By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – Chances are if you are under the age of 31 (you can guess why I picked that number), you have no idea what the term “cray” means.
Coined by rappers/moguls Jay-Z and Kanye West from the song “In Paris”, the phrase has become a popular saying in pop culture. The word “cray” is basically a shortened version of “crazy”, something so outlandish or unbelievable that all you can do is shake your head.
Well, this past Saturday in college football was cray. Three teams in the top five lost, and upsets were seen in every major BCS conference. Teams made statements (Florida, South Carolina, Kansas State), while others likely eliminated themselves from National Championship discussion (Florida State, Georgia). Saturday night was especially fun, with several seasons on the brink in the span of hours.
What was it like? Let’s start at the end and work our way back.
First Down: What To Expect, When You Aren’t Expecting
All week, two games dominated national attention. LSU at Florida. Georgia at South Carolina.
Over the past few days, all college football discussion began with those matchups. We even named our Digital Network previews SEC “Game Of the Week I and II”. It was all anyone talked about.
The first matchup, LSU at Florida, got its own window for the world to watch. CBS aired the game at 3:30 ET, giving the Tigers and Gators the sole attention of every SEC fan. While there were other contests on, none held the same national cachet.
For the second SEC “Game of the Week”, that wasn’t the case.
Even with ESPN’s College Gameday in attendance, two other SEC games kicked off at that time (Texas A&M at Ole Miss; Vanderbilt at Missouri). There was also a Big 10 matchup featuring Ohio State and Nebraska, and number three Florida State was playing in primetime too. Throw in Major League Baseball playoff games, and there weren’t enough TVs to keep up with all the sports. It was a glorious night for couch potatoes. All you needed was a quality remote and a short attention span.
I had a plan coming in. My first priority was Georgia-South Carolina, just due to the enormity of the game (#5 vs. #6). For work purposes, I recorded the A&M-Ole Miss game and the Missouri-Vandy matchup.
During breaks in the action in Columbia, I’d flip back and forth. My computer had SEC Gameday Central pulled up for live stats along with my Twitter feed for updates. My phone belonged to the MLB. I was ready.
More correctly put, I expected that I was ready.
You know what I didn’t expect? South Carolina to score 21 points before Georgia could breathe, and for the vaunted Eastern Division matchup to be close only at opening kick. The Gamecocks total domination of Georgia was impressive to watch, and is perhaps the biggest win of Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina career (in fairness, it feels like you can say this every week). The OBC is making history in Columbia.
Almost all hopes for a close game were dashed early, as USC did whatever they wanted to Georgia. In a span of 10 minutes on the clock, the game was effectively over. Sure, Georgia had opportunities to bridge the gap before halftime, but the Gamecocks never faltered.
Midway through the second quarter I found myself watching more of the Texas A&M-Ole Miss game, and even flipping over to Columbia West (Mizzou) to catch up there. Those matchups were still undecided, more drama than the rout in Columbia East (South Carolina).
Essentially, I spent less time watching the game I planned on watching the most. Make sense?
If you had asked me earlier this week which game I’d watch the least on Saturday night, South Carolina-Georgia wouldn’t have been the choice. That was Saturday night’s reality though, as the lesser talked about matchups turned out to be the night’s most entertaining.
A&M’s Johnny “Football” Manziel added to his legend, orchestrating a fourth quarter comeback to capture the Aggies first SEC road win. Vanderbilt won on the road too, picking up their first conference victory away from Nashville in two years.
In those final minutes, there was one game I never turned back too.
The one I expected I’d be watching the most.
Second Down: Substance, Not Style, In Florida
Former NFL football coach and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards uttered the famous phrase, “You play to win the game”. Notice he didn’t say, “win pretty”, but only that you win. That is exactly what Florida did on Saturday, capturing a key victory over third ranked LSU, 14-6. What the game lacked in offensive flare was countered with physical talent, as Florida literally pounded their way to victory, the first signature win of the Will Muschamp era.
In an era of college football filled with 70-63 showcases, Florida’s formula for success wasn’t quite as “sexy”. The Gators rushed the ball 58 times, compared to just 12 passes, meaning 83 percent of the time they ran the rock.
Between running back Mike Gillislee and quarterback Jeff Driskel, the duo toted the ball 47 times. 136 yards came from Gillislee, the senior who predicted a big season back in August. I guess it is time we agree with him, as he’s averaging over 100 yards per game and scored his 6th and 7th touchdowns of the season on Saturday.
At halftime of this game, LSU hit the locker room holding a 6-0 lead. The national reaction was frustration, another low scoring SEC game lacking in offensive prowess. Was it bad offense or good defense?
While style points were handed out on Twitter, Muschamp and UF offensive coordinator Brett Pease made adjustments, rededicating to the running attack and physically beating LSU in a manner we haven’t seen since this past January in New Orleans.
Again, the most important stat in any game is the win. How you do it, or more importantly the “style” in which it occurs is irrelevant, because in the end you are only judged by your record. No team knows that more than the squad Florida defeated…LSU.
Head coach Les Miles has built LSU’s foundation of success on defense. Their philosophy revolves around imposing will, the Tigers defensive unit determining the game’s pace. While this style of play isn’t always visually appealing, or “pretty” as mentioned today, it is successful. Prior to today’s loss, LSU had won 18 straight regular season games, a national mark that is impressive considering the strength of the SEC.
You know who else has that philosophy? Defending National Champion Alabama, a team that continues to win football games with principles more prevalent in 1970 than 2012. Muschamp, who shares a coaching past with Saban, took a page out of his playbook, deciding his offensive line would win the battle. Early on, it didn’t appear to be true.
But as the contest wore on, Florida got stronger, dominating the point of attack. The Gators ran the ball 24 straight times to end the game, essentially daring LSU to stop them. The Tigers did not, and as the clock ran out on Saturday’s game, Muschamp turned to his team to congratulate them.
“This is a great win men,” Muschamp screamed on the sideline to his players (that’s the edited version). A great win indeed, ugly or not. You know what does look pretty to Gator fans?
Their team’s 5-0 record.
Third Down: SEC Standouts
Arkansas Defensive Line (Arkansas): Going into Saturday’s matchup against Auburn, the Arkansas Razorbacks had seven sacks as a team in 2012. On the plains the Razorbacks had eight sacks in one game, more than doubling their total on the season. That eight sack total is tied for the highest single game mark in the SEC in 2012. The defensive front also caused a key turnover in the fourth quarter, allowing Tyler Wilson and company to expand their lead to 24-7. In the face of tremendous adversity all year long, credit the Arkansas front for manhandling the Tigers en route to picking up an SEC road win.
Mike Evans (Texas A&M): No, this is not a misprint. Someone other than Johnny Manziel plays for the Texas A&M offense. In a game filled with turnovers and sloppy play, Evans made perhaps the Aggies biggest offensive play. Facing a critical 3rd and 19 deep in their territory, Evans leaped on the scene, making a catch and keeping A&M dreams alive. That catch was one of eight on the night for the redshirt freshman, as he crossed the 100 yard mark.
Steve Spurrier (South Carolina): Wait a minute; the “Old Ball Coach” didn’t play on Saturday! He may not have suited up, but if you are going to give any one person credit for South Carolina’s huge win over Georgia, you have to start at the top. What Spurrier has accomplished in Columbia has been nothing short of remarkable, and it further cements his status as one of the greatest college football coaches in history. The fact that the 2012 Gamecocks win in a completely different manner than Spurrier’s Gator teams of the mid 90s makes it all the more amazing. Their talent is homegrown, as some of the squad’s biggest stars hail from the Palmetto State (JaDaveon Clowney, Stephon Gilmore, and Marcus Lattimore). Perhaps overlooked in the Spurrier/South Carolina resurgence is the HBC’s fantastic job of putting a fence around his state when it comes to recruiting. Hat’s off sir.
The Florida Offensive Line (Florida): Will Muschamp issued a simple challenge to his lineman. Win the battle up front against LSU. Mission accomplished, as the unit brutalized a Tiger front often recognized as the nation’s best. The gaudy rushing totals Florida mustered started in the trenches, and the group only improved as the game continued. During the Gators second half run, Muschamp also relied exclusively on the run game, with Gillislee finding holes created by his line. Florida’s plan is to be more physical than their opponents. Against an LSU team that is rarely beaten in that category, the Gators clearly won that confrontation on Saturday.
Keith Minter (LSU): Minter turned in Herculean effort Saturday, making 20 tackles in LSU’s loss. Minter was the most disruptive defense player on the field, also forcing a fumble and sacking UF signal caller Jeff Driskel twice. You can argue Minter’s presence was the single most valuable of LSU’s team, seeing as how when Minter was injured for a series the Gators went down the field and scored. For a defense asked to keep their opponents in single digits at time, Minter’s amazing play nearly got it done.
Patrick Towles (Kentucky): Can you be an SEC standout despite playing only three series? If you are Kentucky freshman quarterback Patrick Towles, then yes. Towles, the Wildcats prized recruit, showed Wildcat fans his promise, orchestrating a TD drive his first time out. Towles was 5-for-5 passing on the drive, lofting a 32 yard pass to La’Rod King to reach the end zone. Sadly, Towles went down shortly after that, and now the rest of his season is in doubt after sustaining an ankle injury. Either way, Towles success should not be overlooked.