September 2, 2014

Florida Gators

   Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel |

  New quarterbacks highlighted the opening weekend with no fewer than nine new starters lining up for SEC teams, including three making their first career starts and two others making just their second.

Those five finished notched victories.

They also had pretty impressive performances, but the biggest splash was Thursday night in Columbia, South Carolina, where Texas A&M sophomore Kenny Hill erased Johnny Manziel's single-game passing record by throwing for 511 yards in the Aggies' 52-28 win over the Gamecocks.

"I was more excited than nervous," said Hill, who credited the protection his line gave him. "I just came out here I was ready to go. I've been ready for this my whole life. Everybody was doubting us, and I was ready to prove people wrong."

Kentucky's Patrick Towles had a big day Saturday, going 20-of-29 passing and hitting on plays covering 79, 56, 36 and 29 yards in the Wildcats' 59-14 rout of UT-Martin. Towles was coming off a redshirt season after playing five games as a true freshman in 2012.

"I was very nervous," he said. "I didn't get much sleep last night. I got some sleep, but not as much I would have liked too. I was just ready to go. I wanted to get out there and start playing."

Senior Blake Sims, who spent the last two years backing up AJ McCarron, had the biggest day ever for an Alabama quarterback in his starting debut. He completed 24 of 33 pass attempts, both school records for a first-time starter, for 250 yards in the Crimson Tide's 33-23 victory over West Virginia. The yardage total is third-best among first-time Tide starters.

With Nick Marshall not in the opening lineup for disciplinary reasons, Auburn sophomore Jeremy Johnson made his second career start. He passed for 243 yards, all in the first half of the Tigers' 45-21 win over Arkansas. His 12-of-16 passing performance just might have earned him some more playing time down the line.

"Nick is still the quarterback, but Jeremy will have a role," coach Gus Malzahn said. "We talked in the off-season about giving him more of different situations and packages."

LSU's Anthony Jennings, who had one start as a true freshman in 2013 (a win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl), was only 9-of-21 passing, but the completions were good for 239 yards and two touchdowns as the Tigers rallied late to beat Wisconsin 28-24. Jennings ignited the Tigers' comeback with a 44-yard strike to Wisconsin's eight-yard line to set up the first of two third-quarter field goals.

"I got more comfortable in the pocket and more comfortable in the defenses they were running," Jennings told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "It was my teammates around me that helped to calm me down and got me in the groove with things."

Georgia senior Hutson Matson was an efficient 18-of-26 passing for 131 yards as the Bulldogs stormed past Clemson 45-21 in his second career start, and Missouri's Maty Mauk, who was 3-1 as a freshman starter last year, was 13-of-21 passing for 178 yards in the Tigers' 38-18 win over South Dakota State.

But two others who are were expected to assume full-time roles as starters didn't have as much success.

Vanderbilt sophomore Patton Robinette, who had won two of three starts as a freshman last year, struggled, completing four of his six attempts for 38 yards in a 37-7 loss to Temple and faces challenges from two others for the starting job.

And South Carolina senior Dylan Thompson sustained his first defeat in four career starts in the Gamecocks' 52-28 loss to Texas A&M. He passed for 366 yards but completed only half his 40 attempts with one intercepted.

Arkansas, Florida, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Tennessee all return starting quarterbacks from 2013.

ALABAMA (1-0, 0-1)

Game: Alabama 33, West Virginia 23. Bama finally shook unranked West Virginia in the second half, limiting the visitors to just a field goal in each of the third and fourth quarters after going to the halftime locker room up just 20-17. The Crimson Tide rolled to 538 yards in total offense, 288 of it on the ground, and wide receiver Amari Cooper had a big game with 12 receptions (one short of the school record) for 130 yards.

Takeaway: The Tide defense got to West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett for three sacks, but Trickett still managed to throw for 345 yards in completing 29 of 45 passes. Had he not been the victim of several drops in key situations, Trickett would have had an even bigger evening against the Tide defense. But Bama coach Nick Saban liked the way his team finished. "I'm proud of the way we competed," Saban said in a Tuscaloosa News game report. "I was really pleased with the way we controlled the ball, time of possession, balance of the run and pass. Defensively, we settled down a little in the second half and had two stops inside the 10-yard line that were probably the difference in the game."

Next: vs. Florida Atlantic, Sept. 6.

ARKANSAS (0-1, 0-1)

Game: Auburn 45, Arkansas 21. The Razorbacks made a game of it for a half when quarterback Brandon Allen threw two touchdown passes to tight ends Hunter Henry and A.J. Derby and Jonathan Williams scored on a six-yard run in the first half. They were still in it even after Auburn scored on a 75-yard drive to open the second half, but "the big swing" in coach Bret Bielema's words came when Auburn's Jermaine Whitehead picked off Brandon's pass and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown, giving the Tigers a two-touchdown lead.

Takeaway: Arkansas' running game produced 151 yards in the first half, but the Hogs simply couldn't keep it up. They rushed for only seven yards in the third period and were minus-five yards rushing in the fourth. "We were able to run the football effectively," Bielema said. "We just didn't go to it much in the third quarter, and that's something we definitely need to take a look at." Alex Collins finished with 68 yards on 10 carries, Korliss Marshall 45 on eight, and Williams 34 on seven.

Next: vs. Nicholls State, Sept. 6.

AUBURN (1-0, 1-0)

Game: Auburn 45, Arkansas 21. After playing to a 21-21 tie in the first half, the Tigers throttled the visiting Razorbacks in the second. They went up 28-21 when Nick Marshall came in to lead them on a 75-yard touchdown drive to open the second half, then got some breathing room when Jermaine Whitehead returned an interception 33 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter. Daniel Carlson's 45-yard field goal and Corey Grant's three-yard run to cap an 85-yard march ended the scoring for the Tigers.

Takeaway: Auburn had problems containing a trio of Arkansas running backs (Alex Collins, Korliss Marshall, and Jonathan Williams) in the first half, but the defense pitched a shutout in the second, which was delayed 88 minutes by the threat of lightning in the area. "Our defense made the adjustments," coach Gus Malzahn said. "We started playing physical football. That really made a big difference in the game." The Tigers ended up holding the Razorbacks to just 328 yards in total offense while amassing 595 themselves.

Next: vs. San Jose State, Sept. 6.

FLORIDA (0-0, 0-0)

Game: The opener vs. Idaho was suspended because of lightning in the Gainesville area. With only one play being run, officials said if the game is rescheduled, it will be played from the beginning. The two teams do have one common open date on Oct. 25.

Next: vs. Eastern Michigan, Sept. 6.

GEORGIA (1-0, 0-0)

Game: Georgia 45, Clemson 21. After the two teams battled to a 21-21 tie at the half, the Bulldogs took the lead on Marshall Morgan's 27-yard field goal early in the third quarter, then broke open the game with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Georgia finished with 495 yards in total offense 328 of it on the ground and held the visitors to just 295.

Takeaway: After an injury plagued 2013 season, running back Todd Gurley showed what he can do for the Bulldogs when he's healthy. He rushed for 198 yards, scoring on runs of 51, 23, and 18 yards, and also returned a kickoff 100 yards for score after the visiting Tigers had scored to go up 21-14 midway through the second quarter. "I had a lot more energy than I usually do," Gurley said. Quarterback Hutson Mason said Gurley "makes it easy for us. You just have to give him the ball every chance you get. We have some pretty good backups, too."

Next: at South Carolina, Sept. 13.

KENTUCKY (1-0, 0-0)

Game: Kentucky 59, UT-Martin 14. Kentucky rolled to 35-0 halftime lead in playing its first season opener at home since 2007. The Wildcats were up 52-0 before giving up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to the FCS foe.

Takeaway: Big plays were the order of the day for the Wildcats. Running back Braylon Heard, a transfer from Nebraska, had touchdown runs of 73 and 43 yards in the first half before he twisted his ankle. "Very disappointed for him and for us that that happened," coach Mark Stoops said, "but I think what you saw with his two runs was just what we've been talking about. Not only the ability, but those were in a way routine plays, because it was blocked and he had the patience to stay with it and do things that we're supposed to do." Quarterback Patrick Towles had a dozen completions covering at least 11 yards and also had a 23-yard run.

Next: vs. Ohio, Sept. 6.

LSU (1-0, 0-0)

Game: LSU 28, Wisconsin 24. LSU's long winning streak against non-conference opponents in the regular season seemed very much in jeopardy when Wisconsin took a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter. But the Tigers got a couple of field goals in the third quarter and dominated the fourth with the first of two interceptions, this one by Jalen Mills, setting up the drive for the decisive score. Running back Kenny Hilliard got it on a 28-yard scamper up the middle to give the Tigers their FBS-record 46th consecutive regular-season victory in non-conference play.

Takeaway: LSU coach Les Miles has been known to make some decisions that have backfired, but his "Mad Hatter" approach works more often than not. The Tigers needed a boost to their offense against Wisconsin, and they got it when linebacker Kendall Beckwith, part of the punt protection scheme, took a direct snap and gained five yards on fourth-and-4 at LSU's own 43-yard line. The score was 24-7 at the time and though the drive ended with just a field goal, it gave the offense a spark that lit it up the rest of the night. "I think the momentum change at that point was significant," Miles was quoted in The Advocate of Baton Rouge. "I think our guys started feeling it, and our opponent realized we're not going anywhere."

Next: vs. Sam Houston State, Sept. 6.

MISSISSIPPI (1-0, 0-0)

Game: Ole Miss 35, Boise State 13. Quarterback Bo Wallace had two distinct halves, throwing three interceptions in the first and three touchdown passes in the second to allow the Rebels to pull away. He finished 25-of-36 passing for 387 yards and four scores, two of them to junior wide receiver Cody Core (30 and 76 yards).

Takeaway: The Rebels set the tone of the sloppily played game early with two false start penalties on their first two plays from scrimmage. They ended up with 14 penalties, eight for false starts. Fortunately for them, the Broncos were pretty careless as well with nine penalties. "Awful, hard to watch for two-and-a-half quarters," coach Hugh Freeze said of the Rebels' offense, "and then got in a decent rhythm there the last part of the game, found a way to score enough points to win. Give them credit for that. We just never could get in sync because we were behind the chains the whole time with I don't know how many penalties on offense, but too many for sure."

Next: at Vanderbilt, Sept. 6.


Game: Mississippi State 49, Southern Mississippi 0. Junior quarterback Dak Prescott tied a school record with four touchdown passes and threw for a career-high 284 yards before turning the game over to sophomore Damian Williams. The Bulldogs rushed for 201 yards on their way to 550 yards in total offense while holding the Eagles to just 283 yards for the night.

Takeaway: The shutout was the first for the Bulldogs since 1999, and they now have allowed only one offensive touchdown in their last 13 quarters. They held the visitors to just 71 yards rushing and forced three-and-outs on five of their first six series. State also blocked a field goal (Preston Smith) that was returned for a touchdown (Jay Hughes). "I'm also really proud of how our defense played all night long," coach Dan Mullen said.

Next: vs. UAB, Sept. 6.

MISSOURI (1-0, 0-0)

Game: Missouri 38, South Dakota State 18. Missouri led by only 21-18 after the visiting Jackrabbits put together a 75-yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter, but Marcus Murphy's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown grabbed the momentum right back for the Tigers. Then on the ensuing series, Aarion Penton intercepted a South Dakota State pass in the end zone, and the Tigers tacked on a touchdown and field goal in the fourth quarter to complete the scoring.

Takeaway: Murphy's kickoff return just may have saved the Tigers from what could have been an embarrassing loss or, at the very least, a much tougher day. "That return was something we needed," coach Gary Pinkel said. Some big plays on defense made up for the inconsistency of the offense. "Offensively, we had trouble converting on third downs," Pinkel said, noting the Tigers were only 3-of-11 in the category. "On defense we had trouble getting off the field. A combination of both, that's not very good."

Next: at Toledo, Sept. 6.


Game: Texas A&M 52, South Carolina 28. When the game turned into a shootout affair, the Gamecocks simply couldn't match the Aggies score-for-score. Quarterback Dylan Thompson was inconsistent passing, completing only half of his 40 attempts for 366 yards, and the Gamecocks rushed for only a net 67 yards after 20 yards in losses were deducted, 15 on three sacks.

Takeaway: With no pass rush, South Carolina's secondary had no chance to slow the Aggies' passing game. A&M quarterback Kenny Hill picked the Gamecocks apart in completing 44 of 60 pass attempts, and the visitors scored on seven of their first eight possessions (six touchdowns). The Gamecocks had only one sack and no interceptions. "We have no pass rush, coverage was so-so and they knew what they were doing," coach Steve Spurrier said.

Next: vs. East Carolina, Sept. 6.

TENNESSEE (1-0, 0-0)

Game: Tennessee 38, Utah State 7. The Volunteers scored two quick touchdowns early in the first quarter, capitalizing on a fumbled kickoff return by the visitors to set up the second, and were never really threatened thereafter. It was only 17-0 at the half, but Tennessee's defense, which held Utah State to just 248 yards in total offense, didn't let the Aggies cross midfield until the second half.

Takeaway: QB Justin Worley, who missed the last four weeks of the 2013 season following thumb surgery in late October after breaking it in the first half against Alabama, celebrated his return by starting the game with 13 consecutive completions. He finished up the night 27-of-38 passing for 273 yards and three touchdowns. Those are career highs for completions and attempts and the second-most yardage he has thrown for in his career (291 vs. Middle Tennessee State as a true freshman in 2011). He didn't have an interception.

Next: vs. Arkansas State,?Sept. 6.

TEXAS A&M (1-0, 1-0)

Game: Texas A&M 52, South Carolina 28. Sophomore Kenny Hill wasted no time making his presence felt, passing for a school record 511 yards in his starting debut to knock his predecessor, Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, off the top spot in the category in the school record book. Hill finished 44-of-60 passing with three touchdown connections and no interceptions in just his fifth collegiate appearance.

Takeaway: Somewhat overlooked because of the offensive show was the Aggies' performance on defense. They held the Gamecocks to just 87 yards rushing and though they had just one interception, it came at a key time, thwarting a budding comeback bid by the Gamecocks late in the fourth quarter. "Very pleased," coach Kevin Sumlin said when asked about his defense. "We gave up two big plays in the first half we had a safety jump a route to get the first touchdown open and didn't get any help for Deshazor (Everett) on a bust for the second. Those two plays kind of changed the complexion of the first half. It was a different ballgame because of them. There's enough things in this ballgame we have to get corrected."

Next: vs. Lamar, Sept. 6.

VANDERBILT (0-1, 0-0)

Game: Temple 37, Vanderbilt 7. Too many miscues doomed the Commodores in their Thursday night opener. Quarterbacks Stephen Rivers and Johnny McCrary combined to throw three interceptions and the 'Dores lost four of five fumbles, one of which Temple's Averee Robinson returned 55 yards for a touchdown. Vandy's ground game netted only 54 yards.

Takeaway: Vandy played three quarterbacks, and none was particularly effective. Starter Patton Robinette completed four of six passes but for only 38 yards and was sacked three times. Rivers was 12-of-25 with one interception and was sacked once, and McCrary had three attempts with two intercepted and one incomplete. The Commodores' offense went scoreless with their only points coming when Oren Burks recovered a Temple botched punt attempt in the end zone. "This isn't about one guy," coach Derek Mason said. "This is about a football team. We just didn't play well all the way around. We'll find a way to be better."

Next: vs. Ole Miss, Sept. 6