By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – Having food poisoning is not fun. For a 24-hour span starting late Friday night, my body was at the mercy of my stomach. I spent more time in one room of my house (think porcelain) than I have in the four years since I’ve lived here, trying my best to rid my intestines of the unwanted visitor that had crept in.
By Saturday morning, the prognosis had gotten worse. Despite my best attempts at removal, I was chained to my couch, sapped of energy and uncertain of how the day would play out. After waiting all week for such a monumental slate of SEC football games, I found myself trying to stay awake for the duration, switching back and forth between the late contests in hopes of making it through the final snap.
I can’t lie to you guys. I didn’t make it. I called it quits around 9 pm Saturday night, just as LSU began to take hold of the scoreboard against West Virginia. But, I had technology in my favor. Thanks to the wonderful invention of the DVR, I technically didn’t miss a beat. Despite watching most of the SEC’s matchups a day after they began, I got the chance to fully experience what the games were like, and make a few observations based on those moments.
So, with that as the background, I present this week’s Three and Out. These thoughts are on the action from Saturday, even if it was actually Sunday by the time I finally got the chance to watch.
I. Alabama’s Defense Is Good, Like Video Game Good
Back in my college years (further away then I like to admit) I was an avid player of the NCAA football game on PlayStation. The college video game was an important staple of my recreational life, and it got to the point where I and my friends created a league to compete against one another. Mind you, this wasn’t a friendly, hang out on Sunday type of routine. It was a cut throat, trash talking habit that constantly spilled over into our daily life.
The three of us in the league (it got to as high as six, but three were the core) spent days pouring over fictional “scouting reports” of high school recruits on the game and studied real life film of the teams we portrayed on screen. The best part of the NCAA football series is that it actually simulated the season, so as you played the games on the field you controlled the matters off of it.
Back then, the game had only one flaw. After a few years of “dynasty” action, the player controlled teams got too good. You figured out the tricks of recruiting, piled up wins left and right and in the end the nation was yours. The journey became less about the season, and more about the head-to-head matchups between you and your friends during the bowl series.
Why did I just spend three paragraphs explaining that to you? That’s what it felt like watching Alabama’s defense play Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa.
Everyone knows how talented the Tide’s defense is. There are several NFL caliber players on the squad, quite the feat considering they had to replace the third overall selection in last year’s draft, defensive tackle Marcel Dareus. There are five members of this side of the ball that are up for national player of the year awards, and they are led by arguably the best defensive coach in the nation, Nick Saban.
All that came to fruition on Saturday, as the Tide defense roughed up a gamely bunch from Arkansas
. Despite the lofty offensive credentials the Razorbacks brought into Tuscaloosa, in the end it was the Alabama D controlling the line of scrimmage. Not only did they consistently pester Arkansas starter Tyler Wilson, they even scored a touchdown for good measure. It was a dominant performance, the kind of swarming defensive units I’d seen back in my video game heyday. It was almost unfair.
Names like Hightower, Kirkpatrick, Lester, Upshaw, Barron and others are sure to be called in the coming NFL Drafts. When they all play well, as they did Saturday, watch out.
One last thought on this contest.
Toward the tail end of the game, Arkansas went to second string Brandon Mitchell. As Mitchell started the Razorback drive, the camera flashed over to Wilson standing on the sideline. Wilson stood gazing forward, while a stat line read underneath his picture.
When it came to sack total, a “zero” stood in the column, reminding fans that the Crimson Tide hadn’t tackled him for loss during the whole game. While true, it was entirely misleading. The remaining two columns removed all doubt.
How many times was Wilson knocked down? 10. How often was he hurried? 9. 19 times Wilson went to the turf Saturday, repeatedly standing up after each mammoth shot. That proves two points in my book. Number one, never question Tyler Wilson’s toughness. Secondly, sacks aren’t everything.
As Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis said a few decades ago, “The quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard.”
II. Ugly Wins Count Too
South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia has an interesting relationship with Gamecock fans. He’s made history, taking USC to their first ever appearance in the SEC Championship Game. He’s also left them scratching their heads, making a few well chronicled mistakes off the field. The give and take between Garcia’s decisions has become an on-going saga in Columbia. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nature of his play once again reared its head on Saturday.
Analyst Ray Bentley, doing the game for ESPN2 at Williams-Brice Stadium, summed up the relationship perfectly. After Garcia made a rather questionable decision on a throw (I’ll get to that in a minute), head coach Steve Spurrier was seen throwing his headset. “It is almost like they are married,” said Bentley of the coach’s connection with his signal caller. “You have to take the good with the bad.”
Both were visible Saturday, as the Gamecocks stayed undefeated, capturing a win from upstart Vanderbilt 21-3
. A quick glance at the score might indicate a dominant victory, but eight throws into the game, many were questioning, myself included, if Garcia would finish the contest.
The fifth-year senior started the game 3 of 8. Not three completions, mind you, but Garcia had tossed three interceptions in his first eight attempts. One was in the red zone, and two others put Vanderbilt in scoring opportunities.
I felt like I was watching the movie The Program
. Bobby Collins was playing for South Carolina.
In that film, the Heisman candidate starter (Joe Kane) goes down for the fictional ESU Wolves, and they are forced to go with an erratic gunslinger named Bobby Collins. Collins, a cowboy at heart with a history of bad decisions (sound familiar?) takes over under center. Collins acumen gets so bad, at one point during a game he is playing, the head coach begs for him not to throw the football. He heaves it anyway, and the ball is intercepted for a TD.
This isn't the first game this has happened. Garcia has morphed into Collins before. On this night, it looked like the same result would befall the embattled South Carolina quarterback as his movie counterpart, who was benched after that critical mistake in the film. That wasn’t the case this time though, as Spurrier stood by his man, and the South Carolina offense came alive during the rest of the game.
It wasn’t a memorable performance by Garcia, but it got the job done. He connected with Heisman contender Marcus Lattimore for a 52-yard score right before half, and before you know it the game was out of reach. Lattimore continued to perform at a high level, racking up over 160 yards of total offense. Garcia even tucked the ball himself, running for 32 yards in addition to his 228 through the air.
I think it is fair to say that this year’s Gamecocks haven’t played a complete game yet. However, despite that fact, they head into next week’s matchup with defending National Champion Auburn at 4-0. In the end, that is all you can ask for.
By the way, do you know where the movie The Program
was filmed? Williams-Brice Stadium. Maybe I’m onto something.
III. Louisiana Sunday Morning
I don’t understand it. Despite facing arguably the toughest conference slate in America, the LSU football program has been determined to test its mettle outside of the league as well.
After defeating a top-three Oregon squad in its 2011 debut
, the Bayou Bengals once again found themselves in the spotlight, as Les Miles and crew headed to Morgantown, West Virginia to compete against the best team in the Big East.
60 minutes later, LSU again stood victorious, winners of a 47-21 thrashing of another top 20 team
. LSU has played the toughest schedule in the country, having defeated three ranked teams (Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia) away from Death Valley in Baton Rouge. Not only have they won, but they have dominated in each of these games, leaving me scratching my head when I saw that LSU was only second in this Sunday’s USA Today poll
Give me a break.
Who has LSU’s resume right now? Again, playing that stretch of games is impressive enough, but you factor in where they did it (away from home) and it makes it all the more stunning. As of right now, on September 25th, the Tigers are the best team in the country. I have no problem saying that. Saturday just proved it all over again.
So, why Louisiana Sunday morning? That’s when I actually saw the game.
LSU’s defense (also video game like) gets tons of credit for the team’s success, but today I want to focus on Jarrett Lee. Yes, the same Lee that wasn’t even the starter going into the 2011 season. Had there not been a preseason incident in Baton Rouge, Lee wouldn’t even be playing. Despite that, the senior quarterback has taken full advantage, and did a superb job in a hostile environment on Saturday night.
The numbers may look pedestrian, but more importantly, they are efficient. Lee was 16-for-28 against WVU, throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions. He moved the ball around, completing a pass to eight different Tiger receivers. His throws changed momentum, and silenced a hyped crowd in Morgantown when it looked as if West Virginia was making a run.
Don’t get me wrong, Lee had lots of help. Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne made two spectacular plays, and the trio of Tiger running backs (Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue) each helped cap off the night.
Lee isn’t Tim Tebow, Cam Newton or even Greg McElroy, all SEC quarterbacks who lead their teams to titles in the past five years. But, LSU doesn’t need him to be those players in order to win a National Championship.
The better question LSU and SEC fans should be asking is….can Lee be Matt Flynn?
Plays Under Review
--- Nice job by Aaron Murray in a big Bulldog win over Ole Miss
. Despite Georgia’s slow start, the schedule sets up nicely for them to make a strong run in the Eastern Division. Don't carve out Mark Richt's epitaph just yet.
--- Marquis Maze, take a bow young man
. That might be the best return for a touchdown I’ve seen in years.
--- I mentioned Trent Richardson as a dark horse Heisman guy last week, but even with this week’s performance, I don’t know that he’ll get enough carries to take home the trophy. He is still one of the best running backs in the country though.
--- No rest for the weary. After Alabama and South Carolina pick up big wins this week, they have huge matchups awaiting them this Saturday. Alabama travels to undefeated Florida, and South Carolina welcomes the defending National Champions. No time to rest on your laurels.
--- By the time you read this, you will without a doubt have heard that Texas A&M is officially in the SEC. How do they say it College Station? Gig’em? Welcome to the league guys.