Originally Published: September 30, 2013

Where did the defense go?

By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

ATHENS, Ga. -- Against Georgia on Saturday, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw for a career-high 372 passing yards and the Tigers went 10-for-15 on third down in a hostile environment on the road.

The No. 6 Tigers still lost to the No. 9 Bulldogs 44-41 at Sanford Stadium.

On Sept. 7, South Carolina gained 454 yards of offense and 21 first downs, but gave up 536 yards and 25 first downs in a 41-30 loss at Georgia, which gave the Bulldogs the inside track to a third consecutive SEC East title.

Johnny Manziel
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M QB Johnny Manziel posted huge numbers against Alabama in a losing effort.

A week later, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, passed for a career-best 464 yards, ran for 98 and threw five touchdowns against No. 1 Alabama. The Aggies gained 628 yards of offense -- the most ever allowed by the Crimson Tide -- but still lost the game, 49-42 at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.

Welcome to the new SEC, where "three yards and a cloud of dust" has been replaced by "three straight passes and duck!"

Did Chip Kelly leave Oregon for the NFL or the Deep South?

After five weeks of the 2013 season, seven SEC teams rank in the top 50 nationally among FBS teams in total offense and scoring. SEC teams are averaging 6.52 yards per play -- more than any other league in the country -- and more than 450 yards of offense.

When Florida started the SEC's unprecedented streak of seven consecutive BCS national championships in 2006, SEC teams averaged 25.2 points per game. This season, SEC teams are averaging 34.3 points per game.

For a league that has long prided itself on defense and a physical, black-and-blue style of football, the makeover has been dramatic. The new SEC looks more like the old Big 12.

Even the SEC's best player, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, has been neutralized by the fast-paced, high-octane offenses this season. Clowney, a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate and projected No. 1 pick in next spring's NFL draft, has two sacks in four games after setting a school record with 13 sacks in 2012.

"It's all about experienced quarterbacks and experienced offenses more than anything else," said former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, who guided the Bulldogs to the 1980 national championship. "It's what we've got. It's all about the quarterbacks. We've never seen them be that important in the past. They were important, but they weren't this important."

Eight SEC quarterbacks are currently ranked in the top 50 of ESPN's QBR ratings, more than any other FBS league. Mettenberger is ranked No. 9, followed by Manziel at No. 11, Missouri's James Franklin at No. 14 and Georgia's Aaron Murray at No. 15.

Zach Mettenberger
Sarah Glenn/Getty ImagesLSU's Zach Mettenberger leads all SEC quarterbacks in QBR.

Four of the country's top receivers -- Texas A&M's Mike Evans, Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews and LSU's Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. -- also call the SEC home.

Part of the SEC's recent offensive explosion can be attributed to its youth on defense. Florida and Georgia had to replace eight starters on defense coming into this season; LSU had to replace seven; and South Carolina and Texas A&M had to replace six. Of the 21 SEC players selected in the first round of the NFL draft the past two years, all but five were defenders. You don't replace that kind of star power overnight.

Only three SEC defenses -- Florida, Alabama and Mississippi State -- currently rank in the top 35 in scoring defense.

LSU has already surrendered 62 points in two SEC games -- and it hasn't even faced Johnny Football and Texas A&M's high-octane attack yet.

Asked if SEC fans should expect a video game-like scoring fest every week, LSU head coach Les Miles bristled.

"God, I hope not," he said. "I think we can throw the football. I think there are quarterbacks in this league that can do the same. I think there are wide receiver corps that run routes and make catches. I think we can play defense better than [Saturday] night."

The Tigers might not have to.

On The Mark: Tide in control

By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Alabama

At least two-time defending BCS national champion Alabama still knows how to play defense. After its defense was criticized for its uneven play through the first three games, the No. 1 Crimson Tide shut out No. 21 Ole Miss 25-0 on Saturday night. After quarterback Bo Wallace boasted the Rebels could score on anyone, the Tide held them to only 205 yards of offense on 57 plays. The Rebels ran for only 46 yards and were 4-for-14 on third down.

"We really didn't pay attention to it, but we still heard it," Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley said of the Rebels' confidence. "For us to leave a zero on the board, it did a lot of talking for us on the field."

The Crimson Tide will be big favorites in their next four games -- Georgia State (home), Kentucky (road), Arkansas (home) and Tennessee (home) -- and should be 8-0 heading into its Nov. 9 showdown against No. 10 LSU at home.

Off The Mark: All down Heel

By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

North Carolina

One of the bigger disappointments of the season has to be North Carolina, which dropped to 1-3 after an ugly 55-31 loss to East Carolina at home on Saturday. The Tar Heels were expected to make big strides in coach Larry Fedora's second season, but they can't play defense. The Pirates piled up 603 yards of offense -- 227 rushing and 376 passing -- while running 101 plays in more than 36 minutes of possession.

"As I've said before, we've got a long way to go," Fedora said.

The only solace for Fedora: The Tar Heels don't play No. 3 Clemson or No. 8 Florida State this season.

On The Mark: WVU battles back

By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

West Virginia

Who didn't leave West Virginia for dead a week ago? After the Mountaineers were shut out and threw for only 62 yards in a 37-0 loss to Maryland in Baltimore on Sept. 21, many WVU fans were beginning to wonder if coach Dana Holgorsen would ever get his team turned around.

But the Mountaineers pulled off one of the season's biggest upsets on Saturday, knocking off No. 11 Oklahoma State 30-21 at home. Former Florida State quarterback Clint Trickett, who transferred to WVU this summer after losing the starting job to freshman Jameis Winston, completed 24 of 50 passes for 309 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in his first start.

The Mountaineers capitalized on three OSU turnovers and held the Cowboys to only seven points in the second half.

"There has been a bunch of emotions over the past week, embarrassment and disappointment," Holgorsen said. "But they kept working. It was the best week of practice we have had all year. We felt like we could win, so we went out there and wanted it pretty bad."

Off The Mark: Nearly kicked away

By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Tennessee

Tennessee was lucky to survive a 31-24 victory over South Alabama at home on Saturday, and an odd special-teams blunder didn't help its chances. With the Volunteers leading 31-17 in the fourth quarter, UT kicker Michael Palardy set up for a 52-yard field goal that probably would have put the game out of reach. But Palardy kicked the ball into holder Tyler Drummer's off hand, causing it to fall about 30 yards short of the goal posts. South Alabama's Roman Buchanan returned the ball to the UT 29 to set up a touchdown drive that cut the Vols' lead to a touchdown.

After a Tennessee punt, the Jaguars drove to the UT 8, but quarterback Ross Metheny's pass was intercepted in the end zone with 1:51 to play.

"I didn't really see that," UT coach Butch Jones said of the botched field goal. "He kicked, the holder's hand got under the football."

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