A nagging concern I have about every SEC team
No more cupcakes. Well, unless you’re playing … never mind.
Week 7 brings cooler temperatures and almost an entire slate of SEC games. Only Vanderbilt is venturing outside the SEC and, frankly, who could blame the Dores if they didn’t come back until baseball season?
There are 4 unbeaten teams, 4 more already making bowl plans and at least a couple others still holding out hope.
We’ve seen a lot, but we haven’t seen it all. Because of that, there is still a nagging concern I have about every SEC team, though not necessarily tied to Saturday’s opponent.
Alabama: Can the Tide slow down LSU’s offense?
If the Tide get to Atlanta, dealing with Georgia’s dominant rushing attack is going to be a major challenge, certainly the strangest for a Nick Saban team.
But getting to Atlanta means taking care of a new-look LSU team that is going to challenge Bama’s secondary in a way we’ve never seen from a Tigers team.
LSU kept Bama’s receivers relatively in check last year. Expect more of the same this year. The key will be: Can Bama’s secondary slow down Joe Burrow and Co.? I’m not so sure it can.
In that regard, maybe Kellen Mond and the Aggies serve as a good test on Saturday.
Arkansas: Can the Hogs get Rakeem Boyd 25 carries a game?
It’s clear Arkansas’ offense remains a work-in-progress. Here’s a thought: Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel with squares and rectangles, how about just pound the rock the rest of the season? Coaches have to be able to adjust. It’s past time to adjust. Lean on Boyd and the lessons learned from the A&M game. Especially Saturday at Kentucky, which ranks 13th against the run after giving up 241 and 247 yards and 6 combined rushing TDs in consecutive SEC games.
Auburn: Are you really sure Joey Gatewood isn’t a more capable QB?
I wrote this during the Oregon opener and wondered aloud about it a few weeks later. Bo Nix just isn’t an accurate passer. He might be a play-maker, but he’s not an accurate passer. Games like Florida are going to happen again. Accuracy is one of the most difficult skills to improve. Sure, schemes can hide some of the flaws and make the numbers appear better than the mechanics suggest, but Auburn’s receivers were open Saturday. Nix just repeatedly missed them. At any rate, Gatewood deserves a shot.
Florida: Can this offense score 3 TDs vs. LSU or Georgia?
I’m still not sold. Y’all saw nearly 400 yards of total offense. I saw 2 huge plays that accounted for nearly 150 of those yards and 2 TDs, both of which should have been stopped for short gains.
It worked Saturday against Auburn. Is that really a reliable recipe to KO LSU on Saturday night and eventually win the East? Yes, the Gators’ defense is playing unbelievably well, but Joe Burrow and Jake Fromm are light years better than Nix. How this offense can consistently score enough is my biggest concern about going all in on the Gators’ bid to reach Atlanta.
Georgia: Has the trophy case been polished recently?
Really, the more I watch these Dawgs dominate the line of scrimmage and impose their will late in games, the more I think Kirby Smart finally has the team to take down Alabama in the SEC title game.
There are no glaring holes. The receivers make plays when the Dawgs need them. D’Andre Swift is the ultimate bail out option. The defense is pressuring the quarterback without exposing the secondary. And when they need to flip the switch and score, they do just that.
This feels like the year.
Kentucky: Can the Wildcats survive October?
It won’t be easy. They’re 2-3, 0-3 in the SEC. That has to be more than a bit deflating, especially after all of the talking about not getting any respect. Yes, they lost Terry Wilson, but they’re not the only SEC East team to turn to a backup QB. What happens if they enter November 3-5? Can they pull it together in time to make a bowl game? Mark Stoops isn’t in any kind of danger, but how the Cats respond to this month will determine how long it’ll take the program to get back to 9 or 10 wins. It’s a build, build, rebuild cycle with teams like Kentucky.
LSU: Can the Tigers handle the rising expectations?
Schematically, I trust everything I’m seeing from Joe Burrow and the offense. The defense has had a few issues, but I trust LSU is going to be LSU. There’s too much NFL talent not to be.
The stakes are rising, dramatically, starting with Saturday’s home date with Florida. The expectations are now championship or bust. LSU fans, finally, honestly believe they have a team that can whip Alabama. I’m right there with them.
The caveat: These are the moments where previous LSU teams have stumbled.
Mississippi State: Did Joe Moorhead figure out the offense during the bye week?
The Bulldogs have been all over the place offensively. They’ve changed quarterbacks. They’ve given Kylin Hill the ball a lot … and then not enough. Much like Arkansas, at some point, you just have to decide who you are and commit to it, knowing it might not be how you drew it up in July.
Saturday’s game at Tennessee isn’t high stakes, but it is intriguing. Tennessee gained confidence in its loss to Georgia and seemed to find its quarterback. The Vols also gave up 238 yards rushing. It seems like the ideal setting for Hill to get at least 25 carries.
Missouri: Which run defense is the real run defense?
Obviously Kelly Bryant’s knee is worth monitoring. If he’s not at full strength or has to miss some time, that puts even more pressure on the defense to keep delivering.
The Tigers gave up 297 yards rushing in the strange season opening loss at Wyoming.
They’ve allowed 147 rushing yards combined in the 4 games since.
Now comes Ole Miss, which just discovered it has the most dangerous running QB in the conference. John Rhys Plumlee had 165 of the Rebels’ 413 rushing yards against Vanderbilt. You could say, oh, that’s Vanderbilt, but Plumlee ran for 109 yards a week earlier against Alabama. These are designed runs. Will Missouri be able to stop them, especially now that its best defender Cale Garrett is gone for the season?
Ole Miss: Can John Rhys Plumlee last carrying it 20+ times a game?
Nick Fitzgerald, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, those guys were built to withstand hits.
Plumlee is 6-0, 192. He’s built like a center fielder, which is what he’ll play in the spring for the Rebels.
He’s so fast and athletic, nobody has managed to barrel him up yet. You don’t want to go away from his strengths — he makes the Rebels’ RPO game electric — but preserving his health has to be a concern and priority.
South Carolina: Can the Gamecocks handle the adversity that’s about to hit?
With a true freshman at quarterback, it’s a fair question. The next 2 weeks — at Georgia, vs. Florida — figure to bring more pain than satisfaction. It’s highly likely that they are 2-5 heading to Tennessee. Pack it in, or continue to fight?
Here’s the thing: Unless a key player is lost to injury in the next 2 games, this stretch won’t really impact the Gamecocks’ bowl bid. There still are 4 winnable games on the schedule.
Tennessee: Will Vols do enough to warrant a Year 3 for Jeremy Pruitt?
Vols fans likely envisioned being 3-2 at this point, not 1-4. The early nonconference losses were crushing.
But I liked Brian Maurer’s performance and the way the Vols kept fighting against Georgia, especially given the off-field turmoil that followed the 31-point loss to Florida.
Teams that quit on their head coach don’t show that kind of fight.
Say what you want about Jeremy Pruitt, but the Vols play hard for him.
Do the Vols have a midseason miracle in them? ESPN’s FPI only sees 2 more wins, with Vanderbilt being the only SEC breakthrough. If they finish 3-9, 1-7 in the SEC, will that really be enough to justify bringing Pruitt back?
There’s no wrong time to make the right decision, but giving up after 2 seasons would seem like the ultimate sign of a panic move.
Texas A&M: Is it the schedule? The coach? The QB?
Beginning to think maybe, just maybe, it’s just life in the SEC West and as much as we keep labeling Texas A&M the sleeping giant of college football, the reality is there still are 3 historically great programs ahead of the Aggies in their own division.
Maybe 9-3, an occasional 10-2 really is their ceiling.
Vanderbilt: Will Derek Mason be back?
It’s a fair question. Everybody likes Mason’s passion, and he has generally recruited quality kids who haven’t embarrassed the university on Friday nights. That’s important and hardly a given.
Saturdays continue to be a problem, however.
The way the Dores are playing, it’s hard to find an SEC win. Mason insists they’re better than their 1-4 record. I’ve made enough excuses about the difficult schedule creating the 0-3 start. Saturday’s loss to Ole Miss was a mind-changer.
It’s puzzling. Mason has averaged almost 5 wins per season and reached 2 bowls, which is well above the norm in Nashville. But this team can’t tackle anybody. They’re allowing 500 yards per game. Not only is that last in the SEC and 125th nationally, but it’s 100 yards more than anybody else in the SEC.
It might be hard to justify bringing Mason back if his 6th year ends up being his worst year.