By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – This particular weekend in the Southeastern Conference was all about history. New programs, rivalries created and streaks ended were the foundation of Saturday’s action, a true moment for reflection across the league.
For fans in Columbia (MO) and College Station (TX), they’ll tell their grandchildren exactly where they were when their teams first took on the SEC.
Not all moments were positive though, as followers in Arkansas awoke on Sunday to a Warhawks fueled hangover that will last the entire season.
Sometimes you can plan for history (as was the case with Missouri and Texas A&M), but on most occasions history just happens, whether we are ready or not. Consider this Monday “Three and Out” a reflection of those moments. Here we go.
First Down: Standing Out
The SEC names the Players of the Week and ESPN gives out their helmet stickers. On this Monday, I’m in a giving mood, so this down is dedicated to the performances that caught my eye this past week.
So, who “stood out” to me this week?
Johnthan Banks (Miss. State): While his team (see below) and his quarterback are getting most of the praise, Banks had a great day in MSU’s win over Auburn. After collecting two INTs on the day, the senior now has 14 career interceptions, the highest total of any player at a FBS school. Had he been able to keep his balance, Banks would have returned one of his INTs for a touchdown. Either way, Banks is solidifying himself as one of the best corners in the SEC.
Dylan Thompson (South Carolina): How about Dylan Thompson? Pressed into duty due to a Connor Shaw injury, Thompson threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns in South Carolina’s 48-10 win over ECU. He dominated early, throwing for his three TDs in the first half. A great performance for a player most didn’t even know was starting today.
Jarvis Jones (Georgia): Jarvis Jones was everywhere. The talented Georgia linebacker was the single most important player on the field in the Bulldogs win over Missouri. The chaos he was able to create from his outside position changed the entire game, and the Tigers never found an answer in terms of slowing him down. Jones amassed eight tackles, including a sack. If that isn’t enough, he also had an interception and forced a fumble. How do you say domination? Jarvis Jones.
Bo Wallace (Ole Miss): I feel like most SEC fans don’t know who Bo Wallace is yet. The main reason for the Rebels’ offensive success to this point has been Wallace, who is doing everything in Oxford. In a 28-10 win over UTEP, Wallace accounted for four touchdowns, three through the air and one on the ground. Two of his TD pass were over 50-yards in length, and he’s currently leading the Rebels in passing and rushing on the season. He’s a prime time game away from becoming a national name. Next week’s matchup against Texas should provide him that stage.
Maxwell Smith (Kentucky): Chances are when you have a career day, you stood out. That was the case with Kentucky’s quarterback, who threw for a career-best 354 yards and four touchdowns in the Wildcats 47-14 win over Kent State. Smith was also accurate, completing 30-of-39 passes. The sophomore was also great at spreading the wealth, connecting with 10 different receivers on the day.
Second Down: Ending The Streak
The word “streak” has a lot of definitions. It can be a line, mark or smear. It can also be a ray or flash of light. The term “streaking” was made famous by actor Will Ferrell in the movie Old School, a lasting image that remains a popular catch phrase till this day.
For Mississippi State, the “streak” on their minds was about their school, and it was old in the sense of how long it had been happening. For the past 12 SEC opening games, the Bulldogs hadn’t captured victory. The last time the Bulldogs won their conference opener, starting quarterback Tyler Russell was just nine years old.
In fairness, this is the SEC. During that unfortunate run, nine times (out of 12) the opponent has been ranked in the top 25. Four squads were ranked in the top 10. Not to mention, four of the past six National Champions (LSU, Alabama (2), and Auburn) all reside in the SEC Western Division. No one said it was easy.
That streak is over now though, as behind Russell’s arm and a ferocious defense, MSU dominated Auburn 28-10 on Saturday afternoon in Starkville.
How did Mississippi State pick up this win? By winning the battle in the trenches.
Offensively, the Bulldogs ran the ball well, outgaining Auburn on the ground 166 to 91. Russell had perhaps his best day at MSU, completing 20-29 passes while also managing the game with a poise not often seen from a player with just six starts in his career.
Russell was a highly touted prep quarterback and the junior looked the part on Saturday. He carved through Auburn’s secondary all game long, and more importantly protected the football as his ground game went to work. Russell’s strengths, his arm and accuracy, give the Bulldogs a different look offensively from a year ago, when then signal caller Chris Relf relied more on his legs to move the chains. State is now more balanced offensively, making the task of defending them that much more difficult.
That was evident on Saturday as the Bulldogs effectively weaved through Auburn’s defense. MSU’s offensive efficiency allowed them to gain 172 more yards than Auburn despite having the ball only a minute more than the Tigers.
There is no way to be sure where Mississippi State goes from here, but as Dan Mullen said after the game, this moment is what counts in Starkville.
“We are in first place in the SEC West right now, I know that,” Mullen stated after the win to ESPN’s Jenn Brown. “Our fans have bought in and our players have bought in and they believe we are going to build a championship program, maybe this year.”
Third Down: A Tale Of Two In College Station
Texas A&M was on a roll. Going into halftime of their contest with new SEC foe Florida, the Aggies had a lead, and their offense was clicking in ways fans dreamed of when Kevin Sumlin was named head coach. Texas A&M authored 46 offensive plays, had 17 points and their freshman quarterback was making a national name for himself (Johnny Manziel) with a Favrian (remember him?) enthusiasm on the field.
30 game minutes later, a familiar past crept into Kyle Field, as Florida’s defensive adjustments and clutch plays allowed the Gators to score 13 straight points en route to a 20-17 win. The first ever SEC game at College Station ended the way many did in A&M’s final year of the Big 12. The Aggies once again found themselves on the losing end of a contest in which they held a double digit lead.
A true game of halves, Florida bounced back after a slow start to capture a big road conference win. Florida had to overcome a unique set of circumstances, and in doing so showed the rest of the SEC that the Gators are a factor in the Eastern Division.
First off, Kyle Field and the 12th Man were rocking. The passion and excitement of this historic first was evident from the opening kickoff. The initial rush of energy generated by the Aggies faithful was stout, with A&M scoring on each of their first three drives. Sumlin’s team was fresh, feeding off the emotion of 87,111 fans, the ninth largest crowd in Kyle Field history.
Secondly; Hurricane Isaac threw the Gator coaching staff a Texas sized curveball. The Aggies first game of the year against Louisiana Tech was cancelled due to the aforementioned storm, making this contest the first time A&M took the field.
Not only did Florida have to prepare for a new Aggie offensive system, but they essentially had to do it with no game film to analyze. That opening cancellation left the Gators unable to visually see the new concepts Sumlin is in the process of adding to A&M’s playbook.
When head coach Will Muschamp’s defense lined up across from Texas A&M on Saturday, it was the first time the Gators had ever seen that type of offense. In essence, the first half became a film session, as Florida took notes, coming back in the second with an updated scheme to slow Manziel and company down.
The changes were successful as the Aggies managed just 23 offensive snaps and no points in the final 30 minutes. In the meantime, the Gator offense found a groove, with first year offensive coordinator Brett Pease doing a masterful job of switching formations and confusing Texas A&M.
Even in a loss, the Aggies proved both on and off the field that they belong in the SEC. With their traditional “midnight yell practice” drawing 40,000 fans on Friday night, the fan base couldn’t be a better fit in this league. On the field, Sumlin’s crew proved they can compete as well.
Fourth Down: Writing History
As I mentioned earlier, special weekends require special coverage, hence we “go for it” here on the Three and Out. Below are a collection of articles chronicling the memorable moments from Saturday’s historic games in Columbia and College Station.
-- CBS columnist Dennis Dodd (a Missouri alum) breaks down the Tigers first SEC game against Georgia.
-- Chip Towers of the AJC describes Commissioner Slive’s “busy” Saturday.
-- Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star writes that this is just the beginning for Missouri.
-- SI’s Pete Thamel says that while Texas A&M lost, the Aggies are optimistic about life in the SEC.
-- ESPN’s Ivan Maisel rights that there was celebration even in defeat in College Station.
-- The SEC Digital Network on what lessons Missouri and Texas A&M can learn from Saturday.