It should be no surprise then that Bulldogs coach Mark Richt is trying to tap the brakes on UGA's expectations, even after Saturday's 45-21 victory over No. 16 Clemson, which was one of its most complete efforts in several seasons.
“We played one game and we've got a long way to go,” Richt said. “The old saying is true: You're probably never as good as you think and never as bad as you think. You're never as good as you think after a win and never as bad as you think after a loss.”
Georgia's renovated defense threw a shutout in the second half against Clemson, but the Bulldogs' defensive backs were exposed at times during the first 30 minutes. And UGA's passing game didn't seem as potent without injured wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley.
“When you watch the film there's just so much to correct,” Richt said. “We've got to get better in a lot of areas or we're going to be exposed. We know it's just one game. It was a great emotional day, we were at home, we fed off the crowd and we finished strong. It was good but that was just a start.”
And Richt certainly knows how quickly things can go south if the Bulldogs lose at No. 9 South Carolina in on Sept. 13. The Gamecocks were embarrassed by Texas A&M in a 52-28 loss at home on Thursday night. Steve Spurrier has two weeks to turn around his team's defense, starting with Saturday's home game against East Carolina.
“I don't know,” Richt said. “I just think we're really young in so many ways. There are a few veterans who understand the deal, but I don't know how good we are, quite frankly. We had a good performance, we had one good game and even in that game there were things that just need to be corrected. So I'm not going to get too excited yet. We've got a long way to go.”
Other observations from Georgia's opening win over Clemson:
- Georgia's special teams have been a trouble spot the past few seasons, but they were outstanding against the Tigers. Tailback Todd Gurley returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, and UGA's coverage teams put Clemson in bad position for most of the game. In fact, UGA allowed minus-six yards on two punt returns and an 18-yard average on six kickoff returns. Freshman tailback Sony Michel and cornerback Damian Swann were outstanding covering punts, and the Tigers started eight of their 15 possessions inside their 20-yard line.
- Mitchell, a junior who missed most of last season with a torn ACL, is still recovering from preseason surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. He watched the Clemson game from the sideline and wasn't using crutches or wearing a brace. Mitchell, who is probably UGA's most explosive receiver, isn't expected back for the South Carolina game, but might be ready to play against Tennessee on Sept. 27. Scott-Wesley, who had 16 catches for 311 yards with two touchdowns last season, might be ready to return from a high ankle sprain in time to play the Gamecocks. Senior receiver Jonathon Rumph also was hurt in practice last week and didn't play against Clemson.
- With Mitchell sidelined, look for UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to continue to find ways to get explosive 5-foot-8 freshman Isaiah McKenzie the ball. The Bulldogs put McKenzie and Michel in the slot a few times against Clemson, and then motioned them into the backfield to take handoffs.
- Richt wants Gurley more involved in the offense than he was in the first half against Clemson (he had only four carries), but he'll continue to rotate UGA's running backs. Georgia also wants to do a better job of getting junior Keith Marshall into space, instead of having him try to run through the tackles, where Gurley and freshman Nick Chubb are more effective.
- New Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who was a part of three national championships at Florida State in 2013 and Alabama in 2011 and '12, was far from satisfied with his defense's effort against Clemson. Pruitt said UGA's defense made fewer mistakes in the second half. “It's not like we did any secret things at halftime,” he said. “If you look at our body of work, there were a lot of guys playing who haven't played a lot of football around here. There were a lot of guys that got their feet wet for the first time. For us, it's going to be a daily grind to get better fundamentally, pay attention to detail and create the right habits.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's season opener was suspended on Saturday, but it turns out one long night of rain, lightning and delays was punishment enough for three Gators players who had been suspended.
Coach Will Muschamp announced on Monday that starting defensive tackle Darious Cummings, wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick will play this Saturday against Eastern Michigan.
Cummings, a senior, and Bostwick, a redshirt freshman, had been suspended for a violation of team rules, while Robinson was being disciplined for what Muschamp called a university sanction.
"They will be back this week with us," Muschamp said. "Not just as far as the suspension of a game, but they've handled a lot of other things for me, as well as Demarcus Robinson, who had a university sanction that's been resolved."
Muschamp had announced the suspensions just hours before the opener against Idaho.
Then the skies opened. After a nearly three-hour delay, Florida fielded the opening kick and lined up for its first play when another lightning strike forced the teams back inside. They would not return.
The game was ultimately suspended due to lightning and unplayable field conditions.
A decision to reschedule or cancel the game has not been reached, and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley had little to say Monday other than reiterating that he hopes to announce a decision in the next day or two.
The Auburn Tigers struggled with the power running game. The same Arkansas Razorbacks' offense that ranked last in the SEC a year ago manhandled the Tigers’ front seven, posting 21 points by halftime.
The South Carolina Gamecocks just didn’t show up. Steve Spurrier’s defense laid down for the Texas A&M Aggies. His star running back, Mike Davis, shouldn’t have bothered dressing out.
By the time Monday rolled around, the dust settled and the big picture of the SEC became clear, it wasn’t what anyone expected. Somehow it was the Georgia Bulldogs and Texas A&M left standing as seemingly the league’s best hope of reaching the playoff.
But with all due respect to Todd Gurley’s inhuman exploits and Kenny Hill’s inspired performance, should we be sold? For that matter, should we be ready to call anyone the class of the SEC?
Right now there are far more questions than answers. Everyone, it seems, has flaws.
The East is a toss-up. Georgia certainly holds promise, but quarterback Hutson Mason still needs to show he can carry an offense, Gurley has to stay healthy and the secondary must continue improving despite missing so many starters from a season ago. South Carolina, meanwhile, has to do a complete 180 or it will lose to Georgia in two weeks and find itself in an insurmountable hole. Then there are the Florida Gators, who are a complete unknown given Mother Nature’s refusal to let them finally turn the page on 2013.
The West is even more convoluted. Texas A&M might be the real deal, but its offense is so young and it is still too early to say whether Mark Snyder has orchestrated the most impressive turnaround in history with that defense. Alabama has serious questions on defense, too, and at quarterback we might be jumping the gun a bit in proclaiming Blake Sims the answer. LSU could very well settle on Anthony Jennings under center, but he has the potential to be a reboot of Jordan Jefferson, which isn’t a good thing. Then there is Auburn, stuck with too many quarterbacks and not enough defenders, not to mention its brutal schedule.
If you’re looking for one of the favorites to run away with it, don’t hold your breath. In fact, if Week 1 showed us anything, it’s that while there are a bunch of good teams in the SEC, there is no one dominant team like in years past.
The Missouri Tigers won handily, the Ole Miss Rebels turned it on in the second half and the Mississippi State Bulldogs cruised to victory. All three should feel good about their dreams of reaching Atlanta.
Arkansas looked improved. So did the Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers. Though none of the them should go booking trips for the postseason, they could play the role of spoilers.
The only real slouch is the Vanderbilt Commodores.
When it comes time for playoff jockeying and the "my conference vs. your conference" disputes, parity will be the SEC’s No. 1 point of emphasis. But it will also be the reason it doesn’t yield an undefeated or even a one-loss team.
Alabama will get better. So will LSU and Auburn. Even South Carolina should improve with time. It is, in fact, only Week 1 we’re talking about.
But first impressions do mean something, and the first look we had of the SEC revealed a pack of teams loaded with potential but saddled with problems.
Until we find out who is ready to take a step forward and lead, it will continue to be a wide open race.
Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M: The award for most obvious helmet sticker goes to the Aggies' sophomore quarterback, who dazzled in his first start. Hill broke Johnny Manziel's single-game school record with 511 yards passing. His 44 completions (on 60 attempts) broke another Manziel record and were the second most in SEC history. We'd give a special sticker to head coach Kevin Sumlin if he only wore a helmet, because Sumlin's offense might be the biggest story of the league's opening weekend.
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Another obvious sticker recipient, Gurley carried his Bulldogs to a huge statement win against Clemson. His 293 all-purpose yards broke Rodney Hampton's school single-game record. Gurley had 198 yards rushing with three touchdowns as well as a 100-yard kickoff-return TD that wrestled momentum back for UGA after Clemson had taken a 21-14 lead. As a precaution, Georgia limited his carries to 15, and Gurley still averaged 13.2 yards per carry. Imagine what he could do with a full load.
Alabama running backs: With a new quarterback and a feisty opponent, the Crimson Tide needed every ounce of effort from their stellar backfield tandem. When the final whistle blew and Bama had edged West Virginia, there was little to distinguish between the results of junior T.J. Yeldon (126 yards rushing and two touchdowns) and sophomore Derrick Henry (113 yards and one touchdown). Sometimes Yeldon starts a drive, sometimes Henry does. It's anyone's guess which back finishes them.
Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn: In his second career start for the Tigers, the senior and former juco transfer showed little drop-off as the replacement for star running back Tre Mason. Artis-Payne proved capable of being Auburn's bell cow with a total of 26 carries. After scoring a first-quarter touchdown, he helped the Tigers wear out the Razorbacks defense in the second half with 122 of his career-high 177 rushing yards.
Cody Core, WR, Ole Miss: There were plenty of worthy candidates for Week 1 helmet stickers, but Core deserves to bask in the limelight after dealing with the tragic loss of his mother in late July and then fighting his way up the depth chart in preseason camp to win a starting job. Core had four catches for 110 yards, including the Rebels' two biggest plays of the night -- a 30-yard TD grab in the first quarter to open the scoring and a decisive 76-yard catch-and-run TD in the fourth quarter.
What were the top analytical and statistical storylines from Week 1 of the college football season?
Georgia is the new favorite in the SEC
Georgia’s chances of winning the SEC greatly improved in Week 1.
The Bulldogs’ win over Clemson and South Carolina’s loss to Texas A&M combined to raise Georgia’s chances of winning the SEC East from 29 percent (in preseason) to 62 percent and its overall chance of winning the SEC from 11 percent to 31 percent, via ESPN’s FPI rating.
The Bulldogs jumped from 14th to sixth in the rankings. That was the third-biggest FPI ranking jump of any Top-25 team after Week 1, behind Nebraska (up 13 spots to 28) and Texas A&M (up eight spots to No. 8).
South Carolina’s probability of winning the SEC East plummeted from 41 percent to 11 percent and its chance of winning the SEC fell from 19 percent to four percent.
Clemson and South Carolina had the two biggest drops in FPI rankings among teams in the Top 25, with Clemson falling 17 spots (to 30th) and South Carolina slipping 13 (to 20th). They were followed by North Carolina, which dropped 12 spots to 31 despite beating Liberty, 56-29.
North Carolina’s win against Liberty may have seemed dominant based on the 56-29 final score, but the Tar Heels trailed Liberty early in the second half before scoring 28 straight points. Their average in-game win probability ranked 29th out of 59 teams that won on Saturday.
USC rises in Pac-12
USC jumped from No. 9 to No. 5 in FPI after defeating Fresno State on Saturday. Conversely, UCLA dropped in FPI from No. 4 to No. 7 after its offense struggled on the road against Virginia.
USC now has the second-best chance to win the Pac-12 behind Oregon and the No. 1 chance to win the Pac-12 South.
USC travels to Stanford on Saturday in a game with conference implications. The Football Power Index gives the Trojans a 51.6% chance to win the game, and it is projected to be the closest Pac-12 game of the year.
Comeback of the week: LSU over Wisconsin
LSU came back from a 17-point second-half deficit to defeat Wisconsin 28-24. Not only was that the largest comeback of the week, but LSU had the lowest average in-game win probability (35 percent) of any team that won on Saturday. The Tigers had an above-average chance to win on only 16 percent of their plays.
LSU’s win probability dipped to six percent early in the third quarter after Wisconsin took a 24-7 lead. The Tigers went on to score 21 straight points to win the game.
Unlikeliest wins of Week 1
Based on ESPN’s FPI projections, UTSA’s win against Houston was the most unlikely win by an FBS team against another FBS team in Week 1. FPI gave UTSA a 19 percent chance to win entering the game.
Other significant upsets included Temple (30 percent chance to win) over Vanderbilt, Colorado State (34 percent chance to win) over Colorado and Rutgers (34 percent chance to win) over Washington State.
Each week during the college football season, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay kick off the week by settling a debate and then look at emerging NFL prospects and peek ahead to next week.
Are the Georgia Bulldogs a playoff contender?
There is one thing the College Football Playoff didn’t change, and that’s the importance of the regular season. The playoff picture has already been affected. Here’s a look at how the biggest games impacted the postseason in Week 1:
NOBODY LOOKED INVINCIBLE
GAMECOCKS WENT SOUTH
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier had no answers following his team’s 52-28 loss to Texas A&M, one of the most surprising results of the week. The Aggies looked in midseason form against a porous South Carolina defense that allowed a school-record 680 yards. Hill outplayed South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson, and while South Carolina’s playoff stock plummeted, the Aggies’ rose. Consider this: The next four opponents for A&M are Lamar, Rice, SMU and Arkansas. The Aggies should be 5-0 heading into October and a trendy playoff pick – especially if Hill continues to play with that poise and accuracy. It was a rough opening for the entire state of South Carolina, as Clemson lost to Georgia, which looked very capable of winning the SEC East. The Bulldogs, led by Gurley’s school-record 293 all-purpose yards, scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to break away for a 45-21 win.
GOOD NOT GREAT
Ohio State doesn’t look like it’s going to bulldoze its way through the Big Ten with J.T. Barrett at quarterback and a young offensive line paving the way, but it certainly isn’t going to roll over for anyone, either. The loss of Braxton Miller to injury was a game-changer, but the team’s relentless performance against Navy showed that the Buckeyes can’t be counted out just yet. Barrett threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns in his collegiate debut, and coach Urban Meyer used a conservative game plan to keep his rookie comfortable. Ohio State has three straight home games against unranked opponents (Virginia Tech, Kent State and Cincinnati) before opening league play at Maryland on Oct. 4. The Hokies’ defense should present the biggest challenge, but the Buckeyes can still enter their Big Ten schedule in exactly the same place everyone thought they’d be with Miller -- in the playoff conversation.
The Big Ten was oh-so-close to gaining some respect this weekend until Wisconsin squandered its 10-point halftime lead against LSU. With the exceptions of Wisconsin and Northwestern, the conference won all of its games. League newcomer Rutgers found a way to beat Washington State in Seattle, and Penn State beat UCF in Ireland, but the Badgers missed their opportunity on the biggest stage. They had the best chance at making a statement for the entire conference. Instead, it was an underwhelming debut for quarterback Tanner McEvoy, who completed 8 of 24 passes for 50 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Melvin Gordon had 140 yards -- but only had 16 carries. With Wisconsin’s schedule -- the Badgers don’t play Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan -- a win over LSU would’ve pushed them into the playoff conversation. Now? The Big Ten better hope the Spartans or Buckeyes can live up to the expectations.
BUH-BYE BOISE (and UCF)
The Broncos had one chance to impress the College Football Playoff selection committee against a Power 5 opponent, and it disappeared with a 35-13 loss to Ole Miss on Thursday night. If an undefeated Boise State couldn’t get into the title game in the old BCS system, a one-loss Broncos team probably isn’t going to sneak into the four-team playoff. The same can be said for UCF, which had high expectations for this season coming off its Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor. A tough 26-24 loss to Penn State in Ireland was hardly an embarrassment, but it’s going to be nearly impossible to overcome as a member of the American Athletic Conference.
That’s not to say that Boise State or UCF won’t play on New Year’s Day. The highest-ranked conference champion not from the Group of 5 will earn a spot in one of the New Year’s Six bowls, but that’s a consolation prize to two programs that have already been there, won that.
For now, though, let’s recap some of what we’ve learned so far about the SEC of 2014.
Alabama -- particularly its reconstructed secondary -- had all sorts of problems against West Virginia and its vaunted passing game. Defending league champ Auburn remains an offensive juggernaut, but its defense got manhandled at times early by an improving Arkansas offense. And LSU was on the verge of getting blown out early in the second half before a fake punt gave the Tigers some life, helping them rally from a 24-7 deficit to beat Wisconsin 28-24.
With Texas A&M and Georgia also making statements with impressive wins in their season debuts, it’s evident that nobody has a cakewalk to reach Atlanta. The preseason favorites all have questions to answer, and there are several candidates to rise from the middle of the pack to challenge them.
Heisman hopefuls make moves: Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill wasn’t the only SEC player to jump into the Heisman Trophy conversation. Hill’s school-record 511 passing yards and three touchdowns on 44-for-60 passing had to go down as one of the most impressive starting debuts in recent memory. But he had company among SEC offensive standouts.
Todd Gurley broke Rodney Hampton’s Georgia record with 293 all-purpose yards against Clemson -- 198 on the ground and 100 more on a kickoff return for a touchdown (he lost five yards receiving). Between his running and a dominant second half from Jeremy Pruitt’s defense, the Bulldogs were able to bury Clemson 45-21.
Cameron Artis-Payne ran for 122 yards in the second half against Arkansas and finished with 26 carries for 177 yards and a touchdown as Auburn held the Razorbacks scoreless in the second half to put away a 45-21 win.
Quarterback races progress: Hill made as emphatic a statement as possible about his status as Texas A&M’s starting quarterback after winning a preseason battle. But some of the league’s other QB races remain, well, unclear.
Blake Sims (24-33, 250 yards, INT, plus 42 rushing yards) did a fine job in taking nearly every snap in Alabama’s win over West Virginia. And Patrick Towles (20-29, 377 yards, TD, plus a 23-yard rushing score) was outstanding in Kentucky’s rout of overmatched Tennessee-Martin.
But then a couple of QB battles don’t seem resolved at all. LSU’s Anthony Jennings played most of the game against Wisconsin, but the Tigers’ offense struggled mightily before closing with a flourish. He finished 9-for-21 for 238 yards and two touchdowns. However, freshman Brandon Harris looked lost during the one series he was in the game, so he doesn’t appear to be a better option right now.
Vanderbilt also faces a bit of a quandary at the position. Stephen Rivers (12-25, 186 yards, INT), Patton Robinette (4-6, 38 yards) and Johnny McCrary (0-3, 2 INTs) all played, but nothing went right for the Commodores in a 37-7 loss to Temple.
We’ll see how Tennessee’s Justin Worley fares on Sunday night after winning the Volunteers’ preseason QB battle.
Bad teams are better: Arkansas and Kentucky -- two teams that went winless in SEC play a season ago -- made it clear that they will be tougher in 2014.
It’s difficult to know what to make of Kentucky’s 59-14 win over UT-Martin. We probably shouldn’t read too much into a blowout against a middling FCS program, after all. And yet the Wildcats showed off some impressive new weapons.
How about Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard taking his only two carries for touchdowns of 73 and 43 yards? And Towles connecting with 10 different receivers? It was an impressive debut to be sure.
Even in a losing effort, Arkansas’ physicality had to be what Razorbacks fans wanted to see from a club that lost nine straight games to close out the 2013 season. They pushed Auburn around for a portion of the game and were still thinking upset until Auburn’s Jermaine Whitehead made it a two-touchdown game by returning a deflected pass for a score with 2:39 left in the third quarter.
Auburn really can pass: We heard all offseason that Auburn would put the ball in the air more frequently this season, and it looks like the Tigers have the pieces in place to do that.
Junior college transfer D'haquille Williams was outstanding in his Auburn debut, catching nine passes for 154 yards and a touchdown, while Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson combined to throw for 293 yards and a pair of scores. The ground game is still the Tigers’ calling card (Auburn rushed for 302 yards), but they’re going to be even tougher to defend if they keep throwing like this.
Drive Through: Stock Up - Todd Gurley
Final 21 Texas A&M 52 9 South Carolina 28 Final Boise State 13 18 Ole Miss 35 Final Temple 37 Vanderbilt 7
Suspended Idaho 0 Florida 0
Final Tennessee-Martin 14 Kentucky 59 Final South Dakota State 18 24 Missouri 38 Final West Virginia 23 2 Alabama 33 Final Arkansas 21 6 Auburn 45 Final 16 Clemson 21 12 Georgia 45 Final Southern Miss 0 Mississippi State 49 Final 14 Wisconsin 24 13 LSU 28