1 thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 4 of 2020
Don’t get it twisted.
We might’ve only had 10 SEC teams in action on Saturday because of COVID postponements, but in terms of things we learned, I’d argue that this was as enlightening of a week as we’ve had so far.
It should’ve been. We had a matchup of the SEC’s top 2 teams to determine the conference’s last unbeaten. We had a pair of top-15 teams enter as small road favorites. We had a pair of home teams coming off devastating losses, albeit for different reasons.
So yeah, telling.
Here’s 1 thing I learned about every SEC team who was in action on Saturday:
Alabama — There’s no stopping this offense until further notice
I was guilty of thinking that for the first time since Steve Sarkisian took over the Alabama offense in 2019 that it wouldn’t hit 35 points. In my defense, Georgia’s defense entered the night looking historically good. They hadn’t allowed a second-half touchdown or a rushing score all year.
All Mac Jones and the Alabama offense did was pass for more yards than anyone has against Georgia since Jared Lorenzen in 2000. That group turned on the afterburners in a way that stood out more than it had in Alabama’s first 3 games. Never mind the fact that the Crimson Tide were held to 11 points less than their season average. DeVonta Smith is the best receiver in America and Jaylen Waddle isn’t very far behind him. Watching what they did to some exceptional Georgia defensive backs was telling.
If that loaded Georgia defense couldn’t slow down the Alabama offense, who will?
Arkansas — Barry Odom is even better than we thought
I said coming into 2020 that I thought that Odom could do for the Arkansas defense what Mike MacIntyre did for the Ole Miss defense last year. I thought Odom, coming in as a Power 5 coach who was better suited to be a coordinator, would thrive back in the role he was once in.
But man, I didn’t expect him to be this good.
Odom totally stymied Lane Kiffin’s offense in a way that Florida, Kentucky and Alabama couldn’t come anywhere close to doing. It looked like Arkansas was a step ahead of Matt Corral all day. Odom’s defense did all the heavy lifting and answered every possible question (it was special teams who allowed the long fake punt run). Odom would get my vote for the Broyles Award for the first half of 2020. His defense is going to keep Arkansas in games that many thought the Hogs would have no business being in. Credit Odom, and credit Sam Pittman, who has clearly figured out how to get guys to play for him.
Auburn — Those feel-good storylines about this offense feel like a lifetime ago
I heard a lot this offseason about how Chad Morris’ offense was going to be explosive and that Bo Nix was a top-5 quarterback in America. I kept an eyebrow raised, and it stayed raised after 3 less-than-inspiring offensive performances to start the year. But Saturday’s loss was telling. Why? The Bo Nix-Seth Williams sideline spat wasn’t necessarily a sign that it’s all going downhill, but it was a telling sign of how frustrating of a start has been.
Some frustration on Auburn’s sidelines after that last offensive possession. Chad Morris trying to be the mediator between Bo Nix and Seth Williams.pic.twitter.com/ve1NWgRoVv
— Josh Vitale (@JoshVitale) October 17, 2020
That’s not good. On 1 hand, Williams got targeted all afternoon despite the fact that he had Jaycee Horn draped all over him. I don’t know what had Williams so frustrated. On the other hand, I’d be frustrated with some of the spots that Nix put those balls. Nix had 3 interceptions, and he earned every one of them. This offense, despite Tank Bigsby once again looking the part, still hasn’t found its identity yet. That’s troubling. How Nix had 31 pass attempts in the first 35 minutes is beyond me.
Auburn is a mess, and in that division, nobody is about to do the Tigers any favors.
Georgia — This defense isn’t quite historically good, at least not yet
I thought we’d see the Dawgs give Alabama everything they could handle. Instead, they were the 17th consecutive defense to allow 35-plus to the Crimson Tide. There were coverage breakdowns and missed tackles in the open field, as well as an inability to get pressure on Mac Jones late. Allowing over 400 passing yards for that defense was a punch to the gut, especially when that group has been so stout to start off the year.
Don’t get it twisted. The Georgia defense is still an elite group. But in last year’s SEC Championship and this Alabama game, we saw the Dawgs make uncharacteristic mistakes against modern spread offenses with elite skill-player talent. Nobody else since the start of last year has really pushed Kirby Smart’s defense like that. Will that continue? Or was Alabama a one-off? I’d favor the latter, though there are no shortage of explosive offenses in the SEC this year, including the one in Gainesville.
Adjustments are needed if Georgia wants any shot at taking down Alabama.
Kentucky — My goodness, that defense turned the corner
I’m old enough to remember when Kentucky couldn’t force a turnover.
Remember those first 2 games? Mark Stoops’ defense couldn’t buy a turnover. Then, the floodgates opened up. In 10 of the next 16 possessions, it forced a turnover. Forcing 4 first-half turnovers against a ranked team on the road is a remarkable feat. That unit looks vastly different. Kelvin Joseph shook off whatever cobwebs he was dealing with in the first week, Boogie Watson looks like one of the best pass-rushers in college football and Jamin Davis is proving to be an outstanding coverage linebacker. The Cats’ defense scored 21 points in the last 2 games. Even more impressive? They have 9 interceptions and 9 points allowed in the last 2 games. This is the unit that we expected to see from Stoops entering 2020.
What a response after that frustrating start.
MSU — Adjustments? What adjustments?
I told myself that Mike Leach would finally make some adjustments. That was, um, dumb. The only adjustment Leach made against 8 men in coverage was … giving his running backs a whopping 10 carries. Granted, Kylin Hill was reportedly suspended and MSU’s offensive line couldn’t block a thing. That made life difficult for KJ Costello, but still, it’s clear that Leach doesn’t have the personnel to execute his system. You don’t go 112 minutes and 39 seconds without an offensive point (!) unless you have some major issues.
The Bulldogs had -2 rushing yards and they averaged 5.5 yards per pass attempt. Only 1 pass play of 20 yards won’t get it done. Mike Elko adjusted A&M’s defense, and an Aggie secondary that’s been awful was lights out against Leach’s offense. Of course, it helps when your defensive line is consistently sacking the quarterback with 3 down linemen. MSU is in trouble, and if Leach doesn’t want to commit to running the ball more, his team is in for a long year.
Ole Miss — There is a way to stop the Lane Train
That was a blueprint game. Barry Odom’s defense totally confused Ole Miss. Matt Corral threw into double coverage all day. That zone was plenty effective in containing an Ole Miss offense that looked unstoppable the first 3 weeks of the year. It wasn’t just an Alabama thing. And let’s not pretend there was some sort of hangover. I mean, 6 (!) interceptions is a stunning number. Those big throwing windows weren’t there for the first time all year. The scheming didn’t work for the first time in the Lane Kiffin era.
Ole Miss wasn’t going to continue at the torrid pace it was on for the entirety of a 10-game SEC schedule. Just 1 turnover in 3 games was exceptional. But against an opportunistic defense that was prepared for the versatile Ole Miss attack, Kiffin finally got punched in the mouth. Even worse? Arkansas had the troll afterwards:
Oh dear pic.twitter.com/KISwt1qzCv
— Arkansas Razorbacks 🐗 (@ArkRazorbacks) October 17, 2020
South Carolina — Hey, South Carolina didn’t do a South Carolina thing!
By “South Carolina thing,” I obviously meant “blow a game in a comically awful way.” That didn’t happen! Good for Will Muschamp, who got a monumental win to slow some of the heat on him. Instead, he transferred it to Gus Malzahn. But in all seriousness, think about the way that game ended. South Carolina strung together defensive stops on a last-minute drive. It didn’t let Bo Nix break contain, and it didn’t let a late Seth Williams play spoil what was a darn good defensive effort, especially without Israel Mukuamu.
By the way, Jaycee Horn is no longer that guy that we bang the drum for and say “look beyond the interceptions.” He’s playing at an All-American level right now, and not just because he recorded his first career interceptions. He was a headache all day for Williams. The Gamecocks are going to be a pesky team all year, especially if they play disciplined defense like that.
Tennessee — That second half vs. UGA wasn’t a one-off; Tennessee’s QB issues are real
The Jarrett Guarantano roller coaster reached a low on Saturday. Yikes. Whatever Guarantano did at halftime of the Georgia game, well, he needs to do the opposite of that if he ever wants to sniff SEC success again. A pair of pick-sixes highlighted a nightmare afternoon against a suddenly turnover-happy Kentucky defense. Guarantano, meanwhile, can’t stop turning the ball over after a solid start to his season.
As much as Jeremy Pruitt didn’t want to have to turn to Harrison Bailey after he didn’t get a real spring and his fall reps were limited, clearly, Guarantano isn’t about to morph into an elite SEC quarterback. And when he puts that stout defense in such brutal positions, Pruitt can no longer defend his reasoning that Guarantano gives the Vols the best chance to win. Changes are coming in Knoxville.
Texas A&M — Mike Elko can adjust
The A&M defensive coordinator loves loading the box and forcing teams to throw. Against the Air Raid? Nope. You can’t do that. Elko consistently dropped 8 into coverage and got pressure with 3 down linemen. That’s the key to success against Mike Leach’s defense, which we knew based on the last 2 games that MSU played. The last 2 games that A&M played were less-than-stellar in terms of defending the pass against Kyle Trask and Mac Jones. The Aggies chased KJ Costello out of the game after holding him to 4.5 yards per attempt. That’s an upgrade for a unit who allowed an average of 10.2 yards per attempt entering Saturday. That was 2nd worst in FBS.
Jimbo Fisher’s squad is 3-1 with an extremely favorable schedule coming. If his defense can make adjustments like that moving forward, the SEC West race is going to get plenty interesting.