Paschall: SEC division leaders not exactly surprise teams

University of Georgia photo / Georgia linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson (10) and the Bulldogs made life miserable for Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary on Saturday night, holding the Wildcats to 183 yards in the 51-13 rout.
University of Georgia photo / Georgia linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson (10) and the Bulldogs made life miserable for Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary on Saturday night, holding the Wildcats to 183 yards in the 51-13 rout.

Only two Southeastern Conference football programs remain undefeated in league play following October's first full weekend.

Perhaps you've heard of them.

Georgia and Alabama, which have combined to claim the past three national championships, won in very different ways Saturday to stay perfect within the SEC. Kirby Smart's Bulldogs routed Kentucky 51-13 inside Sanford Stadium, while Nick Saban's Crimson Tide were often their own worst enemies at Texas A&M's imposing Kyle Field, but they overcame their miscues and the Aggies 26-20.

Kentucky, Texas A&M and Missouri had been undefeated in conference action entering the weekend, but Mizzou succumbed to visiting LSU 49-39 after building a 22-7 lead in the second quarter.

The Bulldogs banished their slow-starting woes — they had an aggregate first-quarter score of 17-17 through their first five games against UT Martin, Ball State, South Carolina, UAB and Auburn — by reeling off 38 first-half plays for 384 yards (10.1 yards per play) and scoring on their first six possessions for a 34-7 lead at the break.

"I think we can do it at all levels with the run game and pass game, and our offensive line showed that," Georgia quarterback Carson Beck told reporters after throwing for a career-best 389 yards and four touchdowns and after connecting with all-universe tight end Brock Bowers seven times for 132 yards and a score. "To be able to hand the ball off, then go play-action and suck them up and throw it over their head — obviously it helps when you have guys making plays with you and getting contested catches.

"I think we definitely had a better game as far as having a complete performance."

Smart credited the offensive staff for a great plan — the Mike Bobo doubters do seem a bit quiet right now — and provided a very interesting quote regarding receiver Rara Thomas. The transfer from Mississippi State had five catches for 63 yards and a touchdown Saturday night.

"He's the biggest guy who can change our offense," Smart said in his news conference. "Obviously Brock is special and Carson has played well. There are a lot of guys who can do things, but it loosens a defense up when you've got a guy over there at the 'X' who can win some one-on-ones.

"If he comes to life and keeps growing like he's done, he makes us harder to defend."

Georgia finished with 608 total yards in improving to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the SEC, but equally impressive was a defense that held Kentucky to 183 yards.

"The only good thing about this beatdown is that it only counts as one loss," Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said.

Alabama, meanwhile, found itself down 17-10 at halftime before using a 16-3 second-half surge to defeat the Aggies for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons. Former Georgia receiver Jermaine Burton erupted to amass nine catches for 197 yards and two touchdowns, while the Crimson Tide held Texas A&M to 103 second-half yards, including 15 on the ground.

Saban's Tide overcame two turnovers and 14 penalties for 99 yards in improving to 5-1 overall and 3-0 within the league.

"I could never be more proud of a group of guys for the way they competed in the game," Saban said. "The message going into the game was, 'Don't give the other team anything, play with poise, and stay focused,' and there were times in the game I thought we lost our poise a little bit, but in the second half, I thought we competed and did a fantastic job.

"We overcame a lot of adversity that we created for ourselves. This may be a record game for me in terms of messing up and still winning."

The quickest comparison that came to this noggin was the 24-22 win at Auburn two years ago in four overtimes. Alabama had only one turnover that day but had 129 penalty yards.

In the Tide's losses at Tennessee and LSU last season, they had a turnover in each game and 26 combined penalties for 222 yards.

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Using comparative results against Kentucky, the Bulldogs will beat Florida by 57 points.

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Billy Napier's Gators did bounce back from their 33-14 debacle in Lexington with a 38-14 thumping of Vanderbilt in the Swamp.

For Clark Lea's Commodores, that means the two SEC teams they defeated last year — Kentucky and Florida — have avenged those defeats by 41 combined points. Vandy is now bracing for Georgia, which has defeated the Commodores 117-0 the past two seasons.

"I've got a team that's beat up mentally and physically and emotionally right now," Lea said. "We've got to commit to getting our jaws set in preparing for our eighth game of the season."

Eighth game? Doesn't that sound weird with Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee having played five?

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Given that the SEC is doing away with divisions after this season when Oklahoma and Texas arrive, so will the logic of losing to a team in the opposite division being preferable to falling to a team on your same side.

Yet it still applies to Mizzou coach Eli Drinkwitz.

"I told our team that every team that plays in the East we still play," Drinkwitz said. "We control our own fortune. We control our own resolve in what we're trying to accomplish this year."

Alabama, Georgia and Mizzou are indeed the SEC's only teams that could reach the league championship by winning out and not needing assistance.

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Tennessee on Sunday afternoon opened as a 3-point favorite over Texas A&M for Saturday afternoon's 3:30 game on CBS. The Volunteers are 2-2 all-time against the Aggies, including an 0-2 mark since Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012.

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So if Georgia and Alabama are showing signs of distancing themselves from their respective divisional packs, who is the SEC's third-best team right now?

The vote here would be Ole Miss, which is 5-1 overall, 2-1 in SEC play and has rebounded from its 24-10 loss at Alabama on Sept. 23 with victories the past two weeks over LSU (55-49) and Arkansas (27-20). Both of those wins were in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, with the Rebels closing out the Tigers on a 15-0 run and closing out the Razorbacks 10-0.

Next up for Ole Miss is an open date.

"This was a good win," Rebels coach Lane Kiffin said Saturday night. "This is the SEC, and this is a team that we've struggled with. They're a very well-coached team with a very veteran quarterback. We struggled offensively a lot of the game, especially in the passing game, but that's what you want.

"You want to win games like this where you win on defense, and that was definitely won on defense."

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Arkansas has reached the midway mark of its season at 2-4 overall, 0-3 in SEC play and currently unable to perform the sport's most basic objective.

A week after rushing 39 times for 42 yards in a 34-22 loss to Texas A&M in Dallas, the Razorbacks carried 29 times for 36 yards in Oxford.

"It's hard to win a game when you can't run the football," Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. "We've got to figure out a way to do it. Obviously we're trying, but what we're doing is not working.

"The way we're built, we can't win games without having success running the football."

Contact David Paschall at [email protected].

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