Auburn (3-0) came back to beat Mississippi State 24-20, and new starting quarterback Nick Marshall proved himself to be up to the big moment by leading the game-winning drive and throwing the game-winning touchdown pass.
JSU (3-0) survived a two-overtime thriller to beat North Alabama 24-21, giving first-time college head coach Bill Clark relief after a penalty-marred performance nearly cost the Gamecocks an upset by a lower-division opponent.
Bottom line: Alabama, Auburn and JSU remain unbeaten through three weeks for the first time since 2010, when Auburn went unbeaten, JSU won its first eight games and Alabama won its first five.
Alabama: A different team?
Anyone who watched Alabama’s season-opening victory against Virginia Tech wasn’t shocked that Texas A&M hit so many big pass plays against Alabama’s secondary Saturday. Tech had those big-play chances but not the quarterback or receivers to make good.
A&M’s Johnny Manziel is plenty accurate and threw for a school-record 464 yards, 95 on a touchdown bomb that forced a dramatic finish.
Alabama has man-coverage issues. That’s stunning, considering that Nick Saban coaches the cornerbacks.
It could become a problem in games to come against Ole Miss, LSU and maybe even Auburn, depending how Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall develops through the season.
Alabama might have to win another shootout or two this season, and the Tide showed itself to be more than capable Saturday. Even taking A&M’s horrid defense into account, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has clearly grown from game manager to game winner, and he’s surrounded by play makers.
Imagine that -- a Saban-coached Alabama led by offense.
Auburn: Marshall checks a box
What’s never certain in the development of a quarterback is whether he’ll get the chance and lead confidence-building, game-winning drives and make the decisive play early on his watch.
Marshall got that chance Saturday and delivered, hitting C.J. Uzomah in stride on a stop-and-go pattern with 10 seconds to play to beat Mississippi State.
Against SEC competition, Marshall led an 88-yard drive in 1:46. He ran or passed for 85 of those yards including the game-winning play.
He wound up throwing for 339 yards and two touchdowns on the night. He also threw his first two interceptions as a Division I quarterback, but he’s well short of the 20-pick pace he set in junior college in 2012.
What’s more, Marshall shook off his mistakes to lead the winning drive.
Auburn, meanwhile, ended its 10-game SEC losing streak and won a game that could prove to be a difference maker for bowl eligibility, if not a better bowl.
Things continue to develop well for Marshall.
JSU: What could have been
Imagine the here-we-go-again feeling around JSU, had North Alabama left JSU Stadium with a victory.
We might be talking a lot more about the timeout JSU didn’t have but called, giving UNA’s kicker five more yards toward a would-be tying field goal in the second overtime.
We might be talking more about JSU’s 17 penalties, like a roughing-the-passer call that kept a UNA scoring drive alive.
Excessive penalties and blunders that could or do lose winnable games ring familiar to JSU fans, who got their fill with a veteran coach in the Jack Crowe years.
But JSU didn’t lose Saturday’s winnable game, and Clark is not a veteran head coach on the college level. So far, he and his staff have done enough right that they can live and learn in victory.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.