February 19, 2018

CFB Story
By The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: September 27, 2015 06:07:45 PM

SEC Notebook: Nail-biters becoming the norm

It was only the last weekend of the first month of the season, but Saturday's five conference clashes had the feel of crucial November match-ups.
Or maybe that is just becoming the norm in the SEC these days.
In what could be considered the Game of the Day, Florida extended its winning streak over East Division colleague Tennessee to 11 in a row by rallying for two fourth quarter touchdowns, then escaping with the 28-27 victory when a Volunteer field goal attempt just missed wide right on the game's final play.
"I don't know if we deserved it or not," coach Jim McElwain said after his Gators converted four fourth down situations on their final two drives. "But I prefer it this way. It was pretty cool, wasn't it?"
The victory not only continued the Gators' domination of the Vols, it also got them off to a 2-0 start in conference play with games against Ole Miss, Missouri, LSU, and Georgia filling out their October card.
For the Vols, it was a devastating defeat for a team many made a trendy pick in the division race.
"Well, obviously, they all hurt," Vols coach Butch Jones said of the loss. "Everybody hurts, especially, the ones that invested in every single day and put so much into it.
"But I know we have great character in our football program and you want them to hurt. But then we have to come back and get ready for Arkansas and it is a long, long football season. You have to keep that in mind."
The four other SEC contests had their own distinctive appeal.
Texas A&M rallied from a fourth quarter deficit to defeat Arkansas 28-21 in overtime for a second straight year. The Aggies needed a late touchdown and two-point conversion and had to overcome the disappointment of a missed field goal on the final play of regulation to notch the win in OT.
Mississippi State beat Auburn for the third time in four years, shutting down the Tigers without a touchdown for a 17-9 victory.
"We're back where we want to be," Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said. "We're back in the race."
Kentucky got a big game out of quarterback Patrick Towles to pin two-time defending East champion Missouri with a 21-13 loss in its conference opener.
It probably ranks as coach Mark Stoops' biggest win in his three-year tenure at Kentucky, but he wasn't going to say it.
"It's very important because of where we want to go, and we feel like we have got a better football team," Stoops said. "We're not there yet. We're just getting better and better."
Finally, Mississippi avoided what would have been one of its more disappointing setbacks by hanging on to beat Vanderbilt 27-16 for its second SEC win.
"We need to celebrate, but learn from the things we didn't do well," Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said. "If we want to be elite we have to prepare like we are an elite football team.
"We had an awful Wednesday at practice. Tuesday was OK. We need leadership in the locker room to help us with that, for sure."

ALABAMA (3-1, 0--1)
Game: Alabama 34, Louisiana-Monroe 0. Bama's defense dominated this one, limiting the visiting Warhawks to just nine yards rushing and 92 yards in total offense. The Crimson Tide led only 14-0 at the half, however, and managed only 303 yards of offense with just 137 on the ground and 166 passing as QB Jake Coker was only 17-of-33 for 158 yards and three touchdowns with an interception.
Takeaway: The shutout was Alabama's 10th since coach Nick Saban took over the program in 2007, drawing his praise. "We played with a lot of toughness, especially on defense," Saban said. "To give a team around 90 yards is really good. I thought we tackled well in space and we got a couple turnovers. We did a good job on third down, especially in the first half and that was really positive." But the offense, which had the one turnover and converted only two of 13 third down situations, left something to be desired. "We stopped ourselves way too many times," Saban said. "We had five dropped balls, and several of those were on third downs. On fourth-and-one, we eliminated the first down with an illegal motion, so we're going to need to clean up some of things."
Next: At Georgia, Oct. 3.

ARKANSAS (1-3, 0-1)
Game: Texas A&M 28, Arkansas 21 (OT). The Razorbacks held an eight-point lead with just over four minutes left in regulation and had the Aggies backed up at their own 15-yard line, but not only couldn't they keep the Aggies from reaching the end zone, they also gave up a two-point conversion to send the game into overtime. The Hogs, who couldn't answer A&M's touchdown in the extra period, were actually fortunate to get the game into the extra period when QB Brandon Allen's fumble gave the Aggies the ball at Arkansas' 41-yard line, but A&M's Taylor Bertolet was wide right on a 38-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the regulation.
Takeaway: Apparently, the worst thing the Razorbacks can do against the Aggies is take a lead into the fourth quarter. After losing in overtime last year despite leading by 14 in the final quarter, the Hogs let an eight-point advantage get away in this year's meeting. Senior QB Brandon Allen had a big night overall, going 20-of-25 passing for 225 yards with one touchdown and one interception. But the pick came deep in A&M territory, denying the Razorbacks the chance for points and, to compound the mistake, it led to an Aggies' field goal. Allen also coughed up a fumble on his final series of regulation that put the Aggies in position for what could have been a winning field goal, but it missed. His final pass on fourth down in overtime was knocked away. "I think he has felt the weight of the world coming on him," coach Bret Bieleman said of Allen in the Arkansas News Bureau. "He is a kid that puts everything into it."
Next: At Tennessee, Oct. 3.

AUBURN (2-2, 0-2)
Game: Mississippi State 17, Auburn 9. Auburn outgained the visitors with 389 yards in total offense to 326 for the Bulldogs, but couldn't get the ball into the end zone. The Tigers settled for field goal attempts after having drives stopped at State's 9, 13, 7, and 34-yard lines, making three of them.
Takeaway: Redshirt freshman Sean White had solid numbers in his first collegiate start, completing 20-of-28 passes for 188 yards and recording runs of 31, 13, and 11 yards, but he also was sacked four times and threw an interception. "Overall, I thought he did a solid job for his first college experience, period," coach Gus Malzahn said. "He did some good things and he made a mistake or two. We thought he would make a mistake or two. Any time you're playing an SEC opponent, especially in the West, and you've got a guy making his first start, there are going to be some mistakes. But I think everyone saw that he competed. He did some good stuff, and he's a competitor." Malzahn stopped short of committing to White as the starter over junior Jeremy Johnson for the next game, however."I think I did OK," White said. "I think I did some good things, but at the end of the day, you want to win."
Next: Vs. San Jose State, Oct. 3.

FLORIDA (4-0, 2-0)
Game: Florida 28, Tennessee 27. Redshirt freshman QB Will Grier engineered two long drives, one covering 86 yards and the other 59 officially, in the final 10 minutes to rally the Gators from a 27-14 deficit. Grier was 11-of-18 for 141 yards and two touchdowns combined in the two drives, and WR Antonio Callaway got the decisive score with 1:26 left on his dash down the sideline with his fifth reception of the game.
Takeaway: Maybe the Gators should skip their first three downs on offense and go directly to fourth down. They were 5-for-5 on fourth down conversions against Tennessee, making them good on all 10 of their attempts this season. Four of the conversions came on their final two drives, the last on Callaway's decisive touchdown reception on which he turned a 15-yard reception into a 63-yard scoring play."We were calm, cool, and collected," Grier said. "It's something we 'repped' in practice and plays we felt comfortable with that we could execute. Guys stepped up and made big plays, and that's what you've got to do sometimes if you want to be an elite athlete. So I'm proud of the way our guys played and really handled those situations."
Next: Vs. Mississippi, Oct. 3.

GEORGIA (4-0, 2-0)
Game: Georgia 48, Southern 6. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 17-0 first quarter lead and then put the game away with a 28-point outburst in the third quarter. They amassed 532 yards in total offense with a nice balance of 261 rushing and 271 passing while holding their FCS opponent to 184 yards in total offense.
Takeaway: Sophomore RB Nick Chubb got off to a slow start with just 31 yards rushing in the first half but capped that off with 100 more in the second half with 49 coming on his second touchdown run of the afternoon. It is the 12th consecutive game he has topped the 100-yard mark rushing, one shy of Herschel Walker's program record of 13 set over the 1980 and '81 seasons. "It is truly an honor to be mentioned with him," Chubb said. "Herschel Walker -- that's what you hear about when you think Georgia football." Coach Mark Richt said he had to challenge his offensive line at halftime after the Bulldogs rushed for only a net 29 yards in the first half. "Our backs were slamming into trash," he said. "There was no space. We weren't controlling the line like we're used to. Once we got space for the backs, good things happened. The whole key was when the line took over."
Next: Vs. Alabama, Oct. 3.

KENTUCKY (3-1, 1-1)
Game: Kentucky 21, Missouri 13. The Wildcats held the visiting Tigers to just 111 yards rushing and harassed QB Maty Mauk into a 15-of-30 passing night in posting their first win over a ranked team since beating South Carolina in 2010, ending a 19-game losing streak to Top 25 opponents. The Tigers were ranked 25th coming into the game with a 3-0 record but added only two field goals after scoring their lone touchdown in the first quarter.
Takeaway: A week after a horrible performance in the loss to Florida, junior QB Patrick Towles bounced back with one of the finest nights of his career. He was 22-of-27 passing for 249 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. In the first quarter, he even engineered a first down out of a first-and-29 situation, completing a 28-yard pass to WR Garrett Johnson on second-and-18, and capped the resulting drive with a 14-yard touchdown run. "I was telling the team in there that I'm pretty stingy with game balls," coach Mark Stoops said of Towles, "but I think he deserved one tonight." Towles was coming off an 8-for-24 performance against the Gators. "A lot went into preparing for the game tonight," Towles said. "And coach and I tweaked something with my throwing motion, and I felt I was more accurate."
Next: Vs. Eastern Kentucky, Oct. 3.

LSU (3-0, 2-0)
Game: LSU 34, Syracuse 24. The victory wasn't quite as comfortable as the double-digit margin might suggest as the Tigers led only 7-3 at the half and just 24-17 with just over 12 minutes left after the Orange took only seven plays to go 56 yards and whittle the difference down to one score. Sophomore RB Leonard Fournette had another huge game with 244 yards on 26 rushes and also had an 87-yard touchdown run called back late in the third quarter because the Tigers had too many men in the backfield.
Takeaway: The Tigers made life difficult for themselves with critical mistakes, mostly in the form of officials' flags. They were penalized 14 times for 120 yards with at least one -- the illegal formation call that negated Fournette's run -- costing them points. "I'm frustrated that we are not a little bit better and that we haven't been able to eliminate some of those penalties," said coach Les Miles, whose team ranked 96th in the country in penalty yardage going into the day at 69 yards per game. "That's something I take personally." The penalties negated much of the 425-to-281 advantage the Tigers enjoyed in total offense yardage.
Next: Vs. Eastern Michigan, Oct. 3.

MISSISSIPPI (4-0, 2-0)
Game: Mississippi 27, Vanderbilt 16. Coming off the big win over Alabama, Ole Miss looked ripe for an upset when the visiting Commodores pulled even at 13-13 midway through the third quarter. But sophomore Cale Luke blocked a punt that the Rebels were able to cash in for a touchdown and the Rebels got several big runs out of senior RB Jaylen Walton (133 yards rushing) on the fourth quarter drive for the clincher.
Takeaway: A loss to Vandy certainly would have been a huge downer coming just one week after the win at Alabama. The Rebels struggled trying to find their way offensively and twice needed the help of penalties to score points after having first-and-goal situations inside Vandy's five-yard line. Even then they had to settle for a field goal after having first-and-goal at Vandy's one-yard line. "We did not have our team prepared as well, especially in some critical areas, such as third downs and red zones," coach Hugh Freeze said. "We scored some points there, but we need to get more efficient." Walton made the difference on the final touchdown drive, accounting for 42 of the 80 yards, including the last three for the score. "That's what I'm here to do, is to make big plays for my team," he said. "It just comes in handy in those types of moments to win big games."
Next: At Florida, Oct. 3.

Game: Mississippi State 17, Auburn 9. Senior QB Dak Prescott threw two touchdown passes on a 270-yard night and State's defense made those scores and a 44-yard field goal from sophomore PK Westin Graves stand up for the victory. The Bulldogs allowed the Tigers 201 yards on the ground, but made key plays on third down situations to deny them a trip to the end zone.
Takeaway: With both teams having lost their conference openers to LSU, this was seen as somewhat of an "elimination" game in the West race. State's defense came up big in the red zone, holding the Tigers to just two field goals on four trips inside of State's 10-yard line, coming up with an interception on third-and-three at the five-yard line on the Tigers' first venture. The Tigers also missed a field goal after a bad snap set them back eight yards on third-and-goal from the one-yard line. "I thought our defense played unbelievably well," coach Dan Mullen said. "Lot of talented players on that Auburn team. Keeping them out of the end zone for the night was fantastic." Prescott threw a touchdown pass for the 18th consecutive game, second-longest active streak among FBS programs (TCU's Travis Boykin leads with 19). Prescott also ran his streak of passes without an interception to 191 attempts, longest current active streak in the SEC and sixth all-time in the conference.
Next: At Texas A&M, Oct. 3.

MISSOURI (3-1, 0-1)
Game: Kentucky 21, Missouri 13. The Tigers never could get much of anything going offensively, rushing for just 111 yards and adding only two field goals to their first-quarter touchdown over the final three periods. The defense allowed the Wildcats just 369 yards, but couldn't come up with a stop after closing to within one score after getting a field goal from PK Andrew Baggett with three minutes left in the game.
Takeaway: Injuries have been the most prominent feature of Mizzou's season so far. Senior RB Russell Hansbrough has been limited by an ankle injury since the opener and managed only 11 yards on six carries in a futile comeback attempt against the Wildcats. The Tigers then had three starters go out against Kentucky, including a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in LB Kentrell Brothers in the third quarter. Coach Gary Pinkel didn't know their status immediately after the game. "I really don't," he said. "I just know that they all left the game. It's going to happen. It has never happened to me before, but if you coach long enough, it's going to happen sooner or later and tonight it just did. You have to overcome it, bottom line you do. I don't know the status of any of them as far as next week."
Next: Vs. South Carolina, Oct. 3.

Game: South Carolina 31, UCF 14. The Gamecocks took command of the game with a 20-point third quarter ignited by two interceptions by junior LB T.J. Holloman. The Gamecocks cashed in on Holloman's first pick for a 40-yard touchdown drive and 22-14 lead and his second for a 54-yard march that gave the Gamecocks a 28-14 cushion heading into the final quarter.
Takeaway: True freshman QB Lorenzo Nunez passed for 184 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for a game-high 123 yards on 18 rushes in his first collegiate start. "I think he played a little better than we all anticipated," coach Steve Spurrier said. "We knew he could run, but he hit a bunch of passes." Nunez had a 35-yard touchdown pass to WR Pharoh Cooper and a 13-yarder to WR Jacob August in the Gamecocks' third quarter outburst. "He's a gamer," Spurrier said. "I think we learned that." Said Nunez: "I just wanted to go out there and see what I could do. I think I did a pretty good job. I did way better in the second half, I think. In the first half I was a little shaky."
Next: At Missouri, Oct. 3.

TENNESSEE (2-2, 0-1)
Game: Florida 28, Tennessee 27. The Vols seemed to have things under control when sophomore RB Jalen Hurd scored on a 10-yard run with 10:19 left in the game, putting them up by two touchdowns, but a defense that had dominated the Gators up to that point gave up an 86-yard drive and a 63-yard pass play on Florida's last two possessions. Even then, the Vols had a chance to pull out the win but sophomore PK Aaron Medley's 55-yard field goal attempt was barely wide right as time ran out.
Takeaway: Coach Butch Jones' decision to kick the extra point after Tennessee's last touchdown, leaving the Vols just up by 13 points with just over 10 minutes left, will be the hot topic of the week around Knoxville water coolers, but had the Vols been able to get just one fourth down stop on Florida's last two series, the decision not to go for two wouldn't have mattered. The Vols let the Gators escape four times on fourth down plays on their last two drives, the last resulting in the decisive 63-yard touchdown reception. "Particularly when it is fourth-and-long, fourth-and-13, you have got to close the game out," Jones said. "You have got to get off the field and run victory formation, milking the clock and the game is over.
Next: Vs. Arkansas, Oct. 3.

TEXAS A&M (4-0, 2-0)
Game: Texas A&M 28, Arkansas 21 (OT). Sophomore QB Kyle Allen passed for a career-high 358 yards and led the Aggies on a five-play, 85-yard scoring drive late in regulation, capping it with a pass for a two-point conversion, to send the game into overtime. He then found true freshman WR Christian Kirk for a 20-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the extra period for the victory.
Takeaway: The win marked the second straight season the Aggies have rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Razorbacks in overtime. Last year they overcame a two-touchdown deficit. This year they needed a late touchdown and two-point conversion to even up the score in the closing minutes. "I thought the look in their eyes late in the fourth quarter and the overtime was one of confidence," coach Kevin Sumlin said of his Aggies. "And I hadn't seen that in a while on this team." Kirk continued to star for the Aggies with his 173 receiving yards on eight catches giving him his third triple-digit receiving game in four outings. He has 442 yards receiving for the season.
Next: Vs. Mississippi State, Oct. 3.

VANDERBILT (1-3, 0-2)
Game: Mississippi 27, Vanderbilt 16. Sophomore QB Johnny McCrary was 23-of-42 passing for 194 yards and a touchdown against no interceptions and sophomore RB Ralph Webb rushed for 90 yards as the Commodores threatened to spoil the Rebels' post-Alabama party, pulling into a 13-13 tie midway through the third quarter. But the Commodores had a punt blocked and missed a field goal after that which led to Ole Miss touchdowns and let the Rebels off the hook.
Takeaway: Coach Derek Mason was having none of the "nice try" accolades after his team nearly pulled off the stunner of the day. "I tell my guys there is never any solace in that," Mason said. "We play the game to win. We came here to win. We came up a little short. We will look at this game and what we did, and the things we did not get done." But he did see good things from the Commodores' performance. They won the turnover battle 2-0 with a pair of interceptions and didn't turn the ball over themselves, though it can be argued that the blocked punt, which gave the Rebels the ball at Vandy's 20-yard line, was the same as a turnover. "This team is going to continue to fight," Mason said of his 'Dores. "We are going to continue to get better. Teams are not going to want to see us in October and November. I can tell you that. This team has a lot of pride."
Next: At Middle Tennessee State, Oct. 3

--Tennessee coach Butch Jones said he had a "number of reasons" not to go for the two-point conversion after the Vols scored their final touchdown with 10:19 left in their game at Florida Saturday.
By kicking the PAT, the Vols were left holding only a 13-point lead, 27-14, and when the Gators scored two touchdowns in the remaining time, they were able to get their 28-27 victory by simply kicking the extra points.
"We were discussing that prior to the drive, if we did score whether we go for one or two," Jones said. "We have a chart that is pretty standard in football first of all and maps it all."
Jones said he and his coaches had confidence that Tennessee's defense would be able to stop the Gators. After all, they had done so all day, holding the Gators to just 247 yards in total offense to that point of the game.
"So we felt very comfortable with the decision," Jones said.
But just as in the loss to Oklahoma two weeks earlier, Tennessee's defense couldn't hold onto a two-touchdown fourth quarter lead and ended up with the loss.
--Forget 100-yard rushing games. LSU sophomore running back Leonard Fournette has stepped it up with consecutive 200-yard games after rushing for 248 yards in the Tigers' 34-24 victory at Syracuse. It follows the 228-yard effort the previous week against Auburn, the first time in school history LSU has had a running back go over the 200-yard mark in back-to-back games.
It could have been a 300-yard game against the Orange because he had a 87-yard run called back for an illegal formation penalty, which had nothing to do with what would have been his third touchdown dash to go with his 62 and 14-yard scores. He had one play where he turned a potential sack into a 48-yard gain after taking a desperate pitch just before QB Brandon Harris hit the turf.
After the game Fournette had the opportunity to meet one of Syracuse's all-time great running backs, Floyd Little.
"I just told him it was an honor to meet him," Fournette said. "He's one of the legends, one of the first running backs. He's a legend."
What did Little, who along with former Syracuse backs Ernie Davis and Jim Brown, forms one of college football's greatest trio of running backs have to say?
"He told me I did a great job and he was going to continue to pray for my success," Fournette said. "I looked him up and Jim Brown up. They were greats.
"Syracuse started Running Back U. It's a great tradition here. Who wouldn't want to come here just looking up to these guys?"
--After setting an NCAA, SEC, and school record for completion percentage a week ago with his 24-of-25 performance (96.0 percent) against South Carolina, Georgia QB Greyson Lambert continued his hot streak in the 48-6 rout of Southern.
He completed his first two attempts to push his streak of completions to 22 in a row, a school record, and ended the game 9-of-10 for 146 yards and two touchdowns in an abbreviated performance.
"I haven't really done anything differently," said Lambert, who was 19-of-33 passing in his first two games. "I have just kept playing.
"Bad things are going to happen, and good things are going to happen. You have to keep playing and put those things behind you."
--Texas A&M is used to running off a bunch of plays in a game, having averaged 78 runs and passes through its first three outings. But Arkansas managed to control the clock with a rushing game that produced 232 yards, and the Aggies ran only 20 times and passed only 28 in their 28-21 overtime victory.
"They played a game in which we had to be efficient with our drives, and we weren't," Sumlin said of the Razorbacks. "We scored points, but we did not score touchdowns.
"We had 16 plays in the first half, 48 plays for the whole game. In a game like that when possessions become a premium, points become a premium. In particular, the fact we didn't finish off drives with touchdowns instead of field goals came back to haunt us at the end."
Haunt may not be the correct word. After all, the Aggies did win.
--When it comes to assessing what team has been the biggest disappointment the season's first month, there is no doubt it's Auburn.
The Tigers needed overtime to get past Jacksonville State in their second game and now have dropped to 0-2 in conference play with losses to LSU (45-21) last week and Mississippi State (17-9) Saturday.
But coach Gus Malzahn, who started a redshirt freshman, Sean White, at quarterback against the Bulldogs in place of junior Jeremy Johnson, is keeping the faith.
"You can see we have a bunch of young guys, inexperienced guys, and we have a chance to grow," Malzahn said. "That's what we're doing. We're going to get better. I promise you that. We'll see what happens.
"We'll turn it around. There are a lot of things we're going to build upon. That's what I told our team. They fought their guts out."
In addition to White, the Tigers started two true freshmen, CB Carlton Davis and NB Jeremiah Dinson, in the secondary. Davis had six tackles and forced a fumble. Dinson was not credited with a stop.
"The defense played good enough to win," said Malzahn, whose Tigers have now lost five consecutive SEC games going back to last November. "They fought."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is new for me, a quarterback that can run like that." -- South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, after freshman QB Lorenzo Nunez led the Gamecocks in rushing with 123 yards on 18 carries in the 31-14 win over UCF.

1. A pair of sophomore running backs rule the conference. LSU's Leonard Fournette has rushed for 631 yards in three games (LSU's opener was cancelled) and Georgia's Nick Chubb has 599 in four games to heat up their Heisman candidacy.
2. Can Alabama solve its quarterback situation in time for its upcoming trip to Georgia? Jake Coker was only 17-of-31 passing for 158 yards against an overmatched Louisiana-Monroe and his backup, Cooper Bateman, who had started the week before, tried only one pass, completing it for an eight-yard gain as Bama managed only 303 yards in total offense.
3. The jury is still out on Tennessee. The Vols were seen as potential contenders in the East, but after blowing double-digit fourth quarter leads to Oklahoma at home and at Florida, they don't look ready for an October schedule that includes games against Georgia, Alabama, and resurgent Kentucky, the last two on the road.
4. Don't take Vanderbilt for granted. Ole Miss seemed to, and it nearly cost the Rebels an embarrassing defeat before they hung on for a 27-16 victory that wasn't secured until the fourth quarter.
5. Missouri's road magic may finally be dispelled. The Tigers saw their streak of road wins end at 11 with the 21-13 loss at Kentucky, which also dropped them to 10-3 in games decided by 10 points or fewer since the start of the 2013 season

All Times Eastern