SEC Review, Week 6: Gamecocks get big win, ‘Official’ complaints
story by Chris Rushing, College Sports Matchups (CSM is a content partner with The City Wire)
We are one week away from the unveiling of the initial Bowl Championship Series ratings for the 2010 season and, for the first time in three years, a Southeastern Conference team will not occupy one of the top two spots in that first poll comprised of human and computer rankings.
We can, of course, thank the University of South Carolina football team for that little nugget, but the Gamecocks’ 35-21 victory over previously-unbeaten and top-ranked Alabama could have cost the league a shot at an unprecedented fifth-straight national championship. Maybe it won’t, but I don’t think USC fans are too concerned with what happens to the SEC Championship Game winner following the dominating effort their favorite team put on display at Williams-Brice Stadium Saturday.
Two teams remain unbeaten after the sixth week of play, both sets of Tigers in the SEC’s Western Division. Auburn went up big in the first half and finally put Kentucky away with a 24-yard field goal from senior Wes Byrum on the game’s final play. Not to be outdone in dramatic victories, Les Miles guided LSU to a 33-28 win in Gainesville that featured an almost botched fake field goal as well as more clock mismanagement in the waning moments of the contest.
I’ve never been one to bash officiating in a public forum. Most times, when I’m in the stands, I try to give the striped guys a break and defend them to the boo birds surrounding me when a flag does not appear warranted for State U. I’m going to do my best to avoid sounding too offensive today, but the selection process of what does and does not deserve to be penalized in the SEC has become way too subjective.
We’ll take two plays from Saturday’s action. The first came on one of the day’s most impressive plays from scrimmage when Alshon Jeffrey shed Dre Kirkpatrick for a one-handed grab along the sideline before scampering into the end zone to help extend USC’s lead. It was a tremendous throw and an even better catch, but I want to know where the flag was on Kirkpatrick who practically ripped Jeffrey’s jersey off before the ball was even close to being caught.
Obviously, since the play resulted in a score, the penalty would have been declined but it’s a little disgusting to the rest of us watching to know that Steve Spurrier didn’t even get a chance to say “No thanks” to the officiating crew for spotting the early contact.
The second play was another judgmental call of pass interference against T’Sharvan Bell of Auburn against Kentucky. On one of Mike Hartline’s more impressive tosses of the day, Bell waited to make contact with the intended receiver, Randall Cobb, when the ball reached Cobb’s finger tips. Bell never looked back for the ball, but his hands never touched the receiver until the pigskin had been touched.
The result of the incomplete pass was a 15-yard penalty on Bell and the Tigers, and the Wildcats converted a game-tying field goal seven snaps later.
There were more head-scratching calls made throughout the day and honestly throughout the season, but these two show just how far off Rogers Redding’s crews are from consistency. The league received a black eye last season for appearing as those the zebras were informed to protect the SEC’s bell cows in Florida and Alabama, but I never completely bought into those conspiracies.
All I want as a college football fan is for the refs to abide by the written rules and to let the players play for the most part without missing some of the obvious penalties. Ticky-tack flags slow down the game worse than television commercials, and not all penalties have equally deserved.
Anyway, I’m done with the ranting. On to the game reviews.
• South Carolina 35, Alabama 21
It’s tough to touch on anything that hasn’t already been covered by just about every major media outlet over the span of the past 36-or-so hours. South Carolina was dominant from the beginning, jumping out to a commanding 21-3 lead after three possessions, but it appeared as though that wouldn’t hold up after UA cut the lead to 21-14 with 11 unanswered points.
Greg McElroy finally suffered a loss as a starting quarterback, his first since eighth grade. So, I guess Verne Lundquist will have to find another stat to harp on the next time Alabama plays on CBS at LSU at the end of the month. McElroy was sacked eight times against a USC defense that surrendered 341 rushing yards to Auburn in its last outing. The famed duo of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson combined for 64 yards against the Gamecocks, while the Tide finished with a measly 36 ground yards as a team.
How many times were we shown throughout the week how difficult it is for a top-ranked team to beat a top-10 opponent at home then travel to face a ranked foe the following week? The safe money was on Nick Saban joining Lou Holtz as the only coaches to earn wins in both outings, but Saban’s defense could not keep Garcia and Co. out of the end zone as USC reached pay dirt all four times it crossed the UA 20-yardline.
Garcia and Jeffrey had the performances of a life time, and Steve Spurrier proved that the ability to win the big one has always existed in Columbia. The big challenge ahead for the East division-leading Gamecocks is to avoid falling to lesser competition and taking care of their business at hand the rest of October so that the division crown will be wrapped up prior to the mid-November trip to Gainesville.
But, for now, South Carolina is the toast of the college football world and it is an incredibly deserving reward for a job well done.
• LSU 33, Florida 28
He almost did it again. Can you believe he almost did it again?
These were along the lines of the text messages my friends received around us in the stands Saturday night. When a TV came into view and we could see what those messages meant, I stood there speechless.
And this was after the game was over.
Urban Meyer has always prided himself on being one of the most innovative special teams coaches in the game. It was a tough beginning to Meyer’s SEC reign, but the Gators have been solid in the kicking games throughout the past six years.
Which made how LSU came to win the game Saturday night that much more perplexing. There is no way Miles allowed the clock to wind completely down without using his final timeout to ice his own kicker on a game-tying 53-yard attempt. Miles may not be portrayed as the smartest coach out there, but he’s not that dumb.
How, then, can you not be ready for the fake field goal? And just how many different fake field goal formations has LSU had in the past four years? I just don’t get how the ball fell to the ground (whether it was ruled a lateral, incomplete pass, incomplete backwards pass, etc.), and there weren’t five or six orange uniforms to either pick up the ball or tackle the kicker.
The result, of course, was a first down rush by Josh Jasper. Four plays from scrimmage later, Jarrett Lee connected with Terrance Tolliver from 3 yards out for the go-ahead and game-winning score with just six ticks remaining on the Ben Hill Griffin scoreboard clocks. Just like that, the Mad Hatter (who claimed to not understand the nickname when asked about it in the post-game presser) had earned his first win in Gainesville in three tries as the LSU head coach.
Florida was without Jon Demps, but one player shouldn’t be that important to a school that has recruited as well as UF in the past six seasons. The Gators had 65 yards of offense in the first half, but John Brantley did a good job of pushing his teammates to a much better showing after intermission.
Brantley may not be Tim Tebow (yet), but his leadership really showed in the third and fourth quarters as he did all the right things to get the Gators a win.
The good news for Meyer and the Orange and Blue: only one more SEC West team remains on the 2010 slate if UF fails to qualify for a third-straight SEC title game. Only three teams have earned wins in the Swamp since Meyer took over in 2005: Auburn, Ole Miss and LSU. The one common trait: all Western Division teams.
• Auburn 37, Kentucky 34
Auburn had the opportunity to make a huge statement and restore faith in the voters that the Western Division would be in good hands after ‘Bama fell in the afternoon. In the first half, it appeared as though the Tigers were ready to make that declaration that the division would run through Jordan-Hare Stadium the second half of the season, not Bryant-Denny.
The first five possessions prior to the halftime break resulted in points for AU. Cam Newton scored on four runs in the first two quarters and had over 100 yards rushing (132) as Auburn built a 31-14 lead with just over two minutes left in the opening half.
Then, Kentucky put together a quick field goal-scoring drive before the clock expired on the second quarter, and the Wildcats put 14-unanswered points on the board thanks to Cobb’s legs, hands and left arm in the third frame to tie the game at 31-31 heading into the final period.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Byrum hit his second field goal of the night to put Auburn back out in front 34-31, but UK answered yet again with a scoring drive of its own. Craig McIntosh was successful on a 35-yard attempt after the Wildcats’ drive stalled inside the AU 20-yardline to knot the scoring at 34-all with 7:31 to play.
The Wildcats would not take another snap.
Newton and Co. marched methodically down the field in 19 plays, overcoming a couple of nearly disastrous miscues with a couple of fumbles along the way, to set up Byrum’s fifth-career game winning kick. With two seconds left, the snap and hold were perfect and Byrum booted the ball through the uprights to secure AU’s third win of three points in 2010.
Not to be overlooked, the triumph ensured that the Tigers remained undefeated, reaching 6-0 for the first time since 2004.
• Georgia 41, Tennessee 14
I’d have a hard time denying or confirming that the Vols were suffering from a big hangover from last week’s near miss on the Bayou. In case suffering a penalty for having too many men on the field against LSU on the game’s final timed snap wasn’t enough, it appeared as though Derek Dooley was still punishing his team by refusing to allow any of them to show up in Sanford Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Aaron Murray had his best day yet as a Georgia starting quarterback, throwing for 266 yards on 17 completions to go along with 41 rushing yards and four total touchdowns. After falling short in the close calls the past three weeks, Georgia did not want anything to do with a fourth quarter comeback from the opposition as UGA snapped a four-game losing skid to UT.
Neither team is firing on all cylinders by any stretch of the means, but this win was enormous for Mark Richt and his Georgia program. It could be just the beginning of a solid October that should help heal some gushing wounds from a September to forget.
The Volunteers will have a major uphill battle earning four more wins to get a bowl bid the rest of the way. While it may not be the worst thing for Dooley to miss out on the postseason and end this nightmare 10-month span as early as possible, the extra 15 practices could come in handy as UT continues to build for the future, limited depth and all. The bye week finally came for the Vols, but there’s no question that it would have felt much better heading into two weeks of preparation for Alabama with three wins, not two.
• Arkansas 24, Texas A&M 17
It wasn’t the shootout many expected it could be, but that’s OK to Arkansas supporters as the Hogs improved to 4-1 and showed they had put the Alabama loss on Sept. 25 behind them with the 24-17 victory over Texas A&M.
The most impressive stat in this one may be the fact that Arkansas limited A&M to 17 points, something no one else has accomplished so far in 2010. Many pundits doubted Arkansas’ championship qualifications thanks to the defense, but only twice has an opponent surpassed the 20-point barrier against UA this year, and there haven’t been nearly as many missed tackles or blown assignments in coverage as 2009.
A 21-7 first half lead nearly evaporated, however, as the Razorbacks notched just three points in the second half and could only convert one of three turnovers into points on the afternoon. That’s not the stuff Heisman seasons are made of, but Ryan Mallett would rather earn a trip to New York City by the Razorbacks winning games instead of gaudy stat lines.
• Vanderbilt 52, Eastern Michigan 6
Raise your hand if you thought Vandy was capable of putting up 52 points in consecutive games, much less one 60-minute contest. Don’t worry, my hand wasn’t held in the air either.
The Commodores outgained the Eagles 558-209 and converted seven red zone trips into touchdowns on the evening. It was a complete and thorough victory in all phases for VU over a program that has averaged 3.8 wins per year during the 118 seasons of Eastern Michigan football.
Mississippi State 47, Houston 24
Ah, the sweet taste of revenge. In 2009, Mississippi State suffered close loss after close loss in October as the Bulldogs narrowly missed a bowl bid with a 5-7 record.
One of those close calls that did not result in a W was a 31-24 defeat to the hands of Case Keenum and Houston. While Keenum is sidelined for the year thanks to an injury suffered against UCLA in week 2, I’m not sure the Texas gunslinger would have made that big of a difference in this contest that MSU controlled from the opening drive until the final buzzer.
It’s this kind of 23-point turnaround from year one to year two of the Dan Mullen Era that has MSU once again thinking upset when it travels to Florida next weekend. There’s no doubt that Mullen smells blood in the water as his team puts the finishing touches on the game plan for the Gators this upcoming week.
As far as any cool nuggets from the game, I guessed a final of 45-24 in the forecast last Thursday. While Houston helped out with a meaningless score to reach 24, I needed just one more field goal and a miscue on a point after to correctly predict the second final score this year (Arkansas 31, Georgia 24 on Sept. 18).