Is there another coach in all of college football more willing to take a gamble with the kicking game than Les Miles? The LSU coach did it again Saturday night, calling a fake punt in the third quarter with the 13th-ranked Tigers trailing 14th-ranked Wisconsin, 24-7. With fourth and four at the LSU 44, Kendell Beckwith, a linebacker who is an up-back in punt formation, took the direct snap and rumbled for five years over the left side for a first down that seemed to ignite the Tigers. They went on to get a field goal on that drive as they scored the last 21 points of the game to pull out a 28-24 win in a neutral site game in Houston.
LSU’s comeback win, the ninth time in Miles career that the Tigers have come from behind to score a victory in the fourth quarter, was the highlight of Saturday’s SEC schedule that included postponement of the Florida-Idaho game because of severe weather and lightning that made the field unplayable. The fake punt goes down as the play of the day.
Here is the roundup for the rest of the league:
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: If he can stay healthy, he could win the Heisman. He is the best running back in the country. When he’s healthy, he’s the best player. Period. He carried 15 times for 198 yards and three touchdowns, plus he ran a kickoff back 100 yards for another touchdown.
Second half adjustments by Auburn’s coaching staff: Auburn looked dazed and confused a good portion of the first half on defense but made the adjustments in the second half to hold Arkansas scoreless. There were no second half offensive mysteries. Auburn just lined up and ran and ran and ran and there was nothing Arkansas could do to stop it.
Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia: He was a one-man wrecking crew in the second half. They brought him from the outside. They brought him from the inside. No matter where he lined up, there was no one on the Clemson offensive line capable of slowing him up. He had two sacks and created at least three sacks for teammates by forcing triple teams.
Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: Prescott showed off his arm in the first 2-1/2 quarters, hitting 18-26 passes for 284 yards and 4 touchdowns. He showed more patience in the pocket. Last year he would take off and run when he started feeling the heat. Saturday night, he hung in the pocket and made the throws.
Missouri: If Saturday’s game is an indication of things to come then this is not a top 25 team. Not offensively. Not defensively. The offense was 3-12 on third down and gained only 137 yards in the second half against a team that lacked defensive size and depth. South Dakota State could have made this a white knuckler except the Jackrabbits kept shooting themselves in the foot with two interceptions, a shanked punt and a fumble.
Blake Sims, QB, Alabama: If what we saw in game one is what we can expect the rest of the season, then Sims is a guy who won’t lose games with his mistakes, but when the pressure is on, can he make the plays to win one?
Hutson Mason, QB, Georgia: He didn’t throw the ball away, but he averaged only 5 yards per pass attempt and showed a bit of a weenie arm throwing the ball down the field. He looked like a guy who you depend on to manage a game, not like someone who makes the offense go.
The Alabama secondary: Nick Saban can’t be happy with how many times his secondary was outmuscled and outjumped for the ball. At least five of Kevin White’s nine catches were a matter of want to. These were balls that should have been knocked down or picked off, but White wanted the ball more than the Tide secondary.
Anthony Jennings, QB, LSU: LSU roared back from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter in which Jennings looked like an old pro. He stunk for the most part in the first 2-1/2 quarters of the game. Jennings got away with it this game. Against the good teams in the SEC that might not be possible.
#2 Alabama 33, West Virginia 23: Alabama (1-0, 0-0 SEC) won by 10 point but this was anything but impressive. Blake Sims started and finished at quarterback and even though his numbers were decent – 24-33 for 250 yards passing, 42 yards rushing – he didn’t exactly look like a guy you can win big games in the SEC with. The best thing Sims did was hand the ball off to T.J. Yeldon (126 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Derrick Henry (113 yards, 1 touchdown). The Alabama defense gave up 365 passing yards and if not for some fourth quarter mistakes when West Virginia was in position to spring the upset, it could have been an embarrassing game for the nation’s #2 ranked team.
Alabama game one grade: B-
Next up for Alabama: FAU next Saturday.
#6 Auburn 45, Arkansas 21: After a so-so first half which ended in a 21-21 tie, Auburn (1-0 SEC) blew the doors off Arkansas (0-1 SEC), which lost its 10th consecutive game. Jeremy Johnson started the game at quarterback and threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Then Nick Marshall took over and so did the Auburn running game. The Tigers finished the game with 595 offensive yards, 302 on the ground including 166 in the fourth quarter. No Tre Mason? No problem. Cameron Artis-Payne ran for 178 yards and 1 touchdown. Arkansas looked competitive in the first half but showed in the second half that it doesn’t have the athletes or the depth to compete at the SEC level.
Auburn game one grade: A-; Arkansas game one grade: D+
Next up for Auburn: San Jose State next Saturday; Next up for Arkansas: Nicholls State next Saturday.
#12 Georgia 45, #15 Clemson 21: Georgia (1-0, 0-0 SEC) outscored Clemson 24-0 in the second half, dominating on both sides of the ball. After a sloppy first half, the Bulldogs held Clemson to 37 total yards in the second half behind the very disruptive Leonard Floyd whose constant pressure totally altered what the Tigers could do. Georgia’s passing game needs a ton of work because Hutson Mason isn’t going to win games with his arm. Georgia’s secondary probably looks better than it is because the Bulldogs (5 sacks for 38 yards in losses) can get so much pressure on the QB.
Georgia game one grade: A-
Next up for Georgia: At South Carolina, September 13.
#13 LSU 28, #14 Wisconsin 24: Wisconsin had this one on cruise control until the fake punt changed the momentum completely. LSU (1-0, 0-0 SEC) went from a team trying to get out of the stadium without being embarrassed into a dominant team on both sides of the ball in the last quarter and a half. The Tigers don’t lack for talent, but these guys were in a coma for the first half and well into the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Anthony Jennings completed some passes and the offensive line opened some holes for Kenny Hilliard to run through. If LSU had played a team that could throw the ball, this game could have been a blowout loss.
LSU game one grade: C+
Next up for LSU: Sam Houston State next Saturday.
#24 Missouri 38, South Dakota State 18: South Dakota State trailed only 21-18 midway through the third quarter. Missouri pulled away after Marcus Murphy ran a kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown. Missouri (1-0, 0-0 SEC) only had one substantial drive in the second half, a 60-yarder that ended in a field goal after a South Dakota State fumble. Missouri’s only second half touchdown came after South Dakota State shanked a punt (20 yards), giving the Tigers the ball on the Jackrabbits’ 32-yard line. Maty Mauk threw for 178 yards and 3 touchdowns and Russell Hansbrough ran for 126 and 1 touchdown. Missouri’s defense had problems getting the Jackrabbits (35:24 possession time) off the field.
Missouri game one grade: C+
Next up for Missouri: At Toledo next Saturday.
Mississippi State 49, Southern Miss 0: The Mississippi State (1-0, 0-0 SEC) offense racked up six touchdowns and 550 yards. It could have been much worse except Dan Mullen pulled the starters after the first series of the third quarter. More impressive was a defense that pitched a shutout while forcing three turnovers and special teams that chipped in with a touchdown on a blocked field goal and gave up 0 punt return yards. Although Southern Miss is not a very good football team, any time you get a shutout in these days and times, it’s impressive. The Bulldogs held Southern Miss to 2.1 yards per rushing attempt.
Mississippi State game one grade: A
Next up for Mississippi State: UAB next Saturday.
Kentucky 59, UT-Martin 14: The folks in Lexington are happy as clams about the offense (59 points, 656 yards) and quarterback Patrick Towles (377 passing yards, 1 touchdown; 30 rushing yards 1 touchdown) but this was a D1AA defense the Wildcats (1-0, 0-0 SEC) were facing and not a very good one at that. Kentucky had 10 plays of 20 yards or longer – three in the running game and seven in the passing game. Of concern is the Kentucky defense, which gave up 183 rushing yards, 25 first downs and 36:18 of ball possession.
Game one grade: B
Next up for Kentucky: Ohio U next Saturday.
Utah State at Tennessee