- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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If you like points and lots of them, then you had a blast Saturday in the SEC. Here’s a look at what we learned in Week 5:
1. Getting defensive: For a league that prides itself on defense, some eye-opening offensive numbers were generated Saturday. Even Alabama’s vaunted defense gave up 16 first downs to Ole Miss, which finished 8-of-17 on third down. That was just scratching the surface, though. Georgia outlasted Tennessee 51-44 with the Bulldogs rolling up 560 yards and the Vols 478 yards. This was a Georgia defense that added starters Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo to the mix and was still shredded to the tune of 197 rushing yards. As for Tennessee’s defense, the Vols are well on their way to historical lows this season. They’ve played two SEC games and given up a total of 88 points and 1,115 yards. At least they’ve been consistent. They gave up 555 to Florida and 560 to Georgia and have been gashed for 618 rushing yards in those two games. The Vols have nothing on Arkansas, though. The Hogs, in losing 58-10 to Texas A&M, have given up 110 points and 1,154 yards in two SEC contests. The Aggies piled up 716 yards on Saturday against an Arkansas defense that is utterly defenseless. In four games against FBS foes, the Hogs have allowed a total of 179 points. It’s only five weeks into the season, but maybe some of the defenses in this league aren’t quite as advertised. Then again, maybe the offenses are simply catching up.
2. LSU still a quandary: The Tigers are giving new meaning to winning ugly after slopping their way to a 38-22 win over “mighty” Towson on Saturday. You survey LSU’s team, and there’s no question the talent’s there, especially on defense. But the Tigers aren’t playing like the No. 3 team in the country. In fact, they’re not playing like the No. 3 team in the SEC. They’re playing just well enough to win, and that’s a dangerous way of life in this league. One thing to keep in mind is this is not the same team LSU thought it was going to have in August. Losing left tackle Chris Faulk was a killer on offense. Now, it looks like running back Alfred Blue might be out for the season. Linebacker Tahj Jones was also sidelined because of academics. Throw in the dismissal of Tyrann Mathieu, and that’s four key players the Tigers are missing. Clearly, quarterback Zach Mettenberger has to play better, and his receivers need to make more happen. The prelims are over, though. LSU heads to the Swamp this coming Saturday to take on Florida, followed by a home date with South Carolina and then another road trip to Texas A&M. Then comes a bye week followed by Alabama’s visit on Nov. 3. In short, we’ll know plenty about these Tigers three or four weeks from now.
3. Aggies making their move: Don’t sleep on Kevin Sumlin and his Texas A&M football team. Moreover, don’t sleep on Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. For one, you gotta love the “Johnny Football” moniker. It certainly fits. To this point, there hasn’t been a more entertaining player in the SEC to watch play. Manziel set the school record for total offense in the 58-10 rout of Arkansas with 557 yards. In his past three games, he’s passed for 921 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s also rushed for 306 yards in those three games with five more touchdowns. The Texas A&M players were adamant during the preseason that they were planning on coming into the SEC and winning right away. They didn’t want to hear about any kind of transition period. Go back to the Florida game three weeks ago. The Aggies were right there but couldn’t quite finish the game. Sumlin has this bunch playing at a high level and believing. He also has a quarterback who’s playing lights-out. If you’re looking for a sleeper in the West, don’t sleep on the Aggies.
4. Tennessee still has some fight: When you get past all the points and yards Tennessee gave up Saturday in its 51-44 loss to Georgia, there was one glaring difference about this game for the Vols. They stood and fought and didn’t wilt even after falling behind by 17 points in the first half. Even more encouraging for Big Orange fans is that the Vols showed some grit, some mental toughness and some courage in the second half. That’s been the knock on Derek Dooley’s teams at Tennessee. They’ve run away and hidden more times than not in the second half -- but not this time against a very talented Georgia football team on the road. Granted, there are serious defensive concerns, and junior quarterback Tyler Bray has to play better in the clutch. But it’s the kind of performance the Vols can build on going forward. They get a bye this coming week, and then comes a trip to Mississippi State on Oct. 13 that will go a long way toward determining where this program is headed and whether or not Dooley is going to be around long term.
5. Freshman sensations: When’s the last time two true freshman running backs have come into the SEC and made the kind of immediate impact that Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have for the Bulldogs? They’ve already combined for 964 rushing yards in five games. Marshall, who had touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards against Tennessee, is averaging 8.2 yards per carry, while Gurley is averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Gurley already has 10 touchdowns, including a 100-yard kickoff return. It’s not out of the realm to think that both these guys could rush for 1,000 yards this season. Again, we’re talking about freshmen. The Bulldogs might want to pay a franchise tax to North Carolina this year, because they went into that state and pulled out a pair of franchise running backs who look like they’re going to torment the rest of the SEC for a long time.