Each week, Matt Hayes uses his sources around the country to bring you insider knowledge about what’s going on in the SEC.
This is what he’s hearing from SEC coaches and NFL scouts in Week 15, after the SEC Championship Game and 11 teams learned their bowl destination …
To QB or not QB, that’s the question for Fitzgerald
I spoke to an NFL scout this week about Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald, and where he fits in the league. “He’s going to want to throw (at MSU Pro Day), and want to show he can play the position. I have no doubt about that. He has a live arm, good velocity. Accuracy is definitely an issue. If you ask me where do I think he’ll be next year, I’d say on a roster playing somewhere.
“You don’t have an athlete – and he’s a legit athlete – who is that strong of a runner, with good to really good speed, and not find a place for him. I hear guys talking about tight end or H-back. I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if he’s a guy you can stick in the slot and let him use his athletic ability. I think he could be a Trey Burton type player.” …
No Tua, no problem: more Damien Harris
The College Football Playoff is here, and that means another season of Alabama playing for it all. The formula has changed this season with the focus on QB Tua Tagovailoa and elite receivers and tight ends. One SEC coach told me that might change in the postseason.
“They’re not going to overhaul what they do,” one SEC coach said. “But Nick is like all of us. When the pressure comes, you do what you’re most comfortable doing. I think you’re going to see Damien Harris on the field more, and they’re going to get him involved. The games are big, he’s clutch. A tough runner, he’s got some juice and he can catch it. I’m getting him 20-25 touches from here out.”
Harris had nine carries and one catch against Georgia (for 51 total yards), and his season high for carries is 19 vs. LSU (he also caught three passes).
“I’ll tell you this,” the SEC coach continued, “if there’s any question about the health of Tua, Nick’s going to run the ball. They’ll still throw it, but with Jalen (Hurts) in there, it’s more of a run-first, throw off play-fake.” …
The next level in College Station
You want hope in your $75 million man, Texas A&M? One NFL scout says it’s only a matter of time before Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher has them in the No. 2 slot in the SEC West Division, trying to take down mighty Alabama.
“I always look at the quarterback, and how he’s coached and how he plays and manages games,” the scout said. “Jimbo has done what Jimbo does with quarterbacks. (Mond) is night and day from last year. I know he was a freshman last year, but he’s a different player. He’s got some zip on that thing. He’s still not as accurate as you’d like, but he knows what he’s doing back there and that team gravitates to him. The last three games were damn impressive. They got into a little rut there midseason, were struggling and needed the quarterback to lift them. He played really well in those last three games.”
Texas A&M finished the season with wins over Ole Miss, Conference USA champ UAB and LSU. Mond threw for 715 yards, 11 TDs and 1 INT, and ran for two more touchdowns. …
LSU’s daunting task: taking down UCF
So I decided to ask a couple SEC coaches about the draw of playing UCF in a bowl game. Neither liked the idea. The Knights are on a 25-game winning streak, and despite playing with a backup quarterback, had more than 50 points and 700 yards in the American Conference Championship Game. “I’d feel a lot worse about it if the other quarterback were playing,” one SEC coach said. “That kid, (McKenzie) Milton, wow, what a college player. Teams that win like they do, injuries don’t impact them as much as you’d think.
“Not because they don’t miss the star player, but because that team – everyone on that team – knows how to win and knows the expectation.”
Another SEC coach said although LSU will have the better personnel, UCF has SEC speed at the skill positions.
“They can run; I’ve seen that (game) tape, they can run,” another SEC coach said. “That’s the great equalizer in our game. It’s different in the NFL where everyone can run. If you can get to the edge in the college game, you’ve got chance. Now I don’t know if UCF can go head to head with (LSU) on the lines of scrimmage. That will be a problem, especially for the UCF defensive line. LSU might just play conservative and wear ’em down. Basically what they do in our league.” …
A Malzahn-Freeze marriage might save Auburn
Gus Malzahn fired offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey this week, and there’s a real chance he could land former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze to run his offense. Malzahn and Freeze are close friends – Malzahn publicly supported Freeze after his forced resignation from Ole Miss – and if Malzahn truly is at a crossroads season in Auburn, why not hire someone you trust implicitly.
“I kind of feel bad for Chip,” one SEC coach said. “That wasn’t his offense. He was running Gus’ offense. Whoever (Malzahn) hires, he better let him run his own offense. Gus has that golden parachute to fall back on if it doesn’t work out. Whoever his new OC is probably won’t. If you’re going to go out, why not change it up and see what happens?
“Gus isn’t going to move far from that downhill (run game) stuff, but if he has a guy who can throw it, give the OC some control. I know Chip; he’s spreading that thing out if he has control of the offense and play-calling. Clearly he didn’t.”