While Saturday’s Georgia-Tennessee game was the biggest contest in the history of that matchup and the de facto headliner for Week 10, it was the SEC rivalry that has defined the conference for most of this century that once again stole the limelight. In his first time helming LSU against Alabama, coach Brian Kelly got his revenge in his third try against Nick Saban.
In his first two meetings against the Tide, Kelly’s team got outscored 73-28, and the Fighting Irish never had a chance to steal a win. One could argue that even though the meetings were held at a neutral site, the playing field was never level.
That wasn’t the case at Tiger Stadium on Saturday as Jayden Daniels, Kayshon Boutte, and Co. — with the help of a sauced-up home crowd — looked like they belonged on any field with any team.
Yet we know that if you want to end Bama’s pursuit of another College Football Playoff and another national title, you’re going to have to KO them. And that’s exactly the kind of swing Kelly took at the end of the first and final extra period.
Tired of watching Bryce Young wiggle out of the grasp of rushing Tigers and into the red zone, Kelly opted to leave his offense on the field after Daniels responded to a Tide TD on his team’s first offensive play in OT.
In real time, it felt like the LSU coach was outsmarting himself with a gamble worthy of Les Miles, a desperate man rolling the dice against a superior adversary. I thought whatever play he called was going to fall hilariously flat, and well, then this happened.
Of course, the fans rushed the field because they were in a state of euphoria and probably blacked out. But also because this was the first time they witnessed a win over Bama in Death Valley since 2010.
The Bayou Bengals are always a recruiting period away from having the type of players to hang with any school in college football. The issue has always been the coach. Kelly deserved every bit of shit he received for ditching Notre Dame, filming TikToks with teenaged recruits, and faking a Southern accent.
He’s also pretty damn shrewd for recognizing the limitations in South Bend and going to one of the top three programs in college football when the opportunity presented itself for a pickup bed full of money. LSU is now an Arkansas and Texas A&M win away from the conference title game. No two-loss team has ever earned a spot in the playoff, but no SEC champion has ever been held out of it either.
Even though I’m not sure how smart it is to actively seek Georgia’s attention, LSU has it — and a chance to send the CFP selection process further into chaos.
Vols lose but catch a couple of breaks
Nothing about Tennessee’s visit to Georgia went well. Hendon Hooker never found his rhythm, the defense’s aggressive approach backfired, and even the Dawgs’ special teams outplayed their counterpart.
On Friday, I wrote that the loser of this game will need a lot of help to get into the playoff. I guess “write and you shall receive,” as not only did the SEC’s most significant threat for a second bid lose, but so did Clemson.
Dabo Swinney’s Tigers went into South Bend and got dismantled. The 35-14 win salvaged Marcus Freeman’s first season leading Notre Dame, and also exposed a team that a lot of pundits weren’t high on.
The loser of the Ohio State-Michigan game will be in a similar position as Tennessee, and they’ll have to keep the contest close because neither the Buckeyes nor the Wolverines have a resume on par with UT.
We’ll see how the standings shake up after three of the top six lost, but, as experts love to point out, a lot of these rankings will take care of themselves in the ensuing weeks. The Volunteers magical season flirted with reverting into a big, rotting, orange pumpkin, and yet, within a few hours, it was still alive, looking for a glass slipper that fits.