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SEC defenses struggle; Bama, Georgia and Clemson roll

Check out the top 10 things we learned during the college football weekend.

1. Defense took the weekend off in the SEC

The league is known for its top teams playing solid defense, but few SEC teams put up much of a defensive fight Saturday. The average score of the seven conference games played was 41-26. Five of those matchups featured teams gaining at least 700 yards, with two games surpassing 1,000 yards apiece.

2. Mac Jones, Najee Harris key for Alabama

Quarterback Mac Jones and tailback Najee Harris combined for 623 of Alabama’s 723 yards Saturday, accounting for seven of the team’s nine touchdowns during a 63-48 win over Ole Miss. The Rebels exposed some major weaknesses within the Crimson Tide defense, proving a good offense could be the best defense against Nick Saban’s team this year.

3. Travis Etienne could be Clemson’s MVP

The talented Clemson running back Travis Etienne recorded 222 yards and two touchdowns as the Tigers earned a 42-17 win over Miami. Etienne moved into third place on the league’s career rushing list with 4,430 yards and his performance solidified his status as a key part of a potential national championship run by Dabo Swinney’s team.

4. Defensive woes continue to haunt Gators

There’s little doubt Florida has a playoff-caliber offense, but the Gators’ defense could thwart an SEC title. Florida gave up 500-plus yards for the second time this season while allowing Texas A&M to go 12 of 15 on third down as the Aggies gave Jimbo Fisher his first win over a top-five program since arriving in College Station.

5. Bulldogs clamp down on run game

Georgia’s defense out-played, out-tackled and outmanned an opponent, this time holding Tennessee to -1 yards rushing. It’s the lowest output by a Volunteers team on the ground since 2014. The Bulldogs have held teams to 115 yards of rushing offense through three games with a 1.49 yards per carry average, which is the best in the nation.

6. LSU not quite up to title defense

LSU dropped its second game of the season after allowing 45 points and 586 yards against Missouri. LSU has looked nothing like the defending national champs through the first three games of the season, with a secondary that’s allowed an SEC-worst six passing plays of 40-plus yards, including a 41-, 69- and 58-yard passing plays during the loss to Mizzou.

7. Sooners show grit in OT against Texas

Despite losing back-to-back games for the first time since 1999, the Sooners weren’t ready to write off this season and held on for a 53-45 win in four overtimes. A much-maligned defense sacked Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger six times and intercepted two of his passes, including one in the end zone to seal the OU win during a fourth overtime period. The Longhorns, meanwhile, enter their bye week with more questions than answers after losing back-to-back games. Outside of Ehlinger, the Longhorns offense was nonexistent and the defense has allowed 400-plus yards in four

College football’s overperformers, underachievers (lots of SEC defenses!) and what it all means

Week 6 of the college football season was the most college football week yet. You had Pitt kicker Alex Kessman nailing a 58-yard field goal to force overtime against Boston College, then missing a PAT to lose the game. You had Oklahoma beating rival Texas in four overtimes despite blowing a late two-touchdown lead and head coach Lincoln Riley displaying all of his worst, most destructively conservative tendencies. You had unexpected blowouts, actual home-crowd advantages and upset bids galore.

Most of all, you had dissonance down South. Nick Saban’s Alabama took part in the most prolific regulation game in SEC history, a 63-48 win over Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss that included 111 points and 1,370 yards. Six other SEC teams scored at least 38 points, and three weeks into the league schedule, six SEC teams rank 53rd or lower (out of 76 teams to have played so far) in total defense. That includes LSU, Florida and Alabama.


Using that as a prompt, let’s look at the teams that have played the most out-of-character ball thus far.

Here are some of the offenses and defenses that have overachieved or underachieved the most compared to their preseason SP+ projections. We’ll look at what they’ve done particularly well or poorly, and we’ll look at why their fortunes might change moving forward.

(Note, the list of underachieving defenses below doesn’t include Alabama because the Crimson Tide haven’t underachieved their projections as much as you might think — they were projected merely 19th in defensive SP+ because of turnover in the secondary, and they’ve fallen only to 22nd so far. Fear not: You’ll read plenty about the Alabama D in Friday’s massive Georgia-Bama preview.

Underachieving defenses

Not even including Alabama, maybe the three most surprisingly bad defenses in the country all reside in the SEC.

Florida Gators

Week 6 result: Lost to Texas A&M 41-38

Raw statistics: 58th in scoring defense (33.3 points per game), 72nd in total defense (495 yards per game)

SP+ (preseason and present): Third in defensive SP+ in the preseason, 20th after six weeks. As mentioned in Sunday’s SP+ release, a team’s ratings are still derived heavily from preseason projections, so it’s almost impossible for a team projected as high as third to have fallen more than 15-20 spots thus far. If it was possible, the Gators would have done it.

The Florida defense gave up 41 points to Kellen Mond and Texas A&M in a 41-38 loss. Scott Wachter/USA TODAY Sports

Most damning weakness: Spectacular inefficiency. Florida was seventh in defensive SP+ in 2019, and while the Gators did lose pass-rusher Jonathan Greenard and corner CJ Henderson, most of the two-deep returned, as did defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Maybe you could predict passing downs issues if the Gators couldn’t sufficiently replace Greenard, but three games into 2020, they have suffered a comprehensive collapse. They are 75th out of 76 teams in success rate allowed — 74th against the run, 70th against the pass. Big plays are random and