You’ve made it through the first SEC Saturday of the year, and you may find yourself asking . . .what the heck was that?
Well, here’s the answer. Around the SEC, there were some surprises, and some things that went about as expected.
Mike Leach’s SEC debut was, in his own words, “better than average.” Put another way, his Mississippi State Bulldogs set a new conference record for passing yards in their first game with a transfer quarterback against the defending national champions. 2020, man.
Am I worried about facing the Bulldogs. A touch. But I also know that LSU was missing players, including their best defensive back, and struggled pretty mightily on offense (turns out that Burrow guy was pretty good). I also like getting the Bizarro Bulldogs later after there’s some tape on them. Also, I’ve watched enough late night Pac-12 games to know that this is when the Dread Pirate Leach’s team rockets up to #11 in the polls before losing to a 2-6 Arizona or Oregon State. History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes.
Will Muschamp did some Muschamp stuff, and Tennessee walked away with a, well, we’re going to call it a “victory.” Rocky Top Talk observes that the Vols will go only as far as Jarrett Guarantano carries them. Which, from my perspective, is a deal I’m willing to take.
Texas A&M snuck by Vanderbilt, which given the fact that there were serious questions this summer about whether Vandy would have enough players to field a team seems . . . sub-optimal. Good Bull Hunting wonders how they can have so little confidence in a senior QB three years into the Jimbo Fisher era given that Fisher was hired in part for his offensive pedigree.
Closer to home, Blayne Gilmer at Bulldawg Illustrated notes that Kearis Jackson looked solid on offense and special teams, a much-needed (if not unexpected) development. 6 catches for 62 yards was a pretty decent line and surprisingly led the team in both receptions and yards. George Pickens chipped in 4 catches for 47 yards, but was clearly getting a ton of attention from the Razorback secondary. Getting him free downfield is going to be a chore for Todd Monken going forward, because #1 isn’t sneaking up on anyone this year.
Mike Griffith at DawgNation has a position group report card that I think is pretty spot-on. The defense was uniformly good. The offense started poorly but found a spark with Bennett’s entrance and some help from the defense. But for my money the A- grade for the special teams is both accurate and the thing that would get me to take little Johnny out for ice cream. We replaced the most consistent kicker in college football and installed a new special teams coordinator and yet were one holding penalty away from a sublime effort in that phase of the game. That’s a headline, folks.
Finally, a couple of parting thoughts on the Bulldog offense. Friend of the site DawgStats had a great graphic this morning about the Bulldog offense with D’Wan Mathis at the helm versus Stetson Bennett.
The difference is clear. With Mathis Georgia was an elite defense with an absolute mess of an offense holding them back. With Bennett Georgia was an elite defense with a serviceable if not spectacular offense that stayed on the field long enough to give it a breather, scored enough points, and with the exception of one James Cook fumble, didn’t put the team in bad spots. That 50% offensive success rate is not all-world, but it’s pretty darn good.
Quick stat crunch. Compare @GeorgiaFootball 's metrics to the other winning @SEC winning teams. While it's not great, the switch at QB greatly improved offensive efficiency. Shoutout to @CFB_Data. These numbers available so quickly. amazinghttps://t.co/syztq7Zio3 pic.twitter.com/xPV2OW0zoa— DawgStats (@Dawg_Stats) September 27, 2020
Again, we need to talk about how the UGA defense is something special.
Also, if you didn’t know anything about what had gone on in the world over the past nine months or so and I told you Georgia won its SEC opener 37-10 with a quarterback going 20 of 29 passing for 211 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions you’d probably have thought “yup, another steady Jake Fromm performance.” Then I’d tell you the game was against Arkansas and the quarterback was Stetson Bennett and you’d get sort of freaked out. Then I’d tell you about the deadly virus and the hurricanes and what not, because context.
Another thought. While the offensive output in the first half was disappointing 11 points would have won the game. After rewatching Auburn’s effort against Kentucky I sort of expect 21 would win it next week, and with Stetson Bennett under center that seems pretty doable. Did I want to score 52 points in new and exciting ways in the opener? Sure. But if I’d told you our starter would exit the game midway through the second quarter and the ‘Dawgs would still cover the 26 point spread you would have been happy, don’t even try to deny it. We’ll be back with some additional thoughts on the ‘Hawgs before moving on to the team from Gus Malzahn’s School for Kids Who Don’t Read So Good. Until then . . .