1 takeaway from every SEC spring game
Let’s all take a moment and appreciate that we actually have spring games to dissect.
A Saturday with 7 SEC spring games wasn’t exactly mid-October, in part because only 1 game was actually broadcast on TV (the rest were SEC Network Plus) and in part because we had games like Vanderbilt, wherein following the scoring system required a Vanderbilt degree.
They were, in the end, just scrimmages. But for an 8-month stretch, they’re the most interesting window into what a team might actually look like in the upcoming season. Not getting those last year was a reminder that even scrimmages carry some weight.
These takeaways from the weekend are big-picture topics that won’t just be forgotten in a week or 2:
Alabama — We should all learn how to pronounce “Agiye”
Pronounce it like this: “Uh-Jie.” The “Jie” rhymes with “tie.” Confused? Instead of saying “a tie” just say “a jie.” I say all of this because Agiye Hall turned heads in a major way on Saturday. The 4-star early enrollee is inevitably going to get his name mispronounced for a bit to start his career. With John Metchie out of the lineup, the catches we saw from Hall were like 2019 freshman George Pickens.
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) April 17, 2021
Hall made another catch deep down left sideline wherein he backpedaled and caught a pass in all kinds of traffic. It was a loud 4 catches for 72 yards. Does that mean Hall is ticketed for instant stardom as a true freshman? Not necessarily. When was the last time Alabama had a true freshman emerge as WR1? Amari Cooper. Jaylen Waddle was excellent as a true freshman, and he still only averaged 3 catches per game.
What seems likely is that similar to the aforementioned Pickens, we’ll see some brilliant flashes from Hall as a true freshman. He still has a lot of room for improvement with getting separation, which will probably prevent him from being a high-volume guy from the jump. But the good news is that based on the types of targets he got in the spring game, Alabama’s quarterbacks don’t have any problem trying to fit balls into tight windows when Hall is on the receiving end.
Arkansas — I should probably be talking about Mike Woods more
To be clear, I’m not sleeping on Arkansas receivers. I already ran through why I thought Treylon Burks was WR1 in the SEC in 2021, and that was pre-Pickens injury. I’m still on board with that. What I’m also on board with is Woods thriving in the No. 2 role. He connected with KJ Jefferson on a 33-yard score wherein he snuck behind the secondary on a nice little double move:
KJ ➡️ Mike Woods
We are LIVE! pic.twitter.com/KweW45zeLZ
— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) April 17, 2021
Get used to seeing that more often. Woods is going to be able to stretch the field for Arkansas. With the way Kendal Briles likes to use Burks out of the slot, there should be opportunities for Jefferson to take chances deep downfield. Sam Pittman praised the junior wideout, who carried a banner latter half of 2020 (399 yards, 4 TDs in final 5 games) into the spring.
“Woods and Burks” feels like a buddy cop movie or a high-end furniture store. After Saturday’s showing, I think it’s probably starting to feel like a legitimate candidate to be the SEC’s top receiver duo in 2021.
Auburn — Wait and see mode with Bo Nix hasn’t changed
This is the year. Bo Nix has improved so much under this new offense. He’s focused. He’s having fun. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a dark horse for the Heisman.
Well, at least that’s what the internet is telling me:
This is the year. Bo Nix has improved so much under this new offense. He’s focused. He’s having fun. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a dark horse for the Heisman. pic.twitter.com/xewthEJDiN
— Josh Vitale (@JoshVitale) April 17, 2021
What Nix’s spring game told me was that this is still very much a work in progress. Obviously. I thought it was telling that Nix’s lone touchdown pass of the day was on a designed rollout wherein he went to his right and made a nice sidearm throw in between a couple of defenders for a score. That, as we know, is where Nix likes to live. A lot. Too much.
It’s hard to take too much away from a spring game because if you think Nix looked more comfortable in the pocket, you should probably remember that he couldn’t be tackled. We already know he can scramble. What we don’t know is how — in this offense — he’ll react when he’s forced to troubleshoot against live defenders.
Had Nix come out and set the world on fire in the spring game, it would’ve been encouraging. It would’ve deserved an asterisk for the aforementioned reasons, but it would’ve been a sign to Bryan Harsin that his signal-caller is progressing as he hoped. But with Nix, wait and see mode is still in full effect until further notice.
Georgia — Kirby Smart finally has his ideal QB room
Smart actually admitted something rather telling. Like Nick Saban, he’s not big on the year-to-year comparison thing. He did, however, share this little nugget about his quarterback room that I thought was telling (via DawgNation):
“Top to bottom, I certainly feel really good about all four of them,” Smart said, asked about the tremendous depth of talent in the Georgia QB room. “I do not know that I could ever say that I had four that I was confident about. These four, I feel really good about. I think they are good football players. I think they are bright, they are intelligent, they challenge themselves.
“It is hard to compare it to other years. We have certainly had a talented quarterback room before, but with four guys you feel good about, it is hard to have that in college football.”
Smart is right. This is easily his best and deepest quarterback room. When he’s sitting there signing blue-chip quarterback after blue-chip quarterback, this is what he envisioned, not what we saw in 2020. In Carson Beck’s first pass in front of an actual audience, he looked exactly as advertised. The pocket presence continues to improve, he can stretch the field and he doesn’t look like a true freshman. Smart could theoretically turn to the redshirt freshman as a long-term solution if JT Daniels, who looked (mostly) excellent without a good chunk of his normal targets, were to go down.
Brock Vandagriff looking like a true freshman at times, in a weird way, actually helps Smart. He’s not going to be the 2018 version of Justin Fields. Vandagriff can’t stretch the field in the same sort of way, and it’s clear that he’s still learning Todd Monken’s offense, which is much different from what he ran in high school. That’s fine. He can be groomed slowly and unlike Smart’s other 5-star true freshmen quarterbacks in the past like Fields and Jacob Eason, Vandagriff can actually get a true redshirt year.
Just how Smart drew all of it up.
LSU — Myles Brennan is out for blood
I’m gonna say something that I don’t want taken the wrong way, but I think it’s something to at least file away. One of the noticeable things at the end of 2019 was how Mac Jones won over Alabama’s locker room. In the Citrus Bowl especially, he carried himself with a certain bravado that was evident. As it turned out, he ran away with the starting quarterback job that many assumed would go to the younger Bryce Young.
What does that have to do with Brennan? Well, the LSU redshirt senior carried himself with a different type of confidence than we’ve seen.
Spring Games are where your QB fits a fake spike, Bike Life + The Griddy into a 10-second span.
Exhibit A: Myles Brennan pic.twitter.com/0zpcOODTps
— Shea Dixon (@Sheadixon) April 17, 2021
To recap, we got a fake spike, a bomb to Kayshon Boutte, a Brennan taunt to the defense and then a multi-dance touchdown celebration. That’s, um, a lot. For a spring game.
But I keep coming back to this with Brennan. He’s in such a unique spot because he finally got that taste of success last year, only to watch a true freshman step in late and become the favorite in the clubhouse to win the starting job. Brennan looked like a guy who was well aware of that. We probably should’ve known that Brennan had kicked it up another notch when he showed up to camp looking as swole as ever.
Does that guarantee Brennan will win the starting job? Nope. Max Johnson has had a stellar spring of his own, including 2 touchdown passes Saturday. But Brennan isn’t going down without one heck of a fight.
MSU — These MSU corners aren’t to be messed with …
… which I realize is ironic because, in a scrimmage setting, that was the goal of the MSU offense. Real quick on that: This QB battle is down to incumbent starter Will Rogers and Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham. They had 41 and 34 pass attempts, respectively. That’s what one would expect Mike Leach to do. Fortunately for Leach, neither was inflated by the MSU secondary. If anything, they were deflated by the MSU secondary.
(The Jaden Walley injury didn’t help. Thankfully, he looks like he’s going to be just fine.)
Emmanuel Forbes continued to show that nose for the football with an interception on a tipped pass from Rogers. Martin Emerson was again disruptive with a couple of pass breakups. There’s a chance those guys finish the year as one of the nation’s best cornerback duos. MSU’s defense, in Year 2 with Zach Arnett, is clearly ahead of the offense, and the secondary is a big reason.
MSU’s defense surrendered just 6.5 yards per attempt Saturday. Yes, it helps when the offense is loaded with check-downs and swing passes that are extensions of the running game. Still, though. MSU, in this suddenly pass-happy league, is blessed with a pair of ball-hawking lockdown corners who can flip a game on a moment’s notice.
Vanderbilt — Mike Wright could be Mr. Wright for this Vandy offense
I was sort of hoping that we’d see Wright become to Vandy what John Rhys Plumlee was to Ole Miss: an explosive backup quarterback who can add a unique wrinkle to the offense. Vandy needs that, especially after starting tailback Keyon Henry-Brooks hit the transfer portal. Saturday’s spring game was a continuation of those flashes we saw from Wright as a true freshman in 2020, but unlike during the season when he was used almost exclusively in goal-to-go scenarios, Wright got a little breathing room.
He used it properly:
Mike Wright from 67 yards out 💨 pic.twitter.com/ZOSgc1Ze4U
— Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) April 17, 2021
Ken Seals is still the favorite to win the starting job under new offensive coordinator David Raih and passing game coordinator Joey Lynch. Still, this quote didn’t exactly shut the door on Wright becoming the guy (via The Tennessean):
“There’s a role for anyone that can help us move the football. But before we even get to that point, I want to really dig into this competition in fall camp,” Lea said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “I want to give guys an opportunity to separate themselves. I’m not looking for (quarterback) to be a shared position.
“But, ultimately, when we line and play an opponent, I’m looking for whatever pieces that put us in the best position to win.”
Lea is keeping his options open. If Wright continues to progress, it sounds like at the very least, he’d be in position to take the starting job from Seals if he were to struggle out of the gate.