Here’s your breakdown of all the SEC weekend action. The key stats. Our impressions. All in one big ol’ post.
Mississippi State 28, Auburn 10 in Starkville
Key Stat: 5 turnovers. Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier not only passed for just 125 yards in the contest, he also threw three interceptions and fumbled twice. Still Gene Chizik will continue to go with him moving forward. (What’s that say about Clint Moseley and his arm?)
* While Frazier was struggling, MSU quarterback Tyler Russell was starring. He was 20-of-29 for the game with 222 yards, three TDs and no interceptions. With aerial production like that, State can be a very dangerous team in the SEC this year. (And that’s to say nothing of a defense that has forced eight turnovers through two weeks of action.)
* The game was definitely a breakthrough for Dan Mullen who in three previous seasons had not recorded a single win over an SEC West foe not named Ole Miss. That monkey is now completely off his back. But how will his team react moving forward? The Bulldogs’ schedule features Troy, South Alabama, a road game at Kentucky, Tennessee at home, and then a game with MTSU. It’s possible — not probable, but possible — that State could be 7-0 when the Dogs head to Tuscaloosa in late-October. If that’s the case, the Auburn game could be looked back upon as a turning point of the Mullen era.
* For Chizik and the Tigers, you can forget the positivity. Auburn’s tackling looked just as bad on Saturday as it did a week earlier against Clemson. State tailback LaDarius Perkins averaged 5.9 yards per carry on 14 rushing attempts. That just won’t cut it in the SEC.
* If Frazier can’t develop as a passer, teams will continue to stack the box against Auburn and with Louisiana-Monroe (watch out!), LSU and Arkansas up next, the Tigers could conceivably start the season 0-5. If that happens, the calls for Chizik’s scalp will be deafening (BCS title in his trophy case or not).
South Carolina 48, East Carolina 10 in Columbia
Key Stat: 21-of-37 for 330 yards, 3 touchdowns and zero interceptions. That was the stat line for Dylan Thompson who filled in for Connor Shaw as the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback. Steve Spurrier says that when Shaw is healthy, he’ll get his starting job back, but haven’t we all seen this scenario play out a few hundred times in the past already? Spurrier said, “If Connor is 100%, he’s our guy.” Yep. Until he starts a game with a couple of over-throws and an interception. Then you can start up the quarterback carousel.
* Thompson’s impressive performance allowed Spurrier to ease up on running back Marcus Lattimore. That’s a good thing. He’ll be needed against tougher defenses later in the season so saving his legs with a 13-carry assignment against ECU is just plain smart. With UAB up next, it could be another opportunity for Spurrier to try and open up his passing game this Saturday.
Florida 20, Texas A&M 17 in College Station
Key Stat: 6 punts. That’s what Florida’s defense forced Texas A&M to do on it’s six possessions of the second half. The Aggies had a 17-10 halftime lead at Kyle Field and it could have been worse, but the Gator defense — which was battered and bruised throughout the game — came on strong, took control of the line of scrimmage, and stopped allowing A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel to make plays with his legs.
* Will Muschamp had been 0-5 at Florida when trailing at halftime, but this game proved that the UF coaching staff could actually adjust on the fly. Manziel’s mobility caught the Gators off-guard in the first half. But after the break, UF went with more of a “mush rush” philosophy that clogged Manziel’s escape routes from the pocket. The difference between the first half and second half was so profound you’d have thought Muschamp suited up a whole new squad for the second stanza.
* Florida’s offense is still a work in progress. Mike Gillislee rushed for 83 yards and two TDs on 14 carries before leaving the game “dinged up.” (He’s expected to play against Tennessee this weekend.) Jeff Driskel turned in a solid performance — 13-of-16, 162 yards, and a smokin’ 10 yards-per-attempt average — but he still doesn’t seem to be fully comfortable running the Gator attack. After the up-tempo, big play offenses of Spurrier and Urban Meyer, this new ground-and-pound offense must seem a bit, well, dull.
* What a debut! And no, we’re not talking about Texas A&M and College Station entering the SEC. We’re talking about Manziel. When a redshirt freshman completes 23-of-30 passes for 173 yards with no picks and he also runs 17 times for 60 more yards and a score… it’s promising. When he does so in his first start it’s very promising. When he does so in his first start against one of the SEC’s better defenses it’s scary promising.
Alabama 35, Western Kentucky 0 in Tuscaloosa
Key Stat: 4 touchdown passes. AJ McCarron was his usual efficient self completing 14 of his 19 pass attempts and tossing the four TD passes already mentioned. Good thing, because the Hilltoppers sold out to stop Bama’s ground game.
* Alabama ran for 232 yards against Michigan in its opener. Against WKU, the Crimson Tide never could get the ground game going. In fact, six Bama backs combined for just 103 yards on 31 carries (a 3.3 yards-per-rush average).
* UA’s defense did to Western Kentucky exactly what most folks expected, however, holding the ‘toppers to 224 total yards, a 1.6 yards-per-carry rushing average, and forcing four turnovers.
* Sorry, Coach Saban, but no one expected much of a contest and they didn’t get one, either.
Tennessee 51, Georgia State 13 in Knoxville
Key Stat: 8 catches, 146 yards and three TDs. Those were the numbers put up by Vol receiver Justin Hunter in just his second game back from major knee surgery. The fact that Hunter showed no signs of rust — after dropping a couple of balls a week earlier against NC State — pushed his stat line ahead of Tyler Bray’s, which was also impressive…
* 18-of-20 for 310 yards and four touchdowns without an interception impressive. Bray is obviously the key to Tennessee’s high-flying offense. Try as they might, the Volunteers just cannot consistently run the football which means Bray, Hunter and fellow receiver Cordarrelle Patterson will have to carry a lot of the weight of UT’s offense on their shoulders.
* For the second consecutive week, Tennessee avoided deadly busts. Transitioning to a new 3-4 scheme, the Vols allowed three plays of over 20 yards against Bill Curry’s team, but as was the case against NC State a week earlier, Sal Sunseri’s defenders did not hang their heads after making mistakes. Going from a 4-3 front to a 3-4 is often a slow process, but UT has made the adjustment — at least to date — as well and as quickly as any Volunteer fan could have hoped.
Louisiana-Monroe 34, Arkansas 31 in overtime in Little Rock
Key Stat: If not the score, how ’bout 550 total yards of offense? That’s what Louisiana-Monroe — Louisiana-Monroe? — cranked up against a reeling Razorback defense on Saturday. Warhawk quarterback Kolton Browning lit up the Hogs with a performance for the ages: 42 completions, 67 attempts, 412 yards passing, 69 yards rushing and four touchdowns total. That’s one man posting 481 of ULM’s 550 yards. Ouch.
* If any player is more valuable to his team than Tennessee’s Bray, it’s Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson. When Wilson left the game with concussion symptoms — which was briefly termed “an injury above the shoulders — the Razorback offense flat died. Louisiana-Monroe rallied from 28-7 down midway through the third quarter. Brandon Allen replaced Wilson and completed just 6-of-20 passes. One has to wonder if Allen would have been better prepared to step in if Bobby Petrino were still around. Then again, it was Petrino who hired defensive coordinator Paul Haynes and that’s not working so well yet. So it’s probably unfair to say Arkansas would have won this game had Petrino not crashed his motorcycle and his career over the offseason.
* Top-ranked Alabama comes to Fayetteville on Saturday and the Hogs could be without Wilson. He has experienced “grogginess” since returning from Little Rock and this is a player who also suffered concussion-like symptoms during a game last season. It’s possible he could play against the Tide, but at this point it would appear doubtful. If he doesn’t play, then it’s doubtful the Hogs can hang with Bama at all.
* Unless John L. Smith can knock off the Crimson Tide and when the SEC, Saturday’s game — and Wilson’s head injury — might have just cost him his chance at landing the Arkansas job full-time. Paging Charlie Strong. Charlie Strong, you have a telephone call at the front desk. Paging Charlie Strong.
Ole Miss 28, Texas-El Paso 10 in Oxford
Key Stat: 332 yards. That was the ground production for surprising Ole Miss in its unexpectedly easy victory over UTEP. The Miners had hung with Oklahoma a week ago, but the Rebels built a 21-0 halftime lead and never looked back.
* So much for Ole Miss being the worst team in the SEC. Yes, there’s a long way to go, but Hugh Freeze is at least putting together an exciting offense for UM fans to watch. The Rebels rolled up 538 yards of total offense and strung together 84- and 97-yard scoring drives, despite turning the ball over three times.
* Juco transfer Bo Wallace looked good again as Mississippi’s trigger man. In two games, Wallace has thrown for 438 yards and completed 35-of-46 passes. He also has a 5-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Kick in 135 yards and two touchdown rushing and Wallace is the SEC’s clear-cut “Where’d he come from?” player of the year.
LSU 41, Washington 3 in Baton Rouge
Key Stat: 242 yards. That was the rushing output for LSU behind a rebuilt offensive line that was without star left tackle Chris Faulk. Led by Alfred Blue’s 101 yard effort, the top three Tiger tailbacks combined for 195 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
* LSU’s rush defense was frightening. Washington managed just 26 yards on 24 carries for the night. Through two games, John Chavis’ unit has allowed just 102 yards on 59 rushing attempts. That’s less than two yards per carry for Tiger opponents. Just brutal.
Kentucky 47, Kent State 14 in Lexington
Key Stat: 354 yards. Second-year UK quarterback Maxwell Smith was a dazzling 30-0f-39 for 354 with four TDs and zero INTs on Saturday night. He’s thrown for 634 yards on the season.
* Kentucky got off to a frighteningly slow start trailing the Golden Flashes 7-0 at the end of the first quarter. Cat fans — and Joker Phillips — had to be worried about a potential loss to Kent State… a team that opened as a “pick ‘em” bet with the Cats last week in Las Vegas.
* While UK’s offense improves, the defense continues to yield yards. After giving up 219 rushing yards to Louisville just six days prior, the Wildcat defense surrendered another 182 rushing yards to Kent State. That won’t cut it inside the SEC. Neither will the fact that both UK foes so far have eclipsed 400 yards in total offense.
Georgia 41, Missouri 20 in Columbia
Key Stat: 24-0. Trailing 20-17 with just seconds remaining in the third quarter, Georgia was in — excuse the pun — a real dog fight. But a 24-0 flurry to close the game assured the Dawgs of a big, big win in a hostile environment with four defensive starters not playing.
* What more can be said about the performance of linebacker Jarvis Jones? Georgia’s defensive star made himself with millions of dollars with Saturday night’s showing as NFL scouts must be drooling over the prospect of Jones leaving UGA after this his junior season. Missouri had no answer for Jones as he dominated the game in — and this is not hyperbole — Lawrence Taylor fashion.
* UGA’s outing against Buffalo left much to be desired. But the Dawgs’ showing at Mizzou was as good as the Buffalo performance was blah. There’s a lot of season to be played and who knows what player suspensions might be coming down the pike, but this Georgia squad looked on Saturday like the preseason SEC East favorite that it was projected to be by most SEC media members over the summer. (Wish I’d have picked ‘em.)
* As for Missouri, the Tigers have no reasons to hang their heads. Aside from Jones and a doomed fake punt call by Gary Pinkel, MU held their own with Georgia for about 52 minutes. Two late scores by UGA made the result look a bit worse than it actually was.
* James Franklin — all 6-2, 225 stout pounds of him — proved that he’ll put a hurtin’ on more than one SEC defense this fall. UGA held him to just 25 yards on 20 rushes and scrambles, but Franklin finished the night with a solid stat line: 25-of-41 passing for 269 yards, two touchdowns and just one interception. You can bet some SEC fans who’d never seen Franklin at work had their eyes opened wide on Saturday.
* Oh, and those new Missouri uniforms are horrible. Please, folks, those helmets have got to go.
Northwestern 23, Vanderbilt 13 in Evanston, IL
Key Stat: 10 points in 37 seconds. With the score tied 13-13 and just 2:01 to play, Northwestern kicked a go-ahead field goal, kicked off, stripped Vandy QB Jordan Rodgers and quickly tacked on a 29-yard rushing touchdown to wrap the victory. The Wildcats — after scoring just six points through the first three quarters — added 17 in the fourth quarter overall.
* While Rodgers’ numbers weren’t terrible — 17-of-33, 217 passing yards, 15 rushes and 51 yards on the ground — James Franklin admitted after the game that he did consider making a switch at quarterback. Not good.
* The Commodores allowed a whopping 191 yards rushing to Northwestern at a 4.2 yard-per-carry clip. That number will have to improve in SEC play.
* Last week, South Carolina’s Spurrier said that VU no longer has any “slow dudes.” Maybe not, but until the Dores can win a tight game late, there will be many out there who continue to view Franklin’s team as being just the “same old Vandy.” Franklin’s done a great job with recruiting and public relations, but he’s now fallen to 6-9 as Vanderbilt’s coach and he’s off to an 0-2 start to a season that was once filled with promise. After hosting Presbyterian this week, Vandy will face Georgia, Missouri, Florida and Auburn. If VU starts 1-6, Franklin might lose a bit of his lustre.