Sunday, November 15, 2009
What we learned in the SEC: Week 11
By Chris Low
Florida had a little trouble. Alabama had very little trouble.
Meanwhile, they move on toward what’s looking more and more like it will be an unbeaten matchup in the SEC championship game on Dec. 5.
At this point, style points are mere fluff for both teams. All they need to do is keep winning.
Florida did that with a 24-14 win over South Carolina after turning the game around in the fourth quarter thanks to Justin Trattou’s interception and 53-yard return. Alabama pounced on Mississippi State in the second quarter and cruised to a 31-3 romp.
Here’s a look at what all we learned in the SEC in Week 11:
1. High Tide offense: Suddenly, Alabama is hitting big plays and spreading the ball around again, which is good news for what’s coming down the road. For the second straight week, the Crimson Tide were more explosive on offense with several different players getting involved. Most encouraging to Alabama fans is that receiver Julio Jones has scored on long touchdown catches for two straight weeks now after scoring just one touchdown in a span of 16 games heading into the LSU game a week ago. When he’s scoring from long distance and involved in this offense, Alabama becomes an entirely different animal offensively. Quarterback Greg McElroy also connected with Darius Hanks on a 45-yard touchdown in the first half. Jones’ 48-yard touchdown came in the second half after Mississippi State had scored its only points of the game. And then on Alabama’s next possession, Mark Ingram burst through a huge hole up the middle and showed that he does indeed have breakaway speed on a 70-yard touchdown run. The Alabama players all talked about the need to generate more explosive plays coming out of that Tennessee game several weeks ago. Well, they’re coming in bunches now.
2. Ole Miss revival: Heading into Saturday’s game with Tennessee, Ole Miss owned one of the more deceiving 6-3 records in college football. The Rebels really hadn’t beaten anybody, with four of their wins coming over “powerhouses” Memphis, Southeastern Louisiana, UAB and Northern Arizona. They needed a quality win in the worst way and got it with their most impressive performance of the season in a 42-17 smackdown of Tennessee at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Not being more of a factor in the Western Division race this season was disappointing, especially given all the preseason hype. But the Rebels (7-3, 3-3) still have a chance to put together a memorable season. They haven’t won nine or more games in back-to-back seasons since 1961 and 1962 when John Vaught was running the show. Their convincing win over the Vols on Saturday and the fact that they’ve finally turned Dexter McCluster loose at running back puts them in a position to finish this season on a roll for the second straight year.
3. Selfish Vols: The Tennessee players went out of their way Saturday following their 42-17 loss to Ole Miss not to use the arrests of their three teammates earlier in the week for alleged attempted armed robbery as an excuse. Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin also barely mentioned it. Kudos to all of them for being so stand-up. But whether the whole embarrassing ordeal was or wasn’t a distraction (and you know it was to some degree), the actions of Janzen Jackson, Mike Edwards and Nu’Keese Richardson were the essence of selfishness. Obviously, they don't care one iota about their teammates, the football program or the university to even put themselves in that position two days before such an important game. Nobody’s passing judgment here. The legal process will run its course. But over and above whether or not they’re guilty of the crime in which they're charged, they deserve to be sent packing for their selfish actions and the sheer stupidity of the whole thing, if nothing else.
4. Fight still left in Gamecocks: You couldn’t help but go into that Florida-South Carolina game wondering if the Gamecocks were like a fighter that was dazed, hurt and just one punch away from hitting the canvas and not getting back up. But they showed that they have plenty of fight left, particularly on defense, and held in there time and time again despite being put in some terrible positions and getting down to the bare bones in terms of depth. The Head Ball coach sounds sincere about wanting to stick around for a few more years, and the way his team fought against the Gators was telling. The Gamecocks mailed it in this time a year ago. Anybody who really knows Steve Spurrier knows that he doesn’t want to go out this way. He likes the young talent in the program and genuinely believes there are better days ahead. He’s confident in this staff and is being careful this season not to let any frustration turn into negative vibes. After a bye next week, a win over Clemson on Nov. 28 at home could change the outlook on this season considerably heading to the bowl game.
5. Another round of scary injuries: These last couple of weeks in the league have seen more scary injuries than any of us want to see. There were long delays in the Ole Miss-Tennessee game and Auburn-Georgia game while players were immobilized and carted off the field for tests. Thankfully, it looks like Tennessee linebacker LaMarcus Thompson is going to be OK after suffering a stinger, and Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo has movement in all of his extremities after suffering a concussion. Going all the way back to the Tim Tebow concussion, there have been more of these type of injuries in the SEC than I can remember in some time. Just last week, Auburn safety Zac Etheridge had his season ended and possibly his career after being briefly paralyzed. He tore ligaments in his neck and cracked the fifth vertebra. There was also the scary scene with South Carolina receiver Moe Brown in the Alabama game where he had to be stabilized and taken to the hospital for tests following a violent hit. I think I speak for everybody in the SEC when I say this is a trend we all want to see end.