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Malzahn: A Genius Or Just Another Guy?

In a very short period of time, Gus Malzahn has built a reputation for being one of the nation’s top offensive gurus.  His rapid-fire attack helped fast-track him from the high school ranks all the way to the SEC as a coordinator.  And last year he became a top head coaching candidate as his Auburn offense rolled to a BCS title.

But just how unstoppable is his offense in reality? 

Below are Auburn’s offensive rankings in four main categories in 2009, 2010 and 2011.  We look only at the Tigers’ results against SEC foes (SEC rank in parentheses):


Season
Rushing Offense
Passing Offense
Total Offense
Scoring Offense
2009
203.6 ypg (2)
173.5 ypg (9)
377.1 ypg (4)
25.0 (5)
2010
289.8 ypg (1)
188.4 ypg (8)
478.3 ypg (2)
40.2 (1)
2011
188.4 ypg (2)
135.7 ypg (12)
324.1 ypg (6)
20.9 (7)



Think Cam Newton made a difference for Malzahn?  Across the board, Auburn was better last year than in either of the offensive coordinators’ other two seasons on The Plains.

The Tigers rushed for 86 more yards per game.  They passed for 15 more yards per game .  They rolled up 101 more yards per game overall.  And they scored 15 points per game more with Newton than without.  Two touchdowns a game can make a heckuva difference in a squad’s final record.

Not all of that is Malzahn’s fault, of course.  Urban Meyer looked better with Tim Tebow, too.  Special players make special coaches.

And that is our overall point.  Without a special quarterback, Malzahn appears to know how to run the football well, but his teams score at a middle-of-the-pack pace in the SEC.

As a head coach away from the SEC and its brutal defenses — say at North Carolina in the so-so ACC — Malzahn may set the world on fire.  But inside his current conference, it appears Auburn’s OC needs a very special, dual threat quarterback to make his offense truly hum.

Malzahn’s a good offensive coordinator, but genius?  We’ll need to see some more big numbers before we go that far.

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SEC In The NFL – Georgia Tops Florida, Again

The Georgia Bulldogs got the best of the Florida Gators on Saturday in Jacksonville.  They did again the next day in Denver – at least when it came to the performances of the two quarterbacks.

Matthew Stafford (Georgia) and the Detroit Lions blew out Tim Tebow (Florida) and the Denver Broncos 45-10 at Sports Authority Field Sunday afternoon.

Stafford completed 21-of-30 passes for 267 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.  Quarterback rating – a Sunday best 130.8

Tebow finished the game 18-of-39 for 172 yards, one TD, one interception and a quarterback rating of 56.8.

QB rating or scoreboard totals – Stafford won convincingly.  For the struggling Tebow, the inevitable questions are being raised.

“How long,” wonders Denver Post columnist Dave Kreiger, “before Bronco fans and Tebow fans part company?”

“It’s not his fault,” said Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch in regards to Tebow’s struggling performance. “It’s the media that gives him hype. Obviously, he’s a young player.  He has a lot of learning to do.  Taking nothing from him, he’s a great player, he just has to find his niche as an NFL quarterback and I think he’ll be able to do so in due time.”

Tebow was sacked seven times on the day, including one time by Tulloch who struck the “Tebowing” pose afterwards.

Lions tight end Tony Scheffler also mimicked the one- knee prayer following a second-quarter touchdown.

A story earlier in the week at NFL.com had hyped the game as Good (Tebow) vs. Evil (Ndamukong Suh of the Lions).

But as news Detroit News columnist John Niyo wrote after the game, “this was simply good vs. bad. The Lions are a good team.  The Broncos are a bad team.”

Broncos coach John Fox initially refused to commit to Tebow as his starting quarterback next week against Oakland but has apparently changed his mind – for now.

“For this week, yes.” Fox said when asked about it today, in a less than ringing endorsement, amid calls for Tebow to perhaps consider another position or the Broncos to consider dumping him following this season.

As for Stafford’s performance, Mike O’Hara reminds us that the Lions haven’t had a Pro Bowl quarterback in 40 years – Greg Landry back in 1971.  But that drought should end this year.

Speaking of impressive quarterbacks, Eli Manning (Ole Miss) and Cam Newton (Auburn) continue to shine while their teams move in opposite directions.

Manning threw for 349 yards and two touchdowns as the Giants moved to 5-2 with a come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Miami.

“Eli made some big plays,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin.  “Obviously he threw the ball a lot today. No turnovers, no interceptions, and he made plays when we had to have them. Once again, he did a very good job.”

Newton threw three touchdown passes for Carolina but the Panthers came up short three points short against the Minnesota Vikings when a last-minute field goal attempt missed.

The Panthers dropped to 2-5 but the Carolina rookie drew praise from the opposing coach.

“(Newton’s) a terrific athlete,” said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who also started a rookie quarterback in Christian Ponder. “He’s a guy who has a great head on his shoulders and really understands football. He knows how to make plays and he has a great future in the National Football League.”

Arian Foster (Tennessee) had his third 100-yard rushing game of the season Sunday, carrying the ball  33 times for 112 yards in the Houston Texans 24-14 win over Jacksonville.

Foster and teammate Ben Tate (Auburn) have combined to rush for 1,040 yards in the first eight weeks of the season.

Finally, Marcell Dareus’ (Alabama) move from defensive end to nose tackle paid off in a big way for the Buffalo Bills Sunday.  Buffalo shutout Washington 23-0 and the Bills defensive line dominated.

Buffalo had nine sacks – Dareus was credited with 2 ½.  His teammate – linebacker Chris Kelsay was impressed.

“He’s a force to be reckoned with,” Kelsay said. “He’s got a number of years ahead of him playing like that. We’re fortunate that he’s on our side.”

The nine sacks by Buffalo’s defense were the second-most in team history.

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SEC In The NFL – “Weirdest Home Game Ever” As Tebow Rallies Broncos In Miami

Six NFL quarterbacks got their first start under center in Week 7 of the NFL schedule.

John Beck started in place of Rex Grossman (Florida) for the Washington Redskins – and lost 33-20.

Kyle Boller lasted just over one-half against the Kansas City Chiefs – as the Raiders were shutout 28-0.

A.J. Feeley started for the injured Sam Bradford as St. Louis traveled to Dallas – and were blown out 34-7.

Charlie Whitehurst took place under center for Seattle just in time for the snoozefest in Cleveland – as the Browns beat the Seahawawks 6-3.

Rookie Christian Ponder, the Vikings first round-pick, had to face the World Champion Green Bay Packers in his first start – and got beat 33-27.

Returning to his home state, Tim Tebow (Florida) led the Denver Broncos into Miami – and won 18-15 in overtime.

Six 2011 debuts – one only win.  And what an improbably victory it was.

”Weirdest Home Game Ever,” read part of a Miami Herald headline.

Tebow’s start coupled with Dolphins honoring the 2008 National Champion Florida Gators at halftime produced the following spectacle, as noted by columnist Greg Cote.

It “meant half of the crowd was cheering for the opponent’s quarterback.  It also meant the other half of the crowd (including many University of Miami fans) were booing the halftime ceremony honoring the Gators.

“You heard chants of “Te-bow!” and chants of “Te-bow sucks!”- sometime a simultaneous dual.”

The game itself wasn’t much of a dual for the first three-and-a-half quarters.  Miami led 15-0 and Tebow looked bad.  Really bad.

“Through almost 55 minutes of football at Sun Life Stadium, Tebow looked like he might not even survive his debut as a starter this season,” wrote columnist Israel Gutierrez.

“He was so bad, the Twitter universe was overwhelmed with jokes about his inaccuracy, his awkwardness in the pocket, his random 360-degree spins and how obvious it was that the Denver coaching staff had little-to-no-trust in him as a passer.”

On the last two drives of regulation, Tebow began earning their trust.

The Broncos quarterback threw two touchdown passes in 2:44 and tied the game by running in a two-point conversion with 17 seconds left.

Denver kicker Matt Prater kicked a 52-yard field goal in overtime and the Broncos walked out a winner.

The Denver Post, citing Elias Sports Bureau figures, notes that no team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 had ever been down by as many as 15 points with less than three minutes remaining and won.

Behold.  The Miracle in Miami.

“It’s my fault that we were in that (15-0) situation in the first place.  I just have to play better in the first three quarters so we don’t have to make that comeback in the fourth,” said Tebow after the game.

Just how bad was Tebow before the final drives of regulation?  The Broncos QB had completed just 4-of-14 passes for 40 yards.  But in the end, Tebow and the Broncos got exactly what they wanted – a win in Miami.

“He’s a guy that as long as there’s time on the clock, he’s going to give us a chance to win,” said John Elway after the game.  “Those are the things you can’t coach.”

For other “Tim-Tastic” coverage, check out the roundup at ProFootballtalk.com.

The Dolphins meltdown has plenty in the media speculating about the future of head coach Tony Sparano.  As part of the Florida Gators celebration, Urban Meyer was in the stadium Sunday and spent time talking with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross in the second half.

Before the game, Ross was photographed with one arm around Meyer and the other around Don Shula.

The Miami Herald says a coaching change with the Dolphins is coming and that Meyer seemed to impress Ross.  But the paper says that if Meyer ever returns to coaching, it will likely be at the collegiate level but later added that “Meyer seemed to join the conversation Sunday.”

Some other SEC-related news from around the league:

Cam Newton (Auburn) and Carolina won for the second time this season while the QB tied a rookie record. The Panthers beat Washington 33-20 as Newton rushed for his seventh touchdown this season – tying a rookie record for most rushing scores for a quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

“The kid is a pretty Ferrari,” said Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall.  “He can run. He can throw.  He’s got the entire package. He’s going to a be a player in this league for a long time.”

Newton completed 18-of-23 passes for 256 yards and one touchdown.

Jay Cutler (Vanderbilt) wasn’t great on Sunday, but good enough to win as Chicago beat Tampa Bay in London.  Cutler was 17-32 with one touchdown and two interceptions in the game.  Afterwards, he refused to blame the long-distance travel.

“You know, the travel and all that had nothing to do with the football game,” Cutler said. “We could have gotten here yesterday. It’s a matter of going out and executing, limiting turnovers. That’s what wins football games, not getting here a week early or three days. It has nothing to do with it.”

The Houston Texans had not one but two former SEC running backs cross the 100-yard mark on Sunday.

Both Arian Foster (Tennessee) and Ben Tate (Auburn) crossed the century mark as the Texans blasted the Tennessee Titans 41-7.  Foster wound 115 yards rushing while Tate finished with 104.

“When I go out there and see him get a touchdown or break a run, I start going nuts on the sideline because I want to do the same thing,” Tate said. “When I get my chance, I’m definitely trying to outdo him.”

For the season, Tate is the Texans leading rusher with 466 yards.  Foster is second with 420.

Rookie Mark Ingram (Alabama) and the Saints had their way with the Indianapolis Colts Sunday night – winning 62-7.  Ingram appeared to be on track for his first 100-yard game of his career but was sidelined by a fourth quarter injury.  He finished with 91 yards on 14 carries.

The injury was to his heel and Saints coach Sean Payton said after the game that x-rays were negative.

A few other injuries of notes:

Earnest Graham (Florida) Percy Harvin (Florida), Matthew Stafford (Georgia), Darren McFadden (Arkansas), and Mohamed Massaquoi (Georgia) all left the field on Sunday with various injuries for their respective teams.

Stafford was scheduled to have an MRI Monday for an injured leg, McFadden was believed to have sprained his foot, Harvin aggrevated a rib injury, Massaquoi suffered a head injury after getting hit following an incomplete pass over the middle and Graham reportedly suffered a torn Achilles tendon.

 

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SEC In The NFL – Campbell’s Collarbone, Cutler’s Comments

 The Oakland Raiders Jason Campbell (Auburn) suffered a broken collarbone Sunday but the quarterback says he could return to action as soon as six weeks.   An earlier report had Campbell out for the season.

“I’m having surgery today. It was a tough break,” Campbell said. “I’m going to stay positive. If everything goes right I could be back in six weeks.”

The Raiders are now 4-2 on the season after beating Cleveland 24-17.  Campbell went down with the injury in the second quarter.

With the trade deadline on Tuesday, what are the Raiders to do?

“If I was in at quarterback,” Darren McFadden (Arkansas) joshed Sunday, “we probably would have thrown for 600 yards, and the running backs would have been mad at me.”

A more serious option for Oakland could be Denver’s Kyle Orton, suddenly out of a job now that Tim Tebow (Florida) is now the Broncos starting quarterback.

Filling in for an injured LaGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay running back Earnest Graham (Florida) made the most of it Sunday, rushing for 109 yards in the Bucs 26-20 victory over New Orleans.  It marked Graham’s first 100-yard game since 2008.

“That Earnest Graham kid is a pretty good player,” said cornerback Ronde Barbee

Jay Cutler (Vanderbilt) had a special message for someone last night.

“Tell him I said (bleep) you,” was picked up by the cameras as Cutler moved to the line of scrimmage.

The subject of Cutler’s line was unknown but speculation has centered on Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz, known for taking his time calling plays which in turns leads to blowing multiple timeouts.

Cutler threw for 267 yards, connecting on 21-of-31 passes and two touchdowns as the Bears routed the Minnesota Vikings 39-10.

The Bears quarterback, who’s taking a beating this season from defensive lines, was sacked by the Vikings only once.

Chicago has changed its play-calling to help the offensive line.

‘It was a group effort,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘We’re all trying to manage what we can do on the football field. If we are smart about it, do the things we did [Sunday], more than likely we’re going to be successful.’’

A few other SEC-related notes from around the league:

Peyton Hillis (Arkansas) suffered a hamstring injured early in the Browns loss to the Raiders and underwent an MRI today.  Coach Pat Shurmer says Hillis is not being shopped prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline. Hillis rushed for 14 yards on six carries Sunday.

The New York Giants are 4-2 and lead the NFC East after the victory on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.  Eli Manning (Ole Miss) threw for 292 yards on 31 throws and coach Tom Couglin praised his quarterback after the game.  He “played very, very well,” said Coughlin.

Matthew Stafford (Georgia) threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns but struggled in the red zone as the Lions lost for the first time this season.  Stafford was only 4-of-10 in the red zone as San Francisco beat the Lions 25-19.

“We threw the ball a lot tonight, and sometimes that’s going to happen,” said Stafford.  “They played a lot of man underneath coverage, so you know your completion percentage isn’t going to be as high. Guys did a great job catching the ball for me.  We just didn’t do enough and make enough plays to win the game”

The Lions loss was overshadowed by fireworks after the game between the head coaches as Lions coach Jim Schwartz took exception to the celebration and post-game handshake from San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh.

The NFL announced that neither coach will be fined.

“On Detroit-SF coach incident, fortunately, there was no fighting and thus no basis for a fine,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. “However, both coaches told Ray Anderson today that their post-game conduct was wrong and will not happen again.”

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SEC In The NFL – Tebow Time In Denver

It’s finally Tim Tebow time in Denver.  Broncos’ fans got their wish on Sunday as the former Florida quarterback replace Kyle Orton in the second half against the San Diego Chargers (and was greeted with a standing ovation).

Down by 16 points, Tebow led two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, running for one score and throwing for another.  After a failed two-point conversion on the last touchdown that would have tied the game and a San Diego field goal put the Chargers up by five points, Tebow led a final Bronco drive, making it to the Charger 29-yard line before a pass was knocked down  as time expired.  San Diego won the game 29-24.

“It was fun to play football again,” Tebow said after the game, “but there is no rejoicing in a loss.”

The Broncos are off this week so that buys the Denver coaching staff some time to make decision on a starting QB but if coach John Fox names anyone but Tebow the starter, he may have to” build a fortress around his house so that the citizens of Denver don’t attack Fox’s family.”

Update: No surprise here.  Denver Post says Tebow likely to be be named starter. The Broncos are off this week and then head to Miami, giving Tebow a start in his home state.

For their part, The Chargers downplayed Tebow’s impact in Sunday’s game. “Believe me, there is a specific game plan you need when you’re playing a quarterback like him, and you’re torn a little bit when you’re facing two,” San Diego coach Norv Turner said.

A few other former SEC quarterbacks made news in a losing effort on Sunday.

Rookie Cam Newton (Auburn) continues to be the bright spot of the most exciting losing team in the NFL.  The Carolina Panthers are now 1-4 with all four losses coming on fourth-quarter scores.  On Sunday, the New Orleans Saints rallied to beat the Panthers 30-27.

“It hurts losing, period,” Newton said afterwards “You know you have standards and when you don’t meet that quota of yourself, you just ask yourself why. There’s a reason we keep losing and I want to know the reason.”

For the day, Newton was 16-of-31 for 224 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

No one threw for more yards this weekend than Eli Manning (Ole Miss).  The New York Giants quarterback was 24-of-39 for 420 yards and three TD passes against the Seattle Seahawks.  But Manning also threw three interceptions against the 10-point underdogs and the Giants lost the game 36-25.

Down 29-25, Manning had the Giants on the door step of taking the lead.  From the Seahawks 10-yard line, Manning threw a pick-six interception that put the game out of reach.

“It kind of came down to the one play at the end,” Manning said.  “We had a tipped ball that they picked up and intercepted.  It’s a shame to lose a game with that type of play.  I’d kind of rather get outplayed than one of the games when we had a chance but didn’t make the play.”

The 420 passing yards were a career-high for Manning.

A career-best for another Ole Miss alum Sunday in New England.  Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis went for 136 yards and two scores as the Patriots beat the New York Jets 30-21.

“BenJarvus is a great guy to block for,” Patriots guard Logan Mankins said. “He reads the play out, he finds the hole and he won’t fumble.”

Running back Arian Foster (Tennessee) crossed the 100-yard mark –as a receiver Sunday.  Foster caught five passes for 116 yards and rushed for 68 yards in the Texans 25-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders.

Kansas City wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (LSU) was key to the Chiefs 28-24 win in Indianapolis.  Bowe caught seven passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns.  If you haven’t seen it, check out this juggling touchdown catch by Bowe.

A few other SEC-related notes from around the league:

Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons (Georgia) should be included in the league’s top pass rushers, according to Danny O’Neil of the Seattle Times.  Clemons had two sacks in Seattle’s upset victory over New York. Clemons has four sacks on the season and led Seattle with 11 a year ago.

Oakland defensive tackle Richard Seymour (Georgia) had two sacks in the Raiders win over Texas. “I just felt like we grew up as a team today, we took a step forward as a team, we continued to fight,” Seymour said. “Last year, we probably would of lost this game.”

Green Bay Packers left tackle Chad Clifton (Tennessee) suffered a hamstring injury in Sunday night’s victory over the Atlanta Falcons and could miss several weeks.

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SEC In The NFL – A.J. Green & Julio Jones Putting Up Almost Identical Numbers

Many similarities exist between A.J. Green (Georgia) and Julio Jones(Alabama).  Both are wide receivers who played their Saturday football in the SEC, both were taken early in the first round of the NFL draft – Green went fourth to the Bengals while Jones went sixth to the Falcons– and a quarter of the way through their first NFL season, both wideouts find themselves atop the rookie leaderboard.

On Sunday, the symmetry continued as both players went over 100 receiving yards, their teams won close games and the Bengals and Falcons now sport identical 2-2 records.

Green caught four passes – including a couple of highlight grabs – for 118 yards in Cincinnati’s 23-20 victory over the previously undefeated Buffalo Bills.

On the road at Seattle, Jones caught 11 passes for 127 yards in Atlanta’s 30-28 victory over the Seahawks. Only seven players have ever caught more passes against Seattle.

It was the second this season Jones has had more than 100 yard receiving in a game.  Green has also crossed the century mark twice.

For the season, Jones leads all rookies in receiving yards with 342.  Second place? Green, of course.  He has 312 receiving yards.

Rookie running back Stevan Ridley (LSU) saw his most extension action on Sunday, carrying the ball 10 times for a game-high 97 yards in New England’s 31-19 victory over Oakland.

“The offensive line did an awesome job. Like I said, those were the biggest holes I’ve ever seen in my life. So I just had to keep running and hit them at full speed,” said the Patriots rookie.

While Ridley had more rushing yards than Oakland’s Darren McFaddeen (Arkansas) who finished with 75 yards on 14 carries, McFadden still leads the NFL in rushing for the season – with 468 yards and an impressive 6.2 yards per carry.

Matthew Stafford (Georgia) and his Detroit Lions are a weekly staple here on SEC in the NFL – and this week is no exception.  Stafford led the Lions back from a 20-point deficit for the second straight week as Detroit defeated Dallas 34-30.

“Any time you can come back from 20 down, you are doing some kind of stealing.  But you have to play great to steal one like this,” said the Lions quarterback.

The Lions trailed Dallas 27-3 in the third quarter before embarking on their comeback. The Lions defense was responsible for two touchdowns but Stafford led the Lions on two TD drives, including what proved to the game winning score with just 2:34 left in the fourth quarter.

Stafford finished with 240 yards passing on the day.  The Lions are 4-0 for the first time since 1980.

In Houston, it was the running game that made the difference against Pittsburgh. Arian Foster (Tennessee) played his first full game since last January and become only the third running back in the past decade to rush for more than 150 yards against the Steelers defense.

“One thing about him,” coach Gary Kubiak said, “if you don’t have a good play, that big body of his falls forward, and it’s still a 2- or 3-yard (gain). He’s always a falling-forward guy. That’s just the way he plays the game. It’s so positive with what we’re doing.”

Foster rushed for 155 yards on 30 carries in the Texans 17-10 win over the Steelers.

A few other notes from around the league:

Two former SEC quarterbacks faced off in Chicago.  One got the stats – the other got the victory.  Cam Newton (Auburn) threw for 374 yards but the Carolina Panthers fell short against Jay Cutler (Vanderbilt) and the Chicago Bears – losing 34-29.

Two SEC alums accounted for all the points for the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday.  Ryan Succop (South Carolina) kicked five goals – including one from 54 yards – and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (LSU) caught a 52-yard touchdown pass as the Chiefs got their first win of the season – beating Minnesota 22-17.

Eli Manning had another impressive game and the New York Giants got another win.  The Giants rallied to beat the Arizona Cardinals 31-27.  Manning threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns.

The last touchdown came right after perhaps the most controversial call of the weekend.  Receiver Victor Cruz caught a Manning pass, dropped to the ground, left the ball, and then got up– all without being touched.

“We got a break on that one I think,” said Manning after the game. “I thought it was going to get ruled a fumble and I saw it pretty clear.  I don’t know what the call was or why.”

The referee ruled that Cruz “game himself up” on the play and was therefore down. Manning connected with Hakeem Nicks on what proved to be the game-winning touchdown on the very next play. The Giants are 3-1.

And finally, a week in the NFL can’t go by without mentioning Tim Tebow (Florida) and the Denver Broncos.  Denver was crushed by the Packers on Sunday 49-23.  Tebow saw action for one play and lost a yard.  After the game, Denver coach John Fox said he’s sticking with the starter. “We feel Kyle Orton is our starting quarterback.”

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SEC In The NFL – McFadden Is The Man

Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden (Arkansas) is the man.  Just ask New York Jets corner back Darrelle Revis.  “He just crushed us today,” said Revis following the Raiders 34-24 victory on Sunday.

McFadden rushed for 171 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns.  One of those touchdown runs went for 70 yards on a play that was supposed to be a pass.  “I just felt like it was in my best interest to go ahead and run,” McFadden said.

“He’s able to get from point A to point B faster than anyone I’ve seen,” quarterback Jason Campbell (Auburn) said. “He can get in a hole and shift out and make two guys miss and get down the sidelines.”

With 393 rushing yards in his first three games, McFadden leads the NFL.  ”He’s the best back in football, bar none,” said Raiders coach Hue Jackson.

On the defensive side of the ball for Oakland, Jarvis Moss (Florida) had a big day for the Raiders, notes Jerry McDonald of the San Jose Mercury News.  The defensive end had two sacks, a tackle for a loss, and three quarterback hits.

Pending the outcome of tonight’s Washington-Dallas game, there will only be three or four undefeated teams left standing heading into week 4.  One of those teams is the Detroit Lions led by quarterback Matthew Stafford (Georgia).  On Sunday, Stafford led the Lions back from a 20-0 halftime deficit as Detroit rallied to beat the Minnesota Vikings 26-23 in overtime.

Although this is Stafford’s third year in the league, thanks to an assortment of knee and shoulder injuries, the Lions QB completed his 16th career start on Sunday, completing his “rookie” year.  Detroit News columnist Mike O’Hara breaks down Stafford’s stats and says the former Bulldog compares favorably to another SEC legend – Peyton Manning.

“Stafford is proving he’s the real thing.  He is a quarterback, not just playing the role.”

Sunday afternoon in Minnesota, Stafford completed 32 of 46 passes for 378 yards and two TDs. Stafford is currently fifth in the NFL in passing yards, only behind Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Drew Brees and leader Tom Brady.

Speaking of Cam Newton (Auburn), the number one overall pick in this year’s NFL draft had his worst statistical game but got something that had eluded him in his first two starts – a victory.  The Carolina Panthers beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 16-10.

After back-to-back  400+ yard efforts in his first two games, Newton completed 18 of 34 passes for just 158 yards yesterday. But he did engineer his first fourth-quarter game-winning touchdown drive in a game that featured “monsoon-like” weather conditions.

“No matter what the conditions were — dry, slick, wet — it doesn’t matter as a quarterback in this league,” Newton said. “There’s an old saying: ’Don’t tell me about the pain, just bring me the baby.’”

Another positive for the rookie yesterday – no interceptions and no sacks.

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (Ole Miss) was also a winner Sunday – torching the Philadelphia Eagles for four touchdown passes with no interceptions in the Giants 29-16 victory.

Sean Hartnett says it’s time to recognize Manning for what he is – a top 10 NFL quarterback.

“No longer should he be the whipping boy of New York back pages, radio hosts and fans when things go wrong”

A few other SEC-related notes from Sunday:

  • Mike Wallace (Ole Miss) caught 5 passes for 144 yards including an 81-yard touchdown pass in the Steelers 23-20 victory over Indianapolis.
  • Julio Jones (Alabama) had an impressive showing in a losing cause.  The Atlanta Falcons rookie caught 6 passes for 115 yards against Tampa Bay.  The Bucs won the game 16-13.
  • Sidney Rice (South Carolina) had 8 catches for 109 yards as Seattle won for the first time this year.  The Seahawks beat the Arizona Cardinals 13-10 in Rice’s season debut.  He had been sidelined with a shoulder injury.
  • Mark Ingram (Alabama) scored the go-ahead touchdown in the Saints victory over the Texans.  It was his first touchdown of his young NFL career. New Orleans defeated Houston 40-33.
  • The Broncos lost to the Titans 17-14 on Sunday fueling speculation in Denver that it’s time for Tim Tebow (Florida).  But coach John Fox is still backing Kyle Orton.  “Right now, in our opinion, Kyle gives us the best chance to win.”

And finally, Colts owner Jim Irsay made news this morning when he told a group of Super Bowl donors that Peyton Manning (Tennessee) was out for the season.  Irsay later clarified those comments saying there’s an “outside chance” Manning returns in December.

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SEC In The NFL: Stafford And Grossman Lead 2-0 Efforts

Stafford and Grossman get victories; Newton smashes records

There are only seven undefeated teams left in the NFL after two weeks of games and a couple of those squads sporting a perfect 2-0 mark are led by former SEC quarterbacks.

In Detroit, the Lions are 2-0 to start the year for the first time since 2007. They did it in style with a 48-3 blowout of the Kansas City Chiefs, the most lopsided regular season win in franchise history.  Leading the way was Matthew Stafford (Georgia).  The third-year Lions quarterback threw four touchdowns on 23 of 39 passes that went for 294 yards.

Those four TD tosses in only his 15th NFL start puts Stafford in elite company. It marked the third time in his career that Stafford has thrown that many TD passes in a game.  Only fellow Georgia alum Fran Tarkenton can top that.  Tarkenton threw four touchdown passes four different times in his first 15 starts.

In Washington, it was a tale of two halves for Rex Grossman (Florida).  In the first half of the Redskins game against the Arizona Cardinals, Grossman threw two interceptions including one at the goal line, while leading his team to only score one score in four chances inside the Red Zone.

But in the fourth quarter, Grossman completed 12 of 17 passes with a touchdown.  On the day, the former Florida Gator ended throwing for 291 on 25 of 43 passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

“It was just one minor mistake here or there. But we got it done,” said Grossman, who has now thrown multiple touchdowns in three of his five games as Washington’s starter (three of them were last season). “That’s all that matters. I felt like on offense, we dominated yards-wise, but we had only 10 points to show for it (in the first half). That’s something we’ll look at film and work to improve on, but we won the game, and that’s what matters. We didn’t capitalize on some of our drives, but we did when it counted.”

He’s starting his NFL career 0-2 but the most celebrated former SEC quarterback continues to be Cam Newton (Auburn).  One week after tying a rookie record for most passing yards in a game, Newton set the rookie record on Sunday against the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, throwing for 432 yards in the Panthers 30-23 loss. It’s not the only record he set.

Newton is the only rookie in NFL history to post two consecutive 400-yard passing yards in a team’s first two games of the season and is the only player to throw for 400+ yards in his first two starts.  His passing-yards in his first two games – 854 – is also a record for a quarterback in his first two starts. The 432 passing yards were also a franchise record.

But Newton also threw three interceptions and the Panthers are now 0-2 on the season.  How much blame should the quarterback get?

Writes Doug Farrar at Yahoo! Sports, “there’s no question that he helped his team lose the Packers game,” but  Farrar also adds that Newton  “kept his team in both of those games, and when you watch the tape against the Packers, it was the little things he did that impressed.”

For perspective, Farrar points out that last season Carolina quarterbacks failed to throw for at least 151 yards in six games.  Newton threw for that many yards in the first quarter against the Packers.

The most popular backup quarterback in the NFL saw action Sunday but not at his normal position.  Denver quarterback Tim Tebow (Florida) was forced into action as a wide receiver because of injuries.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team,” said Tebow. “If they ask me to go out there and run some routes and block some people, I’ll go do it.”

Tebow did have any balls thrown to him. The Broncos beat Cincinnati 24-22.

Elsewhere around the league:

An impressive second-game showing for Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (Georgia).  The rookie wideout caught 10 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown in the Bengals loss at Denver.

The touchdown came on an impressive sideline catch early in the fourth quarter.

“I was trying to make the play when my number was called, and Andy (Dalton) did a great job giving me the ball,” Green said. “We’re young, and we’re going to get better every week.  We’re taking steps every week.”

Oakland Raiders rookie Denarius Moore (Tennessee) was impressive at Buffalo on Sunday.  Seeing action because of injuries in the Raiders receiving corps, Moore caught five passes for 146 yards.  One of those catches resulted in a 50-yard touchdown.

“It was an OK day for me,” Moore said. “I came in and made plays when they called upon me. The overall thing is we took a loss today. We’ve just got to come back, practice Monday and get better.”

The Raiders lost to the Bills 38-35 despite a 323-yard passing day from quarterback Jason Campbell (Auburn).

Wide receiver Mike Wallace (Ole Miss) played a big role in the Steelers route of the Seahawks on Sunday.

Wallace had 8 catches for 126 yards and one touchdown in Pittsburgh’s 24-0 shutout of Seattle.

Three receivers of note with repeat 100-yard performances the first two weeks of the season:

Wide receiver Devery Henderson (LSU): Three catches for 103 yards and one touchdown in the Saints victory over the Bears. That follows his six-catch 100 yard performance in Week 1 against the Packers.

Tight end Jason Witten (Tennessee): Seven catches for 102 yards in the Cowboys’ 27-24 overtime victory at San Francisco. That follows his six-catch, 110 yard performance against the Jets.

Running back Ben Tate (Auburn): On Sunday, he went 103 yards on 23 carries in Houston’s 23-13 victory at Miami. That comes on the heels of his 116-yard rushing performance in a Week 1 blowout of Indianpolis.

Finally, it’s the absence of an SEC alum that’s causing panic in Indianapolis. With the Colts dropping to 0-2 following their loss to Cleveland on Sunday, Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz had this to say about a team playing without star quarterback Peyton Manning (Tennessee).

“They’re not going to win any football games with Kerry Collins. Nice guy, stand-up guy, and once upon a time, he was a pretty darned good NFL quarterback.

“I will acknowledge, when the Colts went out and grabbed Collins as a short-term insurance policy for Peyton Manning, I thought it was a terrific idea. Surround him with playmakers, run the ball a little better, play some defense and win some games.

“I was wrong.

“The Colts were wrong.”

Kravitz solution? Brett Favre.

“The next time Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay tweets about visiting Hattiesburg, Miss., here’s hoping he’s not joking around.”

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SEC In The NFL: Fans Chant “Tebow!” As McFadden Mashes Broncos

Darren McFadden put the NFL on notice Monday night he could be in store for a big year.  The former Arkansas Razorback and number one pick of the Oakland Raiders back in 2008 rushed for 150 yards on 22 carries in the Raiders 23-20 victory over the Denver Broncos.

After one week, McFadden is the NFL’s leading rusher.  His performance Monday night was similar to what he did against the Broncos last year when he rushed for 165 yards and 119 yards in two games against the division rival.

The Sporting News calls McFadden “officially among the game’s elite all-purpose backs.”

On the other sideline, disappointed Bronco fans were chanting “Tebow! Tebow!” after an opening game loss at home.  Tim Tebow, the former Florida great, is described today by a Denver Post columnist as “America’s favorite backup quarterback.”

Columnist Mark Kiszla says Denver QB Kyle Orton “has lost all credibility with Broncomaniacs.” Ouch.

When asked after the game if he considered making a change at quarterback, new Broncos coach John Fox ignored the question.  Looks like it’s going to be an interesting and tumultuous season in Denver.

Update: “I couldn’t actually hear that,” Fox said of the Tebow chants. “I thought our crowd was great. I thought it was electric. I thought it was as good as I’ve been associated with. All my feelings about the fans and the crowd and the home field was tremendous.”

In the first game Monday night, Tom Brady lit up the Miami Dolphins, throwing for a team-record 517 yards.  A key member of the supporting cast was former Florida Gator Aaron Hernandez.

Hernandez caught seven passes, including one touchdown, for 103 yards, about 20% of Brady’s total production.

“When you have a great quarterback who puts the ball at the right spot all the time, it’s easy to make a catch,’’ Hernandez said. “Tight ends are used a lot in this offense. And Tom knows how to get us the ball.’’

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Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry is lost for the season.  The former All-American safety from Tennessee and the Kansas City Chiefs number one pick in 2010 tore ligaments in his left knee early in Sunday’s loss to Buffalo.

“Eric is a special and will continue to be a special individual,” Chiefs coach Todd Haley said.  “This really digs you deep first and foremost because I know how hard he’s worked, and I know how much it means to him.”

Update: Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson describes the play that led to Berry’s injury.  “You don’t go out there to hurt anybody. We get plays and coaches tell us what to do and we go out and try to execute it. I went out there and did a chop block on Eric Berry, the safety. Let’s say Freddy (Jackson) was to break that run … [Berry] would’ve been the next defender. That would’ve been a good block, we just sprung Freddy for the touchdown. It just so happened to be a bad play and a bad situation. … I definitely don’t want that to happen to anybody.”

Rodney Harrison called the hit on Berry “cowardly.”

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Writer: A&M Mascot Nervous About UT Fans

In his weekly “Back Nine” column, it appears Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun went somewhere you don’t often see writers go in the daily newspaper biz.  Now maybe we’ve misinterpreted this one or perhaps we’re missing something that should be obvious to us, but read this paragraph and see what sticks out to you:

“There’s no truth to the rumor A&M decided not to join the SEC when the Aggies found out Jordan Reed might return punts for the Gators this year.  That’s scarey.  Other reasons Texas A&M as worried about the SEC — the mascot Reveille was getting nervous around Tennessee fans; they missed the chances to tackle to Tim Tebow; they didn’t want to play against their future bosses (Vanderbilt); any conference that celebrates with cow bells, toilet paper and a crowing rooster may not be for them.  Go ahead and send me your best ones.”

Did you see that?  After the Jordan Reed comment.  And just before the Tim Tebow bit.

Did Dooley just make a beastiality joke about A&M’s collie mascot being nervous around Tennessee fans?  Or are we missing something?  Maybe our minds are just in the gutter, but that sure seems to be a beastiality joke aimed at Vol fans… in a daily newspaper.

As folks who often find ourselves on the receiving end of hate-mails from Tennessee fans, we’ve got a pretty good idea as to what might be landing in Dooley’s email box today.

(SIDENOTE — Why is Dooley writing about A&M not entering the SEC?)

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