What impact will the new OC/QBs have on SEC races in 2020
The best quarterback-coordinator combination in the SEC will be gone next season as Steve Ensminger is the only person left from the record-setting trifecta of LSU’s Joe Burrow, Joe Brady and Ensminger. That leaves plenty of unchartered territory for new and different quarterbacks and offensive coordinators.
Will the new quarterbacks and coordinators (or other offensive assistants) at LSU and Georgia be enough to stave off expected challenges from veterans, and relatively low staff turnover at Florida and Texas A&M? LSU’s replacement of Brady is still a ways off as coach Ed Orgeron said he wouldn’t even begin interviewing candidates until next week.
Georgia’s new duo of QB Jamie Newman and OC Todd Monken, who have each received mostly high praise about their arrival, gives Bulldog faithful optimism after a 2019 season of offensive heartburn. Newman, in fact, was listed at 14-1 to win the Heisman Trophy, according to the Westgate Superbook. He’s the only SEC player listed in the top 5, and well ahead of LSU’s Myles Brennan and Alabama’s Mac Jones, each at 25-1.
Georgia has RB Zamir White and WR George Pickens, but the biggest question remains for Monken and Newman. Who are the secondary receivers if Pickens is a bona fide No. 1 receiver, and is White next in the line of decorated backs? The tight end position, for example, has lacked consistent production for a while, save for Isaac Nauta’s 30-catch season in 2018.
For a glimpse of Monken’s philosophy, take a peak at what he said at an introductory news conference when he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“How do you win games? We went back to Southern Miss and talked about explosive plays, don’t turn it over, 3rd-down conversions, touchdowns in the red zone – it’s still true today. Those are the ways you win. Yards are a part of it. Not the big part of it. If you take care of those five areas … explosive plays are a big part of it. It’s hard to drive it. If you’re not going to be explosive, you better be good on 3rd downs. It’s all a part of it,” he said. “The bottom line is how can you be explosive?
“I’ve always thought, we don’t need more 5-yard plays. Who needs more 5-yard plays? How can we be explosive? That’s what the game is about, man. Big plays. I like big plays. So how do we not figure out ways to get explosive plays? That’s fun. That’s fun to me in football.”
Those big plays are sorely needed in Athens after Georgia was No. 41 in the country in pass plays of 10+ yards in the 2019 season, and No. 65 in pass plays that went for 20 or more yards.
Monken’s arrival, of course, followed the demotion of former OC James Coley, who finally accepted a job on Jimbo Fisher’s staff after being courted before. He will coach tight ends. It’ll be interesting to see if Coley has any influence on the offensive game plan alongside OC Darrell Dickey.
Georgia’s expected toughest challenge comes from Florida, where Kyle Trask turned in the best quarterback season for the Gators since Tim Tebow in 2009. Trask will have to deal with the loss of 4 receivers who accounted for 139 catches for 1,871 yards and 16 TDs in the 2019 season. Even so, Trask will have returning weapons in Kyle Pitts, Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney. Trask offers a steady hand that Florida has lacked at that position while the national narrative continues to trumpet that the Gators have narrowed the gap against Georgia in Jacksonville.
The Aggies have no shortage of talent at Kellen Mond’s disposal. For starters, the Aggies return freshman All-American Jalen Wydermyer. Former 4-star recruit Baylor Cupp is coming back from a broken leg, and there’s also rising junior Glenn Beal and incoming freshman Blake Smith is already on campus. There’s also WR Jhamon Ausbon and the development of rising sophomore Isaiah Spiller.
The Aggies in 2019 had a good but not great offense. They were in the top 5 in several categories but also behind multiple SEC West rivals. The sense of urgency and pressure from the fan base is real because the Aggies’ faithful want a return on the $75 million investment in Fisher. They have only 1 win over the SEC West’s top 3 teams: Alabama, Auburn and LSU. It’s time for that to change.
After a mass junior exodus, the LSU offense is left with Brennan and talented WRs Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall, though blue-chip TE Arik Gilbert and a running back-by committee approach to start with Chris Curry, Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery are expected to be productive newcomers.
However, for LSU to secure another trip to Atlanta, the most pressing questions not involving Brennan are how it will replace 4 starters on the offensive line, and how much of an influence Brady left with Ensminger, and is that revamped playbook is here to stay?
Some players and relationships to watch in 2020 are Bo Nix at Auburn, and John Rhys Plumlee at Ole Miss. Both were exciting freshmen. Nix gets a new coordinator in Chad Morris, who helped develop Deshaun Watson at Clemson. Malzahn has said Morris will run the offense. Plumlee gets a new head coach (Lane Kiffin) and offensive coordinator (Jeff Lebby).
Arkansas QB Feleipe Franks’ pairing with first-year OC Kendal Briles, who is with his 5th program as an offensive coordinator. If the Razorbacks didn’t have such a long road to recover its roster and depth chart, the Franks-Briles pairing could be a dark horse to watch. But that title is more logically found on The Plains.