1 storyline for each SEC spring game Saturday
Hey, it took 2 long years, but we finally have what everyone has been waiting for.
A full Saturday of spring football games!
In all seriousness, I would have stayed up until 3 in the morning to watch a Vandy spring game at this time last year. To say that we were all starved for live sports — in any sense — would be an understatement.
Today, we’ll have wall-to-wall coverage of SEC spring games here on SDS. In case you don’t have the schedule memorized yet, here it is:
- MSU: Noon ET (SECN+)
- Vanderbilt: Noon ET (SECN+)
- Alabama: 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
- LSU: 1 p.m. ET (SECN+)
- Georgia: 2 p.m. ET (SECN+)
- Auburn: 2 p.m. ET (SECN+)
- Arkansas: 3 p.m. ET (SECN+)
Hopefully you have access to SEC Network-plus with your cable provider.
So with half the league in action, here’s the top storyline I’ll be watching for in each spring game (of course this is quarterback-heavy):
Alabama — How crisp does the Bill O’Brien offense look?
Yeah, I know. It’s all about Bryce Young and his new offensive coordinator. I get that. But beyond just how Young looks, will we see O’Brien scheme receivers open? How do those 2-tight end sets look? Is there balance with the run game? O’Brien’s first act as Alabama offensive coordinator might not have a true win or loss at stake, but after the Steve Sarkisian era, there’s a new standard for offense in Tuscaloosa, especially in the passing game.
It’ll be interesting to see how O’Brien utilizes each quarterback (Paul Tyson and Jalen Milroe will be vying for QB2), all of whom have different skill sets. That’s what Sarkisian mastered so well going from Tua Tagovailoa to Mac Jones. The best-case scenario is that Saturday feels like Sarkisian never left. It’s not a new offense. O’Brien took on Alabama’s version of the spread, and he’s been making his own tweaks to it.
Some home-run plays in the passing game would be an ideal way for O’Brien to start off in his new high-pressure role.
Arkansas — Just how far ahead is the defense compared to the offense?
I mean, when you return all but 1 starter, yeah, the defense should look the part. Barry Odom’s group should be flying around because with a full year in the system, they’re not the ones playing catchup. Arkansas’ offense with KJ Jefferson could be a work in progress. That is, if last year’s up-and-down finish was any indication. Going against a defense that could be one of the league’s better units might magnify that.
Jalen Catalon and Grant Morgan probably don’t need a ton of spring game reps, but when that first-team unit is out there, expect it to be ahead of schedule. That’s perfectly fine, and not necessarily an indictment on Jefferson’s development, which has earned rave reviews out of spring camp. Expect the defense to be ahead with whatever inevitable goofy scoring system we see on Saturday.
Auburn — Bo Nix with yet another new offensive coordinator
All eyes on Nix. Imagine that, right? The day that Nix isn’t the center of attention in that offense will be a strange one. We know that Mike Bobo isn’t going to run a similar offense to Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris. The tempo will be different. Nix actually getting looks under center will be different. Hopefully, for the sake of Auburn fans, the results will be different, too.
Nix is in a unique spot without his go-to targets of Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz, both of whom could make home-run plays to cover up some of those passing game inconsistencies. Nix handling pressure and making reads without drifting to his right and throwing on the run will be a key focus for Bobo and Bryan Harsin … along with the entire Auburn fanbase.
Georgia — Carson Beck vs. Brock Vandagriff
Who said all noteworthy battles have to be for the QB1 spot? Georgia has QB1 taken care of with JT Daniels. I wouldn’t expect to see much of the preseason Heisman Trophy contender Saturday. I do expect to see Beck and Vandagriff, who represent what’s perhaps the most intriguing backup battle in college football.
Beck didn’t get a 2020 spring game, and he had 1 pass-less appearance in 2020, but he’s been getting praise out of camp pretty much since he showed up. The same could be said for Vandagriff, who enters as the 5-star, homegrown quarterback of the future. Their styles are a bit different. Vandagriff likes to move a little bit more than Beck, who is comfortable making his reads from the pocket.
Whether one of them can separate themselves in Todd Monken’s offense will be worth watching on a variety of fronts. Daniels could easily be gone after 2021, and with a young, promising group of skill players in Monken’s offense, a prime opportunity to become QB2 and get some garbage time reps could shape the 2022 battle with 5-star verbal pledge Gunner Stockton. G-Day feels like the first real insight we’ll get into the “quarterback of the future” debate.
MSU — How much further along is the Air Raid than last year?
I could have easily picked the quarterback battle here, which is absolutely worth watching. Will Rogers is going to get serious competition from Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham. That much we know. What don’t we know? If MSU has figured out how to pass protect so it can actually run Mike Leach’s offense. That’s an all-too-pressing question heading into Year 2. You can say it was a makeshift offensive line in Year 1, but in this setting, we shouldn’t be seeing MSU quarterbacks engulfed play after play.
And that’s not a knock on Zach Arnett’s defense, which surpassed expectations in Year 1 (especially against the run). What the Bulldogs do on that side of the ball could determine just how significant the Year 2 jump is. Against that loaded secondary, it’d be an awfully good sign if MSU’s quarterbacks (old and new) can make the Air Raid actually look like the Air Raid.
LSU — Myles Brennan’s return
This is another situation where the quarterback room as a whole is worth watching, but I’ve been curious about Brennan. If you’ve seen him coming off last year’s season-ending injury, he certainly looks the part. Gone are the offseason questions about his ability to gain weight. Now, the question is if he can beat out Max Johnson after his impressive finish to 2021.
Running Jake Peetz’s offense should be shades of what Brennan was used to under Joe Brady. Then again, it’s not like Steve Ensminger overhauled the schemes when Brady left for the Panthers after 2019. Still, what version of Brennan will we see? Will we see the guy who struggled to read pressure like in the 2020 opener against MSU? Or will we see the guy who bounced back and lit up a pair of SEC defenses the following 2 games before getting hurt?
Ed Orgeron said that Brennan looked “phenomenal” early in camp. Let’s see if that carries into Saturday in what’ll be a key determining factor as to whether he can get his starting job back.
Vanderbilt — How noticeable is the defensive improvement with Clark Lea?
Hold the phone. That’s not my way of saying I expect Vandy’s defense to come out looking like 2018-20 Notre Dame. I don’t at all. All Lea did was crank out top-15 units there. What Lea’s group did extremely well was stuff the run. That’s not the product of a stud front-7 player here or there (it’s more of a front 6 because Lea runs a 4-2-5). That’s the product of a disciplined unit that’s in the right spots.
I would expect that to be the most noticeable improvement for Vandy in Year 1, despite the fact that Lea had to replace Dayo Odeyingbo and Andre Mintz, who were the team’s best pass-rushers. This group has a ton of room for improvement after depth issues plagued the nation’s No. 113 unit. It might not jump out in a spring game, but we should still see a group that doesn’t play on its heels like it did for so much of 2020.