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SEC Recap: Opening Week

We’ve missed you, live SEC football (heart-hands) ... Week One was fairly tame, but we learned a few things: Lane Kiffin’s bummin’, Mike Leach’s struttin’, and this LSU is clearly not the 2019 LSU

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Louisiana State
The whispers from Baton Rouge have started: “Joe? Joe, please come back ... please, Joe!”

You need a recap of what happened in the opening week of the SEC season. Aaaaaaand, let’s do it...

Florida 51 vs. Ole Miss 35

Small sample size notwithstanding, the Rebels appear as if they’ll navigate the abbreviated season pairing SEC-worthy offense with a defense more suited for the Sun Belt, the former home of Lane Kiffin, whose cool factor seems to wear off more and more with each coaching stop.

Quarterback Kyle Trask threw for 416 yards and six TDs as the Gators gained 642 total yards, a record against an SEC opponent. Ole Miss QB Matt Corral, who split snaps with John Rhys Plumlee a season ago, countered with 395 yards and three touchdowns of his own, but it wasn’t nearly enough to win the first of what should be many shootouts for the Rebels.

Auburn 29 vs. Kentucky 13

Apparently, Terry Wilson still plays quarterback for Kentucky. He’s been in Lexington so long, it seems like he backed up Jared Lorenzen back in the day. But seriously, he actually did take backup reps with Justin Herbert while redshirting at Oregon in 2016.

The ranked ‘Cats were everyone’s sexy opening-week pick against favored No. 8 Auburn, and all but dominated the first half Saturday at Jordan-Hare. This is until Wilson committed the cardinal sin of throwing a pick in the end zone at the end of the second quarter that was returned 100-plus yards by Roger McCreary for what appeared to be, but then wasn’t, but ultimately was a game-changing play for Auburn.

A touchy penalty on a peel-back block during McCreary’s return bailed out Wilson and Kentucky for a time, but the death nail had been hammered. Gus Malzahn, opting out of the sweater vest for a shirt-tie combo to honor the late Pat Dye, and his Tigers outscored Kentucky 21-6 over the final 30 minutes as momentum shifted for good – with all three TDs coming from QB Bo Nix, whose final scoring pass quickly followed a failed fake punt from Kentucky to put things out of reach.

Mississippi State 44 vs. LSU 34

Comparably speaking, LSU fans are spoiled, but I venture to say even they’d take an undefeated season and national championship – especially one fueled by Joe Burrow and perhaps the best offense college football has ever seen – at the expense of experiencing a regression the following year.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Louisiana State
Mike Leach’s fun-and-gun offense took immediate hold Saturday against LSU, with quarterback K.J. Costello setting a conference record for single-game passing yards.

Myles Brennan is not Joe Burrow (and probably won’t be). The players that have been tasked with replacing the other 15 starters from the 2019 LSU version are not those guys (at least not yet). And now the Tigers have lost one more game than they did all of last season, marking the first time a defending national champion has lost a season opener since 1998.

First-year Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach, the human sound bite, has never been one to hold back, and neither did his defense on Saturday, sacking Brennan seven times and picking off two passes in a 44-34 win that didn’t seem all that close. Stanford transfer K.J. Costello shredded the LSU defense – severely depleted by losses among the Tigers’ SEC-record NFL draft class – threw for 623 yards, the highest single-game total in SEC history and 11th-most in an FBS game.

Georgia 37 vs. Arkansas 10

Entering Saturday, Arkansas had lost 19 consecutive games against conference opponents. The streak continued against No. 4 Georgia, who did all it could the first half to get the Razorbacks off the schneid.

To put it kindly, the Bulldogs were gross on Saturday, thanks in part to the efforts of our beloved Barry Odom and the Arkansas defense, which held the Georgia offense to only three points in the first half. The second half is when Georgia woke up, the real Arkansas reared its pretty head, and the talent disparity from which Georgia will benefit against anyone not named Alabama came into play.

A third quarter dotted with Arkansas miscues – including interceptions on back-to-back possessions from Florida transfer QB Feleipe Franks, one of which was returned — resulted in 22 Georgia points to erase a lackluster start – and incite celebration among those who gambled on the Bulldogs, a 26-point favorite, to cover.

Alabama 38 vs. Missouri 19

Given all the extenuating circumstances – from this soul-sucking virus to scholarship reductions – it seems only fair that Eli Drinkwitz be handed somewhat of a free pass this season … and perhaps beyond. Yes, let’s go with that.

Mizzou, to the surprise of no one, was outclassed Saturday at Faurot against Alabama. And it wasn’t just in the talent department; we all saw that coming. The defense competed admirably at times (that secondary has promise), and the offense inspired in spurts (see KeKe Chism), but ultimately, all Tiger fans must accept this season for what it is: a time of discovery.

Does Drinkwitz have the tools he needs on offense, particularly on the offensive line? No, depth is a serious issue. Is there a clear-cut favorite at quarterback? There doesn’t appear to be. Will the pass rush we have all come to love over the last 10-plus seasons receive a much-needed infusion of life? Mmmmm, check back later, please (although, let’s welcome back Trajan Jeffcoat). And we’ll overlook the obvious struggles and visible awkwardness of adjusting to a new offensive scheme.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Missouri
Coach Drink has his work cut out, but there were a number of things to smile about after Saturday’s loss to No. 2 Alabama.

The next couple of years will serve as Drinkwitz’s measuring stick, but the ‘Bama game provided the best possible start, ironically created by none other than COVID-19. Why would you not want to face the best to start things off?

The loss aside, there were a number of positives to extract, the most inspiring of which was the final drive of the game, when Drinkwitz exercised as many timeouts as possible to give (co-starter?) QB Connor Bazelak and the offense an opportunity to score a touchdown as the final seconds expired – and make the final result seem respectable.

Now, we’ll stay tuned…

Tennessee 31 vs. South Carolina 27

By far the most evenly-matched SEC game of the day on paper, and it lived up to the hype … sort of. I’m not entirely sure why Tennessee was ranked No. 16 going into the weekend – Mizzou will get its chance to damage that rep next weekend – but it played well enough on both sides of the ball to get a crucial SEC East win on the road in the opener – and have now won seven straight since that trainwreck to start last season.

Despite blowing a 14-point lead, it’s solid win for the Vols and Jeremy Pruitt, to be sure, but it was a fortuitous bounce on special teams that sealed the deal. When it seemed like the team lucky enough to have the ball last would emerge, the Gamecocks, down by a score, were set to receive great field position with minutes left when a Tennessee punt ricocheted off South Carolina’s Cam Smith and was promptly recovered by the Vols.

It was a fitting end for Tennessee and Pruitt, who received a contract extension through 2025 days before the game.

Texas A&M 17 vs. Vanderbilt 12

I suppose I’ll give the Aggies the benefit of the doubt here. The year has been anything but predictable for us all, and that includes Jimbo Fisher’s team, which was ranked No. 10 entering Saturday’s contest with Vanderbilt.

The preseason ranking seems a bit bloated, at least in the eyes of this prognosticator, and so perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising that Texas A&M needed a late third-quarter touchdown to put Vandy away, despite being a 30-point favorite at home.

Quarterback Kellen Mond and running back Isaiah Spiller, who rushed for 117 yards, stirred the drink for A&M, but Fisher and Co. have a lot to clean up before visiting Alabama next weekend.