First impressions on every SEC game in Week 5
Hey, 4 games is better than none.
That’s what I found myself saying after realizing that’s all we were left with for Week 5 of the SEC season. Because of bye weeks and some COVID-related schedule shuffling, that’s what we’re left with.
That’s still better than the Pac-12. And up until this week, that would’ve been better than the Big Ten, which starts its season with a full slate this weekend.
But while the SEC will take a bit of a back seat, there are no shortage of intriguing matchups and storylines for the week that’s ahead.
Let’s take a look at those:
Auburn vs. Ole Miss — If not now, then when for the Chad Morris offense?
This is the most favorable matchup that Auburn has the entire season. Well, at least it is for the Auburn offense. The Ole Miss defense had a better Week 4 showing against Arkansas, but it was easily the worst unit in FBS in the first 3 weeks.
Gus Malzahn chalked up another disappointing offensive effort — Auburn didn’t have a touchdown in the second half for the second time in 3 weeks — to still getting a feel for the system after an atypical offseason. At the halfway point of the season against a defense that’s been all sorts of awful, there cannot be any passable excuse.
This should be a get-right game for Seth Williams. He should be able to follow a similar path to success that we saw from Treylon Burks, who had a banner day against Ole Miss coming off an injury. That, of course, depends on Bo Nix stepping into throws and giving the talented wideout a chance.
The good news? Ole Miss doesn’t have a Jaycee Horn.
Kentucky vs. Mizzou — Connor Bazelak vs. the Kentucky defense is suddenly a juicy matchup
After Bazelak’s big performance in his first start with Eli Drinkwitz, it was unfortunate that the Mizzou offense had to wait an additional week to get back on the field. It’s also unfortunate that the Tigers will see a Kentucky defense that suddenly is forcing turnovers at will. The Cats had a stretch of 10 forced turnovers in 16 possessions after 0 turnovers in the first 2 games. KJ Costello and Jarrett Guarantano both looked completely lost against this Kentucky defense.
The Cats will likely change up looks against Bazelak, but they’ve had a lot of success dropping linebackers into coverage. Will Mizzou, with an extra week to prepare and possibly returning Keke Chism and Damon Hazelton, be ready for that? Or will this be another week of the Kentucky defense completely taking over with takeaways?
It’s hard to see anyone lighting up this Kentucky defense with how inspired it looked the last couple weeks. But after how good Bazelak looked against LSU, I wouldn’t assume the Tigers should be any sort of a pushover.
South Carolina vs. LSU — Terrace Marshall vs. Jaycee Horn and Derek Stingley Jr. vs. Shi Smith … yes please
If all parties are healthy, we’re in for some special receiver-cornerback matchups. If you missed what Horn did against Seth Williams this past weekend, I’ll sum it up. Suffocating. Horn’s play was what sparked a sideline feud between William an Bo Nix.
Marshall has multiple touchdowns in 5 of his past 6 games. All he does is catch touchdowns. Both Marshall and Horn are playing at an All-American level. It’d be surprising to see Horn not shadowing Marshall, especially with Israel Mukuamu still banged up.
As for the other matchup, I’d be much more excited about Stingley against Shi Smith if we knew the former was fully healthy. If he’s still working through an ankle injury, that favors Smith, who has looked like an All-SEC wideout in the first part of the season. Smith is 6th in Power 5 with 34 catches.
How did Shi Smith hang on to this? 🤯
— FanDuel (@FanDuel) October 17, 2020
If Stingley is anything less than 100%, Smith will be a problem. At the same time, if Stingley is at full strength, this matchup could potentially be a get-right game for LSU’s defense with Smith being the only reliable pass-catcher for South Carolina.
Alabama vs. Tennessee — This feels like a defining time for Jeremy Pruitt
Remember when Tennessee had the longest active win streak in the country? It was a whole 2 weeks ago. Since then, Pruitt watched his offense torpedo into the ground and he reportedly fired co-defensive coordinator/ defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh. Play-calling hasn’t been good, but it’s the quarterback play that obviously prevented Tennessee from having any chance the last 2 weeks. Pruitt seemingly left the door open to make a more permanent change at quarterback after Jarrett Guarantano’s turnover-filled 2 games. That decision of whether to begin the Harrison Bailey era is here, whether Pruitt wants to admit it or not.
But it’s not just the quarterback decision that awaits Pruitt. It’s having a 2-2 team that is all but eliminated from the division race. It’s making sure that his team hasn’t checked out. That’s been an issue at Tennessee before when expectations weren’t met. The Vols are sitting there at 4th place in the SEC East with 2 rivalry games remaining on that slate. Weathering the storm in a year like this is different than it was last year when Tennessee’s nonconference embarrassment was ultimately forgotten when the matchups got more favorable down the stretch.
In Year 3, this is the time when Pruitt is facing a tipping point. Lose a third straight game in embarrassing fashion, and against a rival like Alabama, then we’re back to asking questions about the direction of this program.
You know, in case we’re not already doing that.