ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT? OH, ONLY A LOT
LSU 30, North Carolina 24
It's still hard to know exactly what to say about this game. Sure, LSU ultimately won, and a win is a win is a win. And yes, it's easy for other league teams to laugh about the Bayou Bengals' death-defying performance in the Georgia Dome. And also granted, this is to an extent how Les Miles has won games at LSU for his entire tenure. But there's just so much more than that.
After all, this was not really North Carolina -- or at least not the team that had so many lofty expectations. This was a team decimated by an NCAA investigation, waiting for the next shoe to drop. UNC was missing more than a dozen players by the time the game kicked off. One of the assistant coaches was about to resign. And it was still a team, when you actually look at the stats, that outplayed LSU.
North Carolina had more first downs (20-11) and more yards (436-313) than LSU. Given the Tigers' mind-boggling five turnovers, it's hard to see statistically how LSU won the game. You might find some answers in the clock -- while UNC had the ball for slightly longer, the Tigers were able to rush for 162 yards and T.J. Yates seemed incapable of running a hurry-up offense that actually, you know, hurried up.
Jordan Jefferson was, despite all the preseason hype, still Jordan Jefferson. He was efficient (15-of-21, 151 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) but not spectacular; showed flashes of brilliance and flashes of near-incompetence. Maybe it's time to stop waiting on him to be anything other than a quarterback that will be above average, maybe even good, but probably not great.
The Tigers get a break next week, traveling to Nashville to face the Commodores. Then it's on to a home game against a much-improved Mississippi State and a showdown in Baton Rouge with West Virginia. It's hard to see LSU getting out of the stretch at better than 2-2 if something doesn't change -- quickly.
IT'S A SNAP. OR MAYBE NOT
Florida 34, Miami (OH) 12
Even a few days later, I'm not sure I'm quite as sanguine about this game as Year2 was. For one thing, I think there were some real problems beyond the snapping issue, which was what everyone emphasized because it was bizarre for a potential national championship contender to have not mastered one of the most basic elements of the game.
You've no doubt heard the most alarming stat of the day: 26 offensive yards through the first three quarters. You might be tempted to write that off to an extent because of the fumbled snaps. Don't. Florida lost 43 yards on the fumbled snaps over those first three quarters, at least going by the "team" rushing in the box score and play-by-play (which is usually where those stats go). That means that even if the fumbled snaps had never happend, Florida would have gained just 69 offensive yards in the first three quarters. Against a MAC team that went 1-11 last year.
And it might be right to think that the veterans will not continue to make the kind of freshmen mistakes we saw Saturday. That better be the case. Because those veterans, especially on offense, is one of the few reasons why people were willing to overlook the losses of Tim Tebow and a boatload of talent on the defensive side.
The preseason assumption was that Florida was not as overwhelming a favorite in the SEC East this year as last, but that Georgia and South Carolina had so much catching up to do that it was unlikely to matter. On Saturday it seemed that the Dawgs and Gamecocks might not have to travel as far as everyone originally thought.
THE DEFENSE DID IT
Jacksonville State 49, Ole Miss 48 (2OT)
What can one say about this game that hasn't already been said? Well, first of all, let's point out that Ole Miss actually outgained the Gamecocks by 124 yards and contributed to the loss with three turnovers (two fumbles and an interception). Then, let's stop being nice.
I've seen a lot of commentary about how Ole Miss got too conservative after it took a 21-point lead -- and at least on offense, I don't see it. (Full disclosure: I only watched the last few minutes of regulation and overtime, having presumed when the Rebels built a three-touchdown lead at the half things were over.)
But 27 of Ole Miss' 52 rushes came in the first half -- after which the score was 31-10. If things had continued in that vein, I doubt we would have heard much criticism of the play-calling. Now, rushing plays aren't the only indicator of how conservative an offense is playing, but it's one of the best barometers.
No, this game is almost entirely on the defense. Regardless of the outcome of the game, it's unaccetable -- or should be -- for an SEC offense to allow 49 points to an FCS team. It's unacceptable to give up a game-winning 30-yard pass on 4th-and-15 in the second overtime. Just like it's unacceptable to allow three drives of 59 yards or more in the last 18:32 of the game. And that's why Tyrone Nix might be the first Rebel coach to be looking for a job if he can't turn things around.
ROUND ONE TO JOKER PHILLIPS
Kentucky 23, Louisville 16
If there was a concern about Joker Phillips as head coach in Lexington, it was about his stewardship of the offense over the last few years. If Saturday was any indication, the team should be just as good under Phillips as it was under Brooks, and the offense might even be a little better.
The Wildcats gained 466 yards against the Cardinals. Mike Hartline was efficient and effective (17-of-26, 217 yards). Derrick Locke led a quality rushing attack (23 attempts, 104 yards, 2 TDs). And Randall Cobb had 169 yards passing, receiving, rushing and returning kicks and punts. Against Louisville, granted, but at least the Cardinals are technically an FBS school.
Of course, Charlie Strong is of more interest at Louisville than most coaches would be, having been a defensive coordinator at two SEC schools. And if Saturday was any indication, he has a lot of work to do before Kentucky starts ruing the day he took the job.
NOT WHAT YOU MIGHT EXPECT
Northwestern 23, Vanderbilt 21
In some ways, this was not the typical Vanderbilt game. The Commodores actually outgained Northwestern 432-365, didn't win the turnover battle or do any of the other smoke-and-mirrors routine that provides most of their upsets or near-upsets in the SEC. To an extent, they should have won the game.
And they would have had another chance to win it were it not for a -- we'll go with "questionable" -- personal foul call against Vanderbilt that allowed the Wildcats to run out the clock. (You could also use "ridiculous," "outrageous" or "nitpicky.")
But the Commodores missed the PAT on their first touchdown and, as a result, tried to score two on each of their subsequent touchdowns. They ended up losing by two points. You do the math.
A REASON FOR HOPE, MAYBE, BUT NOT MUCH MORE
Mississippi State 49, Memphis 7
Yes, it's Memphis, currently in its ninth rebuilding season in a row. But wow, did Mississippi State clock them. The Western Division Bulldogs gained 569 yards, Tyler Russell and Chris Relf missed just five passes, and State had four drives of 70 or more yards en route in an outright nuking of Memphis. But, it's Memphis. We'll get a better picture of this team Thursday.
FANS HAD PLENTY OF TIME TO LOOK AT THE STADIUM EXPANSION
Alabama 48, San Jose State 3
What were you expecting? Sure, the Tide were going without Mark Ingram and Marcell Dareus, but you didn't expect them to be challenged by San Jose State -- did you? Basically, this game served its purpose: It gave Alabama a chance to practice kickoff returns.
A GOOD ENOUGH START, BUT NOTHING MORE
Georgia 55, Louisiana-Lafayette 7
The Dawgs certainly looked good Saturday, but let's keep our expectations in check for a while. Yes, they only allowed 128 yards of offense, but even Willie Martinez gave up just 55 last year against an admittedly worse Tennessee Tech team. We'll learn many things when Georgia meets South Carolina on Saturday, not the least of which will be just how good the new defense really is.
IT'S THE DEFENSE
Auburn 52, Arkansas State 26
This was noted on my SEC Power Poll ballot earlier today, but the 366 yards Auburn allowed to Arkansas State was better than the team's average last year -- and they played most of their games in the Sun Belt. Yes, Cameron Newton had a jaw-dropping 357 yards of total offense and 5 TDs on Saturday. But if the defense doesn't show up this year, the most prestigious trophy he can win will still be Outback Bowl MVP.
ENJOY SCORING; THAT'S THE MOST OF IT YOU'LL DO FOR AWHILE
Tennessee 50, Tennessee-Martin 0
After the score, the most telling stat in this game is probably first downs: Tennessee had 23; Tennesee Martin, 3. The Vols had scoring drives of 62, 67, 83 and 83 yards among the six series that ended in points. All but two of UTM's drives covered less than 10 yards. And, no, this doesn't give me any more confidence in Tennessee than I had before the season. I don't see why it would.
YEAH, BUT WHAT DOES THAT REALLY TELL US?
Arkansas 44, Tennessee Tech 3
Again, the 519-187 yardage margin shouldn't give you any more or less reason to believe in the Razorbacks offense, which we thought would be good, or the Arkansas defense, which still needs to prove itself. If anything, it was cause for concern that Arkansas didn't score in the first quarter. But the 23-point second quarter was all anyone needed to know for certain that there was only going to be one FCS upset in the SEC. Thankfully.