Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald.
Parity ruled the day in Week 10 of SEC play, as two conference favorites went down while others battled down to the wire in some the season’s most exciting action.
In an absolute slugfest, Alabama held on to outlast LSU 10-0 in Death Valley, with each program displaying its gross amount of defensive talent. However, Florida and Texas A&M were not so lucky.
The Aggies squandered their SEC West and College Football Playoff hopes with a 35-28 loss to Mississippi State, and SEC East leaders Florida were stomped 31-10 at Arkansas. Another top-ranked SEC team almost went down as well in Auburn, but the Tigers pulled out a 23-16 win over a pesky Vanderbilt team, which sets up a possible SEC West title game with Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
The rest of Saturday’s action went as expected in the league, with Georgia damaging Kentucky’s division hopes via a late 27-24 win being the only notable result.
This week featured the deepest pool of top SEC performers this season, as the gap between the week’s best players and the rest of the league had never been so close. Thus, the Week 10 best outings list is the longest we have seen this year.
With that in mind, let us take a look at the list of impressive performances from Saturday. As always, this list is compiled based on statistical output and the significance of that player’s outing on his team moving forward.
- LB Eric Beisel, Missouri
- DE Fadol Brown, Mississippi
- DB Duke Dawson, Florida
- QB Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
- LB Jordan Jones, Kentucky
- DB Santos Ramirez, Arkansas
- WR Fred Ross, Mississippi State
- QB Sean White, Auburn
The players on this hefty list above turned in quality performances this week, but they were slightly out shined by others in the conference.
Eric Beisel led Missouri with 14 total tackles in the Tigers’ 35-21 loss to South Carolina, which placed him among the SEC Week 10 tackle leaders. He also contributed a pair of tackles for loss, but others filled up the box score more on Saturday.
Against an effective run-heavy offense in Georgia Southern, Mississippi needed Fadol Brown to seal the edge to contain opposing running backs, and he did just that on Saturday. In the 37-27 win, the senior racked up 14 total tackles to go with 1.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks. Yet, like Beisel, his solid numbers fell just short of making this list.
Defensive backs Duke Dawson and Santos Ramirez essentially replicated the other’s contributions in their game. Ramirez started off the scoring with a 24-yard interception return for a score, and then Dawson matched him with a 37-yard pick-six of his own. That was basically most of what both players produced on Saturday, as Dawson totaled three tackles, one for a loss, and Ramirez led the Razorbacks with five total tackles.
Quarterbacks Joshua Dobbs and Sean White were both ruthlessly efficient, but each’s performance was important in different ways. Dobbs went 12-of-13 passing for 183 yards and two touchdowns, but he only played the first half in a 55-0 blowout over Tennessee Tech. On the other hand, White came in during the second half and sparked Auburn’s offense to a win, as he went 10-of-13 for 106 yards and a score. Had both played an entire game, both would likely have made this list.
Tasked with stopping a vaunted Georgia rushing attack featuring two of the better running backs in the country, Kentucky’s linebacker group was led by a solid effort from Jordan Jones. The sophomore finished with 10 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. However, the Bulldogs were still able to run for 215 yards.
Lastly, Mississippi State continues to get great play from arguably the most underrated receiver in the SEC. Fred Ross was a security blanket in the passing game, reeling six balls for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Ross was the league’s second-best receiver on Saturday, but players at other positions edged him out for a spot on this week’s list.
The narrative entering Saturday’s colossal showdown in Death Valley was the same as last year’s meeting of these two schools. Could Alabama shut down Leonard Fournette? The answer once again was a resounding yes.
Arguably the best player in college football was held to 35 yards on 17 carries, which almost mirrors his outing last year against Alabama when he totaled 31 yards on 19 rushes. As a team, LSU had just 33 yards on 27 rushing attempts, which is even more impressive considering the emergence of Derrius Guice this season.
Linebacker Reuben Foster led the way for Alabama, totaling 11 tackles on the night. Eight different Crimson Tide players recorded at least 0.5 tackles for loss, and the stingy run defense forced LSU quarterback Danny Etling to try to beat Alabama, which he most certainly could not.
As a result, Etling was punished for his hesitancy in the pocket, as he was sacked five times by six different players. Unsurprisingly, Alabama leads the nation in run defense with a mere 66 yards allowed per game.
Defensive statistics are courtesy of Alabama athletics.
LSU’s Kendell Beckwith drags down an Alabama runner.
Entering the game as one of the top linebackers in the conference, Kendell Beckwith proved himself to be a stud in what was arguably the most physical game of this college football season.
Beckwith was in the middle of everything on Saturday, as he posted a SEC Week 10-best 16 total tackles to go with 0.5 tackles for loss. The senior was instrumental in keeping Alabama scoreless until late in the fourth quarter, as he and the rest of the LSU defense eventually became worn out due to the Tigers’ abysmal offense.
Still, the game would not have been close if not for the play of Beckwith, and he proved himself to be worthy of a likely high NFL draft pick this upcoming spring.
Defensive statistics are courtesy of LSU athletics.
South Carolina’s Jake Bentley (No. 4).
For the third consecutive week, Jake Bentley lands on this list thanks to efficiency and poise that is wildly uncommon among freshman quarterbacks.
He now has South Carolina within one victory of bowl eligibility, as he diced up Missouri on Saturday. Bentley completed 22-of-28 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns, as he also continued to his college career without an interception.
The direction of the Gamecocks’ program dramatically turned around in the past three weeks, as Bentley emerged as one of the top young signal-callers in the nation. Without his turning in of these types of performances, South Carolina could be sitting in the SEC East cellar with Missouri.
Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham (No. 41) leaps to block an Auburn field goal.
Vanderbilt was able to hold one of the nation’s best offenses to just 23 points, and its star linebacker was a major reason why.
Zach Cunningham once again came up with a monster performance Saturday. He led the Commodores with nine total tackles while adding a key fumble recovery as Auburn was driving late in the second quarter. Yet, his greatest play was this ridiculous, and perfectly timed, hurdle to block a late field goal that would have sealed the game.
Prior to the game, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn made it known that Cunningham was a focus point for his offense, per AL.com’s Tom Green. Yet, the senior was still able to dominate on Saturday.
I love the way he plays. I mean, Zach Cunningham is one of the better defensive players in our league. He’s very impressive the way he comes off blocks. He sheds blocks and makes plays as good as any linebacker in our league. He can run. He can really run. He’s a rangy guy. They got other good players too now; it’s not just him.
With all of the great SEC linebackers, Cunningham may be the best of the group. He is seemingly a lock for All-SEC honors at season’s end.
Defensive statistics are courtesy of Vanderbilt athletics.
South Carolina now has another freshman star to build its offense around, as running back Rico Dowdle shined once more on Saturday.
For the second straight week, Dowdle eclipsed the 100-yard mark, and he lands on this list for the second straight week. Against Missouri, Dowdle toted the rock 27 times for 149 yards and a score. He was able to take pressure off of Bentley, which allowed the quarterback to be so effective in his decision-making.
The SEC East better prepare, because the Gamecocks could boast one of the division’s top offenses in the coming years.
In what was likely the top performance of the weekend in the SEC, and maybe all of the country, Nick Fitzgerald dominated one of the nation’s best defenses in a massive upset.
Fitzgerald made plays all day, throwing for 209 yards and two touchdowns along with 182 yards and a pair of scores rushing. Per SEC Country’s Connor Riley, Fitzgerald joined Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton as the only SEC players in the last 20 years to throw for more than 200 yards while rushing for over 175 in the same game.
Per the Associated Press‘ David Brandt (via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram), Fitzgerald credited his offensive line for handling a tremendous Texas A&M defensive front.
“The offensive line played fantastic today,” Fitzgerald said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more from them. Our running backs were running extremely hard, reading the blocks. We knew we could run the ball.”
Mississippi’s inability to consistently run the ball puts significant pressure on Chad Kelly to win games by himself. Yet, the team finally found some balance offensively on Saturday.
Akeem Judd came through as Ole Miss’ workhorse against Georgia Southern, running 26 times for 139 yards and a touchdown. As a result, Kelly only threw 23 passes, which was his lowest number this season.
If the Rebels can establish a strong running game moving forward, they can turn their season around and finish with seven wins. Judd will be instrumental in that effort, and Saturday was an encouraging sign.
There should be no debate over who is the conference’s most explosive receiver. Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk continues to create an unmistakable case every week.
After returning two punts for touchdowns while adding a scoring reception in Week 9, Kirk followed that up by nearly willing the Aggies to a season-saving win against Mississippi State. His team fell just short, but the game would have been a blowout if not for the star sophomore. Kirk caught seven passes for 144 yards and a touchdown while bringing back a punt 93 yards for a score right before halftime.
This kid makes something happen on every touch, and any special teams coach would be downright insane to decide to punt in his direction.
Kentucky did a decent job of bottling up Georgia’s star tailback Nick Chubb to 85 yards on 21 carries, but the Bulldogs’ other dynamic rusher burned the Wildcats on Saturday.
Sony Michel led the Georgia offense with 127 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, including a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. He also caught two passes for 15 yards. He made it clear that this team is officially a two-back system, as Michel is undoubtedly one of the SEC’s best rushers.
Chubb and Michel combined for 40 attempts against Kentucky, and opponents should expect more of the same moving forward from the Bulldogs.
South Carolina’s Chris Moody (No. 6) makes a stop against Missouri.
Chris Moody has come a long way since the end of last season, and South Carolina is certainly benefitting.
Shortly after head coach Will Muschamp‘s hiring, Moody announced he was transferring for his final year of eligibility, per Rivals.com’s Chris Clark. However, Moody then chose to stay, and he is now among the team’s top defenders.
Moody filled up the stat sheet in the Gamecocks’ win over Missouri, leading the team with 11 total tackles while coming down with a key interception. Roughly 10 months ago, it looked Moody would never be in this position. Now, he is helping lead South Carolina’s defense to a possible bowl game.
Defensive statistics are courtesy of South Carolina athletics.
Auburn continues to roll toward a possible SEC West title, and Kamryn Pettway is leading the way.
The bruising rusher was once again a force all afternoon, carrying the ball 25 times for 173 yards. He topped the 1,100 yard mark with his performance, and it was the fourth straight time Pettway rushed for at least 160 yards.
However, Pettway left the game in the fourth quarter, after his big run forced the field goal Cunningham blocked. Malzahn said Pettway pulled a muscle, but he did not give an indication as to its severity, per Matthew Stevens of the Montgomery Advisor.
“He pulled something obviously,” Malzahn said following the team’s sixth straight win Saturday. “He was going out and poor kid pulled something. We’re a pretty beat up team.”
The Tigers will need Pettway moving forward, so keep an eye on this development.
Kentucky may have the best freshman running back in the nation, as Benjamin Snell Jr. continued to shine against Georgia.
He led the Wildcats with 121 yards and two touchdowns on 21 attempts, as his power and shiftiness caused problems for the Bulldogs. Saturday put Snell at 10 rushing touchdowns on the year, and he is pushing for 1,000 yards with his current number of 775.
It will certainly be exciting to potentially watch Dowdle and Snell lead this division in rushing in the coming years.
Dwayne Thomas was not shy about his confidence heading into LSU’s matchup with Alabama, per Ross Dellenger of The Advocate in Baton Rouge.
I really see us dominating this offense. I really see us dominating this team.
This is the year. We’ve been letting them off the hook for the last couple of years. This is my senior year. We’re going out with a bang. It’s time for us to bring that win back. We’re going to be at home. I feel like we have the edge to take it to them, and we’re going to take it to them. I feel like we’re going to dominate this game.
While LSU did not fulfill that notion, the senior defensive back did his part to try to earn the Bayou Bengals a win.
Thomas was excellent from his nickel corner spot, as he contained the edge while frustrating quarterback Jalen Hurts in the secondary. Thomas finished with nine total tackles, three tackles for loss and two pass break-ups. He forced an interception early with his pressure, and he created some key third-down stops as well.
In this battle of defensive titans, Thomas stood out as one of the game’s best players.
Defensive statistics are courtesy of LSU athletics.
While Fitzgerald was expected to be a significant contributor against Texas A&M, another Bulldog stepped with a huge outing that helped propel his team to an upset.
Aeris Williams served as the perfect complement to Fitzgerald, turning 24 carries into 140 yards and a touchdown. This forced the Aggies to show less attention to Fitzgerald, which made Mississippi State nearly unstoppable on the ground.
Saturday was the first time Williams rushed for over 100 yards in his career, and it was just the second time he logged more than 10 carries. The sophomore’s breakout game could certainly pay dividends for this offense now moving forward.
After a poor performance that saw him only gain 22 yards on 13 carries in a 56-3 loss to Auburn, Rawleigh Williams III exploded with a rebound performance that guided Arkansas to its biggest triumph of the season.
Williams carried the ball 26 times, finishing with 148 yards and two touchdowns on the afternoon. Florida entered the game with a top 25 rushing defense, which Williams shredded.
He now sits second in the SEC behind Pettway in rushing with 955 yards, as head coach Bret Bielema continues to churn out top-flight rushers everywhere he goes.
All offensive and team statistics are courtesy of NCAA.com.