1 thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 2 of the 2020 season
Week 1 was the preseason.
At least, it looked like it for some. Was that too early to take a cheap shot at the Week 1 LSU defense? My bad. That wasn’t nice.
The good thing for those SEC teams who struggled after as bizarre of an offseason as any is that it was just Week 1. Week 2 was not a “shake the rust off” week. It was a “no more excuses” week.
We learned a lot about who these teams really are in what was easily the best slate of this young college football season.
Here’s one thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 2:
Alabama — There’s another one!
I aaaaaaalmost quoted DJ Khaled, but then I thought to myself, Do I really want to be the person who quoted DJ Khaled? I’m convinced that John Metchie III has more talent than DJ Khaled. A lot more. We saw that on display on Saturday when he and Mac Jones connected all afternoon. Metchie looked very much capable of going off as the No. 3 option if he isn’t accounted for, much like DeVonta Smith last year. It’s scary to think that Alabama still has so much talent at the receiver position after losing Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs.
Metchie’s snaps were limited as a true freshman last year, and understandably so. Clearly, his role is much different this year. Not that I expect anyone to slow down Smith or Jaylen Waddle for 60 minutes, but Alabama has a legitimate receiver trio that’s going to light up SEC defenses all year.
Arkansas — Miracles do happen
That was mean. In my defense, when you go 1,071 days without a conference win, it’s indeed a miracle. But Arkansas didn’t need some sort of Hail Mary to pull off the upset of MSU. All it needed was a sound defensive game plan and some disciplined play across the board. For the most part, that’s what happened. Barry Odom earned his paycheck and then some for trusting his 3-3-5 defense after Bo Pelini’s man coverage couldn’t stop a nosebleed against the Air Raid. And go figure that it happened even after Grant Morgan was banged up. But he was fantastic, Bumper Pool made about a billion tackles and Arkansas showed the world that it’s turning the corner.
Sam Pittman needed 2 games to do what Chad Morris couldn’t do in 2 years.
Auburn — This offense is a looooong ways away from doing the heavy lifting
I was skeptical about Chad Morris coming into this season, and I wasn’t blown away with what we saw from Auburn in Week 1. Needless to say, I had my doubts about the Tigers’ offense against the nation’s best defense. Sure enough, we saw a lot of the same issues with Bo Nix that surfaced last year. When it wasn’t Seth Williams, it was too much throwing on the run off the back foot. There was no sort of offensive identity, and Georgia exposed that. It’s not good when Gus Malzahn says at halftime that Nix “should be frustrated.”
The Tigers had just 3.5 yards per play. That’s not gonna cut it. Every first down felt like a major feat, which was a product of Georgia’s defensive discipline. That was a demoralizing game because it showed that there still aren’t enough wrinkles in this offense yet to sustain drives against a quality team. This schedule is too daunting for Auburn to be so disconnected offensively.
Florida — It’s not too early to get the ‘Kyle Pitts for Heisman’ buzz rolling
When you score 6 touchdowns in your first 6 quarters of football, yeah, that type of thing happens. Want to hear something crazy? Last year, no SEC tight end had more than 6 touchdowns … in the entire season. Pitts’ 2 scores came against a South Carolina team that has one of the nation’s better cornerback duos, too.
Kyle Pitts on pace for a cool 40 TDs this season
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 3, 2020
The Gamecocks actually contained Pitts in the second half pretty well. Still, though. Pitts getting Heisman buzz in Week 2 is a crazy feat for a tight end. In case you were wondering, we’ve never seen a tight end finish in the top 10 of the Heisman voting. Needless to say, if Pitts continues his ridiculous pace of 3 touchdowns per game (!), that’ll change.
Georgia — Stetson Bennett IV is the guy, and I was dead wrong for assuming he wasn’t
I’ll eat some crow on this one. I banged the drum for JT Daniels to be the guy after he was cleared to play. I thought if needed, Bennett could step in after what we saw from him in relief against Arkansas. I was wrong. Dead wrong. Kirby Smart made the right call to trust Bennett against that solid Auburn defense. He’s not as skilled, but he’s more patient than Bo Nix. Some of the throws he made were that of a third-year starter. The connection he had with Kearis Jackson was a key development in the “who’s Georgia’s No. 2 receiver” question.
Bennett has the potential to be a special story this year. More importantly for Georgia, he’s got potential to lead a special season. He has the trust of this offense, and if UGA blocks like that moving forward, look out.
Kentucky — One can rush for 400 yards and lose
Welcome to 2020. The team with a 408-139 rushing advantage lost an SEC game. Well, when you prematurely celebrate touchdowns, fail continuously in short-yardage situations and then miss an extra point in overtime, I suppose that sets up that possibility. What a deflating way for Kentucky to end its home debut. That experienced defense couldn’t overcome those issues, and Kentucky lost a game that felt like pre-Mark Stoops times.
It has to be demoralizing that in many ways, Kentucky has been what the optimists thought they’d be. They hung with Auburn, they beat teams up with the ground game and this defense has some legitimate playmakers. But the little things — mainly the lack of discipline — has Kentucky at 0-2 with a daunting road ahead. Yikes.
LSU — Maybe it was just the perfect storm against the Air Raid?
No, Vanderbilt wasn’t going to light up LSU the same way that MSU did. Obviously. But how concerning would it have been if you saw the Tigers struggling to string stops together against the Commodores? That’s not to take anything away from Vandy with Ken Seals, who showed some major promise in his first 2 starts. Still, though. Derek Stingley being back helped, but it wasn’t just that. Eli Ricks and Ali Gaye were dominant, and an LSU defense that was torched by MSU in a record-setting day allowed only 113 passing yards a week later.
This group has a ways to go, but LSU fans will sleep better knowing that the sky isn’t falling quite like it was a week ago.
Mizzou — QB rotation? Nah, Connor Bazelak is QB1
Last week, we learned that Shawn Robinson was QB1. And while a 19-for-25 performance against Alabama wasn’t a sign that he should lose his job, it looked like Bazelak provided a spark when he came in. Well, it was a similar story against Tennessee. The problem was, Robinson played one quarter and totaled -4 yards. Bazelak came in and provided instant life in the passing game. He still looks like a redshirt freshman playing in a new system, but he’s got to be the option moving forward. Bazelak can make reads that Robinson can’t in Eli Drinkwitz’s offense. Bazelak deserves to be the guy without any sort of QB rotation.
MSU — So there IS a way to defend the Air Raid, huh?
Apparently, all Arkansas had to do was drop 8 in coverage, not play man and have a defensive coordinator with a clue. I’m not trying to take away from what MSU did at LSU last week. It was remarkable. Historic. Mike Leach deserves all the credit imaginable for that. And certainly, losing Kylin Hill early on Saturday didn’t help (it was a bummer that both Hill and Arkansas tailback Rakeem Boyd went down and missed the second half).
But Saturday night was the perfect example of what can happen in this league. Leach provided every SEC defensive coordinator the blueprint of what not to do against his defense. Joe Foucha and Greg Brooks Jr. took advantage of K.J. Costello’s mistakes, and 59 passes totaled just 14 points. There is a formula to stop Leach’s Air Raid. Barry Odom just provided it.
Ole Miss — Lane Kiffin’s team has some fight
For all I know, we’d still be watching Ole Miss and Kentucky if the ‘Cats didn’t shank that extra point. But Kiffin’s squad capitalized on the mistake and won a ballgame. That was sort of the key to that game. When Kentucky shot itself in the foot, Ole Miss made it hurt. That’s already different than last year, when it seemed like Ole Miss couldn’t win a close game.
What impressed me was the fact that Ole Miss’ offense stayed in perfect rhythm late when the missed extra point happened and Kiffin still rotated quarterbacks. That was the type of situation where a mishandled snap or a missed block could’ve been the difference when it was touchdown or bust. Kiffin’s squad didn’t pout when it was down 28-14. I said last week that was key when we saw how Ole Miss fought in that Florida game, and that it could be the difference in beating someone it wasn’t supposed to. Well, it took a week for that to come to fruition.
South Carolina — You CANNOT convince Mike Bobo that there’s a time and place for an up-tempo offense
Mercy, that was awful. I mean, really. I know we do this thing too often when we pretend that we know how to manage the clock, but I couldn’t believe the lack of urgency from South Carolina down 14. They were huddling and letting a running clock get down to 3 before calling running plays. It was baffling. The crazy thing about the way that game ended, with South Carolina taking its sweet time, was that even if Collin Hill didn’t throw it behind Shi Smith and that ended up being a touchdown, I’m convinced South Carolina could’ve recovered an onside kick and not had enough time to run its offense.
That was on the heels of Bobo making headlines for saying he thought that up-tempo offenses were resulting in “football going downhill.” Um, just a word of advice? Up-tempo offenses seem pretty important when your team is within 2 touchdowns late. Just when you think South Carolina can’t top last week’s embarrassing ending with the inadvertent touch on a punt return, Bobo delivered that train wreck.
Tennessee — This offensive line is now looking the part
I’ll tell ya what. There where moments on Saturday when it felt like the Vols were 2017 Georgia. I’m not saying I think the Vols are going to play for a national title or anything like that, but that performance against a better-than-you-realize Mizzou defense was exactly the vision that Jim Chaney had for this group. With Cade Mays back in the lineup, the Vols bullied Mizzou up front.
Cade Mays back… pic.twitter.com/9hwfen2iwE
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) October 3, 2020
It didn’t matter that starting left tackle Jahmir Johnson was out. Tennessee imposed its will up front. The Vols had their version of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel with Eric Gray and Ty Chandler. Shoot, even former dual-threat QB recruit Jarrett Guarantano had a couple of rushing scores. That was the type of offensive line that Tennessee fans hoped for a couple of years ago when it was clearly the team’s biggest weakness.
Texas A&M — Ainias Smith is (mostly) ready to roll
Lost in the shuffle of another awful showing against Alabama during the Jimbo Fisher era was the emergence of Smith, who had 11 touches for 152 yards. It was an eventful afternoon for the versatile sophomore, to say the least. He had an incredible display of balance on a long touchdown catch. I’m still not sure he stayed in bounds, but you can’t teach this:
HOW DID HE STAY IN BOUNDS?! pic.twitter.com/3gfqtOzCxJ
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 3, 2020
Smith also had a costly drop on fourth down that proved pivotal late in the first half. Did it cost A&M the game? Absolutely not, but it was a reminder that with all that the Aggies lost at the receiver position via the NFL Draft and opt-outs, Kellen Mond is now relying on a tailback like Smith to make a lot of big-time plays in the passing game. That’s not ideal, though Smith looked like a unique weapon.
Vanderbilt — OK, the defense isn’t ready to do THAT much heavy lifting
I thought after the A&M performance that maybe I had grossly underestimated this defense. While Vandy held its own in the first half on Saturday, the game still ended up being a reminder that this 10-game SEC schedule is going to be brutal. Allowing nearly 500 yards of offense won’t sit well with Derek Mason, and neither will the 0 sacks. Vandy had a chance to put some pressure on Myles Brennan when he was freshly removed from a frustrating Week 1. But that didn’t happen, and John Emery had a big day running the ball, too. Dayo Odeyingbo and Co. need to dial up more pressure, or else deflating Saturdays like that will follow in the coming weeks.