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Three & Out returns in 2011 to give you three SEC thoughts, news and notes. In our Week 2 wrap-up, we take a look at South Carolina's statement, the biggest series of the Auburn/Mississippi State thriller and the Alabama quarterback situation.
GUESS WHO'S BACK? BACK AGAIN.
South Carolina's visit to Athens on Saturday afternoon was billed as a statement game for the winner to get the inside track in the race for the SEC East crown (well, that, and the whole Mark Richt hot seat thing). Following the Gamecocks' 45-42 road victory over the Bulldogs, it's clear that South Carolina is again the class of the SEC East.
South Carolina is simply better in every aspect of the game. The Gamecocks are better coached, better conditioned and have more talent than Georgia. Raise your hand if you thought that was possible five years ago (put your hand down, no you didn't).
When the Gamecocks need a big-time special teams play, they drew up a fake punt in which Melvin Ingram - a defensive lineman - purposefully becomes a ball-carrier. The result of the play? A 68-yard touchdown run. If that doesn't scream "athlete," I don't know what does. Credit to the coaching staff to knowing what will work and not being afraid to be a little creative, something that the coaches on the Georgia sideline have been afraid to be for quite some time. When they needed to grind out a drive to re-take the lead late in the fourth, Heisman Trophy contender Marcus Lattimore was there to save the day. When they needed a defensive stop to ice the game, consensus No. 1 recruit Jadeveon Clowney was there to force a fumble that resulted in a touchdown.
Saturday's game was a tale of two programs going in opposite directions. South Carolina is no longer an SEC East upstart. The Gamecocks have earned the respect of the rest of the conference and are now regarded as the power of the division. Georgia, on the other hand, is a team that's just looking to tread water, and it's not succeeding.
IT ALL STARTS UP FRONT
Auburn has had a knack for getting into some wild nail-biters under third-year coach Gene Chizik. Despite the massive turnover from last season's national championship squad, 2011 appears to be no different.
All of the headlines in Auburn's 41-34 win over No. 16 Mississippi State will go to defensive back Ryan Smith for his tackle on Bulldog quarterback Chris Relf on the one-inch line as time expired to preserve the win; but another defensive series early in the fourth quarter was what won the game for Auburn. As was the case last season, it all started up front.
Following an Auburn touchdown to make it 41-27 Tigers, Mississippi State took over with 14:03 to play needing to put it into the end zone. The Bulldogs were able to run the ball seemingly at will on the Tigers all day long, but on the first play Chris Relf was stopped by Nosa Eguae and Eltoro Freeman for a five-yard loss. Three plays later Relf was sacked by defensive end Corey Lemonier; and fellow defensive end Dee Ford stopped the Bulldogs for no gain on two consecutive plays later in the drive.
When all was said and done, the Bulldogs ran nine plays for only 26 yards in the drive, and burned a precious 4:20 off of the clock.
This is the kind of thing Auburn is used to. The defense was terrible last season, but the defensive line - led by All-American Nick Fairley - routinely came up big at times when it mattered most. You saw the Auburn defensive line do the exact same thing Saturday afternoon against Mississippi State, and it won the game for the Tigers.
THIS CONTEST IS OVER
Alabama travelled to State College, Pa. with a two-quarterback system. It left with a starting quarterback, even though its coach doesn't want to admit it yet.
Sophomore AJ McCarron completed 19-of-31 passes for 163 yards, one touchdown and - most importantly - zero interceptions in Alabama's 27-11 win at Penn State Saturday afternoon. Considering Alabama's two main goals are to run the ball and play defense, McCarron's performance should be wildly popular with his head coach Nick Saban.
Apparently it wasn't.
"We still have competition at the position," Saban said following the game. "We really do feel like we have two very good players. We want both guys to continue to develop. AJ did a nice job today."
There's no doubt that Saban wants to see both players to continue to develop, but there is no competition anymore. Backup Phillip Sims was used sparingly Saturday afternoon, and did not throw a pass during the game. This wasn't Kent State, this was Penn State. If there actually was a legitimate competition, Sims would have played more.
I appreciate good coach speak like the rest of us, but let's call this what it is - AJ McCarron is Alabama's starting quarterback.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @BarrettSallee
2011 Three & Out Archive
Three & Out – September 11, 2011
Three & Out – September 5, 2011
Three & Out – August 29, 2011
Three & Out – August 22, 2011
Three & Out – August 15, 2011
Three & Out – August 8, 2011
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