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What We Learned from the SEC in Week 1

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Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd tackles Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. (Source: Georgia Athletics) Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd tackles Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. (Source: Georgia Athletics)

(RNN) – For a while, it looked like the college football world was going to be upended in the first week of play, but it all worked out according to plan in the end.

There was only one top 25 upset (Texas A&M over South Carolina) and the only other teams in the top 25 who lost – Clemson and Wisconsin – played teams with a higher ranking.

Outside of the SEC, Florida State struggled with Oklahoma State, UCLA needed three defensive scores to top Virginia, Liberty fought off North Carolina until late in the third quarter and Washington squeaked by Hawaii. Some hiccups can be expected early, but for the most part everything went according to plan.

In the conference, several teams had to hold their breaths for a moment. LSU trailed Wisconsin most of the game, Ole Miss struggled with Boise State, West Virginia hung with Alabama, Georgia put Clemson away late and Auburn didn't get a comfortable lead on Arkansas until the fourth quarter.

Only Vanderbilt couldn't deliver over a nonconference opponent.

Here is the weekly list of what we learned from watching SEC games in Week 1.

1. Texas A&M will be juuuuust fine. If you didn't know who Kenny Hill was four days ago, you probably do now. If you still don't know who Kenny Hill is, watch a little football once in a while and stop being a useful human being.

Hill was tasked with replacing Johnny Football, Almighty Ruler of All ThingsTM and it's safe to say he did a good job of doing it, because he's a better passer than Johnny Manziel ever even thought about being. In his first game, on the road, against a top 10 team in South Carolina, Hill complete 44 passes (to 12 receivers) for 511 yards1 in a 52-28 win. Both of those are school records, which means Hill did in one game what Manziel couldn't do in two full seasons, despite winning the Heisman Trophy. One of those records – completions – wasn't even held by Manziel.

It's going to be a month before Hill plays against another opponent worth discussing, and that opponent is Arkansas, which may or may not be worth discussing, so any excitement (especially Heisman speculation) should be tempered slightly for the moment, but you literally couldn't ask for a better debut.

It's always tough to be the guy replacing The Guy, but when you're better than The Guy, it gets a lot easier. And he doesn't like the nickname “Kenny Football,” even though that's exactly who he is right now.

As for who will replace standout wide receiver Mike Evans, Malcome Kennedy had 14 catches for 137 yards and Edward Pope, Ricky Seals-Jones and freshman Speedy Noil, who now wears Manziel's No. 2 on his jersey, all showed promise.

2. Vanderbilt has a quarterback controversy, but shouldn't. Patton Robinette was named the starter prior to the season and in an article published by The Tennessean two days prior to the opening game, coach Derek Mason said of Robinette, “I want him to play with a lot of confidence. Don't look over your shoulder.” In that same article, Robinette said, “(Mason) made it clear he's going to let me play. He's confident in my ability to do what he needs me to do.”

Well, so much for that.

In Vanderbilt's 37-7 loss to Temple (a two-win team last season), Robinette completed two-thirds of his passes and threw no interceptions. However, Mason's let-him-play and Robinette's no-over-the-shoulder-looking went right out the window after Robinette attempted six passes. Stephen Rivers then got the call and went 12-for-25 with 186 yards and an interception. He also fumbled. Johnny McCrary also got a shot and attempted three passes, two of which were intercepted.

A quarterback can only forget about looking over his shoulder when he knows there's nothing to see back there. That isn't happening at Vanderbilt, despite everyone's attempt to say otherwise. The Commodores are coming off the best stretch of football in the school's history and in the first game under a new regime, got blown out at home, destroyed any confidence anyone had in anyone else and looked generally unprepared simply to exist.

At least they avoided a weird new penalty for putting “Anchor Down” on their uniforms. Lesson from the smart kids: Always save important emails. (The jerseys were banned Friday.)

3. Ole Miss doesn't have a quarterback controversy, but should. Three interceptions in the first half of the first game would be enough to get just about any quarterback worried about his job. Not Bo Wallace.

Wallace rebounded and threw for 387 yards and four touchdowns and help Ole Miss pull out a 35-13 win that makes people who only saw the score think, “Boy, them Rebs must be purdy good,” but left everybody who actually watched the game saying, “Them danged ol' Rebs don't look so good.”

Wallace is well on his way to throwing more than the 18 touchdowns he tossed as a junior and on his way to throwing more than the 17 interceptions he threw as a sophomore. He's already got a longer pass than he did all of last year and after being sacked twice is on pace to equal last year's sack total of 24.

Wallace is usually the reason Ole Miss wins the games it wins and the reason the Rebels lose the games they lose. No one is more flaky and unpredictable than Wallace, and yet no one has better job security. Ole Miss is hyped and could easily be riding high at 4-0 when Alabama comes to town, but that won't mean anything if Wallace keeps playing the way he's always played.2

4. Alabama's defense is not a juggernaut. In previous years, West Virginia would have been lucky to get a single point, but the Crimson Tide struggled to get a consistent pass rush, left receivers wide open and just generally didn't look like what you expect Alabama to look like.

The only time Alabama trailed was a 3-0 deficit it erased almost immediately, but outside of a few flashes, the defense never found its stride and the Mountaineers stayed within one score, or tied, most of the game. Six-year-old Clint Trickett couldn't get past one kiss with Nick Saban's daughter3, but college-aged Clint Trickett threw for 365 yards and a touchdown.

The story that dominated the pregame discussion was who would start at quarterback and how would Lane Kiffin's play-calling work under Nick Saban, but the postgame conversation is all about problems in the secondary and if they can be resolved.

Blake Sims got the start despite all projections that it would go to Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Both were expected to play either way, but Coker didn't attempt a single pass and only got in the game with a 10-point lead in the final minutes.

Alabama's offense was its typical self, producing two 100-yard rushers and a passing game that relied on short passes and athletic receivers making plays after catching the ball. Sims threw for 250 yards and had a long, would-be touchdown dropped. He picked up 42 yards on the ground and only made one glaring mistake – a bad throw into double coverage that was intercepted.

But without the defense standing tall (it forced no turnovers), the Tide couldn't distance itself in the second half the way it is accustomed to doing. It will most likely be three weeks, when Florida visits Tuscaloosa, before another meaningful assessment of either unit can be made.

5. Les Miles did what Les Miles does. Under Les Miles, LSU has a winning record when it trails in the fourth quarter. That's mind-blowing. Considering the prevailing wisdom on Miles is that he can't manage the clock and will make some inevitable screw-up in the final minutes to blow the game, it's a stat that should be comforting to Tiger fans. Consider Miles the Tony Romo of college football.

Wisconsin was simply better than LSU until the fourth quarter. LSU was 6-of-17 on third down and didn't run the ball particularly well until the second half. Their lone first-half score was an 80-yard touchdown pass on a slow-developing play that took advantage of a coverage breakdown by the Badgers.

In typical Miles fashion, it wasn't until a fake punt4 in the third quarter that LSU started to take control. Prior to the fake punt, the Tigers were outscored 24-7. After it, they outscored Wisconsin 21-0. An interception led to the go-ahead touchdown by Kenny Hilliard and the Tigers kept the SEC's opening weekend in tact (unless you count Vanderbilt, which you shouldn't, because what they played wasn't football).

6. Georgia doesn't need to pass. We all know about Todd Gurley, and after he ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns and returned a kickoff 100 yards for another touchdown, we all want to see more of Todd Gurley, unless he's playing against a team we want to win.

Who we didn't know about was Nick Chubb, who rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown. He only had four carries, but he was impressive – and punishing – on each. Keith Marshall was held out after being hurt early in the game, but Chubb, Sony Michel and Quayvon Hicks made his absence irrelevant.

Aside from Gurley, Chubb was the breakout star and eluded five defenders on a 47-yard touchdown run. He proved to be nearly impossible to tackle on each of his runs. Michel is a speedster who showed he's more than capable of being called on and Hicks, the fullback, plowed through a worn out Clemson defense in the fourth quarter on two carries to help drain the clock.

The Bulldogs ran for 328 yards in quarterback Hutson Mason's debut. It was a much more run-oriented offense for Georgia as Mason was 18-of-26 for 131 yards. Georgia will be just fine never passing more than that as long as the Bulldogs don't get ripped apart by injuries like last season.

7. Auburn doesn't need Nick Marshall. Arkansas' defense hasn't had many love sonnets written about it, but Jeremy Johnson lit it up just the same, throwing for 243 yards and two touchdowns in place of Marshall, who was suspended after receiving a marijuana possession citation in the offseason.

Marshall came back in the second half, but it was Auburn's defense that got the job done and allowed the Tigers to pull out a 45-21 win, including an interception returned for a touchdown in the third quarter.

Marshall provided the last touchdown Auburn needed with a 19-yard run, but the Tigers added three more after that. Cameron Artis-Payne did the heavy lifting, rushing for 177 yards, Corey Grant added 87 yards and if Gus Malzahn ever needs a replacement, or just wants to prove his coaching brilliance, Auburn has a ball boy who is as fast as wide receiver Melvin Ray, and he might be a good option as well.

8. South Carolina has some “coaching decisions to make.” Oh boy. Those are the words of Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it sounds an awful like, “I'm about to fire somebody.”

Honestly, it wouldn't be a shock after the Gamecocks in their new 3-4 defense gave up a school record 680 yards to Texas A&M. The Aggies were mostly throwing quick passes, so there wasn't much time for a pass rush, but when Hill did drop back and throw, there was no rush from the Gamecocks' line. The receivers he threw to were routinely open by 5 yards or more and South Carolina struggled to make tackles all game.

Remember that Clowney dude who didn't have a great year and was supposed to be overrated and not committed but was still somehow taken with the first pick in the NFL Draft? Yeah, he's being missed right about now.

Don't expect the Gamecocks to be in the 3-4 when Georgia comes calling in two weeks.5

9. “The Swamp” was too wet. Take a minute and let that soak in. (Also, take a minute and let that bad pun soak in.) A place known as “The Swamp” was too wet to play a game. Why do I find that so funny?

There's actually nothing all that funny about the weather Florida and Idaho tried to deal with. A storm cell basically decided it wanted to visit Gainesville and cause problems. Ten miles away, the game could have been played uninterrupted. After hours-long delays, there was standing water all over the field, but the game did kick off.

Florida made a good return on the kickoff, but the field was cleared and the game later called off. Both Florida and Idaho are scheduled to be off Oct. 25, so a makeup could happen, but there's no word on its status as of yet.

10. We were spoiled by this week. All the good games that were played this week made us remember why we love college football. Well, next week won't.

There are two games next week that feature two top 25 teams – Michigan State at Oregon and Southern Cal at Stanford. Both should be good games, and Virginia Tech at Ohio State should be another good one, but that's the end of the list of games that look interesting.

That includes all SEC games, by the way. The only conference game in Week 2 is Ole Miss at Vanderbilt. Outside of that, there is nothing inspiring. We will get to see Florida play its first game, if they've drained the field by then, but it's going to be against Eastern Michigan. The list of other SEC opponents – Florida Atlantic, Toledo, Arkansas State, UAB, Ohio, Nicholls State, East Carolina, San Jose State, Sam Houston and Lamar – leaves much to be desired.

We even got a new video from the crazy Hog Lady, Liz Honey, this week, but after Arkansas' sound defeat by Auburn she's probably not going to be in a singing mood. Or maybe she should look in the extra points for a suggestion.

Extra points: 1'Cause the player's gonna play, play, play, play, play.

2And the haters' gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

3Heart-breaker's gonna break, break, break, break, break.

4The faker's gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake.

5Also, don't expect them to win, because it won't be easy to shake, shake, shake, shake, shake. Shake it off. Shake it off.

Feel free to dispute any and all statements made herein on Twitter at @BNT_RNN.

Copyright 2014 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

  • FOX54 Poll

  • Who had the more impressive game in Week 1?

  • Thank you for participating in our poll. Here are the results so far:

    Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
    45%
    152 votes
    Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M
    31%
    104 votes
    Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn
    12%
    40 votes
    Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
    7%
    24 votes
    Other
    5%
    18 votes
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