As the calendar turned to November, a little bit of clarity came to the SEC divisional races.
Georgia stayed alive in the SEC East, Auburn went on the road and won big with its "C" game and Missouri and South Carolina looked every bit like SEC East champs in their resounding home wins.
Meanwhile, Arkansas continued to struggle, Florida head coach Will Muschamp's seat heated up and Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen is still without a signature win—nearly five years into his career in Starkville.
What did we learn this week in the SEC?
Johnny Football Is Doing Everything He Can To Win Heisman No. 2
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is in the midst of a three-man battle for the Heisman Trophy, and if he continues to play like he did in a 57-7 rout of UTEP in College Station, he just might win it again.
Try this stat line on for size: 273 passing yards, four passing touchdowns, 67 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Granted, it was UTEP. But with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota off and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston tossing two picks, Manziel tightened up the Heisman race quite a bit on Saturday night. Not only did Manziel shine, but he also showed off his leadership skills with a speech to his teammates after the Aggies came out of the gate lethargic.
''He just made a great leadership speech,'' wide receiver Travis Labhart said in quotes released by Texas A&M. ''Told us to get back to doing what we do.''
Can No. 2 win his second Heisman in as many years?
He's certainly in the mix, but it'd be beneficial for both Oregon and Florida State to fall out of the race for the BCS National Championship hunt to level the playing field.
Georgia Is Competitive Again With Todd Gurley
Welcome back, Todd Gurley.
The true sophomore running back for the Georgia Bulldogs came back in a big way on Saturday, rushing for 100 yards and one touchdown and catching three passes with another touchdown through the air.
Not bad for a guy coming off of an ankle injury, and even more impressive considering he was gassed and feeling nauseated throughout the game.
"He helped a little bit, didn't he?" head coach Mark Richt said in quotes released by Georgia. "He played so well those first couple of series. It was so good to have him back. ... After his long touchdown, his stomach got to him a little bit. He was queasy. But we settled him down and he was fine after that."
It was a performance that will go down as one of the guttiest performances in Cocktail Party history. Gurley—who was clearly a step slow even before he got gassed—put his team on his back and it rode him to victory. On the final drive of the game, which iced the game away, he got seven carries and converted two 3rd-and-shorts.
Gurley's presence allows Richt to keep the porous Bulldog defense off of the field, which makes Georgia a force to be reckoned with down the stretch.
Florida's Defense Is Now Part of the Problem
Florida's offense is a disaster. That much was already known, and it has been that way for the better part of the Will Muschamp era.
But it's the defense that's fallen off the table over the last few games—a clear indication that it misses defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who was lost in Week 3—and can't carry the burden created by offensive coordinator Brent Pease's lack of creativity.
The Gators didn't give up more than 66 yards on the ground over the first four games of the season. Since then, they're giving up 161.75 yards per game on the ground.
On Saturday, Georgia jumped out to a 20-0 lead due primarily to the defense coming out sluggish.
"We dug ourselves too big of a hole, especially the big plays on defense early in the game," head coach Will Muschamp said in quotes released by Georgia. "We had a third-down situation and gave up a 73-yard touchdown when we had a four-man pressure to the running back."
The offense is terrible, but the defense is regressing. If it keeps this up, Florida is staring 6-6 in the face.
Auburn's O Could Tell the Defense the Play, and It Might Not Matter
Auburn's offense wasn't terribly flashy in Saturday night's 35-17 win at Arkansas. In fact, it was about as predictable as the sunrise.
It didn't matter.
Tre Mason rushed for 168 yards and four touchdowns, pacing Auburn to a sluggish win over the Razorbacks. It was one of those games where everybody in the building knew what head coach Gus Mazlahn was going to do, and there was nothing that could be done to stop it.
Auburn was simply punishing.
The Tigers are so good and so diverse with what they do within the running game that they don't have to pass. On Saturday night, they only attempted nine passes and completed eight—one of which was an 88-yarder from Nick Marshall to Sammie Coates for a touchdown.
The Tigers sit at 8-1 and head to Tennessee next week—a team that just gave up 339 rushing yards to Missouri.
Good luck with that, Butch Jones.
Missouri Is Championship-Caliber
Was Missouri primed for a letdown?
Absolutely. After last week's heartbreaking double-overtime loss to South Carolina, the Tigers had to get off the deck and prove they belong in the SEC East title mix against Tennessee on Saturday night.
Boy, did they.
Head coach Gary Pinkel's crew throttled Tennessee 31-3 in a game that wasn't even as close as the score indicated.
"We closed that door quick," head coach Gary Pinkel said in quotes released by Missouri. "We talked about it Sunday that we were going to move on. There is so much out there and I think they understood that. You can't do anything about the week before except learn a lesson."
It's a big statement for Missouri.
We know the Tigers have a dynamic offense and a devastating pass rush and have faith in their system. We now know that they aren't going to crawl under a rock when the going gets tough.
That makes them championship-caliber. Whether they become championship-worthy depends on if they can keep it up down the stretch. With games at Ole Miss and versus Texas A&M looming, that's a tall order.
South Carolina Is Either on the Verge of Excellence or Mediocrity, with Nothing in Between
There are times—like the comeback win over Missouri two weeks ago—when South Carolina looks like a runaway freight train that's on the verge of becoming a true SEC and national power that can win consistently at the highest level.
Then, there are times—like its upset loss to Tennessee in October—when South Carolina looks like it's moving backwards.
There's rarely anything in between. We saw the best (or worst) of both worlds on Saturday, in South Carolina's 34-16 win over Mississippi State.
The good consisted of quarterback Connor Shaw and running back Mike Davis. Shaw completed only 10 of 20 passes, but four went for touchdowns and he didn't throw a pick. Davis rushed 15 times for 128 yards with bruised ribs, becoming the first player in the SEC this season to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.
The bad? South Carolina converted only one of its 11 third-down opportunities, totaled only 307 yards and was remarkably sloppy.
"We couldn't run it very well and we couldn't throw it very well at times," head coach Steve Spurrier said. "We hit a few touchdown passes fortunately but third downs we were pretty sorry and overall we were very sorry."
South Carolina was "very sorry" in a game which it won by 18.
Hey, whatever works.
To Fake or Not to Fake
Auburn linebacker Anthony Swain was a relatively unknown piece to the Auburn puzzle on Saturday.
One play changed all of that.
After Arkansas ran a play out of a gimmick formation down near the goal line, Swain was walking back to the huddle as the Razorbacks and Tigers were both substituting; he was looking at the sideline and then dropped.
Was he faking injury to slow tempo?
The trick play leading up to Swain's injury was a "swinging gate" similar to the one that Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema complained wasn't on Auburn's game film earlier in the week. It converted a critical fourth down to keep the drive going and extended what would turn out to be a 10-play touchdown drive.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn—who came out strongly against faking injuries at Media Days in July—said his player wasn't faking in the press conference after the game.
So who do you believe?
The truth is likely somewhere in between. Certainly Swain dropped out of nowhere, which is not uncommon in situations in which a team needs to make a substitution down near the goal line where it's harder to get players in and out.
Was it as simple as that, or was it a directive from the sideline to get an extra timeout after Arkansas hit the Tigers with a taste of their own medicine?
Probably not, since there were only two seconds left in the quarter when it happened and the clock was going to be run on the ready for play. It looks like Auburn got an "extra timeout" out of the injury, but that's not true.
The quarter was ending, tempo wasn't a factor and Swain didn't return. Could it have been because Auburn had too many men on the field? Perhaps.
We'll likely never know the truth. Swain will probably be under specific direction to never address it.
It's a bad look for Auburn, no doubt. But it doesn't necessarily mean Auburn is faking injuries to slow tempo—which is what Malzahn specifically commented on at Media Days. It's more likely a case of Auburn not having the right personnel on the field or simply a troll/counter-troll move from Malzahn after the "swinging gate" from Bielema.
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