Kevin Steele says he’ll never forget his first game as a student assistant coach for Tennessee in 1980. The Volunteers opened the season at home against Georgia. Tennessee took a 15-0 lead.
Then Georgia put a freshman running back into the game. His name was Herschel Walker.
Walker scored two touchdowns and Georgia rallied to win 16-15. The rest is history. Georgia went on to win the SEC championship and the national championship. Walker led Georgia to three straight conference titles and eventually became the SEC’s all-time leading rusher.
On Saturday, some 37 years later Steele, now Auburn’s defensive coordinator, will again face Georgia.
“Not a whole lot has changed,” said Steele. “Georgia was talented then and they are talented now.”
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This time Georgia is No. 1 and has a two-headed monster at running back in seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the No. 4 and No. 6 rushers in the SEC.
“They are powerful and if you let them they’ll bloody your nose,” said Steele.
The game plan against Georgia’s offense, which leads the SEC in rushing (279.33 yards per game), is easily described but difficult to do.
“You have to keep No. 27 (Chubb) and No. 1 (Michel) from controlling the game and you have to protect the top of the defense,” Steele said. “We’re going to have our hands full.”
ALABAMA SUDDENLY LOOKS A LITTLE VULNERABLE
There is no rat poison being thrown at Alabama this week.
In fact, there are some folks—your humble scribe included—who are starting to have a little doubt as No. 2 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC) begins its stretch run on Saturday at Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2).
In last Saturday’s 24-10 street fight against LSU, Alabama lost two more linebackers in Shaun Dion Hamilton (broken knee cap) and Mack Wilson (foot). Alabama’s best defensive back, Minkah Fitzpatrick, is still nursing a hamstring that limited his time on the field against LSU.
Now I’m not suggesting that the Crimson Tide is going to lose to Mississippi State , which has won four straight since its off week. But I am suggesting that given the injuries, Alabama’s final stretch of No 16 Mississippi State, No. 10 Auburn, and (perhaps) No. 1 Georgia in the SEC championship game is not going to be easy.
RICHT: “THIS IS WHY I CAME BACK”
When Mark Richt was let go at Georgia after the 2015 season, a lot of people thought he would take a year off after 15 straight seasons as a head coach. But the job at Miami, his alma mater, came open and he felt he had to answer the call.
The goal, he said at the time, was to get “The U.” back on the national stage.
Miami (8-0, 6-0 ACC) is currently on a 13-game winning streak. The Hurricanes are ranked No. 7 in the latest CFP rankings. They will play a monster game with huge playoff ramifications at home Saturday night against No. 3 Notre Dame. Hard Rock Stadium is expected to be sold out. It is the prime-time game on ABC.
“This is why I came back to my alma mater, these types of moments, and the players too,” Richt told reporters this week.
**--No. 4 Clemson (8-1, 6-1 ACC) can wrap up the ACC Atlantic Division championship with a win over Florida State (3-5, 3-4) at Death Valley. The Tigers finish their season with two non-conference games against The Citadel and South Carolina.
**--LSU (6-3, 3-2) can still get to 10 wins this season if it runs the table against Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M and then wins a bowl game. That would be quite an accomplishment for an LSU team that was given up for dead after a 24-21 loss to Troy on Sept. 30.
**--Missouri (4-5, 1-5) was another team that was all but finished after losing to Georgia 53-28 on Oct. 14. The Tigers were 1-5 with no wins against FBS competition. They have now won three straight, including two non-conference games and 45-16 thumping of Florida last Saturday in COMO. Missouri has remaining games with Tennessee (4-5, 0-5), Vanderbilt (4-5, 0-5), and Arkansas (4-5,1-4). The Tigers could finish 7-5.
“We have talked about that a lot,” said quarterback Drew Lock, who leads the nation with 31 touchdown passes. “We want to finish strong.”
**--After giving up 382 yards passing in a loss to Ole Miss last week, Kentucky (6-3, 3-3) is ranked 120th nationally in pass defense. It will be interesting to see if the Wildcats can bounce back from a devastating 37-34 loss to Ole Miss. Kentucky goes to Vanderbilt, where quarterback Kyle Shurmur has thrown 20 touchdown passes to only three interceptions.