The tailgates weren’t set up, the barbeque wasn’t being slapped on the grill and ice-cold beer wasn’t being cracked open. But, despite all the abnormalities that came with a restricted gameday, the SEC slate of games in its opening week reminds us why it’s the most entertaining conference to watch and cheer for.
All 14 SEC teams took the field on Saturday, leaving plenty to be debated and discussed regarding their season prospects. From Mike Leach at Mississippi St. spoiling the defending national champs' home opener, to Georgia being down 10-5 to Arkansas in the 2nd half, let’s take a look at how each SEC game went this weekend.
Florida (1-0) 51, Ole Miss (0-1) 35
This felt more like a mid-2010’s Big-12 game at times. Florida had no issue scoring, only punting the ball once and committing one turnover. Other than that, the Gators scored on nine of its 11 possessions, including all five in the second half.
Ole Miss, however, wasn’t a slouch on offense either, piling up 613 yards of offense and averaged over 13 yards a pass attempt.
The major differences in the game yesterday came due to Florida never going three-and-out and the team was able to capitalize on Ole Miss' mistakes (missed field goal on their opening drive, batted ball that led to an interception in the red-zone, and a questionable roughing-the-passer call in the fourth quarter that extended a Gator drive).
The Gators looked like a team that could not only win the SEC but also make it to the College Football Playoff, assuming the defense improves. Ole Miss looked like a team that is going to scare the top-dogs in the SEC West this season, and potentially pull a few upsets.
Next up: Florida vs. South Carolina (0-1), Ole Miss @ Kentucky (0-1)
Auburn (1-0) 29, Kentucky (0-1) 13
The biggest takeaway from this game is Seth Williams is one of the five best wide receivers in the conference. The Auburn pass-catcher made two sensational leaping touchdown grabs, using his long frame to make SEC defensive backs look like children.
Kentucky had their chances, specifically at the end of the first half when they had a first-and-goal from the one-yard line trailing 8-7. After getting stuffed on first down, Terry Wilson threw an interception on third down in an attempt to make an off-balanced throw.
After Kentucky made it a 15-13 game in the third quarter, Wilson once again gave the ball away, fumbling on a third-and-five, giving Auburn possession in Kentucky territory.
The Wildcats turned the ball over four times, leading to 14 Auburn points.
The turnovers overshadowed what was a solid defensive outing (they held Auburn to 324 total yards of offense). However, Auburn looked even better defensively, limiting what was a top-five rushing attack in the nation a year ago in Kentucky, to less than 150 yards on the ground.
Not to mention, quarterback Bo Nix looked much improved, not turning the ball over and showed better pocket awareness.
Next up: Auburn @ Georgia (1-0), Kentucky vs. Ole Miss (0-1)
Mississippi State (1-0) 44, LSU (0-1) 34
Welcome to the SEC, Mike Leach, and quarterback K.J. Costello.
The re-introduction of the air-raid offense to the SEC had an impressive debut. Costello, a Stanford transfer, broke the SEC single-game record for passing yards, throwing for 623 yards on 60 attempts and five touchdowns. He found Osiris Mitchell and Kylin Hill quite often, and utilized those notorious air-raid crossing patterns to shred the Tigers.
LSU’s secondary was thin. Derek Stingley Jr. missed the game due to illness, and Kerry Vincent opted-out before the season started. The youth on the back-end was quite apparent, as Mississippi St. receivers picked apart the man coverage the Tigers tried to run.
What was most surprising, though, is how quality the Bulldogs defense looked. Yes, they allowed 27 points (7 came on a Costello pick-six), but they limited LSU to 2.1 yards per rush.
LSU will get it together. Myles Brennan gradually looked better throughout the game, despite throwing two interceptions. He ended up with over 300 yards passing and appeared to have solid chemistry with top-returning target Terrance Marshall.
Next up: LSU @ Vanderbilt (0-1) Mississippi St. vs Arkansas (0-1)
Georgia (1-0) 37, Arkansas (0-1) 10
Bizarre is really the only way to describe the course of this game. The halftime score being 7-5 in favor of Arkansas really said it all.
Georgia sputtered offensively for the first 40 minutes of the game, but found their stride once Stetson Bennett had a few drives to get comfortable after he relieved D’Wan Mathis.
Bennett was methodical, completing 20 of 29 passes for 211 yards and not turning the ball over once. He seemed to grasp Todd Monken’s new offense better than Mathis and looks like he’ll be the starter going forward.
However, the run game should be of concern to Georgia. Arkansas held the Georgia ground game to only 2.9 yards a carry. The task doesn’t get easier for the UGA ground game as they play better defense in Auburn next week.
Next up: Georgia @ Auburn (1-0), Arkansas @ Mississippi St (1-0)
Alabama (1-0) 38, Missouri (0-1) 19
No team may have looked more complete than Alabama, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. Yes, Missouri outscored Bama 16-3 to finish out the game, but that doesn’t account for the Crimson Tide going up 35-3 early in the third quarter.
Steve Sarkisian blended that vintage Bama ground-and-pound offense with the high-octane vertical attack we saw with Tua Tagovailoa. Najee Harris rushed for three scores, while Mac Jones had a 95.2 QBR and tossed two scores as well.
Not to mention, the Dylan Moses led defense was nails until they coasted in the final quarter.
For Missouri, it could have been a lot worse. The defense is expected to be the strength of the team and it was respectable defending the run, allowing just over three yards a carry.
Transfer quarterback Shawn Robinson completed 74% of his passes, but was sacked three times and never could get into a consistent rhythm.
Next up: Alabama vs. Texas A&M (1-0), Missouri @ Tennessee (1-0)
Tennessee (1-0) 31, South Carolina (0-1) 27
By far the most competitive, and maybe most consequential game, of the weekend, ended in a fitting fashion. South Carolina forced a Tennessee punt late in the fourth quarter, but fumbled on the return and gave the ball back to the Vols, sealing a Tennessee victory.
Tennessee didn’t turn the ball over once, and forced two of their own, including a pick-six from preseason All-SEC linebacker Henry To’o To’o. Despite not really being able to generate a ton of offense, the lack of self-implosion that is somewhat synonymous with Tennessee football is a promising sign.
For the Gamecocks, the passing game was a big positive. Colin Hill found star wide-out, Shai Smith, 10 times for 140 yards and a touchdown. Other than that though, it was a Will Muschamp offense. Only 89 yards on the ground and less than three yards a carry.
Next up: Tennessee vs. Missouri (0-1), South Carolina @ Florida (1-0)
Texas A&M (1-0) 17, Vanderbilt (0-1) 12
Considering Texas A&M was a 31 point favorite going into this game, I’d be very concerned if I was a College Station faithful after this outing.
Vanderbilt is bad. A freshman was starting at quarterback, they lost their leading rusher and receiver, and they had one of the worst defenses in the nation last year. On top of all that, Vandy had a chance to win this game if not for a Derek Mason unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the fourth quarter.
Kellen Mond was okay (17/28 189 yards and a touchdown) and the A&M ground game was quite effective, averaging nearly seven yards a carry for 187 yards.
However, four fumbles kept Vanderbilt around, and outside of their three scoring drives, the A&M offense was stagnant. Heading to Tuscaloosa next week is a massive step up in competition, and Jimbo Fisher is going to need to get ball security issues under control, because Alabama will capitalize on those mistakes that Vanderbilt could not.
Next up: Texas A&M @ Alabama (1-0), Vanderbilt vs. LSU (0-1)