First impressions of every SEC game in Week 4
And there were 8.
Games, that is. The SEC slate for Week 4 will shrink a bit with conference play now getting rolling.
If you’re saying to yourself, “um, wait doesn’t that always come this time of year?” How quickly we forget about the mess that was 2020.
So no, it’s not a given that we go from 13-14 games to 8 at this point of the season. It was topical, guy.
Here are my early impressions of every SEC game in Week 4:
Georgia vs. Vanderbilt — I feel really bad for that Vandy offensive line/Ken Seals
Because Georgia’s defensive front is going to demolish it. Sorry, but go ask South Carolina about that. It was ugly watching Luke Doty navigate that in his first reps of 2021. Georgia rotates front 7 players in and out, so it isn’t just putting a double team on 1 specific explosive edge rusher. Vandy couldn’t protect Seals against Stanford. If you’re Joey Lynch and David Raih, do you consider rotating Michael Wright in earlier so that Seals isn’t facing Nakobe Dean, Jordan Davis and Co. with a head of steam consistently on third down? It’s worth considering.
Georgia’s defensive line against Vandy’s front is the most lopsided individual matchup of the year.
LSU vs. MSU — Call this the battle of desperate coaches
That’s not my way of saying the loser of this game gets fired. But both of these teams went on the road and lost in nonconference play. Ed Orgeron’s team might’ve found some offensive rhythm against Central Michigan, but doing so against Zach Arnett’s defense is a different beast. Don’t let the final score of that Memphis game fool you. MSU allowed 2 non-offensive touchdowns, one of which was a horrible missed call on a bizarre punt return.
Leach faced some heat for his lack of uproar after that play, and more importantly, his offense really hasn’t played a full 60 minutes yet. Those home fans are desperate for the Air Raid to look like the Air Raid. It doesn’t necessarily have to put up record numbers like it did last year in Death Valley, but LSU’s pass defense can be had. This is a great opportunity for new LSU defensive coordinator Daronte Jones to show that he’s indeed better than his predecessor. Nobody wants to take that second loss in December. Let’s see which coach can avoid that brutal start.
Mizzou vs. Boston College — Eli Drinkwitz might’ve gotten 2 breaks
The first one being that Connor Bazelak bounced back after the beating he took against Kentucky. Bazelak, in super favorable conditions against Southeast Missouri State, had no problem stepping into throws and attacking downfield. Against Jeff Haftley’s defense, Mizzou will need the full arsenal. Boston College won’t have all of its weapons, though. Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec is out for the year. That’s too bad because he was poised for a big year in his second season after transferring from Notre Dame.
Fortunately for Mizzou, that means Dennis Grosel will be under center. Grosel, against Temple, went 5-for-13 for 34 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Did I mention that was against Temple? He can scoot, though, and he’s a veteran with plenty of experience, including a 500-yard game against Virginia last year. Will Steve Wilks spy him? Or will he simply load the box and force him to throw? I’d expect plenty of heat.
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas — Which defense can make the momentum-swinging play?
I know that offense is all the rage, but I own stock in both Mike Elko and Barry Odom, so I’m especially interested in this one. Facing a couple of starters with limited experience, it’ll be interesting to see how both coordinators handle that. Zach Calzada looked overwhelmed against Colorado, and he had some rough moments against New Mexico in a lopsided victory. Can Odom confuse that A&M front, which doesn’t look nearly as dominant as it did last year?
With all due respect to Calzada and KJ Jefferson, they haven’t shown yet that they can consistently beat you with their arms. I’d think that both offensive coordinators would want to let the ground games do the talking, but then again, it seems sort of foolish to take away the pass-catching talent on both sides. You can’t game plan to avoid targeting Treylon Burks, and if Ainias Smith is healthy, he needs to touch the football 10 times. But this one feels like a game in which an inexperienced quarterback will come up short with a costly mistake late against an elite defensive mind.
(I already called dibs on a Jalen Catalon interception to end it.)
Georgia State vs. Auburn — How do the Tigers look after a physical game against Penn State?
Don’t sleep on Shawn Elliott’s team. Remember when Tennessee did that to kick off 2019. Auburn deserves to be a 4-touchdown favorite, but are we in for a sluggish performance after such an emotional game against Penn State? Let’s not forget that Auburn will be without Zakoby McClain for the first half as a result of this absurd targeting ejection:
Zakoby McClain is ejected for targeting.
Come on, man. What’s he supposed to do? pic.twitter.com/sk2ozP1RKx
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) September 19, 2021
McClain cleans up a lot of other people’s mistakes. His impact is massive. And what about Tank Bigsby? Does he look fresh coming off a 23-carry game against that Penn State defense? We forget that as great as Bigsby is, the guy only had 3 career games with 17-plus carries entering this season. Nobody would be surprised with a bit of a slow start all around from the home team.
Southern Miss vs. Alabama — Follow that chunk play trend
If you thought that Alabama’s performance against Florida was atypical, you were right. It was. That was the first time since MSU in 2018 that Alabama didn’t have a play of at least 30 yards (H/T Brad Edwards). Think about that. In Steve Sarkisian’s entire time as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, he always dialed up at least 1 such play. That’s not to say Bill O’Brien did a poor job against Florida. If anything that’s a hat tip to (gasp) Todd Grantham’s defensive game plan against Bryce Young and the Tide.
My guess? O’Brien draws up some deep looks for Jameson Williams and John Metchie. To be fair, he did that against Florida. One of them, Young stepped up in the pocket, moved to his right and made a perfect throw to Metchie. It just happened to be into double coverage, with one of those defenders being lockdown corner Kaiir Elam. Southern Miss doesn’t have an Elam. It doesn’t have dudes who can stick with Alabama on the outside. O’Brien would be wise to dial up some of those downfield looks to make sure that part of Alabama’s offense is right before the meat of SEC play gets going.
Kentucky vs. South Carolina — Look for the Wildcats to get back to offensive balance
Kentucky’s offense had a major “back to earth” game against Chattanooga. Offensive coordinator Liam Coen admitted afterwards that he didn’t scheme enough run plays and that he got “greedy” for wanting to get 1-dimensional following a physical Mizzou game. Listen to this answer from Coen:
Liam Coen blames himself for poor offensive performance. “I got greedy.” pic.twitter.com/XRNq2GrBtR
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) September 18, 2021
Chris Rodriguez entered Saturday ranked No. 2 in America in yards after contact (via PFF), so it’s understandable if there was a desire to preserve him a bit on Saturday. Still, though. It was atypically tough sledding for Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke, both of whom were held to under 4 yards per carry and no run was longer than 11 yards. Consider that all the more reason why Coen, a first time play-caller at this level, will get back to the balance against the Gamecocks on the road. Georgia had success with that formula against South Carolina, and before you say UGA had far superior athletes at the skill positions, I’d take Rodriguez over any Georgia back and I’d take Wan’Dale Robinson over any Georgia receiver. Explosiveness, patience and balance is the key for Kentucky to win in Columbia.
Tennessee vs. Florida — The Vols’ run defense vs. Florida’s ground game is everything
I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong. Buddy, so far, I was dead wrong about Tim Banks’ run defense at Tennessee. Against inferior competition, it’s been excellent. The Vols have yet to surrender 3 yards per carry in a game this year and they rank No. 8 in America in run defense. Inferior competition? Sure. Much better competition this weekend in Gainesville? A thousand times yes. Tyler Baron and the Vols defense has a major task ahead against a Florida ground game who got rolling against Alabama without Anthony Richardson. Who knows if Richardson will be back, but it might not matter.
Malik Davis’ return to his freshman self has been one of the better SEC storylines of 2021 so far, and Dameon Pierce is a key reason why Florida ranks No. 2 in FBS in rushing. Emory Jones deserves credit for that, as does Dan Mullen. Obviously. What does that mean for Saturday? Fire up the old “something’s gotta give” cliché. Tennessee gave in 15 of the last 16 matchups, so talented run defense notwithstanding, I wouldn’t hold out hope for a Vols upset.