Week Three Expectations And Reality: SEC

A week ago, the SEC overachieved the projections as well as any conference, which was impressive considering, well, they already dominated the projections. This week: a regression of sorts. Five SEC teams faced non-conference (and non-FCS) teams, and all five underachieved by at least 9.6 points compared to projections.

Exceeded Expectations

Vanderbilt (Proj. Scoring Margin: -5.8 | Actual Scoring Margin: +23 | Diff: +28.8)

Following Vandy's somewhat jarring, 23-point win, one can go in one of two directions: 1) Oh my God, James Franklin is a miracle worker, or 2) Oh my God, Houston Nutt is in serious trouble. Or, of course, 3) Both. I'm leaning mostly toward (2), honestly. Make no mistake: there's a decent chance Vandy's reaching bowl eligibility now. With home games remaining against Army and Kentucky and a trip to Wake Forest, there's a path to six wins. And to be sure, their defense is legitimately solid. In 14 drives, Ole Miss punted six times, threw five interceptions, turned the ball over on downs once, and gave up a safety. Ole Miss' offense might be awful, but that is still complete domination. The Commodores held two good Ole Miss RBs -- Jeff Scott and Brandon Bolden -- to 82 yards on 23 carries (3.6). However, I'm not totally sold on the VU offense, nor should I be. Quarterback Larry Smith averaged 3.9 yards over 22 pass attempts (13-for-20, 103 yards, two sacks), and though Zac Stacy had a tremendous day running the ball (11 carries, 169 yards, 1 TD), I think that, overall, the 'Dores are more likely to lose one of the games I mentioned above than to win any of the following: @SCaro, @Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, @Florida, @Tennessee. Though I'd be more than happy to admit I'm wrong here. We're talking about Vanderbilt, after all.

Tennessee (Proj. Scoring Margin: -17.6 | Actual Scoring Margin: -10 | Diff: +7.6)

Poor Tennessee. The Vols spent the last two weeks building some buzz about their passing game, and on his first catch of the game, Justin Hunter (possibly) tore up his knee. From then on it was, to say the least, an uphill battle. Tyler Bray still threw for 288 yards, but it took 48 attempts and three sacks (5.1 yards per attempt). Meanwhile, Florida was completely dominating the field position battle; in the first half, the Gators' average starting field position was their 47-yard line. Tennessee's: their 17. Tauren Poole and freshman Martin Lane, Jr., combined for just 27 yards on 14 carries, putting all the pressure on Bray's shoulders. Lineman Jacques Smith had a nice game -- 4.5 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 PBU -- for whatever that's worth.

Just About Right

Mississippi State (Proj. Scoring Margin: -15.5 | Actual Scoring Margin: -13 | Diff: +2.5)

LSU (Proj. Scoring Margin: +15.5 | Actual Scoring Margin: +13 | Diff: -2.5)

LSU's 19-6 win over Mississippi State on Thursday night unfolded about how I (and the projections) expected. MSU's defense was good, but it wasn't quite as effective as LSU's, and eventually LSU generated just enough offense to pull away. MSU's second and third drives generated 111 yards on 27 plays (4.1) as the Bulldogs were successful on five of 10 passing downs. The magic soon wore out, however; they averaged just 2.6 yards per play the rest of the game. LSU sophomore tackles Bennie Logan and Michael Brockers combined for 8.5 tackles, 6.5 for loss (1.5 sacks), and anybody who watched the game saw that MSU quarterback Chris Relf really had no pocket to work with. LSU's line was, strangely, a relative weakness last year. It is not this year.

Underachieved

Florida (Proj. Scoring Margin: +17.6 | Actual Scoring Margin: +10 | Diff: -7.6)

One team's offensive star lands wrong and injures his knee. The other team's star goes off. Such is life. Chris Rainey had 108 rushing yards and 104 receiving yards, while Jeff Demps complemented him with 48 and 37. Throw in some lovely big-play prevention, and there you go. John Brantley completed 10 of 11 passes to Rainey, Demps and Trey Burton for 179 yards, and it didn't even matter that he was 4-for-12 for 34 yards to actual wideouts (though, uh, that may be a concern at a later date). Jelani Jenkins was great: 5.5 tackles, a sack and two PBU.

South Carolina (Proj. Scoring Margin: +12.6 | Actual Scoring Margin: +3 | Diff: -9.6)

I mentioned in Varsity Numbers that I was curious how South Carolina's athletically superior (but potentially undisciplined) defense would handle the Navy flexbone. The answer: not very well. At least, not until the fourth quarter. What saved the Gamecocks in their 24-21 win was their own ability to grind out scoring drives as well. This game was the equivalent of one of those National League pitchers' duels that last an hour, 55 minutes. There were only 15 combined drives all game, and nine of them lasted at least 3:54. Navy backs Alexander Teich, Gee Gee Greene and John Howell combined for 184 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, but Marcus Lattimore exceeded them all by his lonesome: 37 carries, 246 rushing yards (6.6) and three touchdowns, plus four catches (on four targets) for an additional 25 yards. He had a direct hand in 41 of Carolina's 69 plays, and the 'Cocks almost seemed to consciously hold off of the passing game. Alshon Jeffery was targeted just four times (two catches, 35 yards). Whatever; a win over Navy is a win over Navy, no matter how silly they make your defense from time to time.

Alabama (Proj. Scoring Margin: +53.4 | Actual Scoring Margin: +41 | Diff: -12.4)

Thanks to Missouri, Alabama's +417 yardage margin was not the largest of the day, but this was still a name-your-score situation. They 'only' won 41-0, in part because of two turnovers worth 8.5 EqPts, but they were clearly alright. If there is a concern, it is because A.J. McCarron averaged only 7.3 yards per pass attempt, but that's nit-picking. Alabama was up early (and therefore had no need to be aggressive), and my concerns about Trent Richardson's lack of explosiveness were suddenly alleviated by his 58- and 71-yard second-half touchdown runs. Eddie Lacy threw in a 67-yarder just for good measure. And ... notice how I'm not nit-picking their defense? Can't find a damn thing. North Texas running back Lance Dunbar managed a whole 16 yards on his 17 carries .

Kentucky (Proj. Scoring Margin: +6.4 | Actual Scoring Margin: -7 | Diff: -13.4)

Three games does not a season make, but I'm pretty confident in saying that Kentucky has the worst offense in the SEC at this point. Against a young Louisville defense, UK quarterback Morgan Newton was sacked SIX times in the Wildcats' 24-17 loss, resulting in an average of just 4.4 yards per pass attempt. Running backs CoShik Williams and Josh Clemons gained just 57 yards on 18 carries. They gained 100 yards in 12 plays over their first two drives, but they lost a fumble on the second drive, and it killed their mojo. Their next four drives generated just 40 yards in 20 plays, and they fell behind despite an injury to Louisville's starting quarterback, Will Stein.

Auburn (Proj. Scoring Margin: +1.3 | Actual Scoring Margin: -14 | Diff: -15.3)

It was bound to happen. With that defense, eventually Auburn was going to dig themselves a hole too big for Michael Dyer and the offense to overcome. Auburn averaged 6.9 yards per play and gained 435 yards overall, but they couldn't get the ball from a Clemson offense playing an incredibly effective game of Keep-Away. Clemson gained 624 yards (6.8 per play) and, with the game on the line, ate up the game's final 9:34 with an 18-play, 73 yard drive. Auburn did a good job of keying on CU running back Andre Ellington (14 carries, 46 yards), but they didn't even come close to stopping anybody else. Dyer did his job -- 151 yards (9.4 per carry) and two touchdowns -- but he probably can't cover Clemson's Sammy Watkins (155 receiving yards, 44 rushing yards) any better than the Auburn defenders did.

Arkansas (Proj. Scoring Margin: +29.7 | Actual Scoring Margin: +10 | Diff: -19.7)

It's easy to talk yourself into Arkansas with all that skill position talent, but a solid Troy offense reminded us why the Hogs aren't quite Alabama yet. Troy gained 457 yards (5.5 per play) and utilized three Arkansas turnovers to stay a lot closer than the projections expected. The Trojans' Corey Robinson averaged just 5.7 yards per pass attempt, which makes his "373 yards and three touchdowns" passing line a hair less impressive, but they were efficient enough to keep moving the ball. Arkansas went up early and took their foot off the gas (part of the reason why Troy outgained them, 457-454).

Ole Miss (Proj. Scoring Margin: +5.8 | Actual Scoring Margin: -23 | Diff: -28.8)

We're always in a race to proclaim the death of a coach's tenure at a given university, and to an extent it's pretty ridiculous. I think the Mark Richt talk is still rather premature, for instance. That said ... Houston Nutt's got to be pretty close to getting fired at this point, right? I thought he caught some undue heat for Ole Miss' "underachievement" in 2009 (it was only underachieving because expectations were much too high), but there's no question that they regressed a bit in 2009, regressed a lot in 2010, and now they're 1-2, beating only Southern Illinois (in a game in which they were outgained). This weekend's Georgia game is probably even bigger for Nutt's future than Richt's. If the Rebels are 1-4 after hosting Georgia and traveling to Fresno State, then ... yeah.

Played an FCS Opponent

Georgia

It was a pretty good week for Coastal Carolina to come to town, eh? Nothing (temporarily) quells doomsday talk like a 59-0 win, no matter who the opponent is. Over the first three drives, Coastal Carolina gained 11 yards (1.2 per play) while Georgia gained 169 (7.0), and ... that was about all she wrote. Full-game: Georgia 470 (7.2 per play), Coastal Carolina 112 (2.1). Aaron Murray completed a conservative (I guess) 7.2 yards per pass attempt (18-for-26 for 188 yards and three touchdowns).

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