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Who's Going to Be a Contender? Georgia-South Carolina, UCLA-Tennessee and Other Week 2 Action

Georgia 41, South Carolina 37

It's almost impossible to compile a complete list of all the things that we did not expect to happen in Athens this week that took place anyway.

  • 78 points, more than in any other game played by an SEC team this year
  • 735 combined yards of offense
  • Two TDs apiece from Joe Cox and Stephen Garcia
  • 11 players with at least three receptions
  • Seven drives of more than 50 yards

This from two teams who had scored just 17 combined points against defenses expected to be on par or worse than the opponent they would face this week.

For fans of both Georgia and South Carolina, the most encouraging part of the game had to be the play of Cox and Garcia, who had gone from a reason for optimism to punch lines in the span of one underwhelming weekend.

vs South Carolina / 9.12.09 Passing Rushing
Comp Att Pct Yds TD INT RAT Rush Yds Avg TD
Joe Cox 17 24 70.0 201 2 1 160.35 4 -24 -6.0 0

vs Georgia / 9.12.09 Passing Rushing
Comp Att Pct Yds TD INT RAT Rush Yds Avg TD
Stephen Garcia 31 53 60.0 313 2 1 116.78 10 42 4.2 0

For Garcia, this was far more than managing a game, as he seized Steve Spurrier's order to throw more and longer -- the 53 attempts was by far a career high. And while his rating wasn't that high, it was clear that Garcia has the ability to lead more strong offensive showings by the the Gamecocks in the future.

And while Cox's numbers aren't as spectacular from a yardage standpoint, he is different from Garcia in two significant ways: he is not expected to be the Future of the Program and he has a better supporting cast in Athens.

Both running games were tied down by the opposing defense, with Georgia earning just 3.7 yards a carry and South Carolina earning an average of just 3.8 yards.

What does this mean for these two teams? It's not clear, but we have some indications. For Georgia, a season that seemed close to running off the rails just a few days ago now seems back on track. And for South Carolina, they went from being the team that managed to hang in with Georgia during close games to being a team that could keep up with one of the SEC East's major teams on offense when a shootout broke out.

But it is just one game. It takes more than a single good night in Athens to make a great quarterback, and more than one win or moral victory to make a great team.

UCLA 19, Tennessee 15

Aside from doubts about Lane Kiffin's coaching ability, the top question for the Vols coming into this season was whether Jonathan Crompton would improve in his second year as an SEC starting quarterback. The results against Western Kentucky were promising. The numbers against UCLA, not so much.

vs UCLA / 9.12.09 Passing Rushing
Comp Att Pct Yds TD INT RAT Rush Yds Avg TD
Jonathan Crompton 13 26 50.0 93 0 3 56.97 7 -8 -1.1 0

Not that the rest of the Tennessee offense was very impressive. The running game averaged just 2.6 yards a carry and the longest rush was for 13 yards. Daniel Lincoln scored more points than the rest of the offense combined -- and he's the place kicker.

The defense played well -- the Vols actually outgained UCLA by 22 yards -- but defense was not the issue in last year's dismal 5-7 campaign. And so the talk ahead of this weekend's showdown with the Gators will inevitably swing back to what it was before last week's offensive fireworks show: By just how many points will Florida win? For Tennessee, it seems, the Lane Kiffin Experiment is back to square one.

LSU 23, Vanderbilt 9

When does this start to feel a bit like last year, when we excuse any early doubt about the Tigers with a "Yeah, but they're LSU and will turn a corner soon enough"?

After all, any SEC fan knows not to read too much into any game against Vanderbilt -- but the Tigers offense, which looked so good against Washington, was far from convincing in this one. Jordan Jefferson had a nice completion percentage (20-of-29) but averaged just 4.9 yards an attempt and didn't throw a TD. The Bayou Bengals did average a not-shabby 4.2 yards a rush, but their longest run went for 14 yards. Sure, the defense was better. But winning the SEC West will require both halves of the team to play well at the same time.

For Vanderbilt, this was a return to earth for the offense after cruising past Western Carolina in their opener. They gained just 210 yards, 88 of them passing, and had as many turnovers (one interception) as TDs. No receiver gained more than 30 yards. That also will not do in the SEC East.

Auburn 49, Mississippi State 24

At some point, if they keep playing like this, we have to begin to consider Auburn as at least a potential contender in the SEC West. I'm not sure when that tipping point comes -- the Tigers' next two games are against West Virginia and Ball State, and their next SEC contest comes at Tennessee.

But Auburn has done all that you could have asked them to do to this point. They blew out a mid-major that was expected to give them heartburn. And after allowing Mississippi State to take a 17-14 lead in the second quarter, the Tigers ran away with the game, scoring the next 28 points in the game while piling up 589 yards. QB Chris Todd was far from impressive -- 10-of-23 for 186 yards -- but he didn't throw an interception, and if the running game can gain 390 yards a week, there won't be a need for Todd to make many plays.

Then again, it was Louisiana Tech last year and it was Mississippi State this year. As long as the names are the marquee conference powers, the Tigers aren't going to get much credit, and perhaps they shouldn't.

As for Mississippi State, there were some hopeful signs in this game. Anthony Dixon came back and rushed for 92 yards and a TD on 20 carries. And a teamwide 4.4 ypc average against an SEC defense is nothing to be ashamed of. But Chris Relf threw two picks.

And that defense ...

Florida 56, Troy 6

There was a point at which the Gators were almost 19 minutes into this one and still leading only 7-3 against a team from the Sun Belt. Then Florida scored four unanswered touchdowns in a bit more than seven minutes to quickly erase whatever fleeting thought the other Trojans had of pulling off an upset.

Sure, there are a few things you can find if you're Urban Meyer and trying to keep your players from getting too full of themselves before Tennessee comes to town. The Gators coughed up three fumbles and missed a 39-yard field goal. But they churned out 32 first downs and 663 yards. The defense held Levi Brown to 2.8 yards a passing attempt and the Trojans to 2.1 yards a rush. Even John Brantley (10-of-12, 135 yards, 1 TD) looked good in relief of Tim Tebow.

We still have nothing that would make us doubt all the national title talk surrounding the Gators. This weeked provides a chance to plant the seed of doubt, but not much more than that.

Alabama 40, Florida International 14

There was a fear that the deja vu that Alabama experienced in Week 1 -- convincingly defeating a national title contender from the ACC -- would be matched by yet another bout of deja vu the following week by looking flat against a lightly regarded mid-major. After all, the Tide only defeated Tulane last year by a 20-6 margin, and the game wasn't truly out of reach until Bama took a 20-3 lead as time expired in the third quarter on a Mark Ingram TD run.

It looked like a replay might be underway when Florida International took a 14-13 lead in the second quarter. But that was all the Golden Panters would get as Alabama reeled off 27 straight to make the game a rout. And unlike last year, when the Tide was outgained by 146 yards, Alabama held a 516-214 advantage at the end of the game, in part because the defense held FIU to 1 yard rushing on 26 carries. Total, not average.

Greg McElroy looked solid again, going 18-of-24 for 241 yards and a score. Alabama's rushing attack averaged 6.5 ypc. Now they just have to worry about the inevitable letdown against North Texas.