SEC: Texas A&M Aggies

ARLINGTON, Texas -- After he dazzled onlookers and broke records in his starting debut at South Carolina, there wasn’t much more you could ask for from Texas A&M sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill.

He stepped into a tough situation and passed his first test with flying colors. There was one thing, though, that Texas A&M offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital wanted to see from Hill that he didn’t that night, mainly because things went so well: How Hill would respond to adversity.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezKenny Hill rebounded from a subpar start to rally the Aggies to a victory over Arkansas.
In the Aggies’ 35-28 overtime win over Arkansas on Saturday at AT&T Stadium, the world got to see that aspect of Hill’s makeup.

Turns out Hill does that well too.

The first three quarters easily stand out as Hill’s worst of the year, as he completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes (15-of-31) for 182 yards and a touchdown. There were some drops by receivers but Hill often looked uncomfortable, inaccurate, forced passes into tight windows and was close to being intercepted on a few occasions. Eventually, he was picked off in the fourth quarter by Arkansas cornerback Carroll Washington.

The interception notwithstanding, Hill looked like a different player in the fourth quarter and overtime as the Aggies rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to score 21 unanswered points and claim the win. He finished the game completing six of his final 10 pass attempts for 204 yards and three touchdowns to help engineer the comeback.

“It was tough kind of mentally because we faced a little adversity that we hadn't faced yet,” Hill said afterward. “I thought we responded well. The game for me, I mean, it was up and down and up and down the whole time. I mean, I just -- I need to make that a little bit better, just be one level the whole time.”

Because of his early success, eye-popping statistics and some of the early Heisman Trophy discussion, it’s easy to forget that Hill just started his fifth game. He has only appeared in nine games total. Though he has experienced much success in a short time, he’s still a young quarterback.

“It's the first time this year we've really been in that situation,” coach Kevin Sumlin said. “We were off a little bit. Things here, there; we turned it over. But to come through and play the way he did at the end of the game is a big confidence boost for him. Not that he needs it. He is a pretty confident guy. But for our team, too.”

The three touchdown passes he made were on target. The first one, to Edward Pope, was aided by an Arkansas defender falling as the ball arrived in Pope’s hands, allowing him to sprint freely to complete an 86-yard score. Hill fit the ball into a tight window to Joshua Reynolds on the right sideline and as a Razorback defender dove and missed, Reynolds sprinted to finish off a 59-yard scoring reception. And the last one, a 25-yard dart to Malcome Kennedy, was placed perfectly to the open senior receiver.

Hill always seems calm and cool and Kennedy said Saturday was no different.

“Kenny kept his poise like always,” Kennedy said. “I've never seen him walking around with his head down. He didn't sulk. He never pointed fingers at anybody. If anything, he was like, 'My fault, my bad.' That's what a leader has to do.”

SEC Heisman watch: Week 5

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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Well, Todd Gurley isn't exactly slowing down these days.

The Georgia running back just keeps chugging along, leaving defenders shamed along the way. On Saturday, Gurley ran for a career-high 208 yards, had two touchdowns and averaged 7.4 yards per carry against Tennessee. Not bad. No wonder he now has 16 career 100-yard rushing games.

On the season, Gurley has 610 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He's averaging an SEC-high 8.8 yards per carry.

Again, we know how good Gurley is and he should be at the top over everyone's Heisman ballot, at least for the SEC. He should be at the top of it nationally, but some folks are hung up on that Mariota guy.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill, Kevin Sumlin
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesKenny Hill showed his moxie against Arkansas, propelling Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies to 5-0.
But let's take some time to talk about Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill -- the trillest of them all.

We've been impressed with how he has terrorized defenses through the first part of the season, but I think he had his best performance this past Saturday against Arkansas. First, he had to bring his team back from a 14-point deficit in the second half. Then, he had to win in overtime. All he did was throw touchdowns of 86 and 59 yards to tie the game in the fourth. In overtime, he needed just one play, finding Malcome Kennedy, who was somehow behind three Arkansas defenders, for a 25-yard game-winning touchdown.

Kenny Trill's gutty performance showed us that he's more than just a kid tossing the ball around in a pass-friendly system. He had to bring his team back from the edge and then win the game. He did both without really breaking a sweat, throwing for 386 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.

On the season, Hill leads the SEC with 1,745 passing yards and 17 touchdowns. No SEC quarterback is on his level right now.

Here are four others to keep an eye on in the SEC:

  • Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: He was off this past weekend but still leads the SEC with 43 receptions and 655 receiving yards. He's tied for first with five touchdowns.
  • Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: He was also off but has been the SEC's best dual-threat quarterback this season. Prescott has 964 passing yards and 11 touchdowns. He has rushed for 378 yards and three more scores.
  • Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas: Even though the Hogs lost to A&M on Saturday, Collins had another solid outing, rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown. However, that failed fourth-and-1 attempt in overtime will haunt him. On the season, Collins leads the SEC with 621 rushing yards and is tied for the league lead with six rushing touchdowns.
  • Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State: Off as well, Robinson is fourth in the SEC with 485 rushing yards and has four rushing touchdowns. He's averaging 7.8 yards per carry.
What a weekend ahead in the SEC. There are some premier games pitting ranked teams against each other and others featuring teams with plenty to prove in college football’s premier conference. In our SEC roundtable yesterday, we tackled games we’d pay to see.

Today, we pose the question: Which team has the most to prove Saturday? Our SEC writers take a swing at answering it.

Edward Aschoff: It has to be Florida. If the Gators are going to have any chance in the SEC East race, they have to win this weekend in Knoxville. Also, I think it’s pretty clear this is a must-win for coach Will Muschamp. Is this a team that can legitimately compete in the SEC? We didn’t see it two weeks ago against Alabama, and we honestly don’t know what to expect from the Gators this season. Can Jeff Driskel properly direct this offense? Can the secondary stop blowing assignments? Do the Gators have any mettle? We’ll find out Saturday.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
AP Photo/John BazemoreWith ESPN's "College GameDay" in Oxford, Mississippi, this weekend, Ole Miss certainly has the stage to prove itself against Alabama.
Alex Scarborough: Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M are all undefeated. They have something to prove, certainly, but they’re not staring down the barrel of a shotgun. That would be LSU. The Tigers have everything to prove. We’ll find out against Auburn whether LSU can get back on track or whether this is a rebuilding year. It certainly looked like the latter against Mississippi State. Anthony Jennings played so poorly against New Mexico State that he was replaced by Brandon Harris. Is he the answer? When will the Leonard Fournette we all expected show up? For that matter, when will that swarming, physical LSU defense return? Will the real LSU please stand up?

Jeff Barlis: It'd be easy to pick Ole Miss, but my gut says Mississippi State has more to prove. The Rebels have been a trendy pick as a team on the rise for a while now. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, didn't get voted into the Top 25 until they ended a 23-year losing streak to LSU in Baton Rouge. That was also MSU's first win against a ranked team in its past 16 tries. Expectations haven't been this high in Starkville in a long time. But in order to truly contend for the SEC West, the Bulldogs will have to knock off Texas A&M.

David Ching: There are two ways of looking at this one. On one hand, I want to go with Ole Miss because it’s in unfamiliar territory. The Rebels are rarely good enough for “GameDay” to consider visiting. They’re 2-7 against ranked opponents under Hugh Freeze. I think they’re a good team, but they must prove they’re legitimate. Beating Alabama would be a great start. On the other hand, LSU embarrassed itself against Mississippi State. The Tigers need to prove they’re worthy of a No. 15 ranking, not to mention consideration among the contenders in the West. They desperately need to beat Auburn.

Sam Khan: It’s definitely Ole Miss, for many of the reasons David stated. This is the Rebels’ moment: “College GameDay” in the Grove, Alabama coming to Vaught-Hemingway, a chance to finally prove they are ready to take the next step. The past season, when these teams met and many thought the Rebels would give Alabama trouble, they were shut out. If they’re truly going to contend in the SEC West, this is a game in which the Rebels have to thrive. Plus, this isn’t just about them; it’s also about the balance of power this year in the state of Mississippi. Over in Starkville, a rising rival, Mississippi State, is also undefeated and ranked, has a road win at LSU under its belt and will try to knock off No. 6 Texas A&M. If the Bulldogs can, the Rebels -- who seemed to have the momentum at this time a year ago -- have to keep up.

Greg Ostendorf: It feels like Texas A&M lost this past weekend. Despite a thrilling come-from-behind victory against an improved Arkansas team, everybody is all of a sudden counting the Aggies out. They dropped to No. 3 in this week’s power rankings. They’re underdogs against Mississippi State. Did we all forget how good they looked in the season opener? The past year’s Auburn team didn’t exactly blow out every opponent, and yet they won the conference. I think it’s important for Texas A&M to get back on track this week and play like the team we saw earlier in the season, the team everybody had as a shoo-in for the playoff.

Week 6 playoff implications

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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Claim your spot on the couch now. Reserve your table at your favorite sports bar. Buy another TV. Do whatever you gotta do to make sure you don't miss a snap Saturday because this is going to be a good one.

College football has been a well-kept secret so far, as it has been hiding the true identities of teams. Not this week. It's time to play or go home. There are six games between ranked teams. Of the 17 undefeated teams remaining, eight play against each other this week. It's the most relevant weekend the sport has had in regard to the new College Football Playoff.

Here are the games you can't miss, ranked from least to most likely to affect the playoff:

No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame -- Stanford already has one loss, and this is the second straight road trip for the Cardinal. If Stanford loses again, its playoff hopes will be in serious jeopardy but not over, given that it could still win the conference. This game should reveal more about Notre Dame's place in the playoff, as it will be the first ranked opponent for the Irish.

No. 4 Oklahoma at No. 25 TCU -- ESPN's Football Power Index gives Oklahoma a 64 percent chance to win and predicts this to be Oklahoma's hardest remaining game -- slightly more difficult than Nov. 8 against Baylor. If the Sooners can't handle TCU, they'll be on the outside looking in.

No. 15 LSU at No. 5 Auburn -- LSU gave Auburn its only regular-season loss the past year, but LSU has already lost to Mississippi State, which put the Tigers behind in the SEC West race. Considering the rest of LSU's schedule -- and the hole it's already in -- this is a must-win. For Auburn, this is a chance to erase some doubts and make a push from the bubble into the top four.

No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 12 Mississippi State -- Two terrific quarterbacks will be on display in the Aggies' Kenny Hill and the Bulldogs' Dak Prescott, who both rank in the top 10 in total QBR. A&M's stock dropped a bit this past week after it needed overtime to beat Arkansas, but it could be a top-four team if it can survive the state of Mississippi the next two weeks.

No. 3 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss -- This is the most interesting matchup of the day. Alabama ranks third in offensive efficiency, and Ole Miss ranks second in defensive efficiency. Neither team has played a ranked opponent, so there is still some margin for error, but the Tide have a chance to separate from the crowded West.

No. 19 Nebraska at No. 10 Michigan State -- Surprise. The game with the biggest playoff implications is not in the SEC West. This Big Ten matchup could knock Sparty out of the playoff entirely. It's one thing to lose to Oregon; it's another to try to make the four-team playoff with two losses and your best win coming over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Conversely, a win in East Lansing could vault the Huskers into the playoff conversation. They're the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten, and the toughest game left on their schedule is against No. 17 Wisconsin. If Nebraska pulls off the upset, it's time to take it seriously as a playoff team.

Arkansas striding toward SEC relevance

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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ARLINGTON, Texas — The stage was set for Arkansas to make a significant statement to the rest of the SEC West.

Once possessing a two-touchdown, second-half lead and on the verge of making it three touchdowns, the Razorbacks gave No. 6 Texas A&M all it could handle on Saturday at AT&T Stadium. They had the Aggies on the ropes; all they needed was one decisive knockout blow.

They couldn’t land it. As a result, the Razorbacks (3-2, 0-2 SEC) remain on the hunt for their first league win since 2012.

“When you got your foot on somebody’s throat, keep on it,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said after his team’s 35-28 overtime loss to Texas A&M. “I think we need to have that killer mentality, to put that thing away.”

[+] EnlargeJonathan Williams
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJonathan Williams and the Hogs face six ranked foes in their final seven games, but their recent play has put all opponents on notice.
Despite the loss, Arkansas continues to take big steps forward. Bielema’s first year in Fayetteville was lined with struggles as the Razorbacks finished 3-9. This season they’ve already matched that win total and their two losses have come to teams ranked in the top six nationally (Auburn and Texas A&M).

In their season opener against Auburn, they went toe-to-toe with the Tigers for a half before Auburn broke the game open in the third quarter. On Saturday, the Razorbacks looked even better -- and probably should have won, considering how they controlled the game in the first three quarters.

“For whatever reason, we weren't able to have the success we wanted to in the end here,” Bielema said. “But there are a lot of positive steps. But I didn't fly to Dallas to make a positive step. I came here to win, and I think our players did, and to get that close and to not have it, it's a critical week for us.”

That’s the kind of mentality that has to be fostered if the Razorbacks are going to start closing these types of games out. The SEC West is unapologetically difficult. Arkansas’ schedule is brutal down the stretch after their open date this week. Alabama is waiting on the other side of it. So are dates with Georgia, Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss and Missouri.

What’s clear is the Hogs have a system and a style they believe in and they continue to improve while staying true to both. Bielema has a well-documented history of success with his teams playing this physical, old-school style, and the seeds are being planted for future success in Fayetteville now. There is quality on both the offensive and defensive lines and that’s where everything starts. Their running back tandem of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams is a challenge for any team to deal with.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin argued leading up to Saturday's game that Arkansas should have been considered to be a top-25 team. The Razorbacks validated that opinion for much of the day, and it's clear Arkansas is moving closer to being a real factor in the SEC.

The disconnect came late for the Razorbacks, who couldn’t close things out Saturday. By leaving the door creaked open slightly, the Aggies burst right through it, scoring a come-from-behind win, something they’re quite used to. The Aggies have learned how to finish tight games in their still-young SEC tenure. The Razorbacks, in their second season under Bielema, are still learning how to close games out against good teams in crunch time, perhaps signaling the difference between where the two programs are currently.

The Razorbacks were on the losing end of an SEC game for the 14th consecutive time because of critical mistakes that prevented them from building an even bigger lead than the 14-point advantage they once held Saturday.

In the first quarter, Arkansas fumbled a center-snap exchange in Texas A&M territory that killed a drive. In the second, a 34-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Allen to Hunter Henry was wiped off the board thanks to a holding penalty by left tackle Dan Skipper. In the fourth, a 56-yard run by Williams all the way to the Texas A&M 2-yard line was also revoked because of a tripping call on Skipper. If not for the penalty, Arkansas would have had a prime opportunity for a 21-point lead.

“It comes down to playing clean and not doing anything to hurt ourselves,” Allen said. “That’s what it came down to [Saturday]. Anytime you get those big plays called back on something you’re doing to yourself, it’s tough to win.”

Bielema and everyone in that locker room knew that minus those mistakes, things could have been different. Even so, the Razorbacks had their chance to finish late, missing a field goal, breaking down on defense and not getting a first down in overtime. They couldn’t take advantage of their opportunities. The Aggies made them pay for it as a result.

What's clear though, is that the necessary steps are being taken in Fayetteville, but growth doesn't come without growing pains. Saturday was evidence of both for Arkansas.

“There's a lot of really good things coming,” Bielema said. “This could be a very exciting time ahead of us.”

At first glance: SEC Week 6

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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Finally we've reached the heart of the SEC schedule where nonconference blowouts are a thing of the past. No more directional schools, this week it's nothing but mano-a-mano conference battles.

We're going to start separating the pretenders from the contenders, as division races heat up. It's time to find out a whole lot more about the powerful SEC West, where a whopping six top 15 teams square off. Buckle up!

Game of the week: Alabama at Ole Miss
The No. 3 Tide still have the best chance to win the SEC West -- a 31-percent chance to be exact, according to ESPN's FPI (Football Power Index) -- but their biggest threat of being upset will be waiting at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday. The No. 11 Rebels admitted they were looking ahead to the big game after slogging past Memphis 24-3, but they still turned in another impressive performance by what has become one of the nation's most dominant defenses. Ole Miss kept Memphis out of the end zone and has allowed just two touchdowns on 38 drives this season. The Rebels' run defense was particularly nasty, limiting Memphis to 23 yards on 31 attempts. Alabama is coming off a bye and a dominant, complete performance of its own in a 42-21 thrashing of Florida. It all sets up to be quite a clash in Oxford, Mississippi, the first of what will likely be a handful of glamorous SEC West showdowns.

Player under pressure: Dak Prescott
Last time we saw them, the Bulldogs made quite the statement in beating then-No. 8 LSU for the first time in nearly 15 years and winning in Baton Rouge for the first time in nearly 24 years. Prescott showed all of his dual-threat brilliance in carving up the Tigers' defense, and MSU shot up in the polls after a very big win. In order for the Dogs to keep momentum on their side they now have to beat another top 10 foe. Prescott will be the central figure, and the pressure he'll face is sure to be literal as well as figurative. Texas A&M leads the SEC with 17 sacks in four games. True freshman end Myles Garrett has been a force with 5.5, while linebacker Shaan Washington returned from a broken collarbone last week and recorded two sacks in his first game of the year. One more thing: Prescott will be without his starting center, as Dillon Day will serve a one-game suspension for stomping on two LSU players.

Coach under the microscope: Florida's Will Muschamp
Muschamp probably has this category to himself until his Gators start winning and pulling off upsets. Florida's loss to Alabama was not unexpected, but the way it went down -- more ineptitude on offense and a school record for yards allowed on defense -- pushed fans to the brink. Even some of Muschamp's die-hard supporters had to be talked off their nearest ledge. If the noise was that loud after UF's loss to a juggernaut program like Alabama, what would happen if the Gators lose to Tennessee for the first time in nearly 10 years? The Volunteers are an improving bunch. They came oh-so-close to beating Georgia on the road last week, and they're still hungry for respect. Florida, coming off a bye, will have to get its act together in order to pull off a win at Neyland Stadium.

Storyline to watch: Will Brandon Harris start?
LSU's visit to No. 5 Auburn has an entirely different feel after the Bayou Bengals' season-long quarterback controversy took a turn for the decisive. True freshman Brandon Harris was electrifying in relief of Anthony Jennings. Harris was 11-of-14 passing for 178 yards and directed the LSU offense to seven touchdowns on seven possessions. After the game, coach Les Miles declined to name Harris the starter, saying LSU's way is to thoroughly evaluate before making a decision. With all due respect, that's a bunch of hooey. Harris obviously gives LSU its best chance to pull what would be an enormous upset both in terms of the national stage and the division race. It won't be easy against Auburn's improving defense. The Tigers have allowed only three plays of 25 yards or more this season, tied for the second fewest in the FBS.

Intriguing matchup: South Carolina at Kentucky
While the West division deserves all the attention it's going to get on Saturday, the East is quietly trying to sort itself out. Upstart Kentucky finally removed a very large monkey off its back by beating Vanderbilt and snapping a 17-game conference losing streak. In order to earn respect, the Wildcats' next task is to score an upset. Kentucky and its fans will be fired up for this home game, and the Gamecocks are ripe for the picking after blowing a 20-7 lead in the fourth quarter against division-leading Missouri. Kentucky's improving offense will stretch USC's struggling defense. But the most intriguing matchup in this one is on the other side of the ball, where the Cats' defense is coming off its best performance against an SEC foe since 1996. UK held Vanderbilt to 139 yards last week. If the Wildcats can contain the Gamecocks' offense, it might not even take a shootout to earn that elusive signature win.

Week 6 roundtable: Game of the week

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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This will be “Separation Saturday” in the SEC West. Three games -- Alabama-Ole Miss, Mississippi State-Texas A&M and Auburn-LSU -- will pit top-15 teams from the West against one another, so we should soon know more about who will emerge as legitimate contenders in college football’s toughest division.

Considering all that will be at stake on Saturday, here are our SEC writers’ picks for the games most worth watching on Saturday.

Edward Aschoff: I mean, it’s “GameDay” in the Grove -- the nation’s best tailgating spot. I’m ready for chandeliers at tailgates, sport coats, sun dresses and the finest Southern hospitality this side of the mighty Mississippi. This is a chance for Ole Miss to prove it really deserves to be in the conversation with the premier teams, not just in the SEC but in the entire country. On the flip side, this is going to be the toughest test for Alabama thus far, and the Rebels’ up-tempo offense certainly presents an issue for an Alabama defense that has struggled against that style in recent years.

Alex Scarborough: Give me Oxford. Give me The Grove. Give me one team seeking to regain its spot atop college football and another team poised to break through into national prominence. Give me an SEC West showdown with actual playoff implications. Give me a quarterback with something to prove. In fact, give me two of ‘em. Give me two of the most talented receivers in the country, two tenacious defenses and two coaches who sit on opposite ends of the spectrum, philosophically. Give me one game: Alabama-Ole Miss.

Jeff Barlis: I have a feeling my choice will go against the grain: LSU at Auburn. I still think Auburn is the top team in the SEC, until proven otherwise. The Bayou Bengals, on the other hand, are just starting to get their talented true freshmen, RB Leonard Fournette, QB Brandon Harris and WR Malachi Dupre, integrated into the game plan. Expect this one to be a shootout that will force LSU coach Les Miles to turn to Harris, who has been the team's best signal-caller. This game could be one that decides the West Division. And remember, LSU was the only SEC team to beat Auburn last year.

David Ching: I’ll agree with Mr. Barlis here. If I had to answer this question at the end of the first quarter Saturday, I definitely wouldn’t have picked Auburn-LSU. LSU’s offense was sputtering against New Mexico State, and Anthony Jennings had been a turnover machine. Harris' joining the starting lineup is intriguing, though. A touted true freshman making his first start on the road against the defending conference champ? That’s fascinating stuff. How will LSU’s defense fare against Auburn’s running game? Dak Prescott and Mississippi State embarrassed the Tigers’ defense two Saturdays ago, and Auburn’s offense is no less dangerous.

Sam Khan: The other games are nice, but Texas A&M-Mississippi State looks to be the most hotly contested one of the bunch. The cowbells will be ringin' fiercely at Davis-Wade Stadium. The anticipation for this game in Starkville will be at a fever pitch, considering the Bulldogs are undefeated, ranked 12th in the country and coming off a landmark win at LSU. The past season, these teams combined for 92 points and 1,092 offensive yards in a game A&M won 51-41. Two of the SEC's best quarterbacks (Kenny Hill and Prescott) will be on display, and there are SEC West and even Heisman Trophy implications in this game.

Greg Ostendorf: The atmosphere I’d pay most to see? The Grove for Alabama-Ole Miss. But the game I’d pay most to see? That’s two hours away in Starkville. I’m still not sure what to make of the Aggies after Saturday, but I’m not turning down a chance to see Hill. Besides maybe Todd Gurley, Hill is the most exciting player in the conference. That said, it’s hard not to root for Prescott after all he has overcome. It’s the best quarterback matchup of the day, and I expect it to come down to the wire. Sign me up.

Aggies' run D shows signs of progress

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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ARLINGTON, Texas — It was far from perfect, but Texas A&M’s run defense passed its first real test of the season on Saturday.

Arkansas, the SEC’s No. 1 rushing team, was every bit the challenge the Aggies – an improved bunch but still working to shake the reputation as the SEC’s worst rush defense last year – expected and then some. But when it was all said and done, it was the Aggies’ front that made the biggest play of the game, a fourth-and-1 stuff of running back Alex Collins to secure a 35-28 overtime victory, a moment that served as a microcosm of the progress the Aggies’ defense is experiencing.

[+] EnlargeJulien Obioha
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsGetting critical stops against Arkansas was a reason to celebrate for Julien Obioha, No. 95, and Texas A&M.
Texas A&M’s defense did a little growing up Saturday.

“There's a lot of things from this game that we can learn from,” coach Kevin Sumlin said Saturday. “But there's also … some confidence that we can draw from it, because that team's good at what they do running the football.”

The raw numbers read as such: Arkansas finished with 285 rushing yards on 47 carries, eye-popping by any measure. But take away 51 yards from that total, because those belong to the special teams after the Razorbacks converted an incredible fake punt that resulted in a touchdown run by Sam Irwin-Hill.

So that leaves the Aggies’ defense allowing 234 rushing yards on 46 carries, an average of 5.08 yards per carry. Ideal? Not at all. But it’s an improvement from last season’s mark (5.38 yards per carry) and significantly better than what the Aggies allowed against Arkansas last season (6.7 yards per carry, though the Hogs ran just 30 times in last year’s meeting).

This year’s Arkansas team is better and more experienced. And in the first half, things didn’t look terribly different for the Aggies, who yielded 143 non-fake punt rushing yards on 21 totes, an average of 6.8 yards per carry. That total included a 50-yard touchdown run by Collins.

“I thought [Arkansas offensive coordinator] Jim Chaney had an excellent plan,” Sumlin said. “They formationed and got us in some different situations to create some real problems, some gaps. And then they went unbalanced a lot.

“It's a nightmare for what they do. They don't just line up and run over you. They formation you, unbalance, tight ends, motion. And all that time, when you're doing that, you know, you have to fit the gaps properly. And all it takes is one guy to be out of one gap, and -- those backs are good.”

As the game progressed, so did the Aggies’ run defense. It allowed only 30 yards on nine carries in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter and overtime it kept the Razorbacks to 71 yards on 16 carries, a much more reasonable 4.43 average. Of those 71 yards, 46 came on a three-play sequence on an Arkansas drive midway through the fourth. But the Aggies cleaned things up after that.

They began to react better to everything the Razorbacks threw at them.

“It was by eye control,” junior defensive end Julien Obioha said. “Coach talks about eye control. Keep your eye on the key. There are a couple times when you saw in the big plays where nobody was covering a guy. Somebody took their eyes off their key. Once we fixed that problem, everybody was on the same page. Everybody was doing their job.”

The final possession of the game was a snapshot of that. A year ago, when the Aggies' defenders were less experienced, it would be hard to believe that they could turn a team over on downs in a critical situation with as talented a backfield as the Hogs have with Collins and Jonathan Williams and as big an offensive line as they have.

But on its final possession, Arkansas ran the ball three times: a gain of 2 for Williams, then a loss of 1 for him before the final play, when Obioha met Collins and stopped him for no gain to secure victory. That stop was aided by the entire line holding up at the point of attack when the ball was snapped, a moment that surely made defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and defensive line coach Terry Price proud.

“The running back bounced to my side,” Obioha said. “I did what my coaches taught me to do. I cross-face and made a play. It was a play that ended the game and gave us a W. It was just a great play.”

It wasn’t their first taste of success this year -- the Aggies held South Carolina to only 67 yards on 22 carries on Aug. 28. But the Aggies raced out to a lead and made the Gamecocks play catch up, plus star running back Mike Davis wasn’t at full strength.

Arkansas wasn’t about to abandon the run and provided two healthy, gifted backs and a large offensive line to challenge Texas A&M up front in a way that hadn’t been this year. The Aggies showed they still have plenty of room for improvement, but their timely play Saturday give them reason for optimism as the SEC schedule stiffens.

“You saw what we can do out there,” Obioha said. “We could stop one of the best rushing attacks in the country when we're all on the same page.”

SEC morning links

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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1. Fresh off its win over Memphis on Saturday, Ole Miss was already taking shots at Alabama. Safety Cody Prewitt said he doesn’t believe the Crimson Tide are as good as they have been in recent years. It might be a little early to say that; after all, just last year, Prewitt’s Rebels were shut out in Tuscaloosa, 25-0. A lot has changed since that game, though. The Ole Miss defense, which has allowed just two touchdowns through the first four games, is much improved, and quarterback Bo Wallace is a year older. At Alabama, the offense looks more balanced under new coordinator Lane Kiffin, and they’re even using their own version of the no-huddle offense. It’s one of many intriguing matchups in the SEC this weekend.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertWill LSU turn to Brandon Harris in hostile territory at Auburn?
2. Speaking of intriguing matchups, how about LSU traveling to Auburn on Saturday? Les Miles' team has won six of the last seven against Auburn, but his Tigers opened up as 7.5-point underdogs on the road. A big reason for that is the uncertainty at quarterback. Miles has yet to name a starter, but after Saturday’s victory over New Mexico State, it was pretty clear who played better. The question will be whether Miles wants to give freshman Brandon Harris his first start on the road, in a hostile environment. The Auburn defense isn’t worried as much about the opposing quarterback; it’s worried about getting healthy after three starters were banged up in a 45-17 victory over Louisiana Tech on Saturday.

3. What happened to South Carolina on Saturday? It looked like the Gamecocks were well on their way to beating Missouri and grabbing hold of the SEC East. Then, all of a sudden, it all slipped away. A day later, Steve Spurrier saw his team’s streak of 69 consecutive weeks in the AP Top 25 come to an end. The good news is that despite the loss to Missouri and despite dropping out of the polls, South Carolina is still not out of the SEC race. The bad news is that they have to travel to Lexington this weekend to face much-improved Kentucky team, and the local beat writers are already saying that Spurrier’s team looks beatable again this week. We’ll know a lot more about both teams following Saturday’s game.

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SEC bowl projections: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
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Alabama was off this week, so it remains in the top spot as a College Football Playoff representative, but we have some movement in the next couple of teams in this week’s SEC bowl projections.

We’re moving Auburn up a spot in place of Texas A&M, which won but showed it might still have some work to do after needing a furious rally and a few breaks to escape with an overtime win over Arkansas.

Also, despite the Razorbacks’ loss, we’ll stick with them finding a way to get three more wins and bowl eligibility this season. They proved they’re a quality team that’s making progress, although they have a brutal schedule to navigate the rest of the way.

Here is our full SEC list entering the sixth week of the season:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Alabama
Orange Bowl: Auburn
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Texas A&M
Capital One Bowl: Georgia
TaxSlayer Bowl: Missouri
Outback Bowl: Mississippi State
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Ole Miss
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: LSU
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Tennessee
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Florida

SEC helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
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It was a very fun day in the SEC, and here are the stars of the weekend:

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: It was a record-setting day for the nation's best running back. Gurley rushed for a career-high 208 yards on 28 carries in the Bulldogs' 35-32 win over Tennessee. He also had two touchdowns, 30 receiving yards and 47 kickoff return yards. Gurley, who averaged 7.4 yards per carry, now has 16 100-yard rushing games with the Bulldogs. How impressive was Gurley? Tennessee decided to onside kick it with 2:14 left and three timeouts in the fourth quarter because it didn't think it could stop him. The Volunteers didn't, as Gurley rushed for 26 yards on the ensuing drive to ice it for the Dawgs.

Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M: In a wild one inside Jerry World, but Kenny Trill showed out in his first pressure situation of his career. He had touchdown passes of 86 and 59 yards in the fourth quarter, helping the Aggies to a 35-28 overtime win over Arkansas. Hill made some incredibly clutch passes in the second half, but his biggest throw of the day came on the first play of overtime, when he hit Malcome Kennedy for a 25-yard touchdown that was the eventual game-winner for the Aggies. He threw for 386 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception.

Quan Bray, WR, Auburn: He caught just three passes but totaled 91 yards and had two touchdowns of 37 and 44 yards in the Tigers' 45-17 win over Louisiana Tech. He also returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown and finished the game with 189 all-purpose yards.

Edward Pope, WR, Texas A&M: He was Hill's partner in crime Saturday. Pope caught four passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. One of those touchdowns went for 86 yards. That score brought the Aggies back within a score of an Arkansas team that took a 28-14 lead late in the third quarter.

Russell Hansbrough/Marcus Murphy, RBs, Missouri: What a finish for the Tigers. The offense went from doing absolutely nothing to scoring 14 straight in the fourth quarter of Mizzou's 21-20 win at South Carolina. Hansbrough and Murphy were a major part of that comeback. The finished the night with 141 rushing yards and Hansbrough scored all three touchdowns for Mizzou, including that tough game-winner from 1 yard out with 1:38 left. Murphy's 22-yard punt return to Mizzou's 49-yard line set up the Tigers' final scoring drive.

The Aggies are not a playoff-caliber team 

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
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 Jonathan WilliamsAP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Aggies had a lot of trouble with Jonathan Williams and the Razorbacks' offense Saturday.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- I learned something Saturday during my first trip to Jerry World: The Arkansas Razorbacks are better than we thought, and the Texas A&M Aggies are overrated. Those were my suspicions entering Saturday’s SEC showdown, and they were confirmed after the Aggies had to rally for a 35-28 overtime win.

The Aggies were prematurely included in most pundits’ four-team playoff field before Saturday, but they’ll be part of very few bracket projections after their comeback win over the Razorbacks.

Listen, that’s no knock on the vastly improved Hogs; there’s no weak link in the SEC West any longer. The run game is consistent, and a few coverage lapses aside, the defense is much quicker to the ball. They’re a handful.

“That’s a good team,” one of the Aggies’ coaches told me afterward. “Better than we thought they would be, and we thought they were pretty good.”

And really, it’s no slight of A&M; it’s talented and evidently stubborn in the face of adversity, a better collective group than I anticipated it would be post-Johnny Manziel, and with a work-in-progress defense.

But one of the four best teams in America? No way. Get real.

The secondary and skill players are too inconsistent, and I’m not nearly as sold on the quarterback as the staff. Three or four more wins? Sure. I don’t see a contender, though. The 5-0 Aggies are content to prove me wrong, and they’ll have chances the next three weeks at Mississippi State, against Ole Miss and at Alabama.

“You haven’t been big on us all year, so let’s keep it that way,” OC Jake Spavital texted me Saturday night, after I floated this central thesis that I called “realistic.”

That’s where Week 5 Takeaways begin. Also included: I took it too easy on Brady Hoke when I wrote last week that he should be fired by December; it’s a subtly big week ahead in the Big 12; and coaches wonder if a "sleeping giant" job in the ACC will soon be available.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 5

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
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With Saturday’s action complete, we’re more than one-quarter of the way through the regular season.

Can you believe that?

Let’s take a look at what we learned from the latest batch of games.

1. Texas two step: Tip your cap to Arkansas. If anything, the Hogs showed they’re worthy of being ranked in the Top 25. But if you’re Texas A&M, what are you thinking? You just got roughed up by a team that hasn’t won a conference game since October 2012. An undeniably one-dimensional offense racked up four touchdowns and 485 yards against you, 286 of which came on the ground. It wasn’t a secret what they were doing, and still, you couldn’t stop it. Your defense, the one you said again and again was better than the past year, showed it still has a long ways to go in the 35-28 overtime win. There were more missed tackles than an early-morning Pee Wee football game. Texas A&M’s offense is still plenty potent with Kenny Hill under center and a better-than-advertised running game, but without a defense to match, we very well could be looking at a team that’s less steak than sizzle.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesHutson Mason might need to be more aggressive to help take the strain off star RB Todd Gurley.
2. Need more from Mason: Georgia's Todd Gurley is a beast worthy of every bit of the Heisman Trophy hype he receives. But he can’t do it alone -- not for an entire season, at least. No matter how strong he might be, nobody can withstand that type of punishment on a consistent basis. At some point, Hutson Mason must step up and provide his star running back some help. Sure, Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Jonathon Rumph have all missed time with injuries, but Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Jay Rome are a pretty good group of targets. Still, against Tennessee, Mason barely fit the role of game manager. Georgia won 35-32, but he completed just 16 of 25 passes for 147 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. For Georgia to make a playoff push, Mason needs to take greater control of the offense and push the ball downfield. Playing as passive as he has just won’t cut it.

3. Missouri isn’t dead: It was a fashionable move, writing off Missouri after the past week’s embarrassing loss to Indiana at home. But by going into Columbia, South Carolina, and beating the Gamecocks 21-20 in a hotly contested game, the Tigers proved they’re nothing if not alive and well in the race to win the SEC East. The loss to Indiana means nothing when it comes to that. The fact that Missouri has an offense that can score in a hurry (see its final two drives) and a defense that absolutely harasses the quarterback (see Shane Ray’s two sacks), means there’s nothing to say the Tigers can’t be the class of the division. That secondary is going to get better, and quarterback Maty Mauk should find his stride eventually. If those two things improve, Missouri will be as tough an out as anyone in the conference.

4. No standouts in the East: Five teams in the West are undefeated with hopes of competing for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff: Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State and Texas A&M. The East, well, the East has a bunch of guys with obvious Achilles heels: Georgia has a great running back and little else, Missouri has an inconsistent passing game and a secondary that gives out yards like candy on Halloween, South Carolina can’t decide from week to week if it wants to nap or play football, and Florida must be kicking itself for letting quarterback Jacoby Brissett go to NC State. There’s no separation in the East because there are no great teams in the division.

5. But there’s real parity overall: Take Vanderbilt out of the equation. The Commodores couldn’t navigate the Big Ten with that offense. But if you put Derek Mason’s rebuild aside, you’re looking at an SEC with no gimmes. No one wants to play Tennessee after the hurting the Vols put on Georgia, and not with Justin Worley and that group of skill players on offense. No one wants to play Kentucky, either, not with A.J. Stamps, Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith flying around on defense. And then there’s Arkansas. Who wants to see those big uglies coming at you? Armed with an enormous offensive line, a pair of bruising fullbacks and three workhorse running backs, the Razorbacks can wear down even the best defenses.
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- In all honesty, Texas A&M probably shouldn't have won Saturday.

The Aggies' offense spent the better part of three quarters out-of-sync. Texas A&M's drive chart in that span looked foreign to those who know them best: Touchdown, punt, punt, punt, touchdown, missed field goal, punt, turnover on downs, punt.

Defensively, they weren't much better: 395 yards yielded in those first three stanzas and 214 on the ground (though 51 should be counted against the special teams for a fake punt). Those special teams had forgettable moments as well, with a missed field goal on top of everything else.

But as Kevin Sumlin-coached teams are wont to do, the No. 6 Aggies found a way to swipe a victory from Arkansas and remain undefeated by climbing out of a two-touchdown hole at AT&T Stadium for a thrilling 35-28 overtime win.

[+] Enlarge Jonathan Williams
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezTexas A&M's defense struggled with Arkansas' running game through three quarters, but held firm in the fourth quarter and overtime.
"Was it perfect? No," Sumlin said afterward. "But it was a heck of a football game, and there's a lot of things we can learn from today."

The win provided both cause for concern and signs of encouragement. For starters, the Aggies didn't play to their lofty ranking and often showed why this young team gave so many pause prior to the season.

The Aggies (5-0, 2-0 SEC) knew their run defense would get their first true test of the year from the SEC's top rushing attack. It did (Arkansas ran for 285 yards), and it often left Texas A&M frustrated and chasing Arkansas running backs Alex Collins (131 yards) and Jonathan Williams (95 yards). When the Aggies weren't failing to fill their gaps, play-action passing from Brandon Allen and Co. gave them several headaches.

But when Arkansas (3-2, 0-2) smelled blood and tried to put the Aggies away, the Aggies' defense found its backbone (and the Razorbacks shot themselves in the foot a few times, too). The Razorbacks' final five drives went as such: punt, punt, punt, missed field goal, punt, turnover on downs. The final stop, which came on fourth-and-1 in Arkansas' overtime possession and secured the win, might prove to be a seminal moment for an A&M defense still trying to shake off its 2013 reputation -- last in the SEC in every statistical category that mattered.

Defensively, are the Aggies more what we saw in the first three quarters or the unit seen in the fourth quarter and overtime? That remains to be seen.

Similarly, Texas A&M sophomore sensation Kenny Hill and the Aggies' offense were off, as Sumlin admitted. Starting only his fifth game, Hill showed some of the ills that come with a young quarterback -- forced throws, inaccuracy, inconsistent play -- and his receivers and offensive line contributed at times with dropped passes or by allowing Hill to get pressured.

Conversely, when the Aggies needed a spark, Hill was on the money. He hit Edward Pope and Joshua Reynolds for two huge, fourth-quarter touchdown passes to pull even with the Hogs. He threw a dart to Malcome Kennedy for the game-winning, 25-yard score. It was fitting, considering Hill threw one behind Kennedy in the first half that -- had it been thrown perfectly -- would have likely resulted in a touchdown.

"I just saw him run wide open and said, ‘I need to put it on him,'" Hill said. "They had the defender getting there late, and I had to fit it in to him, and he took care of the rest."

Let's make one thing clear: The Aggies are a good football team. Exactly how good is the question and one that won't be answered for a few weeks.

This improved Arkansas team gave Texas A&M everything it could handle, and though the Hogs are winless in two SEC games (and in 14 straight conference games dating back to 2012), they came away from home against highly-ranked foes (Auburn being the other), and both were contests in which the Razorbacks competed well. The Razorbacks no longer look like pushovers in Bret Bielema's second year, and they have made significant progress from a year ago.

Meanwhile, A&M's season-opening shocker at South Carolina and the Aggies' subsequent dominance of three cupcake opponents has sparked talk of the Aggies being perhaps the best in the SEC and a serious contender for the College Football Playoff. Those goals remain attainable, but those discussions should perhaps pause as this team navigates a gauntlet of a schedule that starts a week from now with a showdown against rising Mississippi State in Starkville. That will be followed by a home date with Ole Miss and a trip to Tuscaloosa for a clash with Alabama.

If the Aggies emerge from that stretch unscathed, they truly do deserve to be mentioned in the top-four discussion.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- In a thrilling finish, No. 6 Texas A&M rallied to claim a 35-28 overtime win over Arkansas on Saturday at AT&T Stadium, a win that came after the Aggies were down by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter. Let’s take a look at how it went down:

How the game was won: The Aggies stopped Arkansas running back Alex Collins on a fourth-and-1 in the first overtime, getting a stop when they had to have it. Texas A&M had to scratch and claw after being harassed by Arkansas’ defense all day, but it was able to escape by the skin of its teeth thanks to huge fourth-quarter touchdown passes by Kenny Hill (an 86-yarder to Edward Pope and a 59-yarder to Joshua Reynolds) that turned a 14-point deficit to a tie ballgame and eventually set up overtime. Hill threw a 25-yard strike to Malcome Kennedy to start overtime, and the defense did the rest to secure the win in OT, piggybacking a strong fourth-quarter effort the Aggies gave to keep the Razorbacks from extending the lead.

Gameball goes to: Hill. He had his struggles, from errant throws, including an interception and had to weather the storm as the Aggies looked out of sorts offensively for much of the day. But he made the big throws when the Aggies had to have them late in the game and led the come-from-behind victory. He finished with 386 passing yards and four touchdowns on 21-of-41 passing.

What it means: Texas A&M’s playoff hopes and high ranking are safe for now, but it has a lot of work to do. Arkansas exploited many of the Aggies’ flaws today. The Razorbacks (3-2, 0-2 SEC), meanwhile, are as improved as advertised. Bret Bielema’s bunch has to feel sick after this one, leading by two scores (and having a chance to go up three when a penalty nullified the score). They had control of the game but let it slip away. The SEC West is on alert though, as Arkansas is a pushover no longer.

Playoff implication: The Aggies’ hopes remain alive as they move to 5-0 (2-0 in the SEC).

What's next: Another huge test for Texas A&M at No. 14 Mississippi State in Starkville a week from today. Dak Prescott and Co. are coming off an open date following their landmark win at LSU on Sept. 20.

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