By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – I am not going to lie. This week my mind has been in a few different places. Perhaps a little “scatter brained”, I find myself trying to focus on a multitude of subjects all at once.
My in-laws are in town, a sign that my son’s first birthday is only a week away. I can remember this time a year ago, my wife and I on eggshells as we waited for Deric to arrive. Deric was our first, so you can imagine the jitters as the due date approached.
Every time she ate, turned around too fast or had to use the restroom, I got nervous. At that point, any moment could have been “go” time. A year later, a different stress has set in, as we pour through party designs and themed invitations, trying to plan an epic birthday party that Deric won’t remember.
That’s not all though. College basketball season is also around the corner. The conference’s tipoff, SEC Media Days, is on Thursday. Yours truly will be a part of the Digital Network’s live coverage, interviewing all 48 (seriously, 48) men’s and women’s players and coaches who will appear on the live stream on the website. In the midst of my daily work flow, I’ve tried to do some background work, getting prepared for what is usually a fun but long day.
So this Saturday meant more than the normal opportunity to watch some of the nation’s best football teams. This day meant a return to normal, a chance to catch my breath from a week filled with presentations and meetings. For 12 hours, I would focus on the game itself, getting immersed in a rivalry filled slate of SEC action. It was a much needed distraction.
As I clicked in my seatbelt for the opening contest of the day between Arkansas and Ole Miss, it didn’t take long for me to be surprised. A familiar name and face stared back at me during the opening of the Ole Miss game, albeit an older version of what I remembered. That’s where we kick off this week’s “Three and Out.”
First Down: No Longer Daleville’s Child
I’m 30 years old. Not an old man by any means, but the distance between my high school self and the man I see in the mirror are growing. I get reminders of this every day, as tasks I used to complete rather easily are getting a bit harder over time. Former college buddies are now fathers, even if I still see them as friends I used to spend hours playing video games with.
It’s not a bad thing, just part of life. You grow and mature, and activities you want to do are replaced with ones you have to do. One such reminder of the time past happened Saturday, as a name from my past made a guest appearance on the TV.
Daleville, Alabama, is located in Southeast corner of the state, a community as small as its name implies. Known for being the “Home of Fort Rucker”, Daleville has few connections to the outside world. We have the occasional success story that makes it big, but for the most part the city’s citizens stay within the borders, raising families that continue the generational connection to the lands around them.
What Daleville does produce are football players. Despite its small stature, many “Warhawks” have gone to the next level, competing collegiately at some of the biggest schools in the country. We even have a NFL star, with Pro Bowl fullback Tony Richardson emerging from Daleville.
The heyday for Daleville football was the early 1990s, when a talented and outspoken coach turned the program into a state champion. Perry Swindall, who went on to have success all over Alabama and Georgia, guided the Warhawks to the pinnacle. Daleville won a state championship in 1992, and was runner-up a year later, culminating a two-year stretch of dominance. This hasn’t been rivaled since, and stands as a strong memory for every Dalevillian.
Swindall moved on to greener pastures, but the local townspeople still speak of his tenure. Despite me never having played a snap, Swindall remains one of the biggest influences in my athletic life. As a 12-year old freshman at Daleville High School, I first met the larger than life coach.
I was walking into my first weight training class. I’d told myself I wasn’t going to be afraid, that I’d step right in and take charge. After gathering up enough courage, I did just that. Among a group of underclassmen, I opened my mouth, telling all there that despite not being a teenager yet I wasn’t to be taken lightly. I stood my ground, determined to make the older boys respect all 120 pounds of me.
Swindall, watching from off to the side, quickly stepped in, getting right in my face to challenge me. “You want to be great?” he asked me, putting me on the spot in front of people I’d never met before. “Ok,” he said, “If you want to be great, I’ll get you there.”
Our relationship formed in that very moment.
Over the course of the next four years, he never let me out of his sight. Despite my never stepping foot on a football practice field, he always took time out, treating me as if I was his top priority. Perhaps he saw something in a scrawny kid with a big league mouth, or perhaps he always hoped his attention would get me into football pads. I never knew for sure.
No matter the reason, he made me realize my goals. He pushed me, demanded I give more and forced me to reach my potential. He even made a call on my behalf to a friend of his at the University of Montevallo. Without him, I’m not sure I ever play college baseball.
In Oxford today, the Swindall name once again appeared in front of me. As the Ole Miss offense trotted out to the field, SEC Network broadcaster Dave Neal announced the team’s starters. As Neal moved to the Rebels offensive line, I saw the name.
Underneath a headshot that looked exactly like his father, Evan Swindall was referenced as a starter. I froze.
Swindall’s sons were also a part of the Daleville program. They were always around, a pair of toddlers who wanted nothing more than to hang with the boys. You saw them on the sidelines on Friday night, dressed in their Daleville jerseys, rooting for their dad’s team to win. They were the water boys, the mascots, just two energetic kids who loved to be around their father. When I covered the team for the local newspaper later during high school, they often found me after the game was over, telling me what my story should be about.
Those kids are now grown up. They are men of their own, playing on the very fields they spent their early years running around on. “Little” Evan is now 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, and anchors the offensive line for a team in the SEC. The last time I saw him he was six years old. Now he is 21, an athlete with big time college talent.
Swindall's team gave a valiant effort on Saturday, jumping out to a 17-0 lead over number nine ranked Arkansas. I found myself watching the offensive line more than I ever have in my life, trying to see what Evan was doing every play. He opened up holes for Jeff Scott, got outside to block for Nickolas Brassell and protected Randall Mackey from the Razorback defense. I know his father couldn’t be prouder.
In the end the Rebels fell short, as Arkansas rebounded from that slow start to pick up a tight 29-24 conference victory
. Not that it wasn’t interesting. After closing to within five with two minutes left, Ole Miss recovered an onside kick, getting one more shot at a win. It wasn’t meant to be, as an Arkansas interception ended all hope.
WATCH OLE MISS HIGHLIGHTS HERE
Papa Swindall for was famous for many things. If you needed a pat on the back, he’d give it to you. If you need some “motivation”, he’d provide it in spades. If I know anything about his father, I know Evan is providing the same leadership for his teammates in Oxford. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
First Down Rewind: What To Make Of Arkansas?
On the flip side, Bobby Petrino’s bunch remains one of the more quiet top 10 teams in SEC history. Quarterback Tyler Wilson is one of the conference’s top arms, and return specialist Joe Adams continues to wow with his game breaking ability.
Arkansas has several key games remaining, including matchups against South Carolina and LSU. There is plenty of time for the Razorbacks to sneak back into the Western Division race. Don’t be surprised. Petrino’s bunch just keeps winning.
Second Down: Removing All Doubt
LSU didn’t have the best start to the week. Despite being ranked number one in the newly released BCS Rankings, the Tiger news out of Baton Rouge was more bad than good. Word began to rumble out about possible suspensions, as starters and impact players Tyrann Mathieu, Tharold Simon and Spencer Ware were being reported as the parties under the microscope.
Official word came a few days later, as the trio was suspended indefinitely by head coach Les Miles. With tough games coming up for LSU, this was thought to be a critical blow. A gritty Auburn squad was headed to Death Valley, fresh off a key win over Florida. LSU is known for their defense and running game, so losing key pieces from the secondary and the backfield seemed ominous.
I started to get texts from my Auburn friends, asking if their Tigers now had a shot to win. National media pondered this as well, and LSU’s undefeated season was put into question. Could they win with this distraction looming overhead? As the game started on Saturday, I’m not sure any fan knew for sure.
They do now.
LSU put on a clinic
. The Tigers had a dominant; I mean dominant performance, thoroughly outclassing an Auburn squad that was 5-2 going into the game. I’m not saying that Auburn played its best, but LSU put forth the type of effort we’ve seen from them all year.
The 45-10 final was the second largest margin of victory for LSU all season (they beat Northwestern State by 46), and they have held their opponents to just 35 points in the past four games.
WATCH LSU HIGHLIGHTS HERE
Miles catches a lot of grief from media and fans, seeing as how he can seem a little unorthodox in his press conferences and meal choices
. While we wonder what is going on in the “Mad Hatter’s” head, he instead focuses on having his team ready. Week after week, we try to find cracks in the Bayou Bengals foundation. Week after week, Miles’ teams come out and continue to answer the call.
Again, this isn’t an Auburn team that is under .500. They did lose 24 seniors from that National Championship squad a year ago, but they still are the defending National Champs. LSU made them look pedestrian, just physically attacking them from the opening whistle. I haven’t been this impressed all season.
You didn’t have to watch the whole game to understand LSU’s dominance over Auburn. For a five minute span in the third quarter, the Tigers (LSU’s) played like an NFL team. It is the most unreal stretch of awesomeness I’ve seen all year. Let me recap it for you.
-- Up 21-3, LSU takes over after an Auburn punt at the 13:01 mark. It took just six plays for LSU to score, covering 74 yards against the Auburn defense. 28-3 LSU.
-- On the ensuing kickoff, LSU’s Jarvis Landry laid a monster hit on Auburn returner Tre Smith, causing a fumble that the Bayou Bengals recover.
-- Starting near the Auburn red zone, LSU scores three plays later. Kenny Hilliard did the honors, scoring from three yards out. 35-3 LSU.
-- I promise I’m not repeating myself. On the ensuing kickoff, Landry de-cleats another Auburn returner, this time Ontarrio McCalleb. Landry is a freshman. He plays receiver. Seriously. Unreal.
-- Two plays later, first-time Auburn starter Clint Moseley threw a pick six (interception returned for touchdown). The guy that ran the interception in for the TD? Ron Brooks, who was Mathieu’s replacement. Fitting.
So, in the span of five minutes, LSU turned a 21-3 game into a 42-3 blowout. Miles’ squad scored twice on offense, and added a defensive score for good measure. They dominated in every phase of the game. A backup freshman wide receiver had two of the biggest hits of the year. It was an amazing display.
It is a shame that someone has to lose the Alabama-LSU game this year. They are two of the best teams I’ve seen in a long time. Good thing I’ll be there in person to watch them play. I can’t wait. 14 days to go.
Third Down: Turning On The Switch
I’m sorry if I spoiled Alabama’s result in my previous down, but I think you probably figured it out well before you read this article. The other half of the “greatest game ever”, Alabama, captured a win over rival Tennessee to ensure that the battle of #1 vs. #2 happens.
First, let’s state the obvious. Alabama, talent wise, is probably one of the top two teams in the nation. Amazingly, the other team comparable to them is not only in the same conference, but the same division, which makes for a guarantee that the two teams (LSU if you haven’t figured it out yet) will meet up during the season.
Tennessee and Alabama have a rich history, one filled with tight games and pivotal moments. “The Third Saturday In October” is in its 93rd meeting, and stands second only to the Iron Bowl in importance for Crimson Tide fans.
My first SEC football game was this matchup, as I traveled to Neyland Stadium in Knoxville in 2000. Quite the defensive battle, the Volunteers captured victory on that day. The Big Orange hasn’t been as lucky since.
Second year head coach Derek Dooley went into Tuscaloosa hoping to change that on Saturday, with a bruised but still proud group of Volunteers. For a half he was successful, battling Alabama to a 6-6 draw.
After the halftime show was over, ESPN’s crew sent the camera down to reporter Jeanine Edwards. The announcers asked what Alabama head coach Nick Saban said to his team at halftime. Edwards tried to summarize that Saban questioned his team’s lack of effort, and pushed them to give more energy in the second half.
I looked over at my father-in-law, who had been watching the slate of games with me, and said, “I don’t think Nick Saban said it as nicely as Jeanine put it.”
I explained Saban’s history of colorful language, and he nodded his head in agreement. I then proceeded to tell him, “Watch out Len, Alabama might come out of the locker room a little upset.”
Were they ever.
Before you had time to blink, the score was 27-6. The Crimson Tide scored three touchdowns, with AJ McCarron looking like a completely different quarterback in the second half. He threw the ball to every receiver on the Tide roster, and Trent Richardson finished off drives to help set up scores. It is almost as if Alabama turned on a switch, deciding that they were going to dominate the game. They made it look easy.
WATCH ALABAMA HIGHLIGHTS HERE
It seems like I’ve written about LSU and Alabama almost every week. Perhaps that is overkill for some, but I can’t help but think they we are watching something special. Most times in this league teams beat up on each other, and the squads left standing at the end fight for glory. This year it seems as if Alabama and LSU are beating up on everyone else, calmly eliminating every foe that stands in their way.
Neither team has been tested, and you wonder if anyone other than each other can properly do that. November 5th has become more than a game, it is now a litmus test to decide history. As Cleveland Cavaliers fans used to say a few years back, “We Are All Witnesses”.
Appreciate what you have had the privilege of watching this season. It doesn’t come around too often.
Plays Under Review
--- Don’t look now, but Vanderbilt is now 4-3 on the season. James Franklin’s crew picked up a convincing win on Saturday over Army
. The Commodores have five games remaining, and need two wins to be bowl eligible. That would be a great accomplishment for Franklin if he can get his team into postseason play in his first season.
--- Speaking of teams looking to bounce back from a losing streak, Kentucky ended their four-game slide with a 38-14 win over Jacksonville State
. CoShik Williams stepped in after a few injuries in the Wildcat backfield, running for a career-high 148 yards. The Wildcats will try to get back to .500 next week.
--- Felt weird this week with so many teams off. We get back to more a full slate next week.