With two weeks of the SEC schedule behind us, some teams were exposed and some others are on the climb. Time to hand out grades for the week that was, and then honor a few top students for the best work in offense, defense and special teams — as well as calling out those who might need to head to detention in the same areas.
The Tide weren’t quite at their sharpest, as they were outpassed by Fresno State, 216-192. That stat aside, it’s hard to find another that favored Fresno. Alabama’s offense was much sharper than last week, and the Tide look like one of the best teams in the country.
Much like Bama, the Tigers got a little sloppy in spots. But Danny Etling looks light years ahead of 2016, and the Tigers have impressed in each of their first two appearances. Can it continue in SEC play?
Mississippi State: B+
The State defense had some lapses in the 57-21 win over Louisiana Tech. Otherwise, State is cruising along with Nick Fitzgerald doing his dual-threat thing.
Ole Miss: C+
Again, Shea Patterson was phenomenal, passing for almost 500 yards and lighting up the scoreboard. And again, the defense struggled, yielding 219 rushing yards to an FCS opponent. Patterson and the offense better stay sharp, because this defense won’t be doing them any favors.
Sure, Clemson is good. And the Tigers defense did a good job of keeping QB Kelly Bryant from getting too cozy. Clemson ended up with 284 yards and 14 points. Unfortunately, each stat wildly bested Auburn. QB Jarrett Stidham was sacked ELEVEN times as the Tigers ended up with 117 yards of total offense and just 6 points. This was a devastating loss in that Auburn was basically exposed as the same offensively limited team that it was last year.
D is for all that the Razorbacks have managed to play this season. And to some level, it’s been an improvement on that side of the ball. But the Arkansas offense has struggled mightily, putting up just 267 yards in losing 28-7 to TCU. The Horned Frogs are good, but the Arkansas defense holding a ranked opponent to 24 points and 361 yards, but never really being in the game, can’t be a good sign.
Texas A&M: D-
They won, which after last week is no small thing. A&M was tied in the middle of the fourth quarter against an FCS opponent, one that they outgained just 393-338. A&M won the turnover battle by two, handidly won time of possession, and had to scrap and claw to the bitter end to beat an unimposing opponent. Not good.
Give the Bulldogs credit for going on the road with a true freshman at quarterback and beating a ranked Notre Dame team. The key to the game was that Georgia ran the ball reasonably well (185 yards) and stopped the run very well (55 rushing yards allowed). On the down side, Notre Dame may not be really good, and a dozen penalties are too many.
South Carolina: B+
Much like Georgia, the Gamecocks went on the road and won a meaningful game — in this case, the season’s first conference game at Mizzou. And much like the Bulldogs, there’s still some clean-up work to do. Carolina was outgained 423-359 and allowed Missouri 178 rushing yards. Carolina has used some smoke and mirrors to go 2-0, but a team that doesn’t beat itself might come out on the other side of the ledger against USC .
For the second straight week, Vandy controlled a game against inferior competition. It outgained Alabama A&M 401-103 and rushed for 5 yards a carry. There was plenty to like for Vandy, but the water is about to get much deeper.
Much like Vandy, UT easily handled an outmatched FCS opponent. UT did allow 122 rushing yards to Indiana State, and got sloppy at times, losing the turnover battle 2-0. Still, occasional misplays aside, the Vols were who they needed to be.
It took until the closing minutes for Kentucky to put away FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky. The Wildcats’ vaunted secondary got picked apart for 256 yards, which suggests bad days ahead against Bentley, Lock, Patterson, et al. Kentucky’s second-half ground resurgence was by far the most encouraging thing about its performance.
The Tigers ended up with a “d” plus what else? If someone had told you that Mizzou’s suspect defense would hold Carolina to 187 yards passing, 4.3 yards per carry on the ground, and 31 points (and remember that one score was a special teams TD, so you can’t blame that on the defense), you’d have figured this game looked pretty good for Missouri. But that would have been before you learned that the Missouri offense completed 45% of its passes and coughed up three turnovers. Until Mizzou can establish its offense against meaningful competition, it’s a team that’ll be all show.
Love and prayers to everybody affected by the hurricane. Some things are bigger than football.
Hall passes, offense
Nobody is going to mistake Louisiana Tech for the ’85 Chicago Bears, but State’s ground-game totals of 40 carries for 327 yards are pretty eye-popping. So is 57 points.
Why not both Mississippi schools? Shea Patterson passes for 489 yards, and that ought to be worth something, even against a ho-hum FCS team.
Yes, the Clemson defense is good. But ELEVEN sacks? 117 total yards? 6 points? The Gus Bus popped a couple of offensive flat tires.
For the second time this season, the Razorbacks’ offense was completely underwhelming. The passing game that was one of the best in the league last year couldn’t complete 10 passes or put up double-digit points.
Hall passes, defense
The Gamecocks gave up a good amount of yardage (423) at Missouri, but to go on the road and force three turnovers is no small thing. Neither was holding Drew Lock to 45% completions and letting their own offense stay on the field for almost 38 minutes.
Again, going on the road and winning games is about the biggest thing a defense can do. The Dawgs held Notre Dame to 266 yards, highlighted by allowing just 1.5 yards per carry. The last Notre Dame play of the game was a sack from UGA’s Devin Bellamy, forcing a fumble that UGA recovered to run out the clock. That’s big league stuff in South Bend.
FCS Eastern Kentucky’s quarterbacks finished 31 for 43 for 256 yards and a touchdown. The sight of EKU receivers running free play after play is one that doesn’t bode well for Kentucky’s defense.
By the same token, FCS Nicholls State’s quarterback went 13 for 25 for 264 yards and a touchdown. A&M’s defense has regressed, and its offense has disappeared. This unit may end up being an albatross for Kevin Sumlin.
Hall passes, special teams
A note to the wise: Don’t kick to Deebo Samuel. In two weeks, he’s had two kick return touchdowns. Carolina’s kicking game has been pretty solid as well.
Good special teams play has been a Butch Jones staple. Ty Chandler (kick return score) and Marquez Callaway are two of the most talented kick return guys in the league. As long as the Vols can keep throwing superior athletes out there, they will burn some folks.
Detention, special teams
Kicker Cole Hedlund was 0 for 2 on field goals. He missed from 20 and 23 yards. With a struggling offense, the Razorbacks can’t have two trips inside the opposing 10-yard line lead to zero points. The return game hasn’t been impressive either.
It didn’t hurt them this week, but two missed extra points isn’t the kind of thing that good teams just let happen. Back-up kicker Jace Christmann might get more work in Starkville.