My takeaways in Week 1 for Tennessee, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
If Thursday is any indication, the SEC will be responsible for some rising blood pressure in 2016.
Appalachian State, which already won an impossible roadie in front of 100,000-plus at Michigan in 2007, nearly pulled off another monster upset at Tennessee. The Vols survived in overtime 20-13.
Meanwhile, in Nashville, South Carolina yanked a rabbit out of its hat in the fourth quarter to win 13-10 at Vanderbilt. Elliott Fry was the hero for the Gamecocks, splitting the uprights with a 55-yard field goal — only 35 seconds remained in regulation, too — to provide the margin of victory.
The Volunteers, picked to win the East, looked shaky. The ‘Cocks, picked to finish last in the same division, showed some heart. The Commodores, always in rebuilding mode, have more rebuilding to do.
Week 1 is off to a wild and crazy start. Here is my primary takeaway for all three of these teams.
In addition to 17 offensive and defensive starters, the Volunteers returned terrific special teams.
However, they weren’t so terrific in the third phase of the game against the Mountaineers. A fumble by punt returner Cameron Sutton led to App State’s first touchdown. It was a fair-catch situation.
Shortly thereafter, All-SEC linebacker — and coverage demon — Jalen Reeves-Maybin was ejected for targeting when he blasted the enemy punt returner with a helmet-to-helmet hit. It may not have been a dirty play, but the call was upheld upon review. It should’ve been. That’s what the rule is for.
There were bright spots. Evan Berry got 41 yards on his lone kick return. Aaron Medley was 2-for-2 kicking field goals. Trevor Daniel averaged 49.2 yards on six punts and placed three inside the 20.
But the return game in particular can be fluky. Prior success doesn’t always equal future success.
As promised, the Gamecocks went into the night planning to play two quarterbacks and did just that.
Senior Perry Orth (below) got the start, although he didn’t get much done in the first quarter and made way for freshman Brandon McIlwain. A better athlete than Orth, his first play call was a designed run.
While McIlwain seemed to add a spark to the offense early, that spark quickly fizzled — following a second-quarter fumble, he didn’t move the sticks once in either of his next two possessions. Muschamp flipped back to Orth, who put together three scoring drives after halftime of 10, nine and seven plays.
Orth is the more dependable of the two, but McIlwain does have a little juice that needs nurturing.
The Commodores were atrocious offensively, but their corps of linebackers will keep them in games.
As expected, Zach Cunningham was nothing short of scintillating and shows up liberally in the final stats: 12 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. Oren Burks, moving from safety to more of a hybrid role, had 6 tackles, forced the fumble that Cunningham scooped up and knocked down a pass.
But Vandy threw for just 73 yards, the fourth time in its past six games it failed to reach 75. Until the ‘Dores take a big step forward in the passing game, its defense will be on the field too much.