Thrill of Victory

Thoughts after the SEC's opening weekend

With this weekend’s action behind us, 13 of the 14 Southeastern Conference teams – all but Texas A&M – have made their 2012 debuts. Here’s a look at what caught my eye this weekend.

1. ‘Bama might be the nation’s best
Last week, I spoke about how the SEC’s string of national titles might be in jeopardy even though Alabama and LSU are considered national title contenders. My doubts about the Crimson Tide surrounded whether they could replace a slew of former starters who’d gone on to the NFL. I noted that the last time Alabama had been in that boat (2010), it was the preseason No. 1, yet lost three games.

Well, now that I’ve seen the ‘Tide this season, I’m not so concerned anymore. Alabama walloped No. 8 Michigan in a game that was never really that close; ‘Bama led 21-0 before the first quarter was done, and 31-0 late into the second quarter. UA out-gained Michigan 431-269, including a 232-69 edge on the ground, and held Heisman candidate Denard Robinson to 27 yards rushing and 11-of-27 passing for 200 yards.

Alabama’s one real question appears to be if something happens to starting quarterback A.J. McCarron; none of the backups have taken a snap yet. But every team has questions, and at this point, ‘Bama may have fewer than anyone.

2. Da’Rick who?
Despite his multiple offenses for this-and-that, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley had been reticent to kick All-SEC receiver Da’Rick Rogers off the team until he’d finally had enough of him in late-August. That meant that junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson went from the No. 3 receiver in UT’s offense to the No. 2 guy immediately – and after Friday night’s performance vs. North Carolina State, he might just be No. 1.
Patterson had an electric first quarter vs. the Wolfpack, getting open deep and hauling in a 41-yard pass in the end zone from Tyler Bray for the season’s first score. Ten minutes later, Patterson took an end-around to the left sideline, weaved through traffic, and cut all the way across the field to the other sideline, racing past State’s defense on the way to another touchdown.

All total, Patterson had 165 yards on just eight touches, and the Vols rolled up 524 yards of offense in a 35-21 victory.

There are still some questions about the defense, but with Patterson and Justin Hunter at receiver, the Vols should score a lot of points with what might be the conference’s best 1-2 punch at receiver.

3. A star is born in Athens.
Poor Ken Malcome. After a redshirt year in 2010, he bided his time behind SEC Freshman of the Year Isaiah Crowell last fall at running back. In the spring, Georgia named him its most improved player, and when Crowell couldn’t behave and Mark Richt kicked him off the team, Malcome earned the starting role in August.
Through no fault of his own, Saturday could be his last start.

Malcolme hurt his hand in Georgia’s 45-23 victory over Georgia and may have gotten Wally-Pipped as true freshman running back Todd Gurley stole the show. Gurley ran a kickoff back 100 yards for a score and turned his eight carries into 100 more yards and two touchdowns, for which he earned the SEC’s Co-Freshman of the Week honors.

The Bulldogs will continue to give Malcome carries if he’s healthy, and freshman Keith Marshall will get some also. But the way Gurley was wowing the folks in Athens during August practices combined with this, he might be The Man before long.

Other things of note:
Most SEC teams scheduled patsies in Week 1, but a few things stood out. Ole Miss may have found a quarterback as Bo Wallace hit 20-of-24 throws for 260 yards and two scores in a 49-27 route of Central Arkansas. … LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger was steady throughout camp, and was again on Saturday as the Tigers beat North Texas behind Mettenberger’s 19-of-26, 192-yard performance. Coach Les Miles said he was pleased with Mettenberger’s debut. … Florida split reps between quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett in a 27-14 win over Bowling Green, but coach Will Muschamp said on Monday that Driskel’s the starter going forward. … Among teams not taking it easy with their Week 1 schedules, things didn’t go well: Auburn was supposed to be stout on defense, but the Tigers gave up 528 yards in a 26-19 loss to Clemson, while Kentucky gave up three long touchdown drives to open the game and was never really in the game during its 32-14 loss to Louisville.