Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Until proven otherwise, yes, Arkansas is a step behind LSU and Alabama. Thursday, the Bayou Bengals put together what we'd confidently call the most impressive defensive performance by any FBS team this season. Saturday, well, Alabama didn't do a whole lot in their 41-0 workout against North Texas. But we know what the Tide are capable of with that defense, as the previous week's throttling of Penn State proved.
But Arkansas? Their Saturday performance against Troy might be the first one by any of the consensus top three teams in the West you could legitimately describe as "disappointing." After scrimmages against FCS Missouri State and FBS-in-name-only New Mexico, the Trojans were the first Hog opponent of the year capable of doing much more than meekly rolling over ... and Troy did much more than that in Fayetteville, rolling to 457 total yards (three more than the Hogs) and cutting a 31-7 deficit to 31-21 midway through the third quarter. Bobby Petrino's teams made major mistakes on both sides of the ball, turning it over three times on offense -- including a pick-six from Tyler Wilson -- and allowing the Trojans seven plays of 20 yards or more.
It might be just a one-week fluke; it might be the Hogs looking ahead to next week's showdown against the Tide; it might be something more serious. Whatever it is, it's the kind of sloppiness we haven't seen yet from the Tide or Tigers--and reason enough to doubt the Hogs can upset the LSU-Alabama apple cart until they do.
Florida is a frightening, frightening football team. The old adage says that to win in the SEC, you have to run and stop the run, and everything else will take care of itself. So maybe it's time to start taking the Gators as a serious conference contender--and not just on the East divisional side of things. Defensively, Will Muschamp's team held Tennessee to minus-9 yards on the ground and their tailbacks to less than two yards a carry; offensively, they netted 134 themselves with Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey averaging 5 yards an attempt.
No doubt there will be stronger running games to shut down and stronger front sevens to run against down the road. But as long as Florida stays anywhere near this productive on the ground, their hat will remain in the ring.
Houston Nutt is on the hottest seat in the SEC. It's one thing to lose to Vanderbilt; the Commodores don't do it often, but occasionally they do leap up like those crocodiles in a Discovery Channel documentary about African water holes and drag some unsuspecting SEC wildebeest into the mud. And with James Franklin having instilled a stunning amount of confidence in the downtrodden 'Dores and NFL-bound corner Casey Hayward leading one of the league's best secondaries (one that now has three pick-sixes in three weeks), that's an occurrence you can expect to happen more often.
But to lose to Vandy 30-7? To go without a single point against Vandy for 57 minutes? To be outgained by the 'Dores by 153 yards? There's no other word for it than "embarrassment," one that without question ranks along the very lowest points of the Ed Orgeron era. Nutt's biggest misstep has been his butchering of the Rebel quarterback situation; after waffling all offseason between Randall Mackey and Barry Brunetti, Nutt seemed to settle on JUCO Zack Stoudt against BYU on little more than a whim. Stoudt responded by fumbling away that game, then topping himself with five interceptions Saturday in Nashville.
With the Rebel offense in total disarray and what seems like the team's only potential SEC win on the road (at Kentucky in November), an Oregeron-esque 0-8 mark in the conference -- and a 2-10 or 3-9 overall record -- is entirely in play. And as much support as Nutt earned in his back-to-back Cotton Bowl seasons, last year's loss to Jacksonville State and Saturday's horrorshow has burned through virtually all of it with the Rebel fanbase ... and maybe even Nutt's boss. When Georgia comes to Oxford next week, Mark Richt will clearly need a win in almost the worst possible way. But we'd argue Nutt will, somehow, need one even more badly.
Auburn's defense is even worse than it should be. Yes, the Tigers are ridiculously, fatally young. Yes, Clemson is loaded with explosive playmakers that will give more veteran units fits, too. Yes, the up-tempo nature of Gus Malzahn's offense --particularly when it struggles, as it did for the final two-and-a-half quarters Saturday -- puts a hefty portion of extra pressure on that defense.
But that's still no excuse for numbers like Clemson's 14-of-18 mark on third-down conversions or 624 total yards, numbers far beyond what Dabo Swinney's squad managed against either Troy or Wofford. While Ted Roof is public enemy No. 1 among Auburn fans right now, Gene Chizik also has some questions to answer. As many, many positive things as he's done at Auburn (for which he's rarely received enough credit), Chizik also has yet to translate the acumen that made him such a successful assistant into any kind of defensive consistency on the Plains.
South Carolina hasn't put it together yet. A week after edging Georgia as much on Georgia's fatal mistakes as the Gamecocks' own play, Carolina needed a last-minute stop to hold off Navy. The talent in Columbia demands that the Gamecocks remain the SEC East favorites, but they haven't played like it yet.
Kentucky's bowl streak is in serious, serious jeopardy. With the Wildcats unable to overcome an inexperienced Louisville team in Lexington, it's a difficult, difficult thing to find four more wins on the UK schedule. Jacksonville State, you'd hope. Home to Ole Miss, sure. And after that? Best of luck, Joker Phillips.