It was always going to be a soft day for the Eastern division, with only a few in-conference games that mattered. But, we ended up lucking out, as a few games came down to the wire, resulting in a few upsets on Saturday, especially in cities that are named Columbia.
Here’s a look around the division and a glimpse towards next week.
We started the day in Athens, as Charleston Southern traveled to Georgia, as the #1 team in the country had no problems on Senior Day. The Dawgs rushed for 233 yards, behind 83 yards from Zamir White. The Dawgs offense didn’t have to be aggressive today, which is why you saw Stetson Bennett finish the day 8-14 for 105 yards and 2 TD’s. The defense held Charleston Southern to only 126 total yards of offense, as the Dawgs front four dominated again.
It was a big day for Georgia DL Jordan Davis who rushed the ball twice, scoring on one of those carries inside the 2-yard line. Kirby Smart discussed the rushing TD, saying, “It was almost fate that you got the opportunity because we weren’t going to do it out in the middle of the field. But the opportunity arose, and those offensive coaches wanted to do it and I thought it was a great idea. I thought he handled it well.” The Dawgs will now play at Georgia Tech next weekend, as they get prepared for an appearance in the SEC Championship.
Next, we head to Lexington, as New Mexico State played Kentucky. The Wildcats didn’t need much help in this one, as they cruised to a 56-15 win. Will Levis threw for 419 yards and 4 TD’s in the victory, while Chris Rodriguez rushed for 119 yards and 1 TD.
This was an easy day for the Cats, as they will now prepare for Louisville next weekend. The Wildcats are now 8-3 on the season and will look to finish strong next week on the road. The Cardinals are playing better, so this will not be a cake walk.
Heading over to Columbia, as Missouri hosted the Florida Gators in a pivotal matchup for both teams, but especially Dan Mullen. The Gators were terrible in the rushing department, as they only had 93 total yards, 45 yards coming from Emory Jones, against the 129th ranked team in rush defense. If there was ever a night where the Gators could take advantage of a team on the ground, it was tonight. But again, we witnessed some interesting play calling from Dan Mullen, who had Emory Jones throw it 32 times.
It wasn’t as if the Tigers were stacking the box, but the Gators never took over on the ground. The same couldn’t be said for Missouri, as Tyler Badie rushed for 146 yards and 1 TD, which turned out to be in overtime. In a wild move, that paid off, Eli Drinkwitz decided to go for the win after the overtime touchdown, winning it off the arm of Connor Bazelak. The Tigers took down the Gators 24-23 and made life for Dan Mullen in Gainesville even worse.
Speaking of Dan Mullen, there’s no doubt that Saturday’s outcome has completely sucked the life out of this football program. This team was already on life support, but Missouri converting that two-point conversion might’ve pulled the plug on the Mullen era. Time till tell what happens at Florida, as AD Scott Stricklin has a decision to make regarding the future of the program. Mullen could not afford to lose the last two games of the season, so dropping this game against Missouri will not make his life any easier. Should be an interesting week in Gainesville, as they prepare for Florida State. As for Missouri, they are now bowl eligible, which is huge for this team, especially with the way this season started. The Tigers will finish the regular season with a trip to Arkansas, who looked really good today in the loss to Alabama.
Dropping into Knoxville, it was a much needed non-conference game for the Vols, as they hosted South Alabama. The Vols took care of the Jaguars, thanks to a nice night for QB Hendon Hooker, who finished the game with 273 yards, 2 TD’s and only three incompletions. The Vols were without Tiyon Evans at running back, but Jabari Small and crew took care of things out of the backfield. Small had 73 yards on the night, with 2 TD’s and Jaylen Wright finished with 83 yards, with 1 touchdown.
Hendon Hooker has now thrown a TD pass in ten straight games and will look to tie Peyton Manning next week if he can throw another against Vanderbilt.
Tennessee picked up its sixth win on the season and are now bowl eligible, which is a nice accomplishment for this Josh Heupel led squad. The Vols will prepare for Vanderbilt next week, as they look to close out the regular season strong. This team only had three wins last season and I imagine it’s refreshing for Tennessee fans to see their team take care of inferior opponents with ease.
Over in South Carolina, the Gamecocks hosted Auburn, looking for their sixth win of the season. What a big win it was for Shane Beamer and the Gamecocks, as they defeated the Tigers 21-17. After Auburn jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, it was South Carolina who responded with a 14-0 second quarter, tying things up before halftime. The Tigers had their way on the ground, as Tank Bigsby rushed for 164 yards, which should’ve set them up for a nice win. But the Gamecocks found ways to keep them out of the end zone in the second half, as QB Jason Brown led his team with three touchdowns, as they went on a 21-3 run to end the game. Starting in place of injured Bo Nix, Auburn QB T.J. Finley threw for 188 yards and 1 TD, but it wasn’t enough to take down the Gamecocks.
This is a huge win for Shane Beamer, as his team is now bowl eligible, which is a great way to start his tenure in Columbia. The Gamecocks will now prepare for a showdown with Clemson next week, looking for their 7th win and to beat their in-state foe. As for Auburn, they will stumble their way into the Iron Bowl, looking to put up some kind of fight on the plains.
Finally, Vanderbilt put up a nice effort in the loss to Ole Miss. The Dores ended up losing 31-17, but the Dores rushing for over 180 yards was a good look, even if it was against a rough looking Rebels defense. Quarterback Mike Wright passed for over 200 yards in the losing effort, flashing at times, even though he did not pass for a TD. This Vanderbilt team has been depleted all season, so it’s all about finishing this thing up and looking towards the future for Clark Lea.