Week 1 in the SEC is almost in the books. Kentucky plays at Louisville on Sunday afternoon.
What have we learned so far? Here’s a look:
1. Alabama is still Alabama: Nick Saban won’t be thrilled with the second half and how the Crimson Tide eased their foot off the gas. Even so, an impressive performance by the defending national champions in their 41-14 pummeling of No. 8 Michigan. They absolutely took apart the Wolverines and looked every bit as suffocating on defense as they did a year ago. Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick might be in the NFL now, but how would you ever know given the way the Tide played defense at Jerry World? And on offense, while there might not be a Trent Richardson on this team, Alabama has its pick of weapons and appears to be just as balanced as it was last season. It's just one game, but it's a game that sent tremors across the college football landscape.
2. East race could be a wild one: The East race, which has produced a different champion each of the past three years, could be a dandy in 2012. It’s difficult to get an accurate read on Georgia after the Bulldogs’ ho-hum 45-23 victory over Buffalo. They were missing four of their best defensive players, and there’s still no word on when they’ll all be back. Florida looked pretty ordinary most of the day in its 27-14 win over Bowling Green. South Carolina had to fight for its life to escape 17-13 at Vanderbilt, while Tennessee might have been the most impressive of the group in its 35-21 win over North Carolina State. These next three weeks should provide a little separation. This coming Saturday, Florida travels to Texas A&M, and Georgia visits Missouri, which scored four non-offensive touchdowns in its 62-10 rout of Southeastern Louisiana. Then in Week 3, Florida plays at Tennessee with Missouri paying South Carolina a visit in Week 4.
3. Beefing up the passing games: Connor Shaw's toughness was what enabled South Carolina to slip past Vanderbilt, but the Gamecocks finished with just 67 passing yards. That’s not going to get it done in most SEC games. Even before he hurt his shoulder, he threw a couple of shaky passes. The Gamecocks’ receivers also need to make more happen. That’s ditto for the Florida receivers. Frankie Hammond finally did in the fourth quarter of the Gators’ win on Saturday when he turned a short toss into a 50-yard touchdown. But for most of the day, it was a Florida passing game that looked eerily similar to the one last season that generated just 13 touchdown passes. It appears that Jeff Driskel will be the Gators’ quarterback going forward.
4. Auburn still has work to do on defense: Auburn coach Gene Chizik brought in new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder to add some punch to the Tigers’ defense. But they ended up getting punched for most of the night Saturday by a Clemson offense that pounded out 528 total yards, including 320 on the ground. It’s the fourth time in five games against FBS foes that Auburn has allowed more than 200 yards rushing. Andre Ellington rushed for 231 yards on 26 carries, and Auburn simply couldn’t get him on the ground. As Chizik noted afterward, Auburn’s defense couldn’t get off the field, either, when it had to. It’s not the kind of start anybody on the Plains was hoping for from a unit that finished 11th in the SEC last season in total defense.
5. Dandy debuts: Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson, Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon all made big splashes in their SEC debuts. Patterson, a junior college newcomer at receiver, made two huge plays in the first quarter to help the Vols build a lead in their 35-21 win over North Carolina State. He had a 41-yard touchdown catch to open the scoring and showcased his tremendous speed when he took a handoff on a reverse and cut back across the field for a 67-yard touchdown. Gurley, a freshman running back, scored three touchdowns in his first game in a Georgia uniform. He had scoring runs of 55 and 10 yards and also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Gurley finished with 100 yards rushing on eight carries. Yeldon, also a freshman, became the first Alabama player in history to rush for 100 yards in his first college game. He finished with 111 yards on 11 carries and also caught a pass for 26 yards. Here’s a hint for those trying to tackle Yeldon: Gang-tackle him, because the first guy hitting him rarely gets him on the ground.