Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It’s that time of year again, time to dissect what we saw this past weekend on the SEC gridiron. There were a couple of really good games, one that nearly put us all to sleep and a half dozen or more that had all the drama of watching a seal take on a great white shark out in the open water. Anyway (as the Head Ball Coach is fond of saying), let’s jump right into the first installment of Hot and Not for the 2009 season:
Alabama’s resilience: Nothing was going right for the Crimson Tide last week. Brandon Deaderick was shot when somebody tried to rob him. The flu bug was taking its toll on different players, and Julio Jones and Mark Ingram didn’t know until Wednesday after practice that they would even be able to play. Another player, Jerrell Harris, was sidelined by the NCAA right before the game. And for three quarters against Virginia Tech, Alabama looked like a distracted football team. Rolando McClain had two unconscionable dead-ball penalties on the same play. There was a critical bust in the secondary on a pass play, and both quarterback Greg McElroy and the offensive line got off to slow starts. A lesser team would have lost that game Saturday night in Atlanta, but the Crimson Tide fought through the adversity and played a dominant fourth quarter to win their second straight season opener over a top 10 opponent. This is a team that will only get better as the season wears on. The rest of the West had better beware.
Arkansas’ passing game: Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson combined to pass for a school-record 447 yards in the Hogs’ 48-10 win over Missouri State. Mallett only missed five passes all game. The Hogs are going to light up more than a few defensive backfields this season.
Georgia quarterback Joe Cox: The Bulldogs’ offensive problems in the opener ran deeper than just Cox, but he wasn’t very effective throwing the football. One more performance like that and Mark Richt will have to at least start thinking about giving Logan Gray or one of the freshmen a chance.
Freshman running backs: The league is teeming with talented first-year runners. Tennessee’s Bryce Brown, Auburn’s Onterio McCalebb and the Vanderbilt duo of Zac Stacy and Warren Norman all rushed for more than 100 yards in their college debuts Saturday.
LSU’s defense: The Tigers couldn’t get off the field against Washington and gave up more yards (478) than they did in any game a year ago. We all remember how maligned that LSU defense was a year ago. Well, this first performance looked eerily similar to what we saw from the Tigers last season on defense.
South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson: The SEC isn’t hurting for quality defensive coordinators, but Johnson is as good as any of them. On a national level, he probably doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Once again, he has a rock-solid defense despite a lot of youth, and it’s a defense that will be the backbone of this team this season.
Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead: He ended up throwing a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter of Ole Miss’ 45-14 win over Memphis, but Snead wasn’t sharp for much of the game. He threw two interceptions, forced some balls and looked a little jittery in the pocket at times. It wasn’t the version of Snead we saw at the end of last season.
Ole Miss strong safety Johnny Brown: He had some big shoes to fill, stepping in for departed senior leader Jamarca Sanford. But Brown racked up a career-high 15 tackles against Memphis and also had an interception for the Rebels’ “Landshark” defense. Gotta love the nickname.
Florida’s pass-catchers: The one exception here is Riley Cooper, who had a career game in the opener against Charleston Southern. But other than him, there were more questions than answers. Deonte Thompson and Brandon James both dropped probable touchdown passes, and nobody else really stepped up at the wide receiver position.
Ice, Ice Baby
Trinton Sturdivant’s luck: You really have to feel for Sturdivant. Can a guy be any more snake-bit? He missed all of last season after blowing out his knee in a preseason scrimmage. He works his way back and regains the left tackle job only to tear his ACL in last Saturday’s opener against Oklahoma State. It’s a huge blow to Georgia’s offensive line, but the bigger concern is for Sturdivant. The mental strain of trying to come back from one reconstructive knee surgery is daunting enough. But to have to go through that grueling process in back-to-back years is downright cruel. My thoughts and prayers go out to Sturdivant. You’re due some good fortunate, big guy. Stay strong.