Forgive us for a moment if we feel like this entire off season was wasted only to see a replay of the opening weekend of the 2008 season. To wit:
- Alabama overwhelmed an ACC foe during a neutral game in Atlanta.
- Florida waxed a helpless out-of-conference opponent.
- Georgia was unimpressive against an out-of-conference opponent.
- South Carolina played N.C. State in a game marred by awful offensive execution and unforgivable mistakes by both teams.
- One of the SEC East's traditionally underclass teams demolished Miami (OH).
- Ole Miss defeated Memphis by an impressive score (if nothing else).
- Auburn defeated a team from Louisiana by an impressive margin.
All of those things happened a year ago this weekend, and all of them happened again over the last few days. There were slight differences -- Virginia Tech hung in longer than did Clemson against the Tide; Oklahoma State defeated Georgia; it was Kentucky and not Vanderbilt dismantling the Redhawks -- but the basic storylines were all the same.
'YOU LOST SEVEN OFFENSIVE STARTERS.' 'AND YOUR POINT?'
Alabama 34, Virginia Tech 24
There's not much more to be said about this game than your humble correspondent said immediately after the game, but let's acknowledge the one alarming sign in the Tide's win: If they allow SEC teams to hang around after outgaining those opponents 220-86 in the first half, there are going to be some league losses on Alabama's schedule at the end of the year.
There are other nits you can pick here, such as the need to get Julio Jones more involved in the gameplan (4 catches, 46 yards, 0 TD). But RBs Mark Ingram (26 carries, 150 yards) and Roy Upchurch (7 carries, 90 yards) appear to be set without Glen Coffee. And Greg McElroy looks to be at least okay, and maybe the upgrade over John Parker Wilson that Alabama fans kept insisting he was.
So no glaring deficiencies yet -- and even if there are some, it's likely to be a long time before we find out. The next challengning game on Alabama's schedule is a Sept. 26 home tilt with Arkansas, then the Oct. 10 showdown with Ole Miss in Oxford. If nothing's shown up by then, clinching the SEC West might be a mere formality.
THEY MIGHT BE A WHOLLY-OWNED SUBSIDIARY OF T. BOONE PICKENS, BUT THEY CAN PLAY
Oklahoma State 24, Georgia 10
Cheer up, sulking Bulldog fans. There's a silver lining to every loss. Maybe your new quarterback played we-- Oh. He had a passer rating of 99.69. I see. Well, there's always that solid Georgia rushing atta-- What's that? Gained 3.2 ypc. Hmm. Well, look for improvement in the special tea-- Really? They averaged a yard per punt return?
This could be a long season after all.
In fairness to Georgia, the defense played pretty well, limiting what was supposed to be an explosive Oklahoma State offense to 307 yards and 24 points. Still, if the defense is the only part of the team ready to take the field every week, the Dawgs could have trouble keeping up with Arkansas, Florida, Georgia Tech and maybe even LSU and Tennessee, from all appearances. And the defensive performance was far from flawless. If the Dawgs put new emphasis on creating turnovers -- a shortcoming last season -- it didn't show up on the field. No fumbles forced or recovered, and defenders seemed determined to drop as many interceptions as the receivers dropped passes.
All that said -- the game still was not as lopsided in the box score as it was on the field. The Dawgs gained 4.3 yards per play to the Cowboys' 4.5; had 16 first downs to Oklahoma State's 17; and had far fewer penalties. That means there could be time to fix the other things.
The problem is that Georgia has no time. The next five weeks bring games vs. South Carolina, at Arkansas, vs. Arizona State, vs. LSU and at Tennessee. When in that stretch do you suggest they go back to the drawing board?
LONG LIVE THE DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR! THE DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR IS DEAD!
LSU 31, Washington 23
Yes, the Huskies tacked on what was essentially a garbage TD to make what was a more comfortable win appear slightly more difficult than it was. Emphasis on more comfortable, because there had to be nothing relaxing about watching formerly-punchless Washington outgain the Bayou Bengals by 157 yards. Or, for that matter, to watch Jake Locker outgain LSU's entire offense by 51 yards, passing for 321 and rushing for another 51.
But there were enough bright spots for LSU beyond the win to redeem the trip out west. Jordan Jefferson was solid in his first season opener as starter, going 11-of-19 for 172 yards and 3 TDs. The probably underutilized rushing attack gained 5.1 ypc and the Tigers appear to have found another receiver to match with Brandon LaFell in Terrance Toliver, who grabbed four passes for 117 yards and 2 TDs.
There has been some carping from LSU fans who fear a repeat of last year's defense-induced slump. But of the two teams that crossed the Mississippi River to play, the Bayou Bengals came out far better than Georgia.
WELL, THAT COULD HAVE BEEN EASIER
Ole Miss 45, Memphis 14
You could let the score deceive you, or you could realize that Ole Miss scored 28 points in the fourth quarter, including an almost accidental TD with 6 seconds left, to turn what was a close game into a blowout. In fact, ole Miss held only a slim advantage in yards going into the fourth quarter and the score was as close as 24-14 even in the final frame.
Part of Ole Miss' offensive problem came from the seesaw performance of Jevan Snead, who was 5-of-12 for 74 yards and 2 INTs in the first half and 7-of-10 for 101 yards and 2 TDs in the second. His passer rating swung from 60.13 for the initial 30 minutes to 220.84 for the final half-hour. In other words, sort of a microcosm of Ole Miss' season in 2008.
The defense kept menacingly named QB Arkelon Hall from causing any major damage, but they will have to contain SEC running backs more effectively than they did Curtis Steele (19 carries, 90 yards) if they hope to make good on their preseason buzz. Alabama showed Saturday night that their running game can wear down a defense far better than Steele can.
A WIN FOR GENE CHISEK
Auburn 37, Louisiana Tech 13
I promise Auburn fans that this will be the last time I make fun of your school's inability to properly spell the name of your new head coach. At least in this post.
But there isn't much more bad I can say about the Tigers this week. They outgained a quality WAC team 556-245, got a good performance out of Chris Todd (17-of-26, 255 yards, 2 TDs) and saw both Onterio McCalebb and Ben Tate gain more than 100 yards rushing. The WAC Bulldogs, meanwhile, were completely ineffective on offense.
Except ... Auburn didn't really take control of this game until the second half, and were tied with Louisiana Tech at 10-10 late in the first half.
And if the Bulldogs hadn't turned the ball over four times in their first six possessions ...
BOY WONDER CAN NOW TALK SMACK. ABOUT WESTERN KENTUCKY
Tennessee 63, Western Kentucky 7
I guess I should apologize to Tennessee fans. After all, Lane Kiffin's new offense appears to work far better than the Clawfense, ringing up 657 yards against Western Kentucky and giving the Vols their largest point total in almost nine years.
Sure, the 2008 team also piled up 548 yards against UAB, that year's functional equivalent of an FCS team. And, yeah, Jonathan Crompton averaged 7.7 yards per attempt against the Blazers, not a far cry from his 8.3 yard average against the Hilltoppers.
It'll be so much different this year. So I apologize. Talk to you again in two weeks.
THEY'LL MAKE A QB OUT OF MIKE HARTLINE YET. MAYBE
Kentucky 42, Miami (OH) 0
Admit it, Kentucky fans -- even you never thought you'd see the day when Mike Hartline's passer rating would hit 160.18. But there it was, part of a solid offensive day for the Wildcats, who clocked 488 yards. Also starring in the waxing of the Redhawks: Randall Cobb, who caught seven passes for 96 yards and a TD.
But like too many teams in their first week, the critics will still answer the Wildcats' accomplishments with: "Prove it when you really play someone." Which is fair enough.
If these teams continue to schedule cupcakes as their first outing of the year, they really have no one to blame but themselves when no one believes they've come very far.
ALSO PLAYING | Because if you play an FCS team, you don't deserve more than a paragraph-long recap
Florida 62, Charleston Southern 3
I guess nothing should surprise us about this game, and nothing really does. Jeffrey Demps averaged 17.8 yards on five carries while the Gators rolled up 369 rushing yards in all and scored five TDs on the ground. And don't be too alarmed that Florida gave up 323 yards to an FCS team; 230 of those came after the Gators already had a 28-0 lead and the game was over.
Arkansas 49, Missouri State 10
I honestly believe any FBS team that sets a record against an FCS team should be required to put an asterisk next to it. But Arkansas did set their single-game passing mark Saturday, with Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson throwing for 447 yards against the hapless Bears. Michael Smith averaged 10.8 yards on just four carries and the Hogs defense limited Missouri State to 3.5 yards a play. In all, 13 receivers caught passes for Arkansas, including Jarius Wright's six-catch, 139-yard night.
Mississippi State 45, Jackson State 7
The new-look passing attack did just fine, with Tyson Lee and Chris Relf going a combined 16-of-25 for 172 yards and 3 TDs, but the real story if there is one in an FCS game is that the rushing attack rolled up 255 yards even without RB Anthony Dixon. Yes, we'll get a better idea this weekend, when the Western Division Bulldogs face Auburn. But it was about as good a start as you could reasonably ask for.
Vanderbilt 45, Western Carolina 0
The few times I wandered over to this joke -- there were actual football games on at the time -- it looked like Larry Smith was doing a pretty decent job against overmatched competition. His passing numbers weren't jaw-dropping -- 10-of-18, 153 yards, 1 TD -- but he also carried the ball 11 times for 66 yards. Meanwhile, Zac Stacy ran for 133 yards and a score on 20 carries and Warren Norman tacked on another 105 yards and 2 TDs on 18 rushes. If they can come anywhere close to that kind of performance the rest of the year, the Commodores will be pleased. First test: this week's trip to Baton Rouge.