Monday Morning QB Column: The SEC Race

There are a lot of possibilities for potential SEC football champions as the Tigers look to stay in the race as they take on another road challenge this week at Ole Miss.

Offensive Shootout

I’m not sure I remember another game quite like the one we witnessed Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn’s offense was clicking on all cylinders and when that happens it’s a beautiful thing to watch.

It all starts up front and Coach J.B. Grimes’ group deserves a lot of credit for picking up their play following the bye week. On the other side of the ball it’s hard to imagine another coach attacking the way Steve Spurrier did against the Tigers. Going for it on just about every fourth down, going for a surprise onside kick, it’s obvious he had no faith in his defense and rightfully so. Imagine if the Gamecocks punt on just two of those possessions and don’t attempt the onside kick. If Spurrier plays that game straight up then Auburn wins by four touchdowns. He kept his offense on the field where it had the best chance to win, and that’s why he’s one of the greatest coaches to even walk the field in college football.

Under (No) Pressure

The lack of a true pass rush came back to bite the Auburn defense in a big way against the Gamecocks. With Spurrier in a play-calling zone and a quarterback who wasn’t feeling any pressure, South Carolina’s offense looked more like it was participating in a 7-on-7 tournament than an SEC game. That’s something that has to change for the Tigers, but at this point it’s still just a work in progress for Auburn.

"Guys still ain't getting there,” Ellis Johnson said. “We did not play well in a lot of areas, but if you can get the ball out of the guy's hand or get him on the ground a few times and get him tired, it would sure help. We're just not getting there.

"I thought Brandon King came in there and gave us a little spark, he does some things in our little twist package, and we're using him now, getting a little bit more athletic guys on the field when we can, but frankly, the production's just not there," Johnson added. "And frankly, in a game with 91 plays, I don't know how many times we threw it, you've got no sacks, and we're going to have to find some production.”

With Ole Miss and quarterback Bo Wallace up next, Auburn has to find a way to get pressure on Saturday night or it could be another tough game for the pass defense. Even though Spurrier won’t be on the sidelines, Wallace has already proven he can do some damage when he’s given time. It’s now or never for guys to step up their play on the edge because with Texas A&M coming to the Plains in two weeks, the need to get to the quarterback is a must if the Tigers want to keep their hopes alive for the SEC Championship and the College Football Playoff.

Running Game Gets Untracked

Auburn’s numbers in the running game were already good, but something was missing the first half of the season in that department. Running for just 128 yards against Kansas State was the low point, but the lack of consistency has kept Auburn from getting into a rhythm on the ground. That wasn’t the case on Saturday night.

Ripping off big runs, but more importantly getting consistent gains on first down to set up manageable situations, the Tigers ran for 395 yards on just 47 carries and scored five touchdowns. That was more scores on the ground than the Tigers had in the last four games combined. If the offensive line can play as physical as it showed against South Carolina and Auburn can get anywhere close to how it finished last season on the ground, the Tigers will be a tough team to beat down the stretch.

SEC Chaos Theory?

I wasn’t surprised to see LSU take down Ole Miss on the road Saturday night. It was a matchup that was favorable for Coach Les Miles and the Tigers with a strong running game facing a defense that is designed to stop spread offensive attacks because of its speed on the perimeter. On the flip side, Ole Miss doesn’t run the ball well, something that LSU struggles to defend. It was the perfect recipe for an upset on a Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.

Now comes the fun part. With Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and even LSU still in the hunt for the division title it’s anyone’s guess what happens. This weekend will help to shape things with Auburn traveling to Oxford to face the Rebels. Mississippi State takes on Arkansas in a game that could be one to keep an eye on. The Razorbacks are going to win one sometime this season and it could be Saturday.

In the East it’s time for the World’s Largest Snoozefest as Georgia and Florida face off in Jacksonville. It should be a huge mismatch with the Bulldogs rolling in recent weeks and the Gators just handing out favors left and right, but don’t be surprised if this one is a little closer than most predict. Florida can still play defense and if the Gators can get a turnover or two things could get interesting.

Kentucky has fallen back to earth the last two games, but still has some firepower on offense that could make things interesting with Missouri in Columbia. One of the worst 6-2 teams you could find anywhere to this point, Missouri keeps finding a way to win and with Texas A&M, Tennessee and Arkansas the final three games on the schedule the Tigers could once again find themselves in Atlanta with a Georgia loss.

Go Crazy Cadillac

It was great to see former star running back Carnell Williams back at Jordan-Hare Stadium. One of the best to ever suit up for the Tigers, Cadillac is very deserving as Auburn's representative as this year's SEC Legend. A player I watched very early in his high school career, Cadillac was a dominant force at Etowah High School and one of the top prospects in the country. I remember being at his announcement ceremony and thinking it was a game-changer for Auburn, and that proved to be correct.

When he got to Auburn as a freshman he was probably only 185 pounds or so and several of the writers thought he was too small and was headed for a redshirt. They just didn't understand what make Cadillac tick. He had an unmatched work ethic and love for the game. All he did that first year was run for 614 yards and six touchdowns, but it was a night in Athens that he showed everyone what he was all about.

Leading Auburn to a win over Georgia, Cadillac ran the ball 41 times for 167 yards and willed his team to a victory. It was a night I'll never forget and one that was replayed many times over by a very special player during his career on the Plains. Congrats Cadillac and thanks for the memories.

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