Sunday, October 2, 2011
What we learned in the SEC: Week 5
By Edward Aschoff
Some things in the SEC are a lot clearer today than they were heading into the weekend. Some other things? Well, not so much. One thing is for sure: LSU and Alabama rule the SEC, making that Nov. 5 matchup the game of the year in the SEC.
Here's what else we learned in the SEC this week:
Coach Steve Spurrier's South Carolina squad has been a disappointment so far this season.
1. South Carolina has officially fallen into the overrated category: Before the season, we praised the Gamecocks for what we thought was an improved defense. We thought containing Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery was near impossible. We said having Stephen Garcia at quarterback made this team a favorite in the SEC East and gave them a chance at the national championship. Through the first four weeks, South Carolina made mistake after mistake, flirting with disaster more and more, but remained undefeated, so we gave the Gamecocks the benefit of the doubt. However, after watching the offense implode for the second straight week in Saturday's loss to Auburn, it's clear the offensive issues are very real and this team has a ways to go on that side of the ball. Lattimore and Jeffery need help, and the problems at quarterback are major. Coach Steve Spurrier has Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson sitting on the bench while Garcia continues to struggle, meaning Spurrier trusts them even less than Garcia, and that's a problem going forward.
2. Georgia isn't even close to being out of the East: A lot of people inside and outside of Athens, Ga., were calling for Mark Richt's job after the 0-2 start, assuming this team was going to roll over. Well, the Bulldogs have won three straight games and are now tied at the top of the SEC East with a 2-1 conference record. Things couldn't have gone any better for Georgia on Saturday, with Florida and South Carolina losing. We talked about South Carolina's issues, but Florida also watched quarterback John Brantley go down with a leg injury. If it's a significant one, the Gators will have to turn to true freshman Jeff Driskel, who hasn't looked ready for the speed of the college game. Georgia also has the easiest road in the East, with no games against Alabama, LSU or Arkansas. This makes the Bulldogs' game with Tennessee this weekend the biggest one between the two since 2007. If The Bulldogs come away with the win, they might be the new favorite in the East.
3. John Brantley is more important to Florida's offense than we thought: We criticized Brantley's play through the first four weeks of the season because he wasn't putting up great numbers and wasn't airing it out against opposing defenses. But in the first half against Alabama, he played better than he ever has at Florida. He tossed a perfect ball to Andre Debose for a 65-yard touchdown on the first offensive play and had 190 yards before his injury in the second quarter. He actually ended up leading the game in passing. But when Brantley went out, Florida's offense collapsed. Driskel looked lost against that Alabama defense and never got the ball moving like Brantley did. If Brantley is out for significant time, the Gators could be in trouble. Brantley wasn't flashy, but he led the offense the way the coaches wanted him to. He also wasn't a true freshman like Driskel, who might be taking over for an offense hitting a long road stretch.
4. Randall Mackey should be the guy for Ole Miss: We've seen three quarterbacks take snaps for Ole Miss this season, but it's finally time to stop the quarterback shuffle. Barry Brunetti opened the season as the starter, but was quickly benched. Zack Stoudt showed he probably has the best overall passing ability, but the offense was stagnant for most of the time he was under center. But Mackey made this offense go against Fresno State. Now, that isn't the best defense, but the Rebels racked up 430 yards of offense with Mackey providing a nice dual-threat option. Ole Miss' offense was actually fun to watch with Mackey running the show. The offense is faster and more in rhythm when Mackey is taking the snaps, and it's time to hand the offense over to him.
5. Auburn has all the fight in the world: For weeks, the doubt rained down on Auburn's football team from all directions. First, there was too much youth for this team to repeat as the West champ. Then, the defense fell off the planet. Now, we can't get over how resilient this team is. It definitely is far from pretty in all aspects of its game, but this team can grind it out for four quarters, and that is very impressive in the SEC. Auburn walked into Columbia, S.C., and shocked the 10th-ranked Gamecocks with an offense that sputtered along until the very end. Out of nowhere, the Tigers orchestrated a tremendous game-winning drive during the last five minutes of the game. Running back Michael Dyer summed up the personality of this team when he bounced back from an ankle injury, not missing a snap, and carried the ball 41 times. This team is young, but it has enormous heart.