Surprise of the week: Florida running back Mack Brown ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries in Florida’s 24-7 win over Toledo. The Gators are going to need a strong running game this year in order to keep defenses honest and allow quarterback Jeff Driskel to make plays in the passing game down the field. The junior’s performance has to be a welcome sight to Gator fans.
Disappointment of the week: Mississippi State’s offense, which only put three points on the scoreboard against Oklahoma State. The Bulldogs only converted two of 16 third downs.
Performance of the week: Alabama wide receiver Christion Jones, who became the first Tide player to record a kickoff return for a touchdown, punt return for a touchdown, and a receiving touchdown in the same game.
Alabama (won 35-10 over Virginia Tech)
The Crimson Tide won by 25, but the game was not without offensive concerns. Quarterback AJ McCarron only competed 10 of his 23 passes with an interception and one touchdown. That was largely due to the lack of protection provided by his offensive line. On the bright side, junior wide receiver Christion Jones had a sensational performance, contributing one kickoff return for a touchdown, one punt return for a touchdown, and he caught a touchdown pass from McCarron.
Arkansas (won 34-14 over Louisiana Lafayette)
True to his style at Wisconsin, the running game was stellar in Bret Bielema’s first game as Arkansas’ head coach. The Hogs gained 292 on the ground, which included two 100-yard rushers — Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Quarterback Brandon Allen also had a solid day, completing 15 of his 22 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns. If Saturday was any indication, ball control and ground game will be trademarks of Bielema’s team.
Auburn (won 31-24 over Washington State)
Gus Malzahn’s debut in Auburn featured several bright spots for the Tigers. The running game was the brightest. Corey Grant racked up 146 yards on the ground, and Tre Mason added 73 of his own. They each contributed a touchdown. Quarterback Nick Marshall’s initial game had mixed results. He was just a yard shy of the century mark in yards, but he only completed 53 percent of his throws. As expected, there were mistakes on both sides of the ball. But coming off of last season’s disaster, things look to be improved in Auburn.
Florida (won 24-7 over Toledo)
Florida looks like it is picking up exactly where it left off last year, with perhaps some improvement on offense. Quarterback Jeff Driskel looked outstanding, completing 77 percent of his passes for 153 yards and a touchdown overall and 90 percent (10 of 11) in the first half. The defense looked stifling again, holding the Rockets to only 205 total yards. Opening games against MAC teams don’t usually indicate a lot about the rest of the year, but Toledo is a quality team and expected to compete for the league championship.
Georgia (lost 38-35 to Clemson)
Losing a big game is not how Georgia wanted to start the season. To make matters worse, standout wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell was injured for the season after celebrating a 75-yard touchdown run by running back Todd Gurley. Gurley was banged up as well, but it didn’t prevent him from racking up 154 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Aaron Murray’s night was mixed. While he completed 69 percent of his passes, he threw a costly interception. Inexplicably, though, the stereotype that Murray cannot win the big game is furthered by this loss.
Kentucky (lost 35-26 to Western Kentucky)
Bobby Petrino’s return to the sideline was not good news for Kentucky. The Wildcats are going to have to curb the mistakes. They were penalized 10 times for 69 yards and fumbled the ball away late in the game. Quarterback Maxwell Smith completed eight of his 13 passes for 125 yards. The outlook for Kentucky gets worse with this loss because it is likely to be the first of two non-conference losses. The other will be Louisville.
LSU (won 37-27 over TCU)
I thought LSU played well in this game, perhaps better than the final score indicates. A late turnover led to TCU making it a 10 point game, as opposed to 17 or more. The offense put up 448 total yards on TCU’s defense, which was the best in the Big 12 on that side of the ball last year. The Tigers also converted 13 of 19 times on third down. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger completed half (16 of 32) of his passes for 251 yards and a touchdown. The running game was stellar, as usual. And I thought the young defense, which many predicted to be LSU’s weak point this year, performed very well.
Ole Miss (won 39-35 over Vanderbilt)
The Thursday night thriller was a great way for Ole Miss’ talented freshman class to burst onto the SEC scene. I thought freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was the best of those newcomers, catching nine passes for 82 yards. Quarterback Bo Wallace did a nice job of getting the ball into the hands of Treadwell and other playmakers. He completed 31 of 47 passes for 283 yards. Ole Miss will need to remain hungry as it enters one of the most difficult stretches in the country.
Mississippi State (lost 21-3 to Oklahoma State)
Of all the non-conference matchups in week one, this was the most unimpressive performance by an SEC team. I expected Oklahoma State to win the game, but I never believed Mississippi State’s offense would be so anemic. The Bulldogs held the ball for nearly 10 more minutes than the Cowboys but were out-rushed by 175 yards. They only converted two of 16 times on third down. Mike Gundy’s squad locked their offense down like another SEC team would on a typical basis. Mississippi State has now won only one of its last seven games, and Dan Mullen’s seat grows warmer by the hour.
Missouri (won 58-14 over Murray State)
Competing against Murray State is not going to provide a useful indication of what lies ahead. Regardless, quarterback James Franklin completed 26 of his 38 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns. The question going forward will be about the Tigers’ defense. It gave up 297 total yards to the Racers. That needs to improve by the time SEC play arrives. But the good news for Gary Pinkel’s team is that it doesn’t play an SEC team until October.
South Carolina (won 27-10 over North Carolina)
While the Gamecocks won by 17, much was made about defensive end Jadeveon Clowney’s unusually less-than-dominant performance. He had three tackles on the night. I would not worry about it, considering more output was not needed from him for a South Carolina to win with ease. Head coach Steve Spurrier allowed quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson to each have quality minutes in the game. Shaw completed 11 of 20 passes for 149 yards, which includes a 65-yard touchdown pass to begin the game. I am really impressed with South Carolina’s defense. Even without Clowney, the unit has a solid cohesiveness. It held a fairly decent North Carolina offense under 100 rushing yards.
Tennessee (won 49-0 over Austin Peay)
Tennessee needed desperately to start this season well, regardless of who was opposing them in the opener. The Vols made very few mistakes (zero penalties, one turnover) in the game. Quarterback I think Justin Worley will be a good leader of the offense this year. He completed 11 of his 13 throws for 104 and three touchdowns. The offense also ran for 315 yards. Certainly a lot of positive signs can be gleaned from Butch Jones’ first game at the helm in Knoxville. Week two’s matchup against Western Kentucky will provide a more competitive test before the Volunteers travel to Eugene to play Oregon.
Texas A&M (won 52-31 over Rice)
Texas A&M seemed to struggle on both sides of the ball in the first quarter. But as the game neared and passed halftime, the Aggies found a rhythm on offense. The defense, though, was another story. Six starters did not play in the game for, as Kevin Sumlin put it, “A variety of reasons.” Nevertheless, a top-10 team should not be allowing Rice to score 31 points and gain 509 yards. Yes, Johnny Manziel did play a crucial role in the offense’s production when he returned. But there is much more to this team than Manziel.
Vanderbilt (lost 39-35 to Ole Miss)
If there is a such thing as a feel-good opening loss, Vanderbilt would qualify. The Commodores came up short in a very competitive game to Ole Miss. The play by quarterback Austin-Carta Samuels was mixed. He threw for 300 yards, but he was intercepted twice in crucial situations. The defense needs to be better if the ‘Dores are going to compete weekly in the SEC this year. I know Vanderbilt fans feel distraught after dropping the first game, but I think many goals are still realistically attainable for this team.