1 thing I learned from every SEC team in Week 2
That’s what it was for plenty of SEC programs. A week after 9 of 11 SEC teams covered spreads against FBS competition, Week 2 was a different vibe. Texas A&M collapsed against Appalachian State, Texas nearly stunned Alabama, Florida was humbled by Kentucky and Kansas State clobbered Mizzou.
It was a wild Saturday. It was a telling Saturday.
Let’s dig into everything we learned:
Alabama — Flaws? They’re there
Well, I can’t say I saw that coming. A nail-biter against … Texas? Yep. That happened. Instead of this turning into a reminder of what happens when the Tide roll into town, Texas had a lead until Will Reichard drilled a game-winner with 15 seconds left. Alabama looked very much like the team that was in a 1-score game 6 of 8 times in SEC play last year. That’s what happens when you have a ground game that’s a total liability. An 81-yard touchdown run from Jase McClellan skewed those final numbers. Oh, and Alabama set a Nick Saban-era record with 15 (!) penalties, all of which happened in the first 3 quarters. The No. 1 Tide entered as 3-touchdown favorites, and they left looking like the 2021 squad that sweated out more victories than many care to remember.
Who knows what would’ve happened if Quinn Ewers had been able to stay healthy.
Arkansas — Rocket Sanders is ready to be a featured back
Don’t get it twisted. I love Dominique Johnson. When he’s healthy, he deserves to have a role in the Arkansas offense. But I’ve seen enough of Sanders to believe that he’s ready to be a true workhorse in Kendal Briles’ offense. A 24-carry, 156-yard showing marked the 2nd 20-carry game of his young career, with the 1st coming in the opener against Cincinnati. He’s such an ideal fit in this offense with his downhill running style.
They showed on the broadcast that he and KJ Jefferson are the heaviest quarterback-running back duo in the country at just shy of 500 pounds. Watch a defensive line in the 4th quarter against that duo and you’ll see that on display.
Auburn — This QB situation is still full of angst
On the bright side, Auburn made enough plays down the stretch to win. TJ Finley settled in a bit, and Robby Ashford had a nice 30-yard run, which helped him finished the day as the team’s leading rusher. But it wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the pro-Finley crowd. It’s hard to judge Ashford without more significant reps as a passer, though obviously, he’s going to continue to be a fixture of the offense because his legs are a unique weapon. Ashford showed that inexperience as a passer with an underthrown ball that was picked off.
Zach Calzada warmed up, but he didn’t even get a look. Had the Tigers stalled offensively like they did early, would we have seen the A&M transfer? We don’t know. We do know that Auburn needs to have this quarterback situation figured out next week with Penn State coming to town.
Florida — We need to chill on the Anthony Richardson hype
Sure, maybe Richardson was impacted by a low hit he took early in the game. But man, that was a brutal setback after he was all the rage coming off the Utah win. Mark Stoops and Brad White had a masterful plan to confuse the young Florida quarterback. Richardson threw a pick-6 to Keidron Smith that was shades of his pick-6 right at Nakobe Dean last year. It was that kind of day. Richardson didn’t have touch, he made poor decisions and Billy Napier couldn’t get him going.
This was a reminder of why you don’t attach Cam Newton comparisons to anyone, much less someone with 2 career starts. Start No. 3 of Richardson’s career was humbling. Kentucky was 1 step ahead of Richardson the entire night. The Cats didn’t turn their back on him in man coverage like Utah did. As a result, they held Richardson to just 4 rushing yards. Richardson’s Heisman Trophy odds took a massive hit. More importantly, Florida’s offense showed it has some holes to it.
Georgia — The Dawgs have the best case to be ranked No. 1
It’s not Alabama that deserves that No. 1 ranking. It’s the defending champs, who outscored their first 2 opponents 82-3. Even if Saturday was a much more ho-hum day with a 33-0 victory against FCS Samford, Alabama’s struggles as a 3-score favorite at Texas served as a reminder that blowout victories against Power 5 teams aren’t a given. If we were just basing this off 2022 resume, Georgia would have a pretty clear argument to be top dog.
Will Georgia actually jump Alabama? That’s anybody’s guess. Lord knows voters will probably knock UGA for playing against an FCS foe. But whatever the case, Georgia fans got a nice opportunity to sit back and enjoy not being involved in the chaos.
Kentucky — That defense might be a vintage Stoops unit
That felt very 2018-ish. Kentucky, despite what Roman Harper said, is not soft. That group totally stymied national darling Richardson. He was ineffective against Kentucky’s confusing mix of pressure and drop coverage. Smith got a walk-in pick-6 on a poor Richardson read, and Jordan Wright’s return included an interception on another bad decision from the Florida quarterback. Even true freshman defensive tackle Deone Walker got involved by blowing up Nay’Quan Wright for a huge 3rd-down stop.
It was a peak-Stoops defensive showing. Florida couldn’t get anything going in the 2nd half after it looked like Trevor Etienne was going to be the spark plug. The question isn’t whether the Cats are going to have a solid defense. It’s whether this group can be as dominant as the 2018 group. After Saturday night’s showing, yes, that absolutely feels like it’s on the table.
LSU — Kayshon Boutte is still part of the offense
After a disastrous 1st game with Brian Kelly, the star LSU receiver was clearly a focal point of the offensive game plan. He got 4 touches in the 1st quarter, which was by design. That included a 41-yard run, which was the Tigers’ longest of the night. He finished the night early with 6 scrimmage touches for 83 yards. Sure, it would’ve been nice had Boutte been able to celebrate a touchdown, but it was still better than the alternative. If you couldn’t get him involved against Southern, when could you? Thankfully for Kelly, he didn’t have to answer that question.
Mississippi State — This defense is ready to be a force in SEC play
If you’re sleeping on Zach Arnett’s defense, now is your time to wake up. Tyrus Wheat, Emmanuel Forbes and Jett Johnson might just have Mike Leach’s first top-30 defense in 17 years. If you haven’t watched them yet, watch how they never seem to have breakdowns on the back end, and they’re always around the football. Arizona was coming off an impressive 38-point showing at San Diego State. That was an afterthought by night’s end. Jayden de Laura threw 3 interceptions, and he would’ve had 4 had Forbes been able to get his heel down inbounds in the end zone.
We knew that Arnett had an extremely experienced group after last year’s defense was No. 3 in the SEC against the run. But the Bulldogs look like a group that has more defensive firepower than any time in the Leach era. Dare I say, MSU is setting itself up well to be much better than the 6th-place SEC West team it was predicted to be.
Mizzou — The offense has major issues from the top down
Woof. Mizzou fans have every right to be frustrated. Late in the 1st half, Mizzou was sitting at fewer than 50 yards of offense. That’s not ideal. You know what else isn’t ideal? This is Year 3 in this scheme, which is run by Eli Drinkwitz. There’s still not enough downfield emphasis, and there’s far too much horizontal design. A week after praising Drinkwitz for getting Luther Burden so many unique touches, he had just 2. Nothing really worked offensively. Nathaniel Peat and Cody Schrader had a combined 19 carries for 29 yards. Yikes. This offense has a problem, and not just because Brady Cook isn’t the game-changer at quarterback that Mizzou hoped for. Drinkwitz needs to figure out his team’s offensive identity in a hurry.
Ole Miss — Luke Altmyer is going to have a legitimate chance to win the starting job … if he’s healthy
In Altmyer’s final audition for the Ole Miss starting job, he made a pretty clear case. The offense hummed in the 1st quarter, and unlike the Troy game, Ole Miss had a big early lead going into the break. Granted, it was Central Arkansas. And to be fair, Jaxson Dart actually ended up with the better, more efficient final line. It doesn’t feel like there’s a no-doubter decision for Lane Kiffin. It’s hard not to be intrigued when you see Altmyer make plays like he did with a defender wrapped around his leg and he’s still able to find Michael Trigg in the end zone.
Altmyer also came out of the game with an upper body injury. Maybe that’ll make Kiffin’s decision easier. Neither option feels like a slam dunk, which is perhaps why there’s still no decision at the end of Week 2.
South Carolina — The Gamecocks have a long way to go in the trenches
I’m talking about on both sides of the ball. Arkansas tends to make teams realize just that. It’s not just the offensive line that has a ways to go. Spencer Rattler got some time to stretch the field, but 6 sacks can’t happen. Some of that is on Rattler recognizing pressure, and part of that is scheme. Marcus Satterfield has to find ways to utilize Rattler’s skill set while giving him more protection. Yeah, that’s easier said than done. The Rattler-Juice Wells connection is obvious, but as we saw on Saturday, it can only do so much when there’s such a clear disparity in the trenches.
South Carolina also couldn’t stop the 1-2 punch of Sanders and Jefferson, who led an Arkansas rushing attack that nearly hit 300 yards. As great as it was to see Jordan Burch take down Jefferson, the Gamecocks still need more from that defensive front if they’re going to keep their head above water in the East.
Tennessee — This team doesn’t need to put up 500 yards of offense to win games
I mean, 500 yards helps, but I actually thought the Tennessee defense getting stops was the story of that game late. Byron Young and Tyler Baron were difference-makers against a Pitt offense that looked like it was going to find a way to pull off the comeback, even without the injured Kedon Slovis. Jeremy Banks felt like he had his hands on every other Pitt pass, and Aaron Beasley was everywhere. Was it perfect? Of course not. Ideally, the Vols’ defense would’ve avoided Pitt’s game-tying drive with a banged-up backup quarterback. Still, though. Tennessee scored the fewest points in a winning effort in the Josh Heupel era, and that was with the beautiful adjustment Cedric Tillman made to haul in the game-winning catch in overtime.
If Tennessee is going to have a pulse defensively, this team is going to be a brutal 60-minute battle in SEC play.
Texas A&M — We were right to be skeptical of A&M
A&M had 56 players rated as 4- or 5-star recruits on its roster. Appalachian State had 1. That was an afterthought by day’s end. That can’t happen. Ever. The $95 million man didn’t have his team ready to go, and he didn’t troubleshoot in the midst of an embarrassing loss to Appalachian State, which collected $1.5 million from the Aggies. Why A&M was the No. 6 team in the country, I couldn’t tell you. A team with obvious question marks, especially with the passing game, which was held under 100 yards. Haynes King still hasn’t mastered the Jimbo Fisher offense, and the Aggies’ offensive line still doesn’t look to be capable of imposing its will. A&M had 9 first downs and 186 total yards. That’s unacceptable for any Power 5 team, much less one with a coach with $86 million guaranteed due him after this season.
To this point, Fisher had avoided embarrassing losses. Saturday was a painful reminder that the Aggies are a long way off from being a legitimate contender in the SEC.
Vanderbilt — Mike Wright is human
Because if you didn’t know any better, you’d think he wasn’t after watching him in Vandy’s first 2 games. Wright came into Saturday’s showdown with Wake Forest with 10 total touchdowns. That didn’t stop him from getting an early exit after a rough outing on Saturday. He had a pick-6, and he fumbled an exchange. You can’t give the prolific Wake Forest offense opportunities like that, especially with Sam Hartman back.
Wright gave way to true freshman AJ Swann, who got the passing game going and led a couple of scoring drives. Does that mean Wright’s job is in jeopardy? No, but it was a smart move by Clark Lea to get Swann some reps against Power 5 competition. Wright couldn’t do anything in the passing game after his blistering start. Saturday was a back-to-earth day for the Vandy captain.