Sunday, November 8, 2009
What we learned in the SEC: Week 10
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The SEC championship game is all set. Alabama and Florida will play for the title for the second year in a row on Dec. 5 in Atlanta.
All that remains is to see whether there will be more at stake than just the league title. At this point, it would be a pretty major upset if both teams weren’t unbeaten and playing for a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
Here’s a look at what we learned in the SEC in Week 10:
1. Alabama vs. Florida one more time: For the seventh time, Alabama and Florida will meet in the SEC championship game. The Gators have won four of the previous six affairs. It’s never too early for a quick preview, even if there’s still three weeks left in the regular season. Both teams have some holes offensively, and in particular, they’ve struggled in the red zone. Both teams have dominant defenses with difference-makers all over the field on that side of the ball. They both have dangerous return men and reliable kickers, although Florida is better in its coverage units and better across the board on special teams. Alabama looks to be the more physical team, but the great equalizer is the guy pulling the trigger at quarterback for Florida. He’s the reason the Gators beat the Crimson Tide last season in Atlanta. Tim Tebow made some pinpoint throws in the fourth quarter, especially on third down. And, remember, Percy Harvin had a bum ankle and didn’t play in that game. Let the hype begin. Dec. 5 can’t get here soon enough.
2. Gators get defensive: Lost in all the questions about Florida’s offense not being as explosive and all the hubbub over Brandon Spikes’ suspension and Urban Meyer being fined $30,000 for his public comments about the officials is the fact that the Gators are playing at a championship level defensively. Their 27-3 win over Vanderbilt marked the fifth time this season that they haven’t given up a touchdown in a game. Spikes watched the game from the sideline, but the Gators didn’t skip a beat. Ryan Stamper started at middle linebacker in Spikes’ place and came up with his second career interception to set up a touchdown. This is a defense that’s given up just six touchdowns all season and a team that has a much different identity than a year ago, more of a grind-it-out identity. Meyer knows that, and he’s going to play to his strength the rest of the way -- his defense.
3. Quarterbacks make a comeback: Take a quick gander around the league at some of the numbers the quarterbacks are generating. The feeling at the beginning of the season was that this league had never been more unsettled at the quarterback position outside of Tebow and Jevan Snead. But with three weeks left in the regular season, there’s a chance that five different quarterbacks may end up with at least 20 touchdown passes this season. Tennessee’s Jonathan Crompton leads the way with 21. Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett has 18, and Georgia’s Joe Cox, Auburn’s Chris Todd and Ole Miss’ Snead each have 17. South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia has 13 and has an outside chance to get there with a strong finish in his last three games, which would include a bowl game. Did you notice who’s not among the leaders in touchdown passes? Tebow has just 11 touchdown passes. But with at least five games to play, he could also easily get to the 20-touchdown plateau. A year ago, only three quarterbacks in the league accomplished that feat -- Matthew Stafford, Snead and Tebow.
4. Mallett’s impact: Speaking of quality quarterback play, what about the impact Mallett has had at Arkansas? He’s really starting to blossom in Bobby Petrino’s system and has gone 121 pass attempts without an interception. The school record is 134 straight, which was set by Clint Stoerner during the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Mallett was 23-of-27 against South Carolina, and it’s obvious his understanding of the offense right now is as good as it’s been all season. With Joe Adams back healthy and tight end D.J. Williams having his best game of the season, Mallett now has all of his weapons at his disposal, too. If he continues to progress at this rate, this offense is going to be the one nobody wants to face next season, not to mention an offense that may put up its biggest numbers this season in these last few games.
5. More officiating questions: Maybe it’s come to this. Every week, there’s going to be some controversy in the SEC about the officials. The latest involved LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson’s interception on the sideline -- or non-interception -- as was the ruling on the field in the 24-15 loss to Alabama and then upheld by the replay official. There was a mark left on the field (assuming that it was indeed the mark left by Peterson’s shoe) that certainly suggested that Peterson got a foot down before going out of bounds. He insisted afterward that he did. The replays also seemed to support him. But there has to be inconclusive video evidence, and the replay official in this case, Gerald Hodges, obviously didn’t feel like the video was convincing enough to overturn the call. Therefore, Alabama retained possession and moved into position for Leigh Tiffin’s clinching field goal. And we’re left to debate another disputed call. It’s become life as we know it in the SEC.