Around the SEC: Top stories from week one

The slate was full of prime time matchups across the Southeast in Week 1. Here are some of the top stories following the first games of 2016 in the SEC:

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 01, 2016 - The State of Tennessee and Power T flag come through the "T" before the game between the Appalachian State Mountaineers and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Alison P. McNabb Tennessee Athletics

The Tide-Rolling Tale of Lane Kiffin’s Revenge (and the emergence of Jalen Hurts as Alabama’s next go-to leader)

To the tune of a 52-6 bludgeoning of what used to be Lane Kiffin’s USC team, the Alabama Crimson Tide rolled to its first victory of the season.

Redshirt freshman Blake Barnett started the game, but true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts replaced Barnett following the second series. Although Barnett re-entered in the third quarter, at that point, Hurts had already done enough damage to showcase his skill.

What’s truly remarkable about Hurts’ performance is his final statistics—6-of-11, 118 yards, nine carries, 32 yards and four total touchdowns—don’t even begin to address the dazzling performance put on by the freshman.

In the second quarter, Hurts rolled to his right, escaping a few straggling USC linemen, only to unleash a 60-yard bomb that hit wide receiver Ardarius Stewart in stride as he neared the back of the end zone.

Not to be completely outdone, Barnett put up 100 passing yards of his own and completed 83 percent of his passes.

Fans have talked all offseason about how Nick Saban and Kiffin will or won’t be able to handle another two-quarterback situation, but it looks as if things are working out just fine so far.

Late-hitting LSU and the underwhelming performances of half the other teams in the SEC

Down 16-14 late in the fourth quarter, LSU quarterback Brandon Harris threw a game-ending interception into the waiting hands of Wisconsin defensive back D’Cota Dixon.

Then, in what seemed to be a violent venting of his frustration, the Tigers’ Josh Boutte leveled Dixon with a late hit that rattled TV watchers around the country.

Boutte was ejected immediately, and most think it was for good reason. Les Miles, on the other hand, defended his player after the game, claiming that Boutte most likely didn’t know that Dixon had already been ruled down and was just doing his job as an offensive lineman blocking downfield.

Whatever the case, such a bone-jarring hit perfectly encapsulates the way in which Wisconsin surprised and upset fifth-ranked LSU, as the frustrations from the past three quarters finally boiled over into the moment that sent Boutte to the locker room.

The Tigers weren’t the only team in this conference to be surprised on Saturday, though, as several other SEC teams fell victim to underestimated opponents.

Southern Miss downs Kentucky

The Golden Eagles soared over the Wildcats with an impressive comeback 44-35 comeback victory in Lexington.

Kentucky jumped out to a 25-point lead in the first half, but, in typical Wildcat fashion, they let Southern Miss come roaring back in the second half. The Golden Eagles put up an offensive performance Kentucky shouldn’t forget, out-gaining the ‘Cats 554-443.

Southern Miss dominated the entire third quarter, tacking 21 points onto the scoreboard, but the real turning point came when the Golden Eagles grabbed their own onside kick to secure momentum before halftime.

This win proves to be a solid stepping stone for Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson, while Kentucky coach Mark Stoops’ seat grows ever warmer as the Wildcats prepare to face Florida in The Swamp next week.

‘Clanga’ kick goes “clank” off the upright

Kentucky’s loss to Southern Miss was certainly a demoralizing one, but no SEC team’s loss this week was as detrimental to a season as Mississippi State’s shortcoming against South Alabama.

The Jaguars came into Starkville looking for a dogfight, and they battled tooth and nail with the shocked Bulldogs in the second half.

Mississippi State jumped out to a 17-0 lead, but much to cowbell ringers’ dismay, South Alabama just wouldn’t let it slide.

Dallas Davis proved the hero of the game, throwing for 285 yards and two touchdowns in his first start for South Alabama, including the game-winner to Gerald Everett.

Mississippi State drove down the field with a bit of time remaining, but kicker Weston Graves’ chip shot clanked off the left upright, bringing both the ball and Bulldog fans’ post-Dak Prescott hopes for the season to a thudding halt in a 21-20 loss.

Tennessee survives an ever-looming threat in Appalachian State

The Mountaineers first came out of the woodwork nine years ago to defeat the then-fifth-ranked Michigan Wolverines in The Big House, a win the college football world will never forget.

On Sept. 1 in Knoxville, they almost pulled off yet another upset, as Tennessee delivered the third underwhelming performance of the SEC this week.

The Volunteers appeared sluggish against Appalachian State on Thursday night, struggling to pick up the measliest of yards. No part of the Orange and White’s offense caught fire at any point during the matchup, but there was enough of a spark lit by Josh Malone’s 67-yard touchdown grab to spring Tennessee into overtime.

Then, Josh Dobbs fumbled his way into the end zone for a Jalen Hurd recovery, giving the Vols a win they didn’t deserve in the slightest.

The Mountaineers came into a rocking Neyland Stadium looking more than prepared, and it showed in the way they beat ninth-ranked Tennessee on everything but the scoreboard.

Jacob Eason’s Georgia team is ready to roll

Experienced veteran Greyson Lambert started the game for Kirby Smart’s Georgia offense, and everything seemed to be going just fine against North Carolina.

Enter Jacob Eason.

Between handoffs to the now-healthy Nick Chubb and conservative plays with Lambert under center, the Bulldogs showed off Eason’s arm just enough for SEC defenses to be wary.

Eason didn’t get the ball a lot, but when he did, he made it count, going 8-for-12 with 131 yards and a touchdown, including a 51-yard rocket to Isaiah McKenzie.

Eason also connected to McKenzie in the second half, leading the Bulldogs on an 11-play, 75-yard march to the end zone following a TJ Logan touchdown for UNC.

Chubb led the way, though, churning out 222 yards on 32 carries for two touchdowns, all of which combined for a Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game record.

The Bulldogs won 33-24, giving Kirby Smart a notable first victory as his team heads into a seemingly easy matchup with Nicholls State next week in Athens.

Trevor Knight has found a home in Aggieland

Trevor Knight went six-for-six on his opening drive for Texas A&M, but that was about where the perfection ended.

Knight came up big in overtime, though, bulldozing his way into the end zone on fourth down to give the Aggies the game-winning touchdown in a 31-24 upset of Josh Rosen’s UCLA Bruins.

 

Going 22-for-42 isn’t an outstanding performance, especially not by the standards of the Texas A&M fans who sat gape-mouthed in reference to the theatrics of Johnny Manziel.

But for this Aggie team and for coach Kevin Sumlin, a reliable performance and the ability to come up big in clutch situations as Knight did, will pay off in spades if they play their cards right.

They certainly did on Saturday, and who knows, maybe toppling the Bruins will give the irrelevant Aggies what they need to return to prominence under Sumlin.

Whatever the case, it’s certainly a good start for a team that’s disappointed in every facet since Manziel walked off campus. Now that Manziel is back on campus taking classes, Texas A&M has its good-luck charm back.

Auburn falls in cannibalistic Tiger brawl
For the remainder of this season, Auburn and Clemson fans alike will wonder “What if?” in reference to Dabo Swinney’s coaching call that almost gave Auburn a last-second victory.

But, as too many teams know, “almost” only counts in horseshoes.

Clemson led by six points as the minutes trickled down. Facing a fourth-down within field goal range, Swinney elected to go for it, and, as fate would have it, Auburn’s defense made the stop.

The clock continued to tick.

Led by Sean White, the Alabama-based Tigers made quick work of most of the 75 yards needed to score the winning touchdown.

But, after a couple of Hail Mary’s that lingered just a little too long in the humid Auburn air fell helplessly to the grass, Clemson breathed a sigh of relief.

It had outlasted a formidable opponent in the game day atmosphere Jordan-Hare Stadium provides, and its position at No. 2 in the polls withstood the onslaught of Gus Malzahn’s feistiest efforts.

Nevertheless, both teams have several things to take from this game.

Then-unranked Auburn should know that it can play with anyone in the country when it steps up to the plate, and Clemson goes into the rest of the season with the knowledge that anything can happen on any given day.

Florida State takes down Ole Miss

In the first half of what was practically a home game for the Florida State Seminoles, the Ole Miss Rebels struck quickly and often.

Gone were the musings of ACC fans who insisted that their conference had indeed arrived at the prominence level dominated by SEC teams. Gone was the chatter of FSU fans everywhere, as the Rebs ran wild in Orlando, leading by as many as 22 points in the first half.

Quarterback Chad Kelly, who had been deemed one of the SEC’s best during the offseason, showed us all why.

Kelly—a nephew of longtime NFL great Jim Kelly—sprinted, rolled and threw his way to an empowering first-half performance in his senior season debut.

Then, however, came halftime, and with the break in action arrived a sudden surge of Seminole dominance.

Gone was the first half in which Dalvin Cook dropped what would’ve been a game-changing touchdown on the goal line. Gone was the “SEC!” chant that built a wall of sound throughout the stadium and on Twitter. Gone were the doubts about Florida State’s newest star, as he led the offense to an 11-point victory.

After the game, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze gave credit where it was due.

Finally, after the matchup fans had been clamoring for all offseason, the overrated Rebels moped back to Oxford, while the Seminoles danced their way back to Tallahassee in preparation for what just might be another record-breaking season.

Look out, SEC. The ‘Noles are on the rise once more.

Edited by David Bradford

Featured image by Alison P. McNabb, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics