Spring in the South: East Division Spring Game Summaries
Spring practice is wrapping up around the country, so we are going to use this opportunity for a two-part series where we check in on where each team in the SEC stands. Two West Division schools have yet to play their spring game, so we will start today on the eastern side, which features both the country’s most notable and the country’s most anonymous spring contests.
Florida — the Gator gambit to play their spring game on a Thursday night prime time standalone spot backfired, as their offense was a swampy mess for all of the country to see. Both quarterbacks, Graham Mertz and Jack Miller III, were out of sync with a receiving corps that did not impress, and the offensive line was a concern as well. Frustration is mounting in Gainesville, and new defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong might have to run a truly outstanding unit to cover for an uninspiring scoring attack. (It is this author’s opinion that Armstrong, the architect of an excellent and aggressive Southern Miss stop unit and a rising star, is up to that task.) But did Florida really run off Dan Mullen for something that looks like the Muschamp era? Between the coaching staff turnover, a mess on the NIL front, an ascendant Florida State, and now this public embarrassment, it has been a spring of frustration for Gator partisans.
Georgia — what exactly do the two-time defending champions have to prove in a glorified scrimmage, especially with a number of key returning defenders and about half of the running back room sitting out? Not much, but they did so anyway. Carson Beck appears to be running away with the quarterback competition, with a fine outing, completing 13 of 18 passes for 211 yards and a score. Javon Bullard, one of the best players on the field in last year’s CFP games, appears to have moved from STAR to safety, opening the door for veteran Tykee Smith at STAR, and Smith nabbed an interception. Other than Beck, Georgia’s biggest storylines were a departure and a debut of two ferocious names. Boom made his first appearance as UGA XI, and looked mighty handsome if I do say so myself. And Bear hit the portal, that is Bear Alexander, a blue chip talent who was expected to start at defensive tackle this year and is easily the most sought-after piece in this second portal window.
Kentucky — Kentucky did not hold a spring game this year due to renovations at Kroger Field, so any questions about a rebuilt offensive line, NC state transfer quarterback Devin Leary, replacing starters on defense, or prodigal coordinator Liam Cohen will have to remain unanswered for now.
Missouri — do you remember Missouri’s spring game? Poor weather moved it indoors, impossible to broadcast and held without fans. Luther Burden had a nice grab on a Sam Horn pass, but overall there wasn’t anything visible to take away from this. It’s disappointing for fans, because it would have been nice to see even some of the vanilla ingredients of the new offensive approach. On the other hand, the early schedule allowed Missouri’s coaching staff to take on the new portal window fully focused, while other staffs are managing both practices and the portal. The Tigers could still use help at a few positions like offensive line, edge rusher, and running back, so perhaps the reworked calendar will afford them the opportunity to spend more time landing key veteran additions.
South Carolina — the Gamecocks are the quintessential “is that glass half full or half empty?” team right now. Are they the squad that took down Tennessee and Clemson, with a blue chip QB, a stud receiver and an energetic coach? Or are they the group that was uncompetitive in losses to Missouri and Florida, lost their best running back to USC, and has no offensive line? The answer is, well, yes to both. In the spring game, their thin offensive line allowed ten sacks and lost starting left tackle Jaylen Nichols to injury, but QB Spencer Rattler looked solid distributing to his primary weapons, WR Juice Wells and Arkansas transfer TE Trey Knox. But the inconsistent Gamecocks did get one big win: only a few hours after archrival Clemson announced an attendance of 50,000 at their spring game, Gamecocks social media came in with the Price Is Right style announcement of their own: 51,000. Flags fly forever.
Tennessee — The vibes are sky-high in Knoxville right now, thanks to last season’s 11-2 record, a historic win against Alabama, and an Orange Bowl victory. A slew of critical pieces from that team depart, but with Josh Heupel’s offense and some impact newcomers, fans believe a repeat is on the way. One of those newcomers is all-galaxy quarterback recruit Nico Iamaleava, a precocious talent who will get every opportunity to push sixth-year veteran Joe Milton for the right to put up video game stats in the veer n shoot. Nico showed his stuff with a jaw-dropping play, wowing the Tennessee faithful on a day mostly notable for how many projected starters sat for precautionary measures.
Vanderbilt — Clark Lea praised the physicality of his young team entering his third season; he had to rebuild this roster largely without the aid of transfer portal support. Lea and his staff pushed for physical practices all spring, and even allowed live contact on some of their depth quarterbacks. Replacing departing star tailback Ray Davis will be a chief concern, but a pair of freshmen both impressed at the position: Sedrick Alexander (true freshman early enrollee) and Chase Gillespie (redshirt) each performed well in a spring game marred by sloppy weather.