By Kendall Webb
Yeah, it seemed a little reckless maybe, and even I had my doubts. Texas A&M had taken Alabama to the wire earlier this season in a 49-42 loss while the Rebels looked completely outmatched in a 25-0 drubbing at the hands of the Crimson Tide. That was the only direct comparison point, and it suggested that Ole Miss might be in over its head against the Aggies.
But there were other factors to consider. The Aggies played the Crimson Tide at home feeding off a raucous Kyle Field crowd while the Rebels faced the unenviable task of playing the top-ranked Tide in Tuscaloosa. Figuring in home field considerations and the fact that Ole Miss played what will ultimately be its worst game of the season that day, something told me the Rebels had a chance at home.
In retrospect, though, even after losing just 41-38 on the game’s final play last weekend to the Aggies … the question is did the Rebels ever really have a chance?
Week Six Recap
Certainly, Johnny Manziel’s offseason proved he’s still human and capable of the occasional mistake. On a football field, however, critical mistakes have been few and far between for college football’s best player. More often than not, the football field has been a refuge where the sometimes awkward off-the-field moves of a mere mortal 20-year-old are replaced by the heroics of Johnny Football, college football’s equivalent of Superman.
Unfortunately for Manziel and Texas A&M, the biggest villain he has repeatedly faced has not really been the opposing team – rather, it’s been the Aggies’ own defense. In back-to-back SEC road games, they’ve yielded 38 points to Ole Miss and 33 to Arkansas, and an average of more than 470 yards per game. Throw in 49 points and another 568 yards in a loss to Alabama (college football’s equivalent of Kryptonite), and you start to wonder if Manziel’s ever-growing legend would be quite the same without the need to bail out his own defense every week. Imagine how different the story would be if the Aggies were putting opponents away in the first half instead of needing Johnny Football’s last-minute heroics?
So as Saturday night began to unfold, and the table was being set for yet another fantastic Manziel finish, it was hard to feel any confidence in my upset pick for the Rebels. Even when Ole Miss scored to take a 38-31 lead with just 6:05 remaining in the game, I had the sinking feeling that it was too little too late. Yes, even a late touchdown in favor of my upset scenario seemed like a mere set-up for the storyline that would follow.
And it was. Manziel actually did make a couple of errors in this game not befitting a superhero of his stature – an interception in the endzone in the third quarter stands out along with a fumble early in the fourth. But with the game on the line late, Manziel began to do his thing engineering an eight-play, 75-yard drive accounting for all but three of the yards on his own and doing the honors himself on a six-yard touchdown scamper to tie the game at 38.
Heck, even Ole Miss seemed to be reading from a script at that point. A Rebel offense that had rallied from an early 21-10 deficit to eventually lead 31-24 and 38-31 went three-and-out on three straight incomplete passes by quarterback Bo Wallace. By then, it would have even been hard to find a true believer inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and for good reason. Manziel would take over again from there directing the Aggies into field goal range leaving the final 33 yards to kicker Josh Lambo for a chip shot on the game’s final play.
And as I watched that final field goal sail through the uprights, even I knew Ole Miss never really stood a chance. Overall, it capped a 5-2 week on my predictions, leaving me at 54-10 on the season.
This Coming Weekend
There are only six games on the SEC slate this week – the fewest so far this season in any given week, but that’s partly because all six games are conference matchups. It’s also, top to bottom, the hardest week of the
season so far to pick.
Just a week or so ago, things weren’t looking so rosy in Gamecock land. A close call at UCF followed by an unexpected close call at home against Kentucky weren’t exactly noteworthy results on the field, and off the field, Spurrier’s criticism of defensive star Jadeveon Clowney was making headlines. But a 52-7 rout at Arkansas coupled by Georgia’s surprising loss at home to Mizzou suddenly has South Carolina dreaming of an SEC East title again. They’ll take the next toward that goal at Tennessee this weekend.
PREDICTION: Tennessee, meanwhile, has had two weeks to prepare for this game, and just like the Georgia game before it, there is upset potential here. However, Georgia was damaged on the trip to Knoxville struggling with injuries, and the Vols won’t have any element of surprise really here. South Carolina knows they could be in for a fight, and they won’t come in expecting anything less. I’ll go with the Gamecocks on the road.
One week after punking Vanderbilt, 51-28, in Nashville, the Missouri Tigers went to Athens, Georgia, and stunned the Bulldogs, 41-26. Vandy was off last week, so this week features two teams trying to figure out how to bounce back from unexpected losses to the Tigers. Georgia was missing most of its offensive stars including its top two rushers and three of its top receivers, and it showed against Mizzou. Vandy was whipped pretty much at full strength in one of the worst performances under third-year head coach James Franklin. So it comes down to this… both are desperate for a win for different reasons – Georgia is still alive in the SEC East title race, and Vandy’s trying not to fall out of post-season contention. Which one of them can get up off the mat?
PREDICTION: Georgia’s the more talented team if for no other reason because of quarterback Aaron Murray. But leading rusher Todd Gurley appears to be out yet again, leaving the senior quarterback with limited weapons at his disposal. Missouri is obviously better than I gave them credit for (more on that below), so you have to consider that when looking at Vandy’s loss. But it’s still hard to picture Georgia slipping to 4-3. It’s another gut feel pick, and while it wouldn’t stun me either way, I’ll stick with the favored Bulldogs on the road.
Alright, two weeks I ago I said 4-0 Missouri would eventually be 4-4. Then they went out and beat Vanderbilt to get to 5-0, and I said they would be 5-3. Then they went out and beat Georgia to get to 6-0. Both wins came on the road, so no matter how beat up Georgia was, you still have to give this Mizzou squad props for going out and taking care of business. I’m through doubting them.
PREDICTION: In fact, Florida was one of the teams that was supposed to make them 4-4 and then 5-3. Granted the Gators are still favored by a field goal showing I wasn’t the only doubter. But I’m going to say the Tigers come home fired up with their strong start, and I’ll show them some love this week. I’ll take Mizzou to find a way to score a few times on that tough Florida defense and get the win at home.
So how bad was it last year? How about 63-21? And A&M was probably that much better than Auburn last year. Give the Tigers credit in their first year under Gus Malzahn, though – through half a season, they’re 5-1, which is two wins more than they had all of last year in Gene Chizik’s final season at the helm. It’s even good enough to earn them a national ranking this week, and I’ve got them at No. 28.
— Auburn Football (@FootballAU) October 19, 2013
PREDICTION: But they haven’t improved enough for this type of opponent. Manziel’s having another Heisman-worthy performance this year for the Aggies, and while Malzahn will likely find some ways to score on the Aggies’ defense, he’ll have just as much trouble finding ways to stop Manziel on the other end. Could be a shootout for a while, but the feeling is the Aggies find a way to win comfortably. That’s the way I’ll call it.
That’s no knock against Arkansas, it’s just the truth at this point. At 3-4, the Hogs are still finding their way in Bret Bielema’s system, and the team’s current four-game losing streak is tied for the longest in the former Wisconsin coach’s career. He’ll set a new personal record this week at five games – not the kind of record he wants, but it’s inevitable in this one.
PREDICTION: The Razorbacks just don’t have the athletes to compete yet in a game like this, and their only hope is to come away with a moral victory or two – like maybe beating the 29-point spread. Unfortunately, that’s no guarantee either.
Losses don’t come much harder than the one Ole Miss suffered last week on the final play of the game at home to Texas A&M. Being a young team, you have to wonder about their psyche and whether a third-straight loss, especially in that fashion, will have the doubts starting to creep in. Prior to those three losses they were on everybody’s lips as a potential surprise team in the SEC West at 3-0, and they even climbed into the Top 25 after their big road win at Texas. But the reality is, and I’ve been saying it all along – this is a young team relying on a lot of true freshmen in starting roles. They’ll have to take their lumps in the SEC.
PREDICTION: And they’ll take another one here. I don’t know that LSU is any better or worse than Texas A&M. But I think the hangover from that game will be real, and I think Ole Miss could struggle to get much going against LSU even at home. I’ll take the Tigers to win on the road.