SEC Football: What We Learned During Week 5

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 29, 2013

Week 5 in the SEC was quite the roller coaster. 

South Carolina was down 10 at halftime on the road at UCF, only to come storming back and escape Orlando with a win. South Alabama was on the brink of tying Tennessee late on Rocky Top, before a late drive stalled in the Tennessee red zone.

And then, there was the classic in Athens.

LSU and Georgia traded haymakers for a full four quarters between the hedges, with Georgia coming away with a thrilling 44-41 win to stay alive in the race for the BCS National Championship.

What did we learn about the SEC in Week 5?

Criticism of Georgia Quarterback Aaron Murray was Overblown

Remember when Aaron Murray "couldn't win the big one?"

In two of his last three games, Murray has been on point in wins over No. 6 LSU and previous No. 6 South Carolina, throwing for 607 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception in those two contests alone.

Georgia QB Aaron Murray
Georgia QB Aaron MurrayDaniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

His record in his last five games against ranked competition is 3-2, but that is incredibly deceiving. In all five of those games, Murray has done everything he could to win. 

Against No. 1 Alabama in last season's SEC Championship Game, Murray led his team down the field in the game's final minute to land on the doorstep of springing the upset and playing for the BCS National Championship. A potential game-winning pass was tipped by C.J. Mosley, and the Bulldogs ran out of time. The responsibility for that loss should never have fallen on him. After all, it's not his fault that the defense got road-graded by Bama's offensive line in the second half.

In the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska, it was more of the same as he threw for 427 yards and five touchdowns in a win. His offensive line couldn't protect him in the season-opening loss to Clemson this season, but he still managed to throw for 323 yards. It was his defense's inability to slow down Clemson that cost the Bulldogs in that one.

Murray is an elite quarterback who puts his team in position to win big games more times than not. I'm not sure what else his critics expect him to do. Play defense?

Zach Mettenberger is the Most Improved Player in College Football

Aaron Murray will get most of the attention for leading his Georgia team to a thrilling victory over LSU, but Tiger quarterback Zach Mettenberger deserves to take a bow as well.

LSU QB Zach Mettenberger
LSU QB Zach MettenbergerDaniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Mettenberger was throwing darts between the hedges on Saturday, completing 23-of-37 passes for 372 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has 13 touchdown passes on the young season, after throwing only 12 all of last year.

While those numbers jump off the page, it was how he got them that was most impressive. The senior from nearby Watkinsville, Ga. threaded needles all afternoon, slipping passes into tight windows and beating double coverages early and often. Even in a loss, Mettenberger was the most impressive player on the field.

He has the big arm that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron likes, precision like a surgeon and a ton of confidence in himself and his team.

Don't be surprised to see him sneak into the Heisman discussion.

Defense Doesn't Win Championships—"Just Enough Defense" Does

Critics will look at the scores of some of these early-season SEC battles—LSU at Georgia and Alabama at Texas A&M, in particular—and say, "Where are the vaunted SEC defenses?"

Georgia LB Jordan Jenkins
Georgia LB Jordan JenkinsDaniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Just stop.

Defense doesn't win championships anymore. Just enough defense does.

The definition of "just enough" is a moving target and varies from team-to-team and year-to-year. 

For a team like Alabama—which boasted a top-five defense in each of its last three national championship seasons—"enough" is defined as stifling. For a team like Auburn in 2010, "enough" was defined as solid in the second half (8.8 second-half points per game) and the SEC's best rush defense (109.07 YPG).

Georgia, LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M have all been inconsistent at times on defense this year but have proven that they have the offenses that can win either shootouts or slugfests. Their versatility on offense makes them championship caliber, even if the defense is a little inconsistent.

Tyler Murphy Will Be Fine at QB for Florida

Making his first start in place of injured starter Jeff Driskel, Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy was solid.

Florida QB Tyler Murphy
Florida QB Tyler MurphyMark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Was he flashy? No. But 15-of-18 for 156 yards, 36 rushing yards and two total touchdowns (1 pass, 1 rush) in a 24-7 win over Kentucky will work.

Was it a conservative game plan for Murphy? Yes. But that was expected for a first-time starter on the road. Murphy showed poise in the pocket, some burst in the running game and the ability to stay smart and play within the game plan.

All good things for a Florida team that's going to be in every game thanks to a stifling defense.

The Gators host Arkansas next weekend, which will be more of a test for Murphy than Kentucky and Tennessee. But he's 2-0 in game action in relief of Driskel and gaining confidence.

Alabama Can Still Be "Alabama"

Rumors of Alabama's demise were greatly exaggerated.

The Crimson Tide went old school on Saturday night, shutting down Ole Miss in virtually every facet of the game in a 25-0 win over the upstart Rebels.

Alabama QB AJ McCarron
Alabama QB AJ McCarronJohn David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

How did they do it? 

Quarterback AJ McCarron was marvelously efficient in completing 25-of-32 passes for 180 yards, while running back T.J. Yeldon rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown. 

Defensively, the Crimson Tide held the normally electric Rebel offense to just 205 total yards and only 46 on the ground. 

Remember this feeling?

It's the same one Alabama fans had after virtually every game in 2009, 2011 and 2012. All of those seasons ended with head coach Nick Saban hoisting the crystal football, and the 4-0 Tide is well on its way to putting itself in position to repeat the feat in 2013.

Texas A&M Goes Ground and Pound

"Johnny Football" went on the road for the first time all season, as the Texas A&M Aggies topped Arkansas 45-33 in Fayetteville.

Texas A&M RB Trey Williams
Texas A&M RB Trey WilliamsNelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Manziel was solid, throwing for 261 yards, rushing for 59 and scoring two touchdowns. But what was more impressive was Texas A&M manning up and playing grown-man football when the time was right.

Midway through the third quarter up four with the rain coming down, A&M embarked on a nine-play 68-yard touchdown drive that featured nine runs—all by either Trey Williams or Tra Carson. Williams capped off the march with a 17-yard score that not only put the Aggies up 11, but also demoralized the home-standing Hogs.

Four Aggie running backs rushed for 40 or more yards on the night, with all four of them earning nine or more carries. That, my friends, is called balance.

All That Matters for Tennessee is a Bowl Game

The first month of the Butch Jones era on Rocky Top has been a wild one. The joy generated from a 2-0 start quickly turned to angst, after the Vols were blown out by Oregon and the offense sputtered against Florida.

Tennessee QB Justin Worley
Tennessee QB Justin WorleyRandy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

It almost hit a new low on Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium, when the visiting South Alabama Jaguars were within eight yards of tying the game and sending it into overtime. But Vols safety Brian Randolph intercepted Jaguars quarterback Ross Metheny in the end zone with under two minutes to play preserve the win.

The lack of style points shouldn't matter. Tennessee is in full-on rebuilding mode, and an integral part of that rebuilding process is making it to a bowl game this year and getting those precious bowl practices.

That's why Jones should avoid making a quarterback change. Tennessee's schedule is so brutal that it can't really afford a slip-up. Justin Worley isn't great, but he still gives Tennessee the best chance to win. He's good enough to get Tennessee into bowl contention and should keep the job until a bowl becomes more myth than reality. 

If he's not the quarterback of the future, fine. But let him get the Vols to December when they can figure out who the quarterback of the future is.

Is Missouri for Real?

Don't look now, but the only SEC team other than Alabama to finish the month of September undefeated is Missouri.

Missouri QB James Franklin (1) and RB Russell Hansbrough (32)
Missouri QB James Franklin (1) and RB Russell Hansbrough (32)Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

No, that's not a typo. It's really Missouri.

The 4-0 Tigers polished off a 41-19 victory over Arkansas State on Saturday night to finish off its non-conference slate unblemished and take some major offensive momentum into the conference schedule.

Are the Tigers for real? Offensively, yes.

They're averaging 549 yards per game; quarterback James Franklin looks like he's back to his 2011 form; the running game looks incredibly balanced with Franklin, Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy; and Dorial Green-Beckham looks like the superstar at wide receiver that he was touted to be when he signed with the program.

The question is whether or not the defense can handle the more physical teams that exist in the SEC. There's no answer for that yet, but the Tigers are taking care of the teams that they should take care of, which is a step in the right direction.


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