By: Barrett Sallee
Week five in the SEC provided some officiating controversy, some fourth quarter drama and gave fans a clearer picture of the landscape of the league. Here are the three biggest story lines to take out of week five of SEC action:
Excuses Are Unsportsmanlike
Being an Atlanta native (yes, we exist), the local media outlets that I am surrounded by on a daily basis obviously cover Georgia more than any other school. Rightfully so. The Bulldogs have enjoyed unprecedented success this decade under head coach Mark Richt, who's a gaudy 85-23 during his nine-year tenure between the hedges. It is nice to have a successful team right in my backyard, because it keeps college football in the local news cycle 24/7/365.
But, with the good comes the bad.
The common theme around town following Georgia's 20-13 home loss to fourth ranked LSU, is that the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty assessed to WR A.J. Green after scoring the go-ahead touchdown with just over a minute to play cost the Bulldogs the game. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Don't get me wrong, it was, most certainly, a bad call. Green did nothing to warrant a penalty. He celebrated with his teammates after scoring a big, BIG touchdown. No problem. And it is true; the result of the penalty did give LSU better field position, which, in turn, played a factor in the game-winning touchdown run by Charles Scott, who finally remembered that he is an All-SEC RB. What seems to be lost is that Georgia wouldn't have been in that position had they taken care of business during the other 58 minutes of the game.
Georgia lost because they only managed 49 total yards of offense in the first half, which resulted in the game being played almost exclusively in Bulldog territory for the first 30 minutes. Georgia lost because running backs Richard Samuel and Caleb King were so grossly ineffective that Richt was forced to burn a redshirt year on Washaun Ealey to try to find any kind of spark in the running game. Georgia lost because they got out-played by an LSU team that was out to prove that perhaps they are deserving of that number four ranking. Georgia did not lose because of the officials.
Very rarely do we get to sample two National Championship contenders in virtually the exact same game situations on back-to-back weekends. But, that's exactly what happened the last two weeks, with Florida and Alabama both traveling to Kentucky to take on the Wildcats on consecutive weekends. So, after seeing them in similar situations during such a short time frame, survey says.....Florida deserves the number one spot – but not by much.
Both games resulted in blowouts, both games featured scoring outbursts from the higher ranked team, both games featured non-offensive touchdowns and both favorites relied heavily on a the ground game to wear down the Wildcats. So they're even, right? Well, maybe not.
A look inside the stat book reveals that, while both teams had their way against the out-manned Cats, the Gators are a slight step ahead of the Crimson Tide at this point in time. Versus Kentucky, Florida out-gained Alabama 495-352, out-rushed them 362-204, had seven more first downs (25-18) and held the Cats to 179 yards as opposed to 301 allowed by the Tide. The four turnovers forced by the Crimson Tide are two more than the Gators managed, but those didn't translate into more points or a significant swing in Time of Possession.
The bottom line is that both teams are very good; and, if they both hold serve within their respective divisions, will meet in December in the Georgia Dome for what's sure to be an epic SEC Championship Game. But at this point in time, after each have had a couple cake walks, faced one traditionally stout defense and played the same team on the road in consecutive weeks, it's apparent that Florida is one step ahead of Alabama.
After being absent from the polls for a full calender year, the Auburn Tigers made a return to the national rankings on Sunday, following a 26-22 victory at Tennessee in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicates. The Tigers check in at number 17 in the Associated Press poll and number 19 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
The knock on Auburn during previous weeks was that the Tigers haven't played any team of significance, even though they destroyed the same Mississippi State team that took number four LSU to the brink, and came back to beat the BCS-capable West Virginia Mountaineers. After passing their first road test with flying colors in Neyland Stadium Saturday night, there's little doubt that the Tigers are for real.
The Tigers moved the ball well between the 20's all night long, only to settle for four Wes Byrum field goals. The lack of red zone offense is a bit concerning, but this was Tennessee's defense, not Ball State's. Wildcat QB Kodi Burns, who's been featured prominently in red zone and short-yardage situations, saw surprisingly little playing time after suffering a quad injury the previous week. The stout defense, coupled with the less-than-normal amount of carries by Burns, almost certainly turned some potential touchdowns into field goals.
Red zone offense aside, Auburn proved to the nation that they are, indeed, for real. With young players littered throughout the roster, the Tigers went into one of the most hostile environments in college football, and controlled virtually every aspect of the game from the opening whistle to the final gun. If Auburn had converted one of those field goals into a touchdown, that would have forced Tennessee to play from behind, which isn't exactly Jonathan Crompton's strong point.
With five wins already in 2009, head coach Gene Chizik has already doubled his career win total from his previous two seasons at Iowa State. The 26 points scored bring the Tigers to 207 points on the year, only one point shy of their point total from all of 2008. Not a bad turnaround for the Gus Malzahn offense, a unit which could barely move the ball against air last season under the Tuberville regime.
The reward for the Tigers is a spot in the top 20, a place where SEC West teams occupy 20 percent of the real estate. Their play the first five weeks deserved national recognition. When the polls were released on Sunday, they finally got it. What will be interesting to see going forward is how this team reacts to the fact that they aren't the underdogs anymore.
Barrett Sallee covers the SEC for www.CollegeFootballNews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/BSallee_CFN
Three & Out Archive:
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – October 4, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 30, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 27, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 23, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 21, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 17, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 13, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 10, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 7, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes - September 3, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Media Days, Day 3 – July 24, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Media Days, Day 2 – July 23, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Media Days, Day 1 – July 22, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 16, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 12, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 9, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – April 3, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 30, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 26, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 18, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 15, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 11, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 7, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – March 3, 2009
Three & Out: SEC Thoughts, News & Notes – February 28, 2009
Click here for the 2009 blog archive