By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. - In college football, wins are never questioned. With the heightened importance behind each game, capturing a victory becomes more important with each week that passes by. Early season tests count as much as a November conquest, so being able to navigate the schedule is all that matters.
This week's collection of contests had several layers of intrigue, with some teams facing league opponents, the others taking on out of conference foes. Twelve games took place, giving us plenty to talk about in the Three and Out. Let's dive right in.
First Down: The SEC Standouts
Big numbers were par for the course this weekend, with several performances getting into rarefied statistical air. While the standouts were many, here's a group you might not have noticed in all the excitement of a full schedule on Saturday.
Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M): After a high school career that made him a YouTube legend, Johnny "Football" is quickly creating a highlight reel of his own in College Station. In just the second start of his career, Manziel accounted for 418 yards and six touchdowns as the Aggies beat down SMU 49-3. The redshirt freshman pulled off a rare daily double, throwing for over 300 yards while also running for the century mark. His high energy style of quarterbacking has already endeared him to Texas A&M fans, and performances like this will soon make him a fan favorite all over the country.
Zac Stacy (Vanderbilt): When I first saw Stacy's stats flash across the ticker, I had to do a double take. In his first four carries of Vanderbilt's 58-0 win over Presbyterian, Stacy had amassed 140 yards. That's a 35 yard per carry average, a total that makes you think PlayStation more than real life. Stacy "slowed" down to a 22 yard per carry total to end the game, gaining 174 yards on the day. The senior was a part of a lethal Commodore rushing attack, as the group combined for 410 rushing yards on the day.
The Georgia Offense: Behind huge days from Aaron Murray and Todd Gurley, Georgia set a school record in a 56-20 win over FAU. Murray and company gained 713 yards on the day, the sixth highest total in SEC history. Murray threw for 342 through the air, including two touchdowns. Gurley, who is making his case as the best freshman running back in the SEC (with Alabama's TJ Yeldon) went for 111 yards on the ground in just 10 carries. Believe it or not, this game was actually tied at 14 midway through the second quarter. Georgia went on a 42-6 tear, rewriting its history books in the process.
Keronte Walker (Missouri): Walker made two huge defensive plays late for his beloved Mizzou, helping his team pick up a hard-fought 24-20 win over Arizona State. Walker had a key pass deflection on 4th down in the final quarter, giving the Tigers the ball. With Arizona State driving late for the game winning touchdown, Walker again stepped up. The senior picked off Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Kelley in the end zone, returning it near midfield and sewing up the victory for Missouri.
LaDarius Perkins/Chad Bumphis (Mississippi State): While the entire Georgia offense put up 713 yards, Perkins and Bumphis accounted for 440 total yards by themselves. The duo keyed the Bulldog attack, pushing MSU to a 30-24 win over Troy. Mississippi State scored four touchdowns on the day, and Perkins and Bumphis were responsible for all of them. Perkins ran for a career-high 179 yards, including a 30-yard TD run. Bumphis was equally impressive, hauling in 180 yards on the day. Bumphis was a true home run threat, scoring three times from 25 yards or more. He tied school records for TD catches in the game (3) and for a career (17).
Second Down: Appreciating Alabama
Being at the apex of sport is more difficult today than it has ever been. More people are watching, more are criticizing and many find joy in rooting for your demise. The moment a player or team is placed on a championship level pedestal, the natural inclination for some is to try and find a way to knock them down. College football follows a similar vein.
When you win a National Championship, much like Alabama a year ago, the question becomes.can you do it again? Even the satisfaction of winning is quickly replaced by the inquiries of what lies ahead. You are always the target of your opponent's best game, and it takes a collective focus to stay at your best in the face of that pressure all season long.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban constantly emphasizes the need for that focus, even if the rest of the country wonders why he never stops stressing over it. Perhaps he knows, like Bear Bryant and other great coaches before him, that to win in the face of greater expectations is even more difficult than the original championship journey. I explain this so you know what Alabama faces every time they take the field on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide doesn't need any pity though, because they have talent. Elite talent. That ability was on showcase again in Fayetteville, as Alabama dismantled Arkansas 52-0. It was the first time the Razorbacks had been shut out at home since 1966.
The outcome, never really in doubt, is another feather in Alabama's cap, the seventh straight win for the Tide going back to last season. While the victory might have looked easy, what they accomplished was anything but, and it should give you a greater appreciation of what Alabama is doing week in and week out.
In a college landscape filled with shotgun offenses and high scoring, Saban's formula remains as time tested as the Alabama program itself. The Crimson Tide relies on power football and excellent defense, a combination seen more in 1980 than 2012. They physically wear you down, on both sides of the ball, a simple game plan that continues to create lopsided victories.
It all starts with Saban, whose meticulous drive and attention to detail never allow his team to let their guard down. It then flows down to his assistant coaches, who scour the recruiting trail, bringing talented players to Tuscaloosa. Those players become part of the system and the wins keep adding up. Huge names leave, bigger stars replace them. The process is much like the Mercedes-Benz factory that stands just 20 miles from Alabama's campus.
Is Alabama unbeatable? Of course not. They are just three games into the season, and face several tough challenges (at LSU) if they hope to repeat as National Champions. But if you want to stop the Crimson and White, be prepared for wave after wave of talent. Right now, the Tide is rolling indeed.
Third Down: The Maturation Of Jeff Driskel
On the first play of the 2012 Florida football season, sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel wasn't under center. The former Gatorade Player of the Year was lined up at wide receiver, a decoy as the Gators ran the ball to open the drive. Three games later, there is no question, as Driskel has gone from an unproven rookie to a battle tested veteran in under a month.
Plenty of ink was spilled on the uncertainty surrounding Florida's QB position during the summer and fall camp. The two main competitors for the job, Driskel and similarly talented sophomore Jacoby Brissett, were scrutinized daily, as every word uttered by head coach Will Muschamp was parsed and examined in the media. Going into Florida's opener against Bowling Green, no one knew who'd get the majority of snaps under center. Both signal callers were on the field for that opening play, and even in victory, questions remained about the tandem system.
With a road trip to Texas A&M looming in week two, Muschamp came to a decision. "(I) just feel like Jeff with his legs gives us some different variables in our offense that can help us as we move forward," Muschamp said to gathered reporters. "It'll be Jeff's game to play. I told Jeff, 'I don't want you looking over your shoulder but you need to play well."
Play well he did, orchestrating a second-half comeback to defeat the Aggies 20-17 at Kyle Field. Driskel was comfortable, using a combination of run and pass to move the chains. He essentially ended the game with a bootleg run in the fourth quarter, his legs sealing the win for Florida.
Now the unquestioned starter, Driskel didn't have time to rest on his laurels, with the Gators headed to Knoxville to battle rival Tennessee.
Fair or unfair, Driskel was still facing questions. How would he fare in Neyland Stadium? Does he have complete control of the offense?
No one has those questions today, as the sophomore cemented his status as a rising star in the SEC, putting together an impressive performance in the Gators 37-20 defeat of UT. Driskel was masterful, connecting on several deep passes during the game. As a Florida fan, I'm not sure what more you could have asked for. He avoided mistakes, used his speed when he had too, and wasn't afraid to attack Tennessee's secondary.
Driskel's impeccable high school credentials set expectations sky high for him as a freshman last year. He battled injuries and inconsistent play, and many forgot about the natural talent that made him one of the nation's top recruits. This year that ability has shined, with Driskel's two-way talent (throwing and running) flourishing under new offensive coordinator Brent Pease's system.
Credit the Gator coaching staff for recognizing packages that Driskell can succeed at, as the mantra of "stay within yourself" has allowed the sophomore to turn the corner.
While watching the Florida-Tennessee broadcast on ESPN Saturday night, analyst Todd Blackledge continued to say that Driskel was "maturing before our eyes". What exactly does that mean?
In Driskel's case it means the game has begun to slow down, and the hurried mistakes of a year ago have turned into smart decisions this time around. The old adage is that a team improves the most between their first and second game of a particular year, and that applies perfectly to the Florida quarterback.
However, the leap he made from game two to game three was even more impressive, and that combined with a smothering defense have Florida 3-0 and ranked in the top 15 in the country.