1 thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 1
Saturday felt like the first day of school all over again.
Sure, it was far better than any first day of school I ever had. Instead of the daunting reality that classes and homework were set to become my new normal again, it was the giddy reality that wheel routes and 4th-quarter comebacks were set to become my new normal again.
But like school, there was information overload in Week 1. A bunch of things we saw played into what we’ve been writing and talking about for the past 8 months.
And some other things, well, they basically took everything we thought we knew and threw it in the trash.
As I’ll do every week of the 2019 season — call it my homework if you will — here’s the first installment of “1 thing I learned from every SEC team.”
Alabama — The true freshmen inside linebackers look ready
Perhaps more than anyone, I was interested to see Shane Lee and Christian Harris in the middle of the Alabama defense. Replacing Dylan Moses was no small task. Sure it was only Duke, but Lee and Harris were awesome in Week 1. They flew around the field, made nice plays in coverage in key spots and didn’t seem fazed by the daunting reality of quarterbacking a national title contending defense. Tip of the cap.
Arkansas — Chad Morris’ offense still lacks an identity
Go figure that the dude who shuffled quarterbacks like playing cards would do that again in Week 1. Ben Hicks was replaced by Nick Starkel after a pedestrian start against FCS Portland State. After the 1st quarter, Arkansas played even with a 4-win FCS squad. Drops hurt, no doubt, but still. Turnovers in the red zone, inefficient quarterback play and a lack of urgency was troubling to see from Morris’ offense to kick off Year 2.
Auburn — Bo Nix hadn’t been sacked since his junior year of high school?!?!
When that graphic came across on ESPN, I didn’t believe it. Sure, I can believe how Nix would be able to scramble away from everyone in high school, but man. That’s incredible. I actually thought that hurt Nix at times before his game-winning touchdown pass. He still believes he can scramble away from everything and make a home-run play. That’s a typical freshman thing. But I’d say leading a game-winning touchdown drive to beat the No. 11 team is anything but a typical freshman thing.
Florida — Anybody burying the Gators in the division isn’t after Saturday
I feel like everyone in the SEC East (besides Georgia) who was licking their lips watching the Gators struggle against Miami in Week 0 was biting their lips in Week 1. Perhaps it was a bit premature to say that Florida would struggle mightily in division play when the likes of Mizzou, South Carolina and Tennessee all lost games as double-digit favorites. My takeaway? Outside of Georgia, that division is going to be super unpredictable in 2019.
Georgia — Zamir White is ready
Finally. The much-anticipated debut of the former No. 1 running back recruit in the country didn’t feature a bunch of highlights just yet, but I loved what I saw. White wasn’t tentative. He burst through the line of scrimmage and churned for extra yards. He erased any concern that major knee injuries would slow him down or make him cautious.
Kentucky — The Cats actually do trust Terry Wilson
Hey, remember when Kentucky said it was going to throw the ball a ton this year and everybody was like “I’ll believe it when I see it.” We saw it! Credit Eddie Gran for shifting this offensive identity to Wilson’s skill set, which is expanding before our eyes. He was accurate (73%), efficient (9.5 yards per attempt) and decisive. That’s exactly what Kentucky needs in the post-Benny Snell era.
LSU — There was nothing slow about LSU’s offensive start with Joe Brady
I definitely thought that a combination of the new RPO system and Texas in Week 2 would yield a slow offensive start for LSU. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Joe Burrow looked better than ever, albeit against a Sun Belt defense. The fact that he had 5 touchdown passes to tie a school record in the first half alone (!) certainly bodes well. Burrow looked more confident than ever, which is saying a lot. The tempo, the efficiency and the comfortability was all in midseason form.
Mississippi State — Tommy Stevens is already a better fit than Nick Fitzgerald
Watch Stevens throw the football and anybody will realize that.
— Tommy Stevens for Heisman (@TommyHeisman7) August 31, 2019
That’s not a knock necessarily on Fitzgerald, but Stevens is just the more natural fit for what Joe Moorhead’s offense needs. That is, a thrower who ran run and not a runner who can throw. Stevens and Kylin Hill give Moorhead exactly the type of 1-2 punch that he usually thrives with. The competition will get tougher, but a balanced 38-point output away from home was a good early sign for the offense.
Mizzou — We overlooked Mizzou’s potential run-game issues
Boy did we ever. How does a Mountain West squad run for nearly 300 yards against an SEC team with a defensive-minded coach? That’s troubling to me. Sure, we knew Mizzou might take a small step back in that area after finishing a Barry Odom-era best No. 22 against the run last year, but my goodness. That looked like a team that desperately missed the likes of Terry Beckner Jr., Terez Hall and Brandon Lee. If that doesn’t turn around, Mizzou won’t come anywhere near “SEC East sleeper” status.
Ole Miss — The 2019 team could very well have a totally different identity
On the surface, it wasn’t surprising to see the way Saturday played out. Ole Miss has the smallest percentage of returning offensive production of any team in America. And on defense, the Rebels returned 8 starters. So naturally, we should have expected a low-scoring affair with Memphis, right? Easier said than done. This was still Ole Miss, which has been as one-sided of a Power 5 team as any in the past 2 years. And that side, of course, was offense. But if there was a positive from losing to a Group of 5 team, it was that Mike MacIntyre’s first game as defensive coordinator yielded the Rebels’ best defensive performance against an FBS team since 2015 against Texas A&M.
South Carolina — Age is only a number … in multiple ways
Mack Brown reminded us that a 68-year old coach in his debut/return still knows a thing or two. He and his staff completely out-coached Will Muschamp in the 2nd half. And Jake Bentley, AKA the guy with more experience than any SEC quarterback, still looks in over his head. The latter is more troubling for South Carolina, which faces as tough as schedule as anyone in America.
Tennessee — It can get worse
Go figure. We always expect these things to be so linear. Like, in Year 2, everything will be better all the time than it was in Year 1 under Jeremy Pruitt. As we found out in stunning fashion on Saturday’s dud of a loss to Georgia State, that wasn’t the case. At all. The offensive line play wasn’t good, Jarrett Guarantano struggled and the defense wasn’t even lined up right at key points in that game. This, to me, is as troubling a reality as any I saw during opening weekend.
Lot to be disturbed about right now if you’re a @Vol_Football fan. But in talking with @CoachSElliott last night, he told me after watching tape of the Vols that he felt going in that @GeorgiaStateFB could win the line of scrimmage battle, which is exactly what happened.
— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) September 1, 2019
Texas A&M — Kellen Mond has top 7 QB potentially
Yes, it was only Texas State. But watching everything Mond did on Thursday night — precision downfield while on the move, making the right reads as a runner and as a passer, having the right amount of touch — made me further buy into the belief that he’s ready for another step up this year. There are only a handful of quarterbacks nationally who can do everything Mond does on a football field. It’s the efficiency — the accuracy and sacks taken — that needs improving in 2019. If Mond does that, he’ll be talked about on the short list of the nation’s best quarterbacks at season’s end.
Vanderbilt — Despite the loss, the defense was actually pretty encouraging
I’ll be honest. I was bracing myself for Vandy to have the worst defense in the SEC in 2019. At a place like Vandy, being ranked No. 119 in terms of percentage of returning production usually isn’t ideal. I was worried about the secondary without lockdown corner Joejuan Williams, and to Vandy’s credit, Jake Fromm didn’t go off. Against Georgia’s talented but inexperienced receivers, I thought Derek Mason’s secondary performed as well as it could’ve. Getting gashed by 300-plus on the ground against Georgia was to be expected, but a 30-point showing against the No. 3 team in America wasn’t the worst place for a young group to start.