By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – Being surprised just comes with watching college football. Each weekend we gather information, and from those observations we form an opinion of what we saw. Seeing isn’t always believing though, with final scores not always foretelling the chapters ahead.
When we look back at this past weekend’s games down the line, I get the feeling surprise will be the overriding emotion. We’ll be shocked at the large margins of victory, astonished at the teams that lost and unsure about how some performed. Will this weekend predict future outcomes? The Monday Three and Out tries to decipher the lessons learned.
First Down: Blowout Saturday
The 2012 SEC football season has been filled with close calls. Coming into this weekend’s action, eight games featuring SEC teams have been decided by seven points or less. That is 20 percent of the entire schedule. Two contests, both ironically involving ULM, a non-SEC team, had gone to overtime. Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt all have had games come down to a final drive, an amazing stat considering the 2012 season is just three weekends long.
That was not the case this weekend. In what can be dubbed “Blowout Saturday”, the winning totals across the league were massive. The average margin of victory was 28 points, with just two games (Arkansas/Rutgers, Auburn/LSU) separated by 10 points or less. Five different teams won by more than 30 points, and Georgia captured a 45-point SEC victory. That means 80 percent (8 out of 10) of the games this week were decided by double digits. Talk about domination.
The day’s first two games, featuring wins by Ole Miss and Florida combined for a 77-0 score. Texas A&M scored 70 points on their own, the highest single game point total in the SEC this year. During the first four games on Saturday’s schedule, each winning squad had at least an 11-point lead at halftime. In a season sure to be filled with its fair share of nail biters, this Saturday was full of matchups that were decided before the second half began. Hey, it happens.
These lopsided wins weren’t just the product of out of conference matchups either. South Carolina, Georgia and Florida defeated SEC Eastern Division rivals Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky by a 108-13 margin. Alabama picked up another double digit win, defeating FAU 40-7. After four dominating performances, the Crimson Tide is averaging, I repeat averaging, a 42-5 win every time they hit the field.
The lone exception was Auburn-LSU, a two point game that went down to a final Tiger (the Auburn version) drive. The two teams settled in, providing an old fashioned SEC smash mouth affair on the plains. This would be Saturday’s only game to come down to the wire. The rest of the day was an easy win…or loss.
Second Down: The SEC “Standouts”
Ace Sanders (South Carolina): While Connor Shaw will get most of the praise (see below) for South Carolina’s dominant win over Missouri, Sanders had a big influence on the contest too. The speedster was a nightmare on special teams, gaining 129 all-purpose yards. He was instrumental in the Gamecocks winning the field position battle, and he even caught a touchdown pass for good measure.
Cobi Hamilton (Arkansas): Lost in the talk of Arkansas dropping their game against Rutgers was a historic performance by Razorback wide out Cobi Hamilton. Hamilton made SEC history, catching 303 yards worth of Tyler Wilson’s passes during Saturday’s matchup. Even more impressive is that Hamilton reached that pinnacle by catching just 10 balls, meaning he averaged 30 yards per reception on the night. For perspective, previous record holder Josh Reed (LSU) caught 19 passes to reach his 293 yards. Hamilton accounted for half of Arkansas’ completions, and 73 percent of the Hogs passing total.
Dustin Harris (Texas A&M): Saturday was a record setting kind of day in the SEC. In addition to Hamilton (above) and Shaw (below), Texas A&M’s Dustin Hunter made his mark in the league’s record book. The senior accounted for a school and SEC record 246 punt return yards. Hunter had more punt return yards than South Carolina State had total offense, and nearly scored as many points (7) as the Bulldogs did (14).
Corey Lemonier (Auburn): Lemonier wreaked havoc in the LSU backfield all night. One of the most talented athletes in the SEC, Lemonier showcased what makes him a projected first round pick in next year’s NFL Draft. He had two sacks, three solo tackles, and also forced a fumble. Lemonier’s performance is a perfect example of why defensive stats, especially for down lineman, don’t explain the true dominance of a player. Any fan who watched this game can tell you Lemonier single-handedly disrupted the Bayou Bengal offense for four quarters.
The “Gurshall” Attack (Georgia): In what might have been the most impressive win of the week, Georgia dominated Vanderbilt 48-3. The one constant for the Bulldogs this year has been their offensive firepower, which broke school records last week and dialed up six touchdowns against the Commodores this week. Although Aaron Murray is the most well known of the unit, his two freshman running backs have been just as impressive. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who from this point on will be referred to as “Gurshall”, slashed VU much like the Georgia great their nickname sounds like (Herschel, as in Herschel Walker). The duo rushed for 212 yards and four touchdowns, all while averaging eight yards a carry. While Gurley has already become a familiar name in SEC households, Marshall was just as highly recruited as a prep. The pair has solidified the Bulldog back field.
SEC Digital Network writer Scott Crumbly profiled the duo here.
Third Down: Shaw’s Great Day…and A Confusing Record
With two minutes remaining in the third quarter of the Missouri-South Carolina game, little was in doubt. The Gamecocks, in control all game, had just scored on a Connor Shaw touchdown pass, extending their lead to 28-3. Steve Spurrier’s game plan had produced yards and points for South Carolina, and the Gamecock defense had muzzled James Franklin and the Mizzou attack. Barring a miraculous comeback, the game was in hand.
However, that very touchdown pass by Shaw ignited uncertainty and curiosity, a question emerging that would take the rest of the game to figure out. See, that pass completion was Shaw’s 19th straight in the game, an impressive total that deserved recognition. Was it a record setting performance? No one knew for sure.
Once CBS play-by-play man Verne Lundquist emphasized the 19 in a row (as only Verne can), the conversation quickly turned to the feat’s place in history. The first line of defense, the South Carolina record book, proved fruitless, as USC had no record of such a stat. Lundquist and his partner Gary Danielson agreed to make Shaw’s 19 a Gamecock record, and in that moment I rushed to the conference book to see if the SEC had any listing.
The record book section of the 2012 SEC Media Guide is 26 pages long, so you can imagine my nerves as I furiously scanned the document. On page five, among a collection of passing totals, I saw the title “Consecutive Completions”. Shaw’s 19 easily settled in third all-time, behind only Kent Austin (Ole Miss) and Tee Martin (Tennessee). My first tweet was to this effect, letting SEC fans and media know that we were watching history.
From there, the confusion started…for me anyway. Shaw’s 19 passes were completed in one game, a fact clear to anyone watching. The two players ahead of him, Austin and Martin, achieved their record totals in two games, a combination of passes completed during that stretch. After making that discovery, or so I thought, CBS flashed the SEC record on the screen, showing that Tee Martin’s 23 straight was the highest in conference history.
Huh? Did I read that wrong? I had just seen 24 as the total. My head was spinning at this point.
I sent out another tweet, saying that Shaw’s 19 passes was the most ever in a single game, with the understanding that Austin and Martin had two-game totals. In my head that was right, just due to the fact that an extra game was involved.
But, as it turns out, I jumped the gun. As Tennessee fans quickly reminded me, while Martin’s 24 consecutive completions came in a two game span, he had completed 23 straight against Alabama (the first of the two games). I went back to the record book, and much to my dismay, they were correct. An honest mistake, but there is little doubt that this record only got more confusing the more you looked at it.
After all that, the game was over. Shaw finished with 20 straight completions, a South Carolina record (as anointed by the CBS crew) and tied for second all-time in SEC history. But his streak is still alive, and will continue into next week’s game. You got all that?
No matter the questions surrounding the record, we can all agree that Shaw was magnificent. While running back Marcus Lattimore gets more national attention, you can make the argument that Shaw’s presence is just as important to Gamecock success.
His dual threat ability keeps defenses honest, not allowing them to crowd the line of scrimmage to stop Lattimore. The junior stretched the Missouri back seven. This was as lethal as we’ve seen the South Carolina offense all year. The score was proof of that.