Published September 19, 2012 - 10:40am
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Today, we’re talking surprises in the SEC for 2012 through three weeks:
1. Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida (SO): I’ll be honest. I didn’t think Driskel was a gamer, based solely on his limited experience last season filling in for John Brantley. He was a top high school quarterback and came to Florida to run Urban Meyer’s spread offense. But he has been the most surprising player through three weeks because of his ability to stay calm in nasty environments and poised when the offense isn’t moving the football. And no, he’s not lighting up the scoreboard and throwing for three touchdowns a week, but the progression and maturation he’s showed from week one to week three has to make Florida fans optimistic. He’s thrown for 495 yards and three touchdowns, completing over 71 percent of his passes, and he hasn’t had one turnover. Driskel also adds a threat to run, as he’s rushed 25 times for 113 yards so far and is Florida’s second leading rusher. The way he won on the road at Texas A&M and Tennessee makes him the biggest surprise so far.
2. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia (FR): Gurley really looks like he has all the tools to be an All-SEC running back in his freshman season if Georgia gave him 25 carries per game. We think back to guys like Marcus Lattimore and Trent Richardson, and Gurley may have more upside than both of them. He’s faster than both players, and he looks as tough when he runs. I really like the way Georgia is using him and fellow freshman Keith Marshall, as well as sophomore Ken Malcome. They are limiting the amount of touches and keeping each one very fresh. When Gurley housed the 100-yard kickoff return and the 55-yard touchdown run against Buffalo, everyone knew this kid was special. He has 28 carries for 276 yards and four touchdowns. He’s currently leading the SEC in all-purpose yardage with 514 total yards and 171.3 per game.
3. Tyler Russell, QB, Miss State (JR): Not many saw Tyler Russell exploding onto the scene in his first season as the unarguable starting quarterback for MSU, but Russell has played very well so far. He’s connected on 46 of 79 for 651 yards and eight touchdowns. He played sparingly behind Chris Relf, and we all knew he had a great arm and pocket presence. But he’s really played well to start this season. Granted, State hasn’t played a defense that poses any real threat, but if the running game continues to perform well, look for Russell to continue his fabulous season. He reminds me a little bit of Alex Smith, who Dan Mullen coached at Utah, the way he can move around in and outside the pocket and throw on the run.
4. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (FR): Little Johnny has only played two games, one against Florida and the other against SMU, but he has been impressive so far with his arm and his legs. We knew he was a dual-threat signal caller from high school, but what we didn’t know was how Kevin Sumlin’s offense would translate to suit him. We do now. He accounted for six touchdowns and over 400 yards last week against SMU. He’s only played two weeks, but you can see that Texas A&M can build a program around him. SEC defenses will make players other than Manziel beat them moving forward this season, but you can’t discount the impact he’s made as a redshirt freshman. Great looking player.
5. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M (JR): With names like Jadeveon Clowney, Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, who would have thought Damontre Moore would be leading the SEC in sacks through three weeks? Mind you, Moore has only played two games, too. He has 5.0 sacks on the season, averaging 2.5 per game. He’s currently second in tackles-for-loss behind Clowney with 5.0. He’s the biggest key to the Aggies defense because of their transition not only into the SEC, but also their jump from a 3-4 to a 4-3 with the new coaching staff. He will give offenses a tough time the rest of this season.
6. Darius Slay, CB, Mississippi State (SR): Besides leading the SEC in interceptions with four, Slay has solidified the Bulldogs’ secondary and deserves a ton of credit for how well this defense and team is playing as a whole. Slay was a JUCO transfer to State last season, and he played last year but largely took a back seat to the action. However, he emerged this spring, summer and in fall camp and made the coaching staff adjust the secondary so he could start at corner. He plays opposite All-SEC corner Johnathan Banks, and together they form quite the tandem. His emergence at corner allowed Corey Broomfield to move to safety, where he is playing lights out. Slay is a key reason the Bulldogs are sitting 3-0 and have a lot of upside this season.