Shane: Survival of the fittest

By Shane from Centerpoint

Make no bones about it, SEC powerhouses Alabama and Florida are getting their opponents’ best shots. Coaching staffs from middle-of-the-pack conference foes are burning the midnight oil attempting to dethrone the divisional “bell-cows”, showing the nation that life in the SEC truly is a weekly battle to survive.

Want proof? In spite of the 3-3 record, Tennessee came to Bryant-Denny stadium ready to play. Head coach Kiffin’s game plan was strong and solid. And even though he has a tendency to whine and act childish off the field, he seems to understand how to coach football.

Lane Kiffin’s offensive knowledge and Monty Kiffin’s defensive prowess combined to give Alabama its toughest contest so far this year. The result was a classic, hard-fought, defensive battle in which the Crimson Tide held a narrow lead from start to finish.

Inevitably, the final result of this gridiron war rested on the foot of each team’s kicker. Alabama place-kicker Leigh Tiffin made four clutch field goals, with two long-range 50-yard bombs. He handled the pressure like a champion. Without “tape” he answered the call.

On the other hand, Tennessee’s junior kicker Daniel Lincoln didn’t put his best foot forward. Lincoln hit one, missed one, and had defensive tackle Mount Cody blot out the sun to block two more. True, his quad strain might’ve played a part in his lack of distance, but his offensive line’s poor blocking during his attempts cost the Vols the game.

Terrence Cody put all of his 350 pounds and his heart into those two blocks, driving low and hard over his man, then rising up to launch his 6’5” frame into the path of the ball. Great players make great plays. If Cody hadn’t blocked it, Julio Jones would have (he had jumped ten feet into the air behind Cody). That kick was doomed.

Cody’s last–second block sealed the deal for Alabama. It was all over but the shouting. Game – set – match.

In the end the Crimson Tide got the “W”, continuing to advance on an undefeated path toward a showdown with the Florida Gators.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee “hunting dogs” tucked their tail, and headed back to Knoxville with their second moral–victory trophy of the year (the first was their close loss to Florida earlier this year).

Speaking of Tennessee’s other nemesis and SEC “bell-cow”, the Florida Gators traveled up to Starkville to face Mississippi State and twenty–thousand cowbells.

Gator coach Urban Meyer was challenged for four quarters by his former offensive coordinator, Dan Mullen. Coach Mullen has little depth and talent to work with, yet his team played like Florida was their bowl game.

Actually, it appears that Florida quarterback Tim Tebow’s Heisman trophy hopes for the 2009 season were trashed when he threw two unnecessary interceptions that were returned for touchdowns – by the same guy. In fact Tebow has turned the ball over more in the past two games than he had in his entire career.

Does his performance indicate that he still has lingering effects from his original head injury? Was his LSU return date too early? Truthfully, Tim just doesn’t seem quite as sharp.

However, when you play in Urban Meyer’s offense – which uses the quarterback like a fullback twenty times a game – you should expect to get beat up.

Eventually – much like Alabama – Florida had enough talent and was good enough on defense to forge a victory over an enthusiastic, hard-playing group of Bulldog players. State played about as well as they could’ve expected to play.

Were Florida and Alabama dominant in their victories Saturday? Not really, but both remain undefeated. That’s all that truly matters when every game is a play-off.

Will they face tougher competition before the supposed “Dual in the Dome” in the ultimate prizefight for the championship? You can bet the house they will!

Each team has four more chances to take the bull by the horns and advance forward in the BCS tournament. To date, both stand strong as proof that only the best survive in the SEC.
—Shane writes a weekly column for the Call News and the Capstone Report.