So what did we learn about the SEC in the first weekend of the 2014 season?
1. Georgia played its most complete football game since beating Auburn in 2007. I’m never comfortable with reading a lot into a first game — good or bad. But I do believe Georgia’s 45-21 victory against No. 16 Clemson was the most complete game I’ve seen a Georgia team play since the Bulldogs beat No. 18 Auburn 45-20 in the “black jersey” game of 2007.
With the score tied at 21 at the half, Georgia dominated all three phases of the game in the second half. The Bulldogs wore down Clemson with a withering running game (I said it before the game and I’ll say it again: a healthy Todd Gurley is the best running back in the country). The defense held Clemson to just 15 yards and just 22 plays with only one first down in the second half. The specials teams, which have been a weakness in recent years for Georgia, were a strength. Clemson had seven possessions in the second half starting at their 23, 6, 20, 8, 17, 19, and 25-yard lines. And Gurley returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
It’s only one game and it doesn’t mean as much if Georgia loses at South Carolina on Sept. 13. But it was a good start.
2. We may have overrated South Carolina. Again, we don’t want too read to much into one game but it’s hard to ignore the 680 total yards Texas A&M rolled up in boat racing the Gamecocks 52-28. The defense never had a clue how to slow the Aggies and never put any pressure on quarterback Kenny Hill. The Gamecocks’ offense did OK despite the fact that RB Mike Davis was banged up. We’ll learn a lot more on Saturday when South Carolina hosts East Carolina and quarterback Shane Carden, who has a career completion percentage of 70.5 in the same kind of offense.
3. Because of Texas A&M, the SEC West just got a lot tougher. We made a bunch of assumptions about Texas A&M and life without Johnny Manziel. And those assumptions were wrong. That’s why coach Kevin Sumlin said in the post-game at Columbia that the Aggies are not “a one-trick pony.” This offense is scary good. It’s not just Hill pulling the trigger. It’s 6-5, 225 Ricky Seals-Jones at one wide receiver and freshman Speedy Noil at the other. It’s another great offensive line with probably another top five draft pick at left tackle (Cedric Ogbuehi). It’s a defense that was the worst in the SEC last season but whose young, talented players are growing up quickly. Two words: Myles Garrett.
Move over Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. The Aggies will have a lot to say about who wins the SEC West.
4. Alabama is going to be just fine. Alabama beat West Virginia 33-23 at the Georgia Dome and here is what I saw: Blake Sims, who earned the quarterback job in practice, completed 24 of 33 passes for 250 yards. He ran for 42 yards. Alabama had two backs (T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry) surpass 100 yards. Alabama’s offense was balanced (250 pass, 288 run). Amari Cooper caught 12 passes for 130 yards. Kicker Adam Griffith, was 4-for-4 including three from 40-plus yards.
Yes, your defense gave up 365 yards passing to Clint Trickett but you knew you were going to be young in the secondary. And who coaches the secondary? Kirby Smart and Nick Saban.
5. Gus Malzahn is right: Jeremy Johnson could be fabulous. Brandon Marcello of AL.com reports that Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said this to Jeremy Johnson, who started at quarterback against Arkansas. “He said, ‘You’re a stud.’ I just took that for a good thing,” Johnson said.
It is a good thing. Johnson, starting in place of the suspended Nick Marshall, completed his first eight passes. He finished 12 of 16 for 243 yards. He gave way to Marshall in the second half but the statement had been made. With the throwing of Johnson, the sophomore from Montgomery, Auburn has yet another weapon in its pursuit of a second SEC title in a row. Marshall will remain the starter, but Johnson will play a bigger role this season.