1 thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 3
If there was one thing I learned about the SEC in Week 3, it was that I might as well take all of my preseason quarterback thoughts and toss them in the trash.
Well, outside of the clear-cut top 3 signal-callers in Joe Burrow (3), Jake Fromm (2) and Tua Tagovailoa (1). But as for the rest of the conference, what a bizarre start to the year.
We’ve already seen nearly half the SEC East starting quarterbacks go down with season-ending injuries. The latest was Feleipe Franks on Saturday night.
And besides the injuries, we’ve seen guys like Jarrett Guarantano struggle in what was expected to be a breakout season. We’ve also seen true freshmen who were expected to be brought along a bit slower — at least that’s what I thought — emerge into viable faces of their respective programs.
In other words, yeah, you can expect plenty of quarterback chatter in the Week 3 edition of “what I learned about every SEC team.”
(Note: Vanderbilt isn’t listed because it had a bye week)
Alabama — It’s now OK to have serious concerns about Alabama’s ground game
The team that had 69 consecutive games of 100 yards on the ground opened SEC play by ending said streak. Yikes. Granted, the Alabama passing offense had a historic day and against South Carolina’s thin secondary, that was clearly the plan of attack. But I’m officially worried about this ground game, which looks like it’s having a lot of problems replacing Jonah Williams and Ross Pierschbacher. Alabama’s 3 running backs combined for 81 yards on 19 carries. That’s not ideal for putting teams away.
Arkansas — Nick Starkel starting was as obvious as everyone thought
Who would have thought? Well, everyone. It turns out the former Texas A&M quarterback is plenty capable of starting in Chad Morris’ offense. Against a Colorado State team that embarrassed Arkansas last year, Starkel lit up the Rams for 305 passing yards and 3 scores en route to a 55-point outburst. The offense gained over 500 yards and looked like what we expected to see from Morris’ team when he arrived in Fayetteville.
Auburn — Even star players get tired?
That Derrick Brown thing was weird. The All-American defensive tackle left in the 1st quarter with fatigue because apparently he was battling sickness and he couldn’t catch his breath? I guess that’s an expected occurrence, but if that was the case, it’s strange he played at all against Kent State. Auburn’s schedule heats up in a major way with a trip to Texas A&M this week, and as talented as that defensive line is, it needs Brown to be at his best.
Florida — Kyle Trask was born ready
Man, that was special. It was a bummer to watch Franks’ season end like that, but you have to applaud how well Trask stepped up in that defining moment. He and Van Jefferson were on point together, and a stagnant offense got a shot of life. The guy who’s basically been a backup his entire competitive football career seemed plenty comfortable with that situation. Now let’s see how he handles a full week to prepare as the starter.
Georgia — The passing game is settling in just fine
I know Georgia fans wanted to see Jake Fromm continue to develop a rapport with the inexperienced group of receivers on Saturday. Fortunately for them, that’s exactly what Fromm did. Yes, it was against Arkansas State, who is obviously a far cry from the Notre Dame squad that’ll roll into Athens this Saturday. Still, it was encouraging not only seeing the big numbers put up by true freshmen studs Dominick Blaylock and Georgia Pickens (combined for 9 catches and 186 yards), but the plays they made. This one by Pickens stood out a ton:
— Dawg News Daily (@Dawgnewsdaily) September 14, 2019
That’s a back-shoulder throw from Fromm. That’s the thing he does the best, and that’s a play that requires a quarterback and his receiver to be perfectly in sync. Pickens also pointed at Fromm right after that play as if to say “that’s exactly what I was thinking and you put it on the money.” That’s a good sign, folks.
Kentucky — Sawyer Smith isn’t going to derail Kentucky’s season
He threw 3 interceptions and had some frustrating moments in this one but, if Kentucky makes a kick, we’re talking about Smith beating a top 10 team. And in his defense, he looked good for most of that game. Throws were accurate, he was mobile and he played unfazed. That would give me confidence as a Kentucky fan that Terry Wilson’s injury won’t knock Kentucky back to Earth. With Smith, the Cats should still score plenty of points and win plenty of ballgames in 2019.
LSU — The pass defense has plenty of improvement to make
I said coming into the year that LSU had the best secondary in the country. Well, LSU is No. 69 in the country defending the pass. Grant Delpit and Kristian Fulton have been banged up at times, but this is more than that. Dave Aranda’s defense is predicated in pressuring the quarterback, and with K’Lavon Chaisson banged up, LSU has struggled to do that. That was the case against Northwestern State, which got off to a nice start throwing the ball. The Tigers only had 1 sack in that game. The pass coverage will improve once LSU starts to generate some pressure. I have to think that’s only a matter of time with Aranda.
Mississippi State — Tommy Stevens might have rushed it back
He made some nice throws — the one to Osirus Mitchell at the end of the first half was a thing of beauty — but Stevens didn’t look like himself. He had a strange, untouched fumble and a pair of awful interceptions, the second of which prompted Joe Moorhead to bring in Garrett Shrader. A lot of people were bashing Stevens, but I give him a bit of an out because of the shoulder injury he suffered the previous week against Southern Miss. I give Shrader credit for stepping in and literally laying his body on the line to try to win that game:
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) September 14, 2019
Missouri — Those lopsided Drew Lock-era victories vs. FCS teams are still a thing
It turns out you don’t need Lock to beat FCS teams 50-0. You just need Barry Odom and a can-do attitude! Jokes aside, it was nice to see that Mizzou again got after it early and often. Kelly Bryant’s continued progression in this offense is important and any time he gets the chance to help hang a 50-burger is a good thing. The question now is if he can do that in SEC play.
Ole Miss — The defense isn’t a finished product just yet
I praised Mike MacIntyre’s transformation with that group after consecutive games holding teams under 20 points. I even said I thought they could have a top 30 group this year. But I’d say allowing 29 points to an FCS team is a “pump the brakes” moment for me and others who were assuming this unit would be lights out every week. The good news? Ole Miss stopped the run and it had 4 takeaways, including an interception that halted SELA’s comeback attempt in the 4th quarter. The Rebels wouldn’t mind continuing that trend against some legitimate Power 5 foes, beginning this week against No. 23 Cal.
South Carolina — Ryan Hilinski is the guy
South Carolina, y’all have a quarterback. You obviously didn’t need me to break that news after watching Ryan Hilinski hold his own in his first career start vs. an FBS team. That was obvious watching the way he navigated the pocket and made reads. He looked poise, comfortable and plenty capable of being the face of the program. If you can do those things against Alabama, you can do them against anyone. I wouldn’t be surprised if he crushes his first SEC road start this week (at Missouri), either.
Tennessee — The home team can actually win in Knoxville
I was beginning to think that was impossible. Jokes aside, it was nice that Tennessee basically had a 21-0 lead before fans could even finish their first beer (that’s a thing now). Thanks to some non-offensive touchdowns and takeaways from the jump, Tennessee fans never even had to let the “are we going to lose to an FCS team and reach a new low?” thing creep into their minds. Good. Now an absolutely brutal stretch to kick off SEC play begins. At least it won’t begin without that all-important, feel-good laugher that most SEC teams get in September.
Texas A&M — Isaiah Spiller is ready
In case you were wondering how the Aggies were going to replace Jashaun Corbin after his season-ending injury last week against Clemson, Spiller provided the answer. The true freshman had 137 yards from scrimmage and a pair of scores in a rout of Lamar. As the kids say, he can scoot. Spiller also packs a punch and doesn’t shy away from contact. Much is made about Jimbo Fisher’s demand of his quarterbacks, but he asks his feature tailback to do a ton, as well. Spiller has an opportunity to take that on. Aggies fans would like a repeat performance against that loaded Auburn defensive line Saturday.