1 thing I learned about every SEC team in Week 7 of 2020
If I had to use a word to describe the week that was in the SEC, that’s what I’d go with. No, I won’t get points for originality. And I admit that on a Saturday in which there was only 4 games, we didn’t learn as much as we have in other weeks.
But yes, telling. Telling it was that we saw the Florida offense show up like that. Telling it was that the Georgia defense was once again porous against an elite offense. Telling it was that MSU beat a Vanderbilt team with 58 scholarships by a whole … 7 points.
So yeah, there was still a lot to take away from the weekend that was. Here’s what I learned about every SEC team:
Arkansas — I need to stop waiting for the Feleipe Franks collapse
Because he’s not the roller coaster I thought he’d be. On a night in which Rakeem Boyd was pretty much bottled up by Tennessee, I thought Franks was fantastic. He entered Saturday with a 10-1 touchdown-interception ratio since that Georgia game. All Franks did was continue that on Saturday against a solid Tennessee defense to improve his personal record to 3-0 against the Vols.
This ranked No. 3 on the list of all-time Feleipe dimes (behind the Tennessee Hail Mary in 2017 and the Freddie Swain throw in the 2018 game against Georgia):
FELEIPE FRANKS DEEP BALL 🚀 pic.twitter.com/4g2l90qtUQ
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 8, 2020
In other news, Treylon Burks is still a force. Man, how did that guy not have a touchdown in Chad Morris’ offense? Oh, I think I just answered that question.
Anyway, Franks is absolutely one of the top 5 quarterbacks in this league right now. Anybody who argues against that still thinks he’s the same up-and-down guy he was 2 years ago. He’s not.
Florida — “Third and Grantham” doesn’t have to be a punchline in Jacksonville
It wasn’t lost on Gators fans that Florida allowed Georgia to convert 20 of its 32 (62%) 3rd down plays the last 2 years. Grantham’s style was under fire for those performances, and for the fact that in Florida’s first 3 games of 2020, that group was No. 99 of 101 FBS teams against 3rd down.
On Saturday, it was a totally different story. Georgia converted just 2-of-13 on 3rd down. There weren’t blitzes that were rendered useless. Instead, Georgia’s quarterbacks struggled to find those open receivers. And they found themselves in obvious passing situations, which helped. It also helped having Kyree Campbell once again. Florida’s defensive line gets a much better push when he’s out there.
The Gators offense was the headline, and rightfully so. But it’s not a coincidence that Florida got over the Georgia hump when it could finally get its defense off the field.
Georgia — Kirby Smart doesn’t own Dan Mullen
I was fully prepared to make the comparison to Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh. Like, no matter what the former did, the latter was never going to beat him. After all, Smart’s Georgia defense had only surrendered 4 touchdowns in 3 games against Mullen’s offense (that includes the 2017 game when Mullen was at MSU).
Let’s not forget that the day started with notes like these:
From a friend:
“Kirby Smart vs Dan Mullen
Dan Mullen is 0-11 against teams with Kirby Smart on their coaching staff since taking over as the head coach at Mississippi State.
Mullen: Never scored more than 20 points on a Kirby Smart defense since becoming a head coach.” https://t.co/BGwJ057C96
— Drew Butler (@DrewButler) November 7, 2020
By day’s end, it was clearly Mullen’s time. Shoot, by halftime, it was clearly Mullen’s time.
Mullen’s offense put up 38 first-half points and 44 overall. That was 10 more points than Mullen had in his previous 2 games against Smart’s defense combined. And for everyone saying it was all about the Georgia defensive injuries, Kyle Trask had 341 passing yards in the first half. Sorry, but Richard LeCounte and Jordan Davis weren’t flipping that stat. For what it’s worth, Florida had 2 starting offensive linemen and All-American tight end Kyle Pitts go down on Saturday.
Smart couldn’t keep the streak alive, and now, he gets an entire year of dealing with the “passing the torch” narrative.
MSU — Mike Leach hears the noise
How do I know that Leach hears the noise that MSU fans aren’t pleased with the post-LSU collapse? Well, Ben Portnoy of The Dispatch shared the transcribed press conference answer to a question about the lackluster offensive performance after Saturday’s 24-17 win against Vanderbilt:
“Well, I mean every job that I’ve ever had, all I promised was to give my very best and they’ve certainly gotten that. But I get a kick out of fans feel like they’re upset about something. They ought to try it from the players’ and coaches’ standpoint. I talked about it on the radio show. It’s like breakfast: the chicken is involved but the pig is committed. Coaches and players, we’re like the pigs.
“But I certainly appreciate our fan support. There were cowbells. I thought we had a great crowd. I thought they did a great job as far as lifting our team at key times, inspiring us on all sides of the ball, because there were key contributions on all three sides of the ball and that was key.
“But you know those that aren’t onboard are impatient. Maybe they can select another team or maybe they can go coach their own team and I think that you can evaluate how their team does and see how it all shakes out.”
That’s Leach’s way of saying that he wasn’t brought in for a 1-year flip. He was brought in to establish his offense, which as we can see from the last 5 games, doesn’t work well with this personnel. The offensive line can’t hold, the receivers don’t get separation and the quarterback doesn’t really have much of a chance.
But the question surrounding Leach’s well-documented migration to the SEC was how he was going to handle the noise. Would he play ball? Or would he alienate the fanbase? I wouldn’t say that Leach is “alienating” the fanbase yet, but it’s worth noting that he clearly doesn’t care that they aren’t happy.
Don’t expect that to change for the rest of Year 1.
South Carolina — There’s no offensive identity anymore
At all. Like, Luke Doty randomly came in for an ineffective Collin Hill, and then late, it was finally Ryan Hilinski’s turn to not lead a touchdown drive. After a bye week, that was an incredibly troubling sight. Not only did the Gamecocks come out totally flat at home at night against a top-10 team, but they didn’t seem to have any adjustments, either.
I thought the offensive identity of this team was going to be a heavy dose of Kevin Harris mixed in with game managing from Hill. But what’s instead happened is that once the Gamecocks fall behind and they’re in obvious passing situations, it gets ugly. Hill can’t go through progressions, and South Carolina doesn’t have receivers — besides Shi Smith — who can consistently get open.
Will Muschamp was hoping that Mike Bobo was going to be the answer to his offensive woes. He instead looks like he’s going to keep Muschamp firmly on the hot seat.
Tennessee — This quarterback situation didn’t get figured out in the bye week
Jeremy Pruitt, coming off 3 consecutive losses by double digits, said that Tennessee split reps and went back to fall camp in terms of the quarterback situation. So naturally, Saturday was again a mess. Jarrett Guarantano went down with a head injury in the middle of the game after he wasn’t asked to do much, and in stepped an ineffective Brian Maurer. The weird thing wasn’t necessarily that. It was the Harrison Bailey situation.
During the broadcast, the SEC Network crew said that Jeremy Pruitt expressed concerned about playing Bailey as a true freshman, and that he didn’t want to get thrown into the fire too early like Guarantano once did. But then Bailey came into the game in the middle of the 4th quarter when the Vols were behind 2 scores.
If that’s really how Pruitt was approaching the Bailey situation, that’s bizarre considering how much true freshmen have taken off in college football in the last 5 years. If it was Pruitt just trying to justify not wanting to play Bailey yet in fear that his future quarterback might not look the part, well, that’s weird, too.
Whatever the case, 4 consecutive losses by double digits doesn’t bode well, especially for a team without a clear option at quarterback.
Texas A&M — Road woes? What road woes?
So A&M entered 2020 with 2 SEC road wins in the Jimbo Fisher era. That’s right. Two. Saturday marked A&M’s second SEC road win of the year. Both of those came by double digits, though Saturday’s rout of South Carolina felt much different than a 14-point win against a disastrous MSU squad.
That was a complete and total beatdown. That was the first time in the Fisher era that A&M truly did what it wanted to do on the road. Mike Elko’s defense held South Carolina to 150 yards of offense, though it was the offense who will earn the headlines. The offensive line again played at an elite level. A whopping 264 yards of rushing with 4 touchdown passes from Kellen Mond proved to be a successful formula. Go figure that it came when Ainias Smith only got 4 touches and Isaiah Spiller left the game early in the third quarter.
The Aggies are over those road issues. Also important? The Florida team they beat is now the clear favorite to earn a trip to Atlanta after beating Georgia.
Vanderbilt — There’s some offensive life
Look. I realize we’re talking about a 17-point performance, but give me a break. I’m trying to be positive about a Vandy team who covered its first spread since Week 1. After going down 17-0 at the half, Vandy actually made it a game. That’s not easy for a program who had 58 scholarship players active. The Commodores actually finished the day with 478 yards against a solid MSU defense.
Todd Fitch’s offense had balance, and it wasn’t all on a true freshman quarterback to move the chains in obvious passing situations. The problem, however, was that the aforementioned true freshman quarterback (Ken Seals), had 4 turnovers. That included a devastating fumble deep in the Commodores’ own territory in a 17-14 game, which set up the dagger touchdown. Unfortunately for Derek Mason’s squad, that might’ve been the closest it comes to sniffing a 2020 win.