SEC Report:

Not wise to place Smart bet

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, November 29, 2018
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart walks the sideline in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Photo by Associated Press
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart walks the sideline in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Surely one of these days Alabama Coach Nick Saban is going to lose to one of his former assistants, right?

Maybe the 16th time will be the charm.

Saban is 15-0 against opponents coached by his former assistants, including 3-0 this season with victories over Texas A&M and Jimbo Fisher 45-23, Louisiana-Lafayette and Billy Napier 56-14, and Jeremy Pruitt and Tennessee 58-21.

Georgia Coach Kirby Smart -- who is 0-1 against Saban with a 26-23 overtime loss to Alabama in last year's College Football Playoff title game -- will try to become the first Saban assistant to beat him when the Bulldogs play the Crimson Tide on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game.

Logic dictates that coaches who know Saban and his system the best -- his former assistants -- would have an edge against him, but it hasn't worked that way. Smart is the only one of the bunch who has come close to beating Saban.

Excluding last year's Alabama-Georgia game, Saban's Tide have outscored his former assistants in the other 14 games by a combined 590-157 -- an average victory margin of 30.9 points.

"Well, I think that all those things are circumstantial," Saban said on Sunday's SEC teleconference when asked why he has dominated his former assistants. "Obviously, Georgia's got one of the best teams in the country, and Kirby's built that there and improved that circumstance.

"A lot of guys that we've played against in the past that are our assistants, they were rebuilding programs that were down and hadn't had an opportunity to build them up.

"So it's not always been a level playing field, but we certainly have a lot of respect for Georgia and what they've done and what they're capable of."

Along with Smart (0-1), Fisher (0-2), Pruitt (0-1) and Napier (0-1), other former Saban assistants who haven't been able to beat him at Alabama are Derek Dooley (0-3), Jim McElwain (0-3), Will Muschamp (0-2) and Mark Dantonio (0-2).

Fisher is the only other former assistant along with Smart to play Saban's Tide within 17 points. Alabama beat Florida State 24-7 to open last season when Fisher coached the Seminoles.

Auburn problems

Earlier this season, Auburn Athletic Director Allen Greene said Gus Malzhan would be back next season despite the team falling out of the national polls after being ranked as high as No. 7.

Then after Georgia beat the Tigers 27-10, Auburn President Steven Leath confirmed his support for Malzahn.

The statements from Greene and Leath haven't prevented more media reports this week speculating about Malzahn's future.

Auburn Undercover reported that Malzhan is close to accepting an agreement for a reduced buyout in order to return for a seventh season as the Tigers' coach.

If Auburn fired Malzahn under the seven-year contract he signed after last season when the Tigers beat Georgia and Alabama to win the SEC West, he would be owed a $32 million buyout, including $16 million by the end of December.

"Unbelievable, isn't it?" Tommy Tuberville, a Camden native and former Auburn coach, said on radio station WNSP-FM 105.5 in discussing the recent events that bring Malzahn's future with the Tigers into doubt. "There's problems in Auburn.

"There's always been problems in Auburn. And, for some reason, there will continue to be problems in Auburn."

Tuberville had an 85-40 record in 10 seasons at Auburn from 1999-2008.

When the Tigers were 6-5 going into their game against Alabama in 2003, Auburn booster Bobby Lowder and some of the school's administrators flew to Louisville to talk to Bobby Petrino -- the Cardinals' coach at the time who had been Tuberville's offensive coordinator at Auburn -- about replacing Tuberville.

The media found out about the meeting -- dubbed "JetGate" -- and reported on it, which shifted public sentiment in Tuberville's favor with the perception Auburn officials weren't supporting him before the Iron Bowl.

Tuberville saved his job when the Tigers beat the Tide 28-23. He then led Auburn to a 13-0 record in 2004. He was fired after Alabama beat Auburn 36-0 in 2008.

"You feel like you're out on an island," Tuberville said in his radio interview of being an Auburn coach fighting for his job. "There's no boat. There's no life preserver to get to a safe place.

"You're just there. No one is talking to you. You have your assistants, but they're out on the road. [Malzahn] probably doesn't have anyone really talking to [him].

"When I had my JetGate, it was during the week of the Iron Bowl. I couldn't get people I talked to 24 hours before on the phone or into their office. You're closed out."

Bob Stoops, the former Oklahoma coach, has denied reports he's interested in the Auburn job.

"I don't know anyone out there that wants to get into this mess," Tuberville said. "Do you think Bob Stoops wants to get into this mess? He dropped a better job than this."

Tuberville said Purdue Coach Jeff Brohm would be his first choice if Auburn fires Malzahn.

"[Brohm] could get the job done," Tuberville said. "Is it good enough to catch the runaway train in Georgia and Alabama? No, because no one is going to catch them.

"You want somebody to come in and run Auburn like it needs to be run. Get people on your side. Help raise money. Make Auburn the best you can make it. And, if you can beat the people you need to beat, then you beat them.

"You can't beat them with everyone trying to add their own ingredient on how they think things ought to be run."

Not like Hogs

When it comes to playing No. 1 teams, Georgia can't come close to the University of Arkansas.

The Bulldogs' game against Alabama will be the sixth time Georgia has played the No. 1 team in The Associated Press poll. Arkansas has played the No. 1 team six times since 2012, and 11 times since 2005.

Alabama's 65-31 victory at Arkansas this season marked the 24th time the Hogs have faced the No. 1 team -- quadruple what Georgia's total will be after Saturday's game.

Arkansas is 4-20 in No. 1 matchups, with its most recent victory 50-48 in triple overtime at LSU in 2007.

The Razorbacks are 0-7 against No. 1 Alabama teams. Georgia is playing a No. 1 Tide team for the first time.

The Bulldogs are 1-4 all-time against No. 1 teams, with a 24-3 victory over Florida in 1985 in Jacksonville, Fla.

In Georgia's other four games against No. 1 teams, the Bulldogs lost to Pittsburgh 27-3 in the Jan. 1, 1977, Sugar Bowl; 47-7 to Florida in 1996; 41-17 to Florida in 2009; and 42-10 to LSU in the 2011 SEC Championship Game.

Alabama was ranked No. 4 against Georgia in last seasons's national championship game because Auburn beat the Tide 26-14 in the regular-season finale to drop them from the No. 1 spot.

TD for Byers

Missouri defensive end Akial Byers, a sophomore from Fayetteville, had to give it some thought when asked after the Tigers' 38-0 victory over Arkansas the last time he had scored a touchdown.

Byers recovered a fumble in the end zone to give the Tigers a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.

"Middle school," Byers said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the last time he scored a touchdown. "When I played running back."

Missouri defensive tackle Jordan Elliott forced the fumble when he sacked quarterback Ty Storey.

"It just came to me," Byers said. "Good things happen when you run to the ball."

Muschamp upset

South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp expressed dissatisfaction at his weekly news conference Tuesday that Gamecocks junior quarterback Jake Bentley wasn't the SEC offensive player of the week for his performance at Clemson.

Bentley completed 32 of 50 passes for a school-record 510 yards and 5 touchdowns with 1 interception against the No. 2 Tigers, but Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur shared SEC offensive player of the week honors.

"I do think it's important when a young man does some special things to get recognized for it," Muschamp said. "He's the first quarterback in Southeastern Conference history to have that many yards against a top-5 team, and he had five touchdowns. In the history of the league. Never been done before. That's pretty impressive, in my opinion."

Muschamp then took a shot at the SEC and its marketing slogan.

"We have a saying, 'It just means more,' " Muschamp said. "It just means more sometimes depending on what your logo is. Call it like it is.

"I am going to defend our kids. Make sure we all understand that. I work for South Carolina."

Presumably, Muschamp was referring to the SEC showing favoritism toward perennial powerhouse Alabama and not Vanderbilt, which never has won a conference championship in football.

What Muschamp failed to mention is that Alabama beat Auburn 52-21 and Vanderbilt beat Tennessee 38-13 behind their quarterbacks' strong performances, while Clemson beat South Carolina 56-35 despite Bentley's big numbers.

Tagovailoa, the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, completed 25 of 32 passes for 324 yards and 5 touchdowns against Auburn and also rushed for a touchdown. Shurmur completed his first 15 passes against Tennessee and finished 31 of 35 for 367 yards with 3 touchdowns.

While the SEC usually honors players whose teams won, LSU linebacker Devin White was the defensive player of the week for his performance in Texas A&M's 74-72 victory over the Tigers in seven overtimes. White had 17 tackles, including 4 for losses totaling 21 yards, and forced a fumble that resulted in a 58-yard touchdown return by Michael Divinity.

Ole Miss kicker Luke Logan also was the SEC special teams player of the week in Vanderbilt's 36-29 overtime victory against the Rebels when he hit 5 of 5 field goal attempts.

Not on schedule

Alabama and Georgia aren't the only SEC teams playing Saturday.

South Carolina will face Akron at 11 a.m. Saturday in Williams-Brice Stadium in a makeup game for both teams.

If you just can't get enough SEC football, the game will be televised on the SEC Network's alternate channel.

South Carolina's game against Marshall was canceled because of Hurricane Florence, and Akron's game at Nebraska was canceled because of inclement weather. The Gamecocks and Zips finalized a game against each other in early November.

South Carolina refunded fans who had bought tickets for the Marshall game, so all of the sales for the Akron game have been in the past couple of weeks.

Akron will receive a $1.3 million guarantee, The State newspaper reported, from South Carolina.

Orgeron critical of refs

LSU Coach Ed Orgeron was critical of the officiating in the Tiger's 74-72 loss at Texas A&M in seven overtimes in an interview Tuesday on Baton Rouge radio station 105.4-FM.

"In 35 years of coaching, I've never used officiating as an excuse," Orgeron said. "There was some bad calls.

"Four times the game should have been won for LSU. Those calls should have went in our favor and they didn't. There's nothing I can do about that. I felt bad about it. Our guys fought. We should have won the game."

Two-minute drill

• Missouri's 38-0 victory over Arkansas was the Tigers' first shutout since 2010 when they played in the Big 12 and beat Iowa State 14-0.

• Vanderbilt has beaten Tennessee in three consecutive years for the first time since the 1920s, when the Commodores won six in a row over the Vols.

• Alabama has won 23 consecutive games against SEC East teams since losing 35-21 at South Carolina in 2010.

SEC TOP TO BOTTOM

Rank;(prev);record;comment

1;(1);Alabama;12-0;Going for 27th SEC championship

2;(3);Georgia;11-1;Going for back-to-back SEC titles

3;(4)Florida;9-3;Five more victories than last season

4;(2);LSU;9-3;Exceeded preseason expectations

5;(5);Kentucky;9-3;Gave fans more to cheer about than basketball

6;(6)Missouri;8-4;Nine-game November winning streak

7;(7);Mississippi State;8-4;No. 1 in scoring defense at 12.0 points

8;(9)Texas A&M;8-4;Beat LSU for first time since 1995

9;(8);Auburn;7-5;Stayed with Alabama for a half in Iron Bowl

10;(12);Vanderbilt;6-6;Bowling for 2nd year in a row

11;(10);South Carolina;6-5;Playing Akron in makeup game

12;(11);Tennessee;5-7;Beat Auburn and Kentucky

13;(12);Ole Miss;5-7;Laid an egg in the Egg Bowl

14;(14);Arkansas;2-10;Outscored 90-6 in last two games

Player to watch

GEORGIA SOPHOMORE QUARTERBACK JAKE FROMM

Jake Fromm ranks 10th among SEC quarterbacks in passing yards per game (179.4), but he's been accurate and taken care of the ball. He has completed 69.1 percent of his passes (161 of 233) and thrown for 24 touchdowns with 5 interceptions.

Georgia needs a big passing game from Fromm to beat Alabama on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game, considering the Crimson Tide rank 15th nationally in rushing defense and are holding opponents to an average of 114.0 yards on the ground.

Game of the week

Alabama vs. Georgia 3 p.m. Saturday (CBS)

WHERE Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

RECORDS Alabama 12-0, 8-0 SEC;Georgia 11-1, 7-1

RANKINGS Alabama is ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff, Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls; Georgia is ranked No. 4 in all three polls.

LINE Alabama by 13

Alabama and Georgia are playing each other in a championship game in Atlanta for the second consecutive season. Last season the Crimson Tide beat the Bulldogs 26-23 in overtime to win the national championship. This time they're playing for the SEC title -- and if the Bulldogs win, the teams could meet again in the playoffs.

Georgia will be among the four playoff teams by winning a second consecutive SEC championship -- last year the Bulldogs beat Auburn -- and Alabama's resume is so strong the Tide should be a lock for a playoff spot unless they lose decisively Saturday, which seems unlikely.

The Bulldogs haven't been as dominant as the Tide this season, but Georgia has been on a roll since suffering its only loss at LSU, 36-16, on Oct. 13. The Bulldogs have beaten Florida 36-17, Kentucky 34-17, Auburn 27-10, Massachusetts 66-27 and Georgia Tech 45-21 in their past five games.

Alabama has won all of its games by 22 or more points, so if Georgia can manage to keep it close into the fourth quarter, it will be interesting to see how the Tide react.

the Tide react.

Saturday’s other game

Akron at South Carolina

WHEN 11 a.m.

RECORDS Akron 4-7; South Carolina 6-5

TV SEC Network alternate

LINE South Carolina by 30

By the numbers

11,820 -- Career passing yards by Missouri quarterback Drew Lock. He ranks second on the SEC career list behind Aaron Murray, who passed for 13,166 yards at Georgia from 2010-2013.

1984 -- Last time Kentucky won nine games prior to this season.

744 -- Yards in total offense for Clemson in a 56-35 victory over South Carolina, the most yards allowed by the Gamecocks.

Overheard

"I'm confident I'll be the head coach."

-- Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn when asked yet again after the Iron Bowl whether he's confident he'll be back as the Tigers' coach next season.

"Lord knows we've got a long ways to go."

-- Tennessee Coach Jeremy Pruitt after Vanderbilt's 38-13 victory over the Vols kept them out of a bowl game.

"From where we were a year ago to where we are now, this is pretty fulfilling. It would be hard to anticipate this first year going as well as it has. I couldn't be happier."

-- Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin on the Gators improving from 4-8 to 9-3 under first-year Coach Dan Mullen.

Sports on 11/29/2018

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