The SEC opened up its 2020 season on Saturday and while the action was predictably dotted with the missed tackles, blown coverages and silly penalties you'd expect with no preseason (or early season creampuffs), my word, did Florida and Mississippi State bring the offense. And in this week's QB Watch, that's where we start, before checking in on D'Eriq King and Miami, Brock Purdy and Iowa State and Sam Ehlinger and Texas.
Alright, let's get to it.
Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
This is how we described Kyle Trask over the summer, after watching his 2019 performance: "'Steady as she goes' might be the best way to describe his game. He's not flashy but he's efficient, and in the NFL the ability to do the right thing from one play to the next is more important than flashing once a series while drives stall out."
On Saturday against Ole Miss, Trask was, in fact, "steady as she goes," but there very few instances of drives stalling out. Florida's offense was on point from the kickoff right till the end when the scored showed they put up 51 points, almost all courtesy of Trask's right arm. He finished 30 of 42 for 416 yards and six (!!) touchdowns. Those six TDs ties the mark for most in an SEC opener set by ... Joe Burrow last season.
Just like a season ago, Trask didn't force throws, and was almost always accurate and on time. Of course, it helps when your receivers are running wide open for most of the afternoon -- and oh by the way, he also has the luxury of throwing to Kadarius Toney (5 catches, 59 yards) and more importantly, Kyle Pitts, the best tight end in the country (and who, through three of our mock drafts, has made a first-round appearance every time). Pitts finished with eight receptions for 170 yards and four of Trask's six touchdowns.
It was one highlight after the next. Here's Trask looking left before coming back to his right, and throwing a back-shoulder strike in the end zone to 6-foot-4 Trevon Grimes:
This is just a pitch and catch, but enjoy the Pitts middle-of-the-field stiff arm without breaking stride and then only to dust the safety in a race to the end zone:
And finally, here's Trask-to-Pitts again, this time a higher degree of difficulty; Trask puts the ball at the pylon, away from the defenders, knowing that Pitts' freakish athleticism gives him the advantage:
Good luck stopping that, SEC defenses.
K.J. Costello, QB, Mississippi State
Apparently, the Air Raid offense wasn't supposed to work in the SEC. If what we saw Saturday at Tiger Stadium was the Air Raid not working, then Lord help us when first-year Mississippi State coach Mike Leach figures this thing out. Stanford transfer K.J. Costello, who played in just five games last season because of injuries, was in tip-top form against the defending national champs, LSU.
Granted, this LSU team looked nothing like the group won it all eight months ago; the NFL and pandemic opt-outs led to a roster makeover, but none of that is Costello's problem. And he didn't just game-manage his way through an improbable win on the road -- he put on a show.
It wasn't a flawless performance; Costello lost two fumbles (one wasn't his fault) and threw two interceptions, including a pick six in which he was late across the middle and North Dakota State transfer Jabril Cox (remember that name, he's going to be special) took it to the house.
But for most of the day, Costello wore out his receivers, mostly on quick strikes and mesh concepts that had the LSU defense off-balance all game (it didn't help that the Tigers insisted on playing a ton of man-to-man coverage). Costello doesn't have the strongest arm but he shows the ability to hang in the pocket and deliver the ball under pressure. And while he won't be confused with Burrow in terms of athleticism, Costello throws well on the move and off-platform.
And when he did throw deep (almost always down the sidelines) he continually dropped it in the bucket to his intended target.
Costello was the beneficiary of some wide-open targets who would take short passes a long way (see Kylin Hill, for example), but there's no doubt if he continues along this trajectory he'll be on an NFL roster next year. Gardner Minshew is currently the starter for the Jaguars and Anthony Gordon, who succeeded Minshew at Washington State under Leach, put up huge numbers in 2019, had a solid Senior Bowl and played well enough to get drafted.
D'Eriq King, QB, Miami
We'll start off by repeating what we wrote last week after Miami manhandled Louisville: "Man, King and new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee ain't fooling around."
Following a modest season-opening win over UAB in which the Hurricanes leaned on the run, the offense opened up against the Cardinals last week and continued down that same path against a hapless Florida State team on Saturday night. Maybe the worst thing you can say about King's game is that he missed a wide-open Brevin Jordan on the first drive ... only to make up for it a few plays:
Not a particularly difficult throw but here's another touchdown, this time with Marvin Wilson about to clock King, who still delivers a strike:
The game was over by halftime but King, who might be 5-foot-10, continues to show the ability to get through his progressions unhurried. It helps that his athleticism allows him to be so elusive in the pocket, and his ability to make something out of nothing while also making good decisions is something we used to say about undersized Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray when they were in college. King, who also ran for 65 yards against the Seminoles, does need to get better at taking fewer hits.
Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
Sam Ehlinger flashed against Texas Tech in a game the Longhorns sure looked like they were going to lose. He was 27 of 40 for 262 yards, with five touchdowns and an interception, and while many of his passes were of the short and intermediate variety, when he dialed it up deep, he showed accuracy and touch.
Ehlinger did had a bad interception at the end of the third quarter with the Longhorns leading by three. Fast-forward to late in the forth, now down 15 points and Ehlinger got to work. When it was over, he had throw three touchdowns in the final quarter and overtime, including what proved to be the game-winner:
That pass is slightly behind wide receiver Josh Moore but it's an easy read and Moore was so wide open there was room for a less-than-perfect throw. Ehlinger also rushed for 69 yards and a score. As a quarterback, he's still raw but as an athlete he's an interesting NFL prospect.
Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State
Purdy had a ho-hum debut in Iowa State's loss to Louisiana two weeks ago and things weren't much better on Saturday against TCU. Yes, he finished 18 of 23 for 211 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions ... but he had one of the worst self-inflicted turnovers you'll ever want to see.
Purdy spent much of the day wearing out his tight ends in the flat, throws that don't get you particularly excited about his NFL potential, even though we really liked a lot about his 2019 tape. There wasn't a lot to get excited about against TCU but Purdy again did a good job of resetting his feet and threw accurately to short and intermediate targets, putting the ball on his receivers and giving them the best chance to maximize yards after catch. As as we saw a year ago, Purdy isn't afraid of tight windows and the confidence he has in his arm shows.
Purdy's one touchdown was "see it, throw it" and had more to do with Darren Wilson getting himself wide open:
Purdy is also a threat to run, though he didn't need to do it on Saturday because the Breece Hall had a huge day, racking up 154 rushing yards and three scores. And it was the running game that mitigated some of Purdy's lackluster play. He has Day 2 talent but he'll have to play with more consistency in the coming weeks.