Quick thoughts and takes on every Week 5 SEC game.
Texas A&M 31, Arkansas 27
Texas A&M-Arkansas came up with yet another battle that defies logic and reason. The Hogs stepped up their play and energy on both sides of the ball after the embarrassing loss to San Jose State, getting a nice day from both passers to keep the pressure on.
Nick Starkel hit 12-of-17 passes before throwing a pick and getting banged up, and Ben Hicks stepped in and threw for 188 yards and a score. There was just enough of a ground game to help to a bit – Rakeem Boyd had a nice performance – and the Arkansas D stuffed the A&M running attack. But …
Kellen Mond overcame a shaky day with three touchdown passes pitching two to Quartney Davis. This hasn’t been the season so far expected out of the veteran quarterback – Mond hasn’t been consistent enough – but he’s not getting any help from the ground game that managed just 89 yards. He had to come though to pull off the win, and under the pressure of the constant Hog pass rush, he and the team survived. It shouldn’t have taken a late fourth down stop to get by, though.
This was a fun, wildly frustrating game for both teams. Texas A&M continues to sputter a bit with out enough pop or explosion, and Arkansas couldn’t take advantage of its chances to pull this off. At least it was a more-than-competitive game just when head coach Chad Morris needed one. A&M now gets time off to prepare for Alabama, but forget about having any shot of coming up with the upset unless Mond can flip the switch. The Aggies aren’t hitting the 100-yard mark on the ground against the Tide.
Vanderbilt 24, Northern Illinois 18
Vanderbilt won its first game, but it’s not making anything easy. Everything appeared to be fine with a 14-0 lead in the first half, but the O couldn’t put the game away and there was way, way too much drama. Northern Illinois hung around, hung around, hung around, and almost pulled it off late. The Vandy D came through in the fourth quarter when it had to, but it shouldn’t have been this tough.
Finally, the Commodore offensive skill parts stepped it up. Riley Neal hit 21-of-28 passes for an effective 189 yards and a score, Ke’Shawn Vaughn finally went off – having a good day against a 138-yard, one-touchdown performance against a strong NIU defensive front – and Kalija Lipscomb did his part with seven catches for 94 yards and a score.
The pass rush was good, and the D overall did a nice job on third downs, but the offense couldn’t seem to connect on enough third downs after getting up early, and too many drives stalled. The next few games against Ole Miss, UNLV, Missouri and South Carolina are all winnable, but not if the Commodores aren’t far sharper.