Monday, September 16, 2013
Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 3
By Chris Low
The temperature is heating up in some locales in the SEC and cooling down in others:
Johnny Manziel is one of the reasons SEC offenses are humming and its defenses are suffering.
SEC offenses: We’ve played three weeks of football, and half the SEC teams are ranked in the top 38 nationally in total offense. No, that’s not a typo. We’re talking offense here, not defense. Not only that, but 10 of the 14 teams are averaging more than 30 points per game. They’re not all rolling up these numbers against lesser competition, either. Alabama and Texas A&M combined for 91 points, 1,196 yards and 62 first downs in their 49-42 classic on Saturday in College Station. In the season opener, we saw Ole Miss defeat Vanderbilt in a wild 39-35 game. Georgia lost 38-35 to Clemson in its opener and came back the next week and beat South Carolina 41-30 in a game that featured 990 yards of total offense. Even LSU is getting into the act. Yep, the same LSU that didn't finish better than ninth in the SEC in passing offense the last four years. The Tigers have thrown it only 70 times in their first three games but are fifth in the league in passing offense (269.3 yards per game). More importantly, they’re making big plays downfield. They’re averaging 11.5 yards per attempt, which is second in the league behind only Georgia. Of course, with all this offense, the SEC’s defensive numbers have taken a hit. Only four teams are in the top 40 nationally in total defense -- Florida (No. 3), Arkansas (No. 6), LSU (No. 10) and Ole Miss (No. 35).
Arkansas running back Alex Collins: Not even Herschel Walker rushed for 100 yards in each of his first three games, so Collins is in rarefied air. He rushed for 115 yards in the win over Southern Miss on Saturday, becoming the first freshman in SEC history to rush for 100 yards in each of his first three games. The last freshman to do it nationally was Adrian Peterson in 2004. Collins’ backfield mate, sophomore Jonathan Williams, has also gained 100 yards each of the first three weeks.
Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon's eardrums: After scoring on a 4-yard touchdown run right before the half, Yeldon was hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he gave the old double throat slash and went all Manziel on us with the “money fingers.” Alabama coach Nick Saban then proceeded to go off on Yeldon, who’s probably still having a hard time hearing out of that ear.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger: He leads the SEC in passing efficiency and has thrown nine touchdown passes and no interceptions through the Tigers’ first three games. His nine touchdown passes through three games are the most in school history. What’s more, at this point a year ago, Mettenberger had four touchdown passes and two interceptions.
Butch Jones’ road debut: At least Tennessee won’t have to face Oregon again anytime soon. Jones’ first road game as the Vols’ coach produced their worst beating in modern history. The 59-14 drubbing could have been worse, but the Ducks mercifully took their foot off the gas pedal late in the third quarter. It was a reminder that Oregon is off-the-charts good and Tennessee still has a long way to go before being ready to swim in those waters.
Odell Beckham (3) and Jarvis Landry have been the SEC's best receiving tandem so far.
Targeting penalties: Thankfully, the ejection of Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on Saturday was overturned by replay, but the 15-yard penalty stuck. It shouldn't have been a penalty; Clinton-Dix was clearly trying to make a play on the ball and there just happened to be some helmet-to-helmet contact. No wonder the coaches hate the rule given how subjective it is.
Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri: There was some concern about Sunseri's ability to cover, and that’s still not his forte. But the guy is a football player. He has played in two games this season and has two interception returns for touchdowns. There’s something to be said for being in the right place at the right time, and Sunseri always seems to be in the right places at the right times.
South Carolina’s special teams: The Gamecocks almost made enough special-teams gaffes to let Vanderbilt really make things interesting there at the end last weekend. They’re getting nothing out of their kickoff return game, and Shon Carson fumbled two (losing one) against the Commodores. South Carolina also had a punt go off a player’s heel that set up one of Vanderbilt’s late touchdowns and helped the Commodores rally.
Texas A&M’s defense: Technically, Johnny Manziel is correct. Texas A&M isn't out of the SEC or national championship race. The Aggies will need some help, but Alabama has proven the last two years that a one-loss SEC team (not even a one-loss SEC champion) can rebound to win it all. So with some help, the Aggies can still work their way back onto the guest list for the Vizio BCS National Championship. But where they’re really going to need help is on defense. They’ve got to get better -- and get better in a hurry -- on that side of the ball, or it’s not going to matter how many mesmerizing plays Manziel makes on offense. Having to score 40-plus points every week to win has a way of catching up to you. The Aggies got all their players back on defense against Alabama except for safety Floyd Raven, and while it’s true that playing with different combinations can torment a defense, the Aggies’ problem so far has been that they don’t do anything particularly well on defense and have looked unsound at times through the first three games. We’ll see what kinds of strides the Aggies can make on D, but they’re clearly missing some of the playmakers who helped them play extremely well down the stretch last year.