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Week Two SEC Recap

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith breaks down everything you need to know after the weekend's SEC action.

Scores

South Carolina 72, Charleston Southern 10
Missouri 38, West Virginia 7
Purdue 42, Vanderbilt 24
Mississippi State 38, Southern Miss 15
(1) Clemson 24, (12) Texas A&M 10
(2) Alabama 62, New Mexico State 10
(3) Georgia 63, Murray State 17
BYU 29, Tennessee 26 (2OT)
(6) LSU 45, (9) Texas 38
Ole Miss 31, Arkansas 17
Kentucky 38, Eastern Michigan 17
(11) Florida 45, Tennessee-Martin 0
(10) Auburn 24, Tulane 6

The Big Story

Hello, LSU offense. Read more about Joe Burrow’s career night here, but in summary, it was clear that this is finally the year that the Tigers are going to have a dangerous passing game. Every time Texas cut the lead to one score, Burrow answered, directing three touchdown drives and a field-goal drive in the team’s final four possessions, despite a crowd of 100,000-plus, sweltering heat, and little help from his defense.

The ground game wasn’t working (3.5 yards per carry). The defense wasn’t getting stops (Sam Ehlinger threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns). The old-school LSU approach to winning games wasn’t going to work on Saturday night in Austin. Burrow had to win it with his arm. Nearly 500 yards later, he did just that, and LSU scored the biggest win of the young college football season with a 45-38 victory over the Longhorns.

The Tigers are now a legitimate title contender. They still have an Alabama problem until they prove they don’t, but their schedule sets up nicely the rest of the way with most of the big games in Baton Rouge. LSU can go as high as Burrow can lift it. Even for a program with inherently lofty expectations, the ceiling was raised even higher after Saturday night.

Top Takeaways

-Eastern Michigan-Kentucky wasn’t appointment viewing on Saturday night, but the course of the Wildcats’ season changed when starting quarterback Terry Wilson suffered a severe leg injury. It appears to be season-ending, and the keys to the Kentucky offense now go to Troy transfer Sawyer Smith, who made seven starts for the Trojans last year.

Smith is a different quarterback than Wilson, but the quarterback run element isn’t wasted with Smith. While Wilson was never going to lead a productive vertical passing attack, he was a tough player who elevated his play in the big moments. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is an excellent coach, and he’ll come up with a plan to work with Smith’s skill set, but the loss of Wilson is a major blow. Smith will make his first SEC start next Saturday night in a key division showdown against Florida in Lexington.

-Texas A&M was no match for Clemson on Saturday in Death Valley. The Aggies scored first to take a 3-0 lead, but the Tigers defense took over after that, shutting out Kellen Mond and the A&M offense until a late garbage-time (unless you bet on the point spread) touchdown in a 24-10 win. Mond never settled in and had to fight through a lower leg injury/cramp in the second half, but his linemen and pass-catchers didn’t provide much help.

The defense held its own, despite a slew of injuries, but when Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson receiving corps are making NFL throws and catches, it’s not going to end well. The Aggies now have a get-right week against Lamar before Auburn comes to town for another big litmus test in a season where the Aggies will have many. The first one was mostly a failure, but beating another group of Tigers can quickly get Texas A&M back on track.

Quick Hitters

-There’s not much more to say about Tennessee. The Vols were in good spirits and played inspired football after last week’s embarrassing loss to Georgia State, but plus-territory mistakes and an unfathomable defensive breakdown in the final seconds led to another defeat, as BYU outlasted the Volunteers in double overtime. Jeremy Pruitt hasn’t lost his team, but his players don’t know how to win. Blame bad luck or a curse if you want, but I saw a quarterback who has some bad traits that haven’t been coached out of him, poor play-calling, and a 64-yard pass play in the final seconds to set up BYU’s tying field a goal that should never, ever happen. The Vols are 0-2. Bowl hopes are all but done already. For some reason, the fans keep showing up despite a return on investment comparable to the 2008 stock market. Diagnosing what’s wrong with Tennessee is a challenge. There’s talent. There are resources. There just isn’t any success.

-Ole Miss joined Georgia as the first two programs with conference wins this season, as the Rebels pulled away from Arkansas in a 31-17 win. The ground game got going after a messy opener at Memphis, putting up 237 yards, led by Scottie Phillips with 143 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The defense played well again, not allowing a touchdown until the game was out of reach, as Arkansas hung around only because of a 69-yard fumble return touchdown by Kamren Curl. Ole Miss will beat Southeastern Louisiana next week, and then what should be a 3-0 Cal team comes to Oxford for a game that should have some buzz and give the Rebels an opportunity to get to the 3-1 mark that is overly critical to their postseason hopes.

-Ben Hicks started the season opener for Arkansas, but after Saturday night’s loss to Ole Miss, it looks like Nick Starkel is the better option under center going forward. Hicks again received the first crack, but completed only 7 of 16 passes. Starkel was more effective, throwing for 201 yards on 24 attempts and leading the Razorbacks’ only touchdown drive. Hicks was a one-year rental, while Starkel has eligibility in 2020. If I were Chad Morris, I’d roll with Starkel for the next three weeks until the first idle week, and then reassess.

-The one SEC East Week 1 loser I was not worried about was Missouri. The Tigers showed why on Saturday, as they dominated a bad West Virginia team from start to finish in a 38-7 rout. The rushing defense was much better than a week ago in a loss to Wyoming, and Kelly Bryant, despite having to leave the game early, was on point again with three touchdown passes in the first half. The schedule remains overly friendly, including now facing backup quarterbacks against South Carolina and Kentucky, so getting to 7-1 before the second week off remains realistic, if not likely.

-Vanderbilt found some offense at Purdue after doing next to nothing against Georgia, but the defense had no answer for super sophomore wideout Rondale Moore and the Boilermakers. This feels like a season where the Commodores’ offense and defense aren’t going to both play well in the same week. Riley Neal threw for 378 yards and completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, but Ke’Shawn Vaughn and the running game was mostly stymied. Moore finished with 13 receptions for 220 yards. The ‘Dores now get a week off before they’ll fall to 0-3 when LSU comes to Nashville. This was the once chance Vanderbilt had to avoid an 0-3 start, but the offensive line and secondary prevented it from ever really having a chance.

-Nothing much to say about Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. No big injuries, and that’s all this week was about for them. We’ll check back in with the Gators and Crimson Tide when they open conference play on the road next week, while the ‘Dawgs have another tune-up game against Arkansas State prior to the much-hyped visit from Notre Dame.

-It was a bad FCS team, but South Carolina true freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski helping the Gamecocks put up 72 points on Charleston Southern in his first start was impressive nevertheless. It will be just slightly different next week against Alabama, but after a demoralizing week in Columbia, there might be at least a glimmer of hope that this season isn’t going to be a disaster. They’ll take their lumps next week, but then will have a chance to regain their footing with two winnable games against Missouri and Kentucky.

-Quarterback Tommy Stevens left Mississippi State’s 38-15 win over Southern Miss with an upper-body injury, but there is still no update on the severity. Kylin Hill has officially removed any doubts that he could be a true No. 1 running back, and Stevens has played well in two games. The Bulldogs have two key swing games the next two weeks against Kansas State and Kentucky. They’ll need a healthy Stevens to stay perfect before the schedule toughens later this month starting with a trip to Auburn.

-No one should be surprised by Auburn’s ugly 24-6 win over Tulane. It was inevitable after the emotional comeback win over Oregon a week ago. We shouldn’t just write if off though. The Tigers ground game is not what it needs to be for a Gus Malzahn offense to work. A veteran offensive line is having the same issues it had a year ago. The stellar defensive line can only carry the Tigers so far. Auburn has one more week to find some solutions before the toughest conference schedule in the country commences with a trip to Texas A&M.

Around The Nation

-If you won a national championship in the late ‘90s, Saturday was a wild day that required more than 60 minutes of football. 1997 co-champion Michigan needed double overtime to outlast Army. The other co-champion that season, Nebraska, let a 17-0 slip away in a 34-31 overtime loss at former rival Colorado. Tennessee won it all in 1998, but lost to BYU in double overtime on Saturday night. Finally, 1999 national champion Florida State tried to blow a big lead for a second straight week, but this time survived Louisiana-Monroe 45-44 in overtime thanks to a missed extra point. All four programs have varying degrees of issues, but it’s safe to say a lot has changed in 20 years.

-The game didn’t end until after 4 a.m. ET because of a three-hour weather delay, but Cal pulled the most notable upset of the weekend by stunning No. 13 Washington in Seattle, 20-19. Justin Wilcox’s team has now won five of its last seven Pac-12 games after his tenure began with a 2-10 record in league play. The Bears rarely generate much national buzz, but they deserve it this week. Wilcox’s defensive turnaround of a program that allowed 43 points per game in the season before he arrives is remarkable. Cal hasn’t allowed more than 23 points in its last eight games.

-How about Mack Brown? I hated the hire. Most of you probably hated the hire. What the heck do we know? North Carolina is 2-0 after another come-from-behind victory, this one over Miami (FL), 28-25. True freshman Sam Howell continues to dazzle, as he threw a perfect pass in the corner of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Virginia is the best team in the ACC Coastal, but perhaps the Tar Heels aren’t that far behind.

-Another first-year head coach with a surprising 2-0 start is Mike Locksley at Maryland. The Terrapins have now scored 142 points in two games. The 79 in Week 1 against Howard didn’t move the meter much, but putting up 63 points in a 63-20 destruction of No. 21 Syracuse certainly did. The Terps have always had talent to be respectable, even in the Big Ten, but have lacked stability. Even with Locksley’s checkered past, perhaps he’s the guy to add that element to the program. If Maryland can survive a trip to Temple, a Friday night home game against Penn State at the end of the month could create a rarely-seen electric atmosphere in College Park.

-Thanks to the aforementioned Syracuse blowout loss to Maryland, ESPN’s College GameDay will be making its first trip to Ames, Iowa, next week for the showdown between Iowa and Iowa State. Cy-Hawk is as underappreciated a rivalry as there is in major college football. It will be a great atmosphere, and helps prevent an immense amount of fake hype for a Clemson-Syracuse game that is going to be a blowout barring the Tigers’ starting quarterback being hurt for the third year in a row.

-Did Clay Helton pick the wrong quarterback again? He didn’t start Sam Darnold in 2016 until Week 4, but this year Helton had no choice but to make a change. J.T. Daniels’ season-ending knee injury last week was thought to derail USC’s season, but true freshman Kedon Slovis was fantastic in his first start, as the Trojans rolled past No. 23 Stanford, 45-20. Slovis missed on just five of his 33 pass attempts, as he put up a 377-yard, three-touchdown performance to help the Trojans get to 2-0 as they continue a brutal first half of their schedule. Outside of Alabama and Clemson, there’s no better receiving corps than the one in Los Angeles.

-Other teams to catch my eye in Week 2, in a good way: Georgia Tech, SMU, Minnesota.

-Other teams to catch my eye in Week 2, in a bad way: USF, FIU, Kansas, UCLA.

Resume Rankings

Check back after Week 3

The 5 Week 3 SEC Games I'm Most Interested In

1. No. 9 Florida at Kentucky (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
2. No. 2 Alabama at South Carolina, (3:30 p.m. CBS)
3. Kansas State at Mississippi State (Noon ET, ESPN)
4. Arkansas State at No. 3 Georgia (Noon ET, ESPN2)
5. Kent State at No. 8 Auburn (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

The 5 Week 3 National Games I'm Most Interested In

1. No. 19 Iowa at Iowa State (4 p.m. ET, FS1)
2. No. 24 USC at BYU (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
3. TCU at Purdue (7:30 p.m. ET, BTN)
4. No. 1 Clemson at Syracuse (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
5. Arizona State at No. 18 Michigan State (4 p.m. ET, FOX)

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.