Georgia Bulldogs: Jordan Matthews
But in the realm of SEC football, we saw temperatures both spike and plummet.
Here’s a look back at Week 13 in the SEC:
Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews: They don’t get much better than Matthews, as a player or a person. In his past two games, he has 25 catches for 274 yards and is now the SEC’s career leader in receptions (246) and receiving yardage (3,491 yards). Matthews is the first receiver in SEC history to post back-to-back seasons of 90-plus catches and is two catches shy of the SEC single-season record. The remarkable thing about what he has done this season is that opposing defenses have shadowed him and doubled him, but he just continues to produce. And if you really want to know what kind of person Matthews is, go watch his news conference following Vanderbilt’s 14-10 win over Tennessee on Saturday. He didn’t want to talk about himself. Rather, he wanted to talk about all of the people who had helped him get to this point, including coaches, teammates, family members and fans.
Ole Miss’ red zone offense: The Rebels will be kicking themselves for a while over their inability to take advantage of chances in the red zone in their 24-10 loss to Missouri. On three trips inside the 20, Ole Miss came away with just a single field goal, which pretty well snuffed out any shot the Rebels had of upsetting the Tigers and potentially getting to 10 wins this season.
LSU cornerback Rashard Robinson: On your list of true freshmen in the SEC who are destined for stardom, be sure you have Robinson near the top of that list. He did a marvelous job in manning up against Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans on Saturday and helped hold Evans to four catches for 51 yards and no touchdowns. Robinson didn’t become eligible until right before the season began, so he got off to a late start. But the more you watch him, the more he looks like the next great cornerback to come out of the LSU program.
Bowl-eligible teams: Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee have all been eliminated from bowl contention. Mississippi State has to win against Ole Miss this weekend to extend its postseason streak to four straight years. Otherwise, five teams from the SEC will be staying home for the second consecutive year.
AJ McCarron’s Heisman chances: We can sit here all day and debate about whether McCarron is truly the most outstanding player in college football. Two things that are not debatable, though, are that he’s one of the most accomplished winners in college football history and is now right in the middle of the Heisman Trophy race with two weeks remaining until the vote. Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota and Bryce Petty all took big hits last week, and who knows how the off-the-field allegations against Jameis Winston will play out? If McCarron plays well the next two weeks and the Crimson Tide make it to Pasadena, he could very well become only the second Heisman winner in Alabama’s history.
Votes of confidence: OK, I know Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley specified last week that it wasn’t the dreaded vote of confidence he was giving third-year coach Will Muschamp. But come on, that’s exactly what it was. And how many times has that worked out for a coach, where his boss comes out publicly and says his embattled coach is going to be back and have a chance to fix things? After seeing what happened to Florida last week in an embarrassing 26-20 loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern in which the Eagles won at the Swamp without completing a pass, you can’t help but wonder if Foley wishes now that he’d just waited a couple of weeks before he said anything. Why come out this late in the season, at least publicly? All that said, the only choice Florida has (and the right choice) is to give Muschamp another year. Foley knows as well as anybody that there were serious issues with the program when Muschamp took over for Urban Meyer following the 2010 season. Remember, it was Meyer himself who conceded that the program was “broken.” You also don’t fire a guy a year removed from winning 11 games and going to a BCS bowl. Muschamp simply hasn’t been able to get it right on offense, and that has to change if he’s going to be around past a fourth season. He will obviously have to make changes on the offensive side of the ball. But here’s the problem with that: With Muschamp facing a win-or-else season next year, how many top offensive minds are going to be lining up to come to Gainesville under those circumstances? It’s not going to be an easy fix and it’s mind-blowing to see the Gators headed toward their first losing season in more than 30 years. But giving Muschamp a fourth season is the right thing to do … with or without a vote of confidence.
Missouri's running game: The backfield committee of Henry Josey, Marcus Murphy, James Franklin and Russell Hansbrough led the way, as the Tigers racked up 260 yards rushing to handle Ole Miss on the road. Josey was Mizzou's statistical standout with 95 yards, a 6.3-yard average and two touchdowns. Murphy added 67 yards and a touchdown, and Franklin chipped in 42 yards in his return to the starting lineup. The senior quarterback, who averaged 5.3 yards a carry, showed just what a challenge he presents to defenses when they must account for his snap decisions to run, throw or do both. The Tigers have a reliable offense built on the foundation of their diverse running game. It should come in handy at home next week as they aim for Atlanta.
John Chavis: With an assist from some nasty weather, LSU's defensive coordinator architected what might have been a Heisman bid-killer in Death Valley on Saturday. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel was gunning for back-to-back trophies but ran smack into a determined Tigers' D. Manziel was only 16-of-41 passing (a career-low 39 percent) for 224 yards with two interceptions and two sacks. He also had only 54 rushing yards on 12 carries. All told, Johnny Football recorded a career-low 14.9 Total QBR on Saturday. Just as it was in a win at College Station last season, Chavis' key was having his front focus on containment in order to limit Manziel's improvisational magic. Mission accomplished.
Jordan Matthews: Any time Vanderbilt beats instate rival Tennessee in back-to-back seasons (Hint: It hadn't happened since 1925-26), a helmet sticker must be awarded. In a game that was more about two defenses fighting for every yard, the senior wide receiver caught 13 passes for 133 yards and broke the SEC record for career receptions. Matthews now has 246 career receptions and owns the mark previously held by Vandy's Earl Bennett, who caught 236 passes from 2005-07. Matthews also has the SEC record for career yards receiving (3,491).
AJ McCarron: We'll give a nod to Georgia QB Aaron Murray, who similarly feasted on an inferior opponent (four touchdown passes before leaving with an injury). But McCarron had much more on the line in leading the undefeated top-ranked Tide past Chattanooga. Like Murray at Sanford Stadium, McCarron also bore the emotional burden of playing in his final home game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. He was a brutally efficient 13-of-16 passing for 171 yards and two touchdowns (95.9 Total QBR), and he even found time to deliver brother Corey his first career reception. But the most important statistic in McCarron's sterling legacy at Bama is his 36-2 record as a starter, which broke a tie with Jay Barker for the school record.
Terrence Magee: Sure, the junior tailback has played second fiddle to Jeremy Hill all season. But Magee broke out on Saturday with a career-high 149 yards rushing in LSU's win against visiting Texas A&M. The conditions -- cold, wet, blustery and generally miserable -- called for a strong running game. Magee answered the bell early with a 65-yard sprint that put the Aggies defense on its heels and set up the Tigers' first touchdown. Magee led the way for LSU to amass 324 yards on 55 rushes, a ground assault for which A&M had no answer.
Here’s a look at our Week 12 version of Hot and Not in the SEC:
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray: He has been around for so long that we’ve probably all taken him for granted, but Murray is one class act and one terrific football player. He did everything he could to bring Georgia back from the dead in the fourth quarter against Auburn. The fifth-year senior has been a rock all season for the Bulldogs despite crippling injuries around him and has exuded class every step of the way.
Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell: The Bulldogs’ senior quarterback hasn’t been able to catch much of a break this season. He suffered a concussion in the opener and had to miss several games, eventually losing the starting job to Dak Prescott. This past weekend, Russell got another shot against Alabama after Prescott was unable to play because of a shoulder injury, but Russell wasn’t able to finish the game after hurting his shoulder while trying to make a tackle following his fourth-quarter interception.
Florida’s grit: Nobody is happy in Gator Nation right now, and that starts with coach Will Muschamp. But there’s something to be said for the way Florida fought its guts out Saturday in a tough 19-14 loss to South Carolina. The Gators were down to their third-string quarterback and had an excellent chance to win the game on the road against a top-15 team.
Preseason rankings: Florida, Georgia and LSU all started the season ranked in the top 12 of the Associated Press poll. As we head into Week 13, those three teams have a combined 13 losses, and LSU still has to face Texas A&M at home this weekend.
Alabama’s focus: Good thing the Crimson Tide’s defense came to play Saturday in Starkville. And good thing the Tide were playing Mississippi State. Against a more talented team, Alabama would have been toast. Four turnovers going forward will mean an end to their national championship run. OK, maybe not this weekend against Chattanooga, but certainly against Auburn in two weeks and any other games after that. Something says this week in practice won’t be a lot of fun for the Tide.
Fans’ patience: It's that time of year again when they’re lining up at the town square. That's a reference to Bobby Bowden’s classic line regarding fans' impatience when a football team or a unit on a football team starts to struggle. Bowden would always say, "They want a hanging at the town square." With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, it's safe to say there are more than a few restless fan bases around the SEC. It remains to be seen who's really in trouble. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley insists that Muschamp will be back for a fourth season, but it's difficult to see Muschamp's offensive staff returning intact. Mississippi State fans aren't thrilled with Dan Mullen right now, and that's despite the Bulldogs still having a chance to go to a fourth straight bowl. The Georgia fans are furious over the way the defense has played this season, although given the Bulldogs' youth, it was obvious they were going to struggle on that side of the ball. If LSU loses to Texas A&M this weekend there could be grumbling on the Bayou about Les Miles. Even first-year coaches aren’t spared. Arkansas has lost seven straight under Bret Bielema, and the fans in the Ozarks are wondering how they could go from 21 wins in 2010 and 2011 to 15 losses in the past two seasons. In this league, there is no equity and even less patience.
- As Alabama heads into its bye week, the Crimson Tide remain atop the BCS standings. However, the focus this week is on “maintaining discipline, improving our team,” Nick Saban says. They will host LSU in their first game back.
- It was a crushing defeat for Missouri on Saturday, and although the dream season might be over, there is still a lot to play for including the SEC East title.
- Starting quarterback Nick Marshall practiced Sunday, but there’s a chance that Auburn will have to turn to freshman Jeremy Johnson this weekend when the Tigers visit Arkansas.
- Saturday’s Texas A&M-Vanderbilt game featured the SEC’s top two wide receivers -- Mike Evans and Jordan Matthews. Although the Aggies won, 56-24, Matthews broke the league record for career receiving yards.
- After the win over Vanderbilt, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel spoke to the media and said he intended to play against Vanderbilt all week.
- LSU’s offense, which put up 672 yards on Saturday, was enough to hide some of the team’s flaws in a 48-16 win over Furman.
- Connor Shaw battled both a knee sprain and the flu to lead the Gamecocks past Missouri in double overtime. It was a legendary performance from the South Carolina quarterback.
- Tennessee’s performance at Alabama wasn’t pretty, but the goal of reaching a bowl game is still very much in play for the Volunteers.
- Florida and Georgia have both been dealt their fair share of injuries this season, but after South Carolina’s win on Saturday, they’re both still very much in contention for the SEC East.
- Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze rested multiple starters in Saturday’s win over Idaho as the Rebels head into a the bye week looking to get healthy. They return to SEC play Nov. 9 against Arkansas.
The speed typically increases as a talented, capable player grows more comfortable with what he's doing -- and that's why Shaq Wiggins' interception for a 39-yard touchdown last Saturday against Vanderbilt is an encouraging sign for the freshman cornerback.
“I was sitting there and lining up and trying to figure out what we're going to do and if we were lined up right,” Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “When I saw it on film, Shaq read it in maybe two seconds. He saw that nobody was blocking him and they made a mistake and just left him unblocked. He saw the quarterback go back and he took off in front of the man and just picked it off. That's definitely something you don't see out of many young guys this early in their career.”
This has been far from a banner season for Georgia's beleagured defensive backfield, but Wiggins is quickly emerging as a bright spot. He gave up a couple of long passes against Missouri -- including one for a fourth-quarter touchdown on a double pass -- but has also made some big plays.
He started for the third straight game against Vanderbilt and recorded both an interception and a pass breakup that was nearly his second pick of the game. He said learning how to make better use of his study time has helped him become a more productive defender, as he said he had seen the trick play the Commodores attempted before on film.
“I was kind of confused when all those linemen came out, so I knew it was either going to be a screen or a pass to the other side, to the other receivers. … I just kind of read it before those big linemen got some hands on me and just made a play on the ball,” Wiggins said.
The truly impressive part is that Georgia hadn't worked on that play at all, Jenkins said. The freshman simply made a quick decision that allowed him to short circuit the play before the Commodores knew what hit them.
“I'd never seen an alignment like that before,” Jenkins said. “That wasn't in our dress rehearsal, anything, and you've got to credit Shaq for that.”
“That is the kind of play Georgia's players are beginning to expect from Wiggins. He has already shot into the backfield on screen passes to record three tackles for a loss and generally displayed the competitiveness and speed that helped make him the highest-rated prospect in Georgia's 2013 signing class according to ESPN's recruiting rankings.
I called it before the game in an interview I did. They asked me who was going to make a play on the ball, who was going to get a strip or an interception or something and I said it was Shaq Wiggins.” Defensive end Garrison Smith on Wiggins' pick-six vs. Vanderbilt.
“I called it before the game in an interview I did,” senior defensive end Garrison Smith said. “They asked me who was going to make a play on the ball, who was going to get a strip or an interception or something and I said it was Shaq Wiggins. Some guys are just gifted with different abilities and he's just one of the guys that I can tell he's got great ball skills. That's one of the things he's good at, so I wasn't surprised at all when he did that.”
Like secondary mates Brendan Langley, Quincy Mauger and Tray Matthews, Wiggins is a freshman who was thrown into the fire because of the Bulldogs' lack of veteran depth at their positions.
They have all experienced their struggles, but a play like his pick-six confirms that the light is clicking on for Wiggins. The big plays he surrendered against Missouri were a painful learning experience, too, but the freshman believes difficult matchups against such high-caliber receivers as Vandy's Jordan Matthews and Mizzou's Dorial Green-Beckham will only help accelerate his development.
Even for a player so small that Jenkins joked with him that Wiggins “looked like a JV high school player playing up in college.”
“I look at myself every day in the mirror and it's always obvious that I'm probably the smallest guy on the field. I just play with a chip on my shoulder,” said Wiggins, who is generously listed at 5-foot-10. “Like a lot of fans and other people say, 'He's too small, can't guard so-and-so receiver,' so I just kind of take that, keep that in the back of my head and make plays. The more plays you make, the more people will start believing in you and feeling comfortable with you on the field. I think I'm kind of proving that.”
But the Bulldogs have to win today first, and that has been more difficult for recent Georgia teams than one might expect. In two of Georgia's last three trips to Vandy, the outcome hung in the balance up to the very last play of the game. Considering how every Georgia game this season was up for grabs well into the second half, today's contest in Nashville could very possibly give Bulldogs fans further heart palpitations.
Record watch: Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews could both claim SEC career records before today's game is over. Murray will almost certainly break former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow's career record for total offense, as Murray's career total of 12,203 yards is just 29 behind Tebow's mark. Murray is also two touchdown passes behind ex-Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel's SEC-high mark of 114. Meanwhile, Matthews trails former Georgia wideout Terrence Edwards' SEC career record of 3,093 receiving yards by 97. He had 119 receiving yards in the Commodores' blowout loss to Georgia last season.
Offense losing power: It's no secret that Georgia's offense lost some of its effectiveness when tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett dropped out of the lineup with an array of injuries. Georgia might get Gurley and Bennett back for the Florida game, but the rest are out for the season, forcing the Bulldogs to identify new skill players to fill their spots. But it's still a work in progress. Georgia has 37 touchdowns of at least 20 yards since the start of last season -- the most in the SEC and third most in the FBS. The Bulldogs had at least one such touchdown in each of the first four games this season, but none in the last two since the injuries hit the lineup. Among the candidates to pick up the big-play slack: tailback J.J. Green, who had a 57-yard run last week against Missouri; wideout Rantavious Wooten -- who had a 48-yard catch last week -- receiver Reggie Davis, who hauled in a program-record 98-yard touchdown pass against North Texas, and Chris Conley, who has five career touchdown catches that covered 25 yards or more.
Matthews going long: Matthews leads the SEC in receptions per game (7.8) and trails only Texas A&M's Mike Evans with his average of 118.2 receiving yards per game. Most troubling for a Georgia secondary that is 12th in the league in pass defense (259.3 ypg) and 13th in yards allowed per pass attempt (8.0) is Matthews' ability to haul in catches for big gains. Since the start of last season, the Vandy receiver has 51 receptions that covered at least 15 yards -- the most for any wideout in the FBS.
Third-down trouble: It's no secret among Georgia fans that the Bulldogs' young defense has struggled on third down this season. The Bulldogs rank 13th in the SEC and 97th nationally, allowing opponents to convert 43.7 percent (38 of 87) of such opportunities. Georgia has forced a three-and-out 30.1 percent of the time (22 in 73 opponent drives), which ranks 94th nationally. What might make the issue seem even worse among Georgia fans is that the Bulldogs had been so effective in that department over the previous two seasons. Between 2011 and 2012, Georgia forced three-and-outs on 43.9 percent of opponent drives (161 of 367), which ranked fourth nationally. Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, the Commodores haven't been much better. They're 10th in the SEC and 82nd nationally in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 41.4 percent (36 of 87). Making matters even worse for both teams is that their offenses haven't been particularly effective on third down, either. Georgia is 12th in the league in third-down conversions (37.3 percent) and Vandy is eighth (42.1 percent). Whichever team finds a way to be more efficient in those situations today might very well wind up as the winner.
Fun with QBR: Here's a somewhat bizarre stat for Georgia's maligned secondary. It has actually held the last four opposing quarterbacks below their season average in ESPN's new Total Quarterback Rating metric. Last week, Missouri's James Franklin posted a 70.6 adjusted QBR, his lowest in any game this season. In previous weeks, Tennessee's Justin Worley scored a 59.0, LSU's Zach Mettenberger a 90.2 and North Texas' Derek Thompson a 36.3. QBR rates quarterbacks on a 0-100 scale where 50 is average. Top quarterbacks are in the upper 80s and 90s, and the adjusted QBR accounts for the strength of opposing defenses faced. Vanderbilt's Austyn Carta-Samuels ranks 88th nationally with a 50.2 adjusted QBR. He has struggled over the last four games, with his 48.1 adjusted QBR in a loss to Missouri ranking as his highest score in that stretch. Murray posted his lowest adjusted QBR of the season (82.9) last week against Missouri. He ranks third nationally with a 93.3 adjusted QBR this season.
2. Record watch in Nashville: In Saturday's Georgia-Vanderbilt game, a handful of SEC career records could fall. With 112 career touchdown passes, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is just two behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC career record. And with 12,203 career yards of total offense, Murray needs 29 yards to match Tim Tebow's SEC mark. On the other sideline, Vandy's Jordan Matthews needs 97 receiving yards to match Terrence Edwards' SEC career record of 3,093 yards. Matthews had 119 receiving yards against the Bulldogs last season.
3. Gators running game: With the news this week that running back Matt Jones became the seventh Florida player to suffer a season-ending injury, the Gators' running game is now largely in the hands of Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor. Brown has been solid enough thus far, rushing for a team-high 340 yards. But Taylor is the guy many Gators fans are excited about. The son of UF great Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor has rushed 16 times for 98 yards (6.1 per carry), including 10 carries for 52 yards in last week's slugfest against LSU. Missouri's run defense ranks third in the SEC at 126.2 YPG, but Georgia freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas ran for 157 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry against the Tigers' last week. The Gators probably need Brown and Taylor to be similarly productive in order to hang with the Tigers' prolific offense.
4. Marshall back for Auburn: After sitting out last week's blowout win against Western Carolina with a knee injury, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall returns to the lineup this week against Texas A&M. Marshall rushed for 140 yards -- the most by an SEC quarterback this season -- in his last game, the Tigers' 30-22 win on Oct. 5 against then-No. 24 Ole Miss. He led the resurgent Tigers to a 4-1 record before taking a seat last week while true freshman Jeremy Johnson played for the first time -- and won SEC Freshman of the Week honors -- against the overmatched Catamounts.
5. Can Georgia recover? With half a dozen starters sidelined last week against Missouri, Georgia lost its first home game since September 2011. Now the Bulldogs limp to Vanderbilt, where they have struggled in two of their last three visits before earning narrow wins. UGA hopes to reach next week's open date with its SEC East hopes still intact. All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley likely still won't play this week, so the Bulldogs' offense must hope Murray, freshman tailbacks Green and Douglas and their crew of replacement wideouts can generate enough offense to outscore the slumping Commodores.
6. Vols back from open date: The last time we saw Tennessee, it came within an eyelash of upsetting then-No. 6 Georgia in overtime. First-year coach Butch Jones' team took last weekend off and now has another enormous test on its hands: a visit from No. 11 South Carolina, which finally seems to be hitting its stride after some early struggles. Volunteers fans are optimistic about the new coaching staff, but their team hasn't beaten a ranked opponent in its last 19 tries. Their next four opponents are all ranked in this week's AP Top 25.
8. Maintaining historic run: The SEC set a record when Auburn jumped into this week's AP Top 25, giving the conference eight ranked teams. But that historic total might be short-lived. At No. 24, Auburn will likely drop out if it loses on Saturday at No. 7 Texas A&M. No. 15 Georgia and No. 22 Florida also can't afford a loss if they want to remain in the poll next week.
9. Repeat performance for Aggies? Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense gained 671 total yards, the most ever allowed by an Auburn defense, in last season's 63-21 win against the Tigers. Those 63 points also represented the third-most points ever scored against the Tigers. If that wasn't the last straw for then-coach Gene Chizik and his staff, it was awfully close. New coach Gus Malzahn has instilled new optimism on the Plains. The Tigers are a ranked team for the first time since November 2011, but the Aggies are still a two-touchdown favorite.
10. Rebs on the ropes: Ole Miss was one of the feel-good stories of the season just a few weeks ago, with the Rebels' Sept. 14 win helping them jump to No. 21 in the polls. But entering Saturday's home game against LSU, Hugh Freeze's club has lost three straight games: a shutout loss to top-ranked Alabama followed by narrow losses to Auburn and Texas A&M. LSU has won nine of the last 11 against the Rebels, although three of the last four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Keep your eyes on Oxford on Saturday night. This game often has a way of remaining surprisingly competitive.
1. Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC; last week: 1): Twitter was ablaze with tweets concerning Alabama's slow start at Kentucky. That worry quickly left after the Crimson Tide scored 31 consecutive points in the first half and cruised to a 48-7 win. Alabama isn't perfect, but it still has a hold on the SEC and is still the country's top team.
2. Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 3): The Aggies certainly don't have much of a defense, but it doesn't really matter with Johnny Manziel running the show. For the second consecutive year, Manziel led a come-from-behind, game-winning drive against Ole Miss in Oxford. Not even a freak knee injury could slow him down. As long as he's making defenses look silly, the Aggies are a title contender.
3. LSU (6-1, 3-1 SEC; LW: 4): So there's that LSU defense we know and love. After some questionable early play, the Tigers defense held Florida to six points and just 240 yards of offense. With relentless pressure from the LSU defense, Florida's offense wilted inside of Tiger Stadium. LSU's offense wasn't great, but running back Jeremy Hill rushed for 121 yards against the nation's No. 1 rush defense.
4. Missouri (6-0, 2-0 SEC; LW: 7): Yeah, we all saw this one coming. These Tigers are undefeated and have the SEC's second-hottest offense behind Texas A&M. Mizzou strutted into Athens over the weekend and walked out with a win and their chests puffed out after a 41-26 win. The question now is if the Tigers can keep their momentum with quarterback James Franklin sidelined with a shoulder injury. It's Maty Mauk time in Columbia.
5. Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC; LW: 2): The Bulldogs defense struggled in the first half against Mizzou, but offensive mistakes really cost Georgia against the Tigers. Georgia was banged up on both sides of the ball and just didn't have the offensive star power around Aaron Murray to make a run late. It has been a rough week for the state of Georgia in the world of sports, and an unhealthy Bulldogs team is really hurting heading into its trip to Vanderbilt.
6. South Carolina (5-1, 3-1 SEC; LW: 6): Like LSU, we finally saw a balanced, solid defensive performance in a big game from the Gamecocks. Arkansas' running game churned out more than 200 yards, but the Gamecocks shut down the Hogs passing game, allowing just 30 yards on 4-of-13 passing. Connor Shaw continues to prove that he's made out of titanium and Mike Davis has rushed for 100-plus yards in five of six games.
7. Florida (4-2, 3-1 SEC; LW: 5): The Gators just couldn't get anything going on offense in Baton Rouge. Quarterback Tyler Murphy looked bewildered against LSU's blitz, and the offensive line crumbled under pressure. The offense averaged just 3.5 yards per play. The defense gave up some big plays, but held Zach Mettenberger to just 152 yards and a QBR of 46.7. No one would have blamed Florida's defense if it didn't allow the offense on the plane home Saturday.
8. Auburn (5-1, 2-1 SEC; LW: 8): No, the Tigers weren't playing hefty competition over the weekend, but this team is getting pretty fun to watch. Even without starting quarterback Nick Marshall, the Tigers registered 712 yards behind Jeremy Johnson in their 62-3 win over Western Carolina. Also, 511 of those yards came on the ground. Watch out for these Tigers.
9. Ole Miss (3-3, 1-3 SEC; LW: 9): How do you not run the ball on your final possession with Johnny Football standing on the other sideline? You can't give Manziel time to work with, and after the Rebels threw three straight incomplete passes on their last drive, Manziel was given 2:33 seconds to drive and win the game. He did, and the Rebels, who had their defense gashed, lost their third straight game.
10. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3 SEC; LW: 10): The Commodores were off this weekend, so this team got an extra week to work out some of those defensive kinks. They'll need everything to be ironed out with a frustrated Georgia team heading to town. Keep an eye on receiver Jordan Matthews. He has had a stellar start to the year and leads the SEC with 47 receptions and is third with 709 yards.
11. Tennessee (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 12): The Vols were off, but they moved up because of what happened while they were hanging out on the couch this weekend. Plus, almost beating Georgia two weeks ago was pretty impressive. This team still has a long way to go before it's truly competitive in the SEC, but the performance against Georgia might give the Vols some nice momentum for the rest of the season.
12. Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2 SEC; LW: 13): The Bulldogs got quite the scare at home against Bowling Green. With a two-headed quarterback attack of Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott, Mississippi State slipped by the Falcons 21-20. It certainly wasn't pretty, but it was a must-win for the Bulldogs as they look to make it to the postseason. The Bulldogs are off this week, which is probably a good thing, as this team looks to regroup after an up-and-down first half of the season.
13. Arkansas (3-4, 0-3 SEC; LW: 11): Picking the Razorbacks to pull the upset over South Carolina was a major mental lapse on my part. The passing game was nonexistent against the Gamecocks and the defense was trampled on. This team can run the ball, but it just doesn't have an adequate passing game right now to make a real push in Bret Bielema's first season.
14. Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats had some fight early against Alabama, but then the talent difference put the Wildcats back in their place. Coach Mark Stoops said his team doesn't plan to cave and will be competitive from here on out. It has been a rough first year for Stoops, but attitude is everything when it comes to building.
1. Alabama (4-0, 2-0 SEC; last week: 1): The Crimson Tide defense was tired of hearing how good it wasn't. It didn't like hearing that Ole Miss was going to score on it. So it shut the Rebels out and held them to just 205 yards of offense and 11 first downs. The Alabama offense rolled up 434 yards of offense as well, quieting a lot of doubters in the process.
2. Georgia (3-1, 2-0 SEC; LW: 4): Well, it's pretty clear that the SEC Eastern Division is now Georgia's to lose. After a thrilling 44-41 win over LSU, the Bulldogs showed that no matter how bad their defense plays, the offense will be there to rescue it. The only real defensive test remaining for this unit is Florida. But can Florida's offense keep up with the Dawgs if they score?
3. Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 3): Like Georgia, the Aggies are equipped with an offense that can bail out its struggling defense. The Razorbacks gave A&M quite the scare in Fayetteville over the weekend, but Johnny Manziel and Co. didn't have much trouble piling on points against a struggling Arkansas defense. Still, that rushing defense has to improve with SEC play heating up.
4. LSU (4-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 2): The Tigers' defense showed its youthful age against Georgia on Saturday, especially in the secondary. Georgia churned out nearly 500 yards and averaged 7 yards per play. It didn't help that the front seven didn't generate enough pressure on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw four touchdowns. But we learned that LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger is the real deal. He delivered some NFL throws and might have outplayed Murray between the hedges.
5. South Carolina (3-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 5): I don't know what it is with this South Carolina team. It overcame the loss of starting quarterback Connor Shaw by scoring 28 straight points on UCF Saturday, but then turned around and let the Knights end the game on a 15-0 run. The good news for the Gamecocks is they might have one of the most underrated players in the SEC in running back Mike Davis, who leads the SEC in rushing yards per game (127).
6. Florida (3-1, 2-0 SEC; LW: 7): This is officially Tyler Murphy's team, and he's been solid since replacing Jeff Driskel at quarterback. No one really expects much from the passing game going forward, so the running game has to carry this team (again). It did just that with its 246 yards in the win over Kentucky. That defense might be missing Dominique Easley, but it was fantastic against the Wildcats.
7. Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 6): Quarterback Bo Wallace took some heat for saying the Rebels' offense would score some points on Alabama. Well, he ended up scoring for the Crimson Tide with his safety in the fourth quarter. The high-flying offense we saw in the first three games didn't make it to Tuscaloosa, and now the Rebels are gearing up for a crucial conference game at Auburn this weekend.
8. Missouri (4-0, 0-0 SEC; LW: 8): We still don't know a ton about this team, but the Tigers scored at will against their nonconference foes, averaging 45.5 points and 549 yards through the first four games. But SEC play starts now with a trip to Vanderbilt this weekend. We'll find out very soon if there was any substance to the Tigers' fast start to the season.
9. Auburn (3-1, 1-1 SEC; LW: 9): The Tigers had the week off after their loss to LSU. That gave this team time to rest and try to get the passing game in better shape for the Rebels. What Gus Malzahn and his running backs had to be excited about was seeing Ole Miss' defense give up 254 rushing yards and rushing touchdowns of 68 and 50 yards to the Tide.
10. Vanderbilt (3-2, 0-2 SEC; LW: 10): The offense is only getting better, and wide receiver Jordan Matthews is getting closer and closer to breaking SEC records for career receiving yards and career receptions. With eight catches for 115 yards and touchdown in Vandy's 52-24 win over UAB, Matthews has had 100-plus yards or a touchdown in four of Vandy's five games.
11. Arkansas (3-2, 0-1 SEC; LW: 11): After a rough loss at Rutgers, the Hogs made things interesting in their 45-33 loss to the Aggies. This running game bounced back against A&M with 201 yards, while Brandon Allen's return at quarterback led to 282 passing yards. Still, this team has to clean things up on defense. The Aggies averaged 7 yards per play.
12. Mississippi State (2-2, 0-1 SEC; LW 12): The Bulldogs were off after their 62-7 win over Troy. It was an impressive win for a team looking for more of an offensive spark at the beginning of the season. The way quarterback Dak Prescott is playing, this offense has to feel confident going into this weekend's matchup with LSU. But do the Bulldogs have the horses to keep up with an LSU team that has to be frustrated after its loss to Georgia?
13. Tennessee (3-2, 0-1 SEC; LW: 13): Somehow, the Volunteers tried to give it all away late against South Alabama on Saturday. Tennessee was outscored 17-7 in the second half of its 31-24 win and even blocked its own field goal. A win is a win, especially for a program with a new head coach, but the Vols now have to regroup and face a Georgia team capable of scoring 50 in Knoxville this weekend.
14. Kentucky (1-3, 0-1 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats' only real positive from Saturday's 24-7 loss to Florida was that their touchdown came on a fake field goal. Other than that, the Gators dominated Mark Stoops' team. When your kicker is your leading rusher in a game (25 yards), you know you have major problems in the playmaking department.
- Alabama looks to fix a running game that has struggled to find consistency in the first four weeks of the season and ranks last in the SEC in rushing yards per game.
- Success is a family matter for LSU running back Odell Beckham Jr., whose father, Odell Sr, was an LSU running back and whose mother, Heather, was a track star.
- Georgia players who got to know LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger when he was a Bulldog are happy he has found success, but obviously, want to beat him and the Tigers.
- Texas A&M senior Nate Askew made the transition from receiver to linebacker a successful one, even though it's a position he never played before this season.
- South Carolina cornerback Jimmy Legree leads by example, both on and off the field.
- After recording his first 100-yard receiving game of his career against LSU, Auburn receiver Sammie Coates appears to be emerging as one of the top deep threats in the SEC.
- Kentucky true freshman running back JoJo Kemp will see his role increased on a week when the Wildcats face the No. 1 run defense in the country in Florida.
- Mississippi State junior right guard Ben Beckwith has worked his way from a walk-on to starting on Saturdays.
- Missouri quarterback James Franklin has learned to let go of the negativity, both on and off the field.
- Florida suffered a tough blow when it got the news that defensive tackle Dominique Easley is out for the season with a torn ACL.
- Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott has shifted his attitude, including "lifestyle" choices off the field to help ensure he has a stellar 2013 season.
- Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews is chasing some SEC receiving records this season.
- Keeping the ball away from Texas A&M's high-powered offense might be the best course of action for Arkansas this weekend.
In fact, Alabama is the only one of the five SEC teams that opened the season in the top 10 that hasn’t lost a game. So everybody’s still chasing the Crimson Tide, but it’s a race that could still go any number of ways, especially with some of the offensive numbers being generated. If the first four weeks taught us anything, you better be ready to score some points if you’re going to win a title this season.
Here’s a quick recap:
Best game: Take your pick. There have been some dandies to this point. The very first SEC game between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt on a Thursday night produced a thrilling ending in Nashville with the Rebels pulling out a 39-35 win. Both of Georgia’s first two games were incredibly entertaining, their 38-35 loss at Clemson and then their 41-30 win over South Carolina the next week. But nothing tops Alabama’s wild 49-42 win at Texas A&M in Week 3. The two teams combined for 1,196 total yards and 62 first downs. The Aggies jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but the Crimson Tide answered with 35 unanswered points only to have the Aggies come roaring back with three fourth-quarter touchdowns. It was so much fun that maybe we’ll see them go at it again in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game if everything falls right. Wouldn’t the rest of college football just love that?
Best performance: Once again, Johnny Football takes top honors. Yes, it came in a loss, but he was brilliant in passing for five touchdowns and rolling up 562 yards of total offense (the most ever in an SEC game) in the 49-42 setback to Alabama. The guy Manziel was throwing to that day, sophomore receiver Mike Evans, comes in a close second with his seven catches for 279 yards. And let’s also not forget about how good Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was in that game. He finished 20-of-29 for 334 yards and four touchdowns, completing passes to 10 different players. Sticking with Alabama, Christion Jones returned a kickoff for a touchdown, returned a punt for a touchdown and also caught a touchdown pass in the season-opening win over Virginia Tech. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray deserves a shout-out for his four-touchdown outing in the win over South Carolina, and the same goes for Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott and his 243 all-purpose yards in the win at Texas. Scott rushed for a career-high 164 yards and a touchdown and also scored on a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Best surprise: It has to be LSU’s passing game and how balanced the Tigers have been offensively through four games. In the offseason, Les Miles talked about the need to throw the ball better, and that’s exactly what the Tigers have done under first-year coordinator Cam Cameron. The days of loading up against LSU's running game and not worrying about the passing game are over. Mettenberger has 10 touchdown passes and only one interception. The receiving duo of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham has been dynamite with 11 combined touchdowns, and then there’s also Jeremy Hill trucking everything in sight in the running game. This has the makings of Miles’ best and most explosive offense since he has been in Baton Rouge.
Biggest disappointment: Granted, the expectations were through the roof, but South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has been a mere mortal in the Gamecocks’ first three games. He has been solid, but hasn’t been that consistent of a disruptive force so many people were anticipating to start his junior season. To be fair, he’s dealing with a foot injury that sounds like it will plague him for the rest of the season, and teams have done their best to run away from him and make him chase. Clowney still has two sacks, and at this point a year ago, he had only three and finished the season with 13. The Heisman Trophy chatter may have quieted, but you can bet that No. 7 won’t stay this quiet on the field all season.
- A total of 10 players from the SEC rushed for 100 yards or more in their opening games, including both Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins of Arkansas.
- Since 2006, the SEC has posted the highest nonconference winning percentage (regular season & bowls) of any conference. The league has a 333-74 record (81.8 winning percentage).
- With the start of the NFL season upon us, a quick look around the league reveals that the SEC has had more of its former players on NFL rosters in the last five seasons than any other conference. Since 2006, the SEC has averaged 266.1 players per year on NFL opening weekend rosters. The league had a high of 257 players on NFL rosters last year, compared to the second highest ACC with 226.
- Florida is now 13-0 under coach Will Muschamp when rushing for 150 or more yards.
- The Gators have allowed two rushes of 50 yards or longer in the last 10 seasons combined, three fewer than any other FBS team. Last week, the Gators allowed a total of 50 yards on the ground and just one rush of 10 yards or longer.
- Jadeveon Clowney recorded only three tackles in South Carolina’s season opener against North Carolina, but he still had an impact on the game. He had three total pressures, which brings his total number to 31 over the last two seasons, tying him with former Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones for tops in the SEC.
- Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is going to miss his top target, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who's out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Murray completed 72 percent of his passes thrown to Mitchell, compared to 59 percent when targeting his other receivers.
- It's been pointed out time and again, and we're going to continue bringing it up until it changes: Murray is 3-11 against ranked opponents in his career. He's 0-3 all-time against South Carolina. Murray's 46.0 QBR against the Gamecocks is the lowest of any team in the SEC East.
- Your SEC leaders in Raw QBR aren't what you might expect as Arkansas’ Brandon Allen led the charge with a 91.6 rating, followed by Missouri’s James Franklin, Texas A&M’s Matt Joeckel and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger. Last season Mettenberger ranked 12th out of 13 SEC quarterbacks in QBR.
- Mettenberger's numbers could improve again versus UAB, which allowed 319 yards passing from Troy quarterback Corey Robinson, who set a NCAA record completing 93.8 percent of his passes (30-for-32).
- Auburn is now 194-1 all-time when scoring 30 points or more against non-SEC opponents. The Tigers defeated Arkansas State in both previous matchups, with each victory coming by at least 26 points.
- Ole Miss is 149-82-7 (.641 winning pct.) all-time during the month of September, including a 3-2 record last year.
- Arkansas hosts Samford in its home away from home, War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, where the Razorbacks are 166-67-4 (.709) all-time.
- Hogs coach Bret Bielema wanted to cut down on penalties during his first offseason, and the Razorbacks’ did just that on Saturday, accounting for all of four penalties vs. Louisiana -- the fewest in a season opener since 2008.
- UK had 11 first-time starters in its season-opening loss to the Hilltoppers, which is a school record for first-time starters in a game according to records kept back to the 1993 season. A total of 10 newcomers (six true freshmen) saw action.
- Tennessee is 7-0 all-time vs. current Sun Belt schools, including two wins last season (51-13 over Georgia State, 55-48 over Troy).
- The Vols offensive line has a total of 129 career starts, led by Ja’Wuan James with 38 and Zach Fulton with 29.
- Tennessee's 45-0 win in Week 1 marked the first shutout for UT since a 27-0 win over Middle Tennessee on Nov. 5, 2011.
- The Aggies gained 486 total yards against Rice last week, which marked the 13th straight game that the offense has surpassed the 400-yard plateau, which is easily the longest streak in school history. Only Baylor has a longer streak of 400-yard offensive game among FBS teams. Since head coach Kevin Sumlin’s arrival in College Station, the Aggies have surpassed 400 in 13-of-14 games, including 500-plus yards eight times.
- Missouri's Gary Pinkel coached Toledo’s through the 2000 season, and left for Columbia as the Rockets’ winningest coach in school history, with a 73-37-3 record in 10 seasons. Pinkel, who was inducted into Toledo's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009, led the Rockets to a MAC title and claimed three other MAC West Division championships.
- It took 659 days, but Missouri junior running back Henry Josey, returning from a knee injury, picked up where he left off at Faurot Field this past weekend, rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in Mizzou’s 58-14 victory over Murray State.
- Vanderbilt saw Austin Carta-Samuels become just the second quarterback in Vanderbilt history to pass for 300 yards or more in a season opener on Saturday. The last time a Commordores quarterback hit that mark was when Greg Zolman threw for 300 yards in the 2001 opener against Middle Tennessee.
- Jordan Matthews' 178-yard effort versus Ole Miss was the most by a Vanderbilt receiver since Earl Bennett amassed 223 receiving yards against Richmond in 2007.
1. Alabama (1-0; LW: 1): OK, Alabama isn't perfect. Contrary to what AJ McCarron said, the offensive line looked ugly for most of the night in Alabama's win over Virginia Tech. It has to get better in a hurry. But when your defense and special teams are clicking like they were on Saturday, who needs offense?
2. South Carolina (1-0; LW: 4): Two players I've been saying to keep an eye on since the spring: Mike Davis and Shaq Roland. Both looked pretty good, especially Davis, in that opening win, and both will be fun to watch this weekend. The defensive front looked great, but can someone please give Jadeveon Clowney some vitamin C and an extra Gatorade?
3. LSU (1-0; LW: 6): Don't sleep on these Tigers. They're undervalued, but were very impressive in their 37-27 victory over a ranked TCU team in their own backyard. The defense still looks fast, and the offense racked up nearly 450 yards behind some explosive plays. The return of running back Jeremy Hill should make this team even better.
4. Texas A&M (1-0; LW: 2): Johnny Manziel looked good when he was actually playing football Saturday. He went through his progressions and didn't think "run" first. But his antics have to stop (just ask Kevin Sumlin), and that defense has to get much, much, MUCH better before Alabama rolls into town in two weeks.
5. Florida (1-0; LW: 5): It doesn't look like the Gators will miss much of a beat defensively after they suffocated Toledo and that uptempo offense. The offense? Well, it did look more polished and the passing game actually moved down the field, but the Gators were very vanilla. Expect that to change against Miami.
6. Georgia (0-1; LW: 3): We knew the defense would struggle against Clemson's high-octane offense, but the Bulldogs looked really bad in the tackling department. This group has to go back to the basics, and that isn't a good thing with physical South Carolina coming to town this weekend. Also, that offensive line has to protect Aaron Murray better because Todd Gurley can't do it all himself on offense.
7. Ole Miss (1-0; LW: 8): The future certainly looks bright in Oxford, Miss., but this program is hoping the present is just as bright. The Rebels kicked off the college football season with an electric, back-and-forth win over Vanderbilt. This offense looks built to go the distance, but depth is still a major concern. Health is key.
8. Vanderbilt (0-1; LW: 7): The Commodores lost a heartbreaker to the Rebels at home, but this team still looks as explosive as it was last year. The defense has some things to clean up, but defensive coordinator Bob Shoop should make sure that happens. Jordan Matthews has star status, but not having Chris Boyd on the other side of him hurts the offense.
9. Auburn (1-0; LW: 9): The Tigers had quite a fun opener. Both the offense and defense were up and down, but it had to be nice for Gus Malzahn to see his running game put up 295 yards on Washington State. The pass defense has some work to do and injuries won't help.
10. Missouri (1-0; LW: 11): The 58-point, 694-yard performance from the Tigers' offense looked more like what people in Columbia, Mo., expected to see more often last year. Granted, it was against Murray State, but that sort of outing will build some confidence within this group. It was good to see James Franklin and Henry Josey on the field and healthy again.
11. Arkansas (1-0; LW: 13): By looking at the box score, you'd think Bobby Petrino's offense was back in Fayetteville, Ark., after the Hogs put up 522 yards on Louisiana-Lafayette. The Hogs could run and pass, and the defense held the Ragin' Cajuns to just 274 yards. The Hogs still have a couple of cupcakes to face before things get interesting at Rutgers.
12. Tennessee (1-0; LW: 12): We really don't know what to take from Tennessee's thumping of a very overmatched Austin Peay team, but the Vols looked to have some real legs in the running game. How long that will last is a mystery, but it was a good start. Things get tougher this weekend when Western Kentucky and Bobby Petrino visit Rocky Top.
13. Mississippi State (0-1; LW: 10): That was a bad offensive performance by the Bulldogs in their 21-3 loss to Oklahoma State. Mississippi State was 2-for-16 on third downs and Tyler Russell threw for only 133 yards against a defense that ranked 113th nationally in pass defense last year. The Bulldogs held the Cowboys to just 146 passing yards, but allowed nearly 286 rushing yards.
14. Kentucky (0-1; LW: 14): That was not the opener Mark Stoops wanted or needed. The Wildcats looked overmatched against Western Kentucky and are still struggling mightily to find playmakers in the passing game. What had to really upset Stoops was that his defensive line, which was supposed to be this team's best unit, didn't get enough pressure up front and allowed the Hilltoppers to rush for more than 200 yards.
- There was a lot of offseason buildup for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, but his performance in the Gamecocks' 27-10 win over North Carolina lacked sizzle.
- Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews was resilient, fighting through cramps and taking big hits yet still delivering an impressive performance in the Commodores 39-35 loss to Ole Miss.
- With his father -- who traveled all day to make it -- watching, Jeff Scott's 75-yard touchdown run helped the Rebels to a thrilling win over the Commodores, leading Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze to say "We stole one."
- While there are experienced returnees at several key positions for defending BCS champion Alabama, the Crimson Tide have a rebuilt offensive line, which includes three players who will make their first career starts on Saturday vs. Virginia Tech.
- It has been a long road for LSU senior safety Craig Loston. He reflects on his journey as he readies for his final season in Baton Rouge.
- Despite a "rough" camp that leaves them with just six scholarship players at the position, Arkansas receivers say they're ready for their season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.
- Quarterback James Franklin and new offensive coordinator Josh Henson are ready to show everyone what's in store for Missouri's offense in 2013.
- Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown, a disciple of the "Air Raid" offense, discusses his offense and even diagrams a few plays on video.
- Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is restless and ready for some football.
- When looking back at the family history of Heisman Trophy quarterback Johnny Manziel, one thorough, exhaustive piece was "fundamentally flawed," according to the San Antonio Express-News.
1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson: The Heisman Trophy contender ranked seventh nationally in total offense last season (339.2 ypg) and figures to be a nightmare for Georgia’s rebuilt defense as a running and passing threat. His 36 passing touchdowns and 10 scores on the ground last season attest to the problems he will present.
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