Nursing an injured throwing shoulder, Manziel recorded only four official carries, which also was a career low. There were no designed running plays in the game plan for him, Manziel said, and coaches noted that they wanted to be smart about not putting the Heisman Trophy winner's shoulder in harm's way.
But throughout his college career, Manziel's scrambling ability has become a signature trait, something that has helped make him one of the most electrifying players in the country. His combination of speed, agility and decision-making have made him a challenge for opposing defenses, but it also took some adjusting for the Aggies' offensive line last season, when he rushed for 1,410 yards. (Manziel has 497 so far this year.)
Keenum was the record-breaking passer at the University of Houston, who enjoyed tremendous success under Kevin Sumlin and the Cougars' offensive coaching staff, many of whom followed Sumlin when he accepted the Texas A&M head coach job. Keenum, now starting for the NFL's Houston Texans, wasn't a statue in the pocket, but he wasn't quite the athlete that Manziel is. Few quarterbacks are.
Because of Manziel's ability to extend plays from a traditional three, four or five seconds, the Aggies' offensive linemen must block longer and be smarter, because they never know when or where Manziel might take off and run. Look at his signature play from the 2012 season: a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Swope against Alabama. On that play, Manziel collided into Jake Matthews, who was playing right tackle, before gathering himself, recovering a near-fumble then scrambling away to throw the pass.
Even 21 games into his career, the veterans up front say it's still a process.
"There's still times where you feel like you're adjusting because you never know which way he's going to dart out of that pocket," offensive tackle Jake Matthews said. "Sometimes he's right behind you and you think he's going under you. It can get kind of confusing sometimes. But he makes so many plays for us that we're willing to go the extra mile and block that much longer for him. It's a little bit of a challenge, but you've got to love it."
And Manziel has helped matters by being open about what his preferences are when the play breaks down.
"He's such a football nut," Anderson said of Manziel. "He'll tell you, 'I don't want to run up in there [pointing to a specific area]. There's too much [going on] in there. It's not clear to me. I want to run around people.
"So that's why you've seen all these packages of us pulling everybody around and there goes Johnny. We're not geniuses, but what they're good at, we want to do."
Starting center Mike Matthews says he pays keen attention to where his defender is going, which is what many linemen do anyway because the defensive linemen are chasing after the quarterback. But when the defender takes off abruptly, it can get tricky.
"When [Manziel] rolls out sometimes, it's kind of hard because you're blocking a guy and next thing you know, he sprints straight to the sideline," Matthews said. "I'm assuming Johnny rolled out, so I just start running after him."
Anderson said he believes his group has made significant strides in learning and adapting to their quarterback based on film study and practice time. Opponents try several different tactics, but the Aggies seem to handle them well. The key, Anderson said, is to finish blocks.
"You've got to maintain blocks unlike you've ever done," Anderson said. "Most quarterbacks, you know where they are the whole time. Johnny, that's just part of his game.
"We work awfully hard at finishing blocks, putting pressure on guys -- A, so they don't jump and knock balls down; and B, in case he's right beside you, a guy can't yank him and bring him to the ground. We're going to get to our spots, our intersection points in the passing game, cover people up and apply pressure and let Johnny make us right."
Hmm. This is a tough question to answer without the finality of the 2014 class signing day to give me some concrete options to choose from. I’ll take a stab at a few teams that might fit the bill.
I’d argue that Auburn’s true freshmen have been as impactful as Ole Miss. RB Racean Thomas could continue this trend. Michigan could get significant production from WR Drake Harris, ATH Jabrill Peppers and DT Bryan Mone, and if they get Da'Shawn Hand, that could be big for them. All guys are need positions. Texas A&M, with DE Myles Garrett, QB Kyle Allen, ATH Nick Harvey -- and they could also end up with ATH Speedy Noil, too. If they stay committed, Florida could see a lot of offensive impact with the likes of RB Dalvin Cook (huge need) and WR Ermon Lane, too. Miami could be another on both sides of the ball.
However, if we were sitting here in February and assuming LSU closed like some are expecting with in-state talent, including RB Leonard Fournette, then I think you could see a lot of freshmen making an impact for the Tigers.
- By his standards, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley had an average game last Saturday, but his efforts during a pick six by teammate Landon Collins were symbolic of his season.
- Missouri’s loss to South Carolina was heartbreaking, but the Tigers are eager to move on and continue their special season.
- Auburn is tied for second in the SEC in sacks allowed, but the offensive line will have its hands full Saturday against Arkansas defensive ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers.
- Sophomore linebacker Kwon Alexander has emerged as a star on LSU’s defense this season. He’ll be returning to his home state next weekend when the Tigers visit Tuscaloosa.
- South Carolina kicker Elliott Fry might not be big in stature, but he has made some big kicks for the Gamecocks this season.
- It’s hard to replace a guy like Jarvis Jones, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Georgia has been able to use a number of players on defense to make up for his production.
- Florida’s defense had a letdown its last time out against Missouri, but it's determined to bounce back on Saturday against Georgia.
- Ole Miss wide receiver Ja-Mes Logan has moved on from his costly drop against Texas A&M earlier this month.
- Butch Jones knows Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk well. He tried to recruit him back when he was coaching at Cincinnati. On Saturday, the two will face off.
- It was a rocky first start for Vanderbilt quarterback Patton Robinette, but he’s hoping to use the off week to work on his pre-snap decisions before his next start at Florida.
Horror movies cover our TV screens, while candy wrappers litter our streets.
It's Nick Saban's birthday! ... Oh, and it's also Halloween.
Regardless of which one you celebrate, cut off the lights, wrap yourself in a blanket and try not to get scared as we look at the most bone-chilling people in the SEC:
Michael Myers: One of the most feared horror movie villains, Myers terrorized the citizens of Haddonfield, Ill., with his frighteningly slow stalk and superhuman strength. Meet Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who torments quarterbacks with more speed and the reputation of being one of the country's scariest players. He has registered a nation-leading 16 tackles for loss and is tied for first with 10 sacks. He has totaled three sacks in a game three times this year.
Freddy Krueger: This season, sleeping on Auburn has proved costly. The Tigers started the season unranked and under new management with Gus Malzahn, but are 7-1 and ranked No. 11 in the BCS standings. The biggest Krueger-esque attack occurred in College Station, when the Tigers upset then-No. 7 Texas A&M 45-41. Two weeks before, Auburn upset No. 24 Ole Miss at home. Could Auburn do the same against Alabama later this month?
The Great Pumpkin: Like Linus waiting in that pumpkin patch on Halloween for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, we've waited for Jadeveon Clowney to return to his old form. Each week, we've been disappointed as Clowney, who entered the season with 21 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in his career, has just two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Teams have schemed him differently and he has dealt with injuries, but he's just not the same player who had garnered so much attention. At least he has the awesome Predator look going!
The Walking Dead: If anyone looks like a stumbling herd of undead walkers, it's Florida and Georgia. These programs have been ravaged by injuries. Florida has dealt with eight season-ending injuries, including to starters Jeff Driskel and Dominique Easley. Nicks and dings have piled up for Florida, too, as just 13 healthy defensive players dressed for the Mizzou game two weeks ago. Georgia watched as running back Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley went down with season-ending ACL injuries. Nagging injuries have sprinkled around, and heading into Saturday's game with Florida, receiver Chris Conley (ankle) is doubtful and safety Tray Matthews (hamstring) is questionable.
House of horrors: Opponents might wander into South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium for a fun football game, but few leave with a win. The Gamecocks have an SEC-leading 14-game winning streak at home.
Trick: Under Kevin Sumlin, all of Texas A&M's losses (four) have come at home. This year, the Aggies fell to Alabama and Auburn at Kyle Field by a combined 11 points. Not exactly the most intimidating home-field advantage.
The Joker: Arkham Asylum's most heinous inmate and Batman's arch nemesis, the Joker has the ability to manipulate his foes and wreak utter chaos. Kind of like how Johnny Manziel plays. We thought he wouldn't be focused enough this season, so he has churned out 3,091 yards of offense and 28 touchdowns. Defenders think he's going one way, only for him to go the other. Manziel might have dressed up as Scooby Doo last year, but he's as evil as the Joker on the field.
Thriller: The best game of the year has to be Georgia's 44-41 win over LSU. We saw three lead changes, four ties, 943 yards of offense and 85 points. Aaron Murray's touchdown pass to Scott-Wesley with 1:47 remaining proved to be the difference after LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw four straight incomplete passes on LSU's final drive.
Scary: Texas A&M's defense has been the SEC's most terrifying defense to watch. The Aggies rank 111th nationally in total defense, allowing 473.8 yards per game. They're 13th in the SEC in scoring defense (32.6), last in rushing (210.1), 12th in passing (263.6) and are giving up 6.4 yards per play. A&M has allowed fewer than 400 yards just twice this year.
Best costume: Will Muschamp.
Here are 10 things to watch in the SEC this week:
1. All eyes on Jacksonville: Don't look now, but the battle formerly known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has some intrigue. Georgia has been decimated by injuries, but Mark Richt continues to send Aaron Murray out to play each Saturday, giving UGA a chance to win. Murray has hung in despite the fact players are dropping like flies around him. If he gets a third consecutive win over rival Florida, it might make it all worthwhile. Florida has dealt with its own set of injuries, but more problematic is the Gators' offensive ineptitude. Quarterback Tyler Murphy will have to find a way to score some points on Saturday. But for two teams with so many problems, whichever gets out of Jacksonville with a win is still in the SEC East race. Missouri's loss last weekend breathed new life into both squads.
2. Can South Carolina keep it up? It would be classic South Carolina to come out on Saturday against unranked Mississippi State and play down to the competition. It's happened so much lately that we've come to expect it. After winning a thriller on the road last weekend against Missouri, the Gamecocks are on upset alert. Without Connor Shaw's fourth-quarter return, South Carolina loses to Missouri by two touchdowns. If he can't start against Mississippi State, will Steve Spurrier's offense sputter again? You have to like Shaw's leadership, and after all he's done you have to believe he'll play on Saturday and play well.
4. Josh Dobbs: Speaking of Tennessee, keep an eye on the true freshman quarterback. Butch Jones burned his redshirt this past weekend, bringing him off the bench in the second half against Alabama. The athletic Dobbs provided a spark to a Vols offense that couldn't move the football to save its life. His ability to get outside the pocket and buy time helped the receivers, and his speed and elusiveness allowed him to pick up yards with his feet. It's too early to say he's won the starting job, but watch closely because a good game against Missouri could propel him to such status. We could very well be looking at Tennessee's future under center.
5. The SEC East race: The field in the SEC East will narrow this weekend. The loser of the Georgia-Florida game is likely out of it, and neither Missouri nor South Carolina have sure-thing wins on their plates. It may appear that no one wants to win the division and be forced to play Alabama in the conference championship, but someone's got to do it.
6. Manziel health watch: The Johnny Manziel watch never ends. But no, I'm not talking about monitoring his off-the-field behavior this time. No, there's still some concern over whether the defending Heisman Trophy winner is healthy. He injured his throwing arm late against Auburn and played well this past weekend against Vanderbilt. But with Texas A&M facing an overmatched UTEP team Saturday, should he play?
7. Bielema versus Malzahn: Boy, did we see a rivalry form at SEC media days when a pair of first-year coaches in the SEC, Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Auburn's Gus Malzahn, traded barbs about the safety of the no-huddle offense. Malzahn said he thought it was a joke. Bielema said he wasn't a comedian. It was awesome. Their rivalry was born that day, and this week it sprouted leaves as Bielema accused Auburn of altering the game film it sent to Arkansas in preparation for this week's game between the two programs. The issue even prompted a response from Auburn to the SEC. Man, the Malzahn-Bielema postgame handshake is going to be fun.
8. Jeremy Johnson: Every time Nick Marshall goes down at quarterback for Auburn, Johnson steps right in and doesn't miss a beat. Both times the freshman has played significant reps, he's won SEC Freshman of the Week honors, first against Western Carolina and then last weekend against Florida Atlantic. With Marshall officially "day to day," according to Malzahn, expect the focus to shift to Johnson again.
9. The trainer's table: Playing an SEC schedule will catch up with you. We're starting to see injuries pile up around the league recently as the fatigue of playing physical games week in and week out builds. Tennessee is turning to a true freshman quarterback in place of Justin Worley (injured thumb). Missouri senior quarterback James Franklin is questionable, leaving backup Maty Mauk in a weird state of limbo. South Carolina, meanwhile, is hoping Shaw can continue to play the part of Superman and keep coming back from injury. Oh, and let's not forget Jeff Driskel's prolonged absence at Florida. If another SEC quarterback goes down, we'll have to start calling it an epidemic.
10. Who isn't playing: Give Alabama and LSU credit because they know how to make a schedule. The rivalry game between the two schools isn't until Nov. 9, so they're taking the week off. But unfortunately for the rest of the SEC, those teams' bye weeks leave the league to play without two of its best. Where's the fun in that? We're even deprived of seeing Hugh Freeze and his up-tempo offense at Ole Miss. The SEC East is busy this weekend, but the West is noticeably boring.
It wasn’t an overly difficult week, but we did both correctly pick South Carolina to win at Missouri.
Thank goodness for Connor Shaw.
And before Mizzou fans start screaming “no respect,” I want to point out that I nailed the Tigers’ win over Florida two weeks ago. A certain colleague of mine did not.
As is usually the case, the month of November will decide this thing. I’m not consumed with wins and losses. Nor am I concerned with what’s coming up two or three weeks from now.
Rather, I’m just grinding away and trying to get better each week and focus on the process.
So after posting 7-0 marks last week, Edward and I are still deadlocked. We’re 67-11 (.859) on the season and relatively healthy as we hit the home stretch, although Edward is always complaining about some nagging injury he has sustained in his softball league.
That or staying out too late with his homeboy, Oscar, in the ATL. Come to think of it, Edward has been a little off on his picks ever since he quit wearing those GQ glasses in his videos.
Anyway, let’s get to our picks in Week 10:
ALABAMA STATE at KENTUCKY
Chris Low: After five straight losses, Kentucky needs a win in the worst way. The Wildcats would need to win their last five games to qualify for a bowl game. That’s not going to happen, but they will get back into the win column Saturday with an easy win. Kentucky 40, Alabama State 14
Edward Aschoff: The wins haven't come lately for the Wildcats, but we've seen small improvements here and there during their five-game losing streak. Kentucky is hobbled at quarterback, but should put it all together against the Hornets. Kentucky 41, Alabama State 10
UTEP at TEXAS A&M
Low: Former Texas A&M quarterback Jameill Showers injured his shoulder and won’t get a shot at his old team. The reality is that the Miners didn’t have much of a shot anyway. Even with a bum shoulder of his own, Johnny Football is still lighting up defenses and will do so again this weekend. Texas A&M 52, UTEP 14
Aschoff: We thought we'd get a homecoming for UTEP quarterback Jameill Showers, but a shoulder injury has him sidelined. With Showers out, don't expect much drama at all in this one. Texas A&M 56, UTEP 17
MISSISSIPPI STATE at SOUTH CAROLINA
Low: The Gamecocks have new life in the East race after winning in double overtime at Missouri last week. They won’t need any extra periods this week against a Mississippi State team that has its work cut out if the Bulldogs are going to make a fourth straight bowl appearance. South Carolina 37, Mississippi State 21
Aschoff: This is the perfect time for a letdown from the Gamecocks. We've seen it before from this team after a big win, and it doesn't help that quarterback Connor Shaw is still ill. The Bulldogs will be battling for a bowl game this season, but South Carolina pulls this one out behind running back Mike Davis. South Carolina 31, Mississippi State 20
AUBURN at ARKANSAS
Low: This game was spiced up during the offseason when Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn sparred publicly over whether players were at a higher risk for injury when hurry-up offenses tried to speed up the game and run more plays. The Hogs are coming off a bye and need to stop the bleeding after losing five in a row, but won’t be able to slow down the Tigers. Auburn 37, Arkansas 24
Aschoff: The relationship between Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn is chippy at best. This summer, Bielema made sure people knew about his disdain for the hurry-up offense. Saturday, Malzahn will show everyone why Bielema dislikes it so much. Auburn 48, Arkansas 24
TENNESSEE at MISSOURI
Low: Somewhere along the way, Andrew Baggett is going to get another chance to win it for Missouri with a late field goal. This won’t be the game, though, as the Tigers will take out their frustration from a week ago on a Tennessee team that will be starting a true freshman quarterback. Missouri 38, Tennessee 20
Aschoff: The Tigers are coming off a heartbreaking loss in which they surrendered a 17-0 fourth-quarter lead to South Carolina, while the Vols have a new starting quarterback in Joshua Dobbs. Mizzou still has the SEC Eastern Division to think about, and its talent will overwhelm the Vols. Missouri 34, Tennessee 17
FLORIDA vs. GEORGIA
Low: It’s the battle of the walking wounded. Both of these teams have been decimated by injuries this season. Georgia gets back star running back Todd Gurley this week, though, and that will help. But Florida’s defense, which had its pride bruised two weeks ago at Missouri, will rise to the occasion and give Will Muschamp his first win over his alma mater as the Gators’ coach. Florida 24, Georgia 23
Aschoff: Both of these teams are banged up and will be without key players on both sides of the ball. The injuries piled up even more for Florida when left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) was ruled out on Wednesday. Florida hasn't lost three straight to the Dawgs since the late 1980s, but Georgia's offense will get a major boost from the return of running back Todd Gurley, who will help grind out the Dawgs' third-straight win in this series. Georgia 24, Florida 20
In the case of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who suffered a shoulder injury on Oct. 19 against Auburn but finished the game and played through it on Saturday in a 56-24 win over Vanderbilt, head coach Kevin Sumlin said the star quarterback is pretty good about managing how much he can or can't throw on a given day as he rehabilitates from the injury.
"He's a really mature player when it comes to practice and communication," Sumlin said. "I think last week, I think he thought he was going to practice on Thursday and it was just so sore when he came out and warmed up. He was pretty tentative and backed off."
Manziel threw some on Wednesday and Thursday leading up to the Vanderbilt game but didn't participate in 11-on-11 drills until Friday. Sumlin's fear was that Manziel would practice for the first time on Friday and feel soreness on game day. That was exactly how it played out with Manziel feeling soreness when he woke up the day of the game and it drew concern, but once he participated in warm-ups, he felt like he was ready to go.
"You wake up at 7 o'clock in the morning and the quarterback says his shoulder hurts, it's not a good deal," Sumlin said jokingly.
Manziel wound up playing and playing well, finishing 25 of 35 passing for 305 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception. This week, he and the coaching staff have been smart about monitoring how much he does but neither party anticipates a problem when the Aggies host UTEP at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
"I think it says a lot about him and his approach," Sumlin said of Manziel's handling of the situation. "We'll communicate during the week like we do all the time but I don't anticipate [any problems]. Sunday he said he was feeling OK. [Monday] he threw a few balls, so I don't anticipate it being a problem this week."
There are a couple others who are uncertain for Saturday's game. Starting right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who missed last Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury, could play but also could sit out. If he does not play, Sumlin said it would be more of a "precautionary" measure and Ogbuehi would almost certainly return to play the following week vs. Mississippi State.
Defensive tackle Alonzo Williams, who missed last week's game with an apparent lower leg injury is a "maybe" according to Sumlin. Both the offensive line and defensive line performed admirably in Ogbuehi's and Williams' respective absences. With a 1-6 UTEP team coming to town, the Aggies could still afford to allow both to sit, should the coaching staff choose to go that direction.
Frank Iheanacho (Houston/Westside) delivered the news to his family and friends two years ago. A spry, 6-foot-5 sophomore with dreams of playing college basketball, he received his first scholarship offer from New Orleans.
It was a moment Iheanacho will never forget. It also was something that made him want more. He wanted more scholarship offers so he would have more options.
Iheanacho's offer list is now 16 strong, but only three are in the sport he once thought would be his destiny.
Iheanacho will be in a college uniform next year, but thanks to a strong senior year on the gridiron, that uniform will probably include a helmet and pads instead of a high-tops.
Pretty impressive for someone who technically is only in his first year of varsity football. Iheanacho was on varsity as a sophomore but didn't get any playing time and focused solely on basketball as a junior.
"All of this, it makes me feel good. It lets me know I'm working hard every day at practice, before and after, and in the weight room," said Iheanacho. "It lets me know I'm doing something right. Hard work pays off. I'm just glad they see my potential. I know I have long way to go, and I'm never going to be satisfied with where I'm at."
* * *
Last week, Nick Saban called out Alabama students for leaving Crimson Tide games early, saying they needed to stick around for all 60 minutes or give away their tickets.
The students responded on Saturday by keeping their section of Bryant-Denny Stadium full until the end of a 45-10 win over Tennessee -- a game the Tide led 35-0 at halftime.
We don't really know if Alabama students are growing bored of their team's constant domination. But if so, they would merely be joining the rest of America.
Saban's "process" reaps undeniably admirable results, as his program has won three of the past four national titles and is in position to claim a third straight crystal football this January.
Admiration and enjoyment, however, do not always go together. An Alabama fatigue factor exists across the country, both because of the Crimson Tide's sustained success and the clinical, almost bloodless, manner in which they've achieved it.
The biggest suspense in the last two BCS title games -- in which Alabama beat Notre Dame and LSU by a combined score of 63-14 -- was whether Saban would crack half a smirk during the celebration.
We respect Alabama's precision. But we also long for some panache. In an age when everyone has a high-definition television and a smartphone to relay all the scores, we demand entertainment as well as execution from our college football teams.
Luckily, we also have an abundance of alternative, anti-Alabama programming this season. In fact, it seems that we're blessed with an unprecedented amount of spectacles and showmen on display from coast to coast, and that is true at the top of this season's BCS standings.
If you could afford just one ticket -- or if you had a really terrible cable package that gave you access to just one game -- how would you choose between some of these top viewing options?
To continue reading, click here.
No. 1 Alabama continues its stranglehold in the West but Auburn is right behind the Crimson Tide with the Iron Bowl coming in late November. And the Crimson Tide have a date with LSU before that. The East got a little more interesting over the weekend with South Carolina's win over Missouri. The Gamecocks are in the mix, though they still need some help.
Let's take a look at how the division races are shaping up with five weeks left in the regular season:
• Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) continues to control its own destiny in the SEC West. If the Crimson Tide win out, they'll be the West's representative in the SEC championship game. Alabama is off this week and hosts No. 13 LSU (7-2, 3-2) next week. There are also dates remaining with Mississippi State (4-3, 1-2) and No. 11 Auburn (7-1, 3-1) in divisional play.
• Auburn also controls its own destiny. The Tigers have SEC contests left against Arkansas (3-5, 0-4), Tennessee (4-4, 1-3), Georgia (4-3, 3-2) and Alabama and if the Tigers were to win all four, they would be the division champion and head to Atlanta. The Tigers next two games, vs. the Razorbacks and Volunteers, are on the road and then Auburn returns home to close out the year against the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide.
• LSU has No. 1 Alabama, No. 12 Texas A&M and Arkansas remaining. The Tigers need to win out and need Alabama to lose twice (one of which would have to be to LSU) and Auburn to lose once. If LSU and Auburn beat Alabama and all three finish with two SEC losses, LSU would win the tiebreaker. Here is a further explanation of the SEC's rules on breaking ties within the division races.
• Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2) is pretty much out of the race for the SEC West title. The Aggies would have to win out to win the title, but they would also need Alabama to lose their last three conference games and Auburn to lose twice.
• Even though it lost on Saturday to South Carolina, No. 9 Missouri (7-1, 3-1) still controls its destiny in the SEC East. If the Tigers win their remaining games, they're the SEC East champions. Their strong start is serving them well since they built a two-game cushion over the a few others, but now that lead is down to one with three teams being only a game back in the loss column. Missouri has Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M remaining on the schedule.
• South Carolina (6-2, 4-2) is in the mix for the title after beating Missouri on Saturday but would need to win out and for Missouri to lose one more time. South Carolina has only two conference games left: home games against Mississippi State and Florida. If it's only a two-way tie at the top at the end of the year, South Carolina's head-to-head win last week would be the tiebreaker.
• Georgia (4-3, 3-2) has a head-to-head win over South Carolina, but that only becomes a factor if Georgia wins out and finds itself in a three-way tie with South Carolina and Missouri at 6-2. That would mean Georgia would have to close out the season with conference wins over Florida, Auburn and Kentucky, with the Auburn game being on the road. If that happened and Missouri, South Carolina and Georgia were tied atop the division, the tiebreaker would go to the team with the best divisional record, since all three would be 1-1 against each other. Currently, Georgia is 2-2 in SEC East play, Missouri is 3-1 in the division and South Carolina is 3-2.
• Florida (4-3, 3-2) has a loss to Missouri but has games against Georgia and South Carolina coming up, as well as a game against Vanderbilt sandwiched in between. The Gators need to win out and have Missouri lose twice, since Missouri holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Gators. That scenario also works for Georgia if Georgia wins out, because it has a loss to Missouri but has beaten South Carolina.
On the field, it has been the statistically the worst in the SEC in total defense, yards per play, rushing defense and near the bottom in several other categories. The national rankings in many areas have been in the 100s. As a result, the unit has taken a heap of criticism, especially when compared with the team's high-powered offense which puts up points in bunches.
For once, the defense was a source of positive discussion.
"I feel like we finally put together a complete game," senior linebacker Nate Askew said. "There weren’t a lot of blown coverages or assignments gap-wise. That was the biggest thing and having fun out there."
The sack totals were particularly eye-opening because Texas A&M had been one of the country's worst in generating a pass rush before Saturday. The Aggies had seven sacks total entering Saturday's game, but matched the season tally in one day.
The reason? More blitz calls from defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, who said he finally felt comfortable dialing up more pressure. As the defense continued to see players go in and out of the lineup all season for various reasons (suspensions, injuries, inept play), it was a challenge to get a group of 11 players that Snyder felt he could trust to be in the right place in the right time, especially considering how much youth is on that side of the ball (11 freshmen exist in the two-deep depth chart).
But as players begin to settle into their roles and get more comfortable, especially in the secondary, Snyder is beginning to feel more comfortable taking risks. The group back there on Saturday – cornerbacks Deshazor Everett and De'Vante Harris along with safeties Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven – were the projected four starters at the beginning of the year but have rarely been on the field together for one reason or another.
"We need to stay healthy and keep the young DBs coming along and learning," Snyder said. "There is a degree of difficulty for the back end to do some of the things we do and to have those guys all in place helped a lot."
It also helped that Vanderbilt's starting quarterback on Saturday, Patton Robinette, was a freshman making his first career start, though Snyder said the game plan appeared to be the same as the previous week when the Commodores beat Georgia. Considering that Texas A&M struggled to stop virtually everybody this season, including FCS team Sam Houston State and Rice, whom it gave up 306 rushing yards to in the season opener, any positive sign is a good one for the Aggies.
So is Saturday's performance reason for optimism with the A&M defense or will they simply revert back to previous ways moving forward? It might be hard to tell this week, because the No. 12 Aggies host a struggling nonconference opponent in UTEP (1-6). Should the Aggies repeat what they did on Saturday for a second straight week, however, they could build some momentum to take into the home stretch of their conference slate as they finish up the year against Mississippi State, LSU and Missouri.
If the Aggies can stay healthy and keep the personnel consistent on that side of the ball, Snyder can continue to be aggressive in his calls. That aggressiveness was one trait of the 2012 A&M defense, which was surprisingly good despite question marks on the defensive line, about depth in general and was a key part to Texas A&M's inaugural 11-2 campaign in the SEC.
With an open date following the Aggies final two home games before they have to hit the road for battles at LSU and Missouri to close out the year, the defense will need to continue to improve if the Aggies have hopes of winning the remainder of their games.
"I think at this point what happens is for them to have some success Saturday I thought was important and hopefully we were better," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "We were not great by any means and hopefully because of some success, particularly by the young guys and some success as a defense, we'll continue to get better and gain some confidence from that because that's going to be important moving forward."
- Nick Saban has won three of the past four national championships with Alabama, but this season could be his best coaching job since he arrived in Tuscaloosa.
- Injuries to Henry Josey and Russell Hansbrough might thrust Missouri running back Marcus Murphy into a bigger role this week against Tennessee.
- If Arkansas wants to upset Auburn on Saturday, it knows it has to keep up with the Tigers’ offense and score points.
- Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is ‘day-to-day’ with a shoulder injury, but the coaching staff is teaching him how to protect himself and avoid plays like the one that got him hurt last Saturday.
- Mike Evans has been one of the top wide receivers in college football this season, and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is puzzled why he’s not in the Heisman conversation.
- After playing nine weeks in a row, LSU finally gets a break this week but not without looking ahead and preparing for Alabama.
- Just like Connor Shaw, South Carolina’s Kelcy Quarles played through injury Saturday at Missouri. After another strong performance, he’s proving to be the Gamecocks’ best defensive lineman.
- Freshman running back Kelvin Taylor is expected to start for Florida on Saturday in Jacksonville, the same city his father made a legacy in the NFL.
- Aaron Murray could have left early for the NFL after last season, and though it’s been difficult in 2013, the Georgia quarterback has no regrets about coming back.
- Mississippi State hung on to beat Kentucky last week, but head coach Dan Mullen still criticized his play- calling late in the game.
Late Tuesday evening Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) said Florida, Texas A&M, Texas, Ole Miss and Ohio State are still very high on his list of schools, but LSU is now in the mix as well. Adams was offered by LSU back in April, minutes after he competed at the Nike Football Training Camp in Allen, Texas, and earned a golden ticket to The Opening.
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