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 11 …
The curious case of Alabama and the Mississippi State hangover
As strange as it sounds, Alabama has struggled at times against Mississippi State while dealing with the LSU hangover. Alabama has also won by 48 (in 2016). But understand this: The Bulldogs are terrific on defense – especially in the front four – and QB Nick Fitzgerald has been 180 degrees different in the passing game the past two weeks.
“I truly think if there’s any game in our conference that (Alabama) might lose, it would be this one,” an SEC coach told me this week. “Not because Mississippi State is the best team (Alabama) will play, but because of the timing. It’s a big letdown game, and you’re playing a team that can flat out get physical with you on defense. (Alabama) will be ready for Auburn because it’s Auburn, and they’ll be ready for Georgia because that’s your ticket to the Playoff. But this one, boy, if Mississippi State plays the game of the year and (Alabama) is just trying to get through it, it could get interesting.” …
Fitzgerald turning the corner
An NFL scout has watched Nick Fitzgerald over the past two weeks, and explains the how and why of Fitzgerald’s complete turnaround: “First, he’s being coached really well. I think (MSU coach) Joe (Moorhead) does a fantastic job there. Early on it was clear Joe was trying to not take away what Nick does best (run the ball), while also opening up the passing game. He has finally found a comfortable medium, and he’s putting Nick in position to make plays with throws that are makeable and progressions that are doable.
“You don’t go from completing 30 percent of your passes to 60 percent in one week, against two similar defenses (LSU, Texas A&M), without the guy coaching you making it easier on you. That Alabama defense is right along the line with LSU and Texas A&M, probably more athletic up front and maybe not as strong in the back end. The difference is Tua (Tagovailoa). The way he’s playing in that offense, he doesn’t leave room for error for the other offense. If you can’t keep up with them, forget it.” …
Less than a month ago, Jake Fromm was struggling, the Georgia offense was sputtering on third down and the Bulldogs were vulnerable. But just like last season, Fromm got hot at the right time and now Georgia is peaking heading into a crucial stretch run of games against Auburn, Georgia Tech and Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
After completing fewer than 40 percent of his passes on third down over the first seven games, Fromm had this line on third down in critical games vs. Florida and Kentucky: 9-for-11 (82 percent), 4 TDs.
“Jake is almost too cerebral, too much Mr. Quarterback, for his own good,” an NFL scout told me this week. “Look, I love those gym rat guys; the guys that live and breathe football. It’s almost like Jake is too engrossed in it and can’t look up to experience the emotion. He has been called out now twice in his career, and both times in the last two years he has lit it up in response.
“Some guys are like that, they need to be pushed. If there’s one thing I’d like to see from (Fromm) over the next couple of years is a guy who doesn’t need that extra push, who doesn’t need failure to respond.” …
Not everybody buying in yet in Gainesville
One SEC coach says when he heard of Missouri’s win over Florida, he was “shocked but not surprised” about the roller-coaster ride in Gainesville. It’s more than injuries on defense or struggles at quarterback, it’s a foundational thing. “Year 1, new guy, new philosophy. I get it. But, man, that Missouri defense just isn’t that good. (Florida) could have lined up and run it right down their throats and won that game. You look at those numbers, and clearly something is wrong in the way they prepared for that game. That tells you those guys aren’t completely buying in yet. When everything is going good, it’s easy to say everyone is on the same page. I was interested to see how they would respond to that Georgia loss. They’re not there yet; that’s obvious. It’s the toughest job every coach has. These aren’t their guys; he inherited them – warts and all.” …
The Gus Decision: ‘You don’t run off guys that beat Nick’
Auburn coach athletic director Allen Greene stated this week that coach Gus Malzahn’s job is safe. He will be coaching Auburn next season. This, of course, didn’t go over well with coaches I spoke to this week. “You give the guy a —ton of money, and then all of a sudden, you have to go out in front of media and say, ‘yeah, he’s my guy?’” one SEC coach said. “This is the environment we’re in. One loss, and it’s the end of the world. Two losses, hell, you better call a realtor. It just seems like the people who make the decisions are bowing to the lowest common denominator. And yeah, I mean Twitter.”
Said another SEC coach: “He has beaten Alabama twice. One other guy has beaten Alabama twice in that time (former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze), and if he didn’t have that personal embarrassment he went through, Ole Miss keeps him and deals with whatever comes of the NCAA stuff. You don’t run off guys that beat Nick.” …
The development of Shea Patterson
Former Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson is having the best season of his career at Michigan. He played in three games as a freshman at Ole Miss, and played half a season in 2017 before an injury ended his sophomore season and he transferred to Michigan. The move, one NFL scout says, was the best thing to happen to Patterson. Why? The NFL style offense.
“He’s more polished now,” the scout said. “At Mississippi, he was in the take the snap and make a play offense. There’s nothing wrong with that offense; it works for some teams. He’s a talented kid and deceptively athletic, so he could perform in that offense. But the game has changed for him at Michigan. He gets better every week, and you can see how he plays with confidence. This time next year, he will be a completely different quarterback.”