Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Each Thursday we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:
Mike Bobo: do you know what you're doing with an up-tempo shotgun offense? After rumblings from fall camp that Georgia would unveil a no-huddle spread offense gainst Boise State, the Bulldogs didn't quite go the full Dana Holgorsen ... but they definitely flirted with it, breaking away from their traditional pro-style I-formation look for a multitude of quick snaps, multi-receiver sets, and shotgun handoffs. The results were occasionally spectacular (see Brandon Boykin's 80-yard touchdown run) but more frequently sputterrific (see the other 25 rushes for all of 57 yards, or Boise's six sacks).
So why the change? "We wanted to get more plays, which we didn’t do on Saturday,” Bulldog coordinator Bobo said. “But we’re committed to doing it, and more plays equals more opportunities, and more chances to score.”
This is true, technically speaking. A faster tempo does lead to more possessions and plays packed into a game, and more scoring chances. But that's true for both teams, not just the one running the no-huddle; barring onside kick shenanigans or the occasional odd break at the end of a half, possessions in football are always going to be equal. For seasoned practitioners of the no-huddle like Holgorsen or Gus Malzahn, tempo is partially about giving their offense as many opportunities as possible, but it's also about making it more efficient by keeping an opposing defense off-balance and wearing it down over the course of 60 minutes.
Bobo is not one of those seasoned practitioners. As the Athens Banner-Herald points out, in 2010 Georgia ran fewer plays than any other team in the SEC. Suddenly lurching into a part-time, only-half-committed shotgun spread outfit seems from here to be a good way to neither execute that plan well nor the Bulldogs' traditional power-running and play-action bread-and-butter. One Georgia blogger has cleverly referred to Bobo's plan as the Cheesecake Factory offense--one that attempts to do everything, and in the end does none of it well enough to win.
Mark Richt, for what it's worth, is firmly on board with Bobo's approach. But if it doesn't pay far more dividends against South Carolina than it did against Boise (and if there's a bigger red flag than giving up six sacks to the Broncos the week before facing Devin Taylor, Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, we haven't seen it), Richt may pay for that support with an 0-2 start and the hottest seat in the country.
Auburn's defensive line: what can you do with Mississippi State? The surprising thing about Utah State's 84-play slice-and-dice job on the Tiger defense wasn't the 22-of-31 passing from true freshman Chuckie Keeton, or the resulting 13-of-20 mark for the Aggies on third- and fourth-down conversions; Ted Roof's Tiger teams have always had issues with a tight, controlled passing game like USU's. But they've also usually been stout enough against the run to make up for that Achilles heel -- Auburn led the SEC in rush defense last year -- making the true stunner the Aggies' 227 yards on the ground.
Unfortunately for Roof and the Tigers, things only get tougher this week. State boasts the league's best dual-threat quarterback in Chris Relf, a veteran line featuring three senior starters, Dan Mullen's tried-and-true option schemes, and one of the nation's most underrated tailbacks in Vick Ballard. Even Auburn is obviously a far cry from Memphis, but the 309 rushing yards and 8.1 yard per-carry average racked up by the Bulldogs in Week 1 still make for a hell of a warning shot across the bow of the Tiger front seven.
That front seven should get a boost with the return of suspended senior linebacker Eltoro Freeman, and Roof's long track record of run-stuffing success suggests some level of improvement is due. But the Tiger front remains so young -- all four starting defensive linemen are sophomores -- that it will take a major, major leap forward for Auburn to avoid getting steamrolled. Are they up to it?
Alabama: is your offense good enough to stake a claim to No. 1? Maybe we'll be proven wrong about this. But the guess here is that despite the change of venue to Happy Valley, there won't be any more competitive drama in Saturday's Alabama-Penn State clash than there was in last year's 24-3 Tide throttling in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban's loaded roster of future pros dominated the Nittany Lions physically in nearly every aspect of the 2010 meeting, and that's not a problem we see Joe Paterno repairing in the space of one offseason.
Which means the burning question is one of degree: does the Tide offense have the chops to go on the road and put together a performance worthy of putting the team in the top-of-the-polls discussion? Underrated though Kent State's defense may be (10th in FBS total defense in 2010), the Tide still looked surprisingly sloppy on attack, despite the 48-7 final. The quarterbacks threw four interceptions; the offensive line missed a handful of assignments; the Tide receivers and quarterbacks put the ball on the ground four times.
Were those opening-week jitters ... or something more serious that might deprive the Tide of championships once the 2011 season is finished? A dominant performance against a Lion team with plenty of questions of its own in the front seven would go a long way towards affirming it was the former.
Also worth asking: Can Tennessee's Janzen Jackson-less secondary hold up against Cincinnati's lively passing game? (The league's most underrated Week 2 matchup could be decided here.) Can Vanderbilt look like a real team another real team? (Despite their 45-14 win over FCS Elon, the 'Dores were outgained by 14 yards. Jury's well out.) Will Kentucky or Ole Miss show any signs of life on offense? (If the 'Cats and Rebels can't get better against Central Michigan and Southern Illinois, respectively, it's going to be a long season.)