Where did the defense go?
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.
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Welcome to the new SEC, where "three yards and a cloud of dust" has been replaced by "three straight passes and duck!"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.
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
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
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
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
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."
East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden completed 32 of 47 passes for 376 yards with three touchdowns and ran for three more scores, helping the Pirates rout North Carolina 55-31 on Saturday. It was ECU's first victory in Chapel Hill since 1975 and their first over UNC in five seasons.
On The Mark: Precision Passers
1. Aaron Murray, Georgia
Murray was responsible for five touchdowns in Georgia's 44-41 win against LSU. It was his second-straight win against a top-10 team, after starting his career 1-6 in such games. Murray and his former college roommate, Zach Mettenberger, exchanged the lead five times in the game. Mettenberger's Total QBR of 86.0 was his highest in any SEC game. Murray, on the other hand, finished with a Total QBR of 82.6 and had 298 pass yards. It was enough to move ahead of Eric Zeier, Peyton Manning and Chris Leak for the second-most pass yards all-time in the SEC. He trails only former Georgia QB David Greene by 99 yards.
2. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
Mannion passed for 414 yards and a school-record six touchdowns in Oregon State's 44-17 win against Colorado. It was his fifth-straight game with at least 350 pass yards, the longest such streak in school history and the longest active streak in the FBS.
3. Shane Carden, East Carolina
Carden passed and ran for three touchdowns in East Carolina's 55-31 win at North Carolina. It was his second career game with at least three touchdowns passing and rushing, the most such games for any player in the last 10 seasons. Carden also did it against Marshall on Nov. 23, 2012.
4. Cody Fajardo, Nevada
Fajardo passed for a career-high 389 yards and three touchdowns in Nevada's 45-42 win against Air Force. He also had 81 yards and two touchdowns rushing. His 2,038 career rush yards are the second most in school history for a quarterback behind Colin Kaepernick (4,102).
5. Jameis Winston, Florida State
Winston had 330 pass yards and four touchdowns in Florida State's 48-34 win at Boston College. He is one of six FBS quarterbacks this season to have multiple games with at least 300-pass yards and four touchdowns. His also did it Week 1 against Pittsburgh in his first career start.
On The Mark: Ground-Gaining RBs
1. Mike Davis, South Carolina
Davis had career highs in carries (26), rush yards (167) and rush touchdowns (three) in South Carolina's 28-25 win at UCF. He had all three touchdowns and 150 yards in the second half to help the Gamecocks erase a 10-point halftime deficit.
2. Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky
Andrews had 32 carries for 182 yards and two touchdowns in Western Kentucky's 19-7 win against Navy. It was his fourth game this season with at least 100 rush yards, tied with six other players for the most in the FBS.
3. Tim Cornett, UNLV
Cornett had 25 carries for a career-high 179 yards and three touchdowns in UNLV's 56-42 win at New Mexico. It was his first 100-yard rushing game of the season and the 12th of his career. His 75-yard touchdown run with 3:03 remaining in the fourth quarter helped seal the game for the Rebels.
4. Bishop Sankey, Washington
Sankey rushed a school-record 40 times for 161 yards and a touchdown in Washington's 31-13 win against Arizona. The previous record for rush attempts was held by Corey Dillon, who had 38 against Washington State in 1996. Sankey has seven 100-yard rush games since Nov. 1, 2012, tied for the second most in the FBS.
5. Matt Jones, Florida
Jones had career highs in carries (28) and rush yards (176) in Florida's 24-7 win at Kentucky. In the second quarter, he had a career-long 67-yard run. It was the longest play from scrimmage by Florida this season.
On The Mark: Big-Play WRs
1. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Cooks had nine receptions for 168 yards and two touchdowns in Oregon State's 44-17 win against Colorado. Cooks leads all FBS players in receptions (52), receiving yards (807), receiving touchdowns (nine) and receptions of 20-plus yards (16) this season.
2 Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
Abbrederis had career highs in receptions (10) and receiving yards (207) in Wisconsin's 31-24 loss at Ohio State. It's the fifth 200-yard receiving game in school history and the first since Lee Evans had a school-record 258 yards against Michigan State on Nov. 15, 2003.
3. Devante Davis, UNLV
Davis had a career-high 10 receptions for 164 yards and three touchdowns in UNLV's 56-42 win at New Mexico. It was his second game this season with at least 100 yards receiving and three receiving touchdowns, the most such games in the FBS. He also did it against Central Michigan on Sept. 14.
4 Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Higgins had six receptions for career highs in receiving yards (156) and touchdowns (two) in Colorado State's 59-42 win against UTEP. It was the most receiving yards in school history by a freshman.
5. Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Evans had six receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns in Texas A&M's 45-33 win at Arkansas. It was his third 100-yard receiving game this season, matching his total from 2012.
On The Mark: Scare island
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter had to be worried about his team's focus after its 41-40 victory over Boise State on Sept. 20, which ended the Bulldogs' seven-game losing streak to the Broncos. It didn't help that Fresno State's next game was at Hawaii on Saturday night.
DeRuyter had to be pleased when the No. 25 Bulldogs jumped out to a 42-3 lead early in the second half. But then the Warriors scored 34 points in a row, pulling to within 42-37 on Steven Lakalaka 1-yard touchdown run with 7:51 to go. Hawaii got as close as Fresno State's 40-yard line in the closing seconds, but L.J. Jones intercepted a Hail Mary pass at the end.
With early victories over Rutgers and Boise State, Fresno State has positioned itself as the non-AQ team with the best chance to crash the BCS party. But its trip to the islands showed it isn't good enough to overlook any game in the Mountain West.
"We're 1-0 this week, that's our ultimate goal," DeRuyter said. "We'll take ugly wins as long as they're wins."
Off The Mark: Unwelcome mat
Old rivalries die hard, especially those in the defunct Southwest Conference. Texas A&M made its first trip since 1990 to play Arkansas at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville on Saturday, and Razorbacks officials turned down a request from the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band to perform at halftime. Arkansas officials told the band they were welcome to attend the game, but there wasn't time for them to perform because of other planned festivities. Arkansas also has a policy that forbids live mascots from being on the sideline, so the Aggies were forced to leave Reveille, their collie mascot, at home.
At least Manziel showed up. He passed for 261 yards with two touchdowns and ran for 59 yards, leading the Aggies to a 45-33 victory.