SEC West Race Opens Up to Possibilities

By Don Wade

“One of the greatest drives in Alabama history, probably.”

Those were coach Nick Saban’s words after quarterback Blake Sims led the Crimson Tide on a 15-play, 76-yard put-away drive against Mississippi State. Before the drive, the lead was 19-13 Alabama. After it, 25-13. Though the Bulldogs would score a touchdown near game’s end and try an onside kick – Alabama won 25-20 – it was that drive that could be the defining memory when the College Football Playoff Selection Committee actually selects and seeds the final four.

Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon (4) runs the ball against Mississippi State defensive back Jamerson Love (5) during the second half of Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Alabama defeated Mississippi State 25-20.

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Remember, Alabama once led 19-0 in this game. The No. 1 and undefeated Bulldogs had rallied. Stop Alabama on that fourth-quarter drive at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, and maybe we’re having a different conversation today. Maybe MSU then scores a go-ahead touchdown and wins 20-19, effectively eliminating college football’s most powerful program from the first four-team tournament.

But three times on third down, Sims made a play. He avoided a sack on a third-and-five and hit running back T.J. Yeldon for an 8-yard gain and a first down. On a third-and-8, he eluded the rush and ran for 10 yards and a first down. And on third-and-10, he got away from the rush for an 11-yard gain to again move the chains.

It was, in many ways, a fine impersonation of the player MSU quarterback Dak Prescott had been much of the season. A legitimate Heisman contender until this game, Prescott’s three interceptions sabotaged that campaign and perhaps his team’s chances to make the playoff. Those turnovers linger, too, if Alabama (6-1 in the SEC) beats Auburn in the Iron Bowl to punch its ticket to the SEC title game.

The Bulldogs (5-1 in the SEC) can still get there, of course, by beating Vanderbilt and Ole Miss and getting help from Auburn. But after Auburn got flattened by Georgia, that’s betting on a longshot.

On the other hand, the Bulldogs are used to being discounted. They weren’t even in the Top 25 at season’s start.

“They (everyone else) always thought we were out since day one,” running back Josh Robinson said. “We just have to climb back to the top.”

Hurry Up

• Tennessee’s 50-16 thumping of Kentucky raised its record to 5-5 and the Vols need to just win one of their last two games to become bowl-eligible. Sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs’ athleticism has revitalized the UT offense; in his three games, he has 1,079 total yards and 11 touchdowns.

“We have huge trust in Josh,” offensive lineman Kyler Kerbyson said. “He plays it so well, being able to read, run, pass, all that stuff.”

Missouri (8-2, 5-1), which plays at Tennessee this Saturday, has not lost a true road game since 2012. Defensive ends Shane Ray (SEC-leading 13.0 sacks and 18.0 tackles for loss) and Markus Golden (2.0 sacks and nine tackles in a win over Texas A&M last Saturday) give Missouri playmakers across the line.

“Shane has been getting a lot of attention because he should. He’s a great player,” Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk said after the win over the Aggies. “But we are very fortunate to have a guy like Markus Golden on the other side. He was everywhere.”

Arkansas (5-5, 1-5) gave second-year coach Bret Bielema his first SEC win with a 17-0 shutout of LSU. The victory snapped a 17-game conference losing streak. The Hogs had stood chin-to-chin with Alabama and Mississippi before losing.

Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2) plays at Arkansas this Saturday and the Rebels are not out of the SEC West hunt. They have to win out, including beating MSU in the Egg Bowl, and Auburn would have to beat Alabama. In that three-way tie of 6-2 teams, Ole Miss wins the West. The Rebels, by the way, are still first in the nation in scoring defense at 11.9 points per game.