Sunday, September 18, 2011
What we learned in the SEC: Week 3
By Edward Aschoff
After the third week of football, things are getting interesting in the SEC. Here's what we learned from the past weekend:
1. The East is average: Heading into the season, we knew the West was stronger than the East, but we didn't know it would be this much stronger. South Carolina was supposed to be the overwhelming favorite, but three weeks into the season the Gamecocks have looked pedestrian on both sides of the ball. If not for Marcus Lattimore pounding away on the ground this weekend, Navy might have come away with the upset. South Carolina's defense has really struggled and the offense isn't consistent. Georgia needed to play Coastal Carolina before it got its first win and the defense hasn't flown around the field like we expected. As for Florida and Tennessee, the Vols are still a year away from really contending in the East. The running game needs major work and the defensive youth, especially up front, will go through more growing pains. Also, if Justin Hunter's knee injury is as bad as expected, another receiver has to step up or this offense will struggle. The Gators' defense was fun to watch and it's much more aggressive this season, but it's still young, and questions remain on offense, where no one is sure if the miniature Chris Rainey can handle the load of the SEC. This team still makes a lot of mistakes on both sides of the ball. Finally, Vanderbilt is a team we can't sleep on, but the offense still looks like a mess at times, while Kentucky suffered a huge loss to Louisville. Vandy could be in bowl contention, but it might be a long season for Joker Phillips in Lexington.
Chris Relf and Mississippi State found the going tough against the LSU defense.
2. If you can't run the ball you're sunk: Winning the battle in the trenches is key to winning in the SEC, and after this weekend, that was made perfectly clear. Tennessee couldn't block for the run at all against Florida's defensive line and fell in The Swamp. The Vols had minus-9 yards rushing on 21 attempts and deep into the game that number was at minus-20. Tennessee became one-dimensional, and while the Vols lost by 10, it wasn't as close as the scoreboard read. Ole Miss suffered an ugly loss to Vanderbilt after getting just 85 yards on the ground -- and that was with Brandon Bolden back in the lineup. The offensive line was expected to be one of the best in the league, but it has yet to really impress this season. Vandy rolled up 281 rushing yards Saturday. And Mississippi State met a similar blow at home against LSU when its offensive line was dominated by LSU's. The Tigers stuffed the run, allowing just 52 yards on 34 carries. Once the Bulldogs got almost totally into throwing mode, the game was completely in LSU's hands.
3. Getting past LSU and Alabama's defense won't be fun: We knew both of these teams had suffocating defenses, but they might have the best defensive units in the country. Both rank in the top six nationally and have combined to allow five touchdowns on the year. LSU hasn't given up one since Week 1 against Oregon. Alabama is allowing 170 yards, while the Tigers are surrendering just 207. Alabama hasn't generated a lot of turnovers and only has four sacks, but moving the ball on the Tide has been tremendously difficult as Alabama is giving up 2.5 yards per play. The Tigers seem to do it all on defense. They fly around and wreak havoc on nearly every play. Defensive coordinator John Chavis had his Tigers one step ahead of Mississippi State Thursday night, turning that high-powered offense into mush for most of the game. LSU has forced seven turnovers (causing nine fumbles in the process) and has five sacks. Its defensive line has been dominant, as teams are rushing for 47 yards a game and 1.6 yards per carry.
4. Vanderbilt will be competitive in the SEC: The Commodores dismantled Ole Miss this weekend, and while the offense still has some issues, this team has the confidence and swagger to scare some of the bigger teams in the SEC. First-year coach James Franklin has this team 3-0, and six wins definitely not out of the question. And with the way the other East teams have played, no one on this side of the division should be sleeping on the Commodores. South Carolina inched past Navy and hosts Vandy next Saturday. Falling asleep against Navy almost gave the Gamecocks their first loss. Falling asleep against Vandy will give South Carolina its first loss.
5. Auburn's defense needs to make corrections: We knew the luck would eventually run out for Auburn, and it was the defense that was outlasted at Clemson Saturday. Auburn ranks 117th nationally in total defense, giving up 534 yards a game. Auburn has also allowed 14 touchdowns, and giving up 624 yards to Clemson finally proved to be too much for this young team. As the season goes on, the competition will only get better, and the glaring mistakes this defense has had through the first three weeks will be made more and more obvious unless there are changes in personnel and/or philosophy. Coach Gene Chizik has a background in defense, so expect him to be more involved going forward, but he can't make tackles or put pressure on quarterbacks. His players have to do that, and Auburn has to find the right set of players to do that.