the kick for the tying extra point, getting the two-point conversion on their second try when Allen punched it in for the 53-52 victory.

Collins said he thought the game was over when the Ole Miss defender was closing in on Henry.

“Next thing I know, I see the ball flying through the sky,” Collins said. “My first thought was, ‘Let’s try to make something happen out of this.’ I just ran for my life out there to try to get the first down.'”

Collins gave Henry credit for his quick thinking.

“If I put myself in his position,” Collins said, “I wouldn’t have thought to throw the ball back.”

–An unsteady kicking situation made Florida coach Jim McElwain issue a call for kickers to try out after the Gators lost PK Jorge Powell to a knee injury recently, and Neil MacInnes, a dental student, won the contest.

But when MacInnes missed the extra point after the Gators scored their only touchdown against Vanderbilt, McElwain went with junior Austin Harden for the crucial field goal try in the fourth quarter. Harden had made only three of his seven attempts for the season, but his kick from 43 yards was true and provided the decisive points in Florida’s 9-7 victory over the Commodores.

McElwain said it was in the plan all along for MacInnes to handle the shorter field goal tries, Hardin the longer ones.

“He’s got a stronger leg,” McElwain said of Harden, “and he just went in and did his job.”

Hardin has been handling kickoffs since Powell’s injury and has nine touchbacks among his 15 attempts.

–Sophomore SS Dominick Sanders had a big day for Georgia, coming up with two interceptions for the Bulldogs in their 27-3 victory over Kentucky. He turned the ball right back over to Kentucky on a fumble at the end of his 24-yard return, but his 38-yard return after his second interception set up Georgia’s second field goal.

“I wanted it pretty bad,” Sanders said of his second pick. “That’s how I felt. It is just fun anytime you get an interception. I just kept my eyes on the quarterback and was able to break on the ball and get it.”

Sanders leads the Bulldogs in interceptions with four.

“If you watch him in practice, he’s always picking off balls,” coach Mark Richt said. “He’s got great ball skills and instincts to know when and where the quarterback is going to throw it. He’s not afraid to go make a play. He can break on the ball and catch it when he gets there.”

–It’s getting late in the season but Auburn RB Jovon Robinson is beginning to show what the Tigers were missing when he was struggling with early injuries.

The junior college transfer who was seen as a potential starter for the Tigers before the season rushed for 159 yards in the 26-10 win over Texas A&M, giving him 250 yards rushing his last two games.

“Jovon Robinson got off to a very good start, broke some tackles, ran through some things,” coach Gus Malzahn said.

Robinson scored from a yard out to cap a nine-play, 80-yard drive and give the Tigers a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “The guy is sitting there in tears because it hurt him so bad. You just tell him you love him and pick him up and you move forward. That’s why I grabbed him and said, ‘You’re coming with me and were going down here to sing.’ That’s all you can do, I don’t fault him. He was trying to win the game. That’s what I want us to do.” — South Carolina interim coach Shawn Elliott, referring to TE Jerell Adams after Adams’ fumble at the Tennessee 18-yard line on the Gamecocks’ final possession in a 27-24 loss.



1. Never count out Alabama in September. The Crimson Tide looked to be in early trouble after losing to Mississippi at home in the season’s first month but, just as Alabama did a year ago, it recovered quite nicely and now has the inside track to the West Division title and a spot in the SEC title game.

2. As Yogi Berra might have said, it seems to be deja vu all over again for Texas A&M. After starting 5-0, the Aggies have lost three of their last four games, putting them on track to duplicate their 2014 season when they started 5-0 and finished the regular season 7-5.

3. What happened to the Ole Miss defense? The Rebels made Arkansas QB Brandon Allen, who admittedly has had a decent season, look like a Heisman favorite after the senior threw for six touchdowns in leading the Hogs to 605 yard in total offense.

4. Hold off delivering that Heisman to Baton Rouge. LSU’s Leonard Fournette never could get untracked against Alabama’s defense and looked no better than the second-best running back on the field when stacked up against Bama’s Derrick Henry.

5. The Iron Bowl suddenly looks a lot more interesting. Alabama was looking like a lock for its meeting on Nov. 28 at Auburn, but if those were the real Tigers seen dominating against Texas A&M, it’s not going to be the walk-through for the Crimson Tide that it looked like earlier in the season.