Three weeks down — already — and the SEC races are beginning to heat up. Below are our takes for the most and least impressive team performances from Week Three. This isn’t a cumulative ranking, mind you… Week Three is all that counts.
But the team on top is on top for the second time in three weeks:
1. LSU 19, Mississippi State 6 at Starkville — To put LSU’s defensive performance in perspective, consider this: MSU rushed for 333 yards against Auburn just five days prior to last Thursday night’s game. Then with a fever-pitch crowd and thousands of cowbells behind ‘em, the Bulldogs managed but 52 yards against John Chavis’ Tigers. Toss in a solid, smart, effective performance by quarterback Jarrett Lee and LSU — for the moment — looks like the team to beat in the SEC. Sorry, Bama.
2. Vanderbilt 30, Ole Miss 7 at Nashville — With this win, James Franklin became the first Vandy coach since World War II to open with three wins in his first three games. Just think about that fact for a second. And this victory was not simply VU feasting upon Ole Miss turnovers (which we’ll talk about later). The Commodores amassed 387 yards of offense against the Rebels. This was a full-scale butt-kicking. Afterwards, a teary-eyed Franklin greeted the press. If you’re looking for a feel-good story for 2011, look no further than VU’s surprising start under its unheralded first-year coach. Good stuff on Saturday.
3. Florida 33, Tennessee 23 at Gainesville — Chris Rainey, Chris Rainey, Chris Rainey. The reason Florida is now 3-0 is the Gators’ Mr. Everything. Rainey totaled 233 yards, sprinted away from UT defenders on an 83-yard touchdown reception, and blocked a Volunteer punt. This contest was a “prove it” game for both Florida and Tennessee and Will Muschamp’s team proved that it will still be a factor in this year’s SEC East race.
4. South Carolina 24, Navy 21 at Columbia — We predicted on Friday that Navy would put a scare into Carolina with its triple-option attack and it did, rushing for 274 yards against the Gamecocks and not succumbing until the final minute. Navy is a dangerous, well-disciplined team with a unique style of play that SEC teams don’t often see. The nation’s 10th ranked team didn’t dominate, but it did avoid losing in what was a clear-cut trap game. That’s impressive enough for us to put USC’s victory in the top third of the week’s performances.
5. Alabama 41, North Texas 0 at Tuscaloosa — Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy ran roughshod over and through the North Texas defense. But that was to be expected. Considering the competition, the big win really wasn’t that impressive. Now, next week…
6. Arkansas 38, Troy 28 at Fayetteville — It was The Ronnie Wingo Show on Saturday night as the running back accounted for 110 yards and three touchdowns. Tyler Wilson also passed for 303 yards. But that’s about it for the good. On the negative side of the ledger, Troy out-offense’d the Razorbacks 457 yards to 454. That number includes 373 aerial yards against the Hogs’ secondary. Clearly, Arkansas still has some work to do before traveling to Alabama next week.
7. Georgia 59, Coastal Carolina 0 at Athens — A win over the FCS-level Chanticleers won’t get too many people off of Mark Richt’s back, but a win is a win at this point. The Dawgs smacked around their inferior foes just as they should have. That’s a plus.
8. Tennessee 23, Florida 33 at Gainesville – The Volunteers weren’t quite ready for primetime on Saturday, but at least they showed some fight. A few previous Vol teams had lost 59-20 and 30-6 to the Gators. On this occasion, UT battled back from a 30-7 deficit… after recovering from the departure of superstar receiver Justin Hunter (who is now out for the season with a knee injury). But if Tennessee’s run game and special teams don’t improve, it’s likely they’ll make the least impressive portion of our list a few more times this fall.
9. Mississippi State 6, LSU 19 — Dan Mullen just can’t seems to beat an SEC West team that doesn’t feature the word “Ole” in its name. Despite a raucous crowd, the Bulldogs could get absolutely nothing going on offense as they fell to 2-10 versus West Division foes under their third-year coach. Things got so bad in the 4th quarter that it wouldn’t have surprised us to see Mullen lift his hands to his face and mutter “useless, useless” a la John Wilkes Booth. The Dogs just looked outmatched. (On the bright side, a lot of offenses will look outmatched versus the Tigers.)
10. Auburn 24, Clemson 38 — If you keep giving up 450+ yards, eventually you’re gonna get burned. And Ted Roof’s young D got absolutely torched on Saturday. Clemson rolled up a staggering 624 yards (which pushes AU’s total yards allowed for the season past the 1,600-yard mark after just three games). The loss ended America’s longest win streak at 17 games.
11. Kentucky 17, Louisville 24 — Well, at least the Cats are out of the cellar. After two weeks of being the least impressive squad on our list, UK creeps up to #11. So much for Morgan Newton and Josh Clemons producing on the ground for Kentucky. Sacks included, the QB and his tailback totaled 26 carries for all of 6 yards. UK’s offense has been solid the past few seasons, but it’s time to put Randy Sanders’ name on the hot seat list. Joker Phillips is in his second year which means he won’t be fired at year’s end. But if things don’t turn around for the Cats, he’ll likely have to toss someone overboard to save his own job. And despite his past good work, Sanders could take the fall for his offense this offseason. If things don’t turn around.
12. Ole Miss 7, Vanderbilt 30 — In losing to Vandy for the fifth time in seven years, Ole Miss tossed five interceptions, averaged just 3.8 yards per play and struggled from start to finish. To make matters worse, many Rebels looked like they didn’t even want to be on the field. Somewhere, ousted offensive coordinator Dave Rader had to be smirking. And current OC David Lee had to be weeping. How bad was this loss for Houston Nutt? Here’s guessing the names Mike Leach and Gus Malzahn get more mentions than Nutt in Oxford this week. Just a crippling loss for the Rebels, their coach, and possibly AD Pete Boone as well.