A position group on every SEC contender that has to perform better in 2019
Even the best teams have areas of concern.
Or maybe you didn’t watch Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson each throw for 300+ yards against Alabama.
If the Crimson Tide have a weakness, you know other SEC teams do as well.
Here’s a look at one position group on every SEC contender that has to play better in 2019.
Better kicking obviously would help, too, but that’s much more like changing a lightbulb than discovering a crack in the foundation. Bama’s DBs were put in a tough spot in 2018. The Tide frequently deal with turnover and early departures, but their entire secondary had to be remade after losing their top 6 players. The inexperienced group made some plays — Bama’s 14 interceptions tied for second in the SEC — but there was zero suspense in how and where the best teams they faced were going to attack.
Still, the numbers were a bit unnerving.
Since Nick Saban arrived in 2007, Alabama has allowed just 17 300-yard passing games. It had never allowed even 2 consecutive 300-yard games until this season, when the Tide gave up 3 consecutive 300-yard games to the best 3 quarterbacks it faced to close the season.
Alabama’s secondary again suffered personnel losses — starters Deionte Thompson and Saivion Smith left early for the NFL — but the Tide will enter spring ball in a much better place than they did last offseason.
Auburn: Running back
Jarrett Stidham didn’t have a stellar second season on The Plains, but the biggest difference between 2018 Auburn and 2017 Auburn was the Tigers didn’t have anybody remotely close to Kerryon Johnson.
The Tigers’ 9-year streak of producing a 1,000-yard rusher ended. And the Tigers’ 2,177 yards rushing were the fewest since 2012.
Count on Auburn starting another 1,000-yard streak in 2019. JaTarvious Whitlow returns and will become the centerpiece of an offense that works in a new starting quarterback.
LSU: Offensive line
Injuries, suspensions, bad luck? LSU’s o-line had it all in 2018. That’s the primary reason the unit rolled out 7 different starting combinations on the o-line. Everything this team does — recruiting to bowl destination — is viewed through the Alabama prism.
In that regard, the o-line didn’t hold up, again. The numbers were historically painful: 0 points, 13 first downs, 12 rushing yards, 5 sacks allowed. Alabama’s defensive front dominated, again.
The good news is everything that happened in 2018 gave others on the line valuable reps, especially for young, emerging talents like bookend tackles Saahdiq Charles and Austin Deculus.
LSU has lost 8 consecutive times to Alabama. That won’t change unless the o-line finally takes control of one of these matchups.
Texas A&M: Secondary
In just about every measure, the Aggies exceeded expectations in 2018. The won 9 games, nearly upset Clemson and outlasted LSU. They finished 4th in the SEC in scoring behind an inexperienced QB. They ran at will on offense and stuffed the run on defense.
There was a lot to like … until opponents started putting the ball in the air.
The Aggies allowed 26 TD passes, tied for most in the SEC. Only 4 came in the 7-overtime victory against LSU, too, so that game wasn’t an outlier.
The Aggies gave up 250+ yards passing 6 times, too. Despite the ball being in the air so much, they only produced 7 interceptions. Four SEC teams had 14 or more.
Expect that to change. Jimbo Fisher’s secondaries at FSU were loaded with NFL talent. The 2013 championship season? Sure, Jameis Winston won the Heisman, but the Noles led the country with 26 interceptions and returned 5 for TDs. They weren’t always that opportunistic, but they finished with 15 or more 6 times in Fisher’s 8 years.
He’ll get this fixed.
Florida: Defensive tackles
Florida did a lot of things well last season on both sides of the ball. There were no glaring deficiencies, but the defensive interior was pushed around at times.
Todd Grantham masked some of those issues with constant pressure off the edges. The 37 sacks, in particular, looked great on paper, but there’s no coincidence that when the outside pressure didn’t get there, the defense struggled. The best example came in back-to-back losses to Georgia and Missouri. Florida registered 1 sack in each game and allowed 35+ points. Florida also surrendered their two highest rushing totals in SEC play in the process.
The Dawgs’ picked up the pace in the postseason, but their pass rush was nonexistent for much of the regular season.
Georgia finished with just 24.0 sacks in 14 games. Edge rushers and defensive linemen were equally culpable. D’Andre Walker did what he could (team-high 7.5 sacks), but it was obvious they missed Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter and equally apparent that the hyped recruits weren’t quite ready as true freshmen.
There aren’t many lingering issues with Georgia’s offense. The Dawgs’ 2019 title hopes could hinge on how much and how fast this linebacking unit improves.
Without question, 2018 was a breakthrough year for Kentucky football. But the players most responsible for all of the “first time since 1977” accomplishments are off to the NFL.
That means Terry Wilson has to be better in 2019 than he was in 2018. He can’t be a complementary piece on an offense that just lost its greatest running back in program history.
Wilson attempted just 20.6 passes per game, 13th among SEC starters. It wasn’t just the lack of attempts, either. It was the lack of damage done. He averaged just 7.0 yards per attempt.
Wilson ran it 135 times last season. In the context of the Wildcats’ 2018 offense, that worked. They’ll need more out of his arm in 2019.
This isn’t all on Jarrett Guarantano. The offensive line, banged up throughout 2018, needs to play a lot better, too. Jeremy Pruitt addressed that in recruiting, landing two of the best tackles in the country.
But the only way the Vols contend in 2019 is if Guarantano takes a huge step forward. He needs to come close to doubling the 12 TD passes he threw in 2018. Is that too much of an ask? Guarantano isn’t young. He’s entering his fourth year on campus. He no longer is inexperienced, either.
Josh Dobbs jumped from 15 TDs to 27 in his fourth season. The Vols would be thrilled with that type of surge from Guarantano. As the offense continues to reinvent itself and distance itself from Butch Jones, they’ll need it, too.