What We Learned About the SEC in Week 3
Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
In Week 3, things got interesting.
Alabama went to College Station and exacted revenge on Texas A&M, in a thrilling 49-42 win over the Aggies. Quarterback AJ McCarron threw for 334 yards and four touchdowns, and the Alabama offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage to build a big lead and then withstand a late Aggie surge to establish front-runner status in the SEC West.
But "the game of the year" wasn't the only intriguing matchup in the SEC on Saturday.
Auburn and Mississippi State provided one of the most thrilling endings of the season and Ole Miss kept momentum going in the right direction at Texas.
What did we learn in Week 3?
Don't Worry About Alabama, the Tide is Just Fine
Remember two weeks ago when all of the focus was on Alabama's lethargic offensive performance in the Georgia Dome against Virginia Tech?
Manziel and the Aggies put the Crimson Tide in a 14-0 hole before the Tide offense took control, scoring 28 straight points and helping the Tide go up 35-14, after safety Vinnie Sunseri returned a Johnny Manziel interception 73-yards for a touchdown.
Alabama's offensive line played much better in Week 3 than it did in Week 1, and you saw the entire offense benefit as a result. McCarron looked comfortable in the pocket, and running back T.J. Yeldon wasn't changing direction in the backfield. As a result, the full Crimson Tide offense was on display.
Don't be fooled by the score. Once Alabama built a lead, this turned into the kind of typical SEC-style slugfest that Alabama wants. In the second half, the Tide controlled the line of scrimmage, bled the clock and wore down the Aggie defense. Had it not been for a Yeldon fumble at the A&M 4-yard-line with 8:42 to play, the game would have been out of reach long before the final gun.
Defensively, there are some issues.
Texas A&M picked on the inexperienced Crimson Tide cornerbacks—particularly John Fulton. But sometimes you have to tip your cap to one of the most amazing quarterbacks in college football history.
Manziel did Manziel things on Saturday afternoon. But luckily for Alabama head coach Nick Saban, Alabama did Alabama things, too.
Johnny Manziel is Still Special
Love him or hate him, you just can't keep your eyes off of him.
Manziel was simply electric on Saturday, throwing for 464 yards and five touchdowns, and rushing for 98 more.
He came out firing, hitting Mike Evans early and often against the Crimson Tide. But it was the freelancing that makes Manziel mesmerizing. No matter how much teams prepare for Manziel, his ability to make things happen on the fly renders defensive game plans useless.
Never was there a more prime example than his 12-yard "heave" to Edward Pope in the second quarter after eluding several defenders in the backfield. Yes, it's backyard football and probably raised Saban's status to "DEFCON: Muschamp," but it's still a lot of fun to watch.
Manziel is high-risk, high-reward. He got a little lazy on the interception he threw to Cyrus Jones on a fade route in the end zone in the second quarter, and some of the great plays he makes can be viewed as reckless at times. But the good far outweighs the bad.
Don't blame Manziel for the loss. He did all he could.
Jeff Scott is the Best Player You've Never Heard Of
While the dominant storyline following Ole Miss' 44-23 romp over Texas in Austin will be the temperature of Longhorn head coach Mack Brown's increasingly hot seat, let's take a moment to recognize just how good Rebel running back Jeff Scott really is.
Scott rushed for 164 yards and a touchdown on Saturday night, and added a sizzling 73-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the third quarter to extend the lead to two scores.
"The running back had tremendous speed, so it was hard containing him, but we just couldn't find that spark in the second half," Longhorn defensive tackle Chris Whaley said in postgame quotes released by the university.
Yes, at 5'7", 162 pounds, he's a bit of a "system running back." But he works very well within the Ole Miss system.
The Rebels are hot offensively and have a bye week to prepare for their Sept. 28 road trip to Alabama. That one should be quite interesting.
Jeremy Hill is Back, Making LSU Even More Dangerous
LSU has had a different player lead the team in rushing in all three of its games this season. On Saturday in a 45-13 win over Kent State, it was last season's leading rusher Jeremy Hill with the honors.
Hill rushed 11 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the romp, including a 58-yarder to open the scoring early in the first quarter. It's clear from Hill's performance that the sophomore—who was suspended indefinitely during the offseason after pleading guilty to simple battery—is back to his 2012 form.
What's concerning for LSU's opponents is, while three different players (Hill, Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard) have led the team in rushing, none of them are named "Alfred Blue." Blue is arguably the best running back of the bunch, and head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have managed to jump out to a 3-0 start while keeping him relatively fresh.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has been the talk of Baton Rouge after his hot start to the season, but it's the running backs that make this offense especially dangerous. Cameron has options at running back, which means this offense is going to be incredibly dangerous even if Mettenberger regresses in conference play.
No, Tennessee Shouldn't Consider a QB Change
Despite starting 2-0, Tennessee was largely a mystery. The 2013 Vols came into focus a bit in Eugene, in a 59-14 loss to No. 2 Oregon. The defense struggled to contain the Ducks, whose quarterback Marcus Mariota tossed for 456 yards and four touchdowns.
The defense is the problem, not Vol quarterback Justin Worley.
Worley wasn't great, completing 13-of-25 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown in the loss. But it's not his fault the Ducks ran away.
It's a transition year for Tennessee, and teams in transition years need continuity. Worley won the job exiting fall camp, so let him have the job. If Tennessee gets to its bye week on Oct. 12 and it becomes abundantly clear that Worley can't handle the job, fine. Consider making the change then.
But after one loss on the road to a national title contender when it wasn't his fault? No. Not now. Not with another road trip to Florida coming next week.
Alex Collins is Going to Be Special, Really Special
Very quietly, Arkansas running back Alex Collins has emerged as a front-runner to earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors. If he keeps this up, he may be in line to be first-team All-SEC as well.
Collins rushed 25 times for 115 yards and a touchdown in the Razorbacks' 24-3 win over Southern Miss on Saturday afternoon.
Collins currently ranks eighth in FBS in yards per game (139.3) and is second behind Georgia's Todd Gurley (143) in the SEC. Not bad for a guy who's just a few months removed from high school.
What's more impressive is that Collins has burst on the scene while splitting carries with sophomore Jonathan Williams in Fayetteville.
Just how good has he been? Collins is already being compared to former Oklahoma running back and current Minnesota Viking Adrian Peterson.
Not a bad start to a career.
Auburn QB Nick Marshall Has Tremendous Upside
The evolution of Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall continued on Saturday, as the junior threw for 339 yards and two touchdowns—including the game-winner with 10 seconds left—in the Tigers' 24-20 win over Mississippi State.
It's just another step in the progression of Marshall.
He has thrown for more yards and a higher completion percentage in each of his first three games on the Plains, which is a good sign for the Tigers. Marshall is the only quarterback Gus Malzahn has had during his college coaching career who didn't go through spring practice, which means the two are still learning on the job.
"You know we're learning him as he goes," Malzahn said in postgame quotes released by the university. "He's a calm guy, he doesn't get too high or too low."
He has the big-time arm, the dual threat ability to be a dangerous weapon in the running game and showed tremendous poise on the game-winning drive versus the Bulldogs on Saturday night.
The pieces of that puzzle just keep coming together.
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