By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – The month of October is here, and along with a much needed drop in temperature comes less games, as the schedule thins and conference play begins. Gone are Saturdays filled with 14 contests or primetime lineups with seven teams competing. Now each matchup gets its own spotlight, a window of focus for the entire country to evaluate the SEC’s best.
The beauty of 2012 is the newness each Saturday brings, a first time to witness “old” or “new” rivalries through a revamped SEC prism. Along with the shiny new toys are the old classic battles, the meeting of traditional powers that bring back decades worth of memories. October is the start of that journey, and I’m glad we are here.
Let’s see how September closed the door, as we recap another excitement filled weekend here at the Three and Out.
First Down: SEC Standouts
Why waste time? Greatness was truly on display this weekend, so let’s get right into it and list my SEC standouts.
Johnny “Football” Manziel (Texas A&M): What more can I say about the gunslinger from Kerrville, Texas? A throwback who looks like he’s playing in his backyard, not in front of over 80,000 at Kyle Field, continues to put up numbers never seen in this conference. He’s only a freshman folks. His 557 total yards against Arkansas are an SEC record, as he threw for a school record 453 yards. He even chipped in 105 yards on the ground. He literally ran circles around the Arkansas defense, and he might be the most fun player to watch in all of college football. I’m saying it right now. At this pace, Manziel needs to be mentioned among the nation’s elite. Yes, Heisman talk needs to start. He is having that kind of season.
The “Gurshall” Attack (Georgia): I’m not sure if I can claim the nickname “Gurshall” (I think so), but it sure feels like I’ve spent more time talking about this duo than any writer covering the SEC. They were at it again on Saturday, combining for 294 yards and five touchdowns. Unlike earlier games, Marshall was the star against Tennessee, averaging 16 yards per carry, with two TD runs of 70 or more yards. Gurley was the thunder, running in between the tackles and moving the chains. As Gary Danielson explained on the CBS broadcast, their name combination isn’t the only thing that reminds you of former Georgia great Herschel Walker. Their numbers (Gurley is #3, Marshall is #4) together is #34, the jersey of the former Heisman winner. “Gurshall” mania is alive and well. Even my one-year old son likes to say it.
EJ Gaines (Missouri): Gaines played a big role in Missouri’s 21-16 out of conference win over UCF, making 13 tackles and forcing a fumble. The Tigers have been unfairly criticized, the program written off after SEC losses to two teams ranked in the top six nationally (Georgia, South Carolina). That’s stiff competition, and Missouri stopped the bleeding to pick up a win in Orlando. Gaines’ effort was a microcosm of the Tiger win, understated yet effective.
Connor Shaw (South Carolina): Another “standout” veteran, Shaw is on a run of efficiency you dream about as a quarterback. The signal caller was 15-for-18 against Kentucky for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Combined with his otherworldly 20-of-21 performance against Missouri last week, and Shaw has completed 89 percent of his passes the past two games. I’m not sure I could do that in a video game. Shaw fits South Carolina’s offensively profile perfectly, and he’s continued to improve each time he’s stepped on the field. His numbers aren’t gaudy, but head coach Steve Spurrier will happily take that kind of performance.
Denzel Nkemdiche (Ole Miss): Much like the famous actor he shares a first name with, Denzel was a “Man On Fire” against Alabama this past Saturday. Despite the Rebels losing, Nkemdiche dominated in a way we haven’t seen many do against the top ranked Crimson Tide. The freshman had 11 tackles, a sack and forced two fumbles. The Ole Miss defense held its own against the Tide, keeping as much of a lid on Alabama as witnessed in 2012. Nkemdiche was borderline “Unstoppable” (get it?) and if his career takes “Flight” (coming soon) he’ll become one of the top “Inside Men” in the SEC. The way he kept invading the Tide backfield was kind of like watching “Déjà Vu”. Ok, I’m done.
Second Down: The Offensive Breakout
Saturday was not a day for defense around college football. The trend started with a 70-63 “nail biter” between West Virginia and Baylor, and continued right into the SEC slate. Several league records were either met or surpassed; leaving a whirlwind of offensive numbers to digest in its wake. Let’s go bullet point style to illustrate the day’s biggest numbers.
-- For the third straight week, Texas A&M scored over 48 points, picking up their first ever SEC win (more on it below) with a 58-10 triumph over Arkansas. The Aggies scored 51 unanswered points in the victory. Texas A&M had 718 total yards, sixth most in SEC history.
-- As you can imagine, the A&M quarterback (Manziel), had an SEC record 557 total yards in the win. Manziel was just 25 yards shy of the NCAA record.
--Georgia and Tennessee combined to score 95 points, sixth all-time in SEC history, as the Bulldogs won 51-44 over UT. The game was tied at 30 headed to half, a point total that Auburn has surpassed just once (31 against ULM) this season.
-- Five weeks into the 2012 season, SEC teams have scored 45 or more points 19 different times. 10 teams have scored 50 or more in a game, including two times this past Saturday.
-- Two different league matchups had a team score 50 or more points in victory (Georgia, Texas A&M). The last time that occurred was 2007, when Arkansas and Tennessee both scored over 50 in conference wins on the same weekend (11/23 and 11/24). As a point of reference, in both 2008 and 2011 this feat was achieved three times the entire season. In 2009, it only happened once.
-- Five SEC teams (Georgia, Texas A&M, Alabama, Tennessee and LSU) are currently averaging more than 39 points per game. In 2011, Alabama, the SEC leader, scored 36 points per game.
Third Down: The Turnover That Changed The Game
If you look at the final of Saturday’s matchup between Arkansas and Texas A&M, you’d probably think the game was never close. For contests with a score like 58-10, common sense indicates a blowout, one overmatched squad falling to the talent of another. But, in the case of this game at Kyle Field, the score and the competition don’t matchup. One play, more importantly one mistake, changed everything.
Heading into the start of the second quarter, Arkansas was actually up 10-7. The Aggies added two field goals to take a 13-10 lead, but the Hogs were deep into A&M territory on their next drive.
In just five plays, the Razorbacks covered 46 yards, getting to the Aggie 19 with relative ease. Knile Davis tore off a 28-yard run, a dazzling display of lateral quickness, so impressive that SEC Network analyst Andre Ware begged the Arkansas staff to get Davis the ball more. Arkansas was in the red zone, looking to not only add points but take the lead. Then, a three-play stretch that personifies the 2012 Razorback season essentially changed momentum for good.
On first down at the Aggie 19, Arkansas handed to Davis (Ware got his wish) and the talented back fumbled. Luckily (or so they thought), the Razorbacks recovered, but still lost seven yards in the process. Arkansas was penalized on the next snap, pushing them back to the Texas A&M 31. After an incomplete pass, the Hog offense faced a 3rd and 22, the type of down and distance that can spell trouble.
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson threw left. Texas A&M cornerback Steven Terrell beat Wilson’s receiver to the spot, intercepting the pass and heading downfield. Despite Terrell’s best attempt to give the ball back to Arkansas (he fumbled but recovered), the Aggies caused a key turnover that not only kept Arkansas off the board, but put A&M in position to score as well.
Score they did, as three plays later the 12th Man was on their feet celebrating seven points. In the span of one minute on the game clock, Arkansas went from a chance to tie the game to being down by 10, a momentum swing that never stopped. The Aggies added another touchdown before the half, going into the locker room with a 17-point lead over their old Southwest Conference rival.
The onslaught continued, as Texas A&M would score 51 straight points en route to victory. The Aggies have dominated their opponents in the second and third quarter this year, and did that once again against Arkansas. A&M outscored the Hogs 37-0 during that span, turning what was a close game into a certain win. Kyle Field witnessed their first SEC victory, a dominating performance not seen often in this rivalry.
In the end, Texas A&M was much like the weather in College Station on Saturday, a never ending drizzle that never allowed Arkansas to get comfortable. While the headlines will celebrate Manziel and an historic first victory, it was the Aggie defense that made the game’s biggest play.