AUBURN, Ala. -- Freshman Kyle Allen threw four touchdown passes in the first half and Texas A&M recovered two fumbles in the final minutes to cap a 41-38 upset of No. 3 Auburn, likely ending the Tigers' playoff hopes.
The Aggies (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference), who came in as 23-point underdogs, pulled off the kind of dramatic finish that had become an Auburn trademark.
The Tigers (7-2, 4-2, No. 3 CFP) twice appeared to be driving toward a go-ahead touchdown before coughing it up on plays that never really got going. First, Julien Obioha won a scramble for the ball after Nick Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne got tangled up in the backfield.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams injured his right knee early in the second quarter of Saturday's 41-38 loss to Texas A&M and was ruled out for the remainder of the game.
Williams tried to make a short catch when Aggies defensive back De'Vante Harris tackled him low, and his helmet made contact with Williams' knee. Williams walked off the field gingerly with help from Auburn trainers. At the time of the injury, Texas A&M had a 21-14 lead.
Williams, a junior college transfer, entered the game with team highs of 37 receptions for 598 yards and five touchdown catches.
Jake Matthews, No. 90 in 2010 class
Some had Matthews pegged to head to USC coming out of Elkins High in Missouri City, Texas, because his father, Bruce Matthews, and uncle, Clay Matthews, both starred for the Trojans. Jake was always more partial to the schools closer to home, providing Texas A&M and Texas strong chances to secure his commitment. The Aggies ultimately won out due in large part to Bruce Matthews have a strong respect for then Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman as an offensive line developer that ran a pro-style offense. Matthews played center, guard and tackle during his high school career. He was a member of a Texas A&M 2010 class that included Luke Joeckel, Damontre Moore (3rd round NFL draft pick in 2013), Cedric Ogbuehi and Malcome Kennedy.
Matthews hit the field running as a freshman in College Station, appearing in 10 games in 2010 at right tackle. He started the last seven contests, earning honorable mention All-Big 12.
The second of three sons of Bruce Matthews to play for Texas A&M, Jake started every game his last three years, earning first team All-SEC honors following his junior season, which included protecting Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Matthews was selected in the first round (No. 6 overall) by the Atlanta Falcons in 2014, joining Joeckel (No. 2 in 2013) as back-to-back Top 10 offensive line draft selections for Texas A&M.
Honorable mention: Major Wright, No. 90 in 2007, and Stephon Tuitt, No. 90 in 2011. Wright was a third-round selection in the 2010 NFL draft out of Florida. He played at South Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas in high school and selected the Gators over Miami and others. Tuitt was a second-round selection (No. 46 overall) in the 2014 NFL draft. He selected Notre Dame over Georgia Tech.
The second-year coach will put that streak to the test Saturday when the Tigers welcome Texas A&M to town in what will be the last SEC home game for Auburn’s seniors.
Key player: Right tackle Avery Young
Young began the season at guard but has since moved back to right tackle, and Saturday he’ll draw the assignment of trying to slow down Texas A&M’s star freshman Myles Garrett. That’s no easy task. Garrett has already set the freshman record for sacks (11), a mark previously held by Jadeveon Clowney, and he still has three games left to play. As a team, Auburn leads the SEC having only allowed six sacks on the season, but Young and the rest of this offensive line will have their hands full with the Aggies’ talented youngster.
Key question: How will Kyle Allen fare in his first SEC start?
It wasn’t that long ago when another true freshman quarterback was making his first SEC start at Auburn, and it didn’t go so well. LSU’s Brandon Harris went 3-of-14 for 58 yards before getting pulled in the third quarter. Allen is obviously hoping for a better performance Saturday, but he didn’t blow by anybody last week against UL-Monroe. The freshmen threw for 106 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The good news is that Auburn’s defense has struggled recently against the pass, but maybe this is what gets them back on track.
Key stat: Since Malzahn took over as head coach, Auburn is 16-0 when it runs for at least 240 yards and 3-3 when it does not per ESPN Stats & Info.
I’m not sure what’s crazier -- that Malzahn is perfect when his team rushes for more than 240 yards or that they’ve done it 16 times in 22 games. Either way, it shouldn’t be a hard number to reach on Saturday, not against a Texas A&M defense that is 12th in the SEC against the run and not when Auburn has Cameron Artis-Payne, the SEC’s leading rusher. Artis-Payne has gone more than 100 yards six times in eight games this season, and he’s liable to get closer to 200 against the Aggies. Maybe then he’ll start getting recognized outside the SEC.
But playing early in the SEC isn’t all about talent. It’s about what position you play, too. Some positions are easier to make a quick transition from high school to college while others take years to adjust.
Here’s a position-by-position look at how easy or difficult it is for a true freshman to play in college (10 being the hardest, 1 being the easiest).
Degree of difficulty: 10
Name the last true freshmen quarterback to have success in the SEC. Exactly. Jeremy Johnson was pretty good for Auburn last season, but that was against Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina. It’s more typical to see debuts similar to what LSU’s Brandon Harris or Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen had this season. Not only do you have to be able to make more accurate throws, but you have to grasp the offense and make quicker reads at the line of scrimmage.
Degree of difficulty: 3
This number might be higher if not for all the freshman running backs in the SEC who are making it look easy this season. Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb are the two that stand out, but Jalen Hurd has had a solid freshman season at Tennessee and Roc Thomas is beginning to make a bigger impact at Auburn. As long as you are strong enough and fast enough, and you protect the football, you can play running back in the SEC.
Degree of difficulty: 4
Similar to running back, talent alone can get you on the field early as a wide receiver. There weren’t many like Julio Jones and A.J. Green, but both former SEC stars took the league by storm as freshmen in 2008. Now you’re seeing players like Speedy Noil, Malachi Dupre and Josh Malone step in and make an impact from day one. They might not all be polished, but they can all make plays.
Degree of difficulty: 9
It’s almost impossible for an offensive lineman to play as a true freshman. The game is faster, and you are facing players twice as big and five times stronger than you did in high school. It’s what makes Cam Robinson's season at Alabama that much more impressive. Until a recent ankle injury, Robinson had started every game for the Tide at left tackle, arguably the most important position on the offensive line, and he hasn’t missed a beat.
Degree of difficulty: 7
Defensive tackle? You can almost forget about it. But more and more pass-rushers are coming into the league and playing as freshmen. If you can get to the quarterback, you can play. Garrett is currently second in the SEC with 11 sacks. Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett is second in the league with 14 tackles for loss. The hardest part for a defensive lineman is to maintain that production for a whole season.
Degree of difficulty: 6
Outside linebacker can be similar to defensive end. The coaches will throw you out there on athleticism alone and expect you to make plays. Middle linebacker is a different story. They are typically the quarterback of the defense. They make the calls, which means they need to know the defense inside and out. That can be a lot for a true freshman who has only been on campus for maybe a couple months.
Degree of difficulty: 8
The difference between wide receiver and cornerback is that if you screw up as a wide receiver, the result is likely an incomplete pass. If you screw up as a cornerback, it could wind up being a touchdown for the other team. Coaches rarely trust true freshmen to play in the secondary, especially at cornerback. Safety can be a little easier to pick up, but a missed assignment or busted coverage could still end very poorly.
Before his team faced Auburn last month, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier spoke of the mutual respect he believes exists between head coaches who call plays on offense. Spurrier and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn are among those who wear both hats for their respective programs.
Later asked about those coaches that don’t call plays on either side of the ball for their teams, the always candid Spurrier jokingly speculated how those top men spend their time.
"I think they sit around and say 'What am I going to tell you guys [media] most of the time,'" Spurrier said with a laugh. “Most of them look in on all three phases of their team -- offense, defense, special teams. Some of them are more involved in one or the other -- special teams, defense or what have you. But you really need to ask them what they do all week. I’m not 100 percent sure what they are doing, exactly."
It’s an interesting discussion, and every head coach has his own philosophy. On Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, two offensive-minded head coaches who differ in that area will meet -- Malzahn and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.
Both have built their reputations on high-powered, up-tempo, no-huddle offenses. Malzahn serves as Auburn’s primary offensive play-caller, and Sumlin delegates the duty to his offensive coordinator, something he has done since the start of his head coaching career seven years ago at Houston.
Why do they believe in their respective methods? Malzahn said his passion and habit of calling plays dates to his time as a head coach in the high school ranks. His success juggling the tasks at that level led him to continue to do so when he became a college coach.
"I've always done it all my career," Malzahn said. "When I got into coaching college, I got some good advice: 'Hey, don't change anything that helped you get to where you're at. Do what you feel like your strength is,' and I feel very comfortable doing that."
It’s hard to argue with the results. Last season, Auburn was No. 1 in the nation in rushing yards per game (328.29), No. 8 in yards per play (6.92), 11th in yards per game (501.3) and 12th in scoring offense (39.5). This season the Tigers are eighth in rushing (276.88), fifth in yards per play (6.97), 16th in yards per game (497.5) and 13th in scoring (38.8).
Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee have a strong rapport and ongoing discussion during games that yields the results.
"It’s just kind of constant back-and-forth dialogue from there," Lashlee said. "A lot of in-drive stuff for us is feel and based off things we’ve seen so far. If one of us feels really good about something, we say it and usually roll with it.
"Usually Coach [Malzahn] would get in a good rhythm, and I’m just trying to be that sounding board -- keep things on his mind or remind him certain things are there. Sometimes he’ll say 'What do you want?' It works good back-and-forth so far together."
Malzahn says Lashlee’s work during the week allows Malzahn to handle his head coaching duties and not solely focus on offensive game-planning.
"I'm very fortunate to have a guy like Rhett Lashlee who can do a lot of legwork during the week, preparation and everything that goes with that, and it allows me to be a head coach," Malzahn said. "But I do enjoy calling plays on Saturday."
Being a play-caller as a head coach was something Sumlin gave much thought to when he accepted his first head coaching job at Houston prior to the 2008 season. In the end, he felt assuming the duty might stretch him too thin when it came to being able to juggle that task and building the type of program he wanted.
He had success hiring coordinators. The first two he hired -- Dana Holgorsen and Kliff Kingsbury -- moved on to head coaching jobs after having success under Sumlin.
"I just thought there are so many things to do, so many things that go on that it was going to be very difficult for me to establish a program, get a program going at the level [I wanted] -- whether it was at Houston or here [at Texas A&M] -- to really do that during a game," Sumlin said. "When I was a coordinator I couldn't tell you what was going on [with] special teams or defensively, because we were always worried about what was happening [offensively]."
He also feels delegating that responsibility helped him be better in other areas.
"We played in a lot of really, really close games, and I think history will tell you that we've had a great track history in close games of clock management and what happens at the end of close games," Sumlin said. "I think that had a lot to do with me, along with the staff, being able to communicate and see the whole picture rather than being myopic on the situation."
Though the Aggies have struggled lately offensively, Sumlin’s head coaching career has been filled with significant offensive success, lending credibility to the approach. His current offensive coordinator, Jake Spavital, has the freedom to call the game as he sees fit, just like the others who preceded him in that position under Sumlin. Though the head coach does have his input, he saves it for breaks in the action.
"It's in-between drives that we discuss what we need to do, and a lot of it is personnel issues about what we're capable of doing from protection to running the ball, to how the quarterback is handling the situation right now and what's going to be easiest, and what's the situation on the clock," Spavial said. "Coach Sumlin is going to step in and voice his opinion if needed, but he really doesn't mess with me that often during the course of a drive."
Edward Aschoff: So much is riding on this game. LSU can legitimately get back in the SEC hunt, while Alabama’s SEC and playoff hopes hinge on a win in Death Valley. Both teams are hitting their strides, but Alabama is a little banged up. Honestly, this is a coin flip. I think we're in for another defensive struggle, and while LSU’s defense hasn’t been as consistent as Alabama’s, I love the way it’s playing right now. The offense doesn’t have to be great -- and it won’t be -- but the defense is going to force mistakes and put that bullying run game in great position to make plays on the positive side of the field. Expect some beautiful Bayou brilliance from the Mad Hatter. LSU 17, Alabama 14
David Ching: A month ago, most LSU fans dreaded this game because the Tigers looked nothing like the hard-nosed Les Miles teams of old. They’ve gotten back to LSU’s trademark style -- leaning on power running and feisty defense -- during a three-game winning streak that has the Tigers back in the conversation for a playoff spot. However, beating Alabama requires proficiency at quarterback that the Tigers haven't displayed yet. Unless Anthony Jennings plays the best game of his career, Alabama escapes this slobberknocker with a narrow win. Alabama 24, LSU 23
Sam Khan Jr.: This game is usually a close, down-to-the-wire affair, and I expect nothing less Saturday night in Death Valley. The Crimson Tide have more to play for, with a top-four spot in the College Football Playoff there for the taking if they can take care of business down the stretch. The Tide have what it takes, ranking in the top 10 nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the only team in the FBS with that distinction. And I have a hunch Blake Sims is going to come up big for them this week and make the needed plays to win in this tough road atmosphere. Alabama 24, LSU 17
Chris Low: LSU has done a terrific job of rallying from that crushing 41-7 loss to Auburn, and the Tigers are playing a lot of young players who are starting to come into their own. Tiger Stadium will be electric, no question, and Alabama has been a different team on the road this season. But the Crimson Tide have been more explosive offensively and have the playmakers, namely Amari Cooper, to attack LSU through the air. The Tigers' forte offensively is running the ball, but how many teams line up and mash the ball down the Tide's throats? It will be close. This game always is, but Alabama will force LSU to be one-dimensional and sneak out of the Bayou with a win. Alabama 24, LSU 20
Greg Ostendorf: Part of me doesn’t want to bet against Les Miles at home in a night game. He already burned me once when I made the mistake of picking Ole Miss over LSU. But if anybody is going to go in there and get a win, it’s Nick Saban. I expect a classic knockdown, drag-out fight between the Tide and the Tigers on Saturday. Maybe not quite like the 2011 game in Tuscaloosa, but close. The difference will be Amari Cooper. He’s the best player on the field. Alabama 24, LSU 20
Alex Scarborough: There are two rules for facing the LSU Tigers: get them late in the year and get them at your place. Unfortunately for Alabama, it goes to Death Valley in November. The Tigers' confidence has risen considerably in the past month, their running game is on a roll and the defense has improved. That's not to say the Tide aren't playing well. But Alabama has been different on the road. Inside a raucous Tiger Stadium, communication could be an issue for the offensive line and QB Blake Sims. Penalties and turnovers will be the difference. LSU 20, Alabama 17
Georgia over Kentucky: It will be interesting to see how Georgia bounces back from its implosion against Florida -- and the Bulldogs typically struggle when in Lexington -- but expect Mark Richt’s club to get back on track. Georgia 35, Kentucky 17
Ole Miss over Presbyterian: What a perfect spot on the schedule for this game. Following two emotional losses, the Rebels have a chance to sort out their offense without injured receiver Laquon Treadwell against an FCS opponent. Ole Miss 34, Presbyterian 7
Auburn over Texas A&M: At one point we pictured this as a shootout, much like when the Tigers and Aggies met last season. But A&M has been slumping lately and Kyle Allen didn’t provide much reason for optimism in last Saturday's narrow win over Louisiana-Monroe. Auburn 45, Texas A&M 24
Florida over Vanderbilt: Was it temporary Jacksonville magic or did Florida’s offense find something last week by bludgeoning Georgia with the run? Maybe a bit of both. Either way, the Gators leave Nashville with a win. Florida 28, Vanderbilt 14
Mississippi State over UT-Martin: Take control and get the starters out early, Bulldogs. With a closing stretch of Bama-Vandy-Ole Miss still to go, you’ll need Dak Prescott, Josh Robinson & Co. to be as healthy as possible in order to remain undefeated. Mississippi State 38, UT-Martin 3
Greg Ostendorf 68-14
Edward Aschoff 67-15
David Ching 66-16
Chris Low 66-16
Alex Scarborough 65-17
Sam Khan Jr. 61-21
Allen opened his Twitter account and fired off a five-word tweet, a note to the world that he was down, but not out.
The message was clear: Allen would keep fighting, competing for a chance to start even as the backup. Though it seemed unlikely after Hill's record-setting debut on Aug. 28 that Allen would see the field this season for anything other than marginal playing time, the youngster's time has come.
After making his starting debut Saturday vs. Louisiana-Monroe, Allen will make his second consecutive start this weekend when the Aggies travel to Auburn. Allen will trade the friendly confines of Kyle Field and a Sun Belt Conference opponent for the hostile atmosphere of Jordan-Hare Stadium and the No. 3 team in the nation.
"That's a lot of pressure for an 18-year-old kid to get thrown into," Aggies offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said.
That's an understatement.
The Aggies hope Allen can handle it, because there are precious few alternatives. Hill will be serving the second of a two-game suspension and won't make the trip. The only other quarterback on the two-deep depth chart is Conner McQueen, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship fewer than three months ago.
Texas A&M can only work with what it has, which is Allen, an ESPN 300 recruit and the No. 1-rated pocket passer in the 2014 class.
"I think he can handle it and it's up to us to get him calmed down," Spavital said. "He's going to have nerves, it's going to be a hostile environment, there's going to be a lot of things happening in between plays and he's just got to calm down, relax, communicate it clearly and just go out there and compete and do what he's always done.
"I always tell him 'Cut it loose. Who cares what happens? Go out there, have fun and play to the best of your ability.'"
When Allen enrolled at Texas A&M in January, there were many outside the program that assumed the Scottsdale, Arizona, product could be starting from Day 1, given his lofty status as a recruit. Johnny Manziel's shoes were left to fill and only unproven quarterbacks resided on the Aggies' roster to fill them.
With a season of experience and a knowledge of the Aggies' style of offense that dated back to his high school days on his side, Hill won the job during an offseason and training camp competition. Upon breaking Manziel's single-game passing yardage record in his starting debut vs. South Carolina, virtually no one questioned coach Kevin Sumlin and Spavital's decision to start the sophomore.
After a 5-0 start, Hill faltered as did the Aggies' offense in a three-game losing streak. During an off week that followed that stretch, Spavital said Allen beat out Hill during practice for the right to start against Louisiana-Monroe. Before kickoff, the team announced Hill would be suspended for the following two games for a violation of team rules and athletic department policies.
Allen led the Aggies to a touchdown drive to start the game and a 21-10 halftime lead Saturday but had his fair share of struggles, too, finishing 13-of-28 passing for 106 yards with a touchdown, an interception and taking three sacks with a scaled-down playbook to ease him into his first start.
"We had a lot of thoughts of max protecting him, keeping it down and keeping the game plan simple, not making him think as much," Spavital said. "There's a lot of nerves that every kid goes through in his first start. I thought he handled it pretty well."
How the 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback has handled himself since arriving in Aggieland is one of the strengths in his short career. During training camp, McQueen mentioned how impressed he was with the youngster's maturity.
"He came in here at 17 years old, can't even buy a lottery ticket yet and he's more professional about the quarterback position than anybody I've ever met in my entire life," McQueen said in August. "He came here with a goal and he's trying to attain it right now."
Physically, Allen is gifted. His arm talent, stature, intelligence and confidence were among the things that attracted Spavital -- and dozens of other colleges -- to Allen during the recruiting process. After his first start, teammates lauded him, even though the offensive production left much to be desired.
"Kyle is young but he controls that huddle," offensive lineman Ben Compton said. "He knows that he is the guy and he worked all week and whenever his name was called he was ready."
Spavital praised Allen's approach, which he said hasn't changed from the moment he arrived. The Aggies are hopeful he can make significant improvement in a short amount of time as they hit the road as heavy underdogs. The job is his to take, Spavital said, so Saturday becomes a golden opportunity for the golden-armed Allen.
"A lot of times, when you announce that starter at the beginning of the year, they'll be set back from that," Spavital said. "Kyle wasn't that way. He came in and kept working and I think he worked even harder. That's just the ambition that he has to get the starting job.
"He's getting better each week. He's probably his hardest critic, and it's good to see him coming in here and take the effort to keep getting better."
Here is a recap of what the top five true freshmen accomplished, plus five more notables:
DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
What he did: The defenses didn’t exactly dominate the South Carolina-Tennessee game, but Barnett made some huge plays in the Volunteers’ comeback win, including a sack of South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson in overtime. Barnett finished with five tackles, three sacks and two quarterback hurries.
What it means: Barnett is already one of the SEC’s top pass-rushers. He is second in the league with 14 tackles for loss and is tied for fifth with six sacks. That’s impressive production for any player, but it’s incredible for a true freshman.
RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
What he did: Chubb got off to a hot start against Florida with 100 rushing yards -- and a beautiful touchdown run -- in the first quarter. He and the Bulldogs bogged down on offense a bit afterward, with Florida running away with an upset win. Chubb still finished with impressive totals, however: 21 carries for 156 yards and a touchdown, plus five catches for 59 yards and another score.
What it means: Chubb also lost his first fumble of the season at the end of a 35-yard run in the third quarter, ending a drive when the Bulldogs were trying to scratch their way back into the game. Nonetheless, nobody will pin this loss -- their first since Todd Gurley was suspended -- on Chubb. The freshman has one more game until Gurley returns to the lineup, and Chubb has been outstanding thus far.
DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
What he did: Sure it was against Louisiana-Monroe, but Garrett still was a force as the Aggies snapped a three-game losing streak. He finished with six tackles, 3.5 sacks and one hurry in the 21-16 win against the Warhawks.
What it means: As with Barnett, Garrett already ranks among the top players at his position. He now has 11 sacks, which is a record for an SEC freshman, and sits just behind Barnett in TFLs with 12.5. What’s scary is he’s only going to keep getting better.
RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
What he did: Hurd had his best game as a Vol against South Carolina, rushing 21 times for 125 yards and catching seven passes for 58 yards and a score. His biggest play of the game came midway through the fourth quarter, when he caught a fourth-down pass from Josh Dobbs and not only spun past the first-down marker, but bolted 21 yards for a touchdown to keep the Vols’ comeback bid alive.
What it means: Hurd has made this list before and he will almost certainly make it again. He’s that good. The touchdown catch might have been his biggest play of the season, as it trimmed South Carolina’s lead to 35-28 with 6:34 to play. If he gets stopped short of the marker for a turnover on downs, it’s difficult to imagine that Tennessee completes its comeback.
WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M
What he did: Noil’s numbers from the Louisiana-Monroe game -- five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown, plus 51 yards on four punt returns -- are nice, but what we’ll remember is his spectacular 39-yard touchdown catch after it was deflected by a defender.
What it means: It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time since Noil’s second-quarter catch gave the Aggies a 21-7 lead against an underwhelming opponent, but it wound up making a big difference. Texas A&M’s offense bogged down in the second half and the Aggies barely held on for a 21-16 win. If they don’t get six points from the freshman’s acrobatic catch, who knows what might have happened.
QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: Endured a rocky starting debut against ULM, hitting 13 of 28 passes for 106 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
K Aaron Medley, Tennessee: Missed his first two field goals (from 43 and 45 yards), but hit the game-winning kick from 32 yards in overtime against South Carolina. Medley also went 6-for-6 on PATs.
RB Dallas Rivers, Vanderbilt: Ran 17 times for 73 yards and returned three kickoffs for 44 yards in a win against Old Dominion.
S Armani Watts, Texas A&M: Registered five tackles against ULM and also intercepted one pass and broke up another.
RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky: Ran 12 times for 39 yards against Missouri and caught five passes for 58 yards.
2. After Saturday’s loss to Florida, Georgia dropped to No. 20 in the latest playoff rankings. The good news, though, is that star running back Todd Gurley will be reinstated next weekend when the Bulldogs host Auburn. On Tuesday, UGA athletic director Greg McGarity made his first public comments since Gurley’s suspension and provided a detailed look into how the university handled the case. McGarity also said that Gurley never considered quitting the team to focus on his pro prospects. The All-SEC back will miss Saturday's game at Kentucky which means a heavy dose of freshman Nick Chubb. However, Mark Richt indicated that fellow freshman Sony Michel might be ready to return to the backfield against the Wildcats.
3. Tennessee might have found its quarterback of the future (I’ll get to that), but senior Justin Worley has played his final game as a Volunteer. The Week 1 starter got hurt a couple weeks ago at Ole Miss, and head coach Butch Jones announced Tuesday that Worley will miss the rest of the season with a torn labrum. He remained upbeat despite the news, tweeting his gratitude to the fans. A thumb injury cost Worley the last four games of last year, too. Now to the future and Joshua Dobbs. The sophomore lit up South Carolina this past Saturday, and some are already tabbing him as an emerging superstar in college football. That might be jumping the gun, but UT fans should certainly be excited about the kid.
Around the SEC
- Linebacker Cassanova McKinzy is enjoying life as “the man” of Auburn’s defense.
- Kurt Roper is eager to see Florida’s freshman quarterback take the next step as a passer.
- Steve Spurrier says “the plan” is to return as South Carolina's head coach in 2015.
- Texas A&M is in a tailspin. It’s up to head coach Kevin Sumlin to get them out of it.
Ole Miss became the first casualty of an overly crowded group of postseason contenders in the SEC West, but it won't be the last as Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State are on a collision course to meet these next few weeks.
But don't forget about LSU. With a little Les Miles magic in Death Valley on Saturday, the Tigers could simultaneously end Alabama's title hopes while igniting their own.
The only thing more difficult than sorting out the West is figuring out the mess that is the East. While it's impossible to tell who will win that race to mediocrity, we do know that everyone but Vanderbilt has a good shot of becoming bowl eligible.
Which brings us to this big number: 11 bowl teams from the SEC.
College Football Playoff semifinal (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual): Auburn
Capital One Orange Bowl: Alabama
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: LSU
Citrus Bowl: Ole Miss
TaxSlayer Bowl: Missouri
Outback Bowl: Georgia
AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Kentucky
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Florida
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
Let's take a quick glance at some of this week's top storylines in the SEC.
Game of the week: No. 6 Alabama at No. 19 LSU
A month ago, after LSU was dominated on the road by Auburn, this didn't look like it would be much of a game. Sure, it's Alabama-LSU, one of the better rivalries in the SEC over the past decade, but Alabama looked like it might have its way in Death Valley. Not so fast. The Tigers have since won three straight games; they're playing their best football right now; and it goes up another notch when the sun sets over Tiger Stadium. Les Miles is 46-4 in home games played at night. But if anybody knows how to win in Louisiana, it's Nick Saban. He's won two of the three games he's coached at LSU since taking over at Alabama in 2007. If Saturday is anything like those two games, then get comfy. It's going to come down to the wire.
Player under pressure: Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
Nobody expects the Aggies to go into Auburn and win Saturday, nor do they expect Allen to throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns. But it'd be nice to see him improve on his performance this past weekend against Louisiana-Monroe. The freshman, making his first ever start, went 13 of 28 for 106 yards with one touchdown and one interception. That's a far cry from the numbers Kenny Hill put up in his first start against South Carolina to open the season, but we all know that debut would've been tough to beat. Hill will miss his second straight game Saturday, serving a two-game suspension. That opens the door for Allen, who has an opportunity to make his case not only for this season, but for next year, too.
Coach under the microscope: Mark Richt, Georgia
It's not fair to put Richt on the hot seat, but you can't just give him a pass either, not after how Georgia played against Florida on Saturday. The Bulldogs had control of the SEC East and arguably the easiest road to Atlanta for the conference championship game. Now they don't even control their own destiny anymore. The defense, which had played so well in the month of October, gave up 418 yards rushing and five rushing touchdowns to the Gators. That's not good, especially when the league's top rushing offense comes to town in two weeks. But Georgia can't look ahead to Auburn. It needs to focus on this Saturday's game at Kentucky. A loss to the Wildcats, and Richt's seat might start getting warm.
Storyline to watch: How does Ole Miss respond without Treadwell?
It was the worst possible scenario for Ole Miss on Saturday night. The cart was on the field for star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who lay there writhing in pain. He had just fumbled at the goal line, inches from giving the Rebels the lead against Auburn with less than two minutes left. It's a game, and a play, that will stay with the program for years. How do you move past that, especially when Treadwell is out for the remainder of the season with a broken leg? Ole Miss should get back on track this weekend against Presbyterian, but the Rebels don't have another player like Treadwell on the roster. That means it's up to fellow wide receivers Vince Sanders, Quincy Adeboyejo and Cody Core to step up in his absence.
Intriguing matchup: Leonard Fournette against Alabama's defense
It seems like it's been a long time since Fournette struck the Heisman pose after scoring his first career touchdown against Sam Houston State. Lately, the LSU freshman has been going about his business and playing like the player everybody thought he was going to be. He rushed for 113 yards his last time out against one of the better defenses in the SEC in Ole Miss. On Saturday, he'll face the top rushing defense in the conference. Alabama is only giving up 78 yards per game on the ground this season, and they'll be geared to stop LSU's rushing attack. Fournette, who nearly ended up in Tuscaloosa, will have his hands full with the likes of Trey DePriest, Reggie Ragland and Landon Collins. It's strength vs. strength.
Edward Aschoff, Jeff Barlis, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.
Carson's long journey to 5 yards
Five-yard touchdown runs aren't usually the type you find on a highlight reel, but Texas A&M running back Tra Carson found a way to make his special by changing direction. Carson went right and when it was clear nothing was there, he went left, evaded a few tackles and dove in for one of the more impressive 5-yard runs we've seen.
Cooper does it all
It's always fun when a trick play works out well. South Carolina receiver Pharoh Cooper, who put in strong work in the Gamecocks' loss to Tennessee (233 receiving yards, 23 rushing yards, 30 passing yards and four total touchdowns) showed off his passing accuracy on this 30-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Wilds.
Hurd with a spin move
Tennessee put together quite an effort to come from behind and beat South Carolina on the road. Part of the comeback was powered by this 21-yard screen pass from Joshua Dobbs to Jalen Hurd, who made some nifty moves to avoid tackles and get into the end zone.
Big arm, big catch for Marshall, Coates
Auburn picked up a huge win over Ole Miss on Saturday night, and there were several dazzling plays, but perhaps none quite as spectacular as this one. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall scrambled away from pressure before heaving a 57-yard bomb (which in actuality traveled about 65 yards in the air) to Sammie Coates for a touchdown to square the game at 14-14 late in the first half.
A free play for six
Speedy Noil is no stranger to nice catches, as seen in this space earlier this season. This particular one was both difficult and clutch in timing. On fourth-and-1, the Aggies went for it, drew Louisiana-Monroe offside and quarterback Kyle Allen took advantage of the free play by heaving it deep to Noil, who was well defended but still used one hand to haul in the deflection for a 39-yard touchdown catch.
The "Bowling Ball" can catch, too
Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson has made a name for himself with his tackle-breaking ability and big-time production this season. On Saturday against Arkansas, Robinson showed off his receiving ability with an impressive one-handed catch from quarterback Dak Prescott for 47 yards.
Ranking the new SEC defensive coordinators
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