SEC Football: What We Learned During Week 4
Down weekend? Despite some less-than-intriguing matchups, Week 4 in the SEC taught us quite a bit about which teams are contenders and which teams are pretenders.
Tennessee and Florida renewed their rivalry in "The Swamp," Auburn traveled to LSU in a battle of undefeateds under the lights in "Death Valley," and Arkansas went on the road in a critical nonconference matchup with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
What did we learn about these games and the rest of the SEC in Week 4?
Florida's Defense is Good...Scary Good
Florida lost starting quarterback Jeff Driskel to a season-ending leg injury early in the first quarter against Tennessee, and backup Tyler Murphy looked solid in his stead, going 8-of-14 for 134 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 84 yards and a score.
Murphy's performance was impressive, but let's be honest: With that defense, all he needs to do is pose a threat downfield for the Gators to be successful. That threat has been absent over the last few seasons in Gainesville.
Dante Fowler Jr. was an absolute monster versus the Volunteers, notching three tackles for loss, one sack, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. The 6'4", 240-pound sophomore made a living in the backfield and disrupted Tennessee's offense before it could get going.
In the place of cornerback Marcus Roberson, true freshman Vernon Hargreaves III looked like the real deal, making two tackles and breaking up three passes on the day.
This is what Florida does.
No matter who's taking the snaps, the foundation of Florida football under head coach Will Muschamp will always be its defense, and that's going to keep the Gators in virtually every game.
That was the case on Saturday as the Vols only managed 220 yards of total offense, turned the ball over six times and fell to the Gators 31-17.
Butch Jones' Panic Move Didn't Give the Vols a Shot
The first half of the Tennessee-Florida game will go down as one of the sloppiest games of the season, and Tennessee's quarterback play is a big reason why.
Head coach Butch Jones panicked in the week leading up to the game, opening up the quarterback competition after the Vols' blowout loss at Oregon last week. Jones trotted out redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman in place of Justin Worley against the Gators, and the result was disastrous.
Peterman completed only 4-of-11 for five yards and two picks, and he was involved in two fumbles in the first half before getting benched in favor of Worley. For reference, Worley had thrown one interception and Tennessee had three turnovers as a team in its first three games.
If Worley isn't the guy long-term, fine; get somebody else prepared. But don't get someone prepared on the road in one of the most hostile environments in college football against the best defense in the conference. All that does is create instability within a program that's been unstable since 2008.
Tennessee is building, brick by brick. Part of that building process needs to be bowl practices. Jones' panic move didn't give his team a chance before the game even started, and as a result, those bowl practices look more like fantasy than reality.
Jeremy Hill Is Better Than Ever
Remember when LSU sophomore running back Jeremy Hill was buried on the Tiger depth chart and in head coach Les Miles' dog house?
Hill was an absolute monster on Saturday night in LSU's 35-21 win over Auburn, rushing for a career-high 184 yards and tying a career high with three touchdowns in the win. This wasn't the Jeremy Hill of old; this was the Jeremy Hill of the future.
The new Hill is a 6'2", 232-pound beast who takes advantage of opposing defenses that now have to respect the downfield passing ability of quarterback Zach Mettenberger and competent play-calling of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Expect more from Hill.
He got a late start to the season, and that may play into his favor because it allowed Mettenberger to give opposing defensive coordinators some good tape for game-week preparation. If they slow down one, the other will shine.
It's "pick your poison" in Baton Rouge now, and that diversity has re-established the Tigers as the primary contender for Alabama's SEC throne.
Alabama Should Be No. 1, but Its Hold Isn't Very Tight
Alabama has yet to put together a complete game, but it remains a foregone conclusion that it should be the No. 1 team in the country.
That's a conclusion that needs to change.
The Crimson Tide's offensive line struggled in the opener against Virginia Tech, the secondary looked like a sieve against Texas A&M, and the team looked sluggish in Saturday night's 31-6 win over Colorado State.
Meanwhile, the team mentioned above—LSU—has answered all of its offseason questions and looks like the most complete team in the SEC.
LSU, Oregon and several other teams should be in the discussion for the No. 1 ranking. In normal years, it might be easier to replace the Tide with one of the contenders.
This isn't a normal year, though.
Alabama has earned the benefit of the doubt over these last four years, winning three of the last four BCS National Championships and establishing itself as the premier program in the country. But the gap between Alabama and the field has shrunk based on the play of the Crimson Tide, and if they're not careful, they'll lose that benefit of the doubt.
Manziel? How About Some Love for the Texas A&M Defense?
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is going to be "Johnny Football." He's going to get his share of yards on the ground and through the air and provide heartburn for opposing defensive coordinators.
But if the Aggies want to get back in the discussion for the SEC West title, they need to improve upon their scoring defense, which entered the week last in the SEC at 36 points per game.
They did on Saturday.
The Aggies dominated SMU 42-13 on Saturday night in College Station, keeping the potent Mustang offense, which was averaging 27 points per game, out of the end zone until the fourth quarter.
Sure, the Aggies gave up yards—434 of them, to be specific. Considering the hurry-up nature of the Aggies offense, that's going to happen. The important lesson to take away from this game is that the Aggie defense came out strong and played a big role in this game becoming a blowout.
That's a step in the right direction.
Arkansas' Defense Has Some Issues and Cost the Hogs a Bowl
While the running game led Arkansas to a 3-0 start, it was the defense that played a big part in the hot start under first-year head coach Bret Bielema. The Hogs hadn't given up a point in the fourth quarter in any of their first three games, but they gave up two touchdowns in the final frame on Saturday to cap off a 21-point collapse in a 28-24 loss at Rutgers.
Rutgers gashed the Hogs defense with a 98-yard touchdown drive to pull within three. The Scarlet Knights then took advantage of good field position, going 33 yards on six plays for the game-winning touchdown with just over five minutes to play.
The defensive breakdown couldn't have come at a worse time.
The Razorbacks play Texas A&M, at Florida, South Carolina and at Alabama over the next four weeks, and they still have LSU and Ole Miss on the schedule later in the season. Those are six likely losses for Bielema's crew, which means Rutgers' comeback will end up costing Arkansas a bowl game.
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