By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – Week two of the SEC football season is now in the books. After seeing a pair of miraculous conference matchups, is there really any better way to start off the league schedule? As you’ll see below in our second edition of Three and Out, the beginning of the SEC slate was a collection of truly memorable performances. If this is the way the whole season will play out, we might all need to consult doctors, because I’m not sure our hearts could take it.
Being a neutral supporter of the conference as a whole (it is true), I can only imagine the emotions that happen as the league’s fans watch their alma mater’s fate decided in the final seconds. I didn’t go to an SEC school, nor a school with football as a program sport, so I am still enamored by how important Saturday is in people’s lives. Not only do you live and die with your favorite team, but you change your entire schedule around to accommodate their every move. Well, most people do (I’ll get to that in a minute).
The opening of SEC play left some fan bases exhilarated (think Auburn and South Carolina) while others with a deep sense of frustration in the pits of their stomachs (think Georgia and Mississippi State).
However, despite what is usually my normal Saturday routine, I had to find out about these fantastic finishes after the fact. Why? That is where we begin this week’s column.
First Down: Alabama Football Takes No Back Seat….Even To Holy Matrimony
I was born in the Bronx, New York. Despite my “Yankee” pedigree, I have spent 22 years of the 30 in my life in the South. Being that as it may, I have become accustomed to the many unwritten rules that are a part of the daily occurrence in the South.
I’ve gotten used to having iced tea at social events, know that referring to your elders with “sir” or “ma’am” is common courtesy and understand that you never, I MEAN NEVER, schedule a wedding during a college football Saturday. Even I was smart enough to plan my nuptials in May for this very reason.
However, even with those basic ground rules engrained, I still found myself away from my television this past Saturday. Instead of watching Alabama as they made an uncharacteristic trip to Big 10 country, or South Carolina battling Georgia for the Eastern Division lead, I instead found myself seated at a country house in Springville, Alabama.
A high school friend of mine was celebrating one of the biggest events of his life, tying the knot with his special someone in front of gathered family and friends. The backdrop was a picturesque scene of mountains and valleys, the sight you’d see as you read the final chapter of a Southern epic novel.
Even as I soaked that in, my mind was elsewhere. Seated in the back right corner of the galley, I had my phone in hand as the wedding procession began. After the conclusion of the ceremony, the party began to make their way out. I calibrated my SEC app to the live scores section
, ready for the moment I was told to prepare for.
As my friend’s parents made their way down the aisle, just minutes after their son was married, I made my move toward their path. As discreet as possible, I leaned over as the duo neared my location.
Did I congratulate them for this special family moment? Not quite.
As they got within feet of me, I whispered to them, hoping to not arouse suspicion.
“Alabama just scored, they are now up 27-3,” I muttered, as they continue past the crowd. His mother flashed me a wide grin. Her Crimson Tide was winning, and that was what she needed to know as her son left the altar. She had asked me the week before to make sure I kept her updated no matter what. Mission accomplished.
For the Golson’s, Alabama football is life. They are like many other SEC families, in that their legacies involve their favorite collegiate institutions. Their children went to Alabama, they root passionately for the Tide on Saturday and despite their inability to watch Nick Saban and company play on this day, they did it for the betterment of the school’s esteemed program.
Why? When the Golson family tree gets married, Alabama wins National Championships.
When Ellis and Rachel Golson (my friend’s parents) tied the knot in 1978, Bear Bryant’s team captured the coveted hardware. When Ellis and Rachel’s daughter Amber wed in 2009, Alabama went home with the crystal ball.
So why did such big college football fans allow their son to get married on a Saturday in the fall? They did for Alabama, in hopes that the tradition continues and the Tide hoist another trophy in 2011. We will see if the trade off was worth it.
I was glad to be a part of such a special ceremony. I was ever gladder I had a DVR.
Second Down: A Game Of Inches…and The Tackle
I hate clichés. Whenever I hear a canned term out of the Bull Durham playbook, I shake my head. Coaches, athletes and analysts have mastered the ability of saying a lot without really saying anything at all.
Ever heard the term “this is a game of inches”?
It is in the Sports Cliché Hall of Fame, and rarely is it ever true. But, on this one particular Saturday, it actually came to light. I’m serious. The Mississippi State and Auburn game came down to inches.
This game meant a lot, with both teams fighting for the early top spot. Auburn had heard all week about how lucky they were, while Mississippi State was confident after waxing Memphis. 59 minutes later, we had an instant classic in the SEC. But that’s not what I remember today.
All the long runs, deep passes and changing leads is not what stuck in my head after this game ended. One singular action did. One tackle.
Fast forwarding to the fourth quarter, Auburn was clinging to a 41-34 lead in the final moments. Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf authored an extraordinary final drive, and the Bulldogs were one yard away from overtime.
After failing to score on first and goal, and Dan Mullen nearly having a heart attack trying to call a timeout, State was down to its final play. Here’s where it got fun. What would Mullen do in this crucial spot?
Call in hand, Relf and his teammates made their way back on the field. The ball was snapped, and history happened.
Relf executed an option run, taking off over left end. Only one man stood in his way, as the 245 pound QB barreled toward the end zone.
Auburn’s Ryan Smith stood waiting.
Standing 6-foot-2 and almost 210 pounds, which is quite big for a defensive back, Smith gave away 35 pounds, including momentum as the MSU quarterback set his aim on a touchdown.
I still can’t understand how Smith’s tackle stopped Relf short. After rewinding the play 100 times, and practicing with my 10-month old son (he was Smith, he loves to tackle) it still feels like Relf was supposed to score. I don’t fault his decision, because as a senior in that spot, I’d want the ball too. Despite some funky footwork after the snap, he got everything moving forward at the right time.
Could he have pitched? Perhaps. But if you are 245 pounds and a guy half your size is standing in your way, you can’t blame Relf for trying to run him over. I mean, in theory that is supposed to work.
It didn’t though, with Smith launching himself into Relf’s lower half. If you look at the moment of contact, instead of falling forward, as most normal players would in that spot, Relf went parallel. He fell straight down, not gaining any yardage after he was hit. The physics of it are amazing. If the tackle wasn’t precise, if Relf took the hit in a different spot, he scores.
Instead of overtime and a Bulldog celebration, we had Auburn madness as the Tigers won the game.
Relf lay on the field for a few moments, just inches away from glory.
Third Down: Georgia’s Missed Opportunities
My college baseball coach was, shall we say, adamant about our teams finishing off opponents. He used words, which I can’t write here, to describe how important it was to snatch momentum early, and put away a team when you had the chance.
Around 11 pm last night (I had to finish watching the madness in Ann Arbor
), I clicked on the South Carolina-Georgia game on my DVR and began watching. Already knowing the final score (man our SEC app is awesome!), I had a picture in my mind of how this game probably went. I figured these two teams just had an old fashioned shootout, and in the end Georgia ran out of time.
After watching the game on TV, I know my coach would have had a fit if he was the head man for Georgia.
I can see him now, clad in red and black, lecturing the Bulldogs on the sideline. “You can’t miss (expletive) opportunities in the SEC” he’d say. He’d be right, because I mean you just can’t.
Georgia’s mistakes combined with South Carolina’s opportunistic nature had the Gamecocks leaving Athens with a win. A win, now looking back in retrospect that the “Old Ball Coach” probably shouldn’t have got. The more I viewed the video the more I felt like the Bulldogs let one slip away.
Let’s start with just the final score. It appears as if Georgia’s defense got shredded by the Gamecocks, giving up 45 points in the contest.
The reality? Not so much.
South Carolina scored a TD on special teams (fake punt) and put two in the end zone defensively (INT return, fumble return).
On a side note, how scary is it to see 276 pound Melvin Ingram leaving people in the distance
? WOW. Imagine having to be the one player in the way of that runaway train bound for the Promised Land? No thank you sir.
A third Gamecock score was set up by a 57-yard fumble return, as USC capitalized on the turnover. That is 28 points Steve Spurrier got from outside his offense. He’ll take that every week.
The Bulldogs, well, not so much. Despite dominating the first quarter, they mustered only two field goals. Later, another Georgia possession resulted in a missed field goal attempt.
Bulldog head coach Mark Richt even pulled out his bag of tricks to no avail, as an onside kick Georgia recovered was called back by penalty. Throw in a near pick-six Brandon Boykin couldn’t hold on to, and you have a slew of opportunities that Georgia could have used to put major distance between themselves and their East Division counterpart.
Instead of going into the half trailing USC, you can make a strong argument that Georgia should have been ahead and ahead big. Those lost chances, along with JaDaveon Clowney putting Aaron Murray in a human spin cycle sealed head coach Mark Richt’s team, as they lost their SEC opener.
At the end of the year, it doesn’t matter how you won the games you did, just that you got the “W” next to your name. South Carolina didn’t outplay Georgia Saturday, but still won. Trust me, Gamecock Nation will take it.
The saying is that “opportunity knocks” in life. Well Georgia, like must have had the television on too loud and missed the noise. Hey, it happens.
Play Under Review
This week’s Three and Out is complete, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Vanderbilt Commodores in this spot
. Vandy, under new first year head coach and YouTube Hall of Famer James Franklin
, defeated defending Big East Champion UCONN 24-21 on Saturday. A great win for the program, and a nice step in the right direction for Franklin and his players. Well done Commodores.