Alabama, Auburn and Jacksonville State each stand a game into 2014, and let us count the quarterbacks.
The three teams played a combined seven quarterbacks this past weekend. JSU played three in its 45-7 loss at Michigan State on Friday. Auburn played two in its 45-21 handling of Arkansas on Saturday, and Alabama played two in a 33-23 victory over West Virginia the same day.
Most notable is the quarterback who played the least. Jacob Coker, the Florida State transfer and long-presumed heir apparent to AJ McCarron at Alabama, saw mop-up duty and was the only quarterback of the seven not to throw a pass.
Fold it all into the first weekend that was of the 2014 season, and we have yet another reminder that we should all greet the oxymoron “off-season wisdom” with the smirk of reason.
Coker is not the starter at Alabama. He could still be, but he played surprisingly little Saturday.
So much for South Carolina being favored in the SEC East. Steve Spurrier lost his smirk while chewing and swallowing 680 yards in an embarrassing loss to Texas A&M.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin stole Spurrier’s smirk as sophomore Kenny Hill made life after Johnny Manziel look just fine in Aggieland.
Young LSU gave Les Miles a smirk, growing up in a hurry in a victory over Wisconsin.
Oh, and lest we smirk too much, LSU and Texas A&M just made the SEC West race more interesting.
Alabama’s Lane change
Just when Alabama’s Blake Sims reached a rough patch in his first start, just when Alabama fans thought the supposedly inevitable Coker era was about to start, new Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin dialed up the no-huddle.
As Kiffin’s boss put it, a stretch of no-huddle offense simplified things for Sims and put Sims back on track to finish an overall successful start.
So, Alabama has the no-huddle thing in the bag of tricks now and will use it.
Add that to head coach Nick Saban’s eye-opening, mid-August comments about the importance of his team liking and following their quarterback, and the picture of why Sims is playing and Coker isn’t begins to unfold.
It’s not that the team doesn’t like Coker. It’s that the Tide wants a fifth-year senior who has paid his dues to succeed.
There’s one nagging thought, however. Alabama will face better defenses than West Virginia’s. At some point, the Tide will need a deep-ball threat that Sims doesn’t show.
Auburn’s big QB picture
Jeremy Johnson looked better than good in his start against Arkansas. His accurate passing showed why Auburn fans have no reason to fear life after senior Nick Marshall.
But Marshall’s performance in the second half -- and the difference it made on the scoreboard -- reminds everyone that head coach Gus Malzahn runs a run-first offense. Also, Marshall makes it go like no other.
Marshall presents the scarier threat in the read-option game. He makes it impossible for opponents to key on the tailback the way Arkansas did Saturday.
Johnson can run but doesn’t show Marshall speed and did not have a run attempt Saturday.
Marshall’s speed makes him a special threat. It’s no accident that running backs Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant amassed 196 of their 264 combined rushing yards in the second half, with Marshall in the game.
That had something to do with Auburn going from a halftime tie to a 45-21 victory.
JSU’s QB depth
For much the same reason Auburn is better in the long run with Marshall, so is JSU with Eli Jenkins.
The Gamecocks played Jenkins for the first half Friday and let Max Shortell and Christian LeMay split the second half. Shortell came in and led JSU’s lone scoring drive, and he looked sharp throwing the ball.
But he entered a 38-0 game and threw against a nine-man box dedicated to stopping JSU’s running game. At that point, JSU needed what Shortell does best.
Jenkins, who also looked good throwing the ball, gives JSU a dual threat that has proven itself effective against competition on JSU’s level.
The Gamecocks might face more nine-man box defenses but won’t face one as good as Michigan State’s. That’s why the offense with Jenkins is JSU’s best starting point.