Fourteen thoughts on SEC football after Week Two: Arkansas finds an identity
Chris Lee • 9/12/2021 in Football
Khari Johnson photo courtesy of Arkansas athletics.
Here are 14 thoughts after the second week of the Southeastern Conference football season.
1. The league seems to have both elite talent and a lot of good teams. At least that's how I read Sunday's AP Poll, which features seven SEC teams (two more than it had in the preseason). Alabama and Georgia top the poll, followed by Texas A&M (seven), Florida (11), Ole Miss (17), Arkansas (20) and Auburn (22). For good measure, LSU picked up 31 votes this week, and unranked Mississippi State, Kentucky and South Carolina are all 2-0.
2. Quick, hide the rat poison. The Crimson Tide maintained that top spot despite a very pedestrian, 48-14 win over Mercer, which prompted the most predictable reaction in the history of the world from Alabama coach Nick Saban. Just a guess here, but perhaps Florida, next week's opponent, may wish Saturday had played out differently.
3. Arkansas has found a smash-mouth identity on offense. It was pretty astonishing to see the Razorbacks line up and gash Texas for 333 yards on 47 carries on Saturday. And it didn't seem to matter who it was: Arkansas had five players rush for 44 yards or more, with all averaging at least 6.3 per carry, a huge improvement from last year's 3.8. Afterwards, Razorback coach Sam Pittman made sure offensive line coach Cody Kennedy got his share.
“Isn’t that something?" Pittman said on Saturday. "Coach Kennedy comes in June. We rushed for 330 yards and averaged seven-plus yards a carry. He’s got some really hard-working kids. They took a lot of heat in the past. The way they played against a good Texas squad, it was outstanding. [Offensive lineman] Beaux Limmer is a part of that too, but we had the five starters back. I don’t think they gave up a sack tonight either. They came to play and I’m really proud of them.”
4. Georgia may have the country's best defense. A week ago, the Bulldogs scored a 10-3 win and followed that up with a 56-7 shellacking of a UAB team that, while clearly not at Georgia's level, also isn't a pushover. In two games, UGA is giving up just 177 yards per game and 3.1 per play, marks which rank first and second in the country.
It's not a Georgia team with the known names of some Bulldog defenses, but Kirby Smart recruits at an elite level and has a ton of guys who can get the job done. Through two games, 11 Bulldogs have at least a half-tackle for loss, 13 have at least one quarterback pressure and four different players have an interception--and Tykee Smith, the West Virginia transfer who had a dominant 2020--hasn't even played yet.
5. Texas A&M's offense is on shaky ground right now. The Aggies have talent everywhere and I'm guessing that coach Jimbo Fisher will figure some things out. Bu it was just a struggle for the Aggies to make any plays of significance all day against Colorado, until running back Isaiah Spiller's touchdown with 2:41 left gave A&M a 10-7 advantage that held up. A&M managed just 260 yards, and 4.5 per play Saturday, and lost starting quarterback Haynes King to an injury, though Fisher didn't give a lot of hints as to the severity of it. And even if King's well, four interceptions in five quarters of play is troubling.
6. Florida has a quarterback controversy. Coach Dan Mullen keeps trying to downplay this, but when backup Anthony Richardson has an incredible 467 yards of total offense on 11 passes and 11 runs, and starter Emory Jones has 48 fewer yards of total offense on 50 more plays, perhaps the right guy's not starting. Jones also has four interceptions to Richardson's none.
7. Tennessee does, too. Starter Joe Milton is big and athletic and has a strong arm, but accuracy has always been the question. And when Milton got hurt Saturday, Hendon Hooker came in and out-played him in the Vols' 41-34 loss to Pitt, leading coach Josh Heupel to seemingly hint at the fact the job could be up in the air. The career passing stats are telling: Hooker averages 9.2 per throw, while Milton is at 7.4; Milton has as many picks (six) as interceptions, while Hooker's ratio is 24-8.
8. Mississippi State's Will Rogers just keeps quietly doing his thing--will it be enough? Rogers just keeps throwing passes with remarkable accuracy--after completing 69.1% of his throws last year, he's up to 75% this year. The catch: His 6.9 yards per throw isn't going to wow anyone, and that may not be enough going forward. But at least for now, it's keeping the Bulldog defense off the field as MSU is off to a 2-0 start. Of course, Rogers is just a sophomore, and so there's plenty of time for him to take his game up a level.
9. Kentucky is finding impressive offensive balance. Last week against ULM, quarterback Will Levis had a 367-yard passing game with two 100-yard receivers (Wan'Dale Robinson's 125 and Josh Ali's 136), while Chris Rodriguez (125) eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark. In Saturday's win over Missouri, Rodriguez rushed for 207 yards, while Robinson (101) once again eclipsed 100 receiving. Sure, those two teams aren't Alabama and Georgia, but the 'Cats have had trouble producing much offensively against anyone in recent years, and the development of so many weapons this early is encouraging.
10. Vanderbilt got a desperately-needed win. The Commodores, who had perhaps the worst loss in school history last week, got a 38-yard field goal from Joseph Bulovas with 19 seconds left, providing just enough to pull a 24-21 upset of Colorado State. That snapped, all at once, an 11-game losing streak, a 13-game skid against FBS teams and a string of 10 consecutive road losses. It also gave first-year coach Clark Lea his first career win as a head coach. Vanderbilt was a 7-point underdog.
11. So did South Carolina. Like Vandy, the Gamecocks fell into an early 14-0 hole on the road and survived anyway. In this case, it was kicker Parker White's 36-yarder at the buzzer that provided the winning margin--and also, Carolina's first lead of the day. The Gamecocks beat Eastern Illinois this week, but this snapped a six-game losing streak against FBS squads.
12. LSU coach Ed Orgeron beat his son's team on Saturday, and probably no one felt good about it. The Tigers won by a decisive 34-7 margin, and who knows, maybe the Tigers took it easy on McNeese given that the Cowboys' quarterback is Cody Orgeron. But LSU's 4.9 yards per pass and 3.5 yards per rush just provokes more questions after the Tigers' road loss at UCLA last week.
13. Auburn's leading the country in yards per play allowed on defense. It's hard to imagine an easier schedule than Akron and Alabama State, but give Auburn credit for taking care of business: Its 3.01 yards allowed per play lead the country as the hire of coordinator Derek Mason is paying early dividends.
14. Ole Miss's defense is good enough right now. The 404 yards allowed to Austin Peay might seem concerning, and maybe they are. But the Governors averaged just 4.9 yards per play and were down 37-0 before finally getting on the scoreboard with about two minutes left before half. it marks the second-straight week that the defense has been outstanding in the first half--and with the Rebels offense functioning at a high level, it's a formula with potential to win a lot of games.