'THAT'S DIFFERENT BECAUSE?'
Florida 41, Kentucky 7
Can I really blame Urban Meyer for keeping Tim Tebow in the game until the final hit that knocked him out of the game and maybe, depending on to whom you listen, out cold? Yes, I can. Tebow was already sick coming into the game, the Gators had taken a 31-7 lead into the half with no signs Kentucky would recover and the backup quarterback for the Gators is perhaps the third- or fourth-best signal-caller in the SEC. If Jonathan Crompton was holding the clipboard for Florida, that would be one thing. But it's John Brantley, a good enough player to start on almost any team where the first-string guy isn't Tim Tebow. What would it have hurt to say, "Tim, you've had a good game and now it's time to rest and get better while John wraps it up for us"?
As if to prove the point, Brantley came out and turned in a performance (4-of-6, 30 yards, 1 TD) in which his passing efficiency was just six points fewer than Tebow's own showing (5-of-10, 103 yards, 1 TD). If Brantley is forced go into action against LSU and other Florida opponents -- and he should be for Tebow's health -- he'll do fine.
Sure, he doesn't have the other dimension that Tebow brings to the game (16 rushes, 123 yards, 2 TDs). But Jeffery Demps (12, 97) and Emmanuel Moody (5, 57) showed themselves to be part of the kind of multiheaded rushing attack that gave defensive coordinators nightmares last year. Why Moody only got five carries is still beyond me, but we'll leave that for another day. Besides, what advantage did Florida give itself by keeping that added dimension in a game that was well in hand only to lose it for games that haven't even started yet? I know hindsight is 20-20, but at some point there's a real flaw in the cost-benefit analysis that is revealed only when something goes wrong.
As for Kentucky, I don't know what to say about a team that seemed worse that the one that got waxed in Gainesville last year. The Wildcats statistics were worse across the board, there's evidence that Mike Hartline was at least stagnant from last year's game if he didn't regress a bit and Kentucky seems destined for another season where only a sugar-laced nonconference schedule will put them in the postseason. Does that still count as progress for Rich Brooks?
The Gators saw their season thrown into doubt Saturday, but it was Kentucky that was left wondering about its future.
THE DAWGS ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE
Georgia 20, Arizona State 17
While we're talking about excuses for keeping Tim Tebow in, let's also talk about excuses for the inconsistency of Georgia's season. If I'm getting the argument from Georgia fans right, it's that the Dawgs are better than they look because they turn the ball over a lot. Thus, they didn't really come within one play of losing against South Carolina -- they came within a few plays of making it a blowout. And they didn't really come within one play of being sent into overtime vs. Arizona State -- they were oh-so-close to scoring a lopsided win against the visitors from the Pac-10.
This discounts a couple of things that shouldn't be discounted. First of all, the two statements are not mutually exclusive. If the Dawgs had been able to hold onto the ball against South Carolina, they could have turned the game into a blowout. (Of course, if South Carolina had been able to turn red-zone vistis into TDs at anything approaching a normal rate ... )
But it's inarguable that had the Gamecocks put the ball in the end zone on one play during their final drive, Georgia would have lost that game. The same goes for the showdown with Arizona State -- a blocked FG saved Georgia from being down 20-17 before making its final FG and that field goal kept the game from being tied at 17 when regulation ended. Those are facts. You can spin them however you want using the turnover margin, but facts are stubborn things.
Secondly, it's quite possible that there will be no return to the mean for this team. Georgia might simply be one of those teams that turns the ball over a lot. That doesn't mean they are a better team than the final score indicates; if turnovers are a part of a team's identity, then they are just as much an indicator of a team's quality as the great WR play of A.J. Green (8 catches, 153 yards, 1 TD) or a solid defensive effort (204 total yards, one offensive TD).
Put simply: Georgia still has a long way to go to prove they're a great team that's had a few bad breaks and not a good team with a knack for the well-time escape.
FAYETTEVILLE WASN'T REBUILT IN A YEAR
Alabama 35, Arkansas 7
It looks as though we can retire at least for now the idea that the Hogs would be the "surprise" team of the year in 2009. You can put surprise time in air quotes because everyone was choosing them, nullifying the surprise, or because the irony is that Arkansas has dramatically surprised to the downside.
Many will continue to call Arkansas a team that is all offense and no defense after this game, but the truth is that the Razorbacks had very little of either. Ryan Mallett compared less than a third of his passes and had an abysmal passer rating (76.40) while the running game was almost entirely shut down (91 yards on 23 carries even if you remove Mallett's 28 lost yards on three carries).
Alabama's running game didn't put anyone in the Heism@n running -- 41 carries, 134 yards, 2 TDs -- but the Tide have a bone fide quarterback this year in Greg McElroy, 17-of-24 for 291 yards and 3 TDs. Just another week en route to Alabama's second trip to Atlanta.
ALONG CAME JONES
LSU 30, Mississippi State 26
Georgia wasn't the only team that could credit one or two game-saving plays with a close win. LSU also came close to a season-deflating loss to Mississippi State, with Chad Jones deserving a game ball, a helmet sticker and anything else Les Miles cares to throw his way after two incredible plays as part of a goal-line stand that foiled the Western Division Bulldogs' upset hopes.
The Bayou Bengals were actually outgained by 111 yards in this game and generated just 30 yards on the ground. Jordan Jefferson had a nice enough day (15-of-28, 233 yards, 2 TDs) in sloppy conditions, but better SEC defenses will not give him enough time to complete passes if the running game doesn't do a better job of backing him up. Add to that the fact that he far outplayed the Mississippi State quarterbacks (a combined 17-of-40 for 223 yards, 1 TD and 3 INTs), and you get a sense for why this loss has left LSU's fans on edge.
For the Western Division Bulldogs, I'm sure they're not as interested in moral victories as some other programs that came close to taking down a highly-regarded SEC contender. But it was about as good a loss as they coudl have expected, with Anthony Dixon asserting himself (27 carries, 106 yards, 2 TDs) and the emergence of some viable receivers. Now if only the QBs could play a bit better.
WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH AUBURN?
Auburn 54, Ball State 30
Don't let the 30 points scored by a MAC team unsettle you; most of them came in very definition of garbage time, with the Tigers leading 40-10 and 47-17 at different points before Ball State made the final score slightly more respectable. And Ball State got a lot of scoreboard mileage out of very little offensive yardage -- 260 total yards for the night on 74 plays.
Meanwhile, Auburn's offense continues to show that it might actually be a competent group this year, with 560 yards of total offense, five TD passes against just seven incompletions for Chris Todd and four Tigers rushing for 47 yards or more. If things keep going like this, the SEC West might soon be a two-team race: Alabama and Auburn.
Now wouldn't that be fun?
A MORAL DEFEAT?
Tennessee 34, Ohio 23
I can't decide if I think this game was better for Tennessee than I did when I kept an eye on it via computer or if it was worse. Yes, the game wasn't decided until late, but Ohio never led after holding a 14-7 advantage in the first quarter. Yes, Jonathan Crompton was only 17-of-34 but he had 2 TDs and just a single interception.
Tennessee wasn't outgained in this game (399-340) and didn't put up any of the other warning signs that you expect in a close game against a MAC competitor. But they also didn't give me any reason to think they're in a position to rebound from the Florida loss and become a factor in the SEC East.
So I guess nothing really changes in how I view the Vols overall. But I'm stumped when I try to articulate a reason why based on this game.
Vanderbilt 36, Rice 17
When you really get down to it, this was the least revealing game of the weekend. Unless you want to find some sort of danger for the Commodores in the fact that they allowed the Owls to stay around until the fourth quarter.
By far the better offense on the field against an inferior C-USA team? Check. A fairly balanced rushing and passing attack in terms of yardage and play selection? Check. The only real fundamental flaw was Rice's 4.0 ypc average on the ground.
Maybe we learned nothing from this game. But Vanderbilt fans got to see another win, even if it didn't go a long way to making them believe there will be several more victories in their future.