By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
After spending a good hour trying to figure out just who exactly came up with that phrase (the best I could find was “unknown”), that cliché rang in my head as the opening weekend of the season came to a close. In the midst of all the SEC’s success (9-2) this week, it is important to remember that the teams we watch now will likely not be the teams we see in December.
There will be attrition, injuries and evolution. Squads will improve as the year goes on, making adjustments and gaining confidence. At this point in the year, all we can ascertain is that college football is back, and it sure is fun to watch. Now on to what I saw.
First Down: The New Guys
One of the best parts (there are several) of starting a new season is the unknown. After months of trying to decipher what might happen, we can now watch what will happen, either validating our opinions of the teams we cheer for, or making us shake our head in disbelief. That’s the beauty of it.
Unknown can also be “new”, as players we see for the first time take the field to start their career. Names like Cam Newton, or AJ McCarron, student-athletes that had potential for greatness, and reached it in the span of the season. It is always fun to see players such as this blossom, and this weekend was an early indicator of new faces doing well in the SEC.
Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee): So much time was spent analyzing the receivers Tennessee didn’t have, perhaps we all should have paid attention to who the Vols do have. Patterson wowed in his debut, scoring a touchdown just four minutes into his Volunteer career. The junior added a spectacular 67-yard touchdown run later in the game, scoring his second TD of the night. He finished the night with six catches, while accounting for 165 total yards.
Todd Gurley (Georgia): Hard to believe, but just six months ago Gurley was playing high school football. On Saturday, he played like a grown man, rushing for 100 yards, returning a kickoff for 100 yards, and reaching the end zone three times in his first college game. If that isn’t impressive enough, Gurley rushed for those 100 yards on just eight carries, a whopping 12.5 per carry average. Gurley is a physical specimen, weighing in at 218 pounds and running with the power of an upperclassman. Gurley was one of six Georgia running backs to get carries on Saturday against Buffalo, but the freshmen stood out in a big way. This kid can play.
Mike Gillislee (Florida): Florida running back Mike Gillislee believes in himself. Prior to the start of this season, he told anyone that would listen that he is going to have a big year. One game into 2012, Gillislee is right on schedule, as he literally “carried” the Gators to their first win of the season. The senior had a career-high 148 yards, scoring two first half touchdowns. While the quarterback battle has been the focus of Florida camp, Gillislee has solidified the backfield, and was the offensive focal point for much of the Bowling Green game.
TJ Yeldon (Alabama): Alabama is in the business of producing world class tailbacks. Three years ago, Mark Ingram won the Tide’s first ever Heisman Trophy from that position. After Ingram went on to the NFL, Trent Richardson took over the reins. Richardson was a Heisman finalist in his own right, and last year was the third overall pick in the NFL Draft. Surely, there will be a drop off right? Not if freshman TJ Yeldon has anything to say about it. In his first game in crimson and white, Yeldon ran for 111 yards on just 11 carries. He is the first Alabama true freshman to ever run for 100 yards in his debut.
Honorable Mentions (if I included everybody, this would be 10 pages long): Bo Wallace (UM), Kenny Hilliard (LSU)
Second Down: The Seven at 7
There weren’t enough TVs in the world on Saturday night. In a cryptic (if you are working) twist, seven SEC football games began or were in progress at 7 pm (CT). I was in scramble mode all night. I had my TV switching back and forth, my I phone by my side and my computer perched on my couch. It was borderline sensory overload as I tried to catch every update.
Luckily for SEC fans, the earlier portion of the night went as planned. At one point, SEC schools had a 48-9 advantage over their opponents, and that was before the Alabama game even started. But, fortunes changed, as Auburn, Ole Miss and Arkansas all found themselves behind at some point in the second quarter.
After a quick 15-minute break to put my son to bed, I settled in for prime time. Alabama and Michigan kicked off, and I stopped everything I was doing to focus on this one game. The Crimson Tide, the defending National Champion (I know, sorry Coach Saban), came out of the gates firing, scoring 21 straight points before Michigan even crossed the 40-yard line. It was shades of January, as Alabama dominated their competition on a national stage. Right as the Tide made it 21-0; I took a minute and got updated on the rest of the league.
The SEC was up 177-60 as a conference. Newcomer Missouri was off to a strong start, holding a 34-3 lead. Mississippi State was also dominating, as their defense had scored two TDs of their own to help push their margin to 49-6.
That said there were still a few games in doubt. Ole Miss trailed Central Arkansas 20-14, and Auburn was behind Clemson 13-10. Seeing as how the Tiger vs. Tiger matchup was on ESPN, that’s where I tuned to next.
Auburn and Clemson were playing in Atlanta, a city in the midst of a busy sports weekend. In addition to holding two Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classics (Tennessee beat NC State Friday), they also had the Braves and a NASCAR race in town.
The Tigers (of Auburn) were locked into a battle against their Tiger counterpart (from Clemson). The two teams traded field goals heading into the fourth quarter, leaving the score tied at 16-16. Frazier, Auburn’s newly named starting QB, engineered a couple of drives that resulted in six points.
During that time, Ole Miss surged ahead of UCA 35-20. Alabama scored again, and was now up 31-0. As you can imagine, I kept watching Auburn.
Somewhere between LSU going up 34-7 over North Texas and Arkansas opening up a 35-21 mark, my laptop battery died. This added a degree of difficulty. Auburn’s last hopes to tie the game fell short, as the Tigers dropped a tightly contested 26-19 game to Clemson. As it turned out, this defeat would be the only SEC loss on Saturday.
Once games started to go final, my work began. Over the next hour, I proceeded to upload stories, crop pictures and continue watching as Alabama powered through Michigan. As each final poured into my inbox, the margins of victory seemed to increase. In the SEC’s eight wins on this opening Saturday, the average margin was 29 points. All but one team won by at least 22, with newcomer Missouri producing a 52-point victory.
While I was pounding away at my keyboard, Alabama put the finishing touches on a huge statement win. In front of a national audience, Nick Saban’s crew delivered. Even the biggest SEC critic can agree there is little question of the Crimson Tide’s ability. The SEC’s night had come to a close.
Seven games. Six wins. Five Hours. One night. College football is back.
Third Down: Fun With Numbers
The first game of the season doesn’t tell you a whole lot when it comes to statistics. A small sample of data is always inconclusive; it is just one piece of the entire puzzle. Despite that notion, it doesn’t mean there isn’t fun in trying to project first week stats. Let’s check out the crazy things that happened in the opening weekend.
Murphy Does It: Anytime you make it into the SEC record books, it is an awesome accomplishment. When you do it in your first ever game in the SEC, that’s astounding. Let me introduce you to Missouri sophomore Marcus Murphy. Murphy returned two punts for touchdowns in the Tigers 62-10 dismantling of SE Louisiana. Murphy had TD returns of 72 and 70, tying an SEC record. He joins seven other players in SEC history to accomplish this feat. Murphy is halfway to the season record of four, held in tandem by Arkansas great Joe Adams and Kentucky return specialist Derek Abney. Well done sir.
The State Pick Six: Mississippi State returned two interceptions for touchdowns in their 59-6 win over Jackson State. This puts the Bulldogs on pace for 24 “Pick Six” plays, which as you can imagine, would shatter the NCAA record. MSU is just five INT returns for TD away from Tennessee’s national record mark of seven in 1971.
Offensive Explosion: Both Ole Miss and Arkansas had 565 yards of total offense in their first game. They are well ahead of the SEC record pace, set by the 1995 Florida Gators (534.4 yards per game). Amazingly, four different SEC teams have averaged over 500 yards per game for an entire season. Florida did it three times (1995, 1996, and 2001) and Kentucky crossed that mark in 1998.
It’s Up…and It’s Good: Auburn was a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals in their opening game loss to Clemson. The Tigers were just two field goals away from the SEC record for one game, with four teams having made six before. The SEC season record for field goals is 31 (Georgia 2003), and at Auburn’s current pace they’d obliterate that total (on pace for 48 FGs). I’m sure head coach Gene Chizik hopes a few more of those drives end up as touchdowns as the season goes along.