What I'm hearing about SEC teams entering Week 5
Each week, Matt Hayes uses his sources around the country to bring you insider knowledge about what’s going on in the SEC ahead of this week’s games.
This is what he’s hearing from SEC coaches and NFL scouts in Week 5 …
Florida’s run defense ‘nowhere near as good’ as usual
Mississippi State suddenly is in desperation mode in the SEC West Division race. Now they get former coach Dan Mullen bringing his confident Florida team into Starkville. Forget about revenge for the Bulldogs, this is all about imposing your will. Expect Mississippi State to go heavy with the run game against the Gators, who are 97th in the nation against the run. And that number (187.7 ypg.) is much worse in two SEC games (229.5 ypg.).
“They’re nowhere near as good as they usually are,” one SEC coach said of the Florida run defense. “You think of Florida, you think of guys that get after it in run defense. They’re just not that physical up front, and they don’t run that well at linebacker.”
That means plenty of TBs Kylin Hill and Aeris Williams between the tackles and QB Nick Fitzgerald in the zone-read run game. Don’t be surprised if backup QB Keytaon Thompson, a dynamic runner, gets a few snaps in QB power situations. …
Arkansas ‘just a mess’
I spoke to an SEC coach about Arkansas, and it wasn’t a flattering conversation about the first season under Chad Morris: “I can’t believe what they look like. You watch them, and they’re just not good at quarterback and that hurts because that’s what Chad’s offense is all about. But it goes way deeper than that. I hate to say this, but we’re only in September, and that team already looks like it has quit. They got whipped by North Texas, they got beat by a bad Colorado State team. I hear people getting on (Tennessee coach) Jeremy (Pruitt), but man, Arkansas is just a mess. It doesn’t even look like they’re trying sometimes.” …
South Carolina already changing gears
It has been three weeks since South Carolina began the Georgia game in five wideouts, and tried to throw the ball on Georgia (and struggled doing so). That plan lasted about a quarter, and by that time, the Gamecocks were already chasing points. Fast forward to the next game, and look at the difference: South Carolina threw 48 passes and had 20 rushes in an ugly 24-point loss to Georgia, but had 48 rushes and 20 passes in a 23-point road win at surging Vanderbilt.
Clearly the talent level at Vandy isn’t the same as Georgia, but it’s also a direct indicator of where the Gamecocks are going over the last two months of the season – and Saturday in a key road game against Kentucky.
“They don’t pass block that well, and (QB Jake Bentley) is already getting hit too much,” one NFL scout told me. “They can run block; they’ve got that Muschamp mentality. But their two best players are pass game guys (Bentley and WR Deebo Samuel).” …
Not sold on Joe Burrow
One NFL scout on LSU QB Joe Burrow: “He’s not the most accurate guy, but those receivers aren’t helping him. Lot of drops. Plus, for some reason, it doesn’t feel like he’s at 50 percent (completion percentage). He’s one of those first down guys, too. The problem is, that’s not LSU’s personality. They like to run to set up the pass. (Burrow) is clearly better on first down – like most guys who haven’t played much, and aren’t forced into third and make a play – and at some point, LSU is going to have to do more of that in those big games.”
This week will be an indicator of how much Burrow has evolved in four games. Ole Miss struggles in pass defense (122nd in the nation; 314.5 ypg, 10 TDs), and takes too many chances in man coverage. …
On Stidham: ‘Cut him loose’
Auburn is falling into the same trap from last season, when it played in too many bunch sets and failed to spread the field to take advantage of QB Jarrett Stidham’s arm talent. Pass blocking has been below average, and has compounded the problem. Don’t think SEC coaches haven’t noticed.
“I love what Gus does offensively, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why he doesn’t just spread it out and throw it,” one SEC coach said. “He’s a power run guy, but if you’ve got that arm at quarterback, you gotta use it. (Stidham) beat Alabama last year with some big third-down throws. I’d be tempted to go all Big 12 with (Stidham) back there. Cut him loose.” …
Make or break game for Pruitt, Vols
One SEC coach on Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt: “You’re going to find out this weekend if he’s already lost those guys. You play a game like that, it’s on everyone in that building to look in the mirror and say how can I be better to help the team. What am I doing – or not doing – to hurt the team. I mean players and coaches. Those are hard losses to get over. If they play hard and they don’t get blown out, that’s a huge win for (Pruitt).”