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#Nuggets: An SEC shootout, a Red River thriller and everything else from a packed Saturday

Saban vs. Kiffin lived up to the billing and then some. It wasn't the most a former assistant has ever made Nick Saban sweat out an eventual victory. That would have to be the epic 26-23 title game win over Kirby Smart and Georgia to cap the 2017 season.

It wasn't even the closest Saban has ever come to losing to a Lane Kiffin-coached team. That honor belongs to Alabama's 12-10 win in 2009, Kiffin's only season at Tennessee, that required a Terrence Cody blocked field goal at the buzzer.

But it was the first time a former assistant forced The Boss to work for a victory like this, where Alabama needed every one of 63 points to feel comfortable.

Kiffin, Jeff Lebby and the Rebels dropped 647 yards (a Saban-era Alabama record) and 48 points (ditto) on 86 masterfully called plays. Alabama was even better, piling up 723 yards on 71 plays, 37 first downs and six third down conversions in seven tries. The 1,370 combined yards were the most in SEC history.

-- Ole Miss QB Matt Corral went 21-of-28 for 365 yards and two touchdowns.
-- Two Ole Miss runners racked up 120 yards and two touchdowns.
-- Ole Miss completed 22 total passes, 18 going to two players. Kenny Yeboah caught seven for 181 yards and two scores, and Elijah Moore snared 11 for 143.

On the other sideline, Mac Jones, Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith will have to fight each other for game balls.

-- Jones: 28-of-32 for 417 yards and two scores
-- Harris: 23 carries for 206 yards and five touchdowns
-- Smith: 13 grabs for 164 yards and a touchdown

Discounting an end-of-half drive by Ole Miss, the teams combined for 10 consecutive touchdown drives. Ole Miss punted with a 14-7 lead at the 9:22 mark of the second quarter, then kicked a field goal to pull within 49-45 with 9:50 left in the fourth quarter. Alabama's final eight drives went for touchdowns, and one of their two non-scoring drives was a 79-yard march that ended with a fumble at the Ole Miss goal line.

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Georgia hits the gas. Tennessee took a 21-17 lead to the Sanford Stadium visitor's locker room, having stuffed Georgia at the goal line. The Vols played very much like they belonged.

Through a half.

Georgia won the second half, 27-0, limiting the Volunteers to 56 yards of offense. Tennessee coughed up three second half turnovers, one for a touchdown. There was also this: Georgia rushed for 193 yards and won the rushing battle by 194.

Tennessee has come a long way in a short time under Jeremy Pruitt. Georgia showed them how much longer they still have to go. Buckle your chinstrap now. No. 3 Georgia at No. 2 Alabama, 8 p.m. ET, Saturday.

Jimbo has a signature win in College Station. Every A&M-Alabama game in the 3-year Jimbo era has been the exact same game, but that's a separate issue. Setting Bama aside, the coach with the $75 million deal had to beat somebody of note. Like No. 4 Florida.

Florida scored five touchdowns in eight possessions, including a 4-for-4 start, but Texas A&M absorbed every blow and countered with an equally devastating shot of their own.

Kellen Mond matched Kyle Trask throw for throw (338 yards and 3 TDs vs. 312 and 4) while the Aggies more than doubled Florida on the ground. That allowed A&M to own a near 10-minute possession advantage, including a 40-yard march that consumed all 3:40 remaining to set up Seth Small's 26-yard game-winning field goal.

It was Texas A&M's first home win over an AP Top 5 opponent since beating No. 1 Oklahoma back in 2002. And it happened against a quarterback named after Kyle Field.

"I feel like it can be a culture-changing win," Mond told ESPN afterward. "It can only give this team more confidence especially with a lot of the young guys that we have and the ability for us to build on this."

Considering how Tennessee, Auburn and LSU looked today, every single game on A&M's remaining schedule is winnable. Plenty are losable, sure, but there's not one here the Aggies can't win.

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Florida's defense, meanwhile, needs serious help.

Arkansas got absolutely hosed by the refs. Clinging to a 28-27 lead like a shipwreck survivor to a life raft, Arkansas got the help they needed when Auburn quarterback Bo Nix dropped a snap, picked the ball up, turned around and then fired it into the ground. It looked as awkward as it reads.

Setting aside whether or not it's legal to spike a dropped football, Nix threw the ball backward. Arkansas recovered the ball.

Auburn kept the ball, and Anders Carlson knocked through a 39-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 30-28 win.

Afterward, Sam Pittman said it was indeed the whistles that blew the play dead and made it unreviewable.

On the whole, Arkansas is much better than anyone expected them to be three games in to the Pittman regime. This same program, led by Chad Morris, lost to Auburn 51-10 a year ago. A moral victory is a bitter cud to chew when Arkansas was so close to tasting the sweet sugar of actual victory, but the Hogs should chew it all the same. This is college football's most improved team thus far, full stop. Oklahoma wins the best, worst Red River game ever. It's perfectly fitting that four overtimes and nearly five hours were needed to decide a winner, because those two evenly matched, equally flawed teams took turns tossing control of the game back and forth.

The Oklahoma perspective. This was a young team that came into Dallas struggling in three areas: running the ball, forcing turnovers and holding leads. They leave Dallas feeling better about all three.

-- OU was held under four yards per carry for a fifth straight game on balance, but Lincoln Riley would've taken 225 yards and four touchdowns from backup RBs TJ Pledger and Marcus Major plus Spencer Rattler at kickoff.

-- Oklahoma blew yet another fourth quarter lead, and we were ooooohhh so close to talking about a 3-game losing streak where OU lead all three by double digits. This game was o-v-e-r when Woodi Washington picked Sam Ehlinger in the OU end zone with 5:02 to play. In a non-covid world, the Texas end of the stadium would've nearly as many empty bleachers as they did today.

And yet still Texas rallied. Oklahoma held the ball three times leading 31-17 and got no points. Texas went 134 yards in 2:34 to tie the game.

-- Even despite that, Oklahoma won the game because of the turnovers it forced. Washington's pick seemingly clinched it in the fourth quarter, Tre Brown's pick in quadruple overtime actually clinched it, and Brian Asamoah's strip of Texas running back Keontay Ingram on UT's first drive put the game in OU's favor early.

It's the first time OU has turned over an FBS opponent three times since Nov. 4, 2017.

The Texas perspective. If you had told Tom Herman pre-game that Sam Ehlinger would score six touchdowns and Spencer Rattler would be benched in the second quarter for turnovers, he'd have expected a Bob Stoops-style 63-14 beatdown. -- Herman began the week talking about how good a practice Texas had on the Sunday following the TCU loss. He ended it... talking about how good the Longhorns are in practice. Throughout this increasingly disappointed season, Herman maintained that Texas is its own worst enemy and all their mistakes were fixable. And yet they keep happening.

This was Herman's 44th game as UT's head coach. Thirty Longhorns have starting experience, led by Ehlinger's 37 games. And yet the Longhorns are 1-2 in the Big 12, 2-4 in their last six conference games, and 4-6 in their last 10. How much longer will the players have to wait?

-- The Texas offense from the 1:34 mark of the second quarter (when the Longhorns gained the ball in a 17-17 game) through the 5-minute mark of the fourth quarter:

13 yards, punt
Minus-12 yards, punt
9 yards, punt
9 yards, punt
9 yards, punt
67 yards, interception

-- Shot: Texas had one punt blocked that turned into a touchdown, allowed a 36-yard punt return that turned into a 51-yard gain when the punter committed a late hit, and had a field goal block.

Chaser: Texas special teams coordinator Jay Boulware ran Oklahoma's special teams from 2013-19.

-- Texas surrendered 15 sacks in the last two Red River games, and their three running backs rushed for 29 yards on 11 carries.

FRIESSeen and Heard Ever found yourself in an argument with a loved one at a restaurant when a well-meaning waiter asks for your attention? This is like that.

Tennessee is going to get a call from Birmingham after Jeremy Pruitt decided to wear a bonnet instead of a mask.

This is one athletic big man

"I'm just disappointed in myself. That's as bad as a coaching decision I've made." 
-- Dabo Swinney, after Miami blocked a 61-yard field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown

"I know our players deserve answers and I'll have them for them in a very short time."
-- Tom Herman, after Texas' loss to Oklahoma.

"However, because recovery of the football was not clearly made in the immediate continuing football action, the ruling on the field was determined to stand under Rule 12-3-2-e-1." 
-- The SEC's official explanation for the Auburn fumble that wasn't. Essentially, because the whistle was incorrectly blown so early, the enforcement of the call was correct.

"They had an answer for everything we lined up in."
-- Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses, theorizing that Lane Kiffin knew the Tide's defensive signals.

"What are we? Are we 7, 8 years old? I mean, come on."
-- Kirby Smart, after Georgia wide receiver George Pickens was penalized 15 yards for squirting water on Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.

The Super 16. The Super 16 is taking the year off for the pandemic, but not me. No one can stop me from ranking the top 16 teams in the nation. For purposes of this exercise, we're ranking only teams that have played thus far.

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Georgia
  4. Notre Dame
  5. North Carolina
  6. Oklahoma State
  7. Texas A&M
  8. Florida
  9. Kansas State
  10. Iowa State
  11. BYU
  12. Cincinnati
  13. Miami
  14. Louisiana-Lafayette
  15. Oklahoma
  16. Tennessee

Odds and Ends

a. I'm aware I opened this column two weeks ago with this quote, but I'm trotting it out again today. “We are so much better on defense right now than any part of the season last year," Ed Orgeron said last month.

Two weeks after giving up 44 points in a loss to Mississippi State, LSU surrendered 45 in a loss to Missouri. The defending champions' 1-2 start in their worst since 1994, and the one win came against Vanderbilt. Connor Bazelak -- who, to be completely honest, I had never heard of before yesterday -- threw for 406 yards and four scores on 34 attempts.

"We have to get better," Orgeron said Saturday. "There are some things we need to look at schematically to get better.”

b. Mississippi State's passing stats tonight: 70 attempts, 45 completions, 275 yards, no touchdowns, six interceptions, two points. It's the first time a Mike Leach offense has been shutout... ever. Kentucky gained 157 yards and won by 22 points. They're the FBS first team to gain so few yards and win by that many points in six years.

c. Here's how State scored.

d. We're 1,500 words into this column and we're just now mentioning a No. 1 vs. No. 7 game. Clemson, like Thanos, is inevitable. Tigers 42, Hurricanes 17. Brent Venables' defense limited D'Eriq King to 12-of-28 for 121 yards and two picks. e. Dabo Swinney after Miami blocked a 61-yard field goal try and returned it for a touchdown: "I'm just disappointed in myself e. Maybe coincidence, maybe not. Three Big 12 teams are unbeaten in conference play; Kansas State gave up 14 points in a win over TCU, Iowa State surrendered 15 in a win over Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State (off this week) leads the league at nine points per game. f. This was a wow stat for me.

TCU lost, so it's now 5-13.

g. Kansas State won on the road as a touchdown-plus underdog with a true freshman playing quarterback.

Having special teams like these helps.

h. Boston College moved to 3-1 in Jeff Hafley's debut season after Pitt kicker Alex Kessman, who hit a 58-yarder to send the game to overtime, missed an extra point. Eagles 31, Panthers 30.

i. Against a heavily depleted Virginia Tech defense, North Carolina rolled up 399 yards on on 9.3 a carry in a 56-45 win. The Heels needed 66 snaps to gain 656 total yards, the most Virginia Tech has allowed since 1987.

j. It was a good day on Tobacco Road. Duke beat Syracuse 38-24 and NC State beat Virginia 38-21.

l. Feast your eyes upon this and weep.

Navy beat Temple, 31-29, pushing Ken Niumatalolo to 100 career victories at the Naval Academy. m. Notre Dame beat Florida State 42-26, and it seems both teams came away feeling okay about themselves. n. Liberty is 4-0 for the first time as an FBS member after a 40-7 win over ULM. The Flames' punt return team accounted for three touchdowns -- a return, a block, and on the recovery of a dropped snap. o. Charlotte went to Denton and thumped North Texas, 49-21. It's the biggest road win as Conference USA members for the 49ers.

DESSERT They say good things come to those who wait, and so here's hoping Houston enjoyed a big ol' victory cigar on Thursday night. After enduring four canceled games and then, cruelly, an off week, Houston finally joined the rest of college football with a 49-31 win over Tulane. Houston trailed by 11, out-gained the Green Wave by 265 yards, lost the turnover battle 5-0 and won by 18. They're the third team since 2004 to be minus-5 in takeaways and plus-10 on the scoreboard.

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