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Moorhead humbled by league

by Bob Holt | October 17, 2019 at 2:13 a.m.
Mississippi State Coach Joe Moorhead, a Pittsburgh native, gave indication this week that he may consider returning East as head coach at Rutgers, where he has been listed as a candidate for the vacant coaching position. “Coaching in the SEC for about a year and a half now in a lot of ways has been a humbling experience,” he said.

Maybe there's some truth to Mississippi State Coach Joe Moorhead being a candidate for the Rutgers job, as some media outlets reported after Chris Ash, a former University of Arkansas assistant coach, was fired as the Scarlet Knights' coach.

On the surface, leaving a Mississippi State program that has made nine consecutive bowl appearances to take on the challenge at Rutgers -- which is 8-33 since 2016 and 3-27 in the Big Ten -- doesn't make much sense.

But reading Moorhead's opening statement as his weekly news conference Monday makes you wonder if the Pittsburgh native, former Fordham head coach and Penn State offensive coordinator might be happier back East.

Moorhead is 11-8 in two seasons at Mississippi State, which is a solid record given the Bulldogs' overall history, but disappointing following Dan Mullen, who led the program to a 69-46 record before leaving for Florida.

The past two games have left a lot of Mississippi State fans upset after Auburn pounded the Bulldogs 56-23 and Tennessee got its first victory over a FBS team this season, 20-10, at Moorhead's expense.

"Coaching in the SEC for about a year and a half now in a lot of ways has been a humbling experience," Moorhead said at his news conference before taking questions. "I don't think you get to the level where I am without a certain level of success and confidence. But this game and the SEC has a way of keeping you honest."

Making the Bulldogs' loss to Tennessee look worse is that they had two weeks to get ready for the game after having an open date.

"At the end of the day, there's no excuse," Moorhead said. "We were outcoached and outplayed with 13 days to prepare.

"We need to, we can and we will be better because our program and our fans deserve it. As the head coach, it's my responsibility that happens. It falls squarely on my shoulders."

It's a far different tone than Moorhead sounded when he took the Mississippi State job and talked about the players needing to know their ring sizes -- for championships, you know? quarterback Nick Fitzgerald -- a senior last season -- needing to find a place to display the Heisman Trophy.

"Nothing means more to me than to bring a consistently successful, championship-level program to Mississippi State," said Moorhead, whose team plays at Arkansas on Nov. 2. "Every waking moment of my life not spent with my family is utilized in an effort to make it happen.

"That's what makes losing games so difficult because of the investment. It's not just a loss, it crushes your soul."

Crushes your soul? That's pretty heavy stuff.

Like who?

Tennessee Coach Jeremy Pruitt this week referenced the strategy used by Pulaski Academy Coach Kevin Kelley when addressing the Volunteers' best hope of beating Alabama.

"You know, I was thinking about it -- there's a high school team over in Arkansas, they always onside kick, OK?" Pruitt said. "They never punt.

"You know, we've really kind of considered that as our game plan -- just don't give 'em the ball, you know? If we can do that. I don't know."

Kelley's Bruins are known for going for the first down on fourth down rather than punting and trying to recover their kickoffs rather than hitting the ball deep.

Bowden honored

LSU senior quarterback Joe Burrow received player of the week honors for the fourth time this season after he passed for 293 yards and three touchdowns in the Tigers' 42-28 victory over Florida, but he had to share the award with Kentucky junior Lynn Bowden.

Normally a wide receiver, Bowden started at quarterback against Arkansas and had 274 yards total offense and accounted for three touchdowns in Kentucky's 24-20 victory. Bowden rushed 24 times for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns and completed completed 7 of 11 passes for 78 yards and 1 touchdown.

Come on down

Tyler Ivens, the Knoxville sports radio show co-host who last Monday began staying on the roof of a local Toyota dealership with the promise not to come down until Tennessee won another game, had his confidence in the Volunteers rewarded quickly.

Ivens said he believed Tennessee -- which was 1-4 with its only victory over FCS opponent Tennessee-Chattanooga -- could beat Mississippi State, and the Vols did, 20-10 last Saturday.

Ivens praised the Vols and Coach Jeremy Pruitt after he was able to leave his perch in the building along Interstate 40.

"I'd say this has nothing to do with me," Ivens told the Knoxville News Sentinel. "This has everything to do with the fact that you have to have faith in Jeremy Pruitt, his players and his coaching staff."

Ivens said he never felt alone on the roof.

"Tennessee fans -- we celebrate together, we will go through bad times together," he said. "But, at the end of the day, remember the one goal is to support the people here in Rocky Top."

National honor

South Carolina cornerback Israel Mukuamu earned FWAA Bronco Nagurski national defensive player of the week honors for his performance in the Gamecocks' 20-17 double overtime victory at Georgia.

Mukuamu intercepted Georgia quarterback Jack Fromm three times. He was the first Gamecocks player with three interceptions in a game since Patrick Hinton in 1968 against North Carolina State.

Fromm hadn't thrown any interceptions in the first five games this season.

Tide-Vols rivalry?

Alabama has won 12 consecutive games against Tennessee and is favored by five touchdowns to make it 13 in a row.

But don't try telling Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban that it's no longer a big deal when Alabama plays the Vols.

"Tennessee is always a game that's a big rivalry game," Saban told reporters this week. "It means a lot to a lot of people in Alabama. It certainly means a lot to us. It means a lot to me.

"There's a lot of fans that have a lot of passion about their school, and when you play in rivalry games, I think, that passion actually heightens.

"I think you hope the passion certainly does that with the players who are participating."

Only twice during Alabama's 12-0 run against Tennessee during Saban's tenure have the Vols lost by fewer than 20 points, when the Tide won 12-10 in 2009 and 19-14 in 2015.

Lane Kiffin, Tennessee's coach in 2009, later became Saban's offensive coordinator at Alabama. Butch Jones, the Vols' coach in 2015, is now an offensive analyst for the Tide.

Prof. Muschamp

South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp, 48, has been wearing reading glasses on the sideline during games this season.

"You know what? I'm getting old and I can't read, especially at night," Muschamp told reporters last week. "Had to put my ego on the shelf on these. But my wife is going to buy me a different pair she said."

The glasses often slide down Muschamp's nose, which give him the look of a professor.

In the wake of the Gamecocks' upset victory at Georgia last week, South Carolina will give away what are being called "Professor Muschamp glasses" to students who attend Saturday's home game against Florida.

47 magic number?

If form holds, No. 1 Alabama should beat Tennessee 47 to something.

Tennessee Coach Jeremy Pruitt will be the third head coach who was a Saban assistant that Alabama has played this season, and the Tide rang up 47 points on the other two.

Alabama won 47-23 at South Carolina and has beaten Texas A&M 47-28. Gamecocks Coach Will Muschamp was Saban's defensive coordinator at LSU and assistant with the Miami Dolphins and Aggies Coach Jimbo Fisher was Saban's offensive coordinator at LSU.

Saban is 18-0 overall against head coaches who were his former assistant coaches, including 3-0 against Muschamp and Fisher and 1-0 against Pruitt.

Two-minute drill

• Alabama's Nick Saban became the fourth SEC coach to win 200 games when the Crimson Tide beat Texas A&M 47-28. Saban is 200-37 leading an SEC team, including 48-16 at Louisiana and 152-21 at Alabama. Bear Bryant, an Arkansas native, had a 292-69-15 record at Kentucky and Alabama Steve Spurrier had a 208-76-1 record at Florida and South Carolina and Vince Dooley compiled a 201-77-1 record at Georgia.

• South Carolina's 20-17 double overtime victory at No. 3 Georgia ended a streak of 11 games in which Gamecocks Coach Will Muschamp had lost to ranked teams. His last victory over a ranked team had been in 2016 when South Carolina beat No. 18 Tennessee 24-21.

• Kentucky's 24-20 victory over Arkansas after trailing 13-0 was the 10th time the Wildcats have won in Coach Mark Stoops seven seasons after they overcame a double-digit deficit.

• LSU averaged 10.6 yards per offensive play against Florida. The Tigers had 511 yards in total offense on 48 snaps.

Player to watch

Justin Jefferson

WR, LSU

Jefferson, a junior, has been quarterback Joe Burrow’s favorite target through the first six games this season. Twelve Tigers have at least five receptions, but Jefferson leads the team with 40 catches for 670 yards and 8 touchdowns going into Saturday’s game against Mississippi State. Jefferson is averaging 111.7 receiving yards per game.

Game of the week

No. 9 Florida at South Carolina

11 a.m. Central, ESPN

Can South Carolina pull off consecutive upsets of top 10 ranked teams? The Gamecocks (3-3, 2-2 SEC) will try to do that when they take on Florida (6-1, 3-1) after knocking off Georgia 20-17 in double overtime between the hedges last week. South Carolina’s offense likely will be bolstered by the return of freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski, who Coach Will Muschamp said is expected to play against Florida after he was sidelined by a sprained knee at Georgia. Florida, a 4 1/2-point favorite, must shake off the disappointment of last week’s 42-28 loss at LSU and be ready for another hostile road environment, though the fans at Williams-Brice Stadium don’t figure to be as tanked up for an early kickoff as the faithful in Tiger Stadium were on a Saturday night.

Other games

No. 11 Auburn at Arkansas

WHEN 11 a.m. RECORDS Auburn 5-1, 2-1 SEC Arkansas 2-4, 0-3 TV SEC Network LINE Auburn by 18 1/2

No. 2 LSU at Mississippi State

WHEN 2:30 p.m. RECORDS LSU 6-0, 2-0 SEC Mississippi State 3-3, 1-2 TV CBS LINE LSU by 18 1/2

No. 22 Missouri at Vanderbilt

WHEN 3 p.m. RECORDS Missouri 5-1, 2-0 SEC Vanderbilt 1-5, 0-3 TV SEC Network LINE Missouri by 20 1/2

Kentucky at No. 10 Georgia

WHEN 5 p.m. RECORDS Kentucky 3-3, 1-3 SEC Georgia 5-1, 2-1 TV ESPN LINE Georgia by 25

Texas A&M at Ole Miss

WHEN 6:30 p.m. RECORDS Texas A&M 3-3, 1-2 SEC Ole Miss 3-4, 2-2 TV SEC Network LINE Texas A&M by 6

Tennessee at No. 1 Alabama

WHEN 8 p.m. RECORDS Tennessee 2-4, 1-2 SEC Alabama 6-0, 3-0 TV ESPN LINE Alabama by 34

By the numbers

+8 Alabama’s turnover margin this season. The Crimson Tide have 12 takeaways and have lost the ball 4 times.

55.1% LSU’s third-down conversion rate. The Tigers have made first downs on 38 of 69 attempts.

2006 The last time Tennessee beat Alabama. The Vols won 17-13 in Knoxville.

“Overheard”

“Dang, man. That’s really good.” — Tennessee linebacker Daniel Bituli after being told the Volunteers held Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill, the SEC’s leading rusher coming into the game, to 13 yards on 11 carries in Saturday’s game

SEC top to bottom

RK. (PV) TEAM REC. COMMENT

  1. (1) Alabama 6-0 Tide should have no trouble rolling Vols 2 (3) LSU 6-0 Right behind Alabama in national polls

  2. (4) Florida 6-1 Looking to avoid upset at Carolina

  3. (5) Auburn 5-1 Gus is 8-0 after open dates with the Tigers

  4. (2) Georgia 5-1 Upset at home by Gamecocks

  5. (7) Missouri 5-1 Defense showing up big since Wyoming loss

  6. (6) Texas A&M 3-3 Jimbo falls to 0-3 vs. Saban

  7. (9) South Carolina 3-3 Bowl chances improve after winning at Georgia

  8. (8) Mississippi State 3-3 Hoping to hand LSU its first loss

  9. (11) Ole Miss 3-4 Freshman QB Plumlee has 47 rushing yards

  10. (14) Tennessee 2-4 Defense stout against Mississippi State

  11. (10) Kentucky 3-3 Bowden ran wild against Hogs

  12. (13) Arkansas 2-4 Close, but no cigar at Kentucky

  13. (12) Vanderbilt 1-5 Pounded at home by UNLV

Photo by AP/ERIC GAY
LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson (2) catches a pass in front of Texas defensive back Caden Sterns (7) and runs for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Austin, Texas.
Photo by AP/MARK HUMPHREY
Vanderbilt senior running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who has been one of the few bright spots for the Commodores this season, leads the SEC in average yards from scrimmage per game. He has 607 rushing yards and 143 receiving yards, averaging 125.0 yards per game.

Sports on 10/17/2019

Print Headline: Moorhead humbled by league

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