Week 11 in the SEC featured one of the fiercest rivalries in the conference taking center stage on Saturday night, as Alabama hosted LSU in a battle between two traditional SEC heavyweights.
In the end, it was Alabama left standing, as the Crimson Tide topped LSU 38-17 and kept their undefeated season intact heading into the home stretch. That home stretch includes a road game at Auburn to close the season, which could—as long as teams hold serve—act as a de facto SEC West championship game for the first time since the divisional split in 1992.
What did we learn this week in the SEC? Let's review.
If T.J. Yeldon Wins, Alabama Wins
While quarterback A.J. McCarron soaks up all the glory as being the trigger man who has led Alabama to previously uncharted waters as the first college football dynasty of the BCS era, all running back T.J. Yeldon has done is emerge as one of college football's ultimate closers.
The sophomore running back from Daphne, Ala. rushed 25 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns versus LSU on Saturday night, imposing his will on the physical LSU defense.
"We knew their defense would be physical," head coach Nick Saban said in quotes released by Alabama. "The offensive line did a heck of a job tonight. They were very physical. They opened lanes for T.J. (Yeldon) and (Kenyan) Drake to run through."
Yeldon's impact was never more apparent than on the first drive of the fourth quarter. With the Tide up seven, Yeldon rushed six times for 35 yards and capped off the 10-play drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge.
This is what Alabama does.
McCarron wasn't great. In fact, he looked off in the first half. But in big games, the Crimson Tide are able to play smart, wear down the opponent and shut the door when the time is right.
The time was right in the second half versus LSU, and Yeldon led his team right through that door.
Meanwhile, Across the State, Auburn Keeps Running
Is Auburn legit?
Without a doubt.
All the Tigers did on Saturday was top Tennessee 55-23 in Knoxville and rush for 444 yards in the process.
Quarterback Nick Marshall rushed for a career-high 214 yards and two touchdowns, Tre Mason topped the century mark with 117 yards and three touchdowns, and head coach Gus Malzahn's crew ran and hid from the home-standing Vols in one of the most impressive offensive performances of the season for the Tigers.
Auburn threw just seven passes on the day, three of which were on the first drive of the game. It's so dynamic within the running game that it's hard for Malzahn to stray from his bread and butter if it keeps working.
"When you're running the football just keep doing it," Malzahn said in quotes released by Auburn. "That's kind of who we're developing in to. I still believe we can throw the football. There's no doubt in my mind that we can but when you don't have to, there's a pretty good feeling when you can line up and run the football at will."
It isn't fancy, it isn't creative and it isn't hard for opposing defensive coordinators to figure out. But Auburn's offense is nearly impossible to stop when it's clicking on all cylinders.
It's clicking on all cylinders right now.
Missouri Isn't Fading, It's Improving
Remember when Missouri was a "cute little story," and it was only a matter of time before the Tigers faded back into anonymity? It didn't happen when they were supposedly on "upset alert" against Tennessee two weeks ago, when the Tigers rolled the Vols 31-3.
It didn't happen on Saturday either, when head coach Gary Pinkel's crew dominated Kentucky 48-17 in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
Quarterback Maty Mauk tossed five touchdown passes, including a school-record four to sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham, to run and hide from the hapless Wildcats.
"If I do throw it up, I have 100 percent confidence that one of them will come down with it," Mauk said in quotes released by Missouri. "It really takes a lot of stress off of me, especially when I have time to throw it. They did a great job up front and a great job outside catching the ball."
Missouri is for real, folks. If it can win out over Ole Miss and Texas A&M, a matchup versus Alabama or Auburn in the SEC Championship Game would be a riveting matchup. It has a dynamic offense coupled with an opportunistic defense that's getting better as the season goes on.
Confidence can be intoxicating, and this team has it.
Oh, Florida, Not Like This
But what's worse than the score—which was embarrassing, deflating and unacceptable—was the statement made by the fans.
Early morning crowd shots typical paint an unrealistic picture of the enthusiasm of the crowd on any given day, but the crowd at the Swamp served more as a referendum on the current state of Florida football than crowd shots from around the country.
Here's a look from just after kickoff from Nick de la Torre of GatorCountry.com.
Obligatory sad attendance photo for a noon game. pic.twitter.com/UAZn0tM1ah— Nick de la Torre (@NickdelaTorreGC) November 9, 2013
If that's not a statement, nothing is.
Not only has the fanbase quit on this team, but the players have also quit on this team. There was no fight from the Gators on Saturday afternoon, as they let a team that only managed 183 total yards with a backup quarterback taking the snaps run them out of their own building.
There's clearly "noise in the system" in Gainesville, judging from Muschamp's postgame quotes courtesy of Chris Vannini of CoachingSearch.com.
"I don’t need to hear anyone from the outside telling me what I need to do with this football team," Muschamp said. "I can assure you of that.”
Mississippi State's 38-31 win over Florida in 2004 was widely regarded as the low point of Florida football in the modern era. Saturday's loss to Vanderbilt topped it.
Florida is never supposed to look like this.
Texas A&M Will Look Back on this Era with Mixed Emotions
This is arguably the golden age of Texas A&M football. Quarterback Johnny Manziel has led the program into the SEC, where it announced itself as a presence to be felt with a stellar 11-win campaign in Year 1 and another solid resume in Year 2.
It also could be viewed as a missed opportunity.
The Aggies held off a valiant effort from Mississippi State Saturday afternoon in College Station, topping the Bulldogs 51-41 in a game in which the Bulldogs racked up 556 total yards in a loss.
If head coach Kevin Sumlin could have found any defense over the last two seasons, the Aggies could have reached the ultimate prize.
Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel sums it up nicely.
51-41 is such an A&M score this year.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) November 10, 2013
It isn't just this year, it's this era.
Defense doesn't win championships—"just enough" defense wins championships. A&M hasn't had enough over the last two seasons despite having one of the most dynamic players in college football history taking the snaps.
Arkansas is a Hot Mess
The Arkansas Razorbacks lost their seventh straight game on Saturday afternoon, falling 34-24 to Ole Miss in Oxford in a game that saw Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace light up the Hog defense to the tune of 407 passing yards and three touchdowns.
It's always something with these Hogs.
This week, it was Wallace lighting up the Hogs through the air, while last week it was Auburn getting down and dirty with the Hogs on the ground. In between have been complaints from Bret Bielema on hotel lodging in Oxford, game film on extra points and just about everything else under the sun.
“Obviously, we want wins and it’s hard to say that a 3-7 football team is in the right direction, but I think it is," Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said in quotes released by Ole Miss. "It reminds me so much of different things I’ve seen and experienced with programs, it’s going through some really dark days to get to where we really want to be, and I hope that day comes soon.”
The right direction?
Arkansas has been beaten by an average margin of 26.2 points per game in SEC play and is staring its second straight 4-8 season in the face in the best-case scenario. At best, it's stuck in neutral. Being stuck in neutral coming out of the John L. Smith error of 2012 is a bad place to be for Bielema.