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 …
After months of being force-fed takes about the ACC’s supposed ascendancy to the Iron Throne of college football, the SEC rang in a new college football season by silencing the blabbers with good, old-fashioned gridiron excellence.
Alabama toppled Florida State, 24-7, and South Carolina outlasted North Carolina State to highlight a 10-1 showing by the SEC on Saturday. Both ACC foes had generated significant preseason buzz, with FSU predicted by many to make the College Football Playoff, and both got immediate reality-checks when facing their SEC counterparts.
Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher, who months ago dubbed his league the “premier conference in college football,” watched as the Crimson Tide kept his heralded offense contained and beat star quarterback Deondre Francois into submission under the shiny new lights of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Three turnovers, 40 yards rushing and 1 offensive touchdown were the main ingredients of a hot humble pie, and this time, Nick Saban was doing the force-feeding.
Taken at face value, Week 1 seemed like a return to normalcy for the SEC, which went 6-6 to open the humbling 2016 season. Yes, Tennessee has yet to face Georgia Tech. Yes, Texas A&M inexplicably blew a 34-point lead in one half of football (more on that below). And, of course, a handful of the SEC’s nonconference foes were true cupcakes. Still, Saturday marked a solid start for a league looking to rebound from a bad season.
Here are four more takeaways from Week 1:
1. Anyone who thought Alabama was fading is a fool
Maybe the loss to Clemson, which reminded the world that Saban’s great crimson and white football machine isn’t perfect all the time, sewed a few seeds of doubt. Maybe the baffling pre-title game departure of Lane Kiffin or the freshman plateauing of Jalen Hurts caused some dummies to think Alabama was losing its way on offense.
News flash: This program still out-recruits everyone in the country, and it’s not even close.
So, in typical fashion, the Crimson Tide went back to doing what they do best — playing tremendous defense and smashmouth, get ‘er done offense — and bludgeoned one of the best regular-season opponents they’ll face in 2017. The passing game sputtered, the offensive line needs work and special teams suffered a few hiccups, but we have every reason to believe those issues will be corrected in time.
Time is something Alabama has on its side, too, because its next four opponents are Fresno State, Colorado State, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
2. Kevin Sumlin might want to have his bags packed and ready
Full disclosure: I wrote most of this roundup before the Texas A&M-UCLA game, and while I predicted a Bruins win entering the weekend, nobody could have imagined the colossal implosion that occurred in the Rose Bowl Sunday night.
I watched it live, and to be quite honest still can’t entirely comprehend what I saw. The score was 44-10 with 4:08 left in the third quarter. Texas A&M squandered a 34-point advantage in 19 minutes. That’s not just being awful — that’s being awful with shocking efficiency.
First half Josh Rosen became fodder for Internet jokes and booing Bruins fans; second half Josh Rosen looked like someone set the game difficulty sliders to “freshman.” He was making NFL-caliber throws all over the field. His final line: 35 of 59 passing for 491 yards and 4 touchdowns. The game-winning fake spike touchdown pass was equal parts amazing and unbelievable.
The second-half Texas A&M offensive play calling was baffling at times, especially with a limited true freshman under center for much of the collapse. Meanwhile, the second-half defense allowed consecutive UCLA drives of 75, 85, 96, 74 and 66 yards, all of which lasted fewer than 2:04 minutes. Earth to John Chavis: Are you there?
For a team with Texas A&M’s talent — none can dispute that the Aggies have recruited at an elite level under Sumlin — this type of loss is inexcusable, and the coaching staff knows it. There’s not much left to say that can truly express the mind-boggling meltdown that took place under their watch. Coaches are supposed to preach 60 minutes, and I can guarantee Sumlin’s successor will do that a lot.
3. Florida’s offense looks just as bad as the 2016 edition
Since Urban Meyer left The Swamp, Florida’s inability to recruit viable players at quarterback and on the offensive line is truly remarkable.
Here are the signal callers who have taken snaps under Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier since Will Grier was suspended:
- Treon Harris
- Austin Appleby
- Luke Del Rio
- Feleipe Franks
- Malik Zaire
Additionally, here is where the Gators have ranked nationally in both sacks and tackles-for-loss allowed:
- 2015: 128th (sacks) and 122nd (TFLs)
- 2016: 71st (sacks) and 48th (TFLs)
Against Michigan, whose defense lost 10 of 11 starters from last season, Florida permitted 6 sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
Sure, the Gators had suspended their two best offensive players in Jordan Scarlett and Antonio Callaway. But with offensive line play like that, it doesn’t matter! Franks and Zaire had no time to read the field, set their feet and throw. They looked helpless. The UF offense generated a grand total of 3 points, and at halftime, the unit had fewer offensive yards (75) than interception return yardage (88).
Both of those interceptions were horrible plays as well. Wilton Speight gifted the Gators 14 points, and the offense responded by… wearing down the defense.
More notable than the substance of this beatdown, however, is the context. Here’s a stat that blew me away: Florida has never signed a class ranked lower than 21st nationally since 2010, with multiple top 5 classes secured during that window. The program has produced 12 offensive draftees since 2013 and a total of 35 NFL draft picks during that time span.
Since 2011, here is where the Florida offense has ranked nationally in points scored per game: 71st, 78th, 113th, 56th, 100th and 107th.
Over the offseason, McElwain said he expected the offensive line to be a “true strength” of this team. Now, he’s publicly calling out his unit and claiming he will reevaluate his strength program.
Here’s a hard truth McElwain may need to face: The current Gators coaching staff is not developing offensive linemen, nor are they developing quarterbacks, nor are they running an offense that has any place in modern college football. The same program that was home to elite offensive minds — Meyer, Steve Spurrier and Dan Mullen — cannot for the life of it figure out offense. And that’s truly shocking.
4. Will Muschamp has South Carolina in a great place
Will Muschamp has what he never had at Florida — a weapon at quarterback — and he’s making the most of it.
Sophomore Jake Bentley threw 3 touchdown passes in South Carolina’s win against North Carolina State, while his defensive line accounted for 4 sacks and made Wolfpack passer Ryan Finley work for every yard.
This team has a lot left to prove, but so far, it’s given us a glimpse of what it could accomplish in 2017. The SEC East may not be out of reach this season, and even if it is, the Gamecocks have the tools to make life tough in a division that looks pretty wide open.
But again, the key cog here is Bentley, who has already displayed the type of poise and leadership skills that you rarely find in young quarterbacks. Check out what he said after Muschamp’s postgame speech in the video below:
Previewing Tennessee-Georgia Tech
- Kickoff time: Monday, 8 p.m. ET (Broadcast: ESPN)
- Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)
- Last meeting: Oct. 24, 1987 (Tennessee won, 29-15, in Knoxville)
Tennessee player to know: Kahlil McKenzie. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound defensive tackle appeared on track for a big 2016 season before a torn pectoral muscle cut it several games short. Tennessee will need big things from the junior this season, and especially against Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense. Four quarters of cut blocks aren’t what most consider a fun time.
Georgia Tech player to know: Matthew Jordan. Three-year Yellow Jackets starting quarterback Justin Thomas is gone, and Jordan is in line to replace him. But Jordan suffered a setback this spring, when he had to undergo surgery for a foot injury. How ready he’ll be by the time Tennessee and Georgia Tech kick off is unclear, but a healthy Jordan is dangerous: He rushed for 121 yards in a road upset of Virginia Tech last season.
Key matchup: Georgia Tech O-line vs. Tennessee D-line. Our bet is the Vols struggle here.
Quote of note: “We have zero continuity on offense, and we have to step it up there. I trust that we will, but it’s not to our expectations, so the next few practices are monumental.” — Butch Jones, via SEC Country’s Mike Griffith.
Interesting SEC stats from Week 1
- Drew Lock broke the Missouri records for single-game passing yards (521) and passing touchdowns (7) during his team’s 72-43 win against Missouri State, and he did so on just 21 completions. That comes out to an average of 15.3 yards per completion. The offense collectively accounted for a program-best 815 total yards as well. The defense still looks like hot garbage.
- In 13 games under Dave Aranda, the LSU defense has held opponents under 17 points nearly 70 percent of the time (nine games). The only team to score more than 21 points against Aranda’s unit is Texas A&M. The BYU game marks the sixth time an Aranda-coached team has recorded a shutout since 2013.
- Hurts is 41-of-83 passing (49 percent completion) in his last four games, dating back to the SEC Championship Game against Florida, and he is averaging fewer than 150 total yards per game during that span. Against the Seminoles, he finished 2 of 6 on passes thrown 10-plus yards downfield. However, he also went 7 of 11 on third down, and did so in the face of tremendous pressure from the FSU defense, which sacked him twice. Hurts can also still do this:
SEC quote of the week
“Their guys were bigger and stronger. They whooped us. Plain and simple.” — McElwain on the Michigan defensive line.
SEC power rankings after Week 1
- Alabama: The mighty Crimson Tide football train is chugging down the tracks just fine, even if Hurts didn’t look exceptional against a tough Florida State defense. It is the most heralded program in the country for a reason.
- Auburn: Jarrett Stidham finished a pedestrian 14-of-24 passing, but it was also his first real game since Nov. 21, 2015. Auburn, otherwise, rolled right through Sun Belt foe Georgia Southern.
- LSU: BYU won nine games last season and started a senior quarterback (Tanner Mangum). A shutout is impressive in most circumstances, but this is doubly so given the talent LSU lost on defense. Aranda is a wizard.
- Georgia: The offensive line still needs work, but the Bulldogs’ defense could be dangerous. Notre Dame will make for a great measuring stick next week.
- South Carolina: The 2017 season couldn’t have started much better for Muschamp. The Gamecocks look like an SEC East contender.
- Florida: We’re not abandoning the Florida ship just yet, but the Michigan game exposed some serious problems for this offense. The line absolutely must play better.
- Tennessee: Has not played yet. This writer projects a Georgia Tech win on Monday night.
- Mississippi State: Charleston Southern is a real softball, even by nonconference scheduling standards today. The Bulldogs would be wise not to look past Louisiana Tech, which nearly upset Arkansas last season.
- Vanderbilt: Middle Tennessee is a solid program, and Kyle Shurmur looked improved during a 296-yard, 3-touchdown performance. Brent Stockstill, one of the more productive returning Group of Five quarterbacks, was held to 166 yards passing at home.
- Texas A&M: 34 points in 19 minutes!!!
- Kentucky: The offense looked clunky at times, while the front seven flashed signs of taking a significant step forward this fall. Still, a 24-17 win against Southern Miss is not how coach Mark Stoops would’ve preferred to open the 2017 season.
- Arkansas: Ditto for the Hogs, who played a true cupcake in Florida A&M on Thursday night. The TCU game will give us a much better look at this team.
- Ole Miss: The Rebels entered halftime leading, 13-10, before their offense exploded for 27 points in the third quarter. The running game averaging just 3.5 yards per carry doesn’t bode well. Shea Patterson and AJ Brown look like the real deal, at least.
- Missouri: The Tigers put up video game-type numbers on offense. But to allow 43 points and nearly 500 total offensive yards while facing an FCS opponent? Gary Pinkel is weeping somewhere.
Hittin’ the links: SEC Country coverage you don’t want to miss
- If you stopped fearing the Tide, you should start again (Kyle Tucker)… Florida State is one of the two toughest teams on Alabama’s 2017 schedule, and the Seminoles lost decisively. The championship loss to Clemson will only serve as extra motivation for this team.
- Defense suffocates, special teams shine in Alabama’s win over Florida State (Marq Burnett)… We’ve seen this headline before.
- Jim McElwain calls out Florida’s O-line, will re-evaluate strength program after another ‘whooping’ (Zach Abolverdi)… Ideally, early September isn’t the time to reevaluate your strength program. Not a good look for ‘Mac.
- Jim McElwain says Florida will ‘take a look’ at QB situation before next game (Ryan Young)… Again, not what Gators fans want to hear from their coach heading into Week 2. They had the whole offseason to figure this out.
- South Carolina football: Gamecocks defense gets a blast from the past (Hale McGranahan)… Muschamp knows defense, and he reminded the ACC what his teams can do during an impressive win against N.C. State.
- Matt Canada’s first game as LSU offensive coordinator featured a heavy dose of running game (Nick Suss)… This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Canada will bring the Tigers’ offense into the 21st century in time, but for now, he might as well rely on Derrius Guice and a still-solid offensive line.
- Paths to Superdome completely dissimilar for two major LSU contributors (Sam Spiegelman)… An interesting story of contrasts. Darrel Williams, a senior tailback who grew up in Louisiana, fulfilled his dream of playing in the ‘Dome on Saturday night. Sophomore defensive end Rashard Lawrence made his fourth appearance in the stadium after making the trip three times at Neville High School.
- UGA win just another episode in Jake Fromm’s made-for-TV life (Chip Towers)… The bad news: Georgia starting quarterback Jacob Eason went down with a knee injury early against Appalachian State. The good news: His backup, freshman Jake Fromm, looked fantastic.
- There’s one more Jake Fromm story from Texas that must be told (Jeff Sentell)… This is a throwback piece published after the U.S. Army All-American Game last winter. In it, there’s some telling insight about who Fromm is as a player and a person.
- Kentucky’s Eddie Gran says he was ‘too stubborn’ with wildcat formation (Joe Mussatto)… The Wildcats hung on to beat Southern Miss, 24-17, but their running game looked less potent than what fans saw last season. Gran and tailback Benny Snell discussed the relatively frustrating performance.
Around the FBS: Stories from outside SEC Country
- Channeling its inner App State: FCS member Howard completed a historic upset of UNLV on Saturday, thanks to the heroics of quarterback Caylin Newton, the younger brother of former Auburn star Cam Newton. The younger Newton tallied 330 total yards and 3 touchdowns as the Bison, which entered the matchup as 45-point underdogs, pulled off the 43-30 shocker in Las Vegas.
- Looking back: Speaking of App State, Saturday marked the 10-year anniversary of the Mountaineers’ legendary upset of Michigan in The Big House. Andy Staples published a phenomenal feature on that game three years ago that’s still very much worth reading.
- New boat, same story: In its first season without rising star coach P.J. Fleck at the helm, Western Michigan gave No. 4 USC all it could handle in a 49-31 loss. Sam Darnold did not look like the anointed savior of Trojans football some expect him to be, but his running back, Ronald Jones II, picked up the slack (149 yards rushing, 3 touchdowns). Also of note: Blind USC walk-on Jake Olson successfully snapped an extra point during the game, making him an official letterman. That’s incredible.
- Still lookin’ good: Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson looked great in his season debut, completing 30 of 46 passes for 378 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also scrambled for 107 yards in the Cardinals’ 35-28 win against Purdue. By the way: The Boilermakers looked much improved under former Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm, a Louisville alumnus.
What you need to know (besides football)
- Hurricane Harvey: The record-breaking storm caused an estimated $ 180 billion in damages, according to Texas governor Greg Abbott, and reports of regional price-gouging — particularly around gas and water — have surfaced in recent days. Many, many people have already donated money or supplies to those in need, and many will continue to do so, which is fantastic. Just be sure to carefully consider where you donate. National organizations such as the American Red Cross do wonderful work, but also consider smaller entities such as regional food banks and shelters. They need resources, too.
- RIP Juicero: In one of my favorite stories about venture capitalism gone horribly wrong, San Francisco-based “juice press” manufacturer Juicero is closing its doors due to a hilarious design flaw. The company’s $ 400 WiFi-enabled home juicer, as publicized in a Bloomberg report, squeezes juice from a prepackaged bag. Alternatively, you can save most of that money by squeezing said bag by hand. Yeah. Amazing.
- The Based God: The Ball family, including LaVar and Lonzo, have a Facebook reality show (that I will never watch!). Apparently, Lonzo Ball claimed that nobody listens to hip-hop legend Nas anymore (untrue!). Rapper/sport fan Lil’ B caught wind of this heresy and threatened to curse Ball during his rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers. We’ll be watching this situation closely.
Tweet of the week
Here’s serial whiner and Fox Sports person Clay Travis complaining about someone breaking into his car. Remember: This is the guy who turned “#DBAP” into an online slogan of sorts (you can look up what that stands for on your own), and the same one whose unsolicited advice to young writers includes “spend less time tweeting and more time writing.” Hey, Clay: tweet less!
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Alec Shirkey – SEC Country