I agree with all of that. I found the Brian Poole thing disturbing. Calling it a bang-bang play is not how a coach should react to that. In my mind it was a poster child for targeting. And you're right about the SEC being a little unsteady at this point. I think that changes with time, but we're one LSU and one 'Bama loss from having no undefeated teams down the road, as Oregon and Ohio State, and perhaps other teams, skate through their schedule.
There weren’t a whole lot of aesthetically-pleasing games out there this weekend, which itself is become a theme in the SEC this year. At the bottom of this wrap, we’ll also discuss some turnover data, we’ll look at the value of quarterbacks, and we’ll ask just who are we cheering for these days?
Vanderbilt 24, UMass 7
It might have been played in an NFL stadium, but there was nothing “next level” about this contest. Vanderbilt evened it record. That’s it for the good news. The Commodores led the Minutemen — a team that had lost its first three games 106-21 — by just three points (10-7) at the end of three quarters. While the Commodores did gain 166 yards on the ground, it took them 39 carries (4.3 yards per rush) to do so. UMass came into the game allowing 323 yards per game on the ground.
Georgia 45, North Texas 21
Another one for the trash bin. Georgia was tied with the Mean Green at 21 less than a minute into the second half. Yes, they pulled away. And, yes, Aaron Murray wound up passing for 408 yards and three scores (against one interception). But this was a sloppy game played in front of a poor crowd in Athens. North Texas isn’t a bad squad, granted. But anyone watching this game had to be thinking to themselves: “Maybe it is time for the big boys to just play only amongst themselves.” Even Georgia’s special teams (a 99-yard kick return and a blocked punt allowed) looked disinterested.
Florida 31, Tennessee 17
Some college football games are so exciting, so awe-inspiring that video and audio recordings of them need to be placed in time capsules for future Earthlings to look at and enjoy. And then there are games like Florida/Tennessee 2013. There were nine turnovers total. There was an interception that comedically slipped and then fluttered from Vol quarterback Nathan Peterman’s hand. There was a fumbled shotgun snap that even more ridiculously caromed off of Gator QB Tyler Murphy’s face. It was an awful, awful football game. Even worse for Florida, they lost starting quarterback Jeff Driskel for the year and saw several key defensive backs injured or, in one case, ejected from the game. At least they got the win. The Vols were left to wonder what might have been had they stuck with Justin Worley as their starting signal-caller.
Rutgers 28, Arkansas 24
In case the first three weeks of the season and the first three games from Saturday weren’t enough to convince you that the SEC — as a whole — is down this year, Rutgers scored 21 straight points in about 17 minutes to hand Arkansas its first loss of the year. It was the Hogs’ second loss to the Scarlet Knights in as many seasons. Arkansas was without injured starting quarterback Brandon Allen and backup AJ Derby was only so-so in this stead. For anyone doubting Rutgers’ top-five placement on the national rushing-yards-allowed charts, Saturday was a wake-up call. The Razorbacks’ ground n’ pound attack was held to 101 yards on 34 carries (3.0 yard per rush). On the other side of the ball, Arkansas allowed 346 passing yards to Gary Nova and his Knights. (Here’s hoping he has brother named Bossa, Terra, Villa and Super.)
Texas A&M 42, SMU 13
Finally, an SEC team that played up to snuff on Saturday. It was no surprise that Johnny Manziel did his thing against June Jones’ Mustangs (14-of-21 for 244 yards, one TD and one pick plus 102 yards rushing with two more scores). Texas A&M has now scored 40 points in its first four games for the first time ever. What was a surprise — and a pleasant one at that — was the Aggie defense. One of the worst units in the nation in several statistical categories, A&M’s D allowed just 13 points. Sure, SMU still through for 341 and posted 434 yards overall, but considering how bad the Aggie defense had played this season and how bad the SEC looked last weekend, you celebrate even baby steps. And allowing 13 points was a baby step in the right direction.
Alabama 31, Colorado State 6
You can start asking questions about the Crimson Tide again. After Alabama’s win over Virginia Tech, the ground game and offensive line were hot topics. After Bama’s win at Texas A&M, a suddenly leaky defense became a concern. On Saturday — in a game in which UA needed 14 fourth-quarter points to pull away — the offense found its way back into the spotlight. Alabama ran for just 66 yards. Against 1-3 Colorado State. AJ McCarron passed for 272, but make no mistake, this was not an impressive performance by the Tide. There are two ways of looking at Nick Saban’s club so far. One, imagine what they can do when they fire on all cylinders. Two, is this club destined to disappoint because it is incapable of firing on all cylinders? Ole Miss is next. Bama had better be ready.
Mississippi State 62, Troy 7
Kudos to MSU fill-in quarterback Dak Prescott. He tallied 288 yards of total offense and was directly responsible for three of the Bulldogs’ eight touchdowns. Why State rolled up 551 yards of offense and held a 45-7 lead at halftime. Once again Dan Mullen’s team has all the makings of a Sun Belt Conference champ. Quarterback Tyler Russell will return from his concussion for MSU’s next game. And that game will be at LSU, which should be considerably tougher than the Alcorn States and Troys the Mullen’s teams traditionally subdue. Time for the Dogs to take a bite out of a real team.
LSU 35, Auburn 21
So what did we learn from this one? That LSU running back Jeremy Hill is pretty darn good (184 yards and three touchdowns). That our prediction of LSU winning the SEC West doesn’t look too crazy yet. And that LSU can gut out a victory when its opponent fights back. We also learned that Auburn isn’t upper-echelon to this point, but the Tigers do appear to be going in the right direction. We learned that Auburn’s ground game is pretty solid (213 yards against LSU’s defense). And that Gus Malzahn’s team won’t quit. LSU built a 28-7 lead only to see Auburn cut it to 35-21. With a minute to play Auburn was in LSU’s red zone trying to cut the Bayou Bengals’ lead to seven points. This wasn’t a bad showing for either club in the grand scheme of things… which was a rarity last Saturday.
Missouri 45, Indiana 28
Don’t look now but Mizzou’s offense is looking super-charged. Quarterback James Franklin threw for 343 yards and rushed for another 61 to lead the Tigers to a big — if sloppy — win on the road. Both Missouri and Indiana came into the game with top 10 offenses and both piled up the yardage (623 for MU, 475 for IU). They also turned the ball over three times each. But in the end, the Tigers were able to author a few more defensive stops than the Hoosiers, thanks in large part to the return of linebacker Andrew Wilson. Wilson was suspended for the first half due to an ejection the week prior. When he took the field in the second half, defensive coordinator Dave Steckel used him as both a linebacker and a defensive end which helped to confuse and frustrate Indiana’s attack.
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers
To date, SEC teams have played a grand total of 42 football games this season. In 34 of those contests, one team has held an advantage in turnover margin at game’s end. Of those those 34 squads that won the turnover battle, 24 of them won the game. That’s a record of 24-10 and a winning percentage of 71% for teams winning the turnover battle. There have been 16 games in which an SEC team has played a conference foe or a team from another BCS AQ league with one of the team’s holding a turnover advantage. In these SEC versus BCS contests, the team with fewer turnovers has won 13 of 16 games for a winning percentage of 81%. Aside from the obvious — points on the scoreboard — good luck trying to find a more telling statistic in the game of football.
If turnovers are the most important stat line to follow, quarterbacks are the most important players to watch. For example…
Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Auburn, Missouri, and Vanderbilt have all had clear-cut leaders at the QB position. Those teams are a combined 25-6 on the season.
Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi State, and Arkansas have all started two different quarterbacks. Florida will have to start another QB moving forward after Tyler Murphy replaced Jeff Driskel early in Saturday’s contest. Those teams have a combined record of 10-8.
A lot of things go into winning a football game, but if you win the turnover battle and have a steady, solidly-entrenched starting quarterback, you’ll be miles ahead of the game in the Southeastern Conference.
Who Are We Cheering For?
On Saturday afternoon, Florida defensive back Brian Poole was ejected for targeting Tennessee tight end Brendan Downs. The rule might be controversial, but the call was not. Poole launched himself helmet-first into the head/neck of Downs. It was a dirty hit and there’s no room for it in the game (even if it was — as Will Muschamp said — a “bang-bang play”). As Poole exited Florida Field, he wore a smile on his face. His teammates high-fived him. And the crowd cheered him. Had Downs stayed on the turf injured, would Gator fans have reacted differently? Probably not.
Later than evening, LSU fans at Tiger Stadium cheered loudly and proudly for running Jeremy Hill. Hill has been arrested twice now for violent crimes, the last coming in the spring. Yet Les Miles and the LSU administration believe him to be a good guy — and they can see he’s certainly a good player — so he has been allowed to don the purple and gold as a representative of Louisiana State University. And as he broke of a 49-yard touchdown run in the first quarter versus Auburn, LSU fans let Hill — and a national audience watching ESPN — know that they could care less about his off-field behavior so long as he can tote that pigskin.
This isn’t to pick on Florida or LSU fans. It’s just something that was very noticeable on Saturday. “If you put on my team’s jersey, I’ll pull for you no matter what you do.” That’s not an earth-shattering realization. It’s been that way for years.
But that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.