The much-anticipated clash of the SEC West titans did not disappoint, a quarterback stepped out of the shadows at Auburn and Ole Miss made a statement in the Lone Star State. All in all, the third football weekend in the Southeastern Conference was fun to watch.
Alabama and Texas A&M combined for 91 points, 13 touchdowns and 1,196 yards as the top-ranked Crimson Tide downed sixth-ranked Aggies 49-42 in a wild west shootout. Johnny Manziel might have won the quarterback statistical battle, but AJ McCarron won the war. Manziel threw for five touchdowns and 464 yards while McCarron threw four touchdown passes and 334 yards but he had no turnovers. Manziel had two interceptions, which proved to be the downfall for the Aggies.
“We wanted to improve as a team today, and we certainly did offensively,” said Nick Saban. “We did not play as well on defense against some very good players. When you don’t fundamentally do things the way you’re supposed to, you usually pay the price. Obviously we haven’t put it all together yet. When you lose 30 percent of your team, you have to develop chemistry, and I think that is starting to happen.”
McCarron knew what Alabama needed to do to win the game and he took that control in his own hands.
“With the type of offense A&M has, you have to eat up some clock and pound the ball,” he said. “Overall, we did good. The first game was not perfect, and we worked to get some of the kinks out. The whole game coach allowed me to check in and out of plays. He would give me a run call, and I know that I have certain checks out of it. Coach left it in my hand today to get us in the right play.”
McCarron handled the passing game and Alabama pounded the ball primarily behind T.J Yeldon, who had 149 yards rushing and a touchdown on 25 carries.
While Alabama was taking a big step in what the Crimson Tide hopes will be another BCS Championship Game appearance, quarterback Nick Marshall was taking a big step toward making a name for himself in Auburn.
After struggling for almost three and a half quarters, Marshall was facing his “put up or shut up” moment in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State. With the ball at the Auburn 12-yard line, 1:56 remaining in the game and State leading 20-17, Tiger fans were just hoping that somehow Auburn could get into position for a game-tying field goal. But up until then, Marshall had not shown much ability to put the team on his shoulders and do something spectacular.
But the quarterback did something spectacular. He led Auburn on a 12-play, game-winning touchdown drive that was capped by a 11-yard pass to C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds left. Along the way the 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior also rushed for 19 yards on three carries — with two of the rushes picking up key first downs.
Marshall, who came to Auburn from Garden City Community College, has labored under the unfair comparisons to the last junior college transfer to play quarterback at Auburn — Cam Newton.
Marshall struggled, at least, until that final drive against Mississippi State. He probably won’t win the Heisman Trophy this year, but like Newton’s Heisman-moment run against LSU and Johnny Manziel’s Heisman-moment win over Alabama last season, Marshall now has had one of his moments.
“I’m real proud of the way he responded,” said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. “You know he didn’t put the ball in jeopardy at the end, especially when we got in field goal range and we had a chance to at least tie the game, he protected the football, he managed the clock well. I thought our receivers did a good job and the double move down there at the end it was something that they worked on a lot and it was a big throw and big catch.”
The funny thing about Marshall is that by somewhat getting out from under Newton’s shadow with his heroics last weekend he is going to find the comparisons are just going to be turned up even more. Now that he’s shown he can put this team on his shoulders in clutch time, the expectations are going to be even stronger.
The SEC posted two wins in the Lone Star state this weekend after Ole Miss blitzed a Texas team 44-23 in Austin that was still reeling from a loss the previous week to BYU, which cost defensive coordinator Manny Diaz his job.
Quarterback Bo Wallace threw two touchdown passes and Jeff Scott rushed for 164 yards and had a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown, all of which will turn up the heat on Texas coach Mack Brown in Austin. The win was the fifth in a row for the Rebels dating back to last year’s Egg Bowl and at 3-0 Hugh Freeze has his team believing in itself although he is not ready to admit the Rebels are at a championship level just yet.
“I think it’s too early. We’re better than we were when I got here,” he said. “We’ve won five games in a row right now. Our kids have some confidence but we still make a lot of mistakes. We’re playing a lot of young kids. On a national stage like tonight, when you’re playing at the University of Texas, one of the nation’s best programs, and great respect for Texas head coach Mack Brown and the job they do, and they had great looking kids.
“To come in and stand toe-to-toe with them, I do think nationally, it’s going to help us in recruiting. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s just one step. We didn’t take six tonight. We just took one step, but it is a step in the right direction.”
But Freeze’s reluctance to put his team in a hunt for a championship just yet doesn’t mean his players aren’t considering the possibilities that out there for them.
“Our expectations changed once the season started, and I think we have done a great job of responding to everything that has been thrown at us,” said junior defensive end C. J. Johnson.