The SEC Bachstory will be a weekly SEC recap posted every Monday morning breaking down all the big events from the previous weekend. In order to eliminate all confusion, the Bach in Bachstory is pronounced like back (Back to the Future, The Empire Strikes Back, Back in Black), you get the picture. Today's column is going to be long, there is just too much stuff not to discuss and I hope I can get to everything you guys want to hear about. If I miss something, shoot me a note but just some of the stuff I want to hit on is Houston Nutt being Houston Nutt, LSU's redemption, the Alabama drive and the SEC Championship between two undefeateds.
The Weekend That Was
Both teams representing the SEC in the Championship game this weekend won their rivalry games but it was done two very different ways. Alabama needed a classic game winning touchdown drive to beat Auburn and Florida just had to show up and destroyed Florida State. FSU and Auburn are two very different programs at this point but both wins were important for the Tide and Gators. Alabama once again survived a feverish upset bid from a rival, Tennessee gave Alabama their biggest scare this season and you could argue that the Auburn game was ever scarier considering Auburn had the lead up until the 59th minute. But great teams make the big plays with the game on the line and no matter how much Heisman talk Mark Ingram gets, the best player on the Alabama team when healthy is Julio Jones. Jones dominated the Auburn corners the last drive and almost single handedly got the Tide down the field for the game winning TD by Roy Upchurch
Florida on the other hand had no challenge whatsoever from Florida State and once again Tim Tebow was playing way too late into that game (sorry Gator fans). There was no question that Urban Meyer wanted Tebow to go out with a bang in his last game in the Swamp and he did. Tebow was responsible for every Florida touchdown, three passing and two rushing scores for Superman in his last home game. The Gators put up 545 total yards against the Seminoles and this may have been one of the first times that Meyer did not try to run up the score on a rival. Maybe he senses that this was Bowden's last game as the FSU coach and he didn't want to embarrass him but it was nice to see him take his foot off the gas with the game well in hand. Two very different wins and both were just what the school needed. Alabama needed to know that when they are down late in a game they have QB who can lead and a weapon that can make plays. Florida got to relax in a big game and walked away without injuries before the BCS semi-final game against Alabama.
The Weekend That Wasn't
Two of the hardest losses this weekend were in Auburn and Baton Rouge with both losing teams' defenses not being able to contain their opponent's last drives in the game. Auburn's defense played inspired, but they just weren't good enough to stop Alabama when it mattered most. Auburn saved its best defensive performance for their last game and they did a great job containing Mark Ingram and the Tide rushing game but it still wasn't good enough. The last drive was dominated by Julio Jones and the DB's couldn't cover him and because they couldn't cover him they gave him such a huge cushion that he caught short pass after short pass for first downs. It was a great effort by the Tigers and it looks like the Iron Bowl is back to being a big time rivalry after last year's 36-0 Crimson Tide whitewashing.
Arkansas had the same problem with a three point lead and little over a minute left, they allowed LSU to drive into FG range to tie the game and eventually lost in overtime when they missed their FG attempt to send it to a second OT. Again, the defense just wasn't good enough to stop LSU to finish out the game, but the special teams let Arkansas down in the end. Alex Tejada missed a 36 yard field goal in overtime which was the final play of the game since LSU had made a FG in their OT possession. Ryan Mallett was inconsistent again throwing high on a number of passes, but the Razorback receivers had a problem holding onto the football with more drops than I could count. How much better could Ryan Mallett's numbers have been this season if his receivers could actually hold onto the ball when he does make an accurate throw? Both Arkansas and Auburn and in bowl purgatory right now with losses to finish the season and their bowl outlooks are not looking nearly as positive as they were one week ago.
The Weekend That…What the Heck
There were two upsets this weekend that no one saw coming with Georgia and MSU knocking over Georgia Tech and Ole Miss respectively. I haven't decided which one is more surprising yet but we really shouldn't be surprised in either one. We are sometimes blinded by records but in rivalry games there is more than just a teams place in the division. UGA was playing an ACC team with defensive issues but since the Jackets were 10-1 it was difficult to see past the Bulldog's struggles and realize they might still be the better team even at 6-5. Mississippi State played the toughest schedule in the country this year and they were facing a Houston Nutt coached team. Why anyone has faith in Houston Nutt to win a game he is supposed to after 12 years in the SEC is border-line insanity.
But we all overlooked the facts and looked at the records, we ignored how good the SEC is and how bad the ACC always is. We looked past the young talent in Starkville and ignored a coach that always loses this kind of game. Take nothing away from either team, they went out and dominated their rivals. Georgia owned the time of possession and showed the best rushing team in the country what SEC physicality means. MSU pressured Jevan Snead all day long and "shockingly" he started throwing multiple interceptions. At 7-5 UGA should still be disappointed with their season, but a win over Tech will calm some fans down, but not save anyone's job. State fans should feel pretty good about their coach and optimistic about the future, recruiting is wide open in the State of Mississippi and Mullen has a lot of positives to sell.
The Weekend That Will Be
All eyes should be glued to the SEC Championship this Saturday at 4 PM and for all the BCS haters who want a playoff, technically you have a playoff game in Atlanta this weekend. Number one vs. number two in the country with a guaranteed spot in Pasadena for the BCS National Championship game and it doesn't get any better than Florida and Alabama. I still don't know which way I am leaning at this point, I was all for picking Alabama before Friday but the Auburn defense did a great job on Ingram and they don't have nearly the defensive studs the Gators have and even an improved Auburn offense isn't as good as the pressure Florida's offense puts on teams. The Gators look sharp right now but they have played just mediocre in big games this year, coming out with wins but never making a statement. Whichever team wins, it won't be an upset. A rematch of last year's classic is more than any SEC fan could ask for and we can only hope the game is as good.
Big Man on Campus (BMOC)
Josh Jasper, LSU PK
Les Miles may have been given a reprieve after an overtime win against Arkansas but it happened because of kicker Josh Jasper who went 4-4 including a game tying 41 yard kick with 4 seconds left in the game and the winning kick in overtime from 36 yards away. Jasper was money from long distance hitting three of his four field goals from 41 yards or longer and it makes you wonder what would have happened had he been given the chance to kick a game winner in Oxford last week. Jasper saved Miles another very difficult week in Baton Rouge and he is our BMOC because of it.
Player Now Doing Charlie Work (PNDCW)
As a note to those who do not know what "Charlie-Work" is, do yourself a favor and start watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (the episode called "Dennis and Dee go on Welfare" explains it perfectly).
Jevan Snead, Ole Miss QB
There were some options for the PNDCW award this week but it makes sense to go with Snead since the Ole Miss loss was probably the biggest upset of the weekend and Snead served up a big helping of interceptions to the Bulldog defense. Snead threw another three picks against MSU, one of which was returned for a touchdown. In Snead's five road games this year he has thrown 10 interceptions, the only game he did not throw any picks was against South Carolina where he completed 7 of 21 passes. Snead has had a rough year, he had been listed in this section at least 3 times so let's hope he gets his head together before the bowl game and comes back in 2010 ready to play better because he has all the talent in the world, but he just throws to the other team too much.
4 Downs with the SEC
First Down – New Colors, Same Houston Nutt
Everyone has heard the phrase that Tigers can't change their stripes or leopards can't change their spots but it looks like this might also apply to former Razorback coaches and I guess they can't change their tusks. Houston Nutt continues to frustrate the fan bases he coaches for by choking in big games as a favorite and he added an exclamation point to the statement against MSU this weekend. Ole Miss came into Starkville riding a three game winning streak with the hottest player in the SEC (Dexter McCluster). They survived a scare against LSU, they knocked off a very hot Tennessee team and they were on their way to the best bowl game they have had in decades. All that changed when Nutt reverted back to his normal self and laid an egg in the appropriately named Egg Bowl.
Looking over the box score the biggest issue I see is the lack of rushes for Dexter McCluster, he only carried the ball 16 times. That may not seem like a small amount of carries and it isn't but it is the fewest carries he has had since October 17th against UAB. In the biggest game of the year, with your QB struggling how your best player doesn't get the ball more often is shocking and poor coaching. Ole Miss fans should be seriously disappointed with the job Nutt has done this year, with a very deep and talented team he still managed to lose 4 SEC games and they never even sniffed a shot at the SEC Championship. Snead regressed massively this year, a trend with Nutt quarterbacks if you look back over the years and hopefully they will end up with a New Year's Day bowl but that isn't a lock right now. This is who your coach is Rebel fans, he isn't going to turn into something else overnight or in the off-season.
Second Down – Thank you South Carolina
Let me preface this by saying that I am not a South Carolina fan or supporter in any way, but I do have a younger brother who is a senior in Columbia and he will be graduating this May. Like all Gamecocks he has called me many Saturdays over the last 4 years venting his displeasure with the losses, the late season collapses and overall struggles of the South Carolina program. Some Carolina fans are laughing right now because they have experienced this frustration for more than 4 years, but this was his last home game as a student and I am happy his last moment in that student section was a win over their main rival. Not all of us were fortunate enough to leave their last game in that student section as a winner and some of those final losses were just heartbreaking (like mine). I know Steve Spurrier and Eric Norwood weren't thinking about winning one for South Carolina Senior Scott Harbach, but thank you for making his last game worth remembering.
The South Carolina win was a combination of great moments and astounding stupidity on the field and off the field. Steve Spurrier looks like a genius using Stephon Gilmore (the other #5) on the second drive of the game which led to a Gamecock TD, but never goes back to it. For a special teams coach named Beamer, it is amazing how poorly coached South Carolina seems to be in that phase of the game. The DB touching the Clemson shank in the first half was on the shortlist for biggest bonehead play of the year in the SEC, but Carolina survived the mistakes because of the line play. The offensive line was physical, the defensive line was dominant and they roughed up the softer ACC team the way an SEC should dominate.
There is so much young talent on the South Carolina team it is encouraging to think about the future for the program, but everyone is getting better. Florida still has the more talent than any SEC team, UGA and Tennessee will reload and Kentucky looks like they have a very good freshmen QB. Steve Spurrier has done nothing in 5 years to make me think this game was a momentum changer for the program, but it was what he needed to make the off-season a lot quieter. South Carolina played their first complete game of the season, it wasn't always the prettiest thing but it was a good win. One member of the Harbach household was thrilled and the rest of the fans should be as well.
Third Down – Grading the New Coaches
After one year the new SEC coaching staffs seem to have done enough to make their fan bases happy about the season and encouraged about the future. Gene Chizik did a good job this season winning more games in one year at Auburn than he did in two at Iowa State and his work on the recruiting trail is impressive. Lane Kiffin has had similar success on the recruiting trail and he had a number of signature wins this year against South Carolina and Georgia. Kiffin had faith in a struggling Jonathon Crompton, he stuck with him when those struggles continued through the first five games and Crompton ended up having a pretty good season. Crompton played better than anyone could have expected from watching him play for Phil Fulmer the previous three seasons and Kiffin should get the credit for that.
Dan Mullen hands down had the most difficult schedule in the country this year with five ranked teams coming into Starkville this year and they were a couple plays away from making a bowl game. Close losses to Houston and LSU could have pushed the young Bulldogs into a 6-6 year and that would have been a miraculous first year for the former Gator offensive coordinator. All three of these coaches did a great job this year with what their predecessors left them. Auburn had no depth, MSU had no experience and Tennessee had no quarterback. After one year all three teams are in a better position now than what they were this time last year. That is how you can tell the coaching hire was a success in year one, they are better off now and will be even better in the future. I can't say if these three will end up being homerun hires, but right now they look like pretty good decisions by the Athletic Directors.
Fourth Down – Les Miles Redemption
Not often do coaches or players get a second chance to make up for previous mistakes, it is even less frequent when they get that second change one week after screwing up. Les Miles found himself in the exact same position he was in a week ago against Ole Miss with his team down, a little over a minute left on the clock and one timeout. Déjà vu…you got it. But this one didn't go the same way for the Fighting Tigers, even after Jordan Jefferson was sacked on the first play of the drive and LSU had to use their timeout immediately. Jefferson was masterful completing passes to keep the chains moving and Stevan Ridley caught short passes and got out of bounds to stop the clock. It was exactly how a two minute drill should be executed. It was the exact opposite of what happened last week. LSU fans won't forget what happened last week and neither will Miles, but you hope that coaches and players learn from their mistakes. It is pretty evident that LSU learned from that disaster last week and it allowed them to be successful against Arkansas this week.
Fourth Down (holding on the previous play, re-kick) – The Bowl Picture
If everyone else gets to make bowl predictions it only seems fair that I get the opportunity to do the same. The SEC bowl picture is still a mess but right now this is pretty much where everyone stands. As usual keep in mind that outside of the Sugar bowl, no game is earned, it is given. It is more about ticket sales and match-ups than it is a team's record.
BCS Championship – Florida vs. Texas
Sugar Bowl – Alabama vs. Cincinnati
Citrus Bowl (Capital One) – LSU vs. Penn State
Outback Bowl – Tennessee vs. Wisconsin
Cotton Bowl – Arkansas vs. Oklahoma State
Peach Bowl (Eat Mor Chikin) – South Carolina vs. Virginia Tech
Music City Bowl – Auburn vs. North Carolina
Liberty Bowl – Georgia vs. Houston
Independence Bowl – Ole Miss vs. Iowa State
Papa Johns Bowl – Kentucky vs. Rutgers
Just a reminder, I want your emails. Tell me where I'm wrong, where I'm right and where you think I am full of it. Your emails can shape what I should be writing about and if you don't tell me, I won't change. E-mail me Brian Harbach