One area each SEC team will improve in 2015
Twelve of the SEC’s 14 teams earned bowl eligibility in 2014, but no team was perfect. Each program left room for growth in a number of areas this offseason as it prepares for the 2015 campaign, and we took a closer look at one area each team will likely improve this offseason before the new season arrives.
Alabama: The secondary. The Tide’s pass defense was exposed in late-season battles against Auburn and Ohio State, but with former NFL defensive coordinator Mel Tucker now leading the secondary and former five-star prospect Marlon Humphrey set to make his collegiate debut, that should all change. The return of both starting corners is another added plus to a unit the team desperately needs to step up its play in 2015.
Arkansas: Downfield passing. The Hogs have proven they can run the ball and stop the run, but they need to capitalize on the return of their 1,000-yard rushers by effectively taking shots down the field. With tight end Hunter Henry controlling the middle of the field, quarterback Brandon Allen should be able to create some explosive plays on vertical pass routes with playmaking wideouts Keon Hatcher and Jared Cornelius manning the outside.
Auburn: Balance on offense. Gus Malzahn’s runs a spread rushing attack, and with Nick Marshall starting at quarterback his offense ran the ball nearly twice as many times as it threw it in 2014. With strong-armed Jeremy Johnson now taking over under center, the Tigers should be able to add balance to their offense, which could pose major problems for opposing defenses in 2015.
Florida: Quarterback play. Florida’s quarterback situation remains a mystery, which is never a good thing even this far removed from the next season, but there’s just no way the Gators quarterback play can be worse than last year, right? Right? With an offensive-minded coach in Jim McElwain running the show, Florida can at least begin developing one of its raw quarterbacks like Treon Harris or Will Grier.
Georgia: Closing games. Had the Bulldogs simply finished off victories against South Carolina and Georgia Tech, they’d have closed the regular season at 11-1 with an SEC East title and a chance to play Alabama for a playoff berth. The Dawgs now know what they have in workhorse back Nick Chubb, and they now have an offensive coordinator in Brian Schottenheimer who’s committed to the run late in games.
Kentucky: Balancing pass attack. The Cats are poised to be more pass-dependent in their Air Raid offense with Shannon Dawson running the show and Patrick Towles returning under center. Kentucky is deep at receiver and Towles must spread the ball around to his many weapons to keep defenses off-balance in aiming to limit the explosiveness of Towles strong arm and UK’s emerging athletic playmakers.
LSU: Consistency in passing game. Anthony Jennings may never be a star in the SEC, but he should at least be able to manage a game, find open receivers and limit turnovers by his junior season in 2015. The Tigers have Leonard Fournette, so they don’t exactly need a dominant star at quarterback. But they do need someone who’s at least capable of making easy throws, and Jennings should be able to do that by now.
Mississippi State: The secondary. It’s been well-documented, especially by this writer, how bad the MSU secondary was at limiting explosive completions of 30 yards or more in 2014, and upon losing a starting cornerback and both starting safeties that won’t be any easier for the Bulldogs in 2015. However, with an offseason to make adjustments under new coordinator Manny Diaz, MSU may have enough new tricks to keep a lid on the back-end of its defense and to limit opposing wideouts from getting behind it.
Missouri: Maty Mauk’s pocket presence. Mauk spent much of last season running for his life, sometimes to escape a pass rush and sometimes to avoid a pass rush that wasn’t actually present on the play. If he can’t find better poise and comfort in the pocket, he’s going to struggle, which is why we should expect that to be his main focus as he prepares for his third year leading the Missouri offense.
Ole Miss: Pass protection. Ole Miss did a less than desirable job of protecting Bo Wallace last season, although Wallace’s escapability compensated for that deficiency. The Rebels will return Laremy Tunsil and should have better chemistry along the offensive line this fall, which in turn should lead to cleaner pockets for the Rebels new starting signal caller.
South Carolina: Rushing the passer. The Gamecocks were unable to replace Jadeveon Clowney’s presence along last year’s defensive line, and the Cocks were historically bad in applying pressure at the line of scrimmage as a result. They compensated by adding a large handful of four- and five-star defensive line recruits in this year’s class, some of which were already seasoned at the junior college level, and Carolina should be better in that area this coming year.
Tennessee: Offensive line play. The Vols allowed the most sacks in the SEC last season, but having a mobile threat at quarterback in Joshua Dobbs play for an entire season should limit those numbers, as should UT’s pair of four-star offensive tackle signees in this year’s class. Tennessee may not boast the best line in the conference, but it will be far ahead of where it was last year when it’s line was arguably the conference’s worst.
Texas A&M: Tackling in the open field. The Aggies defense was obviously not up to standards last season, but even though the numbers don’t indicate it the Aggies were in the right positions to make plays more often than it seems. The problem is they were never able to make tackles from those positions, allowing modest gains to turn into explosive plays. With John Chavis leading the way, don’t expect that trend to continue this fall.
Vanderbilt: Quarterback play. The Commodores used four different starting quarterbacks last season, but by late in the year they seemed to have settled on two contenders: rising junior Patton Robinette and rising sophomore Johnny McCrary. If new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig simply settles on one guy before the opener, the play from the quarterback position should at least be consistent, which is something Vandy desperately lacked last year.