A peek into what we learned in the SEC in Week 4:
1. Let’s get physical: Alabama is still the most physical team in the SEC, and it’s not close. Everything with the Crimson Tide begins and ends with being able to mash you up front, and we were reminded of that in the second half Saturday in their come-from-behind 24-20 win over Arkansas on the road. There’s no question that this is a different team from a year ago. Offensively, the Crimson Tide are more diverse and can attack you a number of different ways. The combination of youth and inexperience in the secondary make Alabama more vulnerable defensively, although you could see those guys starting to figure it out and getting better in the second half. But the hallmark of this program remains its physicality and being able to impose its will when it counts. Every year under Nick Saban, Alabama has been outstanding on the offensive line. It doesn’t matter who the Crimson Tide lose or who they have to plug in. They keep rolling along and mauling people, and that’s a tribute to veteran offensive line coach Joe Pendry.
2. Don’t count out the Gators: This much we know about the Gators: They know how to put teams away in the second half. In all four of their games this season, their opponent has been within striking distance at some point in the third quarter. But Florida has been good enough and industrious enough to separate itself and win going away. Kentucky pulled within 27-14 midway through the third quarter on Saturday, but Florida scored the next 21 points to turn the game into a rout in its 48-14 victory. In their past three games, the Gators have outscored their opponents 82-28 in the second half. And while their offense may still be coming, it’s hard to find a lot wrong with the defense. It returned another interception for a touchdown, the third of the season, and the Gators have 12 picks on the season to lead the country.
3. Star power: It was one of those weekends in the SEC when you were reminded just how many great players there are in this league. The collection of talent is more impressive than ever. Mark Ingram’s 54-yard touchdown run and his incredible balance is a highlight they’ll be showing at Alabama 20 years from now. And did you see LSU’s Patrick Peterson strike the Heisman pose following his 60-yard punt return for a touchdown? I still say the guy is one of the most explosive football players I’ve seen this season. Auburn’s Cameron Newton has emerged as the ultimate playmaker at quarterback. He’s leading the SEC in rushing with 485 yards in four games. He has five rushing touchdowns and nine passing touchdowns. Nobody’s really stopped him yet. And even though South Carolina didn’t win, is there a better receiver in the league right now than Alshon Jeffery? He had eight catches for 192 yards and two touchdowns in the 35-27 loss to Auburn.
4. More struggles for Jefferson: It’s becoming painfully apparent to everybody on the Bayou that Jordan Jefferson isn’t the answer for LSU at quarterback. The dicey part about that is the Tigers are 4-0, but they’re also winning in spite of their play at quarterback. Jefferson has passed for fewer than 100 yards with no touchdowns in his past three games, and he was also intercepted twice in the 20-14 win over West Virginia. It’s obvious that he’s pressing now, and the boos are getting louder. An angry LSU coach Les Miles lashed out at the fans for booing, but Miles also knows he has a tough decision to make. He played backup Jarrett Lee for a series in the fourth quarter, and the Tigers may at least have to give Lee a shot if they’re going to beat some of the teams they have coming up on their schedule. Right now, their passing game is non-existent, and they’re winning with defense and special teams. They had just one offensive touchdown against West Virginia, and that came after the defense forced a fumble at the Mountaineers’ 10. LSU has to get a lot better offensively, and do it quickly, if it wants to make a run in the West.
5. Maybe Richt is in trouble: It’s hard to believe that Georgia coach Mark Richt could genuinely be in trouble. That program has been a beacon of consistency on his watch with all the top-10 finishes and 10-win seasons. But here lately, it’s a Georgia program that’s in a serious free-fall, and that tumble continued Saturday in a lackluster 24-12 loss at Mississippi State. Georgia (1-3, 0-3) has lost three straight games for the first time since 1990, and the Bulldogs are just 2-7 in their past nine SEC games dating back to last season. Richt said it himself following this most recent loss. “We’ve also got to look within, starting with me,” Richt said. He didn’t expand further and said he needed time to reflect, but there’s a pattern here that’s hard to deny. The Bulldogs simply aren’t very disciplined. They’re guilty of crippling turnovers. Their penalties come at the worst times, and they’re underachieving on the offensive line. That’s not to mention some of the mounting off-the-field issues with player arrests. Richt is as classy as they come, but he has his hands full if he’s going to keep this season from completely unraveling.