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Week Two SEC Recap

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Looking back at all of the week two action in the Southeastern Conference.

Scores

Ole Miss 45, UT-Martin 23
Kentucky 27, Eastern Kentucky 16
(23) TCU 28, Arkansas 7
(1) Alabama 41, Fresno State 10
(25) Tennessee 42, Indiana State 7
Vanderbilt 42, Alabama A&M 0
(3) Clemson 14, (13) Auburn 6
South Carolina 31, Missouri 13
Texas A&M 24, Nicholls 14
(15) Georgia 20, (24) Notre Dame 19
(12) LSU 45, Chattanooga 10
Mississippi State 57, Louisiana Tech 21

10 Things I Learned

-Auburn isn’t quite there in the trenches. The offensive line had some concerns going into the season, but no one saw this talented group allowing 11 sacks in a single game. Clemson has the best offensive line-defensive line combination in the country, and the trenches were what flipped a game that Auburn led for almost the entire first half in favor of the host Tigers. To put that sack number in perspective, Michigan State had 11 sacks in the entire 2016 season. Auburn has now gone 11 quarters in regular-season games against Power Five teams without a touchdown – although the three opponents – Georgia, Alabama and Clemson – is as talented a defensive trio as there is in college football.

-Georgia’s defense is dominant enough to carry them through an SEC schedule. The offense was adequate at best in the Bulldogs’ win at Notre Dame, but the defense, which overwhelmed a highly touted Fighting Irish offensive line, shut down the running and short passing game. I’m not ready to call the ‘Dawgs a playoff contender just yet, but this defense is capable of stealing a game or two that Georgia probably has no business winning. With the expected growth of true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, that could be enough to have the ‘Dawgs dreaming big come November.

-Bret Bielema’s seat is warming. Saturday’s 28-7 loss to TCU dropped the fifth-year Arkansas head coach to 14-26 in games against Power Five opponents. Barring a 3-9 disaster, Bielema is safe for 2018, but with a tough SEC schedule ahead that includes just three home games, it looks like Bielema will enter 2018 in the position that Kevin Sumlin was this offseason if he rolls another 6-6 or 7-5 season. 

-The primary reason for the grumpiness in Fayetteville is the offensive line. After a forgettable 2016 season, Saturday was the first major test of 2017 for the Arkansas offensive line. It failed it, as the Razorbacks managed just 129 yards on the ground and allowed three sacks. The defense was good enough to win the game, but 259 yards of total offense isn’t going to cut it. In its last three games against Power Five opponents, Arkansas has not scored a single point in the second half. Unlike last year’s season-ending defeats to Missouri and Virginia Tech, at least the Razorbacks didn’t blow a big lead this time. TCU never trailed.

-Don’t doubt Dan Mullen. After a down year on defense, Mullen went out and hired Todd Grantham from Louisville, who, despite his fiery temper, has evolved greatly as a college coordinator after an up-and-down run at Georgia and then with the Cardinals. An improved defense combined with Mullen’s continued outstanding quarterback development helped the Bulldogs rout Louisiana Tech in a tricky road tilt before opening league play with LSU next week. These might not be the 2014 Bulldogs that got to No. 1, but it looks like another year of exceeding summer expectations for Mississippi State.

-Butch Jones played with fire. In the final minutes of the third quarter of Saturday’s game against Indiana State, with Tennessee leading 35-7, Vols starting running back John Kelly was still in the game. Why? Kelly is the heart and soul of the offense. Tennessee plays Florida next week and Georgia before the end of the month. What if Kelly had rolled an ankle? The outcome was decided, and Tennessee’s most important games are imminent. Kelly avoided injury, but it was coaching negligence to keep him on the field as long as Jones did.

-Deebo Samuel is what I thought Christian Kirk would be. The Gamecocks junior wideout is off to a flying start in 2017, scoring touchdowns via the passing game and the kick return game in both of the team’s first two games – wins away from home over N.C. State and Missouri. Kirk, meanwhile, has just 107 receiving yards and one touchdown through two games for Texas A&M. Samuel’s return following the Tigers taking a 10-0 lead on Saturday night completely flipped the game, as South Carolina scored 31 of the game’s final 34 points to win going away.

-Kentucky is the worst team in the SEC East. The Wildcats were sluggish for the second week in a row, trailing Eastern Kentucky for far too long in an ugly 27-16 victory. The offensive line has not recovered from the graduation of center Jon Toth and the season-ending injury to left tackle Cole Mosier, as the running game is averaging fewer than four yards per carry despite playing two bad defenses. The SEC East is a puddle of muddy mediocrity, but the ‘Cats look like they’ll be bringing up the rear after an uninspiring first two games.

-Kelly Bryant came of age Saturday night. He’s not his predecessor, Deshaun Watson, but the Clemson quarterback displayed many of the qualities that turned Watson into a national champion and two-time Heisman Trophy finalist. Auburn beat him up for much of the first half, but a touchdown scamper just before halftime gave Clemson a lead that it would never relinquish. The stat line isn’t great – 19-of-29 for 181 yards with 59 rushing yards – but Bryant scored both Tigers touchdowns and avoided turnovers against a strong Auburn defense.

-Tua Tagovailoa seeing the field is meaningless. Sure, the Alabama true freshman quarterback is the clear No. 2, but Jalen Hurts’ job is in no danger. Tagavailoa completed six of nine passes in the Crimson Tide’s rout of Fresno State, but barring injury to Hurts, he’s unlikely to be a part of any pre-garbage time game plans this season once SEC play begins. All signs are positive through Tagovailoa’s first eight months on campus, but there is no quarterback controversy or rotation in Tuscaloosa.

Around The Nation

The five non-SEC results that shocked me the most:

1. Duke 41, Northwestern 17
2. UTSA 17, Baylor 7
3. Eastern Michigan 16, Rutgers 13
4. Illinois 20, Western Kentucky 7
5. UNLV 44, Idaho 16

-How about Oklahoma? The fifth-ranked Sooners remained perfect on the road in the Baker Mayfield era, dominating No. 2 Ohio State in the second half in a 31-16 win in Columbus. Mayfield is this year’s September Heisman winner, as he overcame a frustrating first half that saw him lose star wideout Mark Andrews to injury to finish 27-of-35 for 386 yards and three touchdowns (with no interceptions). The run-pass option game of Mayfield and head coach Lincoln Riley was brilliant, as the Sooners repeatedly found open field. As for the Buckeyes, J.T. Barrett as a freshman was a far better quarterback than J.T. Barrett as a senior. It’s been an odd regression, and now many people’s national champion pick (my hand is raised) has no margin for error. 

-USC made a statement Saturday night, pulling away in the second half to defeat No. 14 Stanford, 42-24. Sam Darnold shook off a shaky Week 1 performance to complete 21 of 26 passes for 316 yards (12.2 yards per attempt is pretty darn good) and four touchdowns. The Trojans reassume the role as the Pac-12 favorite, but it’s quite possible these teams will see each other again in December in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

-It was a memorable Cy-Hawk game, as Iowa outlasted Iowa State, 44-41, in overtime. Six years (less one day) earlier, it was the Cyclones who were winners over the Hawkeyes, 44-41, in (triple) overtime. In a rivalry dubbed “El Assico” by SBNation.com, a reference to “El Clasico” – the soccer rivalry between Spanish superpowers Real Madrid and Barcelona – the game was more like “El Fantastico”, as it featured a flurry of explosive plays before the Hawkeyes won it on a short touchdown pass after holding Iowa State to a field goal in the top half of overtime.

-I can’t wait for Lamar Jackson vs. Clemson II. Last year’s 42-36 Tigers win in Death Valley was an instant classic, but now the game shifts to the Bluegrass State, with the Cardinals seeking for revenge for three straight one-score defeats to Clemson since joining the ACC. Jackson is going to have to be special on Saturday night to crack a Tigers defense that held Auburn without a touchdown, but there’s no reason to think he won’t be, after going for over 500 yards of total offense in Saturday’s 47-35 win at North Carolina. Get your popcorn ready for this one.

-Like he was last September while at USC, Pittsburgh QB Max Browne was benched again on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they don’t have Sam Darnold to be Browne’s replacement, as the Pitt offense sputtered in its 33-14 loss to Penn State. Browne may have lost his job again, this time to Ben DiNucci, who led the Panthers’ only touchdown drive and was stopped on downs inside the 10-yard line on another drive.

-While most were sleeping, No. 20 Washington State rallied from a 31-10 fourth-quarter deficit for a wild 47-44 win over Boise State in three overtimes. A pick-six with six minutes to go cut the Broncos lead to seven, and the Cougars leveled things with just under two minutes to play. After an 0-2 start a year ago, style points don’t matter to Mike Leach’s team. They didn’t play well, but they’re still miraculously without a blemish.

-Louisiana Tech faced a second-and-goal from the six-yard line in the fourth quarter of its loss to Mississippi State. One play later, it faced third-and-goal from the seven-yard line. Pretty normal, right? Nope, it was IT’S OWN seven-yard line. A bad snap and a hot potato for a football caused an 87-yard loss on the play, forcing what amounted to a 3rd and 93. Unsurprisingly, the Bulldogs did not convert and had to punt.

Top 10

1. Alabama
2. Oklahoma
3. Clemson
4. Penn State
5. USC
6. Michigan
7. Florida State
8. Washington
9. Oklahoma State
10. Georgia

Week 3 SEC Order of Preference

1. LSU at Mississippi State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
2. Tennessee at Florida (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
3. Kansas State at Vanderbilt (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
4. Kentucky at South Carolina (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
5. Ole Miss at California (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Week 3 National Order of Preference

1. Clemson at Louisville (8 p.m. ET, ABC)
2. LSU at Mississippi State
3. Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh (Noon ET, ABC)
4. Texas at USC (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
5 (tie). Tennessee at Florida
5 (tie). UCLA at Memphis (Noon ET, ESPN2)

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.