After going 7-5 during bowl season, SEC haters claimed that the “Ess-E-See” was overrated. Well, the league seems to have righted itself somewhat during the opening week of college football. The only team that lost was Vanderbilt (which is no surprise), and it’s probably safe to assume that LSU would have handily beat McNeese State if their game hadn’t been canceled due to weather. Now that the first week of college football is over, here are some thoughts and concerns about the Southeastern Conference.
1. Derrick Henry deserved more preseason Heisman hype.
The junior finally had his opportunity to shine as the lead back for the Alabama offense. After spending his first two seasons splitting carries with Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, Saturday night was his first test as the bell-cow back and boy, did that man deliver. Against Wisconsin, Henry ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns on only 13 touches, which amounts to an absurd 11.3 yards per carry. The 6-foot-3, 242-pound behemoth outran the entire Wisconsin defense on a 56-yard run up the gut that he took to the house early in the second half. After that point, the wind seemed to be taken out of the Badger’s sails. All night, Henry treated the defense as if he were in high school. Alabama plays Ole Miss in two weeks, and if Henry keeps the momentum from this game going, the Rebels will face a tall task stopping Nick Saban’s newest freak of nature.
2. Texas A&M is legit.
The Aggies have been known for their high-octane offense and comical lack of defense, but that narrative seems to have ended this week. The star of the show was defensive end Myles Garrett who had two sacks, 2.5 TFLs, and a forced fumble. Even with an impressive stat line like that, there were times when the guy looked completely unblockable. Garrett will be commanding double and triple-teams all season, and while Texas A&M’s quarterback has been considered the key ingredient for success this year, but it might actually be Garrett. The pressure he brings frees up the rest of the line to get after the quarterback, in turn making it easier for the secondary to cover receivers.
The offense had it’s own moments of glory as well, notably true freshman receiver Christian Kirk. Kirk started the second quarter for the Aggies with a 79-yard punt return, and then put the game out of reach by taking a bubble screen 66-yards to the house to put A&M up by two touchdowns with 3:45 left in the game. Freshman wunderkind Kyler Murray didn’t get the start, but did get playing time and was able to showcase his wheels. Murray had 6 rushes for 69 yards, however he didn’t fare as well in the air, going 4-for-9 with an interception and only 49 passing yards.
Kevin Sumlin finally has a defense that won’t hemorrhage points to an above-average offense, and he added two new pieces to an offense that already figured to be poised for a breakout year. Look out for the Aggies this season, the SEC West just got that much more competitive.
3. Tennessee & Jeremy Johnson may have each gotten a little too much hype.
Tennessee won their opening game against Bowling Green, but gave up 30 points and 433 passing yards in the process. It’s still early in the season, and secondaries can take some time to come together, but you don’t want to see a darkhorse contender for the SEC East title give up that amount of yardage to a team Tennessee should’ve steamrolled. The Volunteers looked good on offense, as they ran the ball for 399 yards and six touchdowns, but they’ll need to get that pass defense shored up in order to be taken as serious threat for the division title.
Auburn’s quarterback Jeremy Johnson had the opposite issue that the Vols dealt with. The Vols couldn’t stop the pass, while Johnson couldn’t seem to get it all together. Coming into the season, Johnson was the heir apparent to Nick Marshall, a was touted as guy with a big arm and a physical runner. Well, Johnson used that big arm of his to sling three passes to the Louisville defense and was only bailed out of being the worse passer in the game because Louisville’s signal caller Lamar Jackson went 9-of-20 for 100 yards and an interception of his own. A Louisville fumble that was returned 82-yards by the Auburn defense ended up being the difference in this game, but Johnson needs to get his act together or the Tigers will be swallowed up by the competitiveness of the SEC West.
4. The reigning SEC East champs didn’t look great.
The Missouri Tigers put up a meager 34 points against Southeast Missouri State. Their two best offensive players, running back Russell Hansbrough and center Evan Boehm, both sprained their right ankles in the first half, and are listed as questionable for their game against Arkansas State this weekend. Quarterback Maty Mauk went back to his ways of scrambling out of the pocket at the first sign of trouble and heaving the ball down field, which led to an interception and him completing less than 50% of his passes. Missouri’s defense looked in midseason form, but if Week One is any indication, they’ll struggle to manufacture points against more talented defenses.
5. Connor Mitch should not be a quarterback in the SEC.
It took UNC’s quarterback Marquise Williams throwing two red zone interceptions, and even then the Gamecocks only won by four points. There were times in the game where Steve Spurrier’s new starting quarterback Connor Mitch looked utterly lost at times. A telling moment came in the first half, when Spurrier opted to go to the wildcat formation on a 3rd-and-long, rather than trust Mitch’s arm. The Gamecocks will be a run heavy team, and will use a heavy dosage of Brandon Wilds, David Williams, and the wildcat. Unless Mitch drastically improves before the start of conference play, I can’t see them winning more than one or two conference games.
Featured image: sportsworldreport.com