SEC Week One: Three and Out

Michael MatthewsCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2009

I’m trying something new this season.


Each week, I’m going to provide a little personal insight on three observations from the previous week.  I will also identify one popular notion or opinion that I think needs to be thrown out, or punted away—hence the headline “Three and Out.” 


Being that I do not have enough time or resources to do this on a national level, I will narrow my scope down to the SEC. 



1.)    The New Head Coaches Made Statements


While none of the three new coaches in the SEC played what we would call a real “quality opponent,” there is still something to be said about what coaches Mullen, Kiffin, and Chizik did on Saturday.  For one week, they reduced their critics to a muffled murmur. 


Tennessee racked up over 600 yards of total offense.  Yes, it was against Western Kentucky, but for a team that struggled to gain even a first down last year, that is a massive step in the right direction.


The Tigers from Jackson State University were pumped to be the first SWAC team ever to take a jab at an SEC.  Mississippi State started slow, but pulled away from their in-state foe in the end.  SWAC teams pride themselves on defense, and the Bulldogs were able to muster up 45 points. 


And then there’s Auburn.  They beat a team that went bowling in 2008.  They also had two backs rush for over 100 yards.  If they can produce even half of that type of rushing attack against SEC opponents, they will be much improved from a year ago.



2.)    Hyped QB’s Struggle on the Road


Joe Cox, Stephen Garcia, and Jevan Snead all struggled on the road this week.


Cox, the heir to Matthew Stafford, looked sharp early, but then faded quickly.  Completing only half of his passes for 162 yards, Cox was unable to get the Bulldogs in the endzone after the first quarter. 


His fumble in the fourth quarter also proved costly as the Cowboys took a 14-point lead and held on for the victory.  It is a difficult task, filling the shoes of a Matthew Stafford, but if Cox keeps looking like this, he’ll have a hard time against those vaunted SEC defenses.


The Garcia-led Gamecock offense mustered only seven points.  Garcia, who was expected to show some growth since last season, managed only 148 yards and no touchdowns. 


He was also sacked three times and intercepted once.  If the Gamecocks are going to contend in the east this season, Garcia is going to have to show more improvement.


And then there is Jevan Snead.  For a quarterback who is a projected first round draft pick, Snead looked rather pedestrian for three quarters against a middle-of-the-pack CUSA team, completing just over 50 percent of his passes for 175 yards. 


Snead’s two touchdowns came late in the fourth quarter, but his two early interceptions kept Memphis hanging around longer than most anticipated.  The Rebels did not look like a national contender on Saturday (despite the lopsided score), and Snead did not look like the mistake-free QB they need to lead them to Atlanta.



3.)    Alabama Has Emerged as the Top Contender in the West


With another impressive victory over a top ACC opponent, Bama has emerged from the cluster of teams in the SEC West. 


Va Tech QB Tyrod Taylor had no answers for the Bama defense, which looks like it hasn’t missed a beat since last year.  Bama QB Greg McElroy looked poised and avoided costly mistakes—something he will have to keep doing against stronger and faster SEC defenses.  For now, Bama has to be considered top dog in the crowded SEC West.



OUT:  The LSU-Washington Game is an Indicator That we Will See More of What we Saw Last Year From Les Miles and Crew


I could not disagree more with this sentiment that is spreading around SEC country. 


On the surface, I will agree that the final score might send up a red flag.  But one must only look at the box score to see the whole story.  And it is not what’s IN the box score, but rather what is NOT.


Nowhere in the box score will you see the name Russell Shepard.  Nor will you see the name Reuben Randle.  Nor will you see a number greater than zero in the interception column of third-time starter Jordan Jefferson’s line.


And if you stayed up till nearly 1:00 am CDT and watched every snap of the LSU-Washington game, there are a few other things you might have (or might not have) noticed:


·        At no point in the game were Keiland Williams and Charles Scott lined up in the same backfield.  This is something that was worked on considerably during spring and summer practices, and it is a package that will be used this season.

·        Trindon Holliday had one (as in a singular) carry, and it was out of a basic ace formation.  You can rest assured that he will get more touches, and that those touches will come from a variety of formations.

·        Jordan Jefferson only threw the ball 19 times.  And this isn’t because he doesn’t have the arm or accuracy.

·        The defense rarely blitzed, and were able to put pressure on Jake Locker.  The only QB in the SEC with the ability to get out of trouble like Locker was able to has a Heisman trophy—the others are far less accomplished. 


The Tigers traveled 2500 hundred miles—by far the longest road trip made by a FBS team on opening week—and played a team that, due to NCAA rules, had no restriction on practice hours. 


This is because the University of Washington is on a quarter system, and classes have not started yet.  Because classes have not started yet, the 20-hour rule (made famous by Rich Rodriguez) did not apply to the Washington football team.  These are two favors that weighed heavily against LSU.


But all apologies aside, the Washington team that LSU beat on Saturday is a far cry away from a Memphis, or a Western Kentucky, or a Jackson State, or a Charleston Southern. 


This was a formidable opponent. 


And I do not say this because LSU escaped with an eight-point win over a team that went 0-12 in 2008.  Ole Miss fans need to simply look in the mirror to see what a new coach and a new quarterback can do for a program (no, Jake Locker isn’t “new” but he wasn’t around for more than half of those twelve losses). 


No, this is a Washington team that will make noise in the Pac-10 this year.


Mark my words, by season’s end, this “early season escape” will be a “quality road win” for the Tigers.


Why?  Because you will see the Washington Huskies in a bowl game. 



Other rants…


On the national level, I have one thing that has been bothering me.


I have heard and read opinions throwing the BYU win over OU aside because of the injury to Sam Bradford.  They say that, had Bradford been healthy, BYU wouldn’t have won that game.


I have one question to ask those that share that thought:  How did Bradford get injured?


Did it happen in practice?  No.


Did it happen the previous week?  No.  How could it—this was opening week.


Sam Bradford was injured because BYU made him injured.  Their defense was in his face the entire first half—knocking him on his rear often.  To downplay the BYU victory because of the Bradford injury takes credit away from the BYU coaching staff and players.  It was their game plan and their execution that put Bradford on the sideline.


Did they intend to hurt him?  I doubt it.  But they did intend to get in his head by being physical and taking advantage of that young offensive line.


So, please, lets give credit where it is due.  Kudos to you BYU for playing a de facto road game against a top three opponent and coming out with a win.


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