If Thursday was any indication of the season to come, it was gonna be a long one. But expectedly, and thankfully, us college football fans were treated to some exciting games this weekend. And despite a bevy of cupcake games for SEC teams this week, there was no shortage of action. Here's what we learned in the first week of the SEC season:
Remember the name Vick Ballard. Ballard was a monster in the Bulldogs' win over Memphis. Ballard went for 166 yards on just 10 attempts (16.6 yards/carry) and three touchdowns including TD runs of 46 and 66 yards. Think about that. Just under 1/3 of his carries went for touchdowns. Ballard showed he has the ability to carry this team to 9 or 10 wins and maybe even shock a few teams in the SEC West.
Joker Phillips has an uphill climb ahead of him. Sure they got the win, but nobody, not even Kentucky fans, will try to talk up UK's performance against the 'Toppers. Phillips got the Wildcats to a bowl game last year after beating Louisville and South Carolina, but we saw just how much Randall Cobb was a part of that on Thursday night. Kentucky was average defensively, but offensively they were a complete train wreck, putting up 190 yards over four quarters against one of the worst teams in the FBS. They'll have to find a way to move the ball before the SEC part of their schedule kicks in, or this could be a long season in Lexington.
Saban may have found his quarterback. If there's one thing that Saban has preached throughout the summer and fall with the quarterback competition, it's been that the numbers won't tell the whole story. Sometimes stats lie and while they were a bit deceptive on Saturday, it was pretty apparent who the better quarterback was in a live game situation. McCarron outplayed Sims in every statistical category, except they each threw two interceptions.
One of McCarron's interceptions hit Michael Williams square in the hands, and the other was a slightly overthrown ball intended for Marquis Maze. Both of Sims' interceptions were simply bad decisions, and one of them cost Alabama their only points against of the day. I'm not declaring McCarron the long-term starter right now, but it certainly looks like it could be headed that way.
The Tigers still know how to win. Cam Newton may have left. Nick Fairley may have left. But I'll be damned if Auburn still doesn't know how to win close games. After five wins of three points or less last year, Auburn picked up right where they left off, pulling off yet another heart-stopping finish on the Plains. After being outplayed for the first 58 minutes in a game they had no business being in, the Tigers scored 14 points in just 2:07 and came away with their first win of the season. The 2011 Tigers may be severely less talented than the 2010 version, but the killer instinct that won them the title is still there.
The Rebels still don't know how to win. Up 13-0 in the fourth quarter in a game they had controlled for much of the day, the fightin' Houston Nutts still found a way to blow it. First, it was a methodical drive that ended with a 19 yard touchdown pass, and then it was the forced fumble returned for a touchdown by Kyle Van Noy. The Rebels showed us that they have the talent to compete this year, but closing out games still remains a big question mark in Oxford.
Derek Dooley has an offense. Tennessee looked like a team that could sneak up on a couple of people this year against Montana on Saturday night. Tyler Bray threw for 293 yards and three touchdowns and he was throwing it to his main targets. Justin Hunter and Da'rick Rodgers both had 100 yards receiving and a touchdown. It'll be interesting to see what they do against Cincinnati and Florida the next two weeks, but Tennessee might be better than people think.
The passing game will be all right. Tyler Wilson got off to about as good of a start as you can as a first-time starting quarterback, completing 18/24 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns. What remains to be seen is whether the running game will see a significant drop off with the loss of Kniles Davis. It was pretty underwhelming on Saturday, just barely eclipsing the 100 yard mark.
John Brantley is finally in the right system. Watching Brantley play last year was just awkward. Meyer and Addazio wanted him to play in an offense that wasn't suited for his skill set. But Charlie Weiss' offense fits Brantley like a glove and it showed. Chris Rainey made the flashier plays, but John Brantley will be a major factor in determining Florida's success this year, and he finally seems to be comfortable running the offense.
Stephen Garcia earned the starting quarterback job... right? The Connor Shaw Era at South Carolina didn't last long. When Stephen Garcia took over the Gamecocks were down 17-0, but he promptly rallied the team, and led them on a borderline-improbable comeback. I would like to say that we'll see Garcia for the remainder of the season, but this is still Steve Spurrier we're talking about here.
James Franklin is a gamblin' man. Franklin went for it three times on fourth down, and converted all three, leading to 17 more points for the Commodores. And let's be honest, when you're the head coach of Vandy, why not take a few risks every now and then? Franklin definitely has the 'Dores on the right track, and I wouldn't be too surprised if they give UConn a run for their money.
Boise gets it done on the big stage. We pretty much already knew this, but Boise finally did it against an SEC team. Sure it was a middle-of-the-pack team, but the talent and speed deficiency Boise was up against was very obvious and Chris Peterson made some crucial adjustments and was able to come out with a win.
For Georgia, I'm not sure we'll really know what we learned from this game until a few more weeks. Did Boise actually beat a really good team? Was Georgia overrated and really not that good of a team? Only time will tell.
LSU cemented it's status as a top 5 team. There were questions all over for LSU coming into the season and they pretty much answered them all in Dallas. But what's most impressive is that they did it with their two best players watching from the sidelines. Jarrett Lee did all he had to, the running game took over, and the defense created havoc for a usually efficient Ducks offense. With Jefferson and Shepard coming back, LSU definitely has the ability to win it all.
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