By: Marcus Williams
The Southeastern Conference had a rough opening weekend overall in college football. High rankings proved faulty for LSU (dropped 16 spots in week two’s AP poll) and Tennessee (dropped eight spots despite winning); cupcake opponents proved difficult for Mississippi State, Arkansas and Tennessee again; huge leads were salted away against Kentucky (led 35-10 in second quarter) and Texas A&M (led 24-9 in fourth quarter). Nevertheless, there were a number of standout performances out of SEC players in week one. This conference is too talented to have everyone fail across the board.
The number one team in the country, the Alabama Crimson Tide, was one of those SEC schools that took care of business. The best performance of the day was had by a man who didn’t even start the game. That would be freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts came in in relief of starter Blake Barnett in a designed timeshare, and his career got off to a very ominous start. Hurts fumbled on his first ever NCAA touch. From there though, the freshman sparked the Alabama offense as the Tide blew past USC.
Hurts threw two touchdowns to ArDarius Stewart and ran for two more on just 20 total touches (pass attempts plus rush attempts). He accounted for as many total touchdowns as USC’s leading receiver had receptions. Though Hurts wasn’t incredibly efficient and did make mistakes in his first outing, the energy he brought to the offense was inescapable. He even overshadowed the great showing by Damien Harris running the football.
While freshman quarterback Jacob Eason supplied a similar lift to the Georgia Bulldogs when he took the field in relief of senior Greyson Lambert, the triumphant return of Heisman hopeful Nick Chubb ruled the day in the Georgia-North Carolina game.
In his first game back after missing the second half of last season with a knee injury, Chubb ran all over UNC to the tune of 222 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. There was no workload concern; no stamina concern; no concern about his breakaway ability. Chubb essentially silenced all concerns about his return from injury in one game. And now he should find himself in the Heisman Trophy discussion as long as Georgia keeps winning.
Texas A&M won as well, though it took overtime after the Aggies relinquished a second-half lead to UCLA. Instead of being led by an offensive outbreak though, the Aggies got to the position they were in thanks to their defense. Myles Garrett receives all the headlines, and rightfully so. He was tremendous pressuring Josh Rosen. But he had help from the likes of Daeshon Hall, Armani Watts and other Texas A&M players. The team combined for five sacks, 10 tackles for loss and seven quarterback hurries.
It will be interesting to see how teams block A&M up front in subsequent weeks. Garrett cannot be blocked by one man. He recorded a sack, 1.5 tackles for loss, two hurries and seemed to disrupt countless other plays with his presence. Yet with Hall and company opposite him, it will be hard for opponents to allot two linemen to guard Garrett on each snap. There was a reason UCLA converted just 27.8 percent of its third downs.
Moving forward, the rest of the SEC will surely turn things around, but it will have some catching up to do to match how this trio of teams and these players got their seasons started in 2016.
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