1 thing I learned from every SEC team in Week 2 of 2021
So, you want an encore?
It’s unfair to stay that everyone in the SEC got an encore in Week 2. No offense, Vandy and LSU. “Bounce back” is probably a better word than “encore” if we’re talking about a Week 2 showing.
And according to Nick Saban, Alabama needed to bounce back after playing only 1 half of 1 game. Clearly.
Week 2 is in the books. What did it tell us? Well, not everyone got an encore.
Here’s 1 thing I learned from every SEC team in Week 2:
Alabama — Another injury to an Alabama linebacker …
A week after Christopher Allen went down with a fractured foot in the season opener, Alabama watched the invaluable Will Anderson leave the game with a lower-body injury of his own.
Frame-by-frame view of Will Anderson’s injury pic.twitter.com/E1I4NwiGVA
— Patrick Greenfield (@PCGreenfield) September 11, 2021
Not great. Anderson looked unblockable in the opener against Miami. As a true freshman, he led all of FBS in pressures. If Alabama is going to have a defense reminiscent of a vintage Saban bunch, one would think that Anderson turning into an All-American would be part of that equation. Fortunately, he walked off under his own power. Hopefully it isn’t major — early reports indicate that it isn’t believed to be significant — and that he’ll be a go to help chase down those mobile Florida quarterbacks.
Arkansas — Oh yeah, Sam Pittman’s team is ready for that next step
Hey, Texas. Welcome to the SEC. Here’s a punch to the face.
That’s basically what Arkansas did for 4 quarters. It was a total beatdown. That game showed just how quickly Sam Pittman turned things around. There’s no chance even last year that Arkansas would’ve dominated in the ground game like that. But Pittman’s 2 coordinator hires — Kendal Briles and Barry Odom — drew up remarkable game plans to pummel Texas. That snapped a streak of 28 consecutive games in which Steve Sarkisian’s offense scored 31 points. Grant Morgan, Zach Williams (he had the strip of Hudson Card) and John Ridgeway were everywhere.
We came into 2021 wondering what that Year 2 bump would look like for Pittman. I’d say beating a top-15 team for the first time in 5 years was the ultimate sign that this program is in a different galaxy than the one that couldn’t stay on the field with Western Kentucky. And hey, is that a little bit of swag from Arkansas? Why yes it is.
Not this time. pic.twitter.com/tWRzlZuFh8
— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) September 12, 2021
Auburn — Jarquez Hunter’s development is massive
On a day when Shaun Shivers was unavailable, a bad sequence of events could’ve unfolded for Auburn. Hunter could’ve struggled against inferior competition, and Bryan Harsin could’ve relied too heavily on Tank Bigsby. Fortunately, Bigsby’s last carries of the game came on the first series of the second half. Hunter casually ripped off the longest touchdown run in Auburn history. A whopping 94 yards untouched was a nice way put an exclamation point on Saturday’s blowout:
Jarquez Hunter. 94 yards. Untouched.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 11, 2021
We came into the year wondering about Auburn’s running back depth behind Bigsby because Shivers isn’t a high-volume guy. Hunter’s emergence is hopefully going to take some pressure off Bigsby to carry so much of that workload. Consecutive 100-yard games to start his college career is solid, I’d say.
Florida — That QB controversy didn’t fade, unless …
… you think it’s obvious that Anthony Richardson should be the guy. In which case, I suppose there’s no controversy. And I know, AR-15 saw his day come to an end with a hamstring injury. After a long touchdown run. Of course he did. The guy is a walking highlight reel. He’s 240 pounds and somersaulting like a 150-pound gymnast.
And the other half of the equation is that Emory Jones continued to make baffling decisions. He threw a ball into the end zone in quadruple coverage. Jones knew he had to be better to hold off Richardson, and he wasn’t — at least, not to the point where he made Florida fans feel better about his performance. Dan Mullen said he’s sticking with Jones against Alabama next week, but how long can this last if Richardson is healthy?
Dan Mullen said Emory Jones is still the starting QB: ‘We have two really good quarterbacks. We’ll play two every game.’
— Edgar Thompson (@osgators) September 11, 2021
Georgia — So Stetson Bennett IV is the real backup, huh?
So when it came out that JT Daniels was dealing with an oblique injury, it was assumed by many (myself included) that Carson Beck would be the guy. The redshirt freshman earned the No. 2 job, or so it appeared. And then, as fate would have it, Bennett got the nod … and then lit the world on fire. Did I say “world?” I meant, he lit a bunch of pregame Twitter complaints on fire. The guy tied a UGA record with 5 (!) touchdown passes, and he did so before the first half ended. Whether it was Brock Bowers (very much a force of nature already), Jermaine Burton or Arian Smith, Bennett looked like a guy who had no problems stretching the field. Go figure.
But no, Robert Griffin III, there’s not a QB controversy in Athens. Daniels is the guy, and a prolific game against UAB didn’t change that.
Kentucky — Backs against the wall, Kentucky can turn to the downfield passing game
The key play of this one was when Kentucky was up 35-28. Will Levis had just gotten sacked. Facing 3rd and 12 with 6 minutes left, that was the type of situation in the past where, to be honest, the Wildcats wouldn’t have had much of a chance, and they probably would’ve dialed up a QB draw. Instead, Liam Coen split 5 receivers out wide, and Wan’Dale Robinson got a 1-on-1 matchup he capitalized on and turned into a pivotal first down.
On a much smaller scale, it was almost shades of that third-down conversion that Joe Burrow had to Justin Jefferson against Texas in 2019. That’s when you knew the LSU offense was different. Maybe that’s the moment when we realized the Kentucky offense was different.
LSU — The ground game still hasn’t figured it out
I know. It was a blowout win. But this is “1 thing I learned.” The Tigers were sitting there at 3.8 yards per carry late in the fourth quarter in a home game against McNeese. That’s bad. Real bad. No, I don’t think being banged up at 2 spots on the offensive line is an excuse, nor do I think we can attribute the lack of rushing success to John Emery Jr.’s absence. It’s just not a group that’s going to create space up front.
LSU looks like a team that is going to be far too one-dimensional this year. And as talented as Max Johnson is, you can’t ignore his issues against pressure so far. He can’t keep his eyes downfield the way he needs to, and LSU doesn’t look like it has the answers to beat teams in the trenches. At least, not on the offensive line.
Mizzou — Tyler Badie is going to covet 20-plus touches per game after all
I spent all offseason thinking that replacing Larry Rountree would be too much for the smaller Badie, especially with how much Eli Drinkwitz likes to use him in the passing game. I came away from Saturday thinking that I haven’t respected him enough. He’s so explosive out of the backfield, and he’s unlike any other player on that roster. A week after he had 28 (!) scrimmage touches, he followed it up with 24 for 149 yards.
He’s too good to keep off the field. Drinkwitz knows it. Not many backs in this league can rip off a 200-yard rushing game one week and then have a 10-catch game the next. Most guys don’t do both of those things in their entire college careers. Tough loss aside, Badie’s emergence into an even more prolific weapon is a massive win so far.
MSU — You shouldn’t test this MSU secondary
Wait. I knew that. Somehow, though, North Carolina State didn’t. For whatever reason, N.C. State insisted all night on trying to take deep shots. Against Martin Emerson and Emmanuel Forbes, yeah, that was a bad idea. I’m not sure what Wolfpack offensive coordinator Tim Beck was thinking by doing that. Sure, part of it was game flow, but MSU has one of the top corner duos in all of college football. There’s no reason why N.C. State should’ve attempted more passes than MSU of all teams.
As a whole, MSU’s defense totally flipped the switch since the horrendous start against Louisiana Tech. Zach Arnett appears to have picked up right where he left off.
Ole Miss — Welcome to the new and improved/aggressive Ole Miss defense
There’s a clear priority with D.J. Durkin’s unit. Ole Miss is going to be far more aggressive this year compared to last year. We saw that in a drubbing of Louisville on Monday. We also saw that again in a lopsided win against Austin Peay. Four sacks was certainly a positive sign on such short rest. But with that aggressiveness sometimes comes penalties. Not just targeting penalties, either. Ole Miss was flagged 4 times for pass interference on Saturday.
Was that just the byproduct of a group set on becoming the aggressor in 2021? Perhaps. With Tulane coming up, now wouldn’t be the time to take the foot off the gas. Ask Oklahoma about that.
South Carolina — East Carolina or not, Shane Beamer’s team has some grit
I thought South Carolina’s 2020 team would’ve lost that game. I know. It had more talent. You could make the case that perhaps it wouldn’t have fallen behind 14-0 to ECU. But that was incredibly gritty from a team that had a ton to prove. That defense showed up, and a ground game that we assumed would be enough to win this game really didn’t get going until late. How about Dak Joyner doing things as a pass-catcher, too? That was extremely impressive.
There was mystery all week about whether Luke Doty would start. Instead, the Zeb Noland experience continued. And it was rough for a bit. But Shane Beamer, facing his first real big in-season decision, stuck with Noland. He didn’t pull him to put in Doty, who clearly wasn’t at 100 percent if he wasn’t out there. South Carolina will have prettier wins in the Beamer era, but for a team with 6 victories in the previous 2 seasons, gutting that one out to get to 2-0 was a positive sign for establishing a new culture.
Tennessee — Joe Milton ain’t it
Have YOU been overthrown by Milton? Of course you have. For the second time in as many starts under Josh Heupel, the Michigan transfer struggled mightily with his accuracy, especially downfield. There were 6 misses on downfield shots in the first 10 minutes alone, 2 of which were negated by penalties. The problem was that he missed open receivers. Badly. He got hurt on a play in which he was sacked and he fumbled, which gave us our first real look at Hendon Hooker at quarterback.
Hooker wasn’t Peyton Manning — his telegraphed pass was picked off, and it squashed Tennessee’s comeback attempt — but he was more effective than Milton. We know the Virginia Tech transfer can move. So what if he can’t air it out like Milton? Last I checked, that’s irrelevant if you can’t complete those chances, which Milton has yet to do dating back to his Michigan days. Hooker has to be the guy moving forward.
Texas A&M — The defense can absolutely put this team on its back
But boy, did it take quite the afternoon to figure that out. Holy cow. That game was straight out of 1995.
A&M, which lost Haynes King after the second drive of the game, was a shell of itself offensively. Zach Calzada looked like a guy who wasn’t ready. He did, however, have that remarkable final 2 drives. But Calzada’s perfect pass to Isaiah Spiller wouldn’t have meant much if A&M didn’t totally flip the switch defensively. A second-half shutout was a total team effort. The Aggies got coverage sacks (Jaylon Jones was outstanding), and A&M didn’t miss open-field tackles. Jayden Peevy, DeMarvin Leal and that defensive line looked elite.
What a game that was for Mike Elko, too. Maybe he deserved the $90 million contract instead of Jimbo Fisher, who looked like he had a quarterback who wasn’t ready to win in that moment. Until he was. A&M didn’t win a game quite like that last year. As in, the Aggies always had the running game to fall back on. Now, though, that defense is one you can trust.
Vanderbilt — Hey, no winless season here!
I learned that was possible in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Credit Ken Seals and the Vandy passing game for getting going against Colorado State after a rough Week 1. The Commodores stretched the field, and Seals even called his own number on a hurry-up sneak to punch it across the goal line for a key score in the second half.
And in the closing minutes, Seals got Vandy within field-goal range for former Alabama kicker Joseph Bulovas, who somehow snuck it through the uprights to down Colorado State:
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 12, 2021
Clark Lea is on the board!