SEC Week 3 Preview: From Cupcakes to Conference Foes
It was an uneventful second week for the SEC, which may be a good thing after a shaky start in week one.
This week the competition will be turned up a notch now that conference play is getting into full swing. There will be, however, a few games that may not be of interest to fans due to the sub-par competition.
It's still early in the year, but this week could set the pace for the rest of season. The SEC, despite its success in past years, has a lot to prove to those who believe its reign as the most dominant conference has ended.
This week's preview will provide insight as to what may happen in this crucial week of SEC football:
**Stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com**
There were a lot of doubts surrounding Tennessee after their poor performance against Appalachian State in week one. Most of those doubts were put to rest with the team's 45-24 win over Virginia Tech.
The Volunteers still could use some help on the offensive line as quarterback Joshua Dobbs is being forced out of the pocket way too often. Running back Jalen Hurd is also having to rely heavily on his strength to get yards due to a lack of running lanes.
Improvement up front will come with enough reps, and their game against Ohio should provide them with an opportunity to get better.
But the Bobcats do not play around on the offensive side of the ball as they currently average over 560 yards of offense per game. If Ohio manages to jump ahead early then it may be difficult for the Vols to keep up.
The first question that arises in this matchup is how will Vanderbilt fare against Georgia Tech's wishbone offense?
Georgia Tech has only completed 13 passes this season. In other words, the Yellow Jackets rely almost solely on their ground game. It is an old approach that may never win them a national championship, but it will eat up a lot of clock and keep their opponent's offense off the field.
This game will be difficult for Vanderbilt in the sense that they still struggle to score consistently. The Commodores will have to take advantage of any scoring opportunities they are given, which they will likely do on the ground. Vanderbilt ran for over 230 yards in their 47-24 win over Middle Tennessee State last week.
Expect a lot of ground plays from both teams as they try to control the time of possession. The Commodores will still be underdogs, but a win would be a major boost in confidence for their program.
Nick Saban says that he does not use revenge as a motivating factor. However, he may the only one not seeing this game as an opportunity for the Tide to get revenge against Ole Miss, who has won the last two meetings.
By all accounts, it appears that Alabama will be starting true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts after he threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Western Kentucky last week. Surprisingly enough, it appears that the Tide's biggest issue is not through the air but on the ground.
Alabama only managed 124 yards rushing in last Saturday's win. It was the first time since 2014 that the team had rushed for less than 125 yards in a single game. Experience issues on the offensive line seem to be the cause of the problem.
Ole Miss has a similar issue with its offensive line. After taking an early lead against Florida State in week one, the Rebels scored just six points in the second half in a 54-34 loss to the Seminoles. Quarterback Chad Kelly was sacked five times, and he turned the ball over four times.
Ole Miss has concerns on the defensive side of the ball where injuries have made an already inexperienced secondary even more vulnerable. Still, there focus should be on how to score on a relentless Alabama defense.
It is often said that defense wins championships. While that may be true, it is the offense that gets a team to that championship. Both teams need to figure out an offensive scheme that will result in points on the board. This game will come down to which team makes the fewest mental mistakes.
Lack of offensive production continues to plague Will Muschamp even though he is at a new school with completely different players.
South Carolina is dead last in the SEC in total offense after only averaging 275 yards of offense through two games. What is even more alarming is that Gamecocks have only managed to rush for 155 yards this season. That number ranks 124th in the country.
Muschamp's ability to coach defense will keep South Carolina competitive in most of their games, but they will struggle against East Carolina.
The Pirates are averaging over 566 yards of offense per game, and passing has been the backbone of this lethal offensive attack. Quarterback Philip Nelson has almost 700 yards passing already this season. Muschamp has his work cut out for him trying to figure out how to minimize East Carolina's offensive success.
South Carolina is still favored by three points, but this will be a very tough game for them to win with their current personnel. The Gamecocks better be ready to play.
Kentucky is not off to the start that head coach Mark Stoops had hoped for. The Wildcats were upset by Southern Miss in week one and were embarrassed by Florida in week two.
Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker only completed three passes and threw three interceptions against the Gators. Those numbers alone should make one skeptical on how the Wildcats will fare this week against New Mexico State.
The Aggies are by no stretch an offensive threat; however, they posses enough talent to compete with Kentucky. Dual threat quarterback Tyler Rogers will keep the Wildcats on their toes throughout the game.
Despite their very rough start, Kentucky should be able to beat New Mexico State by double digits. If they somehow manage to lose this matchup then Mark Stoops will need to start job hunting immediately.
LSU took a step in the right direction when they benched Brandon Harris in favor of Danny Etling. Etling did not have a spectacular game against Jacksonville State, but he brings a breath of fresh air to a struggling offense. .
The Tigers will have to rely heavily on Etling due to the uncertainty of Leonard Fournette's ankle injury. Running back Derrius Guice will do fine as a fill in, but LSU will not consistently compete until a passing game is established.
Meanwhile, Mississippi State made a huge turnaround from week one's upset loss to South Alabama by defeating South Carolina, 27-14. The story of the game was quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who completed 19 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns. He added an additional 195 yards on the ground.
Fitzgerald has a long way to go before he can be compared to the likes of Dak Prescott. Still, to bounce back with such a big performance speaks volumes to his maturity. The Bulldogs will give LSU all they can handle with Fitzgerald at quarterback.
Which young quarterback will step up big in this matchup? Well the answer that question may help decide the outcome of the game.
Both Auburn and Texas A&M have exceeded their preseason expectations in their own way.
Auburn did lose against Clemson in week one, but the game was extremely competitive. In fact, if Gus Malzahn would have stuck with just one quarterback then his team may have prevailed. He decided to stick with just Sean White last week against Arkansas State, and it paid off. White passed for 244 yards and 3 touchdowns in the 51-14 win, which opened up the doors for the Tigers to also rush for over 460 yards in the game.
White still may not be the most suitable quarterback for Malzahn's offense, but he's currently the best option. This style of offense is difficult for anyone to stop, but A&M feels more confident than they have in recent years.
The Aggies tend to start off each season on a hot streak before ultimately crashing due to a lack of defensive consistency. This year appears to be different as second year defensive coordinator John Chavis has the defense headed in the right direction. The team is allowing less than 330 yards of offense per game. In the year before Chavis' arrival, the Aggies allowed over 450 yards per game.
On offense, Kevin Sumlin is happy to have transfer quarterback Trevor Knight throwing the ball to one of the deepest receiving corps in the nation. Knight's ability to run also fits perfectly with Sumlin's scheme.
Both of these teams have established a reputation of scoring quickly and often. While that still may ring true, this game will be unlike past meetings because of the improvements made with the defensive personnel.
There were several concerns about the state of Florida's offense after a poor showing in week one against Massachusetts. It now appears that could of been a result of adjusting new quarterback Luke Del Rio.
The Gators racked up 45 points and 564 yards of offense in a win last week over Kentucky. The Wildcats certainly do not have an excellent defense, but that is still obviously a significant improvement from one to the next. Del Rio passed for 320 yards and four touchdowns in the win.
The defense was even more impressive as they only allowed three pass completions and forced four turnovers. They will likely continue that trend this week as they face a North Texas team that turned the ball over three times last week against Bethune Cookman.
The Mean Green just do not have the horses to get the job done in The Swamp on Saturday. Florida has a history of choking to subpar opponents, but that is highly unlikely this weekend.
Arkansas defeated TCU in double overtime in what was likely the most exciting game involving an SEC team last week.
The Razorbacks surprised many with their ability to score on demand after struggling against Louisiana Tech in week one. Granted, the Horned Frogs have gotten off to a terrible defensive start this season. Still, Arkansas did show overall significant improvement despite being in a hostile environment.
Texas State is a difficult team to analyze as they have only played one game, which was 56-54 win over Ohio. Quarterback Tyler Jones threw for over 418 yards in the win, which could serve as a problem for Arkansas as the Razorbacks currently rank dead last in the SEC in pass defense.
This game may stay close in the first half, but expect Arkansas to pull away in the second half.
Last week, Georgia was favored by 53 points to beat Nicholls State. The final score was 26-24. The Bulldogs need an impressive win in order to prove that the narrow victory was just a fluke.
First things first. Kirby Smart needs to establish one starting quarterback. That pick will likely be true freshman Jacob Eason. The combination of Eason and Gurley should provide enough stability for the offensive numbers to improve. Defensively, despite allowing 24 points to Nicholls State, the Bulldogs still rank third in the SEC in total defense.
Missouri is in a similar boat to Georgia. The Tigers have to establish an offensive presence without relying so heavily on their defense. Quarterback Drew Lock has already thrown for 730 yards and six touchdowns, but a ground game has not been established. Missouri is the only team in the SEC to not have one person with over 100 rushing yards on the year.
This game will be an opportunity for one of these teams to regain confidence and get on the right track for the rest of the season. Due to inconsistent play thus far, it is safe to say that this game could go either way.