There's always one of those weekends where upsets and close finishes dominate college football headlines, and Week 7 was one of those weekends—not only for the national landscape, but that of the SEC, as well.
Georgia stumbled into Saturday's game with Missouri and had its national title hopes dashed, Texas A&M got into a late-night shootout with Ole Miss in Oxford and Florida suffered its first conference loss in an SEC-style slugfest in Death Valley with LSU.
What did we learn in Week 7 in the SEC?
Johnny Football Still Has The Magic
Saturday night's shootout with Ole Miss took place in Oxford, Mississippi—two states to the east of Texas—and turned into one of the most thrilling games of the season.
After tweaking his knee early in the game and sending a scare through the college football world, all Manziel did was come back and pass for 346 yards, rush for 124 yards and score twice, including a game-tying dive into the end zone outrunning Ole Miss defenders with 3:07 to play.
His defense let him down, and Manziel flashed that Heisman magic of a year ago to will his team to a tough road win against a division foe.
"The thing that makes him different is that he's one of the greatest competitors I've ever been around," head coach Kevin Sumlin said in his post game press conference (via AggieAthletics.com). "Because of that, yeah he takes chances and plays a little bit on the edge, but that's what makes him, 'him'."
The defense is shaky, but Manziel is the ultimate wild card. If he needs to, he has the talent and desire to put a team on his back and carry it to victory.
All of a Sudden, LSU Has a Defense
Remember when LSU won with defense, and its offense was more of a liability than a strength?
That's not the case anymore. The No. 10 Tigers came into Saturday's showdown with No. 17 Florida with the SEC's fourth-best offense, but struggled to stop people on defense, with several pieces from last year's squad gone to the NFL.
All they did on Saturday was limit the Gators to 240 yards in a 17-6 win.
"Defensively, we’re getting off blocks, we’re tackling line of scrimmage plays, we’re getting in predictable third down situations in rushing the passer," head coach Les Miles said in postgame quotes released by the university. "When that happens, you’re not going to score a lot of points against us."
This is what LSU is supposed to be.
Anthony Johnson was a force in the middle of the line. The Tigers, meanwhile, were making a living in the backfield, sacking Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy four times and forcing him to make quick decisions. That's not the easiest thing to do on the road in a hostile environment.
If the Tigers can keep this up defensively, they're going to give Alabama all it can handle on Nov. 9 and could be playing for the SEC Championship in early December.
Missouri is an SEC East Title Contender
All of the focus will be on the Bulldog aspect of Georgia's 41-26 loss to Missouri in Athens on Saturday afternoon, but it's time to start wrapping your arms around the idea of the Tigers representing the SEC East in the conference championship game.
The Tigers sit at 2-0 in the SEC and hold a one-game lead over South Carolina, Florida and Georgia, over which it also holds a tiebreaker.
Head coach Gary Pinkel's crew hosts Florida and South Carolina over the next two weeks. If they sweep, they're likely in. They'd then hold a two-game lead over the Gators and Gamecocks and at least a one-game lead and a tiebreaker over Georgia.
I know, I know. Quarterback James Franklin's shoulder injury could keep him out for an extended period of time, and Missouri likely won't go undefeated the rest of October. But the Tigers like Franklin's replacement, Maty Mauk, still have a wide receiving corps that can create mismatches against anybody, a deep group of running backs and a defense that gets pressure rushing four.
Even one win over the next two weeks by Missouri keeps the SEC East very interesting into November, and after what we saw on Saturday between the hedges, it'd be foolish to count the Tigers out.
South Carolina Can Win Big and Win Ugly
The Gamecocks offense is interesting this year because it's prolific but nowhere close to flashy. Running back Mike Davis gets the tough yards, quarterback Connor Shaw is efficient in the passing game and they generally wear down opposing defenses.
That's exactly what happened on Saturday afternoon in South Carolina's 52-7 win over Arkansas in Fayetteville.
The Hogs jumped out to a 7-0 lead, and then the Gamecocks reeled off 52 unanswered points to roll Bret Bielema's crew.
Just how lopsided was it? South Carolina ran 89 plays to Arkansas' 37. Arkansas actually had a better yards-per-play average than the South Carolina (6.7 to 6.0), but the Gamecocks simply played keep away. They were 9-of-16 on third down and 5-of-5 on fourth down and kept those chains moving all day long with 32 first downs to Arkansas' seven.
That's total domination, and a perfect opportunity for some not-so-subtle trolling from Gamecock head coach Steve Spurrier, courtesy of Josh Kendall of The State:
Spurrier: I do feel badly for Arkansas. That’s no fun getting your butt beat at home, homecoming and all that.—Josh Kendall (@JoshatTheState) October 12, 2013
Never change, Spurrier.
Alabama QB AJ McCarron Should be on the Heisman Periphery
If you watched the broadcast of Alabama's 48-7 win over Kentucky, you heard a lot of talk about the game-manager label that Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron carries around...and how it's false.
He proved it against the Wildcats, competing 21-of-35 passes for 359 yards and a touchdown.
He is a gunslinger who, to his credit, not only manages the game, but himself—and that's a good thing.
A great quarterback knows when to dial it up, when to tone it down and has the ability to flip that switch in a given situation. When it became clear that the Crimson Tide were having some issues holding on to the ball in the red zone, all McCarron did was complete 8-of-13 passes for 122 yards in the second quarter to turn a scoreless game into a 24-0 blowout by halftime.
"AJ [McCarron] obviously does a very good job of making decisions and choices and is accurate with the ball," head coach Nick Saban said in his postgame press conference (courtesy of RollTide.com). "I'm pleased with the way our skill guys are playing. I think they have a lot of confidence in AJ, and I think he has a lot of confidence in them."
He doesn't put up video game numbers like Manziel, Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Florida State's Jameis Winston, Clemson's Tajh Boyd or Washington's Bishop Sankey. But that's because he doesn't always have to.
As he showed on Saturday night, he can when he needs to, and if he needs to in a few big games later in the season, don't be surprised to see him sneak into the Heisman mix.
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