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Week One SEC Recap

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith recaps week one in the SEC.

 13 games down, one more to go on Monday night when Lane Kiffin-less Ole Miss takes on Louisville in Atlanta. The SEC went 11-2 on Saturday, recording a par in relation to expectations. To the games, we go.

Game Thoughts and Takeaways
Tennessee 38, Bowling Green 6 (Thursday)
It was over when: Tiyon Evans dashed 19 yards midway through the third quarter for Tennessee’s fourth rushing touchdown of the day and a 28-6 Vols lead. After a period of stagnation following taking a 14-0 leads, the Vols scored on both of their first two second-half drives to put the game out of reach.

*Former Michigan quarterback Joe Milton completed just 11 of 23 passes in his first start in orange, but did produce a pair of rushing touchdowns. His live arm needs to be reined in at times, as he struggled with accuracy on deep throws despite little to no pressure.

*Evans and Jabari Small each finished with 116 yards on the ground, showing that neither is likely to separate himself from the other for a while at least.

Kentucky 45, Louisiana-Monroe 10
It was over when: New Wildcats quarterback Will Levis connected with Wan'Dale Robinson for this third touchdown pass midway through the second quarter to put the Wildcats ahead 28-7.

*After the Warhawks struck first, Kentucky went on a 45-0 run. Levis finished 18-of-26 for 367 yards and four touchdowns. No Wildcats quarterback had thrown for that many yards since Patrick Towles in a double-overtime loss to Florida in 2014.

*Robinson, a Nebraska transfer, finished with 125 yards and two touchdowns. Both Robinson and Josh Ali had more than 100 receiving yards in the first half. Only one Kentucky receiver (Ali) had more than 200 yards in the entire 2020 season.

*Perhaps new coordinator Liam Coen’s offense is the real deal, but Louisiana-Monroe is a bottom-five FBS team, managing only 110 yards for the game. Next week’s huge game with Missouri will be the first test of this offense’s evolution.

Arkansas 38, Rice 17
It was over when: K.J. Jefferson connected with Tyson Morris from nine yards out for the final score in a 24-0 Arkansas run to take a two-score lead with five minutes to play. Arkansas broke open a 17-17 game with three fourth-quarter interceptions and three touchdowns.

*Jefferson and the passing game struggled, finishing with only 128 yards on 12 completions, but the sophomore added two rushing touchdowns to complement a 100-yard day from Trelon Smith to spark Arkansas’ rally from 17-7 down.

*Arkansas’ surprising 2020 season was highlighted by takeaways. 2021 began with a familiar look, as the Hogs intercepted Wiley Green three times with the outcome still in doubt. Star safety Jalen Catalon had the first and last of those.

*Jefferson will need to be better next week when Texas rolls into Fayetteville next Saturday night, but he’s a legitimate weapon that requires a lot of accounting. The offense really misses wide receiver Mike Woods, who transferred to Oklahoma after spring practice.

(1) Alabama 44, (14) Miami (FL) 13
It was over when: Bryce Young found tight end Cameron Latu for the duo’s second scoring hookup of the day to put Alabama ahead 27-0 with seven minutes left in the first half.

*Young’s first start was very good, as he completed 27 of 38 passes with four touchdown passes and no turnovers. He has an embarrassment of riches, and there were only a handful of poor decisions. If there are concerns, they weren’t apparent on Saturday.

*This Alabama defense is already elite, and is the best Crimson Tide unit since at least 2016, and perhaps the great 2011 team. The Hurricanes had just 52 yards on their first five drives, and by that time it was already 27-0, so Alabama was comfortable working down its depth chart.

*It was interesting to see how Alabama deployed its running backs. Would Brian Robinson be the clear No. 1 or would it be closer to a job share? It looks more like the former, but the garbage time skews the statistics a bit. It was 20-0 by the time Jase McClellan started a series in place of Robinson.

Mississippi State 35, Louisiana Tech 34
It was over when: Jacob Barnes’ 46-yard field goal attempt fell short on the final play of the game, as Mississippi State finished a furious rally from 34-14 down in the fourth quarter to avert a disastrous Week 1 loss.

*Skip Holtz blew the game for Louisiana Tech. Sure, allowing 21 points in the fourth quarter with a 20-point lead is bad, but Holtz made multiple gaffes in the final minute with the Bulldogs in game-winning field goal range. His team was at the 30-yard line with 43 seconds, but went into field goal mode rather than try to get closer to the end zone, just running the ball on three consecutive plays. The field goal attempt was a long 46 yards on grass, and it fell way short. Inexcusable coaching by Holtz.

*The Mississippi State offense was efficient, with Will Rogers missing on just eight of 47 attempts, but it appears in the first 12 games for Mike Leach that most opposing defenses have a good pulse of how to defend the Air Raid. That’s concerning going forward with a very tricky schedule in the coming month.

*No Mississippi State receiver had more than 70 yards receiving, but five had more than 50. That’s pretty incredible balance.

Missouri 34, Central Michigan 24
It was over when: Harrison Mevis split the uprights from 42 yards out with a minute to play to put the Tigers up by 10, ending any hopes of a Chippewas upset in a game played without head coach Jim McElwain, who stayed at home to recover from an appendectomy.

*It was a rough start for the Steve Wilks era, as the Missouri defense allowed 475 yards to Central Michigan. They did intercept two passes and had a whopping nine sacks, but there were too many explosive plays. Is that a sign of things to come? A lot of pressure. A lot of takeaways. A lot of long touchdowns allowed.

*Connor Bazelak was fine. He hit 70 percent of his passes and didn’t turn it over. Big test next week at Kentucky.

*The running game was fine as well, with the 205 yards on the stat sheet dolled up by a late 69-yard scamper by Tyler Badie.

Auburn 60, Akron 10
It was over when: The Tigers scored two touchdowns in 90 seconds on Bo Nix’s first two scoring passes of the season to open up a 20-0 lead on the hapless Zips early in the second quarter.

*The opponent was awful, but Nix was impressive in the new offense under Bryan Harsin and Mike Bobo. He had more touchdowns (three) than incompletions (two).

*After Penn State won a quirky game at Wisconsin, that sets up a really fun matchup between the Nittany Lions and Tigers in two weeks in State College. Penn State should be a top-10 or top-15 team, but Auburn has a great chance to win the game. Can’t wait for that unique matchup in an awesome environment.

South Carolina 46, Eastern Illinois 0
It was over when: Coach-turned-player Zeb Noland threw four first-half touchdown passes to help the Gamecocks build a 32-0 in head coach Shame Beamer’s debut.

*Eastern Illinois is horrific, but it shouldn’t overshadow the crazy story of Noland being thrown into the fire weeks before the season began. It might be his only SEC start, but what a start it was.

*Good to see running back Marshawn Lloyd after the redshirt freshman missed 2020 with a preseason injury. He carried it 14 times for 55 yards, while senior Zaquandre White was the star of the night with 133 yards and a touchdown each on the ground and through the air.

(5) Georgia 10, (3) Clemson 3
It was over when: D.J. Uiagalelei threw incomplete on fourth down with under five minutes to play, unable to withstand another dose of heavy pressure from the relentless Georgia front seven. The Bulldogs ran off the remaining time.

*We’ve seen some incredible defensive performances from Georgia under Kirby Smart, but Saturday night’s complete shutdown of mighty Clemson is the best of all. Uiagalelei was sacked seven times, even starting to see ghost pressure from the constant confusion of where the true pressure was coming from. The only touchdown of the night came from the defense, as Christopher Smith jumped a slant route (perhaps a miscommunication by Uiagalelei and Justyn Ross) and ran back an interception 74 yards. It was a 2011 Alabama-esque performance – a defense also coordinated by Smart.

*Clemson had two rushing yards for the game, and only 48 when not counting sacks.

*Georgia’s offensive line had a monumental assignment, and while it lost more battles than it won, it executed in the final minutes to avoid Clemson having a second possession with a chance to tie the game. 3.9 yards per carry doesn’t look great on a stat sheet, but with the task at hand, that was success for the Bulldogs.

*J.T. Daniels managed the game well against a great defense. He made one big mistake, but Daniels was able to sense the pressure and cut his losses with a checkdown or throwaway when necessary. He only averaged six yards per completion, but only was sacked once. With Georgia’s defense on fire, that was all that was necessary.

(11) Florida 35, FAU 14
It was over when: The Gators marched 88 yards on their opening drive of the second half to snap a 25-minute funk with no points and open up a 21-0 lead over FAU. The drive was finished off by Dameon Pierce’s second rushing touchdown of the day, this one from nine yards out.

*Florida showed off its deep running back room, with five different backs seeing multiple carries, along with a combined 17 carries from quarterbacks Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson. The Gators finished with 400 yards on the ground on the nose and 8.7 yards per carry, a sign of how different this offense may look compared to the Kyle Trask-led group of 2020.

*Jones threw two interceptions on a so-so night, which will be something to watch going forward. The numbers weren’t pretty, but we’ll give it another week or two, although an awful USF team and a slightly less awful Alabama aren’t exactly proving grounds for what this passing offense will be when the team reaches its key games in October.

*The defense did what Todd Grantham defenses do, lighting up FAU quarterback N’Kosi Perry with six sacks. Zachary Carter had the play of the night, as one of his three sacks resulted in a fumble that the Gators recovered. The Owls didn’t score until the final five minutes of the game, so the night was an overall positive for the defense.

(6) Texas A&M 41, Kent State 10
It was over when: Standout Aggies defensive back Leon O’Neal intercepted Golden Flashes quarterback Dustin Crum and ran it back 85 yards for a touchdown and a 20-3 third-quarter lead.

*Kent State has a potent offense, so holding the Golden Flashes to just three points in the first three quarters is a very solid result for the Aggies defense. The stars stood out, with DeMarvin Leal recording a sack and O’Neal having the biggest play of the night.

*Haynes King had an up-and-down debut, throwing two touchdowns but also three interceptions. The Aggies offense was squeaky-clean in 2020 from a turnover perspective, so while this year’s unit should be more explosive, there is cause for concern that mistakes could lead to some major damage one the schedule toughens.

*A short Kent State field goal attempt in the final seconds hit the upright, allowing Texas A&M bettors to cash their -29 tickets. Oh, gambling.

East Tennessee State 23, Vanderbilt 3
It was over when: Stephen Scott scooped up a Vanderbilt fumble and scampered into the end zone from 27 yards out to extend the Buccaneers’ lead to 20-3 midway through the fourth quarter.

*So, that was much worse than expected. A competitive game was thought to be possible, and a Vanderbilt defeat was even on the table, but 23-3? The road back to decency might be longer than we thought, as the Commodores managed just 4.4 yards per play, turned it over twice, committed eight penalties, and allowed three sacks.

*Vanderbilt visits Colorado State next week, which, unlike the Commodores, only lost to an FCS opponent (South Dakota State) by 19 points in Week 1. Should be a doozy late next Saturday night in Fort Collins.

UCLA 38, (16) LSU 27
It was over when: Kyle Philips broke a feeble tackling attempt by All-American cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. to register a 45-yard touchdown reception midway through the fourth quarter to give UCLA a 38-20 lead.

*The 251 sack-adjusted rushing yards for UCLA were way too many against what should be a top-notch SEC defense. This isn’t Alabama’s or Georgia’s front seven, and LSU wasn’t expected to be that, but the Bruins ran the ball with way too much ease for an offense that threw the ball on only 25 percent of its plays.

*Kayshon Boutte is an elite wideout, but he doesn’t have a ton of help right now. There’s some really good talent, but no reliable option has emerged yet to complement Boutte. The sophomore scored all three Tigers touchdowns on Saturday night. Playing without suspended John Emery, the ground game was non-existent, as Tyrion Davis-Price had only 30 yards on 13 carries.

*Time of possession was dead even, which is generally a win for a Chip Kelly-coached team, albeit with an offense that has evolved significantly since he was at Oregon. Each team had the ball for 30 minutes and zero seconds.

National Thoughts
ACC: There are still two games left, so Florida State and Louisville could somewhat salvage a miserable weekend. I already detailed Miami’s and Clemson’s issues…North Carolina’s offense was overwhelmed at Virginia Tech..Duke and Georgia Tech lost to Charlotte and Northern Illinois respectively…The best performance of the week in a non-conference game might have been Syracuse, which rolled over Ohio on the road, 29-9. Perhaps the Orange will bounce back nicely from last season’s one-win disaster.

Big 12. A decent day…No. 2 Oklahoma struggled with Tulane in a 40-35 win. Is the defense truly fixed or is it the same old Sooners?...The Steve Sarkisian era began nicely with a 38-18 win over No. 23 Louisiana. Can’t wait for Texas-Arkansas…Four turnovers doomed West Virginia in a 30-24 loss at Maryland. It looked like a Dana Holgorsen game for the Mountaineers… Speaking of Holgorsen, his Houston team fell apart after taking a 21-7 lead over Texas Tech, giving Matt Wells and the Red Raiders a huge Week 1 win, 38-21…Kansas State is back doing Kansas State things with Skylar Thompson healthy. The Wildcats stomped Stanford in Arlington, 24-6.

Big Ten: Georgia-Clemson was beautiful, but Penn State-Wisconsin, which managed double the number of points (26) was ugly, as the No. 19 Nittany Lions pulled off a 16-10 upset win in Madison on a day from hell for Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz…No. 18 Iowa was easily the most impressive team of the day, throttling No. 17 Indiana in a defensive gem, 34-6…Michigan State’s offensive explosion Friday night at Northwestern was a pleasant surprise, while Bret Bielema’s honeymoon at Illinois ended abruptly with a home loss to UTSA.

Pac-12: Gross. The Pac-12 North went a miserable 1-5, including three losses to Group of Five teams…Cal losing a tight game to Nevada was no surprise at all, but FCS team Montana, albeit a perennial playoff team in the FCS, going to No. 20 Washington and holding the Huskies to seven points in a 13-7 win was stunning…Utah State scored 15 points late in the fourth quarter to rally past Washington State, 26-23, and Oregon State fell at Purdue…The lone win was Oregon, which had to rally past Fresno State, 31-24, on a day in which star defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux may have suffered a significant injury…UCLA saved the league by taking down LSU, but it looks like another year of mediocrity out west after one week.

Group of Five: Marshall 49, Navy 7. The Mids may be close to bottoming out…Not so for Army, which went to Atlanta and stomped Georgia State, 43-10…I really liked the Kane Wommack hire at South Alabama, and the former Indiana defensive coordinator started 1-0 with a 31-7 of fellow first-year head coach Will Hall and Southern Miss. The Jaguars could knock off one of the Sun Belt title contenders this season…BYU was mostly unimpressive in a 24-16 win over Arizona in Las Vegas. The nice thing about the Cougars is that their schedule ensures we’ll quickly learn a lot about them. Utah and Arizona State are next up.

A Peek at Next Week
Early Afternoon:
Screen 1: No. 10 Oregon at No. 4 Ohio State, Noon ET (FOX)
Screen 2: Pittsburgh at Tennessee, Noon ET (ESPN)
Screen 3: Rutgers at Syracuse (seriously), 2 p.m. ET (ACC Network)

Late Afternoon:
Screen 1: No. 18 Iowa at No. 7 Iowa State, 4:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Screen 2: No. 6 Texas A&M at Colorado, 3:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
Screen 3: UAB at No. 5 Georgia, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Primetime:
Screen 1: No. 21 Texas at Arkansas, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Screen 2: Missouri at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)
Screen 3: N.C. State at Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Late Night:
Screen 1: Stanford at No. 15 USC, 10:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
Screen 2: Utah at BYU, 10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Screen 3: Vanderbilt at Colorado State (not seriously), 10 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.