Another week, another string of victories for the Southeastern Conference. The league went 10-2 last week, with only South Carolina (losing to fellow SEC East member Georgia) and Florida on the wrong side of the ledger.
The conference schedule starts to get a bit more active this week, with two key matchups taking place. We’ll break down the Week 3 conference slate and look at some compelling storylines. First, though, we need to ask you a trivia question!
SEC trivia, week 3 (answer at the end of the column): Alabama has played at Kyle Field just once in the program’s history. That game was the final game at the university for which former Texas A&M head coach?
Top of the Ratings
#1 Alabama at #6 Texas A&M, 3:30pm ET, CBS
Last week’s episode: Alabama 35, Virginia Tech 10 (8/31); Texas A&M 65, Sam Houston State 28
Program guide: The Crimson Tide enjoyed a bye week before making the trip from Tuscaloosa to College Station to take on the Aggies. As if Alabama hadn’t already had a year to process the 29-24 loss the Aggies delivered them at Bryant-Denny last year, the extra week gave Nick Saban’s club time to be reminded all over again. Alabama actually outgained A&M 431-418 in the contest, but a red zone interception by Deshazor Everett finished off the Tide’s comeback hopes. That turnover was the third by Alabama — two of them on McCarron picks — while none were registered by Johnny Manziel’s troops.
Things have changed a bit now, and the hunter is now the hunted. The Aggies are not sneaking up on anyone any longer, and neither is Manziel. Alabama held Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas to a 5-for-26, 59-yard performance in week one, and they will look to keep the same pressure on Manziel. Johnny Football is enjoying much the same early success as last year, completing 35 of his first 50 passes for 520 yards and six scores, throwing just one interception. He also turned in an efficient performance in Tuscaloosa last year, completing 24-of-31 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
Alabama had no answer for receiver Ryan Swope (11 catches, 111 yards, 1 TD) last year, and with Swope gone, Mike Evans will be a primary target in this contest. Evans has 13 catches for 239 yards and two scores on the season, and Evans has caught four or more passes in every game in which he has played as an Aggie. The Tide have a sophomore star receiver of their own in Amari Cooper, who had six catches for 136 yards in last year’s affair, including a 54-yard touchdown that brought Alabama within five points with 6:09 remaining.
Alabama needs a bounce-back effort from AJ McCarron. McCarron threw for just 110 yards in the opener, scoring once and getting picked off once. McCarron’s performance was the talk of Tuscaloosa in the days following the victory over Virginia Tech, and he quite obviously plays a large role in the success of the Tide’s offense. Texas A&M needs a larger contribution from running back Ben Malena. Malena is averaging 7.14 yards per carry in the early going of the season, and the bruising senior back will be needed to keep Tide defenders away from his quarterback. Malena carried 14 times for just 50 yards in Tuscaloosa last year.
Set Your DVR
#25 Ole Miss (2-0, 1-0 SEC) at Texas (1-1), 8:00pm ET, Longhorn Network
Program guide: It’s very rare that a defensive coordinator loses his job after two games, but that’s exactly what happened to Texas’ Manny Diaz. Diaz’ defense gave up 550 rushing yards to BYU on 72 carries in a 40-21 loss last week, and Greg Robinson is now the Longhorns’ defensive coordinator. Numerous stories exist about Diaz’ alleged stubbornness in sticking with a five defensive back formation against a quarterback who completed just 9-of-26 passes for 129 yards, but it now appears that this is the final button left for Longhorn coach Mack Brown to push. The porous run defense simply must get better in order to stop Jeff Scott, Bo Wallace, Barry Brunetti and the Rebels.
Ole Miss piled up 532 yards of total offense against FCS opponent SE Missouri State last week, though not everything was perfect. Brunetti completed just 3-of-12 passes for 48 yards in relief of Wallace, doing little to inspire confidence as much more than a running change of pace quarterback. Scott received just four carries against SEMO, as his services were not required for most of the contest. The Rebs have a lot on which to focus on defense, primarily stopping punishing running back Johnathan Gray (6.21 yards per carry), but they also need to make a change on offense. With all of the changes in the Texas defense over the last week — and the increased focus on stopping the run — there is a chance for Wallace to get freshman wideout Laquon Treadwell more involved in the action. Treadwell caught nine passes against Vanderbilt in week one (a freshman record for the school), but notched just two catches for 27 yards last week. With Treadwell’s size (6’3″, 215 pounds) and the other weapons Wallace has available (freshman tight end Evan Engram and receiver Donte Moncrief are the headliners), Treadwell’s size and separation speed could cause big problems for the maligned Longhorns.
#7 Louisville (2-0) at Kentucky (1-1), noon ET, ESPN
- The Governor’s Cup: The Louisville-Kentucky rivalry is played for the Governor’s Cup trophy. The trophy is in its 20th year of existence and is currently in Louisville’s possession after a 32-14 victory in 2012. Charlie Strong is 2-1 against the Wildcats as the Cards’ head coach.
- September success: The Cardinals are 10-3 in September games under Strong. The last September loss came on September 9th, 2011, as FIU defeated the Cardinals 24-17 in Louisville.
- 675-122: This is the margin by which Kentucky outgained Miami (OH) last week. The Redhawks were 1-16 on third down and 4-of-14 passing for 23 yards. The Wildcats continued their rotation between Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow, with the pair throwing for 413 yards and three scores. This total was just 16 yards greater than that turned in by Teddy Bridgewater in Louisville’s 44-7 victory over Eastern Kentucky.
Southern Miss (0-2) at Arkansas (2-0), 12:21pm ET, SEC Network
- Y2K: The last SEC opponent defeated by the Golden Eagles was Alabama. Southern Miss shut out the Crimson Tide 21-0 on September 16th, 2000. The game was played in Birmingham.
- Stopping the run: Arkansas’ true freshman running back, Alex Collins, gets a look at a Golden Eagle run defense that has allowed 4.11 yards per carry in losses to Texas State and Nebraska. The Cornhuskers rushed for 6.2 yards per carry in last week’s game. Collins averages 6.73 yards per carry after his first two college games, and his 131-yard performance against Samford last week earned him SEC Freshman of the Week honors. USM, for their part, averages 1.67 yards per carry.
- 14 straight: The Golden Eagles’ last victory came in the 2011 Hawai’i Bowl, a 24-17 victory over Nevada. Former coach Larry Fedora resigned after that game to go to North Carolina. USM went 0-12 last season in Ellis Johnson’s only year at the helm, and have lost their first two under new coach Todd Monken.
Tennessee (2-0) at #2 Oregon (2-0), 3:30pm ET, ABC
- Quick strike: Of Oregon’s 17 drives this year that have taken them to the end zone, only two have lasted greater than two minutes. The Ducks have eight plays of 40 yards or greater in their first two games, with three of those plays putting six on the board for Mark Helfrich’s club.
- Winning the turnover battle: The Volunteers have forced nine turnovers through two games. Seven of those turnovers came at the hands of Western Kentucky in a 52-20 loss last week. The last time that number was reached by the Vols in a game occurred against Memphis 29 years ago.
- Video game numbers: The Ducks are ranked in the top five in the FBS in scoring offense (third, 62.5 points per game), rushing offense (second, 425 yards per game) and total offense (second, 664.5 yards per game). The Volunteers’ highest rating in any offensive category is in scoring office (13th, 48.5 points per game).
Kent State (1-1, 0-1 MAC) at #8 LSU (2-0, 0-0), 7:00pm ET, ESPNU
- A good quarter: Kent State led Bowling Green 8-7 after the first quarter of their first Mid-American Conference contest last week. Paul Haynes’ club was outscored 34-14 over the final three quarters in their first loss of the season. Kent was outgained 576-302 in the game, notching just 164 yards in the process.
- Continued development: Zach Mettenberger’s “reinvention” under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron continued in a victory over UAB last week. Mettenberger completed 16-of-19 passes for 282 yards against the Blazers. His five touchdowns were a new LSU record for touchdowns in a game.
- Seeing red: The Tigers are one of 13 teams at the FBS level with nine or more chances to have converted each of their red zone trips. Ball State and Houston are tied for the lead in conversions in the red zone, having converted all 14 chances.
Vanderbilt (1-1, 0-1) at #13 South Carolina (1-1, 0-1), 7:00pm ET, ESPN
- Back on track: After falling to Ole Miss in the season opener, Vanderbilt rolled FCS opponent Austin Peay last week. The Commodores outgained the Govs 442-139 in the 38-3 victory, allowing just six first downs. Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels was an efficient 14-of-22 for 223 yards and a touchdown in the game. The Commodores did not score in the second half, but had the game well in hand by that time.
- Anchoring down: Steve Spurrier has won 18 of the 20 games he has coached against Vanderbilt during his career. His last loss against the Commodores came in a 24-17 decision in Nashville on September 4th, 2008.
- Neutralizing running quarterbacks: Vanderbilt struggled to contain Bo Wallace against Ole Miss in their first game, as he rushed 18 times for 48 yards and two scores. Barry Brunetti also added two touchdowns on three carries. Gamecock quarterback Connor Shaw has rushed 28 times for 118 yards on the season, averaging 4.21 yards per carry.
Mississippi State (1-1) at Auburn (2-0), 7:00pm ET, ESPN2
- A rude welcome for the former employer: Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s team rudely welcomed his former team, Arkansas State, to the plains. The Tigers won 38-9 in last week’s outing, rushing for 301 yards. Cameron Artis-Payne rushed for 102 yards, with Tre Mason falling just short of the century mark (99).
- A rude welcome for a fellow Mississippi school: The Bulldogs defeated Alcorn State 51-7 in Starkville last week. Mississippi State tallied 556 yards of total offense against the Braves. Dan Mullen’s club exhibited great balance in the game, as well, with 279 passing yards and 277 rushing yards.
- A rude welcome for Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have opened their SEC schedule against Auburn each of the last five years. Auburn had won four straight against Mississippi State, before the Bulldogs notched a 28-10 victory last season. The conference-opener streak began with a 3-2 Auburn victory in 2008.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Alabama has played at Kyle Field just once in the program’s history. That game was the final game at the university for which former Texas A&M head coach?
Jackie Sherrill’s final game as the Aggies’ coach was played on December 1st, 1988. Alabama left College Station with a 30-10 victory in a game rescheduled from September because of Hurricane Gilbert.