First impressions of every SEC game in Week 5
I have no idea how it’s already Week 5, but I suppose that’s how time works.
A month into the 2021 season, what do we really know? Everyone’s conference is bad, except the SEC. Apparently.
The Big Ten didn’t help itself in nonconference play, and I wouldn’t say the ACC stock is anywhere close to up. The Pac-12 has Oregon … and UCLA? Maybe. And the Big 12 is holding onto dear life. Did I say Big 12? I meant “Oklahoma.” Same thing.
But Week 5 in the SEC feels like judgment week. Four of the 5 SEC teams in the top 15 will face off, and the other top-15 team, Florida, will battle 4-0 Kentucky. There’s also the Tiger Bowl, an intriguing SEC West showdown in College Station, a “let’s avoid loss No. 3” game in Columbia and South Carolina’s bounce-back game vs. Troy.
Oh, and then UConn and Vandy face off in a game that hopefully won’t set FBS football back to the 1930s.
Ya see. There are storylines galore for the first Saturday in October.
Let’s dig into all the juicy Week 5 matchups.
MSU vs. Texas A&M — You’d think this matchup sets up well for the Aggies
Think about it. You can rush 3 with A&M’s prolific defensive line, and you can dare Will Rogers to throw the ball into drop-8 coverage all day. Against an Aggie defense who entered Week 4 ranked No. 1 in FBS against the pass, that theoretically would’ve been a great formula to beat MSU. It still might be, especially of Antonio Johnson and Leon O’Neal Jr. lead a ticked off A&M defense. So why am I not there?
In his 2 games against Power 5 competition, Zach Calzada averaged 4.5 yards per pass attempt. Yikes. It’s been tight windows, few chunk plays and far too much offensive frustration for the Aggies against Power 5 teams with Calzada. Against Zach Arnett and that defense, that could absolutely continue, even if MSU is without Emmanuel Forbes following that devastating collision on Saturday. No game is going to be a cakewalk in SEC play with Calzada as the starter unless Jimbo Fisher makes some significant adjustments.
Arkansas vs. Georgia — That Arkansas O-line vs. Georgia’s D-line? Yes, please.
Sam Pittman’s offensive line has been one of the best SEC units in 2021. Georgia’s defensive line? You could make the case that Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt and Jalen Carter are the best defensive line in America. What we don’t know is what the status of KJ Jefferson is. Can he play? If so, can he move on that knee? It remains to be seen. He’ll be a sitting duck if his mobility is limited. But this is a strength-on-strength matchup because of the ground game. UGA surrendered just 70 rushing yards per game in its first 4 contests while Arkansas has yet to run for fewer than 197 in any game.
Pittman, against his former team, has the ultimate test. College GameDay will be in the house and for the first time this year, it’ll be a true road game for the Hogs. Arkansas is lucky this one is at noon and not at night. Either way, we’re in for an old-fashioned trenches battle. Bring your hard hats to Athens.
Florida vs. Kentucky — Kaiir Elam vs. Wan’Dale Robinson would be great in theory …
But perhaps not a possibility in reality. Elam missed the Tennessee game with a knee injury but is expected to return for Kentucky. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we probably won’t see Elam matched up on Robinson very much. Robinson only played 49 of his 192 offensive snaps split out wide. Elam, of course, is a shutdown corner out wide. He played 149 of his 164 snaps lined up outside, where those ball skills are usually on full display.
Kaiir Elam, absurd. pic.twitter.com/ElSxw1sm43
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) September 11, 2021
If Robinson gets rolling early, could we see Elam shadow the Kentucky star? Perhaps, but I’d guess we’d see more of Elam on Josh Ali. Whatever the case, Todd Grantham has to figure out a plan to contain the versatile Robinson. He’s the SEC’s leading receiver so far, and he’s absolutely capable of exposing Florida on the back end.
Tennessee vs. Mizzou — Ground and pound, Vols
Because Mizzou can’t stop a nosebleed. In 3 games vs. FBS competition, the Tigers allowed an average of 263 rushing yards. Woof. Tiyon Evans, Jabari Small and Hendon Hooker should be chomping at the bit to battle this porous Mizzou front, which just got shredded by Boston College. Game flow didn’t really help the Vols’ ground game against Florida, but the Vols still finished with 148 rushing yards against a solid Gators defense.
Hooker got banged up late against the Gators and is no guarantee to start with the way that Josh Heupel spoke about Joe Milton, who was coming off an injury of his own. Whether it’s Milton or Hooker, this would be an ideal time for Heupel to let the up-tempo rushing attack do the heavy lifting.
Troy vs. South Carolina — Can we finally see the Gamecocks’ offensive upside with Luke Doty?
It was easy to forget that Saturday against Kentucky was Doty’s first start under Shane Beamer. It was mostly forgettable, though he didn’t get much help from his pass-catchers. It’s troubling to see the issues on the offensive line, and the run game has been virtually non-existent. In 3 games vs. FBS competition, the Gamecocks were held to 83 rushing yards on 2.5 yards per carry. With all due respect to Doty, he’s not good enough to overcome that.
Against Troy, though? We should see what the Gamecocks are capable of with Doty as the starter and not Zeb Noland. This should be a matchup in which Doty can set his feet a bit and use some of that mobility to move the chains. And there’s simply no way that South Carolina’s offensive line should struggle like it has for each of the last 3 weeks (with the exception of late vs. ECU).
If the line can hold, we should see Josh Vann targeted downfield, and perhaps the Gamecocks will finally have their first run of 20 yards vs. FBS competition this year.
UConn vs. Vandy — Mercy.
Look. I don’t want to be too mean to Vandy. That team actually played hard against Georgia, which sounds weird to say after a 62-0 loss. But, man. The talent will be lacking on Saturday night in Nashville. UConn lost Randy Edsall and is somehow already at 0-5. If there was ever a chance for Clark Lea’s defense to look the part for 60 minutes, it’s against a UConn team who is averaging 11 points against FBS competition. The Huskies have been a bit of a mess in recent memory. The loser of this game will have a strong case to be made for FBS’ worst team.
Auburn vs. LSU — As fun as it would be to see TJ Finley vs. his former team …
I’m still of the impression that Bryan Harsin will go back to the Bo Nix well. Why? Finley had an unforgettable moment, and he showed significant strides after his struggles as LSU’s starter in the middle of last season. But even with Nix’s 4-6 road record, I think Harsin will go back to his veteran. Go figure that Nix actually has more experience in a packed Tiger Stadium than Finley, who only played in front of reduced capacity crowds.
It would frustrate plenty of Auburn fans to see Nix get the nod, but Harsin’s non-committal postgame press conference came off more like he was trying to light a fire under his team than make a significant change to it. Then again, I’d say firing your receivers coach midseason is a pretty significant change.
Ole Miss vs. Alabama — Heisman Trophy battle? Heisman Trophy battle.
It’s not often that the 2 favorites for the Heisman Trophy get to actually battle on the field in the regular season. I suppose last year’s SEC Championship did that, and 2015 with Derrick Henry vs. Leonard Fournette yielded that scenario. Ok, I stand corrected. It’ll still be fun to watch Bryce Young vs. Matt Corral in a monumental game in the SEC West. Can Young repeat what Mac Jones did in last year’s record-breaking shootout? Shoot, can Corral repeat what Corral did last year? He was brilliant. So far in 2021, Corral has been even more brilliant. He understands drop-8 coverage better, he’s confident with his legs and he has total command of that Ole Miss offense.
I mean, come on.
Matt Corral bucket ball 🪣
Jonathan Mingo catches the TD
Yes. Golden Corral is a DOG 🐕 pic.twitter.com/I9jNWWyS3b
— The Transfer Portal CFB (@TPortalCFB) September 19, 2021
(Something tells me Alabama’s secondary will put up a better fight.)
That’s why this is a fascinating test for Young. He hasn’t had to go blow for blow with anyone quite like Corral yet. Jones made it look easy last year. This year’s Alabama team might not be built for that, especially if this Ole Miss defense is indeed capable of getting stops. That doesn’t seem too far fetched after what we saw the first 3 games from DJ Durkin’s group. Here’s hoping we see both gun-slinging quarterbacks light up scoreboards and put on Heisman-worthy performances.
Oh, and here’s hoping Lane Kiffin empties the bag.