First impressions for every SEC game in Week 8
Finally, another full slate.
Seven SEC games. What a concept, right? I suppose in the middle of a pandemic season, we shouldn’t take that for granted, especially after there were just 4 SEC games in 2 of the past 3 weekends.
Oh, and the Masters is on!
Let me be the first to say that 2020 is finishing strong. On second thought, let’s not go there yet.
Let’s instead go to some first impressions on the SEC slate next Saturday:
Georgia vs. Mizzou — What UGA team shows up?
We know the Dawgs are banged up, but we also know that this is the first time since 2016 that Georgia is playing in a regular-season game that really doesn’t have Playoff implications. Go back to the 2018 Sugar Bowl. We’re allowed to question the motivation of Kirby Smart’s team when it doesn’t have title implications, especially when the injuries are piling up. We don’t know what’s in store for guys like Jordan Davis, Lewis Cine and George Pickens, all of whom were either out or went down in the Cocktail Party.
Speaking of 2018, remember when Florida followed its Cocktail Party letdown with an even bigger letdown the following week against Mizzou? This is a different Mizzou team, though that defensive coaching staff is still mostly intact. Georgia isn’t good enough to go through the motions against 2020 Mizzou. Ask LSU what happens when you do that. If the Dawgs play like a team without a sense of urgency, this will go from bad to worse.
Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky — It feels like now or never for Eddie Gran
If the Kentucky offensive coordinator still lacks creativity and effectiveness coming off a bye week against a depleted Vandy squad, well, what does that say? That he’s capable of doing this job? I’d argue against keeping someone on board who hasn’t maximized the talent of a group that had more potential than what the numbers suggest. Sooner or later, Kentucky has to at least try to stretch the field, no matter who’s starting at quarterback.
Teams that actually try to run against Vandy — that doesn’t include MSU — usually fair extremely well. Teams like LSU and South Carolina got the ground game going against the Commodores. I’d expect a heavy dose of Chris Rodriguez, who quietly had a 100-yard day against Georgia. Gran has more faith in him than anyone in this offense. If Mark Stoops is going to have any faith in Gran moving forward, this needs to be a convincing showing.
Texas A&M vs. Tennessee — The Vols are awfully similar to South Carolina … which isn’t good
Why? Well, A&M just beat South Carolina like a drum.
Like South Carolina, Tennessee has a limited veteran quarterback who the fan base wants gone in favor of the unknown but talented true freshman. They both have a bellcow back and a defense that is better than the record indicates. But both appear to have such few limited pass-catching options and without their ex-Georgia offensive coordinators, they don’t scheme guys open enough. And Jeremy Pruitt and Will Muschamp are Nick Saban disciples who look like they shouldn’t have gotten their first head coaching gigs at big-time programs.
And both South Carolina and Tennessee are sitting at 2-4 in the SEC East riding a streak of multiple double-digit losses in a row.
A&M, if it comes out like it did Saturday at South Carolina, has all the ability to repeat that performance and bring out the “fire Pruitt” chants like we saw with Muschamp.
In other words, I’m not holding my breath on the Vols to stop the bleeding.
South Carolina vs. Ole Miss — Jaycee Horn vs. Elijah Moore is a fantastic matchup
I realize I’ve spotlighted Horn a lot in this weekly column, but he’s that good. So is Moore. The guy who I predicted would lead the SEC in receiving yards is not only doing that, but he’s also No. 1 among Power 5 wideouts. Moore gets lined up all over the place in Lane Kiffin’s offense, and more times than not, Matt Corral hits him in stride. Moore has double-digit catches in 5 of Ole Miss’ 6 games. He’s a matchup nightmare because even though he’s 5-9, he makes every type of grab. In a way, he’s like the 2020 version of Justin Jefferson.
If we see anybody but Horn on Moore, that’d be a surprise. Muschamp is smart enough to recognize that he needs to be shadowed, much like Horn did covering Kyle Pitts and Seth Williams. If Horn shuts down Moore, that rising NFL Draft stock is going to continue to soar.
Auburn vs. MSU — Another true freshman quarterback for Kevin Steele to dominate? Sure
That plan worked pretty well against LSU. Steele reminded everyone why he’s the highest-paid defensive coordinator in America. TJ Finley had no idea what hit him. It didn’t even matter that Auburn was without K.J. Britt. The game plan of making Finley try to beat Auburn will be similar, but different from what we’ll see with MSU true freshman Will Rogers. There probably won’t be as many fronts with loaded boxes.
Steele, if he wants, can actually go back to the 3-1-7 defense that worked against LSU last year. That’s what everybody does to MSU. There’s no way that offensive line can contain Auburn’s front, especially with a healthy Big Kat Bryant. That should lead to plenty of forced throws and takeaways for the Tigers. This has the makings of a blowout as long as Auburn doesn’t hand MSU short fields.
Arkansas vs. Florida — This Feleipe Franks reunion is much better than I originally thought
So here’s something that you won’t believe — Franks has a 13-1 touchdown-interception ratio since the Georgia opener. He’s been excellent for an Arkansas team that has been playing with house money all year. Remember when the revised schedule came out and everyone felt sorry for the Hogs because they had the Florida matchup added? Well, I’m glad it was added because Franks couldn’t be playing much better heading into his return to the Swamp.
What we’ve seen from the Arkansas quarterback is a much more mature version of the guy we saw at Florida. Franks used to be the guy who could spiral when things weren’t going his way. That hasn’t been the case. We saw him rally the troops against Tennessee even though nothing was really working.
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of response he gets from the Florida faithful. And also, how will he handle it. Will he come in with too much juice and start overthrowing guys? Or will we see him come full circle and pull off a major upset to shake up the Playoff race? Don’t rule anything out in 2020.
Alabama vs. LSU — I’ll go with 63
Oh, I thought you asked me how many points Alabama will score. Yes, I’ll settle on 9 touchdowns. Given what we’ve seen from the Crimson Tide offense and this LSU defense, can you blame me? LSU allowed 40-plus to MSU, Mizzou and Auburn. Nobody is confusing those teams for offensive juggernauts. Alabama, of course, is the offensive juggernaut in college football, even without Jaylen Waddle.
I’d have more excitement for the Derek Stingley-DeVonta Smith rematch if Stingley looked like a true lockdown corner all year, but that hasn’t been the case. I’m instead bracing for the nation’s best offense — among teams who have played more than a game — to continue LSU’s 2020 misery. An LSU passing defense allowing 335 yards per game is going to get torched by Mac Jones and Co.
The question is if Saban will take exception to LSU after Ed Orgeron’s viral post-Alabama locker room comments last year. What do I think will happen?
A 63-point prediction says it all.