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Hobbs Column: Welcome to the SEC’s high-scoring new world

Last Modified: Wednesday, October 02, 2013 10:14 AM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Shortly after Alabama thoroughly embarrassed its head coach by beating Texas A&M 49-42 — Nick Saban looked like he’d just been doused in a Gatorade bath again — the Tide coach told the Aggies’ Kevin Sumlin that “You just took 10 years off my life.”

Saban is a “young” 61, soon to be 62, so LSU fans need not get too excited about that prospect.

But after LSU and Georgia had delightfully entertained the nation in one of TV’s highest-rated games of the season, in the aftermath the Tigers’ Les Miles was asked if the world should expect more of these nutty 44-41 games down the road. After all, it was being widely critiqued by various experts as the best game of the budding season.

“Gosh, I hope not,” said Miles, whose specialty, remember, is offense and whose new season’s resolution, apparently, is staying out of coordinator Cam Cameron’s hair to keep his own hands clean of this foolishness.

The winner of that game, Georgia’s Mark Richt, was pretty speechless and very close to tears — and he should have been used to it. In four games, his team has also been involved in scoring 35 points and losing (to Clemson) and a whopping 41-30 SEC victory against South Carolina in which no points were scored in the final 13 minutes (LSU and Georgia combined for 24 in the same time frame).

I have a feeling they better all get used to it, at least for this year. This is the SEC, circa 2013.

This explosion was widely predicted, of course. Back in the preseason it was noted that a new influx of young-gun coaches were bringing the trendy up-tempo, no-huddle, no-conscious offenses with them. Texas A&M opened everybody’s eyes with that stuff last season, and it suddenly seemed like everybody wanted to take a look at it and make a splash before defensive coordinators caught up with it.

But that’s not really what’s happening.

Look at the top half of the ranking of the best scoring offenses in the SEC and the only spread-option type teams are Texas A&M, with the Heisman Trophy winner at the controls, and Missouri, which hasn’t yet played anything with a detectable pulse.

The newcomers trying to outscheme people, they’re mostly down in the bottom, still trying to figure it out and fit in.

While SEC teams are running up yards and points and shootouts with alarming regularity, the traditionalists are just as guilty — more so —as the whippersnappers.

Take LSU and Georgia on Saturday.

Both, for the most part, convened in standard-issue huddles, made good-faith efforts to establish running games from traditional pro-style offenses and took their sweet time about ringing up 943 yards and 85 points.

It’s like they couldn’t help themselves. It was score to survive. CBS’s Verne Lundquist said it best when he summarized a tying touchdown by LSU as “the Tigers hold serve.”

It has turned the SEC statistics into Monopoly money.

LSU’s Zach Mettenberger is on pace to shatter LSU’s season passing yardage records. That’s good enough for only fourth in the SEC.

The LSU offense, if this forms holds, will be the school’s best in history — but only fifth in the SEC in total offense (third in scoring).

Yes, this is a whole new world.

But maybe there will be some relief for Miles and Saban — not this year, perhaps, but sometime soon.

When the Big 12 used to excuse its shootouts and belittle the SEC’s slugfests, its biggest argument was the lack of quality quarterbacks in the nation’s dominant conference.

Anybody who watched Mettenberger and Aaron Murray go at it Saturday like it was a football game of “h-o-r-s-e” wouldn’t bring that argument to the table.

And maybe that’s what’s confounding defenses these days — young defenses, for the most part.

Miles pointed out Monday that even college quarterbacks with obvious NFL skills are more likely to stick around for their senior season, get the extra seasoning, while the stud defenders take the first bus out for the draft as soon as eligible.

The exhilarating LSU-Georgia game might have been the perfect storm. You had two defenses that from last year lost a combined 15 players to the NFL draft. They were trying to stop two future NFL quarterbacks (both fifth-year seniors) two NFL-ready running backs and at least four future pro wide receivers.

That’s just the skill players. And it’s more the norm than the oddity.

Among quarterbacks, if you look at the SEC’s top six individual passing leaders, you find five seniors and one Johnny Manziel.

That top six, by the way, does not include Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace, who took 10 years off LSU’s life last year, or Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, who has game-managed the Tide to two consecutive national championships.

Others are coming. Even Florida looks like it might have stumbled onto something usable with Tyler Murphy.

The SEC may get back to normal. But it probably won’t be this year.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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