Week 1 report card: Offenses erupt while SEC passes tests with ease
Ole Miss, Tennessee and Florida: A+
Goodness gracious. All three of these teams came in with some question marks, and while big wins over lower-tier opponents won’t completely alleviate those concerns, each team has to be feeling great about what they saw Saturday.
- Ole Miss scored 27 first-quarter points, and with all three quarterbacks clicking, never slowed down in a 76-3 win over Tennessee-Martin.
- Led by transfer Alvin Kamara and sophomore Jalen Hurd, Tennessee rushed for nearly 400 yards while Joshua Dobbs passed for more than 200 in a 59-30 win over Bowling Green.
- Florida did as it pleased in Jim McElwain’s debut, totaling more than 600 yards in a 61-13 blowout of New Mexico State.
The Hogs didn’t quite match the astronomical numbers of the preceding teams, but the emergence of a passing game earns them high marks. Brandon Allen threw for 308 yards and had as many touchdowns as incompletions (four). It was Arkansas’ first 300-yard passing game of the Bret Bielema era, but the running game was not neglected; Alex Collins ran for 127 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries.
The failed two-point conversion that resulted in the Commodores’ 14-12 loss to Western Kentucky was emblematic of their night. Vanderbilt repeatedly moved into Hilltoppers territory Thursday only to bog down. They had just two field goals before finally reaching the end zone in the game’s final minute.
Texas A&M: A
The impact of new defensive coordinator John Chavis was felt immediately in the Aggies’ 38-17 win over No. 15 Arizona State. Taking a defense that was the primary weakness of last year’s team, Chavis helped Texas A&M hold down a Sun Devils team that had been talked about as a playoff contender this season. Defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall combined for 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, and Arizona State finished with 102 rushing yards on 41 carries.
The Badgers found mild and occasional success through the air, but the Crimson Tide front seven appears to be every bit as good as advertised. Alabama dominated Wisconsin up front, holding the No. 20 Badgers to 40 yards on 21 carries —effectively turning the run-first Badgers into a one-dimensional passing team.
For much of the game, it appeared this grade would be much higher, but the Wildcats gave up 26 second-half points and nearly squandered a 33-10 lead before Mikel Horton’s touchdown run in the final minute gave them a 40-33 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns finished with 479 yards of total offense and maintained possession for nearly two-thirds of the game. The bright spot for Kentucky: four forced turnovers.
Hard to find any fault with the Georgia special teams units Saturday. The Bulldogs blocked two punts, Reggie Davis had a couple of nice returns, the kickoff team covered well, and Collin Barber averaged nearly 44 yards per punt without allowing a return.
Texas A&M: A
Dear SEC, Know my name. You’ll be seeing a lot more of me in the next three to four years. Love, Christian Kirk.
So far, so good for Jim McElwain’s tenure in Gainesville. The Gators looked sharp offensively, deftly managing a quarterback timeshare to complete 30 of 37 passes for 382 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Fourteen Florida players recorded receptions, while 10 Gators rushers combined for 224 yards on the ground. Phase 2: achieving consistency. Remember, Florida looked equally dominant in a 65-0 win over Eastern Michigan last year.
The Bulldogs didn’t need a full 60 minutes to hang 50 points on ULM, and new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer showed an ability to get the ball in the hands of his best playmakers in a variety of ways. Nick Chubb’s greatness is a known quantity, but after seeing how Georgia used Sony Michel on Saturday, opposing defensive coordinators will have plenty to think about before facing the Bulldogs this season.
No win over a respected opponent like Louisville deserves a failing grade, but it’s fair to say Auburn’s offense didn’t live up to expectations in Week 1. It could be a simple matter of establishing an identity. Recent Tigers successes have been built on powerful running games, but Jeremy Johnson is a different kind of quarterback and wasn’t at his best through the air on Saturday. Look for coach Gus Malzahn to use next week’s game against Jacksonville State to fine tune his offensive machine before Auburn travels to LSU on Sept. 19.
Can we pump the brakes on the “SEC is in decline” narrative? While the SEC went 12-1 on opening weekend, the vaunted (and admittedly well-stocked) Pac-12 looked pretty average — No. 21 Stanford lost to Northwestern and Pac-12 South contender Arizona State got humbled by Texas A&M. The Aggies’ win was a big one for the SEC, and along with Alabama’s impressive showing against No. 20 Wisconsin sent the message that the best conference in the land remains so, even after a substandard bowl season.