LSU was once again the SEC’s most impressive team, shutting down Mississippi State on Thursday night in Starkville. Alabama and Georgia looked good in shutout wins over paycheck opponents, and Vanderbilt blew the doors off of Ole Miss in Nashville. Other than that, most of the league had struggles, including Auburn seeing its 17-game winning streak come to an end at Clemson. The top 2 remain unchanged in this week’s power rankings, but there is plenty of movement after that.
1. LSU, 3-0 overall/1-0 in SEC play (Last week’s rank: 1) — The defense was great, holding State to 193 yards and two field goals. Aside from one awful interception, Jarrett Lee had a nice game at quarterback, competing 21-of-27 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown. The offense is still questionable, though, as the Bengal Tigers could only manage 19 points and 361 yards against a defense that gave up 34 points — remember, seven of AU’s 41 points came on a pick-six — to Auburn.
2. ALABAMA, 3-0 (2) — You can’t really take too much away from a win over North Texas, but Alabama did what it was supposed to do. The Crimson Tide shut out UNT and held the Mean Green to 169 yards an 11 first downs. Trent Richardson had a great day running the ball, picking up 167 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries. Eddie Lacy rushed for 161 yards and two TDs on nine carries. Neither A.J. McCarron or Phillip Sims did anything special at quarterback, which will probably be the case in most Alabama games this season.
3. FLORIDA, 3-0/1-0 (6) — Florida’s defense was impressive against Tennessee before giving up a few points when the game was pretty much in hand. The Vols only gained 279 yards against the Gators and fell down 30-7 before rallying for 16 late points. Chris Rainey was phenomenal in compiling 212 total yards, a receiving touchdown and a blocked punt. If the Gator defensive backs can learn how to cover passes without committing pass interference — they were called for five PI penalties against Tennessee — the defense will be really special.
4. ARKANSAS, 3-0 (3) — The Razorbacks were a mix of good and bad in a 38-28 win over Troy, but that could be chalked up to looking ahead to this week’s game against Alabama. Arkansas was without receiver Greg Childs, whose grandmother died earlier in the week, but Tyler Wilson still completed 23-of-36 passes for 303 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Joe Adams, Cobi Hamilton and Chris Gragg each had at least 68 receiving yards — Adams led the way with 109 and a score — and Ronnie Wingo carried the ball 20 times for 109 yards and two TDs. The defense, on the other hand, didn’t look so good. Arkansas gave up 457 yards, including 373 passing yards by Corey Robinson, and 24 points to the Trojans. We’ll find out how good Arkansas — and Alabama, for that matter — can be when the Razorbacks and Crimson Tide face off at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
5. SOUTH CAROLINA, 3-0/1-0 (4) — In the 2011 SEC East preview, this blog picked Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks to have an 11-1 regular season. Each week, South Carolina is making that pick look more and more foolish. The Gamecocks were able to move the ball against Navy, but for some reason, couldn’t come up with many points. Spurrier relied on Marcus Lattimore to carry the load, giving the sophomore the ball 37 times. Lattimore turned those carries into 246 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 13:33 remaining. Cocky’s defense allowed the Midshipmen’s well-executed triple-option attack to gain 274 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. South Carolina is 3-0, but each win has raised more questions. Spurrier is going to have to get his team focused if he wants to compete for a conference title this season.
6. TENNESSEE, 2-1/0-1 (7) — Tennessee was hit with a crushing blow of bad luck against Florida when stud wide receiver Justin Hunter suffered a season-ending torn ACL on the Vols’ opening drive. It took Tyler Bray and the rest of the offense a while to recover, but they ended up scoring 23 hard-earned points against Florida’s tough defense. Bray passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns, but a bad interception led to a Gator touchdown. Tennessee also had a punt blocked that led to a Florida field goal, and the Volunteers missed a field goal of their own. Add one big defensive lapse — Rainey’s 83-yard score — and Tennessee can easily see where it lost the game.
7. AUBURN, 2-1/1-0 (5) — The Tigers’ 17-game winning streak came to an ugly end in a 14-point loss at Clemson. If not for some odd strategy — only giving Mike Dyer 16 carries — the offense would have been fine for the most part. However, the defense is in shambles. It’s tough to when a team allows more than 600 yards, and that’s exactly what Auburn’s defense did against Clemson. Gene Chizik and Ted Roof have to find a way to put out the fire, or Auburn is in for a very long year.
8. MISSISSIPPI STATE, 1-2/0-2 (8) — Coming into the 2011 season, State could point at its two-game stretch against Auburn and LSU as what would set the tone for the season. The Bulldogs went 0-2 in that stretch, and it appears that the tone has been set for another season of mediocrity. State couldn’t put much together on offense against LSU’s defense. Chris Relf was 11-for-17 for 96 yards and an interception and was pulled late in the game for Tyler Russell. Vick Ballard, who ran for 143 yards against Auburn, could only muster 38 yards against LSU. State’s defense held the Bengal Tigers to nine points in the first three quarters before giving up a 10-point “outburst” in the fourth, but the offense couldn’t match that good play.
9. GEORGIA, 1-2/0-1 (9) — Georgia picked up its first win of the year in a 59-0 beatdown of Coastal Carolina. The Dawgs spread the ball around on offense, allowing for three quarterbacks to combine for 276 yards and eight players to rush for 194 yards and blah, blah, blah. None of that really matters. Georgia has a pretty good offense and put up a ton of points against an FCS opponent. The defense does deserve credit for shutting out the Chanticleers, which is an impressive feat against any team. If Georgia really wants to step up and show that it’s ready to save Mark Richt’s job, the Bulldogs will treat Ole Miss this week the same way they did Coastal Carolina last week.
10. VANDERBILT, 3-0/1-0 (10) — James Franklin is beginning to make fans in Nashville and around the SEC believe in the Commodores. Vandy is off to a surprising 3-0 start and is fresh off a blowout win over Ole Miss. Zac Stacy, who rushed for 169 yards and a touchdown, was the only real bright spot for the Dores’ offense, but the defense stole the show. Vanderbilt picked off five Ole Miss passes and held the Rebels to 234 yards, 13 first downs and seven points. Vandy still sits low in the SEC rankings, but if it can upset South Carolina this week, it will begin a likely meteoric climb.
t-12. KENTUCKY, 2-1 (12) and OLE MISS, 1-2/0-1 (11) — Normally, teams in this position would be tied for 11th place, but Kentucky and Ole Miss are so bad, an 11th-place ranking seemed too generous for either team. Kentucky’s offense went largely missing again in a loss to a bad Louisville team, and we just saw what happened to Ole Miss against Vanderbilt. Neither team can put together anything on the offensive side of the ball, and neither team has a defense nearly good enough to make up for that. These teams meet on Nov. 5, and at this rate, the winner of that game might have the only win remaining on either teams’ schedules.