Things I liked and things I didn't like from the weekend's spring games
This weekend was good and bad.
It was a loaded weekend of SEC football. That was the good.
It was also only spring ball. That was the bad. Also, we’ll now have to wait another 4 months to see most of the SEC in action. That’s the other bad.
I had plenty of things that I thought were good and bad from the weekend of spring football in the SEC:
Alabama — Didn’t like: Tua Tagovailoa’s tentativeness
No, I’m not worried about the Alabama quarterback long-term. I’d still bet on him to be fine when it actually counts. But if he is fully recovered from those knee/ankle injuries, which he said he was, maybe he’s still working through some mental hurdles of getting back to normal.
It just looked like Tagovailoa wasn’t fully stepping into his throws like we’ve been used to seeing. Sure, Jerry Jeudy had a couple of uncharacteristic drops and Tagovailoa still threw for plenty of yards, but I don’t know.
To me, that wasn’t exactly the “get the bad taste out of your mouth” performance that Alabama fans were probably looking for from their starting quarterback.
At the very least, he was still better than Alabama’s kicking. You know, in case there was any doubt about that.
Auburn — Like: Seth Williams making big-time plays
Dude. Can. Ball.
On a day in which Auburn was hoping to see some talented receivers emerge, Williams stole the show. He was over 100 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns in the first half alone. Both of his scores came on throws from Joey Gatewood in double coverage.
This was a heck of a play to make on the ball in that spot with the over-the-top safety coming:
— Power of Dixieland (@PwrofDixieland) April 13, 2019
After losing guys like Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton, Auburn needs to find production on the outside. Speedster Anthony Schwartz was fulfilling his duties on the track team, which was perhaps why Williams had such a great opportunity to flash his potential.
Auburn fans should be excited by what they saw from the 6-3 sophomore. He certainly looked like a No. 1 wideout for whoever starts at quarterback.
Florida — Didn’t like: The Gators’ secondary play
Listen. As long as Dan Mullen is Florida’s coach, the spring game numbers will always be inflated. We’ve got dudes throwing touchdown passes to Chris Doering and staged pick-sixes. Points are going to happen. But if we’re being honest, it wasn’t a good day for the Florida secondary.
We knew that the Gators had some significant turnover in the defensive backfield, but Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask and Emory Jones all had success making plays downfield.
Shawn Davis just got roasted by Trevon Grimes.
🔶21 🔷7 pic.twitter.com/GrwwqEC3Fn
— InAllKindsOfWeather.com 🍑🏆 (@AllKindsWeather) April 13, 2019
Donovan Stiner got fooled on a trick play, Shawn Davis couldn’t hang with Kadarius Toney on a 14-yard touchdown and Jones made a seam route touchdown throw to Tyrie Cleveland look too easy.
It’s worth noting that Jaewon Taylor, a projected starter, didn’t play on Saturday. Mullen did say that Florida kept it basic defensively. It’s probably a bit strange for the secondary not to have Todd Grantham blitzing every chance he can, but still.
Florida looked like it missed Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Nonetheless, it’ll have to improve when it gets real in a few months.
Kentucky — Liked: Mark Stoops’ honesty
You know how 99 percent of coaches have something cliché and boring to say after the spring game? Stoops was not about that life. Like, at all.
“Today was really the most sloppy day we’ve had. … We’re looking for good, hard-nosed competitive football, but it was sloppy,” Stoops told ESPN’s Tom Luginbill following Friday night’s spring game.
Here’s the thing. Offensively, there was a lot to like. Terry Wilson has never looked better, and Kentucky’s running game looked even more versatile than last year. Defensively, where Stoops specializes, was where the issues were. That’s why Stoops was upset.
He doesn’t want this team cutting corners. That’s not the formula that led to Kentucky’s best season in 4 decades. It was making open-field tackles, not allowing the home-run plays and capitalizing on mistakes. That’s what this group needs to improve as it tries to replace Josh Allen.
Stoops knows that. And he wasn’t afraid to admit that.
Mississippi State — Dislike: Keytaon Thompson accuracy issues
He settled down eventually, but I was hoping to see a clean performance from the MSU quarterback in Year 2 of Joe Moorhead’s system. Moorhead said one of the biggest priorities this offseason was to improve Thompson’s accuracy, which sits at 47.6% for his career. Saturday felt like more of the same from the junior.
Thompson still sails too many throws with the receivers he has. They had some drop issues, which was a repeat of last year as well. But the good news is that Thompson did flash his upside. The ball he floated into the arms of Austin Williams was on the money, as was the laser they connected on for another touchdown.
Certainly that’s something Moorhead would like to see more of. As of now, Thompson still looks like he’ll be the guy, but consistency needs to improve in order for MSU to avoid a repeat of last year’s up-and-down season with Nick Fitzgerald.
Mizzou — Like: Kelly Bryant’s confidence
I love the approach that Mizzou is taking with the Clemson transfer. He’s the guy, and everyone watching on Saturday could clearly see that.
Better yet, Bryant knows that he’s the guy. You could see how loose he was taking the mic and interacting with the crowd:
Kelly Bryant on the mic 🎤🤣 pic.twitter.com/e4cu5Jvfzx
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) April 13, 2019
On the field, yeah, it was nice to see that Bryant looked like a fit in Derek Dooley’s system. He had an efficient day with 150 passing yards on 12-of-17 passing. Obviously Mizzou has a big hole to fill without Drew Lock, and Bryant looks capable of filling it.
But Bryant appears to be well on his way of filling the off-the-field hole that Lock left as a leader. His charisma makes him easy to rally behind. For a program facing a bowl ban — for now — and coming off a frustrating end to the season with a bowl game loss, Bryant seems like a breath of fresh air.
Texas A&M — Like: Jimbo Fisher’s quarterback room
It didn’t exactly start that way when Mond was intercepted on the first play, but it certainly finished differently for the Aggie quarterbacks. Besides Mond responding with a touchdown drive and a string of completions, early enrollee Zach Calzada also looked the part. And ironically enough, he also had an awful first throw of the day.
Calzada came in with some good buzz after his strong Elite 11 showing, and it probably made A&M fans breathe a little easier to see that on display following the transfer of Nick Starkel. Calzada connected with Baylor Cupp on a 31-yard score, and he showed off his mobility.
And the redshirt freshman who was highly coveted before signing day last year, James Foster, also had an efficient day with 55 yards on 6 of 8 passing.
Fisher wants to be able to do use Mond’s mobility without fear of the depth chart behind him. Without a proven backup like Starkel around anymore, surely Fisher would like to see his young signal-callers continue to play like they did on Friday night.
Tennessee — Liked: Jim Chaney’s offense
I have my concerns about Jarrett Guarantano dealing with his fourth offensive coordinator in as many years, but Saturday night made it seem like he has his best one yet. After a slow start, Guarantano earned MVP honors for a 4-touchdown, 0-interception performance.
Chaney’s offense is a bit more conducive to the big plays than Tyson Helton’s dink-and-dunk system was. I’d be surprised if we saw Guarantano struggle to find the end zone like he has the last 2 years. This offense will play with more pace, and it’ll take more shots downfield.
That’s good news for Guarantano, Jauan Jennings and the rest of the Tennessee skill players. Regardless of the fact that it wasn’t the best defensive performance we’ve seen from a Jeremy Pruitt-coached team, that’s going to be the expectation with Chaney’s unit.
Guarantano enters his first summer as the official starter ahead of the opening day. He already put on 20 pounds to become a bit more durable — he’s still probably going to take plenty of hits — to hold up for an entire season. Improvement still needs to be made, but Guarantano and Chaney’s first public showing together was a positive one.