Being favored by the boys in Las Vegas is generally a sign of respect. On Saturday in the SEC, it was more like a curse.
Five favored SEC teams fell on Saturday afternoon, shaking up the division, BCS and Heisman Trophy races. No. 6 LSU, No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 11 South Carolina, No. 15 Georgia and No. 22 Florida all went down on "upset Saturday" in a day that will go down as one of the more remarkable and improbable days in SEC history.
What did we learn in Week 8 in the SEC?
Johnny Manziel Can't Do it All
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was busy doing "Johnny Football" things on Saturday, throwing for 454 yards, rushing for 48 and totaling five touchdowns (four pass, one rush).
One problem though—Manziel doesn't play defense.
Auburn lit up Texas A&M's porous rush defense with 379 rushing yards, including 178 from Tre Mason and 100 from quarterback Nick Marshall to grind out a tough 45-41 win on the road in College Station.
"It wasn't a situation where they were busting big long runs, it was that we just couldn't get off the field," Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin said after the game in quotes released by Auburn. "I sit up here every week when we win or lose I talk about really two areas, third downs and turnover margin, of which we didn't win either one of them tonight, and that's why they won the game."
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn shed some light on the Tigers' game plan.
"Our plan was to be in the game at halftime and wear them out in the second half," Malzahn said in quotes released by the university. "I think for the most part it worked."
Boy, did it. The Tigers rushed 10 times for 48 yards on the game-winning drive when everybody in the building knew what they wanted to do, and Texas A&M couldn't do anything about it.
A championship team has to have some semblance of a defense, and Texas A&M doesn't have that.
|Texas A&M Rushing Yards Allowed - 2013|
|Sam Houston State||240||5.71|
Auburn is For Real
Don't look now, but Auburn has pushed its record to 6-1 and probably should (yes, that's a big assumption) be 10-1 heading to the Iron Bowl, setting up a de facto SEC West title game with Alabama.
How'd the Tigers do it?
With a punishing rushing attack, a defensive line that is deep and improving and a quarterback in Nick Marshall who's becoming more and more confident as the season progresses.
Mason is one of the top running backs in the SEC, and Malzahn's play-calling puts Mason, Marshall, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne in positions to succeed.
The Tigers limited Texas A&M to just 133 rushing yards, and while Manziel and wide receiver Mike Evans did their thing through the air, Auburn did make A&M as one-dimensional as A&M can be.
"This was a statement game," Mason said. "The statement that we want to put across is that we are coming."
Marquez North Isn't Just Good, He's Clutch
Tennessee freshman wide receiver Marquez North came to Knoxville with a ton of hype, and the 6'4", 215-pound freshman from Charlotte, N.C. lived up to it on Saturday in Tennessee's 23-21 win over South Carolina in Neyland Stadium
North caught three passes for 102 yards, including a 48-yarder on 2nd-and-16 early in the fourth quarter up over a defensive back to set the Vols up for a field goal to cut the Gamecock lead to 21-20. Then on a critical 3rd-and-10 with just over two to play and the Vols down one, North made a spectacular one-handed catch for a 39-yard gain to get the Vols into field-goal range and set up the game-winning field goal.
Quarterback Justin Worley knows he can count on North.
"Having a big body like he has and the athletics ability he has, you have to have confidence in being able to go up and throw the ball in one-on-one situations," Worley said in quotes released by the university. "I like my chances with Marquez, and he proved that today."
If you're looking for the next big superstar in the SEC, look no further than North. Big things are in store for him on Rocky Top.
Mark Richt Isn't on the Hot Seat, but DC Todd Grantham Should Be
Yes, Georgia has injuries all over the field, but that's no excuse for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who routinely produces subpar defenses regardless of talent on the roster. Georgia couldn't stop the run last season with a roster littered with NFL players, and has done nothing this season that suggests Grantham is capable of putting together a competitive defense.
The stats lied in Saturday's 31-27 loss to Vanderbilt.
The Bulldogs only gave up 337 yards to the Commodores, but threw away a 13-point fourth quarter lead, allowing scoring drives of nine and 11 plays with Vanderbilt trotting out backup quarterback Patton Robinette, who came in after Austyn Carta-Samuels suffered a leg injury in the second quarter.
That shouldn't happen.
It isn't a youth problem; it's a scheme problem. If Grantham doesn't shape up, he should be looking for work next season.
Maty Mauk Can Play
Remember when Missouri's dream season was going to come to crashing down without quarterback James Franklin?
Yeah, neither does redshirt freshman Maty Mauk.
All Mauk did in his first start was throw for 295 yards and account for two touchdowns (one pass, one rush) against what was the best defense in the SEC entering the day. Head coach Gary Pinkel didn't change his offense one bit, and it paid off to the tune of 500 total yards and a 36-17 win over Florida.
"People were going to say 'Oh, the freshman isn't going to be able to win the game," and then other people were saying, "He will," so just block everything out and be me," Mauk said in quotes released by the university.
Is the Missouri offense in good hands? You bet it is.
Mauk already got over his biggest hurdle when he toppled the Florida defense. If he can keep the momentum going, Missouri will be playing for the SEC title in Atlanta.
Maybe Zach Mettenberger Isn't as Reliable As We Thought
The 2012 version of Zach Mettenberger made the trip to Oxford on Saturday night, and it cost the LSU Tigers the game in a 27-24 loss to Ole Miss.
Mettenberger tossed three first-half interceptions before the light bulb went back on in the second half and the Tigers came back to tie the Rebels late in the fourth quarter. Had the light come on sooner, maybe LSU wouldn't have had to scratch and claw on the road to get back into the critical SEC West game.
“Just bad plays," Mettenberger said in postgame quotes released by the university. "They made good plays on balls and just bad plays by me. I've got to be smarter."
Over the last three games, Mettenberger has tossed more interceptions (four) than touchdowns (three) and has completed less than 58 percent of his passes in two straight games. There's still time to turn things around, but Saturday's loss all but eliminated the Tigers from SEC West contention.
Alabama is Alabama, and Arkansas is a Mess
All Alabama has done since the Texas A&M game on Sept. 14 is allow one turnover and win by an average margin of 37 points. On Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, it throttled Arkansas 52-0 in a game that really wasn't as close as the score indicated.
Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake each topped the century mark on the ground, T.J. Yeldon added 88 of his own and quarterback AJ McCarron tossed three touchdowns and no picks to pace the Crimson Tide to an easy victory.
Was it perfect? No, not according to head coach Nick Saban.
"I still don't think we played our best game," he said in postgame quotes released by Alabama.
That sound you hear is the rest of the country cringing.
Meanwhile, Arkansas is reeling. It has gone scoreless over the last seven quarters and has gone five straight games—all losses—without scoring a single point in the fourth quarter.
The Razorbacks haven't been finishing for a while, and now they're struggling to even get things going. That's called regression, and it's a bad sign for the future of head coach Bret Bielema's program.