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Inside The SEC: South Carolina Upsets Alabama; Les Miles Does Something Else Crazy

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Recapping Week 6 in the SEC, where South Carolina's win against Alabama threatens to rewrite the script. And Les Miles does something else insane in LSU's shocking win against Florida.

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The No. 1 team in the country was coming off a dramatic victory against the Florida Gators as they headed toward a showdown with one of the lesser-regarded teams in the SEC East. Sure, there was talk that the perpetual also-ran -- if they could even be called an also-ran -- was going to have a special year this year, but there were still plenty of reasons to doubt it. Just the week before, the underdog had gone on the road to another rising SEC team and returned home with its first loss.

The No. 1 team was the LSU Tigers, the underdogs were the Kentucky Wildcats and the game ended up with an LSU loss. As we all know, the Bayou Bengals would win the national title that year and Kentucky would once again claim its seeming birthright with an invitation to the Music City Bowl. Which is better than can be said for the high-flying South Carolina team that defeated the Wildcats; they went on a five-game losing streak shortly thereafter that would keep them from going to any bowl at all.

That is not to say that Alabama is going to play for the BCS National Championship this year after losing to South Carolina this weekend, or that the Gamecocks will end up in Nashville in December, or that the events of this past weekend will not prove to reshape the 2010 season.

But the SEC appears to have at least five teams that could be elite -- Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU and South Carolina -- but also have reasons to think they aren't quite there. It has another team in Florida that might be good if it can find an identity, and several other teams that are question marks. All of which means that the upset in Columbia probably isn't the end of the shake-up in the SEC, and could just be the beginning of something even wilder.

History does not repeat itself, as Mark Twain reportedly said, but it often rhymes.

THE GAMECOCKS CREST; IS THE TIDE ABOUT TO EBB?
South Carolina 35, Alabama 21

Back in May, Roll Bama Roll ran a poll on which team the Tide faithful thought the reigning national champions would most likely lose to. Of course, nobody came in first by a wide margin, these being Alabama fans. Down in fourth place, behind Florida and Arkansas, sat the South Carolina Gamecocks.

There were plenty of reasons for Alabama fans to feel confident going into Columbia. It had taken the Gamecocks 11 tries to get their first on-the-field victory against the Tide. There were questions about South Carolina along both the offensive and defensive lines. This was the team against whom Mark Ingram had essentially launched his Heisman campaign in 2009. And, if all else failed, Stephen Garcia could always be counted on to make a back-breaking mistake.

And it started out like you might expect a Tide victory. Alabama drove 54 yards on nine plays in its opening volley, finishing with a field goal when South Carolina's defense characteristically stepped up in the red zone. Then, things took a turn.

South Carolina responded with a touchdown, taking a 7-3 lead. Alabama responded with a drive that ended in a punt. South Carolina followed with another touchdown -- 14-3. On the next drive, Greg McElroy was sacked and lost the football. One minute of gametime later, it was 21-3.

This was clearly not what the Alabama faithful had in mind. By halftime, it was 21-9, Stephen Garcia had played flawless football (9-of-9, 94 yards, 3 TDs), and South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was outrushing Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson combined.

But there was still hope. The Gamecocks almost fumbled away the opening kickoff of the second half, and Stephen Garcia seemed to remember on the first play from scrimmage that he was Stephen Garcia. The snap sailed past Garcia to the South Carolina 4, at which point the only thing Garcia could do was to fall on the ball. The one thing he absolutely could not, must not do was get caught for a safety, which would cut the lead to 10 and give the ball back to Bama. Of course, Stephen Garcia did not get caught for the safety -- he conceded it by throwing the ball out of the back of the end zone.

The ensuing Alabama drive led to a field goal, cutting the score to 21-14. And across the South Carolina fan base, a slew of flashbacks kicked in, games where this mistake or that had over the years taken away so many upsets. It was fun while it lasted, a sane fan base might have thought, but this is as long as it lasts.

But the South Carolina fan base is not sane -- more than 80,000 of them regularly turn out for home games despite more than a century's worth of evidence that this is a waste of an otherwise lovely autumn day -- and this appears to be a very different South Carolina team. The Gamecocks promptly went on their own touchdown drive, and the lead was once again two touchdowns.

What followed -- an Alabama touchdown, an unsuccessful Alabama fake field goal and a South Carolina touchdown drive that included a fourth-down conversion on the Gamecocks' own 35-yard line -- slowly confirmed that not only would South Carolina defeat the Tide, they wouldn't do it in the kind of fluke that most people thought would be the only way the Gamecocks could defeat the Tide.

Alabama outgained South Carolina slightly -- by 40 yards -- but the Gamecocks essentially outplayed the Tide for the entire game. It was Greg McElroy that often seemed like the confused starting quarterback, not Stephen Garcia. Ingram and Richardson combined for 64 yards on 17 carries, the lack of rushing attempts at first a sign of questionable coaching and then a necessity as the game began to get away.

For South Carolina's trio of offensive leaders -- Garcia, Lattimore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery -- the game was a form of vindication. Garcia was all but perfect aside from the safety. Lattimore proved he could perform well against a respected defense (23 carries, 93 yards, 2 TDs). And Jeffery's seven catches for 127 yards and 2 TDs included a sideline grab near the end of the game in which the referee seemed to astounded by the one-handed catch to throw the obvious pass-interference call on Dre Kirkpatrick, who blatantly grabbed the front of Jeffery's jersey to try to keep him from making the catch. And the defense held well enough to give South Carolina the victory.

Gamecocks fans went from expecting the worst to watching the best, as Garnet And Black Attack recounts.

I thought our chance to make history was slipping through our grasp.

This time, though, we responded to the bell. The defense got big stop after big stop, and the offense made play after play to keep drives alive and score more points. It was a great performance, and it was undoubtedly cathartic for the many Carolina fans who have watched us fail to take a victory like this for so many years. 

Alabama fans, meanwhile, are having to regroup and recalibrate their goals for the moment.

No, we're probably not going to be able to make it to Glendale -- for time being anyway, entirely too many undefeated BCS conference teams to consider that a likelihood, and we just lost all control of our own destiny -- but that should not be the focal point now anyway. When you have played as poorly as we have in two of the last three weeks, and when you specifically review the South Carolina game, this is a team with a lot of problems right now and frankly a team who should not even be thinking about the notion of a national championship at this juncture. 

Next up for South Carolina is an always-tricky trip to Lexington to try to extend the Gamecocks' 10-game winning streak against Kentucky. Alabama returns to Tuscaloosa to face Ole Miss, losers for the first time since the 2009 Sugar Bowl.

WHAT DID LES MILES DO THIS WEEK?
LSU 33, Florida 29

Somewhere along the way, LSU's undefeated season has become the vampire of college football: If you want to kill it, you had best bring along a wooden stake and a clove of garlic, and you had best be prepared to use them. Otherwise, LSU is going to do what it has more or less done to North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida, to name a few: Win despite there being no discernible reason for the Tigers having done so.

Actually, the box scores look pretty much like what you would expect in an LSU win: The Bengals outgained Florida by 142 yards, ran and passed(!) the ball better than the Gators and were even in the turnover battle. The Jordan Jefferson-Jarrett Lee combo seems to have worked in spite of itself, with a combined stat line of 16-of-23 for 224 yards, 2 passing TDs, 2 rushing TDs and 1 INT.

Ah, but no box score can tell the story of the odd combination of genius and insanity that is Les Miles. And we all knew what was about to happen when Florida scored to take a 29-26 lead with 3:21 left in the game: The world would come off its axis, the space-time continuum would be torn in two, and Les Miles would do something you weren't expecting.

But at first things seemed safe and relatively sane. With one timeout, LSU drove down to the Florida 34, then lost two yards on third-and-one. That set up a potential 53-yard field goal to tie the game, and Josh Jasper dutifully trotted onto the field. LSU then called timeout, which would normally scream "fake" but didn't in this case, because it is Les Miles that we're talking about here.

A fake, of course, is exactly what LSU called. Holder Derek Helton took the snap and flipped it over his head, at which point it bounced on the ground. For any other team anywhere in America, this would be certain disaster. But this is LSU, and the ball bounced right into Jasper's waiting hands. Jasper easily ran for the first down.

The referees, as stunned as everyone else in the stadium, took four minutes to review the play and make sure that they had, indeed, just seen what they thought they had seen. The precision of the lateral was almost uncanny; it travels on a nearly perfect line between Helton and Jasper -- or, more accurately, between Helton, the ground and Jasper -- and was a legal play.

At this point, the game was no longer in doubt. Everyone in the stadium, everyone watching on television and anyone who has ever heard of Les Miles knew what would happen next. Lee threw a 28-yard pass to Terrence Toliver, spiked the ball (with time left, which is an important detail in games including LSU) and after an incompletion, threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Toliver to win the game.

And our LSU blog And The Valley Shook will hear none of your complaints.

People can whine about luck, but Les made his own luck in this game. ... He made gutsy, gutsy calls that, had they failed, would have opened him up to extreme criticism. The gambles worked, so he deserves credit. He played to win, and his players rewarded him. He didn't play it safe, he went for the jackpot. He got it. 

Not that Alligator Army, our Florida blog, is really complaining about the last-minute antics. Instead, they're trying to remind fans that the goal of an SEC East title remains in play.

At no point did Florida deserve to win the game. The Tigers were the better team.

All of that said, UF still controls their own destiny. If both the Gators and Gamecocks win out, the Gators would be 5-2 in the SEC and the Cocks would be 6-1. If UF wins, they would be 6-2 with the tiebreaker over South Carolina. This season is far from over.

Next for LSU is FCS cupcake McNeese State, against whom late-game heroics will hopefully be unnecessary, followed by the always insane game against Auburn. (This game is bizarre even when Les Miles is not involved, which means it should be buckets of crazy this year.) Meanwhile, Florida welcomes Mississippi State to the Swamp.

CAM NEWTON WINS. AUBURN COMES ALONG FOR THE RIDE
Auburn 37, Kentucky 34

One of the questions that is proving to shape the college football season is: How much can you win with one great player? For Auburn, the answer has so far proven to be, "enough."

Cam Newton had another day that has begun to build his Heisman hype. The SEC's answer to Denard Robinson rang up 408 yards of total offense Saturday, 198 of those yards on 28 carries and the other 210 yards from what was honestly a pretty average day passing (13-of-21, 0 TD, 1 INT). The rest of the Tigers offense accounting for 115 total yards.

And then there's the defense. The total numbers aren't really all that bad: 336 yards on 59 snaps, an average of 5.7 yards a play. That's slightly more than Florida (5.1 yards) and Ole Miss (5.5 yards) allowed, but nothing to get overly concerned about; it's also the fewest total yards any team has allowed to Kentucky all year.

That said, when the game was being decided, the Auburn defense disappeared. Kentucky scores on five of its last six possession, including scoring drives of 55, 55, 48, 57 and and 53 yards. Only the last, 14-play drive took more than 3:13 to complete. Granted, it would have helped if the offense and special teams had given the defense 60 yards or so to work with, but you have to stop them at some point, ideally before the score is tied, 34-34, with less than seven minutes to go.

Enter Cam Newton, who carried the ball 10 times for 48 yards and passed for another 20 -- part of a 19-play drive to set up the winning field goal. And salvage what little sanity is left in the 2010 season.

Track Em Tigers, our Auburn blog, sees reasons to worry about what comes next in the defensive meltdown.

With Ryan Mallett bringing his arm to town next Saturday, I thought it was a terrible time for the secondary to regress, and for the pass rush to disappear. Auburn had no quarterback hurries, and only a single sack from Craig Stevens. For the life of me, I can't understand how a starting secondary of all-upperclassmen can't figure out how to line up.

Our Kentucky blog, A Sea Of Blue, isn't really all that surprised by the loss.

This wasn't a game Kentucky was supposed to be competitive in, let alone win. After being embarrassed by the Florida Gators and losing a winnable game to the Mississippi Rebels, Kentucky fans did not deserve to expect a win in this game, and they were properly rewarded with a loss.

As mentioned, Auburn hosts Arkansas next week in an important divisional showdown while Kentucky welcomes South Carolina and hopes for a letdown game after the Gamecocks' major victory.

MARK RICHT HOT SEAT WARNING LEVEL: ORANGE (TODD DODGE)
Georgia 41, Tennessee 14

Richthotseat2_medium

If you're into existential arguments about college football, then Georgia has been the program to watch this year. Over the last several months, outside observers, the Georgia media and the Dawgosphere -- that's what they call themselves -- have been trading shots back and forth over the job security of Mark Richt. Not just whether he is on the hot seat or whether he should be on the hot seat, but what exactly the hot seat is.

Whatever it is, it seems relatively fair to say that Mark Richt was at least edging toward it after a 1-4 start that includes losses to Mississippi State and Colorado, whose own coach has been sitting on a seat that has been in flames for years now. And now we have a game that gives one side a partial win but allows the other side to hold onto its argument for at least a while.

For the anti-hot seat crowd: No one saw that one coming. Georgia pretty clearly annihilated Tennessee is almost every facet of the game. The Vols had 9 rushing yards -- nine! On 26 attempts! Part of this was a loss of 23 on a bad snap -- see, Florida's not alone -- and part of it was four sacks that cost the Vols 27 yards. But when justification for your team's poor rushing numbers involves pointing out a botched snap and four sacks, any comfort that is found in thinking the ground game might not be that bad or more than offset by the realization that other parts of the team are exactly that bad.

But even taking into account Tennessee's many self-inflicted wounds, this was the kind of game Georgia fans were waiting for. No turnovers, an acceptable five penalties and yet another game-changing performance by A.J. Green (six catches, 96 yards and a touchdown). Aaron Murray was 17-of-25 for 266 yards and two touchdowns. The team gained 402 yards of total offense, the most against an SEC team this year and the most against any team save (ironically enough) Colorado.

Those who were pushing for Richt to be canned are lying low for now, but they have their excuses ready for them if Richt should lose another game or two soon. And one of them is the simple fact that Tennessee is not a very good team right now. Even Volunteer fans do not really dispute this. How can you, when they needed double-overtime to beat UAB at home? The hope for Tennessee is that Derek Dooley is beginning to build a team for the long haul after a whirlwind three years in Knoxville.

Aside from that, Tennessee made several of the kinds of mistakes that Georgia has made so far this year. Three early turnovers -- all of them on the Vols' side of the field and all of them leading to Georgia points -- put Tennessee too far behind to mount a credible comeback. By the time Green cashed in the last of those turnovers, the score was 24-7, and no one has accused Tennessee of being a second-half team this year.

That said, we all know that a win is a win, and the Mayor writes at Dawg Sports that this could be the beginning of the long-awaited turnaround in Athens:

For years, Mark Richt-coached teams annually carded a one-sided victory over what was expected to be a competitive opponent: Georgia Tech in 2002, Tennessee in 2003, LSU in 2004 and 2005, and Auburn in 2006 and 2007 . . . but they haven’t done it since, until this Saturday. ...

Yes, there’s only one safe W left on the Red and Black’s slate, but there’s no guaranteed L. 

Which is a pretty fair assessment of Georgia's schedule from here on out and the state of the SEC as a whole.

Rocky Top Talk is not as pessimistic as you might expect.

After awhile, though, the Vols did find their footing a bit, and from that point, they merely got beat. There would be no overcoming three turnovers, but at least it wasn't an all-out onslaught. Some in the game thread said this is the worst Tennessee has looked all season, but I still give that distinction to the UAB game. Georgia's not a bad team; they're a good team that has had a lot of bad luck (much of their own making) along the way. They had no such problem this week.

Georgia next tries its luck against Vanderbilt at home, while Tennessee takes the traditional bye week before playing Alabama in Knoxville.

BOTH TEAMS HAD THAT 2:30 FEELING?
Arkansas 24, Texas A&M 17

While almost everyone else was watching South Carolina rewrite the script for the rest of the year, Arkansas fans were watching their team win a game with a would-be SEC team, if not very convincingly. Total time the Razorbacks led Texas A&M, a team that was seriously considering joining the conference when the Big XII was spinning apart a few months ago, by more than a score: 45 seconds. That's the amount of time it took the Aggies to drive 64 yards down the field after an Arkansas touchdown late in the first half.

But Arkansas never trailed and Ryan Mallett was largely Ryan Mallett: 27-of-38, 310 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT. The Hogs also rolled up 132 of some things called "rushing yards" en route to the win, including 82 yards on 10 carries from pass-blocker Knile Davis.

Oh, but it was a sloppy game. The teams combined for four turnovers, 23 penalties and 17 punts. (Yes, both of those last two numbers are accurate.) At one point in the third and fourth quarters, the teams traded eight consecutive punts, a stretch that would put even Jim Tressel to sleep.

So Arkansas Expats -- if you guessed that's the name of our Arkansas blog, my, you're clever -- is not that far off when it looks at a one-score game that virtually always a one-score game and calls it "rather dull."

Is the game over yet? Thankfully, blessedly, the answer is yes.

People say that one of the signs of a good team is that it still wins when it doesn't play well. Time will tell how good these Hogs are, but they looked awfully sluggish today, as if they hadn't quite shaken off their post-Alabama depression.

How much time? Let's see, next week's opponent for the Hogs is Auburn. So not very much time at all.

ONE GAME CLOSER
Mississippi State 47, Houston 24

When you're the Mississippi State defense, you'll take whatever wins you can get. And holding the Houston running game to 2.9 yards per carry after the Cougars had averaged 5.3 yards per carry in their other games is the kind of victory the Western Division Bulldogs might be able to build on.

Of course, Houston is not the BCS buster it almost was last year, particularly not after losing the starting quarterback and his backup. And the Cougars passing game did still generate 356 yards and three touchdowns opposite two interceptions.

And just slowing down an offense like Houston is going to be enough as long as State's offense can churn out 409 yards on the ground, 134 from Vick Ballard and 96 from Chris Relf among the total.

Big picture: Mississippi State needed this game to reach the goal of bowl eligibility. The Bulldogs now have four wins and need two games, with winnable match-ups against UAB, Kentucky and Ole Miss on the schedule and upset opportunities against Arkansas, Florida and -- if we really want to go long-shot here -- Alabama.

Next up: That game in Gainesville, which will mark Dan Mullen's return to the Swamp. Despite the fervent wishes of Florida fans, it will only be for one game. 

VANDERBILT RUNS UP THE SCORE. THIS WAS OBVIOUSLY NOT PLANNED
Vanderbilt 52, Eastern Michigan 6

There are so many numbers in this game that are unusual for Vanderbilt, it's hard to know where to start. The Commodores rang up 24 first downs, 558 yards of offense and 353 yards passing. They held the Eagles to 2.8 yards per carry rushing. Eastern Michigan got into the red zone once in the course of the game. In something approaching a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, one of Vanderbilt's mistakes went its way when the Commodores recovered an unintentional onsides kick. An embarrassed Robbie Caldwell, who knows a thing or two about being on the other side of blowouts, apologized. Think about that: The Vanderbilt coach had to apologize for accidentally running up the score. In other words, it was the kind of easy win that doesn't happen in Nashville every week.

Of course, that Vanderbilt win came against Eastern Michigan, a team that lost to Ohio by 13, to Central Michigan by 38 and to Ohio State by 53 -- so it's not like Vanderbilt should have had much trouble defeating the Eagles. Still, it has to be nice for Vanderbilt to show that it can smash a cupcake just like any of the other teams in the SEC.

Even Anchor Of Gold, our Vanderbilt blog, is careful not to overstate the importance of all those shiny numbers.

It's tough to take much away from a game featuring such disparate opponents. I think last night did underscore an important thing about Larry Smith -- he is much better once he has had some time to get into a rhythm and when he is adequately protected.

In fact, Smith had his best passer rating of the year by nearly 40 points -- and a career high for any game in which he attempted more than two passes. But if protection is an issue for Smith, the improvement might be a moot point when Vanderbilt goes up against the remaining SEC teams on the schedule.

Now it's back to reality for the Commodores, who face three ranked teams after a trip to Georgia this weekend.