Another weekend down and the song remains the same: SEC defenses are getting trashed like Led Zeppelin’s hotel rooms. We’ll provide our views on each SEC contest this weekend plus a couple of extra points at the bottom.
Without further ado, here’s this week’s Weekend Wrap…
Alabama 45, Georgia State 3
On the one hand, it’s not easy to complete 15 of 16 passes against air. On the other hand, AJ McCarron’s opponent on Saturday wasn’t much more stout than air. Bama’s QB went 15-of-16 passes for 166 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in one half of play against poor ol’ Georgia State. Welcome to the FBS, boys. So emphasize just how undermanned the Panthers were, McCarron’s backup — Blake Sims — completed 14-of-18 for 130 and a score. The Tide threw 34 passes on Saturday and 29 were completed. GSU coach Trent Miles said: “They did a great job of doing what they wanted to do, when they wanted to do it.” Yes, the Tide did that well. Whether or not the #1 team in the FBS should schedule — arguably — team #124 in the FBS is another matter. (Hint: It shouldn’t.)
Georgia 34, Tennessee 31
The Volunteers couldn’t pull of the upset, but the fight they showed provided the surprise of the weekend. Georgia looked to be on the way to the expected blowout, up 10-0 about 11 minutes into the game. But Keith Marshall’s knee injury clearly caught the Dawgs off stride. That opening was all the Vols needed to turn Saturday’s contest into a wild, thriller. Ticket-buyers at Neyland Stadium got their money’s worth seeing: a UT team in gray uniforms, a 56-yard field goal from Georgia, three fourth-down conversions by the Vols, enough UGA players carted off to fill a hospital wing, an unforced goal line fumble in overtime by Tennessee and a game-winning field goal from the Dawgs’ Marshall Morgan. Offensive coordinators Mike Bobo and Mike Bajakian traded brilliant call for brilliant call before Aaron Murray finally led his team to victory. The game could — could, mind you — be a turning point for Butch Jones’ Vols. We already know that the win came at a heavy price for UGA’s Mark Richt.
Auburn 30, Ole Miss 22
Before the season, Gus Malzahn was tabbed as the new coach most likely to enjoy quick success. So far, he’s right on schedule. Auburn now sits at 4-1 — the Plainsmen won just three games all last season — after a surprising homefield win over Ole Miss on Saturday. They captured the Rebels’ flag despite having just 93 yards passing on the day. Of course, when quarterback Nick Marshall runs for 140 yards and two scores, he’s contributing in other ways. The Tigers are cranking out 242 rushing yards per game which has them ranked #2 in the conference. Meanwhile, Ole Miss suffered a second straight stumble. The Rebs put up 464 yards of offense, but Auburn recorded six sacks and a staggering 14 tackles for loss. Before Bo Wallace opened his mouth last two weeks ago and said his team could score on anyone, UM was averaging 38 points per game. Since Wallace’s comment, Ole Miss has averaged 11 points per game. Their once pristine 3-0 record now sits at 3-2 with back-to-back games against Texas A&M and LSU on the docket next.
Florida 30, Arkansas 10
OK, so maybe The Sporting News’ Matt Hayes was right about Tyler Murphy. He’s faced Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas to date — not exactly the pick of the SEC defensive litter — but he continues to succeed. Against the Hogs the redshirt junior was 16-of-22 for 240 yards, three TDs and zero interceptions. That’s the kind of stuff that will have Gator fans asking, “Why was he on the bench.” In another positive development, Brent Pease might have found a playmaker on offense in receiver Solomon Patton. The 5-9 mighty mite caught six passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns of 51 and 38 yards. Meanwhile, Florida’s defense lived up to its billing and stood strong against Arkansas’ ground attack, even without Dominique Easley managing the interior of the Gator line. Hog quarterback Brandon Allen was just 17-of-41 on the day with a miserable 4.0 yards-per-attempt average. Riding a three game losing streak, and upset of South Carolina this coming Saturday is all that stands between Arkansas and a state of free fall.
LSU 59, Mississippi State 26
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Coming the trouncing off the trouncing of a non-BCS squad, MSU fans gathered with cowbells in hand to witness a breakthrough win… that never came. LSU obliterated the Bulldog defense with 28 first-half points and another 28 fourth-quarter points as well as 563 yards of offense. Zach Mettenberger coolly dissected State’s secondary for 340 yards on 25-of-29 passing. Toss in a 157-yard effort from Jeremy Hill (including a 69-yard, first-quarter TD burst) and the Tigers pulled away easily. For Maroon fans looking for positives, State did lead 23-21 for about six minutes in the first half. They also found 468 yards worth of holes in LSU’s defense. The offense looked good under surprise starter Dak Prescott and surprise backup Tyler Russell. Just not good enough to come within 33 points of an SEC West foe at home. Judging my the messageboards and emails to MrSEC.com, patience for Mullen’s rebuilding efforts is starting to wane down Starkville way. Good thing Bowling Green — another non-BCS program — visits on Saturday.
Missouri 51, Vanderbilt 28
So maybe everyone should hold off on the whole “Southern Cal should hire James Franklin” thing. After rocketing the Commodores to two bowls in as many years — including a nine-win season last year — Franklin’s Dores are struggling. Now 0-3 in the SEC, they’ve allowed 39, 35 and 51 points to conference foes Ole Miss, South Carolina and Missouri. While Vandy rolled up 468 yards of total offense, the defensive performance was so poor that Franklin apologized to his team’s fans after the game. As for the other James Franklin, well, the Mizzou QB had a much better evening. The fully rebounded signal-caller was 19-of-28 passing for 278 yards, four scores and no picks. He also ran for 63 yards. Gary Pinkel — his seat cooling by the week — has now matched last year’s win total with an offense that ranks second in the SEC in scoring, first in rushing and fourth in passing. A wounded Georgia team with a so-so defense catches Mizzou next. Bulldogs beware… and not just because of Missouri’s offense. Defensive end Michael Sam has recorded back-to-back three-sack games for Tigers.
South Carolina 35, Kentucky 28
By now you know all about Jadeveon Clowney’s decision not to play for Carolina on Saturday. Too bad, the Cocks could have used him. Once again Steve Spurrier’s team built a lead and once again they watched it slip away in the second half. It happened against Vanderbilt. It happened against UCF. It happened Saturday against a Kentucky team that showed a lot more resiliency than most pundits would have expected. USC watched a 27-7 rout turn into a 27-21 barnburner with eight minutes to play. In the end, quarterback Connor Shaw and running back Mike Davis proved to be too much for Mark Stoops’ squad (the two had a hand in 418 of Carolina’s 453 yards of offense). Despite the loss, the Cats might have found — and you can bet Big Blue fans hope they found — a quarterback they can ride. Handed the reins to the offense, Jalen Whitlow went 17-of-24 for 178 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. On top of that he added 69 yards and another score on the ground. Only one problem for Whitlow. It’ll likely be hard for him to match last Saturday’s effort as top-ranked Alabama heads to Lexington this week.
Time To Rethink What Good And Bad Defenses Are
We are living in a brand new world, folks. A world where offense reigns and defense — for the most part — stinks. Baylor is leading the nation in total offense this season. Know what they’re averaging per game? Try 779 yards per contest. That’s not football, that’s pinball. But we’ve seen this trend finally spread all the way to the SEC in 2013. Four SEC teams are averaging more than 500 yards per game (Texas A&M, Missouri and Georgia). Another three schools (LSU, South Carolina and Mississippi State) are averaging 450+ yards per contest. With all those wacky offensive numbers — and they really are offensive to football purists — it’s probably time to rethink our definitions for good and bad defenses. Allowing 400 yards of offense used to be a bad day at the office. Now it’s becoming commonplace.
Florida Stands Out
Over the weekend, 13 SEC schools were in action. Ten of those teams allowed at least 26 points. Mull that one over for a minute or two. Now remember that we’re talking about the Southeastern Conference, a league built on Big D. This was no one-week blip on the radar, either. Two SEC schools are allowing more than 500 yards per game against BCS-level competition (Tennessee and Vanderbilt). Another eight schools are allowing 400+ yards of total offense. Last year, only six SEC schools gave up more than 400 yards per game and none allowed more than 500 on average. So hats off to Alabama (348.3), South Carolina (365.0) and Ole Miss (a surprising 388.8) who are all allowing less than 400 yards per game of offense to BCS squads. But the biggest salute has to go to Will Muschamp’s Florida Gators. UF is allowing just 220.0 yards per contest to BCS’ers. That’s a full 128 yards less than Alabama is yielding. Florida’s defense has been terrific. The fact that its been as terrific in the current all-offense environment is even more impressive. Saaaaaa-lute.
Aaron Murray Is The Best QB in the SEC
Johnny Manziel or AJ McCarron? That question was put to yours truly by dozens of radio hosts this summer as we raced toward the 2013 season. There was no wrong answer. Both are terrific quarterbacks and it’s hard to imagine them not being first-round NFL draft picks in the spring. But I wish I could go back and toss out a write-in answer to that question. Because if I were an NFL GM in need of a quarterback, I’d tab the guy from Athens. Aaron Murray set the all-time SEC passing mark last Saturday against Tennessee. He’s got at least seven more games to add to his mark. This season he’s rendered the “can’t win the big one talk” moot. Wins over South Carolina and LSU in shoot-out fashion should silenced every critic. If not, his performance in Knoxville — with one teammate after another going down — should have done the trick. His numbers might fade a bit as he attempts to build a rapport with his new receivers. There was a noticeable lack of chemistry in UGA’s passing game until Saturday’s last-minute, overtime-forcing drive. But Murray’s got the arm and the brain to thrive in the NFL. His stats are more than paper-thin, they’re inked with grit and wins. McCarron and Manziel are special quarterbacks. But for my money, Murray’s the most special QB in the league. It would have been fun to see what he could have done with a full arsenal of weapons all season long.