First impressions on every SEC game in Week 3
It’s sort of crazy to think about.
We’ve only had 2 weeks of games, and yet, only 4 unbeatens remain in the SEC. After this upcoming weekend when Tennessee and Georgia face off, that number will drop to at least 3. And after the following weekend when Georgia travels to Alabama, there could only be 2 unbeatens left.
Welcome to 2020.
As we saw this past Saturday, an all-SEC schedule can take a team on a roller coaster. One week, you’re taking down the defending national champs in their stadium, and the next, you’re losing at home to the team with a 20-game SEC losing streak. The 10-game schedule is going to be filled with ups and downs unlike what we’re used to.
I say that because some of the things you’ll see in these early impressions columns will buck what you’ve seen on the previous Saturday, or perhaps even what you’ve seen all year. But there’s a bit of randomness of 2020 that needs to be accounted for.
So, here are my way-too-early thoughts ahead of each Week 3 SEC matchup:
MSU vs. Kentucky — Mark Stoops has the blueprint, but will he use it?
All you’ve got to do is turn on the film and see what Barry Odom did and compare it to what Bo Pelini did against Mike Leach’s offense. One coach adjusted well and dropped 8 into coverage. The other didn’t adjust and insisted on playing man coverage. You can guess with team pulled off an upset as a 3-score underdog and which team allowed more passing yards in a game than anyone in SEC history. The question now, of course, is how well Kentucky can execute its zone. MSU will adjust. Perhaps less shallow crossing routes and more reliance on wideouts finding the soft spot in zones.
What we know is that Kentucky’s experienced defense has absolutely not gotten off to the start it thought it would. That’s partially why the Cats are sitting at 0-2. Will they play more desperate? That group needs to be disciplined to stay on the field with Leach’s offense.
Mizzou vs. LSU — How simple will LSU keep it on offense?
I ask that because while I don’t think LSU is in the position where it should underestimate a team, I am interested in what the offensive game plan looks like ahead of that Florida showdown. Tennessee showed that it could bully a better-than-average Mizzou defense with the ground game. One has to think that LSU is going to try and do the same thing, especially after John Emery had the breakout game that Tigers fans have been waiting for.
John Emery averaged 4.92 yards after contact on Saturday vs. Vanderbilt.
Of his 112 rushing yards, 59 came after contact.
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) October 4, 2020
I don’t think the plan will be for Myles Brennan to throw the ball 40-plus times (he’s averaging 41.5 attempts through 2 games). In LSU’s perfect world, it follows Tennessee’s game plan against Mizzou — hit the occasional deep ball to stretch the defense but let the offensive line and multiple backs do the heavy lifting. This should be a game for the LSU offensive line to flex its muscles.
Arkansas vs. Auburn — Barry Odom’s defensive game plan has to shift … right?
Here’s my thinking: Arkansas was so successful against KJ Costello dropping 8 into coverage and playing zone because obviously he was going to keep his eyes downfield and try to move the chains with his arm. Duh. That’s the Air Raid. But against Bo Nix, Georgia showed us that even with Chad Morris at the calls, could Odom send more pressure from the second level to get the Auburn quarterback flushed out of the pocket? Nix still throws on the run too much to be consistently successful. And sometimes he does that even if he doesn’t need to.
Will we see Odom use Bumper Pool as some sort of spy on Nix? I wouldn’t rule that out, nor would I rule out Auburn trying to establish the ground game more with Tank Bigsby, who was the only Auburn back who got a carry against that loaded Georgia front 7. This is a team that Auburn bullied up front last year, albeit with a mostly different offensive line and equally important, against a much different defensive coordinator.
Many will predict a Nix bounce-back game here, but if Odom can tweak his MSU game plan and find ways to continue to confuse Nix, don’t rule out another frustrating day for the sophomore.
South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt — Give me all the Kevin Harris, please
I’ll be honest. I didn’t know much about South Carolina backs not named “MarShawn Lloyd” entering 2020. And when the true freshman went down in fall camp, I assumed it would be the same story for the South Carolina ground game. That is, well below average. Well, Harris is making me rethink that. The powerful sophomore ran hard against Florida, and in a game that South Carolina wasn’t trailing by multiple scores throughout the second half — don’t tell Mike Bobo that — Harris could have been the difference.
Another nice physical run by Kevin Harris! pic.twitter.com/fzItVf8Htl
— KÏŁŁÄ ČÄM (@FTBeard1) October 3, 2020
We just watched John Emery run all over Vandy. I think South Carolina needs to continue to feed Harris, especially considering that Collin Hill’s only reliable receiver option is Shi Smith. If Harris doesn’t get close to 25 touches in an extremely favorable matchup, well, let’s just say I’ll be losing more and more faith in South Carolina’s offense finding an identity in 2020.
Alabama vs. Ole Miss — How many Lane Kiffin wrinkles is too many Lane Kiffin wrinkles?
This is like when the guy and the girl break up, and the guy is seeing the girl for the first time. He wants to show her that he’s artsy and creative. The goal is to win the breakup. Kiffin, of course, is that guy. How will he do against his former boss for the first time since his awkward Alabama exit? That remains to be seen.
If these first 2 weeks were any indication, Kiffin has no shortage of possibilities to dial up for his offense. John Rhys Plumlee catching passes? Sure. Wildcat looks with Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner? Why not? Matt Corral flea flickers thrown to a wide open Elijah Moore? Let’s do it. Kiffin is breaking out the entire bag of tricks, and I’m here for every bit of it.
The only way to make Saturday juicier is if Kiffin showed up rocking ripped jeans on the sidelines.
Florida vs. Texas A&M — Are we in for another bit of 2020 randomness?
Full disclosure here — I predicted an A&M win in the preseason. I had this game as Florida’s only regular-season loss en route to an SEC East title. Another important detail — I just blasted A&M for being so far off from an elite team after its collapse against Alabama and the fact that of the 180 minutes played against the Crimson Tide during the Jimbo Fisher era, the Aggies led for a whopping 4 minutes and 16 seconds. Florida, meanwhile, looks all sorts of explosive offensively.
But I find my gut saying this will be more randomness. Like, a Florida squad that’s maybe a little bit too confident up front isn’t ready to roll against Mike Elko’s front 7. I could easily see that happening. I could see Kellen Mond having one of those “he’s taking the next step” games, which will probably be followed with a “he hasn’t gotten any better in 3 years” game immediately after that. As much as I thought the Aggies were overrated coming into the season, I think Mond is a different guy at home. This could turn into a 60-minute dog fight that once again makes us rethink what we know about the SEC hierarchy in 2020.
Tennessee vs. Georgia — Is Tennessee too similar to Georgia to beat Georgia?
Let me explain. I sort of think the Vols are a lesser version of Georgia. All the things we’ve seen Tennessee do well, I’d argue, Georgia does them better. They get after it on the offensive line with 5-star talent, they have a veteran quarterback who surprisingly doesn’t look as rattled as some thought he’d be, they don’t miss tackles defensively and they continue to find new guys to generate pressure. And that’s before mentioning the fact that Jeremy Pruitt and Jim Chaney were obviously former Georgia assistants.
But I do wonder if Tennessee’s strengths play into Georgia’s hand a bit. As in, how will a team that’s been able to impose its will at the line of scrimmage handle a defense who has been dominant in the front 7? We saw what that group did when Bo Nix was forced to throw. What about when Jarrett Guarantano is forced to throw? I would have more concern about that matchup than the reverse. That is, Tennessee’s pass-rushers getting in the face of Stetson Bennett IV, who looked plenty comfortable against Kevin Steele’s group.
Tennessee was built on a foundation similar to Georgia’s, and while the early returns on that are positive, I get the feeling that Kirby Smart’s squad still should have the advantage until further notice.