1 thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 2
It’s always interesting to see what happens when the hype of the opener wears off.
Like, how does a team perform in a matchup that it doesn’t have 8 months to prepare for? I tend to think it’s a week of “this is who we really are.”
Granted, there are some exceptions. Facing an FCS team at home (South Carolina) might not paint the most realistic picture of what to expect the rest of the way. And sometimes with true freshman quarterbacks (South Carolina and Auburn), we see the development taking shape in non-SEC matchups.
But for the most part, I think Week 2 is usually pretty telling.
Here’s what I learned in Week 2:
Alabama — The running game is a work in progress
I know, I know. The raw numbers were good — 318 yards on 9.9 yards per carry — and this sounds like nitpicking. But take away that swing pass that Henry Ruggs took 75 yards to the house, and take away Tua Tagovailoa’s 33 rushing yards on 2 attempts. That brings the total down to 210 yards against an awful Group of 5 team. Najee Harris and Brian Robinson were a shade above 5 yards per carry.
Nick Saban said afterward that Alabama still needs to run the ball “a little bit more efficiently and effectively.” I agree. Without anchors like Jonah Williams and Ross Pierschbacher, Alabama is still finding out who it is in the ground game.
Arkansas — The Hogs aren’t ready to play 60 minutes against an SEC team
Shame on me for thinking they were. Part of it was the offense. Chad Morris can’t stop shuffling quarterbacks when Nick Starkel is clearly the guy, which is a problem. So is not averaging 3 yards per carry against Ole Miss. But for all the leeway Arkansas gets because of its inexperienced roster, the defense allowed 31 points to an Ole Miss offense that returned the lowest percentage of its 2018 production of any team in America. That’s unacceptable.
Auburn — Gus Malzahn’s plan to develop Bo Nix’s passing is atypical
Most coaches with a mobile, true freshman quarterback would want him doing more running than throwing early on. Malzahn isn’t doing that with Nix. After allowing him to throw 37 times against Tulane, Nix is averaging 34 pass attempts per game. My guess? He wants him getting as many reps as possible with these receivers. It would be easy to just let the ground game do all the work, but Malzahn is thinking big-picture with his pass-heavy play-calling with Nix.
Florida — You can dominate an FCS team and feel like you lost
Man, that’s brutal. On a night when Feleipe Franks was nearly perfect, Florida’s losses were the story. Losing C.J. Henderson and Kadarius Toney was a tough pill to swallow, especially considering the Gators didn’t need either one to roll on Saturday. Toney’s injury could be multi-week while Henderson’s wasn’t quite as serious. But still. Florida is about to start SEC play, and losing the team’s most dangerous player (Toney) and possibly the team’s best player overall (Henderson) narrows the margin for error even more.
Georgia — George Pickens is ready
Why tell you when I can show you?
OH MY, GEORGE PICKENS 😱 pic.twitter.com/N4qo9X4HB4
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 7, 2019
Everyone knew the 5-star receiver was talented and going to make plays like that. The question was how soon he’d be doing it. Whether Pickens is starting or not, he’s clearly ready to make a splash. He led the Dawgs in receiving yards in Week 2 after he was held without a catch in Week 1. It’s still going to take time for Pickens to develop as a route-runner (that catch was just a go route), but Georgia fans got a little glimpse of his massive potential on Saturday.
Kentucky — The Cats’ entire 2019 trajectory just changed
I hate, hate, hate that Terry Wilson is out for the season. If there’s one thing that made my stomach drop in the first few weeks of this season, that was it. I was super high on Wilson’s Year 2 strides as the starter, and I thought he was in for a nice season. That was part of the reason I thought Kentucky would beat Florida and have a much better year than many anticipated. With all due respect to Sawyer Smith, who performed well in relief against Eastern Michigan, Kentucky’s entire 2019 outlook is now up in the air with the loss of Wilson. Awful.
LSU — Offense
I mean, did you need more than one word? Or did that suffice? I think LSU having its first 400-yard passer since 2001 and putting up 45 points on the road to beat No. 9 Texas in a shootout said it all. The Tigers are for real, y’all.
Mississippi State — Receivers have taken that next step
For all the criticism that Nick Fitzgerald took for his passing struggles last year, he didn’t get much help from MSU’s receivers. Between the drops and lack of separation, they were certainly responsible for how 1-dimensional the Bulldogs were. That’s no longer the case.
Joe Moorhead brought in Michael Johnson to coach the receivers, and so far, the results are promising. Osirus Mitchell had what looked like a sun-related non-catch, but outside of that, he’s been solid. The same is true of Stephen Guidry. If you don’t believe me, take it from my guy, former Florida receiver and current SEC Network analyst Chris Doering:
Got to give credit to the @HailStateFB WR’s as I’ve been critical in past. Coach Johnson has his group playing with confidence and more consistency. Hoping Stevens is ok as offense finally has balance. Hill is the most under appreciated RB in the @sec, possibly the country.
— Chris Doering (@ChrisDoering) September 8, 2019
Mizzou — Jekyll, meet Hyde
Can a team look more different from one week to the next? I get that it was a weird opener up in Wyoming, but against West Virginia, the Tigers looked like they got an entirely new team. The run game issues — on both sides — that plagued them in the opener were drastically turned around. Larry Rountree looked like the back many expected to compete for the SEC rushing title while Kelly Bryant made some big-time NFL throws. Say what you want about Barry Odom, but the guy knows how to bounce back from a loss.
Ole Miss — An incredible stat about the defense
Last year, Ole Miss kept 1 team under 20 points (2-win Kent State).
Whoops. I messed up the stat. In the past 2 seasons, Ole Miss kept 1 team under 20 points.
In 2 games under Mike MacIntyre, Ole Miss kept 2 teams under 20 points. Um, if that doesn’t show you how much this team improved, I don’t know what does. Holding an SEC team to fewer than 3 yards per carry? What? The Rebels? Even though it was only Arkansas, one can’t help but notice how much better position Ole Miss seems to be in to make plays and create takeaways. That bodes much better for the Rebels’ 2019 outlook as this offense learns its identity.
South Carolina — The Ryan Hilinski hype is real
“Easy, Connor. It was Charleston Southern.”
I know. I get that. I understand that we’re not going to remember Hilinski for how he plays against FCS teams. But in his first start, I don’t care if it was against air. That was an impressive performance. He made next-level throws and kept the offense in rhythm all afternoon while helping the team to a program record in total offense (700 yards):
RYAN HILINSKI WITH THE 60 😤 pic.twitter.com/dcfsRbAyoP
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 7, 2019
If Hilinski can just look mediocre against Alabama, South Carolina fans will be buying the Hilinski hype even more.
Tennessee — A new low was possible
I thought the Vols were in for a bounce-back week and that it couldn’t get worse than losing as a 28-point favorite to a bad Sun Belt team. It turns out that I was wrong. Before that long pass play in the final 20 seconds, Tennessee had something like a 99.6% win probability. It was baffling to watch the Vols find a way to lose that game, but it was even more baffling to watch the continued struggles to sustain offense. Throw that 8-win projection out the window. Immediately.
Surely a new low isn’t possible against Chattanooga … right? Right?!?!?!?
Texas A&M — Kellen Mond isn’t quite ready to be elite
I wanted to see Mond double down on what he did last year against Clemson. In a hostile environment against the top dogs, Mond had a chance to make himself some money and respect. Instead, he looked like 2017 Mond. He wasn’t picking up Brent Venables’ blitzes, which led to an uncomfortable afternoon in Death Valley.
I’m still high on Mond’s upside and think he has potential to have a big year. But watching him not process decisions quick enough served as a bit of a reality check that he’s not quite on that elite level yet.
Vanderbilt — There are secondary issues after all
I praised the Commodores’ young secondary in Week 1 for not letting Jake Fromm throw the ball all over the place. So how did they follow that up? By allowing Purdue to throw the ball all over the place. Jeff Brohm’s game plan was to attack, attack and attack some more with Elijah Sindelar. He hit 500 passing yards and Rondale Moore hit 200 receiving yards in what turned into a track meet in West Lafayette. It didn’t even matter that Purdue only ran for 1.7 yards per carry. Brohm knew Vandy’s weakness in Week 2 of the post-Joejuan Williams era, and he exploited it.