Thrill of Victory

SEC Week 1 rewind and notebook

SEC FootballIt was an exciting first weekend of Southeastern Conference action — well, at least in some cases. Here’s a quick look at the big things coming out of the weekend.

The SEC week in review
• Okay, so the fact that Alabama beat Virginia Tech by 25 points wasn’t a huge surprise, but the fact that ‘Bama gained just 206 total yards and averaged 2.5 yards per rushing attempt was. Virginia Tech’s defense is good, so let’s give credit where credit’s due, but as we hinted last week, it might not be a seamless transition as Alabama replaces 60 percent of one of the greatest offensive lines in NCAA history from last year. Fortunately, ‘Bama got two special teams TDs from Christon Jones and a pick-6 from Vinnie Sunseri.

• Georgia lost the turnover battle by a 2-1 count, and lost 38-35 as Clemson rolled up 467 yards of total offense on a Bulldog defense that is replacing a boatload of starters. The Georgia offense — 545 yards — was as powerful as expected, but Clemson came up big at the right times, holding UGA quarterback Aaron Murray without a TD pass and sacking him four times.

• Meanwhile, LSU also lost a ton of defenders, but fared much better in its opening game when it beat TCU by a 37-27 count. The Tiger defense forced a pair of turnovers and allowed only 259 yards, allowing LSU to control tempo: it won time of possession by 13:02.

• South Carolina rolled along to a nice 27-10 win over North Carolina due to a balanced offensive attack that yielded 406 yards, and the defense was as good as advertised — UNC returned six starters from an offense that averaged 40.6 points and 486 yards a game last season.

• Vanderbilt and Ole Miss played down to the wire, as expected, in one of the nation’s best first-week games. The Rebels’ Jeff Scott, dashing to his left with just over a minute to play, was supposed to go out of bounds on a short, set-up-a-third-and-short run, but the VU defense before him parted like the Red Sea and Scott easily scampered 75 yards back to the middle of the field and to the end zone to break the Commodores’ hearts.

• Racked with injuries and suspensions, Florida handled a good Mid-American Conference team in Toledo by a 24-6 score on Saturday. The recipe for UF was the same as it was last year: play great defense (205 yards allowed) and control tempo in the running game (48 carries, 262 yards).

• Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel continues to act like a spoiled rich kid; instead of being humbled by a half-game suspension that should have been many games longer, he took the opportunity to taunt Rice players on a couple of occasions — one of which drew a penalty flag. But on the field, Manziel was his usual self, throwing three TDs on eight attempts as the Aggies turned a 7-point halftime lead into a 52-31 rout. The bad news: an Aggie defense playing without five suspended starters gave up 486 yards.

• Nobody expected a defensive struggle between Mississippi State and Oklahoma State, but that’s what the folks watching in Arlington, Texas got on Saturday in OSU’s 21-3 win. Of course, MSU was hampered big-time by a third-quarter injury to quarterback Tyler Russell, and Dak Prescott wasn’t nearly up to the task of replacing him.

• The Bret Bielema era got off to a great start, as Arkansas beat Louisiana-Lafayette, 34-14. Bielema is directing the Razorbacks to a more run-oriented approach, but quarterback Brandon Allen hit 15-of-22 passes for 230 yards, three TDs and no interceptions. The best news, though, is that Arkansas’ defense, which was awful last year, gave up just 274 yards to a team that averaged 455 yards and 35.5 points last season. Meanwhile, the rushing attack (292 yards) topped last year’s season high of 167 by a wide margin.

• Austin Peay may be the worst opponent on any SEC schedule this year, but given that Tennessee gave up less than 344 yards just once last year, they’ll take a 212-yard defensive performance and a 45-0 win. The blowout was worse than the final score indicated, as the Vols led 42-0 at the half.

• Missouri also disposed of a less-than-stellar FCS opponent when it waxed Murray State by a 58-14 count on Saturday. The good news for the Tigers is that injured stars James Franklin (26-of-38, 318 yards, three TDs) and Henry Josey (13 carries, 113 yards, one TD) looked back to previous form.

• Auburn’s disastrous 3-9 season last year was fueled by a lack of turnovers — a minus-12 ratio and a secondary that registered one interception all last season. The Tigers had three picks of Washington State — all by defensive backs — and netted 295 yards in 46 carries in a 31-24 victory over the Cougars.

• Offensive genius won over defensive expertise, as Kentucky’s Mark Stoops lost his head coaching debut by a 35-26 score to Western Kentucky. Stoops was expected to improve the UK defense, but the Wildcats, who gave up 487 yards on Saturday, just don’t appear to have the horses yet.

SEC Players of the Week
1. Alabama’s Christon Jones had 256 all-purpose yards and touchdowns coming on a punt return, a kickoff return and a pass reception.

2. Auburn’s Robenson Therezie had two interceptions, one break-up and seven tackles in the Tigers’ win over Washington State.

3. Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews played through cramps, dehydration, vomiting and double-coverage, and for all I know perhaps plagues of gnats and boils also, and yet still managed 10 catches for 178 yards and a score vs. Ole Miss.

4. Arkansas defensive lineman Trey Flowers had three stops for loss, 4.5 tackles, a forced fumble and two quarterback hurries on Saturday.

5. Georgia’s Todd Gurley ran for 154 yards on 12 carries vs. Clemson, including a 75-yard scoring run.

Notes
• Georgia star receiver Malcolm Mitchell tore his ACL helping a teammate celebrate a touchdown, and is done for the season. The junior should be eligible for a redshirt season,

• MSU starting safety Jay Hughes is done for the year after tearing his Achilles. It may also be without starting right guard Justin Malone and linebacker Ferlando Bohannan (concussion) for next week’s game vs. Alcorn St. Russell is doubtful for next week with a concussion also, meaning backup Dak Prescott (7-of-17 for 89 yards and a pick on Saturday) is the temporary starter.

• The five suspended Gators were receiver Latroy Pittman, All-American cornerback Louchiez Purifoy, star linebacker Antonio Morrison, defensive tackle Darious Cummings and offensive tackle Quinteze Williams. Pittman will remain sidelined for Saturday’s game vs. Miami, but the rest will return. Starting right guard John Halapio will remain out with a torn pectoral, and starting running back Matt Jones should return this weekend.

• Ole Miss starting guard Aaron Morris tore an ACL in the first half of the Vandy game, and is done for the year. He qualifies for a redshirt season. Denzel Ndemdiche, the team’s best linebacker, tore his meniscus and is done for 4-6 weeks. The Rebels are also still working on getting starting cornerback Charles Sawyer, the team’s leading interceptor last year, healthy.

• Vanderbilt wide receiver Chris Boyd remains sidelined with felony charges stemming from his alleged role as an accessory-after-the-fact of a rape involving former teammates. The Commodores won’t need their star this Saturday vs. Austin Peay, but the following week against South Carolina is a different story.

• It’s not a good start to the season for A&M cornerback Deshazor Everett, who was suspended for the first half of the Rice game. He was kicked out in Saturday’s second half for targeting a receiver, and will now miss the first half of this weekend’s contest with Sam Houston State. Three starters — linebacker Steven Jenkins, cornerback De’Vante Harris and defensive end Gavin Stansbury — are among four other A&M players who’ll be suspended this weekend also.

• Tennessee remained relatively healthy after its opening win, but defensive end Jacques Smith and linebacker Curt Maggitt are both questionable against Western Kentucky on Saturday. Both players are starters, and the Vols need them against a good WKU offense.

• Kentucky’s Jalen Whitlow got the start at quarterback last week, but Maxwell Smith came on in relief to hit 8-of-13 passes for 125 yards and a score. Smith will get the start vs. Miami (Ohio) this weekend.