Fourteen thoughts after Week Three in the SEC: It's competitive at the top
Chris Lee • 9/20/2021 in Football
Three weeks of SEC football are in the books, and here's what stood out on Saturday.
John Metchie photo courtesy of Alabama athletics.
Here are 14 observations from a full weekend of Southeastern Conference football.
1. Maybe the gap between Alabama and the SEC's other elite teams isn't as big as we thought? Notice the question mark here; with coach Nick Saban's history, it obviously wouldn't be a shock to see Alabama run the table and even blow some good teams out along the way. And so perhaps at the end of the year, I'll look silly for writing it in September.
But the Crimson Tide, 14.5-point favorites in Gainesville, escaped with a 31-29 win in a contest in which Florida had 109 more yards of total offense. It wasn't what most expected, especially after Alabama jumped out to a 21-3 lead.
And it wasn't just the Gators putting up that kind of a fight; Georgia and Ole Miss looked impressive in weekend wins, too. The league's got the potential to be interesting at the very top, if Saturday was a true indication of what teams are.
2. Florida may have out-played the Crimson Tide in the trenches. We don't usually think of Florida as one of the league's top rushing teams, but ripping off 5.7 yards per run against Alabama was really impressive. On the other side, the Gators' front seven proved particularly difficult to block, as Alabama running back Brian Robinson's 78 rushing yards on 15 carries were all earned. The Gator defense slipped badly a year ago under coordinator Todd Grantham, but Saturday suggests that Florida may end up being one of the league's better defensive teams.
3. Emory Jones saved his job, for now. Anthony Richardson may be the Gators' most talented quarterback, and I have concerns about Jones's two touchdowns vs. five picks three games in. But Richardson was held out of the Alabama game after not being 100% and besides, it's not my opinion that counts, it's coach Dan Mullen's, and Mullen issued a vote of confidence after Saturday's game. The Orlando Sentinel also offered a favorable review of Jones's performance on Saturday.
4. Georgia's JT Daniels made an impressive return. Oblique injuries can be tricky, but Daniels averaged 9.8 yards a throw with three touchdowns and a pick on 31 tries in the Bulldogs' 40-13 romp over South Carolina. The Bulldogs were good enough to win with Stetson Bennett given their defense, but it's clear that Daniels has way bigger upside. Keeping him healthy now becomes perhaps the key thing for UGA moving forward.
5. Alarm bells are going off around Texas A&M's offense. I'm not buying the Aggies as College Football Playoff contenders right now. A&M has massive concerns at quarterback with Haynes King out (and it may have had them even with him) as coach Jimbo Fisher spent a lot of Saturday yelling at his replacement, Zach Calzada. Worse, an offensive line with four new starters got pushed around way too much by New Mexico--yeah, New Mexico. Lest anyone consider this a one-game overreaction, the Aggies struggled to make even routine plays against a Colorado team that gave up 30 points and 441 yards to Minnesota this week.
6. Mississippi State got screwed. Much has been made about the 94-yard punt return that was key in Memphis's 31-29 win over MSU. There have been points made on both sides (and I think the right take is probably more nuanced than the se14_prod discussion) but the lack of a replay is the hardest thing to digest here.
Good officials make mistakes all the time, and sometimes good ones make bad mistakes. But replay is a backstop and I was flabbergasted that, given the odd nature of the play, that was never utilized at a time when we review nearly anything and everything. How that didn't happen in the moment, I'm not sure.
7. I'm concerned about South Carolina running back Kevin Harris. None of this is a shot at Harris, whom I thought was the league's best back coming into the season. A lot of backs can have bad days against Georgia, and so at face value, a 16-carry, 31-yard game on Saturday wouldn't be a concern.
But this isn't in a vacuum. Any time I hear the words "back surgery," I get concerned, even for non-contact sports. Harris is getting just 2.3 yards per carry for a team averaging 3.7 and his teammates got the benefit of some minor stat-padding in Week One against Eastern Illinois that Harris didn't get by virtue of missing the game. Outside of playing Vanderbilt, it's going to be tough for the Gamecocks to find many wins going forward if Harris is significantly hobbled.
8. Missouri's defense is awful, especially against the run. There's little more I need to say than this: the Tigers gave up 292 yards rushing (and 8.2 per carry) to Southeast Missouri State, a team that ran for 4.1 and 2.9 yards per carry, respectively, in losses to Southern Illinois and Sam Houston State. Missouri is allowing 6.6 yards per play against Jeff Sagarin's 102nd-toughest schedule.
9. Let's pump the brakes on Kentucky and the Top 25. Yeah, I was there a week ago, too. While I liked what I saw the first two weeks with the Wildcats, I knew we'd need to see the 'Cats against better competition. Last week's Missouri win has lost some luster and the 'Cats trailed Chattanooga (which isn't even a good FCS team) several minutes into the fourth quarter. I'm still a huge fan of coach Mark Stoops and I'd bet he makes his team a lot better, but let's consider that UK's 3-0 start has come against Sagarin's 155th-toughest slate.
10. I'm not sure exactly what this means, but no team in the country is allowing a higher completion percentage than Auburn. Credit to my friend Jay Tate at AuburnSports.com for pointing this out. The fact that the Tigers allowed 41 completions in 56 attempts didn't much matter against Akron and Alabama State, seeing as they went for just 321 yards in 50- and 62-point wins. It mattered a little more against Penn State, which was 29-of-33 for 302 yards in a 28-20 win.
11. Ole Miss's 61-21 win over Tulane was impressive. I had my eyes on other games and couldn't watch this one, but on paper, the Rebels' 40-point pasting of a team that two weeks ago took Oklahoma to the final minute in Norman was impressive. Ole Miss had a built-in excuse not to be sharp (a two-hour weather delay that resulted in a late-night start) but instead, Matt Corral's seven-TD performance aided an offense that got all 61 points in its first three quarters. The Ole Miss-Alabama in two weeks just got a lot more interesting.
12. Joe Milton's injury gave Tennessee coach Josh Heupel an excuse to do what he needs to do: start Hendon Hooker. Hooker's track record entering the season was better than Milton's, and while the Vols played an absolutely dreadful Tennessee Tech team (238th in the Sagarin's (five points worse than a laughably-bad UConn), Hooker's 199 passing yards, 64 rushing yards and four TDs provided ample cover if Heupel wants to make a switch from Milton, who's averaged 5.4 yards per attempt this season.
13. The gap between Vanderbilt and the rest of the bottom of the league is still huge. The Commodores showed some hope after last week's upset at Colorado State, but the 'Dores showed little fight after a late-second-quarter collapse against Stanford in a 41-23 loss made closer by a touchdown pass on the game's last snap. Saturday's game was a good litmus test; it's not that Vanderbilt should have beaten Stanford, but the Cardinal are roughly an average FBS team and the fact that Vandy never presented a threat to win in the second half was telling. So are Sagarin's ratings, which have the Commodores ranked 121st among all FBS and FCS teams. Those ratings have Vanderbilt 14 points worse than South Carolina (13th in the SEC) in its predictor ratings.
14. I'm suspending judgment on LSU for the moment. LSU may have found some targets other than Kayshon Boutte in youngsters Deion Smith and Jack Bech (watch this catch) and it also gave up just over 4.0 yards per play to Central Michigan, which isn't great but also played Missouri within 10 points two weeks ago. The Tigers aren't ranked but several computers still have LSU as a borderline-Top-25 team (Sagarin has them 18th). LSU's opening-night loss to UCLA has put the Tigers on the back-burner of the SEC landscape since (and UCLA's subsequent loss to Fresno State doesn't aid LSU's case) but it's still debatably a top-five-in-college-football roster in terms of talent. Circle next week's game at Mississippi State as a big one for coach Ed Orgeron.