Week one around the SEC was filled with tight matchups and upset losses as No. 20 LSU fell to the visiting Bulldogs while Texas A&M, Georgia, Tennessee and Auburn were all given early scares before coming out with a victory.
Moving ahead to week two of conference play, here are a few questions around the SEC that programs will want to answer.
Alabama: Even though the final score was 38-19, Alabama’s opener at Missouri featured a lot of bad news for its upcoming opponents. The score was 35-3 when Nick Saban started rotating in some younger players to get experience, and not surprisingly it corresponded to when he wasn’t too pleased with the team’s performance. The first-team unit looked terrific, though. The offense was clicking as quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris and wide receiver Jaylen Waddle all had big nights. Last year’s biggest weakness, the interior linebackers, was the biggest strength of the defense.
After missing all of last season with a knee injury Dylan Moses had a real presence in the middle, and Christian Harris looked like a different player. Between he and freshman Will Anderson Jr., who was as good as advertised and has a tremendous first step, Missouri couldn’t attack the edges. Alabama will spend the week working on the few things that need to be fixed, and put emphasis on playing a complete game against Texas A&M.
"This is going to be a much more challenging game for us,” Saban said. “It's a good all-around team. They play well on special teams, they've got good specialists. So it's going to be necessary for us to make a significant amount of improvement and play for 60 minutes in this game because of the type of team we're playing against.” — Christopher Walsh, BamaCentral
LSU: There's nowhere to go but up for the defending champs after allowing the single most passing yards in SEC history in the 44-34 loss to the Bulldogs in week one. The Tigers feature a youthful and inexperienced bunch in the secondary and that was on full display as KJ Costello carved up the defense for 623 yards and five touchdowns. Getting All-American Derek Stingley back for the Vanderbilt game will be a much needed spark to the unit but even he can only do so much. Orgeron said on Monday that the hope is for Stingley to return for the Vandy game after being a late scratch due to an acute illness that required medical attention.
Third downs and fundamentals will be the keys in practice this week as the Tigers allowed the Bulldogs to go 8-of-16 on third downs while missed tackles and assignments led to 383 yards after the catch by Mississippi State receivers.
"It put some fire in me. I guaran-damn-tee you that. And we're gonna have a fire," Orgeron said about the loss. "And this is a big game for us, and we'll take it one at a time. And we're gonna play with some fire, and we're gonna play with some energy."
—Glen West, LSU Country
Ole Miss: I was pleasantly surprised by the entertainment value of Lane Kiffin’s debut at Ole Miss. As fun as it was to watch John Rhys Plumlee surprise defenses with his athleticism in 2019, this is the first time Ole Miss’ offense has been watchable in years. The Rebels, led by Matt Corral’s 395 yard passing performance, put up over 600 yards of total offense on what was the No. 3 defense in the nation by SP+.
So where do they go from here? Literally any sort of defensive improvement going into Kentucky week would be welcomed. As good as the Ole Miss offense was in their 613 yard performance, the defense gave up 642 yards of their own. It would be better if you could single out a particular area of issue, but really the Rebels need to improve on all three levels going into week two. — Nate Gabler, The Grove Report. @nategabler
Mississippi State: Football season just got a whole lot more interesting in Starkville. As if Mike Leach taking over the reigns of the Mississippi State program wasn’t enough, all Leach did for his Bulldog debut was go to LSU and upend the defending national champions and his air raid offense allowed quarterback K.J. Costello to set the Southeastern Conference’s single-game passing yardage record (623). The question now becomes, what exactly is the ceiling for this Mississippi State bunch that most predicted to finish below .500 and no higher than fifth or sixth in the SEC West? Even after toppling the Tigers in Baton Rouge, Leach actually believes the best is yet to come for his team.
"I feel like we have a long way to go,” Leach said Monday. "I think there's a lot of work we can do. What's fulfilling about (the win at LSU) is we played hard and we had a winning effort, but I see a lot of things we can do better and so do our coaches and our players.”
As for this week, Arkansas comes to Starkville on Saturday for Mississippi State’s first home game of 2020. Not all that long ago, most had this upcoming game earmarked as the Bulldogs’ most likely first win. Instead, having already banked a victory and competing as the heavy favorite against the Razorbacks, State has a great chance to start 2-0 and build even more momentum. There’s a long way to go in 2020, but the Leach air raid is off the ground and flying high early at Mississippi State. Now the Bulldogs will try and gain altitude.
"They're committed to getting better and I hope we can take a big step that direction this week,” Leach said.
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– Joel Coleman, Cowbell Corner
South Carolina: While it wasn't start to the season they were looking for, there were some positives to take from South Carolina's 31-27 loss to Tennessee. The main one being the offense and the emergence of Shi Smith as the primary target. Smith made 10 catches for 140 yards Saturday and showed that he's ready to be the focal point after playing behind the likes of Deebo Samuels and Bryan Edwards the last few years. As ready as he is to be the focal point, he can't be the only target and the Gamecocks have to find other consistent options. Kevin Harris held down the running back position and showed flashes in the first half but finished with just 55 yards on 13 carries. Head coach Will Muschamp said he's confident in the weapons they have.
“Obviously Shi had a hot hand and we had some things designed to go to him,” Muschamp said. “Xavier [Leggette] made a couple of really nice plays and obviously the 42 yarder there. Nick [Muse] been a guy that's been a threat over the middle. We've like throwing the ball our backs in camp. Deshaun [Fenwick] and Kevin and ZaQuandare [White] have all caught the ball well out of the backfield and Dakereon [Joyner] has done a nice job. We had a bunch of guys play, I just don't know that we got the balls to them. Sometimes the primary reads going somewhere else at this time, but I think those guys can all help us.”
The Vanderbilt Commodores exceed almost all expectations- other than their own- on Saturday in their 17-12 loss at Texas A&M. Granted it's hard to take a positive out of a loss, but when you were a 30.5 point underdog entering the game and manage to lose by only five while having a chance to actually win the game in the closing minutes, you feel good about that effort. As for moving forward, LSU comes calling Saturday and they will be an angry bunch after losing their season opener. It's up to the Commodores to bring the same intensity, emotion, and efforts to the field this week while adding improved play in the areas they struggled with against the Aggies. No one is expecting Vanderbilt to win, but if they can manage another solid performance it would go a long way toward changing the perception of this team, even if they are 0-2 on the season. Greg Arias-Commodore Country.