Sunday, October 11, 2009
What we learned in the SEC: Week 6
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Well, there's no doubt who the best two teams in the SEC are. We had a pretty good idea going into Saturday's games. Now we know for sure.
It's Alabama and Florida and then everybody else.
Here's a look at what we learned in the SEC in Week 6:
Coaching excellence: We all get caught up in talent and personnel, who has a quarterback who can stretch the field and who has a front seven on defense that can make you one-dimensional. But there's something to be said for in-game coaching, too, seeing to it that you play to your strengths and take advantage of the other team's weaknesses and then adjusting accordingly as the game wears on. Winning the game is what matters, and both Florida's Urban Meyer and Alabama's Nick Saban put on a clinic in game management Saturday. Both guys played to their defense, played rather conservatively on offense and got it done in hostile environments. Some might call it dull, the kind of football that doesn't lead to a lot of highlights. Meyer and Saban call it being smart. When you're as strong as both Florida and Alabama are on defense, why not let that side of the ball win it for you? The Gators and Crimson Tide have combined to play six SEC games this season. In those six contests, they've allowed a total of five touchdowns. That's a ratio you win with every time.
Superman without his cape: Florida can win against a tough, physical defense and at a place that chews up and spits out most teams even when Tim Tebow isn't really Tim Tebow. Don't get me wrong. Tebow was good enough in the 13-3 win over LSU in Tiger Stadium and made several key plays, but he sort of felt his way into the game in the first half coming off that concussion and didn't run the ball much to start the game. He also didn't take over the game like we've seen him do on so many occasions, and part of that was a credit to LSU's defense. But for the Gators to win a game of this magnitude when Tebow averages just 2.2 yards per carry and is held to 134 yards passing tells you that there's a lot more to this team than just the Man of Steel.
Ingram's the man: As we near the midway point of the season, picking the best player in the league isn't easy. You could make arguments for a handful of guys, but I'm going with Alabama sophomore running back Mark Ingram. He's rushed for 312 yards in his last two games and is effective no matter what Alabama is trying to do. He's a terrific short-yardage runner, has shown breakaway speed, can pass-protect, catch the ball out of the backfield, and according to one SEC defensive coach I talked to, is the best runner after contact in the league. South Carolina outside linebacker Eric Norwood, Georgia receiver A.J. Green, Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain, Auburn running back Ben Tate, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, Tennessee safety Eric Berry and Tebow would all get some votes if we were picking the Player of the Year Award right now, and all are deserving. But my choice would be Ingram. He's the very definition of what a football player should be.
Reality check for Auburn: The Tigers still have a chance to have a very good season, but they're not as good as their 5-0 record suggested going into Saturday's 44-23 loss to Arkansas. It starts on defense. Simply put, this isn't a very good Auburn defense. The Tigers have now given up 400 or more yards of total offense in three of their six games. Gus Malzahn's offense had a bad day, in particular a bad start, but the Tigers will bounce back on that side of the ball. It's the defense you wonder about and the part of Auburn's team that doesn't resemble right now what an SEC contender typically looks like. The Tigers had lived off getting turnovers this season. West Virginia turned it over six times, or the Mountaineers would have easily scored 40-plus in that game back in September. But against Arkansas, Auburn forced just one turnover. In short, this is a defense that needs to improve if the Tigers want to finish this season the way they started it.
Stormy times for Richt: Walking in Mark Richt's shoes wouldn't be a lot of fun this week. He's got an average football team that doesn't do anything particularly well with any consistency. It looks like it's going to be a long season in Athens given what we saw in Knoxville on Saturday. The most indicting thing for Richt and his staff is how much better prepared Tennessee looked and how much more the Vols were into it emotionally in their 45-19 shellacking of the Bulldogs. Hey, this is a beating that would have been a lot worse if Georgia doesn't get a deflected interception for a touchdown and if Tennessee had any clue about how to cover a kickoff. Richt has been too good, too consistent and too classy for any reasonable Georgia fan to call for his job. But unless there's a dramatic turnaround this season, he's going to have to make some major changes on his staff ... or he's going to be the one in trouble.