Week 2 SEC football recap: Gus Malzahn needs to salvage Auburn offense after Clemson fiasco (again)

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Welcome to The Crock Pot, your one-stop shop for all the SEC football news, notes, quotes and mishaps you might have missed over the weekend. Here’s what we’ve been stewing over …

If the 2017 season’s opening weekend marked a triumphant return for SEC football, Week 2 brought the conference back to reality just a bit.

Clemson managed to fend off Auburn on its home turf, thanks to a dominant defense that kept Gus Malzahn’s Tigers out of the end zone. Georgia squeaked past Notre Dame in another defense-heavy affair, and Arkansas floundered in a bad loss to TCU. Meanwhile, Texas A&M and Kentucky both struggled to put away FCS foes.

Here are four takeaways from a smattering of uneven performances across the conference this Saturday:

1. “Baby, I’ve been here before; I’ve seen this room, I’ve walked this floor”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Auburn brings top-tier defensive play into a marquee game, only to be undone by a soul-crushing display of offensive ineptitude. Tigers fans saw this play out against Clemson, Georgia, Alabama and Oklahoma last year, during a season that could have and should have carried Gus Malzahn’s squad further than 8-5.

On Saturday, an all-too-familiar scene unfolded in Death Valley that left us wondering: Is Malzahn going to waste another championship-caliber defense?

Jarrett Stidham, a 5-star quarterback with starting experience, was the supposed missing piece on an otherwise talented offense. He finished with 79 yards passing, for an average of 3.3 yards per completion, while his offensive linemen gave up 11 sacks. Some defenses don’t tally 11 sacks in a month!

This is an offensive front with three senior starters. Yes, new left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho struggled mightily. Yes, Clemson is a solid bet to appear in its third straight College Football Playoff. But for Malzahn and new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, 117 total yards of offense should be considered an embarrassment, regardless of the opponent.

They say the definition of madness is taking the same approach and expecting a different result. Perhaps it’s time to try something different? Maybe step outside that little run-spread box and, while you’re at it, never call an H-Back toss on the goal line ever again?

Auburn still has time to find itself, with upcoming games against Mercer, Missouri, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. All three of those SEC teams were an absolute mess on defense last season, so it’s a prime opportunity for Stidham, his offensive line and Lindsey to get on the same page.

But if Malzahn doesn’t right the ship by Week 7, when the Tigers travel to LSU, it’ll be the same old song and dance — wondering what this team could have done with a decent offense.

2. Georgia’s defense could be its best in years

The Bulldogs returned just about every starter from last year’s defense, which ranked No. 16 in the FBS, and added blue-chip defensive backs Richard LeCounte III and Deangelo Gibbs to that group this offseason. So with talent and respected coordinator Mel Tucker at the helm, this was expected to be a strength for Georgia in 2017.

Even so, the ferocity Kirby Smart’s crew displayed against Notre Dame deserves serious praise. Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy wreaked havoc coming off the edge, with Carter supplying the key strip-sack at the end of the game. Linebacker Roquan Smith flew around the field, totaling 7 tackles and a sack. A deep defensive line rotation helped force seven three-and-outs against the Irish offense, while the secondary held its own and came close to making multiple interceptions.

The penalties were a problem, yes, but those are correctable mistakes. Smart and Tucker cannot teach speed and physicality; this defense has oodles of both, and could be a top-10 unit when all is said and done.

We’re still pumping the brakes on the Georgia hype train just a bit, because the offense clearly has more kinks to work out. But a win at Notre Dame, with freshmen starting at quarterback, right tackle and safety, is an excellent start for Smart in Year 2.

3. Arkansas and Bret Bielema could be in serious trouble

Here’s just some of what went wrong for the Razorbacks during a demoralizing 28-7 home loss to TCU:

  • Kicker Cole Hedlund missed field goal attempts from 23 and 20 yards out.
  • Austin Allen finished 9-for-23 passing and, outside of the Hogs’ initial scoring drive, the passing game looked completely out of sorts.
  • The offensive line gave up 3 sacks and 6 tackles for loss.
  • Chase Hayden and Devwah Whaley combined for 33 yards rushing.
  • Kenny Hill didn’t even score a touchdown, and TCU still scored 28 points.

Here’s a mind-blowing stat to top that off: Arkansas has not won consecutive games since Sept. 10-17 of last season. Bielema’s team has been outscored by an average of 22.4 points in its last seven losses, which include embarrassing beatdowns at the hands of Auburn and LSU.

Arkansas’ performance against TCU in and of itself is not the problem. It’s the aggregate of its shortcomings, and the surprising collapse of an offense that has a quality quarterback in Austin Allen.

In Year 5, Bielema is now 10-22 in the SEC, including an 0-4 mark against Texas A&M. That game looms large on the Arkansas schedule. Win, and Bielema can stem the expanding tide of displeasure surrounding his program. Lose to an Aggies team that is more beatable this year than in any of the previous four, and the noise will only get louder.

4. Will Muschamp is just sitting here, minding his own business — and winning

With Saturday’s win at Missouri, South Carolina’s Will Muschamp has a 21-20 lifetime coaching record in SEC games. That winning percentage puts him above Dan Mullen (29-35), Butch Jones (14-18), Hugh Freeze (19-21), Bret Bielema (10-22) and Ed Orgeron (7-23, including time at Ole Miss).

Muschamp is also close to even with Kevin Sumlin (21-19). The only active coaches with a better SEC winning percentage are Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn and Jim McElwain.

Muscchamp’s Gamecocks are also 6-4 in their last 10 games. The four losses? Clemson, Florida, Georgia and a South Florida team that won 11 games.

N.C. State and Missouri aren’t exactly juggernauts, but the wins underscore the obvious upward trajectory Muschamp has South Carolina riding. Don’t be surprised if this team gives Florida, Tennessee and Georgia fits, even if it only wins one of those matchups.

Highlight of the week

Georgia wide receiver Terry Godwin channeled his inner A.J. Green and gave us an early catch-of-the-year candidate. It was his first touchdown reception in 14 games.

Interesting SEC stats from Week 2

  1. Notre Dame averaged just 1.5 yards per carry against the Bulldogs on Saturday night. The Fighting Irish are now 11-15 against Top 25 teams under Brian Kelly, who is 3-6 in his last nine games. Smart, meanwhile, has now overseen six come-from-behind victories in 15 games at Georgia.
  2. It has been at least a decade since Auburn rushed for fewer than 40 yards in a single game; the Tigers could only muster 38 against Clemson on 42 carries. The overall offensive mark of 117 yards is also Auburn’s worst in at least a decade. The program’s next four worst performances during that span all came against Alabama: 140 (2011), 163 (2012), 170 (2008) and 182 (2016).
  3. Against FCS or Group of Five schools, Josh Heupel’s Missouri offense has averaged more than 697 total yards per game. In nine SEC matchups, however, the Tigers have averaged about 444 total yards of offense. For context, that would have put Mizzou at 40th in the country last season, just ahead of Tennessee.

SEC quote of the week

“It’s called an ass-kicking.” — Missouri’s Barry Odom on the South Carolina loss.

SEC power rankings after Week 2

  1. Alabama: Jalen Hurts put up 282 yards and three touchdowns in less than a half of football. Poor Fresno State. (Last week: 1)
  2. Auburn: Despite the offensive flop at Clemson, a team many have returning to the Playoff, the Tigers possess the talent level to overcome an early-season setback and surge through most of their schedule. Alabama and LSU look like their toughest challenges. (Last week: 2)
  3. LSU: The jury’s still out on this offense, and a Week 3 matchup at Mississippi State should give us a better sense of how far the Tigers’ passing game can actually take them. (Last week: 3)
  4. Georgia: Maybe the Notre Dame win looks more impressive now than it will in November, but the Bulldogs certainly possess to pieces to emerge on top of another mediocre SEC East. (Last week: 4)
  5. South Carolina: The Gamecocks have a real chance to start 6-2. They’re not perfect, but they look improved across the board. Jake Bentley remains a true difference-maker under center. (Last week: 5)
  6. Florida: Did not play this week due to Hurricane Irma. The Gators have some serious questions to answer on offense, and certainly could’ve benefited from beating up Northern Colorado. (Last week: 6)
  7. Tennessee: The Vols did what they should against Indiana State. The Georgia Tech game exposed some flaws, though. UT needs more consistency from its receiving corps, which has been plagued by drops, and 4.3 yards per rush against an FCS school won’t cut it against Florida. (Last week: 7)
  8. Mississippi State: Nick Fitzgerald has tallied 515 total yards and 8 touchdowns through his first two opponents, Charleston Southern and Louisiana Tech. Now comes the real challenge. Can Fitzgerald test LSU through the air? And will he have a defense to back him up this time? (Last week: 8)
  9. Vanderbilt: He’s only faced Alabama A&M and Middle Tennessee, but Kyle Shurmur is completing 76 percent of his passes, with 7 touchdowns to zero interceptions. Is this Derek Mason’s year? (Last week: 9)
  10. Texas A&M: The Aggies struggled to put away Nicholls State, much like Georgia did last year, but Kevin Sumlin doesn’t have much room for error left as the pressure in College Station mounts. An offense with Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford shouldn’t average 4.1 yards per carry in a game with such a wide talent gap. (Last week: 10)
  11. Kentucky: The offensive line, a strength of this team last year, struggled against Eastern Kentucky on Saturday. Eventually, the running game got its legs working, and Stephen Johnson made a couple of key plays in a solid performance. Still, the first two weeks have not shown great promise for Mark Stoops’ squad. (Last week: 11)
  12. Arkansas: The defense has been a sore spot for the Hogs of late, and now their offense has taken a turn for the worse. Bret Bielema’s seat might have gotten a little warmer.
  13. Ole Miss: Shea Patterson and Phil Longo make for an excellent combination, and AJ Brown sure looks like the real deal. I’m not sure if the Rebels bring anything to the table besides a great passing game, though.
  14. Missouri: It’s hard to explain exactly what Missouri football is in 2017, but suffice it to say, it’s not good.

Hittin’ the links: SEC Country coverage you don’t want to miss

Tweets of the week

Alabama beat writer Aaron Suttles riled up some of his readers with a (clearly sarcastic) observation about the Crimson Tide fan base’s fascination with Tua Tagovailoa, who debuted for the program on Saturday. He went 6-for-9 passing with 64 yards and a touchdown.

Saban’s got jokes!

The post Week 2 SEC football recap: Gus Malzahn needs to salvage Auburn offense after Clemson fiasco (again) appeared first on SEC Country.

Alec Shirkey – SEC Country

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