Sunday, September 4, 2011

SEC Roundup – Week 1

image Alabama 48, Kent State 7. With a ferocious, experienced defense you can afford to take some chances and try new stuff on offense. Bama did that and probably has a lot more answers to the QB questions going into the game. McCarron looked good and looked young. Sims looked Ok and looked young. Ball security was an issue. Four picks (one nearly a pick six) and four fumbles (one lost) would be a death sentence in league play. Shuffling the offensive line like a deck of cards needs to stop and the team needs a starting front five to meld into a cohesive, consistent unit. You can’t give the defense anything less than a solid gold A+ for their play yesterday. Give Marquis Maze an A+ for his all-purpose play, too. Next up is a serious road test in a trip to Happy Valley and the Penn State Nittany Lions, who whipped Indiana State 41-7.

Arkansas 51, Missouri State, 7. Exactly what you’d expect from a Petrino coached offense. Junior starting QB Tyler Wilson lit things up, throwing 18-24 for 260 yards and a pair of gorgeous TD passes for 30+ yards. The Hogs defense also came to play, shutting the Bears down for the entire first half. At the break, the score was 30-0. The only concern is that Arkansas wasn’t able to run the ball effectively without injured star Knile Davis. Against the overmatched Missouri State defense, 103 yards rushing  wasn’t a problem. You have to run the football in the SEC. One dimensional offenses don’t win championships. Next up is a road trip to take on the New Mexico Lobos, losers to Colorado State, 14-10.

Auburn, 42, Utah State 38. If I was an Auburn fan watching the game Saturday at Jordan-Hare, I’d have gotten up and left with 3:30 to go, too. The Tigers were down by 10 and the situation looked hopeless. For 56-1/2 minutes, the defending National Champions looked like Iowa State circa 2007-08. Utah State hasn’t had a winning season since Bill Clinton was President, but they had Auburn on the ropes. They gashed the Tigers’ front line on long scoring drives. The Aggie defensive line stunted and blitzed and made starting QB Barrett Trotter run for his life. But a touchdown, an onsides kick recovery and another touchdown with :30 left and Auburn escapes with the win. There are too many questions to cover in a single paragraph, but clearly the defense has got to make plays to get off the field and the offense needs to find a rhythm or it’s going to be a long, ugly season. Next up is a visit from Mississippi State in the SEC opener for both squads. State looked impressive in Thursday night’s 59-14 romp over Memphis.

Florida 41, Florida Atlantic 3. The Coach Boom era has begun. John Brantley finally looked like a confident QB, going 21-30 for 229 yards and a touchdown in the decided schematic advantage of Charlie Weiss’ pro-style attack. The defense looked polished and mean too, absolutely dominating the line of scrimmage and forcing four straight three-and-out possessions. Florida had racked up a 24-0 lead before the Owls got a first down. Atlantic’s coach Howard Schnellenberger announced just before the season started that he was retiring at the end of the year. This wasn’t a kind first step on his farewell tour and the ailing legend oversaw the rout from the press box after suffering pain from a recent hip replacement surgery. Next up for the Gators is a visit from the hapless UAB Blazers, who had an opening day bye and went 4-8 last year.

Georgia 21, Boise State 35. One of the hottest seats in the SEC coaching fraternity just got measurably warmer. Boise State QB Kellen Moore went 28-34 for 261 yards and threw three TD passes in a flawless opener. Georgia made America’s perennial Cinderella Team a Cinderella no more. Late in the third quarter, the Broncos went up 28-7 with a short TD pass from Moore to Tyler Shoemaker. It was all the Bulldog fans could take and the Georgia Dome exit ramps experienced a traffic jam. The conference didn’t need UGA to win this game, but it sure would have shut the national press corps down with a win. Boise State is now 1-4 against SEC opponents and avenged an earlier blowout loss to Richt’s Bulldogs in 2007. Next up is a visit from 2010 SEC East Champ South Carolina, a 56-37 winner over East Carolina. Richt won’t survive going 0-2, so this one looms large.

Kentucky 14, Western Kentucky 3. An ugly win is still a win, and even the ugliest of wins still counts that way. Kentucky’s Morgan Newton ran for his life and got sacked three times and picked off three times. But Western Kentucky was even more impotent on offense than the Wildcats and simply couldn’t convert opportunities into points. The offensive line looked inept and the team couldn’t generate 200 yards in total offense. There’s a long way to go if this team expects to make a bowl game. Next up is a visit from Central Michigan, a team that looked a bit rough but still managed a 21-6 win over South Carolina State.

LSU 40, Oregon 27. Les Miles does it the old fashioned way. Play great defense. Run the football. Use the tight end to pick up third down conversions. Make special teams plays. Overwhelm your opponent with superior depth and athleticism and send the PAC-12’s best home with a loss. This game was billed as a marquee matchup between two Top 5 opponents and didn’t disappoint. But it was also mocked as the Willie Lyles Bowl, as both programs are involved in the NCAA’s look-see into the recruiting service owner’s recruiting activities. Both teams were missing key players but LSU seemed to not need their key stars as much as Oregon did. Oregon also suffered from being its own worst enemy during a critical stretch of the third quarter, when LSU converted two fumbles into 14 points and appeared to take control of the game. LSU is certain to pick up some first place points in the next round of Top 25 balloting. Next up is a visit from Northwestern State, a 24-23 winner over Delta State.

Mississippi State 59, Memphis 14. Polished. Dangerous. Those are the best two words one could use to describe how Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs looked in dismantling the Memphis Tigers Thursday night. State rolled up 645 yards of total offense. Vick Ballard ran for 166 of those. Chris Relf threw for 202 of them. Records fell faster than Memphis’ hope for a season opening upset on their own turf. In the last two games, Mississippi State has scored 111 points and Mullen is showing why his hire might have been the best value decision in SEC history. The defense looked sharp and athletic too, and that’s going to pay mighty dividends as the conference schedule heats up. Next is a visit to Jordan-Hare and the Auburn Tigers, who have to be looking at this game with a great deal of anxiety.

Ole Miss 13, Brigham Young 14. The dumpster fire has commenced. In the other hot seat of the SEC sits the right reverend Houston Nutt, who watched his Rebel Black Bear cubs cough up a 13 point lead over the span of 5 minutes in the fourth quarter.  The fourth quarter meltdown needn’t have happened, as Ole Miss kicked field goals after twice getting in the red zone and failing to get it across the goal line. They lost two fumbles and the 93 yard drive in the second quarter accounted for nearly half of the team’s 203 yards of total offense. Sooner or later, letting a well coached team like BYU hang around can cost you a win and in this case, may have started the process of costing Nutt his job. Next up is a dangerous Southern Illinois team that throttled Southeast Missouri 38-10.

South Carolina 56, East Carolina 37. With Stephen Garcia on the bench, East Carolina rolled out to a 17-0 lead in Columbia. Head Coach Steve Spurrier, famous for benching his QB in the middle of the game, yanked sophomore starter Connor Shaw and inserted Garcia. The offense responded and the veteran Spurrier Doghouse occupant led the Gamecocks to a 56-37 win. Garcia went 7-15 for a pedestrian 110 yards. But threw no interceptions while hitting one TD pass and running for another. Good leadership wins football games and if Garcia can stay on Spurrier’s good side and continue to lead the team well, they’ll win. Next up is a visit to ailing Georgia. South Carolina has a knack for losing big road games under Spurrier and Georgia needs a win if Richt wants to coach again next year.

Tennessee 42, Montana 16. After a lightning delay of 30 minutes, Tennessee got off to a lightning quick start and led the Grizzlies 28-0 before letting up a bit late in the second quarter. QB Tyler Bray threw for 293 yards and three scores on 17-24 passing. He was sacked three times but threw no picks. Youth in the Vols secondary showed, though. Montana’s only first half score came on an 80 yard touchdown pass. On the play, Grizzlies QB Jordan Johnson conspired with wideout Jabin Sambrano to torch true freshman DB Justin Coleman. The Vols gave up 226 yards through the air to Johnson, who went 19-36. Defensive play will have to get better, as next up is a dangerous and productive Cincinnati Bearcats team that racked up a 72-10 win over Austin Peay.

Vanderbilt 45, Elon 14. When your time of possession is greater than that of your opponent and you outgain your opponent, you’re in good position to win the game. Elon did just that, but coughed the ball up on critical possessions and the Commodores capitalized on the mistakes. Vandy converted turnovers into 21 points and scored more points in this game than they did in their last three games of the 2010 season, combined. Vandy also broke a seven-game losing streak beginning with a 43-0 drubbing by Georgia last October. This was Vandy head coach James Franklin’s debut in the SEC. Next up is UConn, who beat Fordham 35-3.

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