- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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It’s that time again in the world of SEC football when we break out the old thermometer.
It’s an exercise you’ve come to know as “Hot and Not,” and Week 1 is in the books.
Dynamic debuts: Everywhere you looked this first weekend, there were new faces around the league making big plays and turning in outstanding performances. Georgia freshman running back Todd Gurley had three touchdowns, including a 100-yard kickoff return. Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, a heralded junior college newcomer, lived up to the hype with a pair of long touchdowns, including a dazzling 67-yard run on a reverse. Alabama freshman running back T.J. Yeldon became the first player in school history to rush for 100 yards in his first game. Yeldon has great speed, but his balance is even better. Good luck in getting him on the ground. Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, making his first start after coming over from junior college, completed 20-of-24 passes in the Rebels’ season-opening win for 264 yards. Two of his incompletions were drops, and he also rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
Alabama’s defense: So what if the Crimson Tide lost four of their best defensive players in the top 35 picks of the NFL draft. They’re still a load on defense, and it’s going to be that way as long as Nick Saban is in town. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson never had a chance last Saturday.
Kentucky’s defensive front: Louisville’s 99-yard touchdown drive to start the game was a killer. The Wildcats proceeded to give up two more long touchdown drives and were pushed around most of the day on defense. The really discouraging thing for the Big Blue was that their defense line was supposed to be the strength of the team.
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray: Patterson’s debut was what had everybody in Big Orange Country buzzing, but Bray was equally impressive. The ball comes out of his hand like a rocket, and he’s especially polished at feeling the pressure, moving his feet and finding open receivers. He lit up North Carolina State for 333 passing yards and two touchdowns and wasn’t intercepted.
New helmet rule: While understanding the rationale for the rule and that it’s geared to player safety, it’s going to cause some major problems this season when a star player has to leave the game for a down when it’s fourth-and-goal with three seconds to play.
Arkansas receiver Brandon Mitchell: He sure didn’t look like a former quarterback playing receiver. Mitchell had four catches for 122 yards in the Hogs’ opener and set up touchdowns with catches of 40, 37 and 34 yards.
Shaky passing games: At first glance, Florida’s passing game didn’t look a lot better than it did a year ago. There will no doubt be plenty of discussion about the quarterback situation and whether the two-quarterback approach was a good idea. But there’s also no getting around the fact that the Gators are still looking for playmakers to emerge at receiver. South Carolina’s passing game was even worse in the opener. The Gamecocks managed just 67 yards through the air in their escape at Vanderbilt, and with quarterback Connor Shaw’s right shoulder still hurting, they better ramp up that passing game in a hurry.
Missouri’s playmakers: Be it on offense, defense or special teams, Missouri showed in the opener that it has a whole cache of players capable of making big plays. The Tigers scored four non-offensive touchdowns, including a pair of punt returns of 70 yards or longer by Marcus Murphy. Running back Kendial Lawrence had a 76-yard touchdown run.
Sheldon Richardson’s impression of Georgia: The Missouri junior defensive tackle sure doesn’t sound like he’s sweating Georgia’s visit this weekend. He was asked by Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune if he watched Georgia’s 45-23 season-opening win over Buffalo. Richardson said he watched it, but added, “I turned it off, too.” When asked why, Richardson said, “It’s like watching Big Ten football. It’s old man football.” Richardson wasn’t finished. He went on to say, “… If we execute, nobody in this league can touch us. Period.”
Auburn’s tackling: We’ll start with the positive. Auburn did stiffen in the red zone several times and limit Clemson to field goals. But for the most part, it was an Auburn defense that looked a lot like the one last season in terms of getting people on the ground and giving up yards in chunks. Auburn allowed 528 yards of total offense in its 26-19 loss to Clemson, and what was most disappointing for the SEC’s Tigers was that they got mashed for 320 rushing yards. Auburn’s defense was on the field for 87 plays, and that’s a ton. But there’s something to be said for getting off the field defensively when you’ve got the chance. Clemson was 8-of-17 on third down. If Auburn doesn’t improve its tackling in a major way and do a better job of getting off the field, this won’t be the last time the Tigers give up 500 yards of total offense this season.