Sports, Thrill of Victory

Around the SEC: Week 2 Edition

Justin Evans was the National Defensive Player of the Week for his two-interception effort vs. UCLA.

It was an eventful Week 1 around the SEC, so there’s plenty to talk about heading into the weekend.

Let’s get right to the biggest storylines from the past week.

BIGGEST STORIES

Has the SEC slipped?

It was a great week for Alabama (a 46-point throttling of then-No. 20 Southern Cal), Texas A&M (a home win over then-No. 16 UCLA) and Georgia (a come-from-behind victory over then-No. 22 North Carolina). ‘Bama looked like college football’s best team in Week 1, while A&M looked, at least for the weekend, like the No. 2 team in the West. 

Is Georgia now the favorite in the East? That’s probably premature, but none of the other six looked nearly as good. 

But Week 1 didn’t offer much encouragement for a number of teams.

Alabama's 2016 debut was as impressive as anyone's.

Alabama’s 2016 debut was as impressive as anyone’s.

LSU was a big disappointment in its loss to Wisconsin in Green Bay, as the Tigers struggle to generate offense not named Leonard Fournette.  

Tennessee won an overtime game against Appalachian State by recovering its own fumble in the end zone. Squeaking out a win that way against a Sun Belt team (albeit a good one) on national TV wasn’t a good look for the Vols. 

Ole Miss looked elite for 25 minutes against Florida State. Then its defense couldn’t stop anybody and lost Ken Webster, one of the league’s better starters at cornerback, to injury. 

Mississippi State, a 28-point home favorite over a middle-of-the-pack Sun Belt team. The fact that the game was a virtual statistical tie up and down the stat sheet doesn’t bode well for MSU. 

Arkansas, a 26-point favorite over Louisiana Tech, eked out a one-point win averaging a paltry 4.3 yards per snap. 

Kentucky blew a 25-point lead to Southern because the Wildcats didn’t try to control the clock with their running game, and its defense couldn’t tackle to save its life. 

And if Florida’s offense can’t average more than 3.7 yards per rush against lowly UMass, how are the Gators a Top 25 team? 

Missouri’s offense looked improved, but its defense clearly took a couple of steps back from last year. 

Auburn’s defense looked great against powerful Clemson, but its offense struggled as expected. 

It was an exciting opener for South Carolina with its 13-10 road win at Vanderbilt, but this game seemed more an indictment of VU’s offense and coaching than anything. 

I still buy Tennessee, LSU and Ole Miss as Top 25 teams. Perhaps Florida or Auburn, with those defenses, can play at that level also. But the league, from teams 7-14, doesn’t look as strong as expected, and the same can be said of teams 4-6 for the time being. 

Some quarterback questions answered, while others linger

A few teams got nice answers from freshmen in Week 1, while others have no answer at all. 

Alabama’s Jalen Hurts looked like a superstar in the making, hitting 6-of-11 throws for two touchdowns and a pick, and nine more rushes for 32 yards and two more scores vs. Southern Cal. Hurts also turned it over twice, demonstrating why coach Nick Saban didn’t trust him to start. Saban won’t tip his hand for this week’s starter, but that time should come soon enough for the true freshman. 

Georgia’s Jacob Eason, more of a traditional pocket passer than Hurts, looked polished in completing 8-of-12 passes for 131 yards and a score in his collegiate debut. Coach Kirby Smart hasn’t named a starter for the Nichols State game, and while steady veteran Greyson Lambert still could get some more starts, Eason clearly looked like the best option in UGA’s win over North Carolina.  

Justin Evans was the National Defensive Player of the Week for his two-interception effort vs. UCLA.

Justin Evans was the National Defensive Player of the Week for his two-interception effort vs. UCLA.

As for Kentucky, nobody could blame its loss on sophomore Drew Barker, who was perhaps the league’s best Week 1 passer with a 15-for-24, 323-yard, four-TD performance. 

Then, there was the rest of the league.

Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason finds himself getting grilled by fans and media this week after abruptly pulling quarterback Kyle Shurmur in the second quarter, after leading the team on a long TD drive. Two drives later, Shurmur was back in, his confidence shot, and VU didn’t score again. 

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn had three quarterbacks take snaps, plus, a running back and center lining up at quarterback at times. None were effective. 

Mississippi State’s Damian Williams seized the snaps from Nick Fitzgerald early last Saturday, and even though he was 20-of-28, he threw for just 143 yards. Williams did add 93 yards on 12 carries, so perhaps something’s there even if the Bulldogs lost.

Even the threesome of Chad Kelly (Ole Miss), Josh Dobbs (Tennessee) and Brandon Harris (LSU), basically the consensus pick at the No. 1, 2 and 3 quarterbacks this year, all struggled. Harris could find himself benched if he doesn’t improve soon. 

POWER RANKINGS

  1. Alabama (1-0, 0-0): Defending champs are No. 1, and it’s not remotely close.
  2. Texas A&M (1-0, 0-0): That Aggie pass rush was incredible in Week 1. 
  3. Georgia (1-0, 0-0): Freshman RB Brian Herrien looks capable if injuries strike.
  4. Ole Miss (0-1, 0-0): Getting ripped to shreds by a freshman quarterback wasn’t a good look 
  5. Tennessee (1-0, 0-0): Vols averaged just 4.4 yards per play in the opener. 
  6. LSU (0-1, 0-0): Tigers drop 16 spots to No. 21 in the AP poll.
  7. Arkansas (1-0, 0-0): OT Jonah Williams was league’s Freshman of the Week. 
  8. Florida (1-0, 0-0): Starting WR Dre Massey tears ACL, done for the season. 
  9. Auburn (0-1, 0-0): Sean White starts at QB this week. 
  10. Missouri (0-1, 0-0): Gave up the league’s the second-highest yards per play (5.8) in Week 1. 
  11. South Carolina (1-0, 1-0): Freshman WR Bryan Williams looked terrific (8-101) vs. Vandy. 
  12. Kentucky (0-1, 0-0): 8.2 yards per snap led the SEC in Week 1. 
  13. Vanderbilt (0-0, 0-1): Coach Derek Mason needs wins, fast. 
  14. Mississippi St. (0-1, 0-0) Probably better than this, but they’ve earned it for now. 

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

  1. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
  2. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
  3. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
  4. Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss
  5. Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

  1. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
  2. Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
  3. Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
  4. Justin Evans, CB, Texas A&M
  5. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

THIS WEEK’S PICKS

Point spreads according to covers.com as of 5 p.m. Thursday

All times Central, p.m. on Saturday unless noted

Season record: 8-5 overall, 6-7 vs. the point spread

Nichols State at Georgia (no line), 11 a.m. (SEC Network)

Nichols State ranks 240 of the 253 FCS and FBS teams, according to Jeff Sagarin. ESPN’s FPI gives it an 0.1 percent chance to win this one. That’s all you need to know. Georgia 58, Nichols State, 0

Tennessee and Virginia Tech are expected to play in front of the largest crowd in college football history. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE

Tennessee and Virginia Tech are expected to play in front of the largest crowd in college football history. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE

Prairie View A&M at Texas A&M (no line), 11 a.m. (SEC Network)

FPI brings better news for the Panthers: they’ve got twice the chance of pulling the upset than does NSU! Texas A&M 52, PVU 10

Western Kentucky at Alabama (-28.5), 2:30 (ESPN 2)

Western Kentucky is quality, and South Florida transfer Mike White threw for 517 yards in its 46-14 rout of Rice yesterday. Alabama isn’t great at covering in these situations, but after seeing the Tide’s total de-pantsing of USC last week, I’m a believer. Alabama 44, WKU 13

Kentucky at Florida (-16), 2:30 (CBS)

Lost in the train wreck of UK’s collapse last week was that its offense, which insiders said had the chance to be quite good, was exactly that. While Kentucky’s defense is abysmal, I question Florida’s ability to rack up lots of points against anyone. Remember, Kentucky came thisclose to ending what’s now a 29-game losing streak against the Gators last year, which, according to this is the longest conference streak in SEC history. Does another close one make it more, or less frustrating, for the Wildcats? Gators 29, Wildcats 27

Wofford at Ole Miss (no line), 3 (SEC Network)

Woof. Rebels 55, Terriers 10

MTSU at Vanderbilt (-4.5), 3 (SEC Network)

All the talk around Vanderbilt surrounded coach Derek Mason’s ill-conceived quarterback and time-management decisions, and his indefensible and continued defense of them. VU contained the Blue Raiders’ offense well in its 17-13 win last year, but still can’t move the ball. It’s a must-win game for Mason and the ‘Dores, but until the Commodores show the firepower than they previously have in offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig’s 13 previous games… MTSU 20, Vanderbilt 17

Arkansas at TCU (-7.5), 6 (ESPN)

Remember when it was defense that defined TCU? Last week, the Horned Frogs scored 59 points and gained 662 yards, but also gave up 41 points and 469 yards to… South Dakota State? But, the Arkansas offense seems to be a work in progress, and TCU has won 14 straight at home, so while its close… Frogs 34, Hogs 30

South Carolina at Mississippi St. (-6.5), 6 (ESPN 2)

With no reason to feel great about either team, go with the one playing at home. MSU 21, Carolina 20

Arkansas State at Auburn (-20), 6:30 (SEC Network)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will face some of the same players he recruited when he was the Arkansas State coach. Considered a preseason Sun Belt favorite, ASU did a complete face-plant in a 31-10 loss to Toledo in which they were out-gained by 290 yards. Auburn’s not good on offense, but its defense and kicking game are good enough alone to take care of business. Auburn 31, Arkansas State 10. 

Jacksonville St. at LSU (no line), 6:30 (ESPNU)

There’s part of me that wonders how motivated LSU will be following a huge let-down at Wisconsin. Sagarin considers LSU a 31-point favorite, but don’t forget that the Jaguars were FBS runners-up last year, nearly beat Auburn last season, and defeated a bad Ole Miss team in 2010. That’s probably not gonna happen this weekend, but just saying… LSU 27, Jacksonville State 17

Eastern Michigan at Missouri (-25), 6:30 (SEC Network)

EMU is traditionally one of the worst two or three FBS programs around, but for what it’s worth, the Eagles pounded Mississippi Valley State, 61-14, in their opener last week. Missouri’s offense produced a surprising 462 yards of offense, but on 100 snaps, that 4.6-per-play average was just 0.2 better than last year’s awful output, and the 5.8 per snap it yielded was far worse than last season’s 4.3. The Tigers win, but 25 points seems like a lot to cover for a team that hasn’t scored that many even once in its last 11 games. Missouri 27, Eastern Michigan 13

Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (+11) in Bristol, Tenn, 7 (ABC)

With the potential for 160,000 fans at Bristol Motor Speedway, the spectacle could eclipse the game itself. Tech coach Justin Fuente did terrific things in his last stop at Memphis. Given UT’s offensive issues last week, Tech’s stellar defense year-in and year-out, and Fuente’s propensity to keep things close (or even pull upsets, like the one he pulled over Ole Miss last year), this could get interesting. Vols 23, Tech 21