Evidently the SEC West didn’t die with LSU last Monday night with the collapse to Tennessee. Evidently the current best team in the SEC was just laying in wait for the Top 5 ranked Florida Gators to come to town.
Alabama ambushed Florida in Urban Meyer’s first true road test in the SEC (sorry Kentucky). The Tide had won comfortably and looked good in blowing out South Carolina, but there were still questions as to how good this Tide team really was.
Florida proved it was a team that would contend for the SEC Championship with a home win over Tennessee.
How good was Alabama? Good enough to blow the doors off of Florida in a game that finished 31-3 but wasn’t actually that close. Good enough that Alabama left no doubt from beginning to end. Good enough that the Tide didn’t even get to count an electrifying punt return from budding superstar Tyrone Prothro (more on Prothro later). Good enough that they got a 14 point lead on Florida before the bourbon even had a chance to start melting the ice of the drinks in the Alabama student section.
National media types like to run the same story over and over again into the ground, and the one that had been following Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula was that his Tide team lacked a signature win. They’re going to have to come up with a new story now.
Just like it was too early to put the Heisman Trophy into D.J. Shockley’s hands after his brilliant performance against Boise State, it’s too early to anoint Alabama the SEC Champion. But, just like Shockley, the early returns on the season look awfully good. Alabama is going to be a force in the SEC this year despite the loss of Prothro.
Watching the game unfold, there were several things that jumped out at me, starting with the opening lineups. Goodness but the Alabama offense is young. Only Brodie Croyle, guard Mark Sanders, and center JB Closner are seniors. I say “only” tongue in cheek when referring to Croyle who is the heart and soul of this Alabama team.
Seeing Croyle and the success that he’s having makes me want to look into the future a little. Well, I look into the future a lot scouting high school prospects, but I see a situation with a lot of similarities. Brodie Croyle was the nation’s top quarterback prospect his senior year. He stuck with the home team even at its lowest point including a coaching change and signed with Alabama with the Class of 2000. Croyle has been at the head of his home team’s resurgence.
Mitch Mustain is the nation’s top rated quarterback. He is committed to the hometown Arkansas Razorbacks. While Houston Nutt is hoping the coaching change doesn’t happen, Razorback faithful are hoping that Mitch Mustain can lead Arkansas out of its dark days in the very same way that Croyle has.
Watching Chris Leak try and run the option is just painful. The ironic thing is, he’s not a bad runner. When he pulls the ball down and scrambles out of the pocket, he picks up good chunks of yards and makes some guys miss in the open field. When he executes a designed run, he looks like a fish out of water.
Urban Meyer’s call to run the fake punt to Earl Everett in his own territory was a gutsy call. It worked out well at the time, but it’s one of those calls that is certainly a genius if it works and a moron if it doesn’t. Unfortunately, the Gators came away empty when the Tide held on 4th and goal.
I love tight ends and fullbacks. LeRon McClain was the South’s #1 Fullback prospect in the Class of 2003. Letting a fullback loose in the secondary is demoralizing to an opposing defense. Florida defensive back laid a lick on McClain on a pass play, and McClain not only took the blow, but Jackson finished on the wrong end of it as McClain picked up more yards.
Let’s talk about the game Tyrone Prothro was having before talking about the fact that he won’t be having any more like it this year. Prothro may already have the catch of the year in the SEC with his behind the defender reception against Southern Miss, but he was putting together a season’s worth of highlight grabs in the first half against Florida.
He burned the Gators right out of the box with an 80+ yard touchdown reception. He set and volleyed a pass to himself down the sidelines. He made a spectacular diving catch along the sidelines. He returned a punt for a touchdown that was called back, but nonetheless highlight worthy.
He also lined up at the quarterback position. As it was happening, I thought to myself that it was a mistake to put Prothro in at quarterback. Alabama was manhandling Florida, and I thought they didn’t need any kind of gimmicks at the time. His play was a simple hand off, but it’s still a gimmick.
Unfortunately for Tyrone Prothro and Alabama, he won’t be making any more of those highlight plays this year, and they won’t get the chance to run him in any more situational plays out of the quarterback position. Prothro broke both bones in his lower leg and is done for the season. It’s too late for a medical redshirt this year, but if he’s not 100% for next year (he should be), he still has a redshirt year to spend.
Recruiting is as much a sport as the game itself and can be more fun. Not all of Alabama’s top prep prospects decided to stay the course like Croyle did, and the Class of 2003 personified that. Many of the state’s very best prospects fled the state that year including Tennessee’s Aaron Sears and Jayson Swain, LSU’s Jamarcus Russell, and Florida’s Chad Jackson.
It is that much sweeter to beat the players that spurned your home team as Jackson did with Alabama, and it is that much sweeter to beat the home team that spurned you.
While Jackson got a rude welcome from Alabama, the Gators got a rude welcome from Florida natives Keith Brown and D.J. Hall. While Hall didn’t show up in the box scores, I saw him on a long Alabama run push his defender 20 yards downfield blocking. Brown’s contribution was a little more obvious. He had two catches for 83 yards including a 65 yard touchdown reception that blew the game wide open in the third. Florida is supposed to have all of the speed, but Alabama imported a little Florida speed of its own, and Brown blew by the man coverage.
Alabama had its biggest recruiting weekend to date. It can be risky to have all of those players in on won weekend, but it was a risk the Tide coaches were obviously willing to take. While one can’t expect every player there to commit on the spot, it will be interesting to look back at Alabama’s class on signing day and see which players were in attendance. 90% would be a pretty good guess.
Alabama's Ramzee Robinson (1) celebrates with teammates Anthony Madison, left, and Roman Harper, right, after Robinson picked off Florida quarterback Chris (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
Jeremy Mincey, you got beat and beaten badly, show some respect for your opponents.
Further proof that coaches don’t take the time to pay attention to whom they are voting for: Tennessee at 3-1 with a loss to Florida is ranked ahead of Alabama at 4-0. I don’t think even Tennessee fans would agree with Tennessee’s #7 ranking over Alabama’s #10 ranking in the coach’s poll.
On the bright side for Florida: The loss may not mean much in the SEC Championship race. Florida still controls its own destiny in the East, and if Meyer was having any trouble getting his Gators to focus after the Tennessee game, Alabama will give Meyer the ammunition that every coach loves to use, “Quit reading your press clippings, you’re not as good as you think you are.”
Florida is certainly not out of the SEC Championship hunt, and with a win already in its pocket against Tennessee, they have one leg up on the Vols and Dawgs right now.
Ole Miss and Tennessee served as the warmup for the Alabama/Florida game. Tennessee could be expected to have a little bit of a let down with a short week after and physically and emotionally draining victory against LSU.
While Tennessee didn’t look sharp throughout the entire game, they carried over the adrenalin from the LSU game to get a quick jump on the Rebels. That’s really all they would need as they built a quick lead that included an interception return off of a Michael Spurlock pass.
Spurlock caught the heat for Jonathan Wade’s interception, but it takes two players to make a mis-read. Spurlock read a comeback for the receiver as he was scrambling, and the receiver turned upfield. Wade read the Spurlock’s eyes for an easy interception.
I thought at the time the blame heaped on Spurlock might be a little premature. I don’t know whose fault the interception was for sure, but the same play happened later in the game. As Spurlock scrambled, Mike Espy first came back to the ball, then turned upfield. It was a mirror image of the 1st quarter interception, only this time, Spurlock and Espy were on the same page, and Spurlock hit Espy for a nice gain.
Ole Miss seems to have found its kicker. While the Rebels had some horribly ugly kicks earlier this year, Will Moseley stroked in a 50 yarder against Tennesssee.
In week one of the Monday Morning Ramblings, I mentioned that Patrick Willis was the best player no one had ever heard of. After not practicing for two weeks, with a busted hand and a sprained knee, linebacker Patrick Willis was still the best player on the field for Ole Miss with only one hand, and he’d get a vote from me for All-SEC in a heartbeat.
Tennessee's Gerald Riggs, Jr. (21) is tackled by Mississippi's Patrick Willis (49) (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Jefferson Pilot showed a graphic early in the game talking about Ole Miss ineptness in the redzone (3/7). I didn’t know which part of the stat was most shocking, that Ole Miss had only scored on three of seven trips into the redzone, or that Ole Miss had only been in the redzone seven times. I’m guessing the latter. If Ole Miss had the offense to get into the redzone more than seven times in 3+ games, they would have the potency to get into the endzone more often.
While Tennesssee didn’t need to show much against Ole Miss, it was still an important win. The Vols couldn’t afford any type of a stumble. After salvaging its season in Baton Rouge, the Vols also set up another Top 10 matchup with Georgia on Saturday.
In what is an otherwise lackluster lineup in the SEC, Georgia and Tennessee gives CBS a marquee game on Saturday. Georgia has yet to face a team the caliber of Tennessee, and Tennessee has had more questions raised than answers given in losing to Florida and coming back against LSU.
Watching Alabama dismantle Florida made me ask some questions about the ESPN game that pitted Auburn against South Carolina. Was South Carolina a lot better than we thought? After all, they had about as much luck with the Tide that the Gators did, and they gave Georgia fits.
Could Auburn be in trouble at home against Spurrier’s bunch?
Auburn answered any questions about its game against South Carolina early and often building up a 17-0 first quarter lead and a 31-0 halftime lead.
South Carolina had burned two timeouts before 30 seconds had run off the clock, and it only got worse for the Gamecocks. Former Gamecock Kenny Irons put the first points on the board in what had to be a gratifying score.
Auburn's Kenny Irons runs past South Carolina's Orus Lambert (51) in the first quarter.
I listened to the first quarter of the game on 680 The Fan in Atlanta before getting to watch the second quarter on television. My wife walked in and asked “What happened to Spurrier, doesn’t he where a visor any more.”
I said, “The way this game has gone already, he may have chucked it so far he can’t find it.”
Brandon Cox returned to the lineup after missing last week with illness, and he was an efficient 19/29 for 245 yards and a touchdown.
Auburn quarterbacks did a good job of spreading the love again hitting 12 Tiger receivers, the second week in a row that Auburn has had double digit receivers.
Auburn gets a week off before back to back road games at Arkansas and at LSU. The schedule eases up for South Carolina with home games against Kentucky and Vanderbilt sandwiching a bye week.
One just got the feeling that Vanderbilt was going to need that snap back to reality as well, and they got it against in state rival Middle Tennessee State. Vanderbilt has beaten some good teams on close plays, and that evened out as the Commodores ran out of magic as their game winning field goal got blocked.
This Vanderbilt has already shown that it’s better than any in recent memories, and I don’t expect them to roll over and die. Vanderbilt will still be fighting for that #4 spot behind the Big 3 in the East, and a bowl game is still a very realistic goal for Vanderbilt.
But you know that television execs were nearly as upset as Vanderbilt when their Cinderella story took a big hit as an undefeated Vanderbilt was scheduled to host LSU next week.
The most famous of sports jinx’s is the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx, but maybe the most potent is the Skinnedy (that’s me) pick ‘em.
I was so impressed with Clemson’s wins against Texas A&M and Maryland and the manner in which they won, that I picked them as my darkhorse team to win the ACC. They have since dropped three straight.
The two over time losses were bad, the last season lost to Wake Forests was just piling on.
To Clemson fans, I owe you one. Let me know which team’s bandwagon you would most likely for me to jump on, and I’ll put a curse on them that makes the Bambino look like child’s play.
The ACC didn’t feature a single matchup of ranked teams, but maybe the most intriguing of games was the surging USF Bulls against the mighty Miami Hurricanes. Any chance that USF had of sneaking up on the ‘Canes blew out the window last week with their thrashing of Louisville.
And that chance was the only one they had on Saturday. USF is a program on the rise. They have a chance to continue on a special season, but they aren’t ready to beat a Miami team that is prepared for them.
The ‘Canes got up quick on the Bulls removing any thoughts of a second straight upset in a hurry before eventually winning 27-7.
The matchups don’t look much better next week in the ACC with the lone Top 25 game pitting Virginia against Boston College. But… Keep an eye on the North Carolina/Louisville game. North Carolina has a brutal out of conference schedule, and the Heels are playing much better ball than they’re 2-2 record might indicate.
Until next time…