Sunday, October 23, 2011
What we learned in the SEC: Week 8
By Edward Aschoff
The countdown began weeks ago, but now it's not just the media and fans talking about Alabama-LSU. The players and coaches can finally get in on all the fun.
Here's what we learned over the weekend:
1. An all-SEC national title game isn't farfetched: With all the craziness that occurred Saturday night, our dreams of an Alabama-LSU national championship game don't seem so crazy now. Both teams proved once again that they are the best in college football, while those around them fell at the worst of times. Oklahoma was stunned 41-38 at home to Texas Tech and Wisconsin fell to Michigan State, thanks to a beautiful Hail Mary pass as time expired. Those were two losses the SEC giants needed if a rematch was going to be possible. Obviously, the SEC isn't out of the woods yet. Oklahoma State, Clemson, Stanford and Boise State all probably have to lose, and, of course, the loser of the Nov. 5 matchup has to keep it super close and win out in style afterward. It will take some more help, but today it doesn't seem as impossible as it did before Saturday's chaos.
Jordan Rodgers led Vanderbilt to a victory in his first start at quarterback.
2. LSU gets stronger and more dominant every week: When the Tigers should look weak after losing key players, they just reload. There is no letdown on this team. When you talk about the most mentally tough squads in college football, LSU had better be at the top of your list. The Tigers began the season without starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson and playmaking wide receiver Russell Shepard and all they did was steamroll over each opponent they faced without their two starters. Not to mention arguably LSU's top offensive lineman, senior Josh Dworaczyk, has been out all year with an injury. So, when LSU was without freak cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, running back Spencer Ware and corner Tharold Simon for the Auburn game, we should have shaken it off, like the Tigers did. They pounded Auburn 45-10 and might have played their most complete game of the season in the process.
3. Arkansas can't afford more slow starts: We all know that Arkansas has the talent, but the mental focus seems off sometimes with this team. Saturday, the Razorbacks were as sluggish as they could be coming out of the gate against Ole Miss and quickly fell behind 17-0. Arkansas had absolutely nothing going for it on offense in the first half, but stormed out onto the field in the third quarter and bumrushed the Rebels, outscoring them 19-0 in their eventual 29-24 win. But this one was way closer than it should have been. If Ole Miss was a stronger team, Arkansas might not have recovered from the early deficit. Rough starts against Alabama and Texas A&M were worrisome, and this one didn't make us feel great about the Hogs. You have to commend the strong second-half push, but a start like this against a team like LSU or maybe even South Carolina could result in a disappointing outcome for the Hogs.
4. Jordan Rodgers was the right pick: Talk about Rodgers' play at Vanderbilt's camp over the summer was mostly positive, but without the entire spring to work through the playbook, Larry Smith kept his starting job. So Rodgers patiently waited, and after replacing Smith in consecutive games, Rodgers was given the starting nod by coach James Franklin for the Army game. With an offense struggling all season, Franklin needed to shake things up, and getting some new blood in at the quarterback position was the right move as Rodgers passed for 186 yards, rushed for 96 and had two touchdowns in the Commodores' 44-21 win. He sparked the entire offense that put up a season-high 530 yards, including 344 rushing yards. The Commodores finally found some consistency within their offense and Rodgers was a main reason for that. He took total command of the huddle and directed the Commodores efficiently all night. He's starting to get more and more comfortable out there and his numbers will start to improve going forward.
5. Tennessee has fight, but not the manpower: For two quarters, Tennessee stood toe-to-toe with one of the mammoths of college football. We saw the most fight out of Tennessee since wide receiver Justin Hunter went down in the Florida game. Then, Alabama got its second wind and the game was over before the fourth quarter even began. But when you're without four key components to your team and you have depth issues across the board, a loss like that isn't a shock. Tennessee just doesn't have enough dogs for a fight like that. There is a lot of good, young talent at Tennessee, but most of it is starting. Behind it, there isn't much, thanks to poor recruiting before coach Derek Dooley got there. He's having to play a bunch of youngsters out there and that can trigger ugly outcomes in this league. If you look at special teams, the Vols can't get their best athletes out there because the coaches don't want wear them out after defensive series. This team is still a year away from being close to where Dooley wants it and that should have been expected. It was always a three-year plan with him and he's working in the right direction.