The first week of SEC action is in the books, and what a week it was. No. 3 Florida and No. 2 Alabama made big statements, No. 16 Mississippi State handed No. 20 LSU its first loss since the seven-overtime thriller against Texas A&M to end the 2018 regular season and No. 4 Georgia scratched and clawed to escape the clutches of the vaunted Arkansas Razorbacks.
It felt ... normal. There was a slight chill in the air, crowds seemed loud on television and the aftermath has left us more storylines than we could possibly imagine. Let's talk about some of those storylines in this week's edition of SEC Smothered and Covered.
Appetizer: Leach's system works in the SEC
It's safe to say that Mississippi State coach Mike Leach's debut with the Bulldogs was a roaring success. After all, his quarterback, K.J. Costello, set an SEC single-game record with 623 yards. Saturday's success shouldn't all be about the system, though. Costello was 29-of-50 passing for 441 yards and three touchdowns when LSU had six or seven pass defenders in coverage. Tigers defensive back Derek Stingley Jr. Is great … but even he couldn't have much to precent Costello's breakout performance as Mississippi State's quarterback.
“Mike Leach’s offense won’t work in the SEC.”— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) September 26, 2020
- Some idiot
Main course: Florida for real, Georgia in trouble
It's one game, so it's a little early to make snap judgements on teams. That's why there aren't power rankings in this week's Smothered and Covered. With that said, let's make a snap judgement after one game: Florida is as legit as they come.
Did you see the connection between quarterback Kyle Trask and tight end Kyle Pitts. Sure, the eight catches for 170 yards and four touchdowns they produced are great on paper. But the real key was the fact that they were on the same page all afternoon.
Take the second half, for example. Trask saw safety pressure coming off the right side before the snap and immediately changed the play. He moved Kadarius Toney -- who was in the slot -- out a little wider knowing that Pitts would draw one-on-one coverage deep downfield. Bam, 71-yard touchdown to put the Gators up 35-14.
Two things here. 1) That connection clearly improved during the offseason. The offseason which just so happened to be the first in Trask's high school or college career that's seen him as the unquestioned starter. 2) The trust that coach Dan Mullen — who has had plenty of success developing quarterbacks throughout his career -- puts in Trask is apparent from Game 1.
Don't freak out over the Gators defense. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin is an offensive wizard, and weapons Iike running back Jerrion Ealy, wide receiver Elijah Moore, quarterback Matt Corral and Swiss Army Knife John Rhys Plumlee are going to do that to a lot of teams this year. Plus, hasn't the Florida defense earned the benefit of the doubt? Todd Grantham's group has finished in the top five in the SEC in defensive yards per play and opponent long scrimmage plays of 10 or more yards in both of his seasons as the Gators defensive coordinator.
Meanwhile, in Athens ...
It's official … Georgia's quarterback situation is a mess. D'Wan Mathis won the job before the season and then promptly lost it in the first half of the season-opener against Arkansas. In stepped Stetson Bennett IV. The player known as "The Mailman" went 20-of-29 passing for 211 yards and two touchdowns. However, he only had two completions of 20 or more yards, tied for 12th in the SEC after one week of play. He also only attempted three passes that traveled in the air for 20 or more yards, all ll three of which were incomplete.
Bennett was thrown into the fire when not many were expecting him to play. But Arkansas only blitzed him eight times and, let's be real, it's not like the Razorbacks are known for their defensive acumen.
USC transfer JT Daniels was cleared to return to action this week against Auburn. I don't buy it. His injury is more than a year old, and even if he does play, it's hard to imagine that he's 100%. Perhaps more important is that after more than a year off, has his ceiling been lowered?
What does Auburn historically do? Coordinator Kevin Steele's unit finished in the top four in the SEC in tackles for loss in each of the last two seasons, and has plenty of pieces to get creative with this year in defensive end Big Kat Bryant, and linebackers K.J. Britt and Owen Pappoe. What do you think Steele is going to do on Saturday? Of course he's going to bring the heat. He's either going up against a quarterback who hasn't played in more than a year or a quarterback who the staff clearly protected last week.
Dessert: Buyer's remorse continues
It's no secret that this is a big year for Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher. The $75 million man is in Year 3 of his 10-year deal, and the division is as open as it will ever be. One game into this pivotal season, things don't look great. His offense gained just 372 yards on 55 plays against Vanderbilt. Senior quarterback Kellen Mond averaged just 6.8 yards per attempt and was 3 of 11 on passes that traveled 10 or more air yards (27.3%), the worst mark in the SEC and fifth-worst nationally. Fisher is supposed to be a quarterback guru? That performance was unacceptable against Vanderbilt. Can things change prior to teeing it up against Alabama on Saturday? Doubtful.
Jaylen Waddle will go to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist if this keeps up. He was on a whole new level against Missouri, and it's unlikely that will change, especially when he gets more touches on special teams.
Did Kentucky coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran forget that Kavosiey Smoke exists? He had a 35-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the season and then only got six more after that -- including just one more in the first half.
I was skeptical, but I absolutely love that the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry between Auburn and Georgia is in the second week of play. Talk about a tone-setter!