Inside The SEC: Alabama, LSU Further Solidify The West's Superiority

TUSCALOOSA AL - OCTOBER 02: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide leads his team onto the field to face the Florida Gators at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 2 2010 in Tuscaloosa Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Alabama's win over Florida in Tuscaloosa is just the headliner of a weekend that seemed to definitively answer which SEC division is better.

If there was any doubt going into the weekend that the SEC West has taken over as the conference's best division, it should have been wiped away Saturday, when the East went 0-5 on the weekend and lost all three interdivision showdowns. Florida, still the early favorite to win the SEC East, was blown out by Alabama. LSU defied logic to win yet again, this time against Tennessee. And Kentucky became the first and possibly only SEC team to lose to Ole Miss, a team that two weeks ago looked like a train wreck.

That might not have been the worst of it. Georgia got defeated by Colorado and Vanderbilt lost by three scores to a Connecticut team that was beginning to see the wheels come off.

In fact, the West is now 7-1 against the East, with the sole win for the "other" division coming from Vanderbilt. All three undefeated teams are from the West: Alabama, Auburn and LSU.

There are still plenty of interdivision games to be played, and the rules still require someone to win the East and face an SEC West representative this December in the most important SEC game of the year.

There's just no reason right now to think that the game in Atlanta will turn out well for whoever emerges from what is clearly the second-best division in the conference.

AN SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEW? ONE TEAM BETTER HOPE NOT
Alabama 31, Florida 6

At what point did the Florida Gators figure out it just wasn't their night? Was it when they marched down the field within easy range of a tying field goal in the first quarter, then decided to go for it on fourth down and saw the jump pass intercepted (and then turned into Alabama's first touchdown)? Or was it when Trent Richardson fumbled with Alabama up 10-0, only to see Julio Jones pick up the ball and run it another five yards before the Tide scored yet again?

Whenever Florida figured out that this game was getting out of hand, it probably happened within the first 24 minutes. By the time that Alabama WR Marquis Maze hit Michael Williams on a 19-yard pass from the wildcat formation, it was clear that the Tide were in total control of the game. At which point Nick Saban politely eased off the gas and took his marquee win.

Yes, the statistical edge was actually nonexistent for the Tide in terms of total offense, but Alabama attempted five passes in the second half on 19 offensive snaps. Meanwhile, two third-quarter turnovers by John Brantley ended whatever chances Florida had of turning things around.

It might not be time to throw out all the doubts you had about Alabama after the come-from-behind 24-20 win against Arkansas, but it's also time to get ready for another season of Alabama being the team everyone in the SEC West is trying to catch. But they won't face their two remaining major divisional competitors until November, so now is the time to take care of business against South Carolina, Ole Miss and Tennessee.

Not that much actually changes for Florida in the SEC East. They did give back the advantage they gained when South Carolina lost to Auburn, but the Gators will still be in Atlanta in early December if they win out. And South Carolina still probably needs to split its games against Alabama and Arkansas to force a winner-take-all matchup in Gainesville if Florida wins its next four (winnable) games.

So Alligator Army isn't giving up on the season, and doesn't have much patience for Florida fans who are.

I'm sure you'll be back when UF rolls LSU next week. Or maybe you'll be back when Florida wins the SEC East and faces Alabama again. ...

If you came away from last night's game with a thought other than, "We're running the table and playing these guys again," I'm sorry you have no faith in the Gators.

Next up for Florida is a game against LSU; Alabama joins Gameday in traveling to Columbia for a game against South Carolina.

EVEN 13 IS LUCKY FOR LES MILES
LSU 16, Tennessee 14

There's always a learning curve whenever a coach moves to a new conference -- particularly if he moves from a mid-major conference to one of the BCS leagues -- and Derek Dooley learned two important lessons Saturday in his team's loss to LSU.

The first lesson is that Les Miles is made of four-leaf clovers and rabbits' feet. To belabor the details for those who haven't paid attention to any sports media since the game: Tennessee put together an eight-play drive early in the fourth quarter to take a 14-10 lead in what would have been Dooley's first SEC win as head coach of the Volunteers. LSU's next drive went all the way to the Tennessee 9 before -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- Jarrett Lee threw an interception. Tennessee then drove to the LSU 31 before failing to convert a fourth down.

This is where Les Miles' bizarre mix of late-game ineptitude and fortune took over. In less than six minutes, the Tigers reeled off a 16-play drive that came down to a third-and-goal from the Vols 1. Pandemonium ensued, with LSU and Tennessee players running on and off the field before the final play, when LSU was stopped -- by a surprisingly large-looking Tennessee defense.

"Large-looking," you must understand, is a reference not to the size of the players but their numbers. In fact, Tennessee had 13 men on the field, something we should note here is very much against the rules of college football. A replay official noticed, the appropriate penalty was enforced, and LSU successfully ran the ball on an untimed down to win the game 16-14.

And it was during the chaos, we found out, that Dooley learned his second important lesson about the SEC.

He said the Vols weren't given proper time to respond to LSU's substitution. ...

"We were complaining about it earlier ... When they run guys on, we have to have adequate time to run guys off," Dooley said. "It's a rule ... so you can't go out and do that."

Of course, what Dooley didn't understand is that SEC officials are there to increase the chaos late in the game, not decrease it. This is really an understandable mistake for a coach coming from a conference where late-game officiating makes sense. In fact, it's something of a miracle that anyone on the officiating crew noticed that the Vols had two extra men on the field.

Rocky Top Talk is just trying to get over what might be Tennessee's best chance for an October win.

It was always going to take a special effort to win one of these October games. We got that effort today, against the perfect combination of poor quarterback play and poor coaching decisions. We won't see anything like Jordan Jefferson, Jarrett Lee, and Les Miles again all year. ...

But what about this team, on its third coaching staff in three years, with adversity constantly inventing new and creative ways to kick us while we're down? How much more can these 18-22 year olds take?

And The Valley Shook sees both the awful end of the game and the upside of a contest in which LSU outgained the opposition 434-217 (language warning).

Les Miles' clock management decisions appear to have not improved one bit. Even before the final sequence, Jarrett Lee wasted the team's final timeout AFTER HE HAD ALREADY TAKEN A DELAY OF GAME PENALTY. ...

I feel like we're all complaining about the lousy dessert, when the meal was pretty darn good.

Up next for the Vols: A game in Vince Dooley's old stomping grounds in Athens, an angle you should not expect any media outlet to undercover. LSU travels to Gainesville, where Les Miles has never won in the final moments or otherwise.

MARK RICHT HOT SEAT WARNING LEVEL: RED (TIM BREWSTER)
Colorado 29, Georgia 27

Richthotseat_medium

Georgia bloggers are such reasonable people that it's hard to find an example of one calling for Mark Richt's head today. But read through the comments on some of their posts and it's not hard to tell that Bulldog Nation is an angry place right now.

Not entirely without reason; Mark Richt's record over his last 14 games now stands at 6-8, and that includes wins against Vanderbilt, Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Lafayette. It also includes the two most recent losses against Mississippi State and Colorado -- a team so bad during the Dan Hawkins Era that its fans rushed the field after beating Georgia, which now stands at 1-4 on the year.

The refrain among Georgia fans is now "the only sure win we have left on the schedule is Idaho State," even though a questionable Tennessee and a still-Vanderbilt Vanderbilt are left on the board. Thing is, they might be right. Which is why Athens is not the happiest city on the planet right now.

We could go through all the grisly statistics, but the key moments came in the third quarter, when the defense allowed a pair of five-play drives -- one for 81 yards and another for 67 -- that turned a 10-point Colorado deficit into a five-point lead. At the same time, the offense -- which played pretty well at times, in part thanks to the return of A.J. Green -- had two three-and-outs that lost 16 yards.

So even though the Bulldogs were driving near the Colorado red zone as time wound down when Colorado recovered the game-clinching fumble, it still felt more like an inevitability for a team that has been finding ways to shoot itself in the foot for three years now. Except for the win against Louisiana Lafayette, Georgia hasn't won a turnover battle all year.

Back to those reasonable bloggers. Our own T. Kyle King at Dawg Sports is morose but not willing to give up on Mark Richt yet.

A dozen little things stand between this team and its potential. That is encouraging, because the things are little, like assignment football, protecting the pigskin, and avoiding penalties. It also is discouraging, because, although each individual difficulty is tiny, the troubles are multiple, so many elements of the Bulldogs’ game must be improved if the Classic City Canines are to take matters out of the hands of cruel fate and take charge of their own destiny.

Next week, the Bulldogs welcome Tennessee to Athens. That one should be fun.

[INSERT 'BASKETBALL SEASON BEGINS IN ... ' JOKE HERE]
Ole Miss 42, Kentucky 35

We should all be able to agree that the one thing we didn't see coming after Ole Miss' losses to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt was a two-game winning streak for the Rebels. But perhaps we should have expected no less from Houston Nutt, the expert at confounding efforts to figure out what his team will do next.

Here's some numbers to think about while you're trying to figure this one out: Kentucky outgained Ole Miss by 123 yards; the Rebels passed for 90; both Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb had 108 yards receiving each.

Ah, but when you turn the ball over three times, it's pretty easy to figure out what's going to happen. Those turnovers led to drives of 11, 9 and 7 yards. That's 21 points on 27 yards for Ole Miss; it's not hard for any team to win when they're getting the ball around the 10 yard line on a regular basis.

We shouldn't forget, though, to give credit to Ole Miss DC Tyrone Nix for his valiant efforts to keep the home crowd entertained; the defense allowed two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to avoid a blowout, which really would not have given people the 60 minutes of football they paid to see.

A Sea Of Blue takes little comfort in the statistical win.

Statistically, Kentucky drilled Ole Miss. But the only statistic that matters is the final score, and Ole Miss won that stat, no doubt about it. Ole Miss visited the UK red zone six times in this game, and all six times they came away with seven points.

Red Cup Rebellion realizes what happened statistically, but doesn't seem too bothered by it (language warning).

Kentucky outplayed Ole Miss yesterday when it didn't matter. The Wildcats moved the ball well both on the ground and, exceptionally (and typically), through the air, turned first and second downs into further firsts, utilized a very balanced playbook, and generally showed the poise and decision-making one would expect from a well-coached BCS-level club. ...

This is not at all to suggest that the Rebs played poor football - au contraire, bonjour - because they didn't. But they did not play as well as the Wildcats.

The Rebels follow conference tradition and take a bye next week before facing Alabama. The Wildcats are preparing to welcome Auburn to Lexington.

REMEMBER, VANDERBILT IS STILL PLAYING FOOTBALL FOR SOME REASON
Connecticut 40, Vanderbilt 21

Oh, Vanderbilt. Once again, you were so so close to the other team statistically (326-375), and even led 21-14 late in the first half. But as noted above, you are still Vanderbilt, and that was only the prologue to 26 unanswered Connecticut points and yet another one of those heartbreaking losses that Commodores fans have grown accustomed to.

The Vanderbilt offensive line still acts more like a door than a wall -- five sacks, bringing the four-game total to 13. Commodores QB Larry Smith still had a decent enough game, completing 60 percent of his passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns and running for another 64 yards despite the sacks. His two interceptions didn't help, but it's hard to take care of the football when you're running for your life.

Meanwhile, the defense was unable to stop Connecticut's Jordan Toddman, who ran for 190 yards on 37 carries and two touchdowns.

The only thing Anchor Of Gold takes comfort in: "At Least We Aren't Tennessee."

The Commodores offense came alive in the first half before remembering who they were in the third and fourth quarters and going back into hibernation. Suddenly, we were impotent again, and the usually stout defense had nothing in the gas tank to keep the team in the game.

Vanderbilt next plays Eastern Michigan, the only cupcake this season, which is really just insane if you're Vanderbilt.

LET'S GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY, PART I
Mississippi State 49, Alcorn State 16

We're not going to spend too much time diagnosing the Western Division Bulldogs' demolition of a school that you've only heard of because it's Steve McNair's alma mater. As expected, Mississippi State rang up 566 yards of total offense, including an efficient performance by Chris Relf, 11-of-15 for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Less encouraging was the Bulldogs' defense, which is perhaps the biggest key to building on last year's 5-7 record and making a bowl game. Alcorn State gained 330 yards on the game, including first-half scoring drives of 78, 82 and 48 yards. The Bulldogs took a three-score lead late in the first half, but they were also shut out in the third quarter.

Still, State is halfway to bowl eligibility going to Houston next week, a game that would go a long way toward that goal.

LET'S GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY, PART II
Auburn 52, Louisiana-Monroe 3

We're not going to spend too much time diagnosing the Tigers' demolition of a school that you've only heard of because it defeated Alabama in 2007. Cameron Newton followed up last week's star turn rushing the ball over, around and through South Carolina defenders by showing off his passing ability: 14-of-19, 245 yards (12.9 avg), 3 TDs, 1 INT. Auburn punted once.

The defense was pretty much as it should be against a Sun Belt team, allowing just three drives of more than 21 yards and limiting the Warhawks to a field goal. The ULM offense was also extraordinarily generous, fumbling the ball away on three of its last four drives.

Next up for the Tigers: A trip to Lexington to take on Kentucky.

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