Winners and losers of SEC Week 2
Two weeks into college football’s regular season, the SEC had quite a week. Surprise wins, surprise losses, and a doozy of a conference opener were just a few highlights. Here’s our usual look at the best and worst of the week.
No. 15 Texas was nearly a touchdown favorite in Arkansas. Fortunately, nobody told the Razorbacks, who dominated UT from open to close. Several questions emerge from the game — mainly whether UT is really that far ahead of the SEC’s UT, an interesting side note that will hang over the Longhorns’ entry into the SEC. There’s certainly nothing fluky about a 19-point win … or about the Razorbacks winning the yardage battle 471-256. Arkansas ran the ball 47 times for 333 yards, with five different players totaling from 44 to 75 rushing yards. Depth, physicality, quarterback play, special teams, Arkansas owned all of those categories.
Mississippi State’s Start
The Bulldogs, fresh off of a cliff-hanger of a win over Louisiana Tech, were expected to have a battle with North Carolina State. That lasted … well, basically through the opening kickoff. When Lideatrick Griffin popped the game’s opening kickoff for a quick 100-yard touchdown, MSU grabbed the momentum and never let it go in their 24-10 win. It was a sharp performance by the Bulldogs defense and a decent day’s work for the offense, but special teams stole the show and set the tone.
? YARD KICKOFF RETURN
That's how you start a game! pic.twitter.com/ZPmEu3c8Vj
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 11, 2021
South Carolina’s Defense
With a grad assistant at quarterback, 2.7 yards per carry on the ground, and three turnovers, South Carolina found a way to win at East Carolina. Mostly, the Gamecocks defense did the finding. Damani Stanley’s pick-six late in the first half kept South Carolina in the game and the Gamecocks held East Carolina to 268 total yards and a 2-for-16 conversion rate on third downs. The defense was the story … and the reason that USC moved to 2-0.
South Carolina pick six touchdown against ECU.
Damani Staley gives the Gamecocks some much-needed energy in this matchup
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) September 11, 2021
The Wildcats were kind of sloppy. They allowed 400 yards of offense, mostly watching Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak carve them up. Kentucky racked up yards on the ground only to watch Chris Rodriguez lose one fumble inside the 5-yard line and nearly lose another inside the 1. But the story here is that Kentucky won a game it had to win to be a serious contender in the SEC East. Mark Stoops continued re-writing the experience of Kentucky football, and beating Missouri was another step in that journey.
Texas A&M’s Offense
Texas A&M was a 19-point favorite at Colorado and was off to a good start until Haynes King limped to the sideline, basically taking the Aggie offense with him. Backup Zach Calzada did just enough to win, but winning 10-7 with 288 total yards of offense wasn’t exactly the game plan. If King can get back soon, this will be a bump in the road. But in an always brutal SEC West, A&M either has to get its offensive mojo back or face a sudden slide to the middle of the West pack.
The Volunteers got a blocked punt, setting up a 2-yard touchdown drive. They finally saw an effective quarterback lead their offense (Virginia Tech transfer Herndon Hooker). But they also turned Pitt’s Kenny Pickett into something closer to Tom Brady than Kenny Pickett. Tennessee lost the turnover battle 3-0, and had 13 penalties for 134 yards. It’s a long way back for Josh Heupel. Fortunately, UT should be pretty patient by now.
Texas A&M struggled after Haynes King got hurt. Tennessee made an injury-necessitated switch, but also finally showed some passing competence. Georgia missed J.T. Daniels out with an injury. Florida watched Emory Jones be overshadowed by Anthony Richardson. South Carolina is still playing a coach while Luke Doty heals. In a sport increasingly reliant on downfield passing attacks, virtually half of the SEC teams have already supplanted their planned starters or had to shuffle playing time because of injuries or ineffective play. It has not been a brilliant start for the starting quarterbacks of the SEC.
Opposing run defenses
Some of it is probably due to a combination of soft early scheduling and the QB uncertainty above, but virtually all of the SEC teams mounted massive rushing games. Whether it was Auburn (364 yards), Florida (363), Arkansas (333), Ole Miss (336), or Kentucky (340), defenses opposing SEC running attacks had little chance. When teams can run for 7, 8, or 9 yards per carry, there’s no reason not just keep doing it. Maybe the SEC is leading a new revolution … back to the run.