SEC QB Power Rankings, Week 4: Kyle Trask's time at Florida has come. How long will it last?
Quarterbacks: There are a lot of them! Each week throughout the season, QB Curve will help you keep the game’s most important position in perspective by ranking the SEC starters 1-14 according to highly scientific processes and/or pure gut-level instinct. Previously: Week 1 … Week 2 … Week 3
1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Last week: 1
Bama only punted once in its 47-23 win at South Carolina, the result of 2 Carolina sacks in quick succession on the Tide’s second offensive series. At first glance, it’s possible to hang both takedowns on junior center Chris Owens, who was beaten on both occasions by powerful Gamecocks DT Javon Kinlaw. But neither play falls only on Owens.
The first sack is straightforward: Kinlaw (No. 3 below) bowled over Owens (79), bullying him to the ground en route to a free shot at Tagovailoa. The complicating factor is LG Evan Neal, whose right foot stepped on Owens’ left, causing him to lose his balance and then the rep in decisive fashion.
Sack No. 2 falls on Owens and RB Najee Harris (22), who recognized an impending A-gap blitz by Carolina’s R.J. Roderick (10) on 3rd-and-long but whiffed on the block; the pressure from Roderick subsequently forced Tua to step up and into Kinlaw as he blew past Owens again to help Roderick finish the job.
Javon Kinlaw, whew. Impressive sack on Tua. pic.twitter.com/bGVWmkjmRm
— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) September 14, 2019
These are the kinds of things you dwell on when the only real concern about your quarterback is ensuring he makes it to December as close to 100 percent as possible. The o-line kept Tua clean the rest of the day, allowing him to do standard Tua things like set career highs for completions (28), yards (444), and touchdowns (5) while barely breaking a sweat.
2. Joe Burrow, LSU
Last week: 2
Burrow spent his Saturday night bombing poor Northwestern State for 373 yards and 2 TDs on 21-of-24 passing, just the second time since 2000 an LSU quarterback has topped 350 yards with an efficiency rating of 200 or higher in the same game. The first time: Burrow’s breakthrough performance against Texas in Week 2.
3. Jake Fromm, Georgia
Last week: 3
I think Fromm’s campaign to date can best be summed up by the fact that I’m compelled for the second week in a row to devote his section to the precocious stylings of 5-star WR George Pickens.
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) September 14, 2019
Pickens and fellow freshman Dominick Blaylock combined for 196 yards on 9 receptions against Arkansas State, moving one step closer to resolving the shrugging emojis on UGA’s wide receiver depth chart for the foreseeable future. Notre Dame is the first test of where they really stand, among a lot of other things. Fromm’s status as one of the nation’s most efficient passers is not one of them.
4. Kelly Bryant, Missouri
Last week: 5
Don’t expect to hear much about it, but the next few weeks present a big opportunity for Bryant and Mizzou: The Tigers will likely be favored in their next 5 games ahead of their November dates with Florida and Georgia, against a succession of below-average defenses. The Tigers are still waiting on the NCAA to rule on their appeal to lift the postseason ban hanging over the season. If the NCAA grants the appeal — not out of the question, given that Mississippi State just avoided a ban for essentially the same infractions, although, you know, it’s the NCAA — don’t be surprised if Missouri suddenly shows up out of nowhere as a plausible challenger to Georgia in the East.
5. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
Last week: 4
Mond has been a significantly more productive passer in Kyle Field than on the road, and not only because that’s where he gets to shred on the likes of Texas State and Lamar: In 18 career games vs. Power 5 opponents, Mond’s efficiency rating at home is more than 20 points higher than in road/neutral dates. Saturday’s visit from Auburn is the first in a 3-game homestand that will put that trend to the test.
6. Bo Nix, Auburn
Last week: 8
Nix did his part in Auburn’s blockbuster rushing night against Kent State, ripping off back-to-back gains of 17 and 18 yards on the read option to set up the Tigers’ first touchdown. That might not look like much — especially in the box score, where his rushing total was deflated by a pair of sacks later on — but introducing the threat of the quarterback as a runner is a key part of what makes Gus Malzahn’s offense go at it best. Auburn hasn’t had a legitimate dual-threat behind center since Nick Marshall in 2014.
7. Ryan Hilinski, South Carolina
Last week: 9
Hilinski’s SEC debut against Alabama ran the gamut of the True Freshman Experience, from ill-advised throws that somehow worked out beautifully …
Double coverage? Doesn't matter.
Ryan Hilinski with a DIME to Shi Smith for the touchdown. pic.twitter.com/xvko3Nx0vp
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 14, 2019
… to ill-advised throws that ended in disaster …
An interception for Xavier McKinney to cap off his great day against South Carolina. Easy read and great job high pointing the ball. pic.twitter.com/8FKCJGZBAM
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) September 14, 2019
… and pretty much everything in between throughout 60-plus dropbacks. The high volume puts his 324-yard performance in perspective — that comes out to just 5.7 yards per attempt and 9.0 per completion — but it also reflects the level of trust Hilinski has earned from his coaches. His name’s going to be all over the school record books before it’s said and done.
8. Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee
Last week: 10
Guarantano connected on 7-of-8 attempts against Chattanooga for 142 yards and 3 TDs before calling it a day in the 2nd quarter. Given his plummeting approval ratings in the wake of Tennessee’s 0-2 start, that feels a lot more reassuring than it probably should. After last year’s debacle in Neyland, a sustained, 4-quarter upset bid Saturday at Florida would mean a lot more.
9. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
Last week: 11
Corral has yet to put up the kind of stat lines that Ole Miss fans are accustomed to against the dregs of the schedule, but he has been significantly steadier over the past 2 weeks over his disappointing debut against Memphis. The next 2 weeks, against Cal (which boasts a legitimate top 20 defense) and Alabama (which is Alabama) will be a formative experience.
10. Nick Starkel, Arkansas
Last week: n/a
– – –
As far as his team is concerned, Starkel’s 305-yard, 3-TD, 0-INT performance against Colorado State might have been the most revelatory performance of the weekend. Early in the 4th quarter, the Razorbacks found themselves deadlocked at 34 against the same team that handed them their most embarrassing defeat in 2018; from there, Starkel led back-to-back touchdown drives on which he was 5-of-6 for 120 yards on the way to a 55-34 win. Credit where it’s due to TE Cheyenne O’Grady for accounting for a big chunk of that number on sheer beastlihood …
— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) September 14, 2019
… but given the shipwreck that was Arkansas’ offense in the first 2 games, the most important takeaway from Starkel’s first start in Fayetteville is that there are going to be a lot more to come.
11. Kyle Trask, Florida
Last week: n/a
Trask, a redshirt junior, will get the nod this weekend against Tennessee, the first game he’s entered as the starter since his freshman year. Of high school. As in 7 years ago. As in 2012. As in like the first Obama administration.
That’s a long wait! At Texas’ Manvel High, Trask was stuck in the same graduating class as the prolific D’Eriq King, who held down the starting job all 4 years before moving on to mid-major stardom at Houston. Trask was largely ignored by the recruiting sites, for obvious reasons. But Trask’s 6-5 frame was intriguing enough to catch the eye of Florida coaches scouting Manvel practices, and eventually to earn a scholarship offer from Jim McElwain despite a minimal track record in actual games. In Gainesville, he’s bided his time throughout a redshirt and 2 season-ending foot injuries in 2017 and 2018.
His turn off the bench at Kentucky in place of the injured Feleipe Franks (No. 6 in last week’s rankings) went about as well as it realistically could have gone: Facing a 21-10 deficit in the 4th quarter, Trask provided an immediate spark, leading a pair of touchdown drives covering 62 and 66 yards, respectively, and ran in the go-ahead score himself with a little over 4 minutes to play. Roughly two-thirds of the output on the decisive drives came courtesy of his right arm.
Per Dan Mullen, the game plan against the Vols will also involve redshirt freshman Emory Jones, a much more touted athlete than Trask, although to what extent or in what role remains to be seen. Jones arrived last year after flipping on a commitment to Ohio State with hopes of pushing Franks as the starter, and offers enormous potential with the ball in his hands; Trask has very little margin for error before sentiment in The Swamp begins to shift in favor of the heir apparent. Just holding him off would be a promising start.
12. Sawyer Smith, Kentucky
Last week: 14
Smith got a lot right in his first start as a Wildcat, connecting on 23-of-35 attempts for 267 yards and 2 TDs in a near-upset of Florida, except in the handful of moments that it all went wrong: He was responsible for 3 turnovers (not including a last-gasp Hail Mary that was picked off on the final play), all 3 of which led directly to points for the Gators. A fumble in the first half set up a short field for UF’s first touchdown; an egregious interception to open the second half ended a serious UK scoring threat and set up a short field goal for Florida.
Smith did respond to that INT by leading a 75-yard touchdown drive on the next series, and also drove Kentucky within range of a go-ahead field goal in the final minute. (It missed.) There’s little doubt he’s the guy going forward in the absence of Terry Wilson, but the Wildcats aren’t built to win key SEC games while giving up 17 points off turnovers.
13. Tommy Stevens or Garrett Shrader, Mississippi State
Last week: 7
Stevens is “day-to-day” with a shoulder injury that clearly affected his accuracy in last week’s 31-24 loss to Kansas State, ultimately forcing him to sideline in favor of the true freshman. Virality ensued.
Just because pic.twitter.com/T4eEd3Z8UK
— _33 (@33KSU) September 15, 2019
When not being propelled to dangerous heights, Shrader also struggled with accuracy, hitting just 4-of-12 attempts. On the other hand, he was a more consistent asset than Stevens as a runner — a key component of Joe Moorhead’s scheme — accounting for 82 yards and a touchdown with his legs. If the question of who gets the call against Kentucky hinges on Stevens’ health, don’t bother reading the tea leaves. Last week, Stevens told reporters “I feel good,” only to wind up being benched. This week? He’s feeling “way better… than it was at this point last week.”
14. Riley Neal, Vanderbilt
Last week: 12
Neal was out of sight, out of mind Saturday as Vandy took the weekend off. This week: LSU, which might leave him longing for the bye.