The Hangover: Nuggets and tidbits from Week 1 in the SEC
The first Saturday of the 2016 season in the SEC was a wild one filled with upsets and near misses.
Alabama, the defending national champion, was the only member of the conference to get a victory in convincing fashion with a 52-6 beatdown of USC. The Crimson Tide are No. 1 and will continue to be.
The rest of the league struggled to some degree. Florida needed four full quarters to finally pull away from Massachusetts. Mississippi State refused to put South Alabama to bed and paid the ultimate price, losing on a missed field goal. Auburn put up a good fight against No. 2 Clemson but came up short.
Georgia and Texas A&M authored the best wins of the day. The Bulldogs ran away from North Carolina in the fourth period, while the Aggies overcame several late mistakes to outlast UCLA in overtime.
Team by team, here are a few obscure nuggets and tidbits that I scribbled into my Week 1 notebook.
Alabama might be a factory for ball carriers, but you don’t just replace a back like Derrick Henry.
The heir apparent was supposedly Bo Scarbrough, who was a five-star recruit in high school and is — like Henry — just impossibly big and strong for the position. But he didn’t really get it going.
Damien Harris, also a five-star signee once upon a time, was the breakout star in the backfield with 138 yards on only 9 carries. Yes, 73 of those yards came on one play. Nevertheless, even when you remove that run, he averaged 8.1 yards on his other 8 attempts. He was better than Scarbrough.
More than likely, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will flip back and forth between Scarbrough and Harris for the rest of the year and ride the hot hand. Next week, perhaps Scarbrough goes bananas.
No, finding another Henry isn’t really an option. But combined, Scarbrough and Harris will do fine.
It was the case with Brandon Allen. It’ll more than likely be the case with Austin Allen, as well.
The Arkansas passing offense is at its best when the tight end position is heavily involved. With All-American Hunter Henry now in the NFL, that means Jeremy Sprinkle is the top play-action target.
Even if Allen’s (above) game-winning touchdown to Sprinkle wasn’t off a play fake, there was heavy bootleg action to the right — Louisiana Tech’s defense chased accordingly. Slipping into the left flat was Sprinkle, who reeled in the high rainbow from Allen for the deciding score. Razorbacks win, 21-20.
Like most quarterbacks making his first career start, Allen was up and down. More Sprinkle, please.
Trailing 13-3 late in the third quarter, Auburn was facing 4th-and-1 at the Clemson 4-yard line.
But instead of kicking the field goal, which would have made it a one-score game, coach Gus Malzahn elected to run quarterback Jeremy Johnson — he finished with minus-18 yards rushing, by the way — up the gut. Johnson, predictably, was stuffed. A once-promising 12-play drive resulted in nothing.
It was one of several odd decisions by Malzahn, which included that maddening signal-caller rotation.
For the most part, Florida looked like the same team that frustrated fans a year ago. Weak offense, strong defense, struggling with inferior competition at home — everyone had déjà vu at The Swamp.
There was one definite change, though. Eddy Pineiro, the new kicker for the Gators, lived up to his legend with field goals of 40, 49 and 48 yards. His debut was more impressive than Luke Del Rio’s.
You never know what you’re going to get with an athlete post-knee injury. Would Nick Chubb resemble a Heisman Trophy candidate again? Could he handle a full workload with Sony Michel on the mend? Yes and yes. With 32 carries for 222 yards and 2 scores, Chubb went full Chubb. Rejoice, Georgia fans.
With under a minute to go prior to halftime, Kentucky scored to take a 35-10 lead on Southern Miss.
The rout was on in Lexington. Drew Barker was lighting up the sky with almost 300 yards passing and 4 touchdowns. The Wildcats had already picked off Golden Eagles QB Nick Mullens on three occasions.
Maybe, you started to think, just maybe, UK could be a sleeper in the East. Tennessee was far from a juggernaut in Week 1. Florida and Georgia both struggled in their wins. Hey, it’s Year 4 for Mark Stoops. He’s recruited well. He’s a defensive guy. Barker has some ability. Look out for the ‘Cats.
Then Southern Miss scored 34 unanswered points to win 44-35. Rarely does a team look so unstoppable for 29 minutes, only to have the other team look equally unstoppable for the remaining 31 minutes.
And just like that, Big Blue Nation is counting down the days until Big Blue Madness at Rupp Arena.
We waited all offseason to see this LSU offense evolve and not be so reliant on Leonard Fournette.
Unfortunately, absolutely nothing changed for the Tigers in their 16-14 loss to Wisconsin — a loss that wasn’t as close as the score indicates. The Badgers gave away two TDs due to sloppy turnovers.
While Fournette picked it up in the second half and finished with 176 yards from scrimmage, we saw zero growth from Brandon Harris (above) under center. He was inconsistent. He was inaccurate. And when he needed to mount a drive late, he freaked out in the face of pressure and threw a soul-crushing INT.
Les Miles coached the same game. Cam Cameron called the same game. The naysayers are getting loud.
It’s hard to find positives in Starkville after an upset loss to South Alabama, but there are some.
On the defensive side of the ball, A.J. Jefferson looked positively unblockable for the majority of the game. He was credited with 7 tackles, and four were behind the line of scrimmage — including a pair of sacks. Be it smashing passers or pounding runners, he was a one-man wrecking crew all day.
That being said, he didn’t get a lot of help on the perimeter. The Bulldogs had trouble at corner.
Another team that looks like a carbon copy from last season, Missouri put together an awful outing offensively. Don’t let Drew Lock’s 280 yards passing fool you. He needed 51 attempts to get there.
Statistics can be so deceiving. The Tigers had 462 total yards to WVU’s 494 and even had more first downs — 26 to 24. But the Mountaineers were in total control and never truly threatened by Mizzou.
As expected, Myles Garrett and Co. put relentless pressure on Josh Rosen and sacked him five times. But to be fair, Texas A&M was a bit lucky that UCLA’s receivers didn’t come to play. Without all the drops, Rosen would have thrown for a lot more than 343 yards. The back end needs to be better.
Former Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey, now making millions with the Jacksonville Jaguars and an old teammate of ‘Noles transfer John Franklin III, throwing some serious shade at the Auburn QB.
John Franklin left FSU as a 3rd string & ended up at Auburn STILL a 3rd string…. Maybe it's not the program my dude 🤔☕️🐸
— Jalen Ramsey (@jalenramsey) September 4, 2016
Among those he’s started and finished, so throwing out the Tennessee tilt in 2015 when he got hurt on his first attempt, Chubb has averaged no worse than 5.1 yards per carry in 13 consecutive games.
The Florida kicking game was a complete train wreck last season. The Gators had trouble converting a routine extra point, let alone crucial field goals. That problem now appears to have been solved.
“This is a dream come true. I’ve worked my butt off for two years, came in here as an early enrollee and worked very hard for this moment.”
— Florida K Eddy Pineiro
- Blake Barnett may have gotten the start at QB for Alabama, but it’s clear that the players want Jalen Hurts to be the guy. He has the most upside, and the locker room knows it.
- Fred Ross is going to have a hard time getting 1,000 yards through the air again. Without Dak Prescott, Mississippi State can’t seem to push the ball downfield.
- The Bayou Bengals recorded two interceptions. One was in their own end zone to take points off the board. The other was a pick-six to score points. And they still lost.
- While Trevor Knight didn’t have a huge day throwing the football, he looked right at home running the Texas A&M offense and has clearly taken a leadership role.
- There’s just no reason for Georgia to continue with Greyson Lambert. He got his chance to keep the starting job and did nothing with it. Go with Jacob Eason full-time already.
- It didn’t take long for Steve Spurrier to get comfortable in orange and blue again. It’s almost like the last 11 years at South Carolina never happened. Make him Mr. Two Bits permanently.