The top storyline coming into week three in the SEC surrounded what was going to take place between Alabama and Texas A&M in College Station. Would the game live up to the hype? The answer was an astounding yes. The only thing that was missing was overtime.
Surprise of the week: With about two minutes to go in the game, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall calmly led his team down the field to complete a comeback and secure a 24-20 victory over Mississippi State. On the final drive, Marshall completed six of eight for 66 yards passing, and he also threw a pass to C.J. Uzomah for the go ahead touchdown. He also ran for 19 yards on three rushes. In all, Marshall accounted for 85 of the 88 yards on the drive.
Disappointment of the week: Even with the struggles Tennessee has had over the past few years, I thought the Vols would put up more resistance to Oregon. The 59-14 final score was as one-sided as it appears. The Ducks literally had their way Saturday.
Performance of the week: Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron threw for a career-high 334 yards and four touchdowns. He also completed 20 of 29 (69 percent) passes on the way to Alabama’s 49-42 win over Texas A&M.
Alabama (won 49-42 at Texas A&M)
A lot of questions were raised about Alabama’s offensive firepower after the opening win over Virginia Tech. In Saturday’s 49-42 win over Texas A&M, the Tide’s offensive line seemed to find its stride. AJ McCarron had one of his best performances to date, throwing for 334 yards and four touchdowns. The downside for Alabama was the defensive play. Giving up 628 yards, which is the most Alabama has every surrendered, is very uncharacteristic of Nick Saban’s defense. But playing Johnny Manziel may be the most potent offensive threat he has ever faced. Alabama came out on top in an epic contest, and now the Tide’s main opponent until LSU will be complacency.
Arkansas (won 24-3 over Southern Miss)
It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but Arkansas survives another non-conference game. Three wins and no losses is a great way to start the year, but competition for the Razorbacks ratchets as they travel to Pscataway, N.J. to play Rutgers. A big factor in this game will be whether or not Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen, who is recovering from a bruised right shoulder, will be able to play. If the Hogs can come away with a win, it will be a significant confidence builder for Bret Bielema’s squad going into a difficult game with Texas A&M.
Auburn (won 24-20 over Mississippi State)
Auburn’s final drive to win the game led by Nick Marshall was very impressive. There is no doubt that Gene Chizik’s 2012 team would have allowed the Bulldogs to run the clock to zero. This team responded with great play in the face of adversity. If Auburn can carry this attitude into future games, it will serve them well. There still is a brutal schedule ahead of the Tigers, but some of those games don’t seem as daunting now.
Kentucky (lost 27-13 to Louisville)
There were a lot of positives that Kentucky fans can come away with after this two touchdown loss to in-state rival Louisville. The Wildcat defense held Teddy Bridgewater to a ‘pedestrian’ 250 yards and 1 touchdown in the game. They will now enjoy an off week to help them prepare for SEC play.
LSU (won 45-13 over Kent State)
Zach Mettenberger’s play continues to impress. He completed 13 of 18 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns. He also leads the league in pass efficiency. The contribution of running back Jeremy Hill also cannot be underestimated. Hill added 117 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. LSU will get its first SEC test Saturday night as an improving Auburn team comes to town. We know Cam Cameron’s offense is going to be able to move the football this year, but the key to LSU being in the BCS Championship discussion at the end of the year will be the defensive play. We will see how that unit is coming along Saturday against Auburn.
Ole Miss (won 44-23 over Texas)
While Texas is a program in a declining state, Ole Miss is moving in the opposite direction. Coach Hugh Freeze has his Rebels 3-0 heading into an off week. On the other side of the time off, they will get the opportunity to travel to Alabama for the second straight season. Regardless of how unfair it may seem, it will be a great chance for Ole Miss to impress a lot of people on a national stage. Even if they play competitively but don’t win, it will be a major confidence builder.
Mississippi State (lost 24-20 at Auburn)
As opposed to the thrashing the Bulldogs received from Oklahoma State at the beginning of the year, this game was a last-second heartbreaker. Still, the questions about where Dan Mullen’s program is headed are growing louder. The offense actually looked a bit improved. Quarterback Dak Prescott, who will likely assume the starting job going forward, threw for 213 yards and ran for 133 yards. Mississippi State will have to make more improvements in order to make a bowl game.
South Carolina (won 35-25 over Vanderbilt)
South Carolina’s week two loss to Georgia was a major blow to the team’s ability to compete for SEC and BCS championships. Some, including me, wondered if the Gamecocks would be in the proper state of mind to get a bounce-back win over Vanderbilt. They were ready for the challenge. South Carolina got up to a 28-0 lead before the Commodores scored. Connor Shaw threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns in the game, but you never know how that will impact his playing time with Steve Spurrier as head coach.
Tennessee (lost 59-14 at Oregon)
There usually aren’t a whole lot of positives to take away from a 59-14 beatdown. However, considering it’s Oregon and that this is a regular occurrence for Ducks’ opponents, Tennessee fans shouldn’t feel too miserable. We knew the schedule was going to be brutal. Now, the Vols have to travel to Florida — a team that was upset in its last outing. All things considered, I would not condemn a 2-2 start as more of the same. The true test of improvement will come against the likes of Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Missouri, and Auburn.
Texas A&M (lost 49-42 to Alabama)
Since Texas A&M lost, that means Johnny Manziel had to have had a horrible day, right? Wrong, Johnny Football threw for 464 yards, five touchdowns, and completed 71 percent of his passes. He also carried the ball for 98 yards on 14 rushes. There were times in the game when Manziel didn’t look like his usual dominant self, but his play toward the end of the game seemed to be indefensible. The task for the Aggies now will be not to give up. There are plenty of opportunities still on the horizon, including the BCS Championship if things break for them.
Vanderbilt (lost 35-25 at South Carolina)
James Franlkin’s Commodores have not been able to start the year with a win in either of their two opening SEC games. They were competitive in both, although more so against Ole Miss. Even thought the margin of victory ended up being only 10 points, South Carolina beat Vanderbilt very convincingly. The Gamecocks got 17 more first downs than the Commodores, outgained them 579 to 268, and held the ball for nearly 15 more minutes. In other words, Vanderbilt was blown out by South Carolina in every way except the final score.