September is now behind us and five weeks of college football, incredibly, are already in the books. Today, we bring you our weekly recap of what stood out to us over the weekend. It’s news and views on every SEC contest with a couple of bonus observations tossed in for good measure (including some incredible numbers with regards to SEC defenses).
South Carolina 28, UCF 25
Saturday in Orlando the Gamecocks lost starting quarterback Connor Shaw to a shoulder injury and found themselves in a 10-zip hole at halftime. Much credit will be given to backup QB Dylan Thompson for coming in, passing for 261 yards and kickstarting Carolina’s offense. Fair enough. But the real difference between the first half and the second was tailback Mike Davis. In the first half the sophomore touched the ball five times and picked up 17 yards. In the second stanza he carried the ball 21 times for 150 yards. It’s not hard to do the math, folks. Between the time Thompson entered the game to the end of the first half the Gamecocks threw the ball on 23 of 27 offensive snaps. The results were three punts and an interception. Run. The. Football.
Tennessee 31, South Alabama 24
Early in the second half, the Vols were cruising 31-7 against the Jaguars. Then the cruise control broke and several wheels came off. Quarterback Justin Worley — back in the lineup after not getting the start at Florida a week ago — was wildly inconsistent, hurling a beauty of a deep TD to Josh Smith one minute and then tossing a pick into triple-coverage the next. Tennessee’s offensive line and running backs did manage to crank out 278 rushing yards (though the Vols are still 13th in the SEC when rushing against BCS defenses). And the Volunteer defense — put in bad positions all day by Worley INTs (he threw three) and a botched field goal attempt — did manage to make a game-preserving stop late in the fourth quarter. It’s hard to picture much improvement as Butch Jones is faced to play freshmen and walk-ons in key spots for long stretches.
Georgia 44, LSU 41
For the second time this season, an SEC showcase game lived up to its hype. Georgia’s Aaron Murray — aided by a better rushing attack than LSU’s — outgunned his former Bulldog teammate, Zach Mettenberger. We’ll have more on their numbers and the lack of defense below, but credit both players for not letting their emotions get the better of them. And anyone who saw Mark Richt tear up while talking about Murray, Mettenberger and his team knows that the game was extremely emotional for both squads. So much so that one wonders if Georgia (on the road at Tennessee) or LSU (on the road at Mississippi State) will come out a bit flat when they tee things up again on Saturday. (Oh, and did we mention that we had UGA winning 37-34? They just couldn’t stop their scoring a the four-minute mark, could they?)
Alabama 25, Ole Miss 0
Will the real Alabama team please stand up? Is Bama the team that struggled on offense versus Virginia Tech? Is it the squad whose defense was gored at Texas A&M? Is the real Crimson Tide the bunch that couldn’t run the ball on Colorado State? Or was it the group that completely shut down Mississippi’s offense while also rushing for 254 yards? If it was the latter, then Tide fans should feel good about the future. But until Nick Saban’s crew can show up on both offense and defense for a couple more games, we’ll hold off on saying, “all’s well.” As for Ole Miss, there’s no shame in losing at Alabama. This was still a two-score game (16-0) until the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter. There’s no need for panic in Oxford.
Texas A&M 45, Arkansas 33
Last week, Aggie defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said that he believed his unit’s troubles were behind them. Uh, not quite. Arkansas ran for 201 yards and Brandon Allen — a surprise starter on gameday — passed for another 282 yards in his return from injury. It’s amazing how much a run game can be boosted by a vertical passing threat, no? The Razorbacks were finally subdued by TAMU wonder, Johnny Manziel. Last year’s Heisman-winner was responsible for 320 yards of total offense — human by his standards — and two scores. One month into the season it’s clear that Arkansas’ offense is better than a lot of us expected it to be (and that Allen is the key to the Hog engine). It’s also clear that A&M will have a hard time going undefeated the rest of the way unless the defense makes some big improvements. Three times they managed to hold the Razorbacks as they were marching to take the lead. Perhaps those stops are a sign of growth. They’d better be.
Florida 24, Kentucky 7
“This could be the year.” “Florida is vulnerable.” Blah, blah, blah. The Gators went to Lexington sans defensive tackle Dominique Easley and still held the Cats to one touchdown and 173 yards of total offense. Yes, just 173 yards total. While Mark Stoops and Neal Brown were rotating the quarterbacks to no avail, Will Muschamp put the ball in redshirt junior Tyler Murphy’s hands. As a passer he was a precise 15-of-18 fro 156 yards, a score and a pick. As a runner he added 36 more yards and another touchdown. While those aren’t Tim Tebow numbers, they were pretty good for a guy who was playing receiver last season. As for Kentucky, the Wildcats’ only score came on a 25-yard-run fake field goal run. Woe to UK, the only program in the SEC with a less-talented roster than Tennessee. (Thinking ahead to those schools’ regular-season finale, how ugly might the UK-UT rivalry game be once injuries have taken an even greater bite out of their rosters.)
Missouri 41, Arkansas State 19
Another blowout win (though a 21-3 fourth-quarter performance was needed). Another big day for the offense (495 yards) and James Franklin (20-of-29 passing for 255, three touchdowns, no interceptions, and another 33 yards rushing including a fourth TD). If you’re a fan of ol’ Mizzou, you want to feel pretty good about Gary Pinkel’s squad. But the exhibition season (Murray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State) is now over and the SEC work is about to commence. The Tigers travel to Vandy on Saturday, then to Georgia, host Florida and then host South Carolina by the end of October. Considering how strong those last three teams are, this weekend’s contest in Nashville looms very, very large for MU’s bowl hopes.
Vanderbilt 52, UAB 24
And speaking of the Commodores, Saturday’s whoopin’ of UAB was a bit more like it. A week ago Vanderbilt slept through a humdrum win over UMass. Against the Blazers, Vandy cranked up 540 yards of offense. Six different players scored. It was a proper “get well” game ahead of Missouri’s visit this weekend. Unfortunately for the Dores, just as one distraction (an offseason sexual assault case) is finally being put in the rearview, another has popped up on the horizon. With Southern Cal’s decision to ix-nay Lane Kiffin has come talk that James Franklin should and will be considered for the Trojans’ top job. He’ll no doubt try to play it down in the media and with his team, but if folks persist in talking about Franklin-to-LA it could become yet another distraction.
For seven years the SEC has ruled the college football landscape. Toss a high-flying offense from another conference up against Mike Slive’s league in a January bowl and you’d see the flash get trashed by SEC defenses. That’s not the case this year and — as we’ve stated for a couple of weeks now — it could be problem for the SEC after New Year’s. Check out these surprising totals: Texas A&M/Arkansas combined for 1,006 yards of offense. Georgia/South Carolina recorded 990 yards. Georgia/LSU = 943 yards. LSU/Auburn = 893. Auburn/MSU = 874. Alabama and Texas A&M amassed a combined 1,296 yards of total offense. Maybe an SEC team can win a national crown with offense this season. But that’s not been the recipe the last seven seasons.
Dueling Quarterbacks A New Storyline In the SEC
While defenses might be trending down, it’s time to buy some stock in the SEC’s top rocket-armed quarterbacks. When Georgia hosted South Carolina earlier this season, Connor Shaw and Aaron Murray combined to go 33-of-48 through the air for 537 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Murray and his ex-teammate Mettenberger went a combined 43-of-71 for 670 aerial yards with seven touchdowns and just one pick when UGA topped LSU on Saturday. Those head-to-head battles weren’t even close to the AJ McCarron versus Johnny Manziel showdown of early-September. Those two completed 48-of-68 passes combined. They threw for 798 yards. And they tossed nine touchdowns against just two INTs. Experienced, talented quarterbacks mixed with young, inexperienced defenses is producing never-before-seen QB battles in the SEC.
And One To Grow On…
Wonder what this guy was saying after Georgia’s second huge win of the season against a top 10 SEC rival?