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Week Two SEC Recap

By Matt Smith
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Matt Smith recaps week two in the SEC.

The SEC went 12-2 on Saturday, a quality record given five teams were underdogs. Elementary math will tell you that means there were three upsets by SEC teams. After Alabama and Georgia flexed in Week 1, it was the lower-tier teams that shined in Week 2, while the power teams were rolling over a bunch of overmatched tomato cans.

There is a lot to review, so let’s get to the baker’s dozen of Week 2 games in the SEC.

Game Thoughts and Takeaways
(25) Auburn 62, Alabama State 0
It was over when: Nehemiah Pritchett scooped up a blocked Alabama State field goal midway through the second quarter and ran it back 80 yards to extend Auburn’s lead to 20-0 after the Tigers’ first three drives of the games resulted in scores.
*Bo Nix completed just nine passes, but Saturday was about the ground game and getting through it healthy before next week’s trip to Penn State.
*Demetris Robertson caught just three passes in his second appearance after transferring from Georgia, but two went for touchdowns. Jarquez Hunter and Tank Bigsby both went for well over 100 yards rushing, as the Tigers flirted with a 10-yards-per-carry average.
*The Hornets managed just 176 yards of offense but did possess the football for 33 minutes.

South Carolina 20, East Carolina 17
It was over when: Parker White split the uprights from 36 yards out as time expired to complete a Gamecocks comeback from 14-0 down and move the team and first-year head coach Shane Beamer to 2-0.
*The Zeb Noland story continues to be a fairy tale, as the graduate assistant-turned-quarterback directed another victory. Noland had just a modest stat line of 13-of-24 for 189 yards with one touchdown and one interception, but he was steady in the second half leading three scoring drives to complete the comeback. 
*With the Pirates threatening to pull away late in the first half, Damani Staley made the play of the game with a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown to slice the 14-0 East Carolina lead in half. The Gamecocks pass rush also came to life with five sacks, while the defense held quarterback Holton Ahlers to a completion percentage below 50 percent.
*The South Carolina running game was disappointing, averaging fewer than three yards per carry (3.7 with sacks removed). The 2-0 start should feel great for Gamecocks fans, but there is serious concern about this offense’s ability to put together a long scoring drive next week at Georgia.

Pittsburgh 41, Tennessee 34
It was over when: Pitt’s Brandon Hill intercepted Hendon Hooker late in the fourth quarter with the Panthers trying to make a second straight defensive stand while holding a seven-point lead. A pair of first downs by the Panthers offense sealed the game without Tennessee getting the football back.
*Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett was steady as can be in a hostile environment, hitting 65 percent of his passes with two touchdown passes and most importantly no turnovers. The teams were evenly matched, but the Volunteers had three giveaways, and Pitt’s only major mistake was a blocked punt allowed in the first quarter.
*It was four hours of entertainment, but it was sloppy. Joe Milton repeatedly overthrew open receivers on deep passes in the first quarter, while the Vols also committed 13 penalties. Pitt contributed to the lack of discipline with nine penalties of its own. The officiating was a bit questionable as well, highlighted by one bad call affecting each team on a fourth-quarter Tennessee drive that ended in a fourth-down stop inside the five-yard line after the Vols appeared to have gotten the first down on the previous play but were ruled short.
*Injuries affected the Vols offense, as in addition to being without running back Tiyon Evans, Milton and co-starting running back Jabari Small left the game with injuries. Milton and Hooker produced 111 of Tennessee’s 138 rushing yards. You can’t win that way, and you can’t with the defense the Vols are working with.
*Pickett has a nice array of skill position talent to work with, and the Panthers will be an interesting team to watch once ACC play gets rolling. Pitt is likely to start 5-0 before an off week leading into a huge game at Virginia Tech on Oct. 16.

(13) Florida 42, USF 20
It was over when: Quarterbacks Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson combined for three long touchdown passes in a 10-minute stretch in the middle of the first half to blow a 7-3 game open.
*Florida racked up 666 yards of offense, a balanced 363 on the ground and 303 through the air. The Bulls are a horrible team, but that yardage total in a lookahead game should not be brushed aside.
*A quarterback battle has emerged. Jones was shaky for a second straight week with two interceptions, while Richardson, albeit in just three attempts, produced a passer rating of 745.6 by throwing for 152 yards and two touchdowns in those three completions. He also had an 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to help produce a 100-yard day on the ground.
*Jones has paid his dues, but Richardson looks like the better option. Mullen should have no qualms about giving Richardson his first start against the best team in the country if he is in fact the better player.
*The Florida defense was shaky early, allowing some long chunk plays, but settled in nicely after the first two series. Todd Grantham’s defense is capable of rattling Alabama’s Bryce Young next week in his first start, but it’s also capable of rattling itself. Which happens more frequently will determine whether or not the Gators can be competitive with the Crimson Tide.

(2) Georgia 56, UAB 7
It was over when: Stetson Bennett IV, making his first start since a loss to Florida last November, threw two touchdowns passes in the first five minutes to give Georgia a 14-0 lead en route to a five-touchdown first half.
*Bennett’s stat line is something to behold: 9-of-9, 286 yards, 5 TD, 0 INT. That’ll do. Bennett is limited physically, but against teams who aren’t contending for playoff berths, he is fully capable of lighting them up. It’s unknown how long J.T. Daniels will be out, and with a cushy schedule for the next few weeks, the Bulldogs offense should be able to keep rolling if Bennett is the guy.
*The defense has made it 120 minutes into the 2021 season without allowing a touchdown, as the Blazers added a late mercy score via a pick-six of backup quarterback Carson Beck, who struggled after Bennett called it a day. Georgia intercepted three passes and allowed just one third-down conversion. With South Carolina and Vanderbilt ahead, getting through September without allowing an offensive touchdown is not implausible for the ‘Dawgs.
*Tight end Brock Bowers led Georgia with 98 yards and two touchdown receptions. The freshman has had a great start to the season and will be a key element in the growth of this Bulldogs passing game.

(5) Texas A&M 10, Colorado 7
It was over when: Colorado’s desperation 4th-and-14 attempt with a minute to play ended with just a 12-yard completion, capping a dramatic comeback win for Texas A&M. The Aggies had taken their first lead four plays earlier on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Zach Calzada to Isaiah Spiller.
*It was a tough day for Zach Calzada after replacing an injured Haynes King in the first half. The Aggies couldn’t crack a nasty Buffaloes defense, with Texas A&M’s best chance to reach the end zone ending early in the fourth quarter with Calzada fumbling inches from the goal line. He finished just 18-of-38 for 183 yards, but was tough as nails in the fourth quarter in directing two long drives. If he is the guy going forward, the Aggies may not have a superstar, but they have a leader they can believe in.
*Mike Elko was worth every penny when Jimbo Fisher lured him from Notre Dame with a sizable pay raise. It’s been a slow build, but the 2020 Aggies defense was outstanding under Elko’s direction, and the 2021 unit may be even better. Colorado managed just 260 yards, all but 54 of them coming in the first half. There will be much tougher offenses ahead, but the defense carried a load on a day when it couldn’t blink for even a minute.

(1) Alabama 48, Mercer 14
It was over when: The Crimson Tide shook off a shaky offensive start with a pair of touchdowns to back up a special teams score and build a 21-0 lead against the overmatched Bears.
*It was a sandwich game between games against top-15 opponents. It was never going to be as crisp as Alabama’s first half was a week ago against Miami (FL). There was plenty of sloppiness for Nick Saban to complain about heading into Florida week, which is what he prefers.
*All-SEC linebacker Will Anderson left the game with an awkward-looking knee injury, which was the last thing Alabama needed from this game, especially with his fellow bookend Christopher Allen going down for the season last week. Anderson’s injury doesn’t look as serious, but details are unknown. Hopefully he’ll be cleared to play in Gainesville next week.
*Bryce Young stayed in the game until late in the third quarter, closing out his day with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jase McClellan, his third of the day, to cap a 64-yard drive and put Alabama ahead 45-7. He finished 19-of-27 for 227 yards and three touchdowns.

Arkansas 40, (15) Texas 21
It was over when: Trailing 23-7 late in the third quarter, Texas decided to go for it 4th-and-1 in its own territory, but Bijan Robinson was stuffed in the backfield. Arkansas added a field goal on the ensuing drive to extend the lead to three score, and Texas never threatened again.
*There might not be a better pair of coordinators in the SEC than Kendal Briles and Barry Odom at Arkansas. Both embarrassed their counterparts in burnt orange on Saturday night, The Razorbacks ran for over 300 yards, dominating the line of scrimmage, and Briles put quarterback K.J. Jefferson positions to be successful with both his arm and legs. Defensively, Odom’s unit held Texas under the 200-yard mark until midway through the fourth quarter. It was a thorough beatdown on both sides of the ball.
*365 days ago, Arkansas was on a 19-game losing streak against Power Five opponents. On Saturday night, they handled the No. 15 team in the country with ease. Sam Pittman has been a smashing success in turning this decrepit program around so quickly. The Razorbacks consistently meet the moment, even when they’re seemingly overmatched on paper.
*The emergence of freshman A.J. Green and Raheim Sanders as complementary backs behind Trelon Smith bodes well for the Hogs heading into the start of SEC play in a couple weeks. Arkansas has a brutal schedule, so sharing carries is a must to ensure freshness. Both had touchdown runs and saw a good bit of work on Saturday night, with Smith only having 12 carries.

Mississippi State 24, N.C. State 10
It was over when: A swarming Mississippi State defense delivered three consecutive three-and-outs midway through the second half to squelch any hopes of an N.C. State comeback.
*N.C. State came into the game with a seemingly dangerous running game, but it flopped amidst the bright lights and loud cowbells of Davis Wade Stadium. Even adjusting for sacks, the Wolfpack managed just 60 rushing yards on 21 carries.
*Special teams came through again for the Bulldogs, as Lideatrick Griffin ran the opening kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown to set the tone for the night. It was a Griffin long kick return that sparked a furious fourth-quarter rally a week ago to defeat Louisiana Tech. It’s not a third of the game, but special teams matter.
*Will Rogers has thrown just one interception in two games. The Bulldogs will gladly take that with how frequently Rogers throws the ball.

Kentucky 35, Missouri 28
It was over when: Kentucky got a stop on a 4th-and-13 for Missouri with 90 seconds to play, preserving a 35-28 victory in the first SEC conference game of the season.
*Will Levis was above the line for the second straight week, but it was the vintage Kentucky ground attack that carried the load in a game that Kentucky led almost the whole way but could never take control of. The Wildcats put up 337 yards on the ground, led by Chris Rodriguez with 205 yards and three touchdowns.
*It was a gritty effort for Connor Bazelak and the Missouri offense to stay in the game despite playing from behind all night, but protection breakdowns caused Bazelak to take a beating, with the final blow coming on the final drive on a brutal third-down sack. He still managed 297 yards and four touchdowns, but didn’t have the help of a productive rushing attack.
*Kentucky should start 4-0 before Florida comes to town. Georgia is so good that it doesn’t matter for SEC East title purposes, but Lexington would be in a frenzy for another chance to beat the Gators at home for the first time in 35 years.

(25) Ole Miss 54, Austin Peay 17
It was over when: Sam Williams had the superfecta of a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery and touchdown on a single play midway through the first quarter to put Ole Miss ahead 14-0 over the Governors.
*In two-and-a-half quarters of work, Matt Corral connected on 21 of 33 passes for 281 yards and five touchdowns. The numbers were nice, but the most important stat was that he left the game healthy.
*It’s Austin Peay, but the Rebels defense again delivered a quality effort. The pass defense wasn’t great, but Ole Miss forced two turnovers and had multiple sacks. Tulane would be a great test for the progress of this unit next Saturday night in Oxford.

LSU 34, McNeese 7
It was over when: McNeese never threatened, but it took LSU well into the second half to start clicking offensively. Max Johnson’s third touchdown pass of the night was Kayshon Boutte’s fifth touchdown reception of the young season, and it gave the Tigers a 24-0 lead.
*The offense didn’t improve much from last week’s poor performance, but at least the defense was dominant, albeit against by far the easiest opponent on the schedule. Playing against his father’s team, McNeese quarterback Cody Orgeron barely completing more passes (ten) than sacks taken (eight). The Cowboys finished with just 146 yards of offense, more than half of which came on the lone scoring drive of the night midway through the fourth quarter.
*Boutte is a flat-out stud. He’s not getting much help, but he very well might be the best receiver in the SEC. The true sophomore has a nose for the end zone, with multiple receiving scores in each of his last three games going back to last season.

Vanderbilt 24, Colorado State 21
It was over when: Joseph Bulovas snuck a 38-yard field goal inside the left upright with 19 seconds remaining to give the Commodores a three-point lead that would survive a couple final desperation plays from the host Rams.
*Colorado State jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead and was closing in on a third touchdown early in the second quarter, but a misfire with an open receiver in the end zone, a sack, a pre-snap penalty, and a missed field goal kept the margin at two scores early in the second quarter. Vanderbilt found the end zone just before halftime and tied the game early in the third quarter. It never trailed again.
*Ken Seals’ poor play in the Week 1 loss to East Tennessee State was a surprise. The sophomore quarterback was much more effective on Saturday night in the Rockies, throwing for 236 yards and two touchdowns. There should be no rotation for Vanderbilt going forward like there was in Week 1. Seals went the distance and was steady all night.

National Thoughts
ACC: Clemson bounced back from the Georgia loss with an easy win over South Carolina State…N.C. State laid a classic Dave Doeren egg in the blowout loss at Mississippi State, while Pitt showed itself to be a viable ACC Coastal contender in winning at Tennessee…The shocker was Florida State, which, six days after a furious rally nearly led to an upset of Notre Dame, allowed a Hail Mary, plus about 15 yards after the catch, on the last play of the game in a 20-17 loss to FCS foe Jacksonville State…Miami (FL) survived a back-and-forth battle with Appalachian State in a 25-23 win, but most importantly, their fans saved the life of a cat who had fallen from an upper level of Hard Rock Stadium by catching it in a large American flag.

Big 12: It’s hard to look past Texas getting mauled at Arkansas, but there were other whiffs on Saturday…The biggest game of the day saw Iowa State again play poorly against rival Iowa, as the Hawkeyes won their sixth straight game in the series with a takeaway-filled 27-17 win over the Cyclones in Ames…Kansas State held on to defeat Southern Illinois, but quarterback Skylar Thompson may have suffered a serious injury for the second straight season…Another week, another crisis averted for Oklahoma State, which hung on late for a 28-23 home win over Tulsa after a seven-point win over Missouri State in Week 1…Overall, it was a tough day for the Big 12 just 24 hours after adding four new members to the league (who all won their games).

Big Ten: We’ll touch on the big upset in Columbus below, so let’s start with giving credit to Michigan, which ran all over a supposedly stout Washington defense for 343 yards in a 31-10 win over the Huskies…Rutgers improved to a 2-0 with a quality 17-7 road win at Syracuse. With a win next week over Delaware, the Scarlet Knights will improve to .500 in Greg Schiano’s two seasons back in New Jersey…The luster is officially off of Bret Bielema and Illinois, which fell to 1-2 with a blowout loss at Virginia.

Pac-12: It was comparable to last week, with one massive win overshadowing an overall poor week. Oregon’s offensive line led the Ducks in a stunning 35-28 win over No. 3 Ohio State. The Buckeyes defense had no answers for Oregon’s ground attack that ran for 269 yards. The Ohio State defense remains a major red flag…Oh, Clay Helton. In a game he couldn’t afford to lose, USC was mauled by Stanford, fresh off of a 17-point blowout loss to Kansas State last week. The final score was 42-28, but it wasn’t that close, as the Cardinal led 42-13 before a pair of late scores. If Helton survives this performance, he’s truly a wizard…Arizona was crushed by San Diego State, Utah’s nine-game winning streak against rival BYU ended with a 26-17 loss in Provo, Colorado couldn’t finish the upset bid against Texas A&M and Washington was embarrassed again. Cal showed face in a narrow loss at TCU, but overall, despite Oregon being the team of the week, there were again too many clunkers.

Group of Five: A pair of wild shootouts, as Wyoming hold off Northern Illinois, 50-43, and Memphis and Arkansas State each put up exactly 680 yards in the Tigers’ 55-50 road win in Jonesboro…On an emotional day in Annapolis, Air Force defeated Navy for the second straight season, 23-3…Maybe Frank Solich got out at the right time? Ohio, 29-9 losers to Syracuse in Week 1, fell to 0-2 with an ugly 28-26 home loss to Duquesne of the FCS on Saturday. Either Solich is that good of a coach that the Bobcats can’t win without him, or he saw this team’s struggles coming.

A Peek at Next Week
Early Afternoon:
Screen 1: No. 9 Cincinnati at Indiana, Noon ET (ESPN)
Screen 2: Nebraska at No. 4 Oklahoma, Noon ET (FOX)
Screen 3: Michigan State at No. 22 Miami (FL), Noon ET (ABC)

Late Afternoon:
Screen 1: No. 1 Alabama at No. 13 Florida, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Screen 2: Purdue at No. 8 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
Screen 3: Kent State at No. 10 Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET (BTN)

Screen 1: No. 25 Auburn at No. 11 Penn State, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Screen 2: Tulane at No. 20 Ole Miss, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Screen 3: South Carolina at No. 2 Georgia, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Late Night:
Screen 1: Oklahoma State at Boise State, 9 p.m. ET (FS1)
Screen 2: No. 23 Arizona State at BYU, 10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Screen 3: Fresno State at No. 16 UCLA 10:45 p.m. ET (Pac-12 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.