When Missouri and Texas A&M were invited into the SEC, there was so much talk about how those two teams would need to adapt to playing in the SEC and, most importantly, how they would fit, currently, into the SEC. Most of the off-season rhetoric centered around the style of play and "the difference-making players that SEC teams have that Mizzou and Texas A&M don't have."
Well, Missouri was introduced to one of those "difference-making" players on Saturday night - All-American Jarvis Jones. Thing is, he's one of a kind and he gave a one of a kind performance on one of the most emotional Saturdays I can remember in college football in quite some time. Jones is known for his burst off the edge and his game changing pass rushing skills, but he made plays everywhere possible in a 41-20 win for the old-time football playing SEC East leading Georgia Bulldogs. If you have to ask, you didn't hear what Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson had to say about SEC football after week one.
Regardless, Jones played like the young star that he is. He single-handedly turned a 27-20 game into a 41-20 blowout. With only a seven point lead, he dropped into Missouri QB James Franklin's passing lane, skied to pick off his pass and returned it 21 yards to the one yard line. After the Bulldogs scored to make it 34-20, Jones, then, beat the Tigers left tackle, chased down Franklin from behind and "strip sacked" him.
Dawgs' Amarlo Herrera landed on the stone deep in Missouri's territory to set up the Dawgs final touchdown of the night. By game's end, Jones had nine tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and an interception. Yeah, that's it, Missouri fans; it only felt like it was more.
There is nothing I love more than to see a "guarantee game" opponent rise up and kick the living bejeezus out of a BCS conference opponent. Now, let me be clear, I don't like seeing a key player leave any game at all with an injury (Hog QB Tyler Wilson knocked out of the game with a head injury), but the way that Todd Berry's ULM squad answered the bell physically is something that I'll remember.
Saying that the ULM's 34-31 OT win over Arkansas shocked the college football world is perhaps the understatement of the day. QB Kolton Browning's 16-yard touchdown run on 4th and 1 shot down any slim hopes Arkansas had of playing for a national championship, but we'll talk about the impact on Arkansas in a bit. Berry's Warhawks played up to their nickname, flying around over the yard and making one play after another. Kudos to ULM and the Sun Belt.
When Arizona AD Greg Byrne named Rich Rodriguez his head coach, it was the best thing to happen to Arizona football since Ortege Jenkins flipped over a set of Washington defenders for a game winning touchdown in 1998 in Seattle. After the way Rich Rod was treated in Michigan as Lloyd Carr et al. made his life a living hell (now, Rodriguez contributed to his Michigan nightmare as well, but he didn't get one ounce of help from administration and alumni along the way), it was easy to forget what a great football coach Rodriguez was, and as he proved on Saturday night, still is.
Although Arizona had to go to overtime to beat Toledo in week one, the Wildcats were primed to make a big statement against a quality opponent. #19 Oklahoma State was the mark and the Wildcats thumped the Cowboys 59-38, picking off true freshman QB Wes Lunt three times in the process. Unfortunately, not many of us got to see the game, but it doesn't matter - seeing 59-38 over a top 20 ranked team is enough for us who missed it.
Mike Riley's program took a step backward in 2011. Well, that's not truly the case because it felt more like two and a half or three steps in a season when the Beavers were a floor mat getting walked all over.
But, a new season brings new hope and the Beavers have a ton of it after beating #13 Wisconsin 10-7 in Corvallis on Saturday afternoon. It's clear that Wisconsin isn't anywhere near as explosive offensively without former QB Russell Wilson, but it has enough fire power to score more than 7 points any given weekend.
But, that's what Riley's defense did - it held Wisconsin scoreless for nearly 59 minutes of game action and gave up only that 7 spot. The Beavers needed to make a statement and in beating Wisconsin it did just that.
Admittedly, Nebraska isn't what Nebraska was 15 years ago, nor is it as good as it can be in the future. Regardless, UCLA's 36-30 win over Nebraska is a statement shot across the Pac-12 bow for first year head coach Jim L. Mora. It starts with a quarterback and UCLA finally has one.
I wrote and talked a lot about UCLA's Brett Hundley during the week and he was tremendous. However, UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin was flat out superb for the second straight week. He finished the night with 217 yards rushing and 59 yards and a touchdown receiving.
Sure, the defense hasn't played up to its immense talent level, but the Bruins are WINNING games, something they didn't do consistently enough over the past few seasons, which cost former head coach Rick Neuheisel his job.
After a one week suspension and the thought of having to watch QB Everett Golson take over the reins of the quarterback spot and not letting it go, it would've been easy for Rees to pack it in and mentally quit. But, that didn't happen and Notre Dame is 2-0 because of it. He came in like Dennis Eckersley to save the day with a last minute drive that led to the game winning field goal over Purdue in a 20-17 win for the Domers.
Rees was even booed by some when he came on the field for the last drive, but the stadium cheered him loudly when he hit WR Robbie Toma on his best throw of the day to put ND in position for the game winning field goal. Keeping the faith isn't easy on the bench (trust me on that), but Rees did and kudos to him for that.
A.J. McCarron's four touchdowns, LSU's defense shutting down Washington, Northwestern's win over Vandy, Utah State upsetting Utah in overtime on Friday night, Matt Barkley's six touchdowns, Wake Forest's Jim Grobe continuing to find a way, Kansas State's whipping of Miami, Rice's come from behind win on the road (like that over four wins, huh?).
Let's take a quick run down. Wisconsin lost at Oregon State. Purdue same result at Notre Dame. Nebraska lost to an unranked team on the road. Iowa lost to Iowa State in a 9-6 thriller (not really). Penn State couldn't make a dad gum field goal and lost again. Illinois got thumped at Arizona State.
Suffice to say, the Pac-12 OWNED the Big 10 in week two. Even the wins weren't easy. Ohio State was fortunate that the opponent was UCF and not USC as it won an ugly one at home. Alabama ALMOST beat Michigan twice as the Wolverines struggled mightily like to beat the pesky Air Force Falcons. Northwestern is about the only true positive in back-to-back weeks with wins over Syracuse on the road and SEC foe Vanderbilt in week two.
I can't keep beating a dead horse, but at least we ALL know the expectations from here on out. This is, at best, the fourth best conference in college football…maybe even the fifth best, only in front of the Big East.
Oh boy, where to begin, where to begin? First of all, I can't say that I saw this coming, but I did see THIS coming.
Okay, what the heck, John, what does that mean? Well, I had no clue that ULM would walk into Little Rock and walk out with a victory, but I said a few weeks back (to the chagrin of some ardent Arkansas fans listening) on my show that I didn't believe in Arkansas. I outlined my reasons, but one of them was the offensive line and the ability to protect Tyler Wilson. The Hogs QB took shot after shot after shot until it knocked him out of the game.
Even with Wilson out of the game, Arkansas should be able to seal the deal, ahead in the game 28-7, against a Sun Belt squad. It couldn't. The national championship chase is done, but the Hogs can still win the SEC, but that sounds like a pipe dream if Wilson can't play this weekend against Alabama.
Arkansas could easily end the month of September with a losing record, scrambling to fight for a spot in the Independence Bowl. Sure, it's early, but losses like this one have a tendency to turn promising seasons into nightmares. But, for Arkansas, the nightmare started one night with its head coach on a Harley and no one has been able to wake up since.
I've said this, oh, I don't know how many times, playing teams in non-conference that don't make you better is a major mistake. Sure, a win is a win is a win even when it's over a team like Savannah State, but it doesn't prepare a team whatsoever for the rest of the season. Or the very next week for that matter.
Oklahoma State couldn't stop Arizona on the ground or through the air and played as if it hadn't played week one. I guess, technically, it did, but beating Savannah State didn't prepare Oklahoma State for a middle of the road Pac-12 team. To all those that wanted to hammer OSU for playing Savannah State, well, here ya go…right there on a platter.
The state of Colorado (CU lost to Sacramento State and CSU lost to North Dakota State - both D1AA programs), Washington doing nothing in Baton Rouge, Pitt's downward spiral continues, Auburn…just Auburn, Kickers…yeah, looking right at you Sam Ficken.
I don't go "on the road" all that often on Saturdays, I don't like to leave behind all the college football that I'll miss the rest of the day in college football. There's a significant part of me thankful that I didn't have to watch Penn State and Bill O'Brien suffer through another gut-wrenching loss, but that said, I couldn't have picked a better place to go see a game on that historic day than going to College Station for Texas A&M's first SEC game ever.
The Aggies have never disappointed, from an all-around experience standpoint - not even talking about the product on the field. I'll get to that in a bit. But, the tradition of Aggie football, the Aggies themselves and the unique nature of a game in College Station make it well worth your time if want another item for your bucket list.
That said, the environment on Saturday topped anything I've ever seen at a football game in my life. The two-year buildup to this moment was seemingly like putting Mentos in a Diet Coke bottle just before kickoff. I've never seen a stadium louder or more emotional for the start of a game like this one.
I can imagine what Aggies everywhere felt on that tragic Saturday in 1999 after the Bonfire collapsed, but this was emotion of a different kind. Kyle Field rocked. Towels swung in the air as the Aggies came out of the tunnel on the far end of the field for the first time that I could remember. There were emotional videos highlighting great moments in Aggie history and then a follow up Welcome to the SEC video that couldn't have gotten people more hyped. It was perfect and when the Aggies burst out of the tunnel it was more electric than anything I've seen or heard at a college football game.
As to the game itself, it was an entertaining afternoon to say the least…here are some things that stood out.
The Aggie defense is leaps and bounds better than it was last year under Tim DeRuyter. Sure, Florida's offense struggles a bit, but the front six/seven for Texas A&M got after Florida's butt and matched physical for physical all day. Many expected that A&M, especially on defense, wouldn't fit in SEC, but the Aggies played fast, hit hard and have come a long way under new head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff.
Driskel proved his mettle in this one. He took some shots and he held onto the ball, in some cases, way too long, but he made key plays when the Gators needed it most. The beautiful throw to Omarius Hines down the Florida sideline. The first down run on the naked late in the game. Stones.
Before the game, I saw him come out on the field for warm-ups and I was struck by how big he actually is. Consequently, as he starts to "get it" with each and every start going forward, the Gator offense will improve by the buckets full.
Florida's talented defensive line was seemingly very confident, bordering on cocky, before the game, but it got its butt kicked in the first half, in particular. Every D lineman that wore a white jersey on Saturday was sucking wind horribly in the first half and I wonder what could've been had A&M been able to establish any offense in the second half.
Florida LB Jon Bostic and S Matt Elam played their guts out against A&M's offense. I was down in the end zone on the first drive of the game and could see how gassed the Gators defense was as the Aggies drove my way. Wow. Unreal. Especially Elam. He was having to run all over the place to get his secondary lined up and then cover the Aggies perimeter threats. He had the same stance that I had when I used to get tired like that - hands on hips, crossed over feet, just hoping to catch a break. So, I knew how exhausted he was early in that game. But, even as tired as he was, he saved Florida's backside.
On first down and goal on that first A&M drive, the Aggies lined up two WRs wide to the left side of the field and ran a smash-seven route - hitch/slant by the outside receiver, while the inside receiver runs to the back pylon of the end zone. The Gators were in cover one (I'll tell you how I knew that in a second), but the two Gator corners were supposed to play man on the Ags receivers and Elam was supposed to play "free". That way he could help on a fade or jump a slant route, whatever he could read and react to appropriately.
But, Gators CB Cody Riggs either didn't hear the call or screwed it up and didn't cover the inside receiver. Elam recognized that no one was covering Kenric McNeal and chased him on into the end zone. Catching up to him at the last possible instant, he watched McNeal's eyes, timed it up perfectly and knocked the pass away.
Elam looked back at Riggs as he knelt on the turf after the play and flashed one finger at him telling him it was supposed to be cover one. Basically, Elam saved Florida four points as the Aggies had to kick a field goal three plays later. Elam is special and he proved it on that play.
He could be a guy to watch down the road. He's never been a huge contributor to the Gators defense, but he played with a ton of fire, finishing with a sack and another hurry. Texas A&M's star left tackle Luke Joeckel had a bunch of trouble trying to block him in the passing game. I could see him as a 3-4 OLB/4-3 DE hybrid in later rounds come April with his speed off the edge.
He is the real deal. The last time I had been in College Station to see a game was the OU game in 2010. That night, prior to the game, the unofficial Mayor of Aggieleand, Billy Liucci was taking us all around to shake hands, meet important peeps and point out key recruits. What he didn't remember, that I did vividly, was when he pointed to a young guy on the sideline at one point and said "that guy is going to be a stud some day".
The kid looked small and didn't even look like a big-time recruit, which I said to Looch. He said "don't worry, that kid can ball". That was Johnny Manziel.
On Thursday morning's show, I had Looch on my show to talk about this game and I asked him to describe what he thought we would see from the redshirt freshman on Saturday afternoon. He used the words "playmaker" and "gunslinger" and after seeing what he did on Saturday, there probably are no two better words to describe Manziel.
His first half was nearly flawless, but Florida's defense spent the entire halftime session game-planing to stop the 6' 200 pound field general. Even though he didn't turn the ball over in this game, there's going to come a time when his "creativity" could get him and the Aggie offense in trouble.
However, the Ags have to live with it because of what he can create, sometimes out of complete nothing. He has the same spirit to keep a play alive and make something happen that Ben Roethlisberger has. Sometimes you have to see something to believe it and I'm glad I was there to witness it.
The is a warrior, pure and simple, and his game winning touchdown run was a piece of running back art. I hope his groin is fine for next week's tilt with Tennessee in Knoxville.
Oh, by the way, while I'm here, someone in the NCAA, the SEC, the officials, whatever…SOMEONE has to put a stop to the fake injuries defensive players incur playing a no-huddle hurry up offense. Gators were down all day long with "injuries", with only a couple of them being legitimate. More power to them using a little guile to get by, but it's a sham and it shouldn't happen.
One final thought…the whole SEC thing. Now, being right here in Houston where many Aggies and Longhorns reside, I've had to listen to the argument for a couple of years. It's tiring, folks. A&M fans defending the move to the SEC and blaming the Longhorns (see LHN), while Longhorns blamed the assumed downfall of the Big 12 and the loss of the TAMU-UT rivalry on the Ags.
Many wanted to see A&M fail miserably and thought it would. Others thought A&M would eventually be competitive in the conference 4 to 5 years from now. Even though it was a loss…even though it is not Florida's best team…even though it was A&M's first game, the truth of the matter is that the Aggies will not be second class citizens, on the field, in this conference right now.
They fit. It's the right place for them. So, please, all…let it go. The Aggies have a new home and like it. The Big 12 just signed a massive TV deal for its ten members, ensuring that the Big 12 will be around for a long time. It's one of those "everyone wins" situations that we rarely, if ever, get to see in college sports.