Good Monday to everyone. Here’s our weekly rundown of the previous weekend’s SEC action, complete with news and views, including why the SEC does appear to be “down” at this point in the season.
Louisville 27, Kentucky 13
Give Mark Stoops’ team credit for fighting. After a season-opening loss to Western Kentucky and a win over out-manned Miami (OH), the Wildcats were expected to lower their tails, hiss and run away when #7 Louisville invaded Commonwealth Stadium. That didn’t happen. Stoops flip-flopped from a 4-3 to a unexpected 3-4 look and that seemed to catch the Cardinals off guard in the game’s first half. At the break, it was the ‘Ville 10 and Kentucky 3. Unfortunately for the Stoops Troop, they did have to play the second half. The Cardinals wound up with 492 yards of offense and the victory. But Kentucky might not be the easy out many expected in the SEC East. Oh, we’re not saying they’ll escape the cellar, just that this bunch seems to have some moxie to them. That said, keep an eye on the health of quarterback Maxwell Smith. He left Saturday’s game with a right shoulder injury, but UK expects him back for their next game (versus Florida in two weeks).
Arkansas 24, Southern Miss 3
Running back Alex Collins knows how to make an entrance. On Saturday, the freshman rushed for 115 yards giving him three 100-yard games to begin his career. No SEC freshman has ever accomplished that feat and the last true freshman to do it on the national stage was Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma. Collins leads the SEC with a 139.3 yards-per-game average. Not to be outdone, sophomore Jonathan Williams also has three 100-yard games and is averaging 131 yards per game. Their efforts helped carry Arkansas home after starting quarterback Brandon Allen left the game with shoulder injury. Bret Bielema said that Allen was “pretty convinced” after the game that he would be ready for this week’s trip to Rutgers.
Alabama 49, Texas A&M 42
We’ve already talked about the “Johnny Manziel versus Alabama’s defense” angle this morning. Now let’s flip things around. And just as Manziel lit up Bama, Tide quarterback AJ McCarron had his way with the A&M. Alabama’s senior signal-caller thrust himself into the Heisman race with a 20-of-29 performance for 334 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Manziel threw for more yardage, but McCarron avoided the big mistakes. The Tide ran for an additional 234 yards and cranked out 568 yards altogether. If A&M wants to bounce back in the SEC race, they’ll have to find some way to slow somebody down. Against Rice, Sam Houston State and Alabama, they’ve not been able to do so. On another note, TJ Yeldon had one heck of an up-and-down day. On the one hand, he tallied 149 rushing and a touchdown. On the other, he drew a taunting penalty for a classless celebration after his score — which Nick Saban lit him up about on the sideline — and he fumbled inside the Aggie five in the closing minutes. Instead of going up 49-28, A&M struck on a 95-yard touchdown pass from Manziel to Mike Evans (seven catches, 279 yards, one TD). In effect that fumble was a 14-point swing and it made the end of the game a lot more worrisome for the Tide than it need be. Both teams will move on from Saturday’s game feeling pretty good about themselves on offense. On defense… not so much.
Oregon 59, Tennessee 14
Well, it took three games for some Vol fans to begin the “fire Butch” phone calls in Knoxville. Granted, the Ducks beat the feathers out of the Volunteers 59-14 on Saturday. But Butch Jones inherited a roster with little speed, no depth (and the injuries are already mounting), no quarterback, no proven skillplayers, a green secondary and he was taking them on the road for the first time. Across the country. To a place in which #2 Oregon has lost just twice in its last 30 games. Volunteer fans sick of losing should probably chill a bit and not blame Jones for the program’s decline under Fulmer and its destruction under Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley. With those aforementioned injuries and the schedule UT has ahead of it — at Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, at Alabama in the SEC — and the complete lack of a vertical passing game, it’s likely Jones’ bunch will get slapped around a few more times before November rolls around.
Auburn 24, Mississippi State 20
The Tigers’ 10-game SEC losing streak — that’s actually hard to believe, isn’t it? — has come to a close. Improving quarterback Nick Marshall hit CJ Uzomah for a game-winning, 11-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds to play at Jordan-Hare Stadium. MSU quarterback Dak Prescott had a good night filling in for Tyler Russell (213 yards passing, 133 yards rushing, two scores), but it was Marshall’s night. In what might be looked back upon as his “arrival,” the juco transfer completed 23-of-34 passes for 339 yards, two TDs and two picks. He also added 22 yards on the ground including three runs for 17 yards on Auburn’s final drive. In the clutch, he moved Gus Malzahn’s offense 88 yards in a minute and 46 seconds, with six-of-eight passing. The Tigers are now at 3-0 and they appear to be improving each week. A possible reality check at LSU is next. As for State, Dan Mullen’s now lost seven of his last nine games. It’s hard to imagine the once-beloved coach getting run out of Starkville with facilities upgrades on the way, but you don’t go 2-7 in the SEC without feeling some amount of heat. Troy visits MSU on Saturday.
LSU 45, Kent State 13
Looking for the most complete team in the SEC at the one-quarter mark of the season? Check the bunch of Bayou Bengals growling down in Baton Rouge. Yes, the Tigers have beaten UAB, Kent State and a TCU squad that just lost to Texas Tech. So we haven’t seen them against SEC competition (though that’ll change when Auburn visits on Saturday). Still, Les Miles’ team ranks among the SEC’s top three in total defense, rushing defense, passing defense, and scoring offense. Zach Mettenberger continued his good early-season form against Kent State and the Tiger running game got to rolling, too. Jeremy Hill — say what you will about him even being on LSU’s team at this point — rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries. From our vantage point, the Tigers look to be the SEC’s best overall at this point.
South Carolina 35, Vanderbilt 25
The Gamecocks raced out to a big early lead scoring on their first four possessions. From the second quarter on they spent much of the night chewing clock and bungling special teams play. Enough so that Vanderbilt managed to creep back to within striking distance. Steve Spurrier had Connor Shaw come out slinging against what’s now one of the SEC’s five worst secondaries. Shaw had one of his “on” nights connecting on 21-of-29 passes for 284 yards, three scores and zero INTs. Carolina gained 579 of total offense against Vandy, enough to win the game and erase the memory of last week’s on- and off-field bickering. One to keep an eye on for USC: Jadeveon Clowney — who forced a fumble against VU — will need surgery at the end of the year due to bone spurs in his right foot. As for Vanderbilt, the Commodores have now lost 14 games in a row to ranked opponents and five in a row to South Carolina. We’ll talk about the Commodores’ defense below.
Ole Miss 44, Texas 23
There were no worries of overconfidence with Hugh Freeze’s Rebels. Enjoying their freshly-minted #25 national ranking, Ole Miss rolled into Austin, blasted the Longhorns 27-0 in the second half, and captured a 44-23 attention-getting victory on the road. Running back and punt returner Jeff Scott excelled in both his roles on Saturday. He returned a punt 73 yards for a score, rushed for 164 yards and another score, caught a pass for six yards and left the Lone Star State with a 273-yard night. The Rebels have now won five in a row and seven of their last 10 games dating back to 2012. Freeze’s team has come a long, long way since September 15th of last year, when Texas ripped them 66-31 in Oxford. Now Mississippi can try to make the most of an open date before visiting top-ranked Alabama on the 28th.
At This Point, Yes, The SEC Appears To Be Down
As usual, the SEC has BCS championship contenders from one side of the league to the other. Seven SEC teams are ranked in this week’s new polls. Four conference members are listed in the top 10 of The USA Today Coaches’ Poll. And Alabama is still easily the #1 ranked team in the country. But the SEC is down. During the league’s incredible run of seven national titles, Mike Slive’s league has been all about defense. Even the teams with offenses we remember — Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow at Florida, for example — were blessed with superior defenses that snuffed out all comers (as the Gators did the previously high-flying offenses of Ohio State and Oklahoma). This year, however, six SEC teams are surrendering an average of 400 or more yards per game. Included among that bunch are undefeated Alabama (420 per game through two games), undefeated Auburn (433 per game through three games), once-beaten Georgia (460 yards per game through two games) and once-beaten Texas A&M (489 yards per game through three games). Teams that give up that kind of yardage usually lose in January to SEC defenses that don’t give up that much ground. It’s a long time until the bowl season and there’s plenty of time to improve, but just how much improving can these defenses do? Three weeks into the new season, South Carolina is giving up 25.3 points per game, Alabama is allowing 26.0, Georgia is yielding 34.0 and Texas A&M is hemorrhaging 36.0 points per contest. Until the defenses start to rise, the SEC is down in our book.
We’re Going To Learn A Lot On September 28th
This weekend might not be the most exciting in SEC history, but things are going to get very interesting a week from Saturday. Ole Miss will take its up-tempo offense to Alabama to test a Tide D that looked overmatched against Texas A&M. The Aggies will travel to Arkansas to face Bret Bielema’s 3-0 Razorbacks, a group that was picked at or near the bottom of the SEC West. And LSU will visit Georgia in what could be an SEC Championship Game preview. Toss in what could be a dangerous South Carolina road trip to UCF and we’ve got a pretty good pigskin weekend on the horizon.
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers
There have been 33 SEC football games played so far in 2013. In 27 of those games, one team won the turnover battle over its foe (meaning in six games the teams finished with an even number of turnovers). Of those 27 teams that won the turnover battle, 20 won their games. And most of those that did not were underdogs going into their games: Miami (OH) versus Kentucky, Samford versus Arkansas, Southeast Missouri State versus Ole Miss, Mississippi State versus Auburn, Kent State versus LSU and Vanderbilt versus South Carolina.