By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – Before we begin breaking down what might end up as the most pivotal weekend of the Southeastern Conference football season, I’d be remiss if I didn’t open with what truly matters.
This past Sunday was Veterans Day, the nation’s tribute to the millions that have served this wonderful country. I spent many years in the shadow of Fort Rucker, Alabama, so the connection between me and those that serve is personal, and permeates every part of my daily life. I talk to veterans every day, consider veterans my extended family and wouldn’t be the person I am today without their presence.
I’ve always thought it was a shame that we celebrate our Veterans publically just once a year, because it diminishes the work they do while the rest of us go about our daily lives. If anything, we should thank them every day, because without their sacrifice our daily lives wouldn’t exist.
I can only hope that this weekend’s exciting games were a small gift of gratitude. You deserve so much more.
First Down: Fastest Two Minutes In The SEC
Legendary (well that depends on who you ask) ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman has a weekly segment on Sports Center titled “the two minute drill”. Berman morphs into his alter ego, the “Swami”, and does a series of predictions of upcoming NFL games. The series has gone on for as long as I can remember, and at various points he’s referred to it as the “fastest two minutes in football”.
Well this past Saturday made a strong run at Berman’s claim, as a span of 120 seconds changed the fortunes of three programs in the Southeastern Conference. Saturday’s early slate of SEC games had different storylines, with teams either looking to solidify their top 10 positions (Florida, South Carolina) or others hoping to become bowl eligible (Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee).
As each contests came down to the final quarter, one was pretty much decided (South Carolina over Arkansas). The other two were in doubt. Missouri trailed Tennessee 28-21. In Gainesville an upset was brewing, with Louisiana-Lafayette holding a 20-13 lead over sixth-ranked Florida.
Then the craziness began.
Behind backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett (starter Jeff Driskel was injured), the Gators tied it at 20 and overtime loomed. Missouri quarterback James Franklin had the ball with a minute on the clock. The actual time was 2:38 pm CT, and the next two minutes would push the limits of our sanity.
2:38 pm CT
Florida’s defense forced a three and out, and ULL was set to punt with just 13 second left. It was a formality more than anything, one play left before sudden death began. As the two teams lined up…
2:39 pm CT
Over in Knoxville, Franklin was on the move. Mizzou was deep in Tennessee territory, 25-yards from tying the game up. The drive had stalled though, as the Tigers were facing a critical 4th down. At this point…
2:40 pm CT
Twitter explodes. As I was watching Missouri head to the line, reports were streaming in that Florida had won. WHAT?!? How is that possible? Right as that question came out of my mouth, the studio cut in with an update. The Gators blocked that punt attempt, and the ball bounced right to Jelani Jenkins. Jenkins, with just seconds left in regulation, raced down the sideline, returning the punt for a Florida touchdown, giving fans in Gainesville the most exciting win over ULL in school history. Right as the highlight ended…
2:40 pm CT
James Franklin took the snap on fourth down. If the Tigers fail to convert a first down, this is it. Game over. Franklin lofts the ball into the end zone…and I’ll let Mizzou’s website twitter handle explain it.
“@MUTigersDotCom: D! G! B!”
That stands for Dorial Green-Beckham, the uber-talented freshman who was the nation’s top recruit a year ago. Beckham made his first signature play in a Tiger uniform, snatching a 25-yard pass for a touchdown. Just like that, Missouri had come back from a 21-7 deficit to tie it at 28. In a game where overtime appeared to be the last thing that would happen, that is exactly where the game was headed.
In that span of two minutes, a season was saved (Florida) and a bowl dream kept alive (Missouri).
It also crushed another fan base (Tennessee) and lead to a four overtime battle that would last for another 40 minutes. Missouri would go on to win 51-48, picking up their second ever SEC win.
For Florida, National Championship dreams are still possible (more on that below). Can you imagine if BCS chaos was to ensue, and somehow the Gators made their way into the top two? Amazing to think it a last second blocked punt (they also could have won in OT) against ULL can be what kept the Gators in the BCS hunt.
Two minutes. All that happened in two minutes.
Second Down: SEC Standouts
The great performers on Saturday.
Ryan Swope (Texas A&M): Fooled you didn’t I? I know the world expected me to pick Johnny “Football” Manziel, but I feel like enough virtual ink has been spilled on the Aggie QB. His top receiver, the senior Swope, was instrumental in A&M’s win over Alabama. Swope had 11 catches against the Tide, including a few that were made in heavy traffic. He took big hits, held on to the ball and caught a touchdown.
DJ Swearinger (South Carolina): DJ Swearinger was everywhere on Saturday against Arkansas. Swearinger can be overlooked on that talented Gamecock defense, with the litany of future NFL stars playing on it (he’s one of them), but he’s just as vital a cog for USC. Saturday that showed, as the senior had 13 tackles, one tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry. He also had an interception, and returned it for a touchdown. For his efforts, Swearinger was named Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week. I’d expect a similar award from the SEC on Monday.
Jordan Rodgers (Vanderbilt): The numbers don’t wow you, but the performance should. Rodgers the junior (I’m sure you know his brother) was only 20-of-35 for 267 yards, but it was his last drive that mattered most. Rodgers took the Commodores on a 79-play drive in the final two minutes, connecting with Chris Boyd for a 26-yard TD pass. This drive proved to be the game winner, as Vanderbilt picked up its fourth SEC win and more importantly its sixth overall on the road at Ole Miss. The significance is that the Commodores are now bowl eligible for the second straight year, a first in Vanderbilt history. Credit Rodgers moxie for that final drive, a real “double check” (ok I’m done mentioning his brother) moment for the talented signal caller.
Mark Richt (Georgia): Stop if you’ve heard this before, but the Bulldogs are headed to Atlanta. For the fifth time in Richt’s tenure, Georgia will represent the Eastern Division in the SEC Championship Game. For a 9-1 team ranked in the top five nationally, UGA has flown under the radar in the past few weeks. While they are unsure of their opponent as of now, Georgia can make serious noise come December 1st. If the cards fall right, the Bulldogs might find themselves in the middle of a National Championship semifinal. Kudos to the ‘Dawgs.
Twitter: Is there any better way to watch a game than on Twitter? Of course TV is always the focal point, but having the micro-blogging platform open beside you has become a must. The 140-character emotional outbursts expressed during a game are priceless, as you literally feel the joy and pain of fans as they watch their favorite teams. Nowhere was that more evident than during the Texas A&M-Alabama game, as the ups and downs of the final moments provided a glimpse at life as an SEC fan.
Third Down: An Emotional Test For SEC Fans
I touched on this above, but the beauty of Texas A&M’s win (other than the game itself), was the reaction it elicited both from SEC fans and national media.
In one corner, you had the entire Aggie Nation, an immense network of A&M backers that had one thing on their mind.
SHOCK. THE. WORLD.
To understand this group is to know that their support of Texas A&M is deep rooted. When the Aggies first joined the league, a main point of emphasis was A&M’s “fit” in the SEC. Their traditions, their passion and their devotion were perfect for our unique culture, and would seamlessly transition into their new surroundings.
Yet, in this most critical of moments, they were on an island.
The other corner had the common SEC observer. To them, an Aggie win would end a streak that is a major source of conference pride.
The SEC wins National Championships. The number six doesn’t mean the month of June, or the jersey that LeBron James wears. Six means crystal balls, and a streak that no other conference can touch.
If Texas A&M won, it was the end of that SEC dominance. While that thinking isn’t necessarily right (I’ll explain later), that was the emotional pull at the center of Saturday game at Bryant-Denny. SEC fans were split, as they either rooted for the league (and Alabama), or relished in the underdog dethroning the champion (Texas A&M).
National media picked up on this too, especially when Texas A&M jumped out to a 20-0 lead. CBS writer Dennis Dodd tweeted this out at the end of the first quarter.
“46:56 left on the SEC's 6-year stranglehold on college football. “
As the game progressed, the angst only rose. Alabama got within five, and Tide quarterback AJ McCarron had a shot to replicate his game-winning drive from a week ago against LSU. A goal-line interception by Aggie defender Deshazor Everett essentially ended the contest, and three hours worth of pent up emotion spilled onto social media.
The two sides reappeared, and in contrasting styles chronicled the historic moment. The Aggies were bathing in the greatness of their team, celebrating their first true signature moment in the SEC. They were elated, unable to comprehend the story book rise of their Johnny “Football”.
Alabama fans were exhausted, almost in disbelief that their Tide had fallen. They acknowledged their new SEC Western Division rival, but also mourned the end of their conference’s magical run. They had been put through an emotional ringer for a second straight Saturday, and the toll of losing deflated their spirits.
With no dog in the fight, I could understand what both sides were going through. In all great sports moments, the victor’s joy collides with the loser’s anguish. It happens in real-time, and there are few words that can explain the reality of the moment. Often it is best to remain silent.
When the dust settled on Sunday morning, all SEC fans woke up to a new world. Gone was the league’s top ranked team, and in their place were a chorus of articles explaining how the Aggies had slain Goliath.
Truth be told, nothing is certain. As the BCS Standings indicated Sunday night, the SEC is still the nation’s toughest league. Six of the top nine teams in the poll are from the Southeastern Conference, a remarkable feat of dominance.
More impressive than that total is the fact that those six teams have only lost to each other, symbolic considering those defeats are what is keeping the SEC from competing for a National Championship right now.
Many games remain, and as we saw Saturday, unexpected results can happen. For those looking to give their emotions a rest, I hate to break it to you.
It will only get worse each week.