Well, what are we to make of this last weekend of SEC football? While the slate of games tilted towards the beige this last weekend, there is a lot of be gleaned from the performances of teams across the conference, regardless of their level of competition. As the league schedule begins in earnest in this coming weekend, let us take a look back at last week and divine a few talking points.
Though most of this week's games featured powerhouses against "also-rans," there were two intriguing conference match-ups that could go a long way towards defining the identities of the teams involved, even if they don't mean a lot in the moment. In what was billed as the week's marquee SEC game, #20 Florida hosted Tennessee in a game which featured enough orange to make a rational and reasonable human engage in projectile vomiting. Florida won going away by a score of 31-17.
The match-up between the Gators and Vols is not the showcase it once was, as neither of these teams has a realistic shot at winning the SEC East at this point. No one expected for Tennessee to compete for much of anything but the Fulmer Cup this year, but Florida's season now hangs in the balance following an injury to starting QB Jeff Driskel. That could be a blessing or a curse for the Gators, as Driskel is an interception mo-sheen with little upside as far as I can tell. He is neither a great runner nor passer, and I'd be loathe to even hang him with the "game manager" title due to his turnover-to-touchdown ratio. Apparently, he was the best the Gators had in the stable, but now they'll put their hopes on the back of first-time starter Tyler Murphy. Murphy acquitted himself well against a putrid Vol defense, though he was limited to 134 yards passing and one touchdown. However, that one touchdown had more to do with WR Solomon Patton's wheels than Murphy's arm strength or accuracy, so the road to the Georgia Dome just got a lot more difficult for Florida.
And Tennessee...good Lord Tennessee, your tears are like gumdrops. By all means, please continue in your mediocrity, as we rejoice at your every failing. Just when it looks like Butch Jones may be on the way to righting the Big Orange ship, he goes and benches his starting QB Justin Worley in probably the most meaningful (and winnable) "big" game the Vols have on the schedule this year. Insert green redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman, and what did Jones get? Three turnovers in 17 minutes of play. That, right there, folks, is awesome. (#coaching) This slop-fest of a game featured a total of nine turnovers, and six of those belonged to the men in orange (no, not that more natural orange...the pumpkin-puked-up-Tang orange that they wear in the county lock-up).
While I don't want to beat the broken, I did want to point out the Universe has a sense of irony, as Driskel broke his leg on....you guessed it, a play that resulted in an interception.
On to the week's other notable game, the AU tears flowed like a clear, cool mountain spring as their hopes and dreams came tumbling down around them in Tigah Stadium this weekend. The Tigers beat the other Tigers by a score of 35-21, and the game wasn't that close. I live in Alabama, and after a week of "AUBARN IZ BACK BABAY!" splattered all over the local sports talk, it was refreshing to see LSU put a boot on the neck of the AU Nation and crush their souls. I will hand it to the lil' Tigers, they did fight back after Les and crew got sallow in their play-calling. But LSU exposed what many who've watched AU already knew this year: they are an improved team, but still not ready to compete for anything meaningful.
But the Auburn faithful should take a little pride in the way their team didn't just give up when down 21-0. That said, they couldn't muster a score until the third quarter, while Jeremy Hill eviscerated the Auburn defense (only because Craig Sanders wasn't in the AU line-up..., nah, I can't say that with a straight face) to the tune of 183 yards rushing and three touchdowns. I won't lie, Hill looked good, and right now, LSU's young offensive line is playing with more consistency than Alabama's young offensive line. Mett had his most pedestrian game of the season, throwing for 229 yards with one TD and his first interception of the year. AU QB Nick Marshall mustered 224 yards passing with two costly interceptions, and Auburn wisely leaned on RB Tre Mason, who picked up 132 yards on 26 carries with a pair of scores.
AU looked like an improved version of last year's AU, but Auburn-ish nonetheless.
In other news around the SEC:
The Commodores "Vandy'd" their way to a win against lowly UMass this weekend, struggling to pull out a W in the fourth and final quarter by a score of 24-7. At the half, Vanderbilt had only a three point lead at 10-7, but quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels awakened the ‘Dore's offense with two TDs to pull away for the ugly victory. Is it too early to claim that maybe James Franklin's meteoric rise was a little premature? Vanderbilt has looked decidedly weaker than last year thus far in the season, and they were forecast to be in the middle tier of the SEC East by some pundits. Has Mark Richt lost control of James Franklin's control of the Vandy program? We'll find out soon enough.
Georgia also struggled at times early in their contest with the outmatched North Texas Fightin' Texicans (all of the other cool Texas-centric names were already taken), leading only by a touchdown at the half. The Dawgs went on to win handily by a score of 45-21. Aaron Murray recovered from an early interception in the end zone to have a record-setting performance. Murray's first TD pass of the day was the 100th in his career, and he went on to add 101 and 102 later in the second half. He also moved to second all-time in SEC history in terms of total yardage, pulling in behind leader and Heisman winner Danny Weurffel of Florida. Despite their troubles early, the Dawgs went on to dominate the second half of the game, though there are some obvious weaknesses. Their defense is still too porous, and their offensive line leaves something to be desired at this point in the season. On special teams, they allowed a punt return for a TD, to boot. But Murray and his stable of receivers are in tune this year, and for goodness sake, any offensive backfield that features Gurley, Marshall and Hicks is just plain scary, y'all. Georgia has some flaws, but they appear to be the team to beat in the SEC East.
Arkansas....oh, Arkansas...your tears are like manna from Heaven, your sorrows make the green grass grow. In the ultimate display of #karma, Bret Bielema's RazorHawgs dropped yet another game to Rutgers by a score of 28-24. The Scarlet Pimpernels overcame a deep deficit in the fourth quarter in a comeback for the ages. Rutgers QB Gary "Super" Nova ravished the ailing Arky defense, throwing for 250+ yards in the fourth quarter after entering the period with his team down by 10. Nova finished with 346 yards passing and three TDs against the hapless Hawg defense, and the Scarlet Knights even found a way to stop the Hawg's freshman RB tandem of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. The pair were held below 100 yards combined on the day, which marks the first time this season that Collins has not reached the century mark in a game. Woe unto the RazorHawg Nation, as thanks to Jen Bielema, Old Man Karma has come to town. Unfortunately for Arky, it looks like he's kickin' a$$ and takin' names.
Johnny Football and Texas A&M went back to competing for the Texas Cup, beating yet another underling in the Texas hierarchy, this time in the form of Southern Methodist by a score of 42-13. JFF had his usual all-offense day with 244 yards passing and 102 yards on the ground with three TDs. In other news, the aTm defense is still awful, as they allowed Craig James University to amass 310 yards passing to some kid named Garrett Gilbert. (Admittedly, at game's end, all parties agreed that SMU would have won had Colt not been injured.)
Alabama continued the masterful Saban-devised "rode-a-dope" troll of all teams in the Southeastern Conference, sludging along to a sloppy 31-6 win over Colorado State and former Bama OC Jim McElwain. (See, Saban's just trying to fool everyone into thinking we're not that good, then.....BOOM!...#GumpsterFire) While many expected a letdown after last week's fireworks, Bama looked even more out of synch than in their previous outings. Don't pull the fire alarm just yet, but right now, Saban's biggest enemy is likely the litany of distractions that are swirling around the program (Fluker, Saban to Texas, AJ and K-Dub's supposed break-up, #1 ranking). Not to take anything away from McElwain, as his Rams seized he sense of urgency and put forth their best effort on a national stage, but Bama was not Bama for the second time this year. However, the Tide is a potent team when not firing on all cylinders, so one would hope that once everyone is on the same page, their traditional lethality will return. McCarron had a good, if not great, performance with 258 yards passing with one TD, but he forced an interception that was ill-advised, at best. The O line continued to struggle in the running game, though for the most part, their pass blocking efforts have kept AJ unhurried and clean-shirted. What was puzzling was a lack of a run game, as not only did Bama average only about four yards per carry, but the offense opted for the fewest running attempts in Saban's tenure. Puzzling to say the least, troubling at worst. Once again, Bama's special teams came through with an explosive play, as Kenyan Drake blocked a punt that was scooped up for the score by reserve linebacker Dillon Lee. The game lacked intensity, but such has been the case for the Tide following a huge win in recent years. Let's hope that the team comes into the game this week against Ole Miss focused, healthy, and ready to dominate...on one...BREAK!
Mississippi State took out their Barn-based frustrations on Troy this week, as apparently, the Trojans are the only team this side of the state line that the Bulldogs can manhandle. QB Dak Prescott had something to prove, doing his best JFF Jr. impression. Prescott threw for 233 yards and a TD, ran for 53 yards and two TDs, and caught a 36 yard TD pass from Jameon Lewis to hit for the cycle. Lewis also had a big day with a 50 yard receiving touchdown, an eight yard rush for a TD and the aforementioned TD pass to Prescott.
Mizzou kept their record at 3-0 with an offensive display against perennial powerhouse Indiana (I didn't say they were a perennial football powerhouse, now did I?), breaking open a close game with a defensive play en route to a 45-28 win. (The Other) James Franklin finished the day with 343 yards passing with two TDs and two interceptions, and RB Russell Hansbrough had 13 totes for 104 yards and a touchdown. The high-powered offenses were locked in a duel until Mizzou defensive end Kony Ealy went all Marcel Dareus on the Hoosiers, as he intercepted a pass and returned it for a pick six. Sometimes I forget Missouri is in the SEC...but at least they're undefeated, Arkansas...
This week we get into the meat of the SEC schedule, with several semi-high profile games across the board. Though we're beginning to get a picture re: contenders and pretenders, it's still early and there's much to be decided. Stay tuned...