Some quickie observations from the first Saturday of the season in the SEC, with the most impressive outing coming from Texas A&M’s rebuilt defense. And, yes, we just mentioned “Texas A&M” and “defense” in a glowing manner in the same sentence.
For one week, at least, John Chavis trumps Will Muschamp.
Alabama: The Tide combined a stifling run defense with an effective offense to pound Wisconsin 35-17. Both teams scuffled in the first half, which ended with the Tide leading 14-7; in the second half, though, the Tide moved the ball while the Badgers still scuffled. Alabama wore down the Badgers and finished with 502 yards of offense, including 264 through the air. Jacob Coker made his first career start at quarterback and was solid, going 15-of-21 for 213 yards and a TD. RBs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake combined for 23 carries, 224 yards and four TDs (three by Henry). Even more impressive was the Tide’s front seven, which dominated a rebuilt Wisconsin offensive line. The usually ground-oriented Badgers rushed for just 40 yards on 21 carries. Badgers QB Joel Stave did have some success in the air, but it was in a dink-and-dunk attack.
Arkansas: The Hogs rolled past UTEP 48-13. Returning 1,000-yard rusher Alex Collins ran for 127 yards and a TD on just 12 carries, but the big news was that senior QB Brandon Allen torched the Miners for 308 yards and four TDs through the air. The yardage total was a career high, and the TD total tied a career high. Underrated WR Keon Hatcher had six receptions for 106 yards and two TDs. The Hogs’ rebuilt front seven also did a great job against a UTEP team that usually runs effectively, holding the Miners to just 58 rushing yards.
Auburn: The Tigers built a 31-10 lead, then had to hold on to beat Louisville 31-24; they benefited from atrocious clock management by Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino in the final minute. There were high expectations for new starting QB Jeremy Johnson, but he was extremely uneven, to the point that he threw three picks. He looked OK when in the pocket, but struggled when throwing on the move. Auburn’s running game did produce 187 yards and two TDs. Peyton Barber, the supposed third tailback, staked his claim for the starting job with 109 yards on 25 carries. Starting TB Roc Thomas rushed for 26 yards and backup Jovon Robinson got just two carries. Auburn’s rebuilt defense flashed at times, but Louisville ran for 240 yards, with true freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson gashing the Tigers for 105 yards and a TD. Jackson clearly outplayed Louisville starter Reggie Bonnafon, and his play against Auburn was a definite bright spot for the Cardinals. Auburn has a tune-up game next week against FCS member Jacksonville State, and Johnson’s proficiency as a passer needs to improve.
Florida: The Jim McElwain era got off to a rousing start with a 61-13 demolition of New Mexico State in which the Gators rolled up 606 yards of offense. Florida QBs Treon Harris and Will Grier combined to go 29-of-36 for 379 yards and four TDs. In all, Florida had 14 players catch at least one pass. Florida punted once, on its first possession. At the same time, the Aggies’ defense is the worst UF will see all season. Florida’s defense surrendered 200 yards, including minus-10 in the second half; New Mexico State had six second-half possessions — one interception and five three-and-outs. It was Florida’s 26th consecutive season-opening win, which is the longest current streak in the nation.
Georgia: The game against Louisiana-Monroe was called with 9:54 remaining in the contest because of bad weather, but the Bulldogs already had scored 51 points by then. They won 51-14. It was an impressive first-game performance against what is supposed to be a solid ULM defense. Georgia’s “Season of Nick Chubb” got off to a good start, with Chubb rushing for 120 yards and two scores on 16 carries. It was his ninth consecutive game with at least 100 yards and at least one TD, the longest such streak in the FBS ranks. New starting QB Greyson Lambert didn’t have to do much, but he was 8-of-12 for 141 yards and two scores. He also didn’t make the crippling mistakes he was known for at Virginia. One slightly troubling aspect was that ULM WR Rashon Ceaser had 13 receptions for 153 yards and two scores. Ceaser is one of the best receivers in the Sun Belt, but the Bulldogs will face vastly better pass-catchers once they begin the heart of SEC play.
Kentucky: The Wildcats looked good in charging to a 33-10 third-quarter lead against Louisiana-Lafayette, but UK’s defense turned the contest into a nail-biting 40-33 win. After ULL rallied to tie it at 33, UK got the game-winner on a 12-yard run run by TB Mikel Horton with 55 seconds left. Kentucky finished with 435 yards of total offense, but a supposedly improved defense was gouged by the Ragin’ Cajuns to the tune of 479 yards, including 247 yards on the ground. That bodes ill with the next three games against SEC East foes: South Carolina, Florida and Missouri. Wildcats QB Patrick Towles threw for 257 yards and three TDs, but completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes (16-of-34); accuracy, then, would seem to remain a concern for Towles.
LSU: The Tigers’ game against FCS member McNeese State was canceled by bad weather. It’s the second consecutive season an SEC team has had it openrw wiped out by bad weather; last season, Florida’s game with Idaho was canceled. Potentially worrisome for LSU is that it will not have a tune-up game before it opens SEC play next week at Mississippi State.
Mississippi: The Rebels didn’t have star OT Laremy Tunsil, who was benched by the school because of an NCAA probe, against FCS foe UT Martin. Big deal: Tunsil’s stepdad could’ve played tackle — heck, he could’ve played quarterback — and the Rebels still would’ve rolled. They won 76-3 over a vastly overmatched foe. A good sign was that new starting QB Chad Kelly looked comfortable, as did RB Jaylen Walton. Then again, UT-Martin was a first-game patsy. It will be a bit tougher next week against Fresno State, but the Rebels still should roll. Then comes Game Three, against Alabama. That’s a nice way to start the season with a new quarterback: Two eminently beatable foes before a tough contest.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs didn’t do much in the first half, but awakened and dominated the second half to down host Southern Miss 34-16. Mississippi State led 14-10 at halftime. Bulldogs QB Dak Prescott had 309 yards of offense and accounted for three TDs. Prescott threw for 237 yards, and completed 22 passes to 11 different receivers. The Bulldogs’ secondary had some issues, though, allowing 311 passing yards.
Missouri: The Tigers sauntered past FCS opponent Southeast Missouri 34-3. It wasn’t a surprise that Mizzou’s defense had no issues against a bad FCS team. But the Tigers did not run the ball well — just 98 yards — and starting TB Russell Hansbrough suffered a leg injury that left him wearing a boot on the sideline. Maty Mauk and his touted true freshman backup, Drew Lock, did throw for 319 yards and three TDs. They combined for 18 completions, to 10 different receivers. Hansbrough’s health bears watching; if he is out for any amount of time, the offense will suffer.
Tennessee: The Vols rumbled for 399 rushing yards in blowing past Bowling Green 59-30. It was the most points for the Vols since they hung 63 on Western Kentucky in the 2009 season opener. Tennessee ran over, around and through BG’s undersized front seven. Backup TB Alvin Kamara had 144 yards and two TDs on 15 carries in his first game with the Vols, and starter Jalen Hurd had 123 yards and three TDs on 23 carries; Hurd rushed for five TDs all of last season. QB Joshua Dobbs added 89 yards and a score. The Vols finished with 604 yards of total offense as they prepped for next week’s showdown in Knoxville with Oklahoma. The Vols did give up 433 passing yards to the pass-happy Falcons, who attempted 50 passes. The one worrisome aspect for the Vols is that BG receivers did some damage on deep throws.
Texas A&M: The Aggies’ touted offense scuffled for three quarters, but in a turnabout that had to warm the heart of A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, the John Chavis-led defense more than held its own and A&M was able to pull away to down Arizona State 38-17. A&M scored 21 fourth-quarter points; the Aggies led 17-14 going into the period. The Aggies’ defense wreaked havoc (dare we say the unit looked like the old A&M “Wrecking Crew”?). A&M had nine sacks, including a combined six from DEs Daeshon Hall (four) and Myles Garrett), and 14 tackles for loss. Arizona State finished with 291 yards of offense; last season, the Aggies surrendered fewer than 400 yards to a Power Five opponent just once, against Mississippi. A&M freshman WR Christian Kirk, who grew up about 15 minutes from Arizona State’s campus, scored twice — on a 66-yard pass and on a 79-yard punt return.
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