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Mixed results for inexperienced QBs in SEC

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POSTED: September 9, 2011 2:39 p.m.

Uncertainty prevailed in the Southeastern Conference whenever the conversation turned to quarterbacks during the offseason.

Gone were stars like Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, Alabama's Greg McElroy and Auburn's Heisman winner Cameron Newton. All around the SEC, there were relative unknown signal-callers being thrown into the fray.

Most SEC schools can breathe a sigh of relief after week one - nine of the league's 12 teams scored at least 40 points, albeit against largely inferior opponents.

Auburn's Barrett Trotter and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson had impressive debuts, but not everyone had a good first week. Mississippi and South Carolina have already switched starters while Alabama continues to go with a two-quarterback approach.

Things aren't getting any easier, as conference play approaches for several teams.

Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee all feel good about their young quarterbacks after Saturday's games.

Trotter had maybe the most daunting task, taking over for Newton, who had a legendary season on his way to leading Auburn to the national title. But the 6-foot-2, 207-pound junior didn't flinch, completing 17 of 23 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns as Auburn rallied for a 42-39 victory over Utah State.

But Utah State isn't nearly as talented as this week's opponent - No. 16 Mississippi State. It's almost a certainty that the Bulldogs' defense won't be as forgiving.

"The quarterback position in college is an extremely tough position to play," Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. "It doesn't make any difference if he's been watching and been in the offense for three years, until you get out there and actually see the different looks and actually play the position, that's when you learn."

Arkansas' Wilson completed 18 of 24 for 260 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Razorbacks' 51-3 victory over Missouri State. Tennessee's Tyler Bray completed 17 of 24 passes for 293 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions as the Volunteers beat Montana 42-16.

"I made the comment that the last 10 days of camp he really started showing some growth and fortunately, it showed in the game," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. "Hopefully, we'll just continue on. There's no indication that we're not going to at this point."

Florida, LSU and South Carolina used resurgent veterans to polish off victories last weekend, as all three were able to put the struggles of the past behind them.

Florida quarterback John Brantley - who started last season but struggled in the spread - looked much more comfortable in new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis' pro-style offense. The senior completed 21 of 30 passes for 229 yards and a touchdown against Florida Atlantic. He also threw two interceptions, but one was tipped at the line of scrimmage.

"You're always cynical as a coach, you're always harping on all the negative things, but there were a lot of positives to draw from the opener," Weis said.

LSU's Jarrett Lee was one of the league's most closely-watched quarterbacks after the senior stepped into the starting role following Jordan Jefferson arrest and subsequent suspension after a bar fight. Lee played mistake-free football and was part of the reason No. 2 LSU easily handled Oregon 40-27 on Saturday. He didn't have huge numbers, completing 10 of 22 passes for 98 yards and one touchdown, but LSU leans heavily on a stellar running game and defense.

Another much-maligned quarterback - South Carolina's Stephen Garcia - also got it done. He has spent as much time in coach Steve Spurrier's doghouse as he has on the field. After being benched for the opener, Garcia helped the No. 12 Gamecocks rally to beat East Carolina 56-37.

Garcia earned his starting job back and will replace sophomore Connor Shaw for Saturday's game against Georgia.

Mississippi and Alabama face more uncertainty after less-than-stellar openers from their quarterbacks.

Ole Miss will start Zack Stoudt after the junior college transfer completed 13 of 25 passes for 140 yards. He replaces Barry Brunetti, who completed just 2 of 3 passes for four yards before being pulled.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said he'll continue to use two QBs - A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims. The No. 3 Crimson Tide easily beat Kent State 48-7 on Saturday, but McCarron and Sims were spotty. Both quarterbacks threw two interceptions.

They can't afford those kind of mistakes Saturday, when Alabama plays at Penn State.

"We still feel like we have two really good players at that position," Saban said. "Both of those guys will continue to develop and help us somewhere down the road."

 

 

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