1 calming 2019 thought for each SEC team that had a Week 1 dud
Now that we’ve had a chance to come off the Week 1 high, we can all take a deep breath and remember that the football season is a marathon, not a sprint.
For a handful of SEC teams, Week 1 felt like a 100-meter dash in which they forgot to tie their shoes and then proceed to trip over their own laces out of the gates.
There’s no sugarcoating how bad some of those Week 1 performances were. We saw 2 SEC teams lose as 3-score favorites and we saw 3 SEC teams fall to Group of 5 squads. Woof. There’s a reason the SEC was a punching bag for the rest of the country in Week 1.
So does that mean the teams that had Week 1 duds should fold up shop and call it a year? Not exactly.
For the SEC fan bases who had a stress-filled opening weekend, here’s 1 calming thought to ease your mind as you prepare for the rest of the marathon:
Arkansas: Rakeem Boyd is healthy and very good at football
I was curious how the offseason shoulder surgery was going to impact Boyd, who was the brightest spot of Chad Morris’ offense last year. As we found out on Saturday, Boyd is plenty healthy. He’s not shying away from contact or lacking burst through the line of scrimmage. I’d say 136 scrimmage yards and a score is a good way to start.
Boyd also had 3 catches for a passing offense that was incredibly disappointing. Boyd, with a pair of new quarterbacks and extremely inexperienced receivers, is clearly the most reliable weapon in Arkansas’ offense. He can hit the home run play and put the offense on his back.
Morris said he was impressed with the 1-2 punch that he and Devwah Whaley formed with the latter being more of a short-yardage back. But Boyd is still the bright spot, and Morris would be wise to continue to give him a heavy workload moving forward.
Mizzou: Barry Odom’s teams always finish drastically better than they start
I know Mizzou fans have probably heard this already, but it’s true. Odom is a much better at in-season adjustments than he is with in-game adjustments. We saw that on Saturday. The thinking that Mizzou was going to change the slow start trend with Odom was based on the belief that the schedule set up really well for that. It still does.
Under Odom, Mizzou is 6-13 through Oct. 19. After that, though? The Tigers are 13-7. And in a weird way, it’s not necessarily team-dependent. Remember that Purdue game in September 2017 when Mizzou looked like Kansas? Granted, last year’s squad did get off to a 3-0 start in nonconference play.
The thing that absolutely has to improve is the run defense. Those key pieces in the front 7 that Mizzou had to replace were evident against Wyoming. I would tend to believe that a defensive-minded coach coming off a season with a top 25 run defense would be able to make the right week-to-week adjustments so that issue isn’t a glaring weakness once SEC play starts.
Odom admitted he was absolutely wrong in how he thought his team would respond to adversity. That’s after an offseason in which Mizzou was dealt the harsh bowl ban and didn’t see a player enter the transfer portal. In other words, I don’t blame him for thinking his team was all in.
But now, Odom has to do something that’s become all too familiar during his tenure.
Ole Miss: Memphis’ offense is really good, and so is Mike MacIntyre
Memphis was my pick to represent the Group of 5 in a New Year’s 6 Bowl this year, mainly because of the offensive production it returned. So naturally, I thought the Tigers would put up a bunch of points on Ole Miss en route to a Week 1 victory.
One of those things happened. But the good news was that in a loss, MacIntyre showed that he’s ready to lead Ole Miss’ defense to a much-improved season. Unlike the past few years, it didn’t appear that Ole Miss defenders were out of position. It helps when you have 8 returning starters.
But as this extremely inexperienced Ole Miss offense gets its mojo, it does feel like MacIntyre’s defense is going to have to be the steadying force. Eight tackles for loss in Week 1 is a good sign for a unit that struggled so much in the trenches in recent memory.
Ole Miss had limited upside the past few years with how porous its defense was, especially against the run. Time will tell just how improved it is, but it’s looking like Matt Luke’s decision to hire MacIntyre could result in Ole Miss at least being competitive in a lot more games in 2019.
South Carolina: We don’t know Ryan Hilinski’s upside yet
After all the “sky is falling” takes from Week 1, Jake Bentley’s injury changed the entire narrative of this team. Bentley, in my opinion, is what he is at this point. He’s going to make frustrating mistakes, he can occasionally put a team on his back, but more times than not, he’s going to disappoint against Top 25 teams (I realize he played well against Clemson last year).
With Hilinski, we don’t know what his ceiling is. The true freshman could make throws and plays that Bentley couldn’t. He could also make fewer mistakes and give South Carolina a better chance to beat the SEC elite. True freshman quarterbacks no longer have limited upside.
Are they more prone to make mistakes still? Sure, but someone with Hilinski’s physical and mental makeup is capable of turning around South Carolina’s stagnant offense. Maybe this will change the trajectory of the season. Or maybe the Gamecocks will continue to hover around mediocrity.
For now, it’s the great unknown. But the great unknown has great potential.
Tennessee: That was the ultimate “what happens when you take a team lightly” game
Jeremy Pruitt was out-coached. His staff was out-coached. His team was outplayed. Georgia State doesn’t have the talent of Tennessee or perhaps anyone on the remaining schedule.
The only saving grace from a loss as a 28-point favorite to start the season is that Pruitt shouldn’t even have to tell his team what happens when they take someone lightly. Regardless of whether they admit it, that’s what happened against Georgia State.
If Pruitt does have total control of his team, that game should have set a standard that can carry through the rest of the season. That is, you’re never safe from getting humiliated. That’s exactly what that game was. Humiliation. For fans, players and coaches, that feeling stings. It stings deeper than one week.
Does that mean the Vols will automatically flip the switch and play to the best of their abilities every week the rest of the way? Not necessarily. But there’s no reason for Tennessee to ever to take its foot off the gas like that again.
Pruitt will no longer just be spitting out a cliché when he says “don’t take these guys lightly.” He and his team lived it, and if they learn from it, they won’t have to live it again in 2019.