NCF Nation: SEC what we learned

What we learned in the SEC

September, 20, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

Could it be that the SEC isn’t Florida’s own little playground this season?

The league race looks a bit more wide open than it did this time a week ago after seeing the Gators struggle at home against Tennessee.

One game certainly doesn’t make a season, but what happened in the Swamp on Saturday was eye-opening to say the least.

Here’s a look at what we learned in Week 3 in the SEC:

1. No champagne bottles just yet: Contrary to what Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin said leading up to the game last week, Florida isn’t ready to challenge the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers or the 1985 Chicago Bears as the greatest football team to ever play. The Gators have some obvious holes, the kind of thing that wasn’t going to show up in their first two exhibition games. With Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy gone, there’s nobody who really scares you at receiver, and the running game without Tim Tebow is hit and miss. Tebow is the great equalizer because he wills the Gators to first downs whenever they need them, but he can’t be expected to carry that kind of burden all season long. Moreover, how many more hits can he take? The guy is simply amazing. But in this league, taking on that many linebackers and safeties is playing with fire. Defensively, the Gators had better hope the 23-13 win over Tennessee was just an off day tackling, because they’re going to face offenses this season that will throw far more talent at them from the skill positions than the Vols did Saturday.

2. Monte’s the man: Now that Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has faced a real spread offense, I think it’s safe to say that he knows a thing or two about scheming up any offense -- spread, pro-style, wishbone, draw it up in the sand and go. Hey, Kiffin has been around the block a few times. While it’s true they don’t run a lot of the single wing in the NFL, there’s a reason that he arrived at Tennessee as one of the most renowned defensive minds in the game. Outside of that third quarter, his defense really did a number on Tebow and the Gators. They were able to get pressure from several different spots on the field, came up with key turnovers and stayed aggressive the entire game. Tennessee’s defense is for real, and as long as the Vols stay healthy, they’re only going to get better with Kiffin calling the shots.

3. No defense for Hogs’ defense: They love to squeal a certain chant in Hog Land. They’re just plain squealing right now. That defense doesn’t look any better than a year ago, maybe even worse. And the pass defense? Yeah, I hear you, Hog fans. What pass defense? Seriously, Arkansas is as bad on defense as it is good on offense. In losing 52-41 at home to Georgia, the Hogs were torched for 530 yards of total offense and 20 first downs. All six of Georgia’s touchdowns were 20 yards or longer, and three of them were at least 40 yards. Arkansas’ pass rush rarely got close enough to Georgia quarterback Joe Cox to breathe on him, as he had time to sit back there and throw to open receivers all game. Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett is really good and is going to put up some big numbers this season. But how many shootouts are you going to win in this league? One thing's for sure. It looks like the Hogs are going to be in a lot of them.

4. Don’t forget about McElroy: As we look around the league the first three weeks and pick out the most impressive performers, Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy is right there at the top of my list. He’s been much better than I thought he would be at this point after not playing any meaningful snaps in college until this season, and he can make any throw. His passes are always on time, right where the receiver likes them, and he has great touch on the deep ball. He admits that he was a little shaky to start that game against Virginia Tech to open the season, and that’s understandable. But once he got rolling in that fourth quarter, he’s been as good as any quarterback in the league. In his last nine quarters, starting with the fourth quarter against Virginia Tech, McElroy is 44-of-57 for 502 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s spreading the ball around, using his running backs and the tight end and hasn’t really had the benefit yet of throwing to Julio Jones, who’s been slowed by a bruised kneecap. All in all, just a terrific start for the guy who threw 56 touchdown passes as a high school senior.

5. Dogs ain’t dead yet: Here’s hoping the Georgia players have torn up all the schedules. Looking ahead could really get depressing, because there’s no such thing as a break. Unbeaten Arizona State comes to town this weekend. But here’s the refreshing part for the Bulldogs: they’re still swinging. Sure, parental guidance is suggested for that pass defense, but this is a team that had every chance to hang its head coming out of that season-opening loss to Oklahoma State. But the Bulldogs have fought back to outlast South Carolina two weeks ago and beat Arkansas at its own game Saturday night in Fayetteville in a wild shootout. Cox has been a rock for this team, and coach Mark Richt obviously knew what he was talking about when he said there was a special blend of leadership on this club. It’s not a great team by any stretch, but it’s a team that’s had the resolve to claw out a 2-1 start when it just as easily could have been 0-3.

Posted by's Chris Low

Auburn made a little history. Tennessee came crashing back down to reality and Georgia lived to see another day Saturday.

Here’s a look at what all we learned in the SEC in Week 2:

1. Auburn serves notice: Hey, this Gene Chizik guy has made a pretty big splash. In fact, of the three new head coaches in the league, he’s made the biggest splash, and he’s done it the old-fashioned way -- by winning games. Auburn flattened Mississippi State 49-24 on Saturday night and rolled up more than 500 yards of total offense for the second straight week. It’s the first time since 1970 that Auburn has surpassed the 500-yard mark in back-to-back games. This is a team that’s improving weekly and a team that obviously knows how to put its opponent away. Auburn led Louisiana Tech 13-10 at the half last week, but set sail on a 24-3 run in the second half to win easily. And then Saturday, Mississippi State jumped out to a 17-14 lead midway through the second quarter, but Auburn scored four unanswered touchdowns to send the Bulldogs packing in the SEC opener for both teams. Here’s the most telling stat about what the Tigers have done: They scored six offensive touchdowns against Mississippi State. A year ago, they scored a total of seven offensive touchdowns in eight SEC games.

2. Alabama has options on offense: Sophomore running back Mark Ingram was already coming back from the flu and a bruised knee. Then on the opening drive against Florida International, Julio Jones bruised his right knee cap, while senior running back Roy Upchurch injured his ankle. No problem, though. The Crimson Tide unveiled freshman running back Trent Richardson in full, and he responded with 118 yards rushing. Mike McCoy got most of Jones’ snaps and finished with 100 yards in receptions, and junior quarterback Greg McElroy really looks comfortable standing in that pocket right now and throwing the ball. Everybody will keep an eye on Jones these next few days to see how his knee responds, but this appears to be a more diverse Alabama offense than a year ago.

3. Tennessee not ready for prime time: Now we know. Western Kentucky was just that bad. The Big Orange Nation was giddy with excitement over the Vols’ 63-7 season-opening win last week. But after watching the Vols play a real opponent and lose to UCLA 19-15 at home Saturday, reality quickly set in for the folks on Rocky Top. This is an average team that has a ways to go before it climbs back among the SEC’s elite. The offense doesn’t look any better than it did a year ago, although Monte Kiffin’s defense played valiantly. Lane Kiffin has a decision to make about senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who’s already thrown five interceptions in two games. Kiffin obviously lost any confidence he had in Crompton throwing the ball in the second half Saturday. How else do you explain those two up-the-middle-run calls by Kiffin down near the goal line in the final minutes?

4. Garcia finds his groove: Even though South Carolina didn’t win Saturday, sophomore quarterback Stephen Garcia gave the Gamecocks hope for the future with the way he played. He showed some courage in the pocket, was a wizard at scrambling out of trouble and just generally grew up in South Carolina’s 41-37 loss at Georgia. It’s sort of what everybody has been waiting to see from Garcia ever since he came to South Carolina as a highly regarded prep quarterback out of Tampa, Fla., two years ago. He finished 31-of-53 for a career-high 313 yards and was intercepted just once. He also led the Gamecocks in rushing with 42 yards on 10 carries. If he’d only kept the ball on that final fourth-down play instead of trying to throw it, South Carolina might be 2-0 right now. Either way, if he continues to play this way the rest of the season, the Gamecocks are going to have a chance to win a lot of games.

5. Bulldogs aren’t dead yet: They were reading the last rites on Georgia’s season as South Carolina drove down the field in the final minutes Saturday. Who knows where an 0-2 start would have led the Bulldogs? Wherever that is, it wouldn’t have been a lot of fun. But by gutting out a 41-37 win, Georgia now heads to Arkansas this coming weekend with a little momentum. The Razorbacks have been pointing toward this game for the past couple of weeks. Even Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino admitted the Hogs worked on some Georgia stuff leading up to the opener against Missouri State, and they were off this past weekend. The Bulldogs will have to play better defensively, especially against the pass, if they’re going to win in Fayetteville. But they go into that game with some newfound confidence and do so 1-0 in the SEC.