MISSING THE POINT
Ole Miss 25, LSU 23
The danger with a game like this one is that the wild finish will in some ways take away from Ole Miss' victory. Make no mistake: For the second season in a row, the Rebels won this game along the line and were the better team on the field. It was not a fluke.
Ole Miss outgained LSU 426-290, sacked Jordan Jefferson four times and averaged 4.3 yards per rush to LSU's 1.5. The Tigers were only in the game at the end of the first quarter, and for the rest of the game, because they blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown. Had the Tigers ended up defeating Ole Miss, we would have a lot more to explain here.
But you can't ignore what happened in that final minute. No matter whose fault it was, the cascade of failures began with Jefferson getting sacked to move LSU out of field goal range and someone calling a screen pass that lost several yards on the next play. That the Bengals were even in a position to win after that was almost a miracle itself; that they gave it away by not making sure the timeout had been called and then failing to have the field goal unit prepared is inexplicable on one hand but also explained by the chaos and the implausibility that LSU would get another chance to win.
That, though, is the job of the head football coach. You can't get around that by disputing whether you were calling for a spike. Chaos in a comeback drive is the norm on the sidelines of a football game, and MIles had a responsibility to get his players ready to win the game. That he didn't is a staggering error on his part even if you can get past the awful decisions that put him in that situation. If you're looking for a reason he might be on the hot seat two years after winning a national championship, that's it.
In three or four years, this game will either be remembered as a watershed moment when Ole Miss passed LSU for good or it will be forgotten. Whether Miles is still leading LSU onto the field will be the clearest indication of which one it was.
THE USUAL SUSPECT IS NOT TO BLAME
Kentucky 34, Georgia 27
If you want to see what the LSU-Ole Miss game would have looked life if the Tigers had won, look no further than the Wildcats' win against the Dawgs in Athens. After all, Georgia gained 227 more yards of offense than Kentucky, had 22 more first downs and -- an advantage Ole Miss didn't have -- were leading 20-6 at the half. But a -4 turnover margin will likely end in defeat no matter how significant a statistical edge you have, and that's what caught up with Georgia in their first home loss to the Wildcats in more than three decades.
And you really can't blame this loss on Willie Martinez. There are many things he should be blamed for that should lead to his tenure at Georgia ending after this season, but the longest drive for Kentucky was 64 yards; every other scoring drive for the 'Cats covered fewer than 50 yards. There aren't many defensive coordinators who could bail out an offense and special-teams performance that repeatedly allows the other team to begin drives in good field position.
Georgia still had three chances to win the game after Kentucky took the lead. But a punt, the infamous fumble on the toss-sweep that ended a drive at the Wildcats 1 and an interception on the first play of the following drive ended their hopes. How do you blame that on Martinez?
NOT TOO CLOSE TO CALL
Tennessee 31, Vanderbilt 16
If you didn't get to see this game on ESPNU, like your humble correspondent didn't, you might not realize that this game was a one-score contest until almost the end. That doesn't mean Vanderbilt played particularly well or that Tennessee was ever in real danger of losing it at the end -- the 'Dores would have needed to drive the length of the field to score a tying touchdown. But it does mean that the margin of victory might not be quite as good as it looks.
For Tennessee's playmakers, though, the game was yet another solid-or-better day. Jonathan Crompton continued to show that he can play quarterback after all (20-of-34, 221 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and Montario Hardesty had 171 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries. You start to wonder what the Volunteers might be like in the future if this is what Lane Kiffin can do with a formerly 5-7 team after one season.
Can someone tell me whether this game was a step forward or backward for Vanderbilt. Once again, they were somewhat competitive but not good enough. This team has deep issues, and while Warren Norman is a nice start, he can't play 22 positions. Unless Larry Smith returns for a great 2010 and some more good players emerge, it could be another long wait for the postseason in Nashville.
A VALIANT EFFORT
Arkansas 42, Mississippi State 21
You have to give Mississippi State a little bit of credit for the way they played in this game. It looked like the contest was over when the Hogs took a 21-7 lead into the locker room having rattled off three straight touchdowns after an early score by the Western Division Bulldogs.
But State didn't quit and were within a touchdown when the third quarter ended. They would end up with 327 yards rushing and a nearly five-minute edge in time-of-possession. Arkansas would run just 61 offensive plays.
That was enough. Arkansas floored it in the fourth quarter, scoring on a 50-yard and 43-yard drive to cruise to victory. Dan Mullen might win these games one day, but he's not quite there.
THEY PLAYED WHO?
Florida 62, Florida International 3
Alabama 45, Chattanooga 0
There's nothing to be gained by recapping these games. They were what we thought they would be: Two contenders for the national title waxing two opponents that they have no business playing at any point in the season, much less November. The rivalry games are the only potential land mines that remain.