The day SEC fans have been counting down since January 9 has finally come, and with it brings boundless optimism as everybody takes the field with a zero in the loss column. Thursday turns to Monday night, as the Week 1 excitement turns to realistic expectations once supporters get a look at what their teams are putting out there in 2017. It was a harsh reality for some teams. Take Texas A&M, who blew a 34 point lead, and had some willing to give Kevin Sumlin an extended Labor Day weekend. Most teams, however; had reason to stay optimistic with the conference going 12-2 on opening weekend. Let’s take a look at the week that was
Arkansas: 49 vs Florida A&M: 7
The SEC season kicked off Thursday night in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium, Arkansas’ second home for at least another year. The Hogs were slow starters, but the rushing attack and defense powered them to a big win against FAMU. Running backs, Chase Hayden and Devwah Whaley alleviated the concern around the running game, due to the offseason loss of Rawleigh Williams. The true freshman, Hayden picked up 120 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Whaley added another touchdown, and 60 yards on 12 carries. Paul Rhoads had an impressive debut at Defensive Coordinator, as the first team defense shut out the Rattlers through 3 quarters. Overall, the Razorback D only gave up 175 yards to FAMU, a team coming off of a 29-7 victory. There were some points of concern for the Razorbacks. Austin Allen was a mediocre 14-19 with 135 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. There was also a huge loss in the secondary with DB Ryan Pulley tearing a pectoral, an injury that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the season. While it was not perfect Thursday night in Little Rock, the Hogs will take a 49-7 win, given last season’s opener, a one point victory over Louisana Tech, and some of the recent results in Little Rock, losses against Toledo and Louisana-Monroe.
Missouri: 72 vs Missouri State: 43
Drew Lock had a day; 521 yards, 7 touchdowns. Damarea Crockett had a day: 202 yards, 2 touchdowns. The whole offense had a day. 72 points should be enough to get Tiger fans excited, but, oh my, this defense gave up 43 points to an FCS teams. That is all sorts of concerning. Missouri State is not even that potent of an offense in the FCS ranks. They were 4-7 and averaged 23 points a game last season, and they absolutely torched a Missouri defense that will have to go up against SEC offenses this season. 800 yard games are great, but Mizzou is going to need to put that up weekly if this is how their defense will perform.
South Carolina: 35 vs NC State: 28
This was an intriguing game for me, mainly because I was absolutely fascinated last year at how South Carolina was winning games, despite having no discernable strong points. I wanted to see whether, in 2017, South Carolina would be playing to their talent level, or whether we would see a repeat of 2016, where a few players on the roster would step up, and the Gamecocks would find ways to win games. The latter was the case against NC State. Deebo Samuel made a case for offensive player of the week, with three touchdowns and 185 all-purpose yards. TJ Brunson, Bryson Allen-Williams, and DJ Wonnum all had big days on the defensive side of the ball, then safety, DJ Smith came through in the clutch with a game-saving pass deflection. Talent-wise, the Gamecocks are still towards the bottom, but they made a case that they could luck into some wins and put together a decent 2017 season.
Florida: 17 vs Michigan: 33
This game dominated the headlines going into the week, with ten Gators being suspended, and Jim Harbaugh pulling a total Jim Harbaugh move, by not releasing his roster until 5:29 am on Wednesday. The suspensions ended up taking a toll on Florida, Jordan Scarlett more than Antonio Callaway. The Scarlett-less run game only mustered up 11 yards against the Wolverines. The Gator’s biggest weakness, however; appeared to be at the quarterback position. Neither Felipe Franks or Malik Zaire could get any offense going for Florida. Both QBs had fumble issues, which is never good. Franks and Zaire both coughed up the ball two times each, with Zaire losing the ball in the end-zone for a Michigan touchdown late in the game. It was a tough game for Florida, but they have an opportunity to right the ship with a full roster against Northern Colorado before their next test against Tennessee.
Kentucky: 24 vs Southern Miss: 17
I was high on Kentucky as an East dark horse in the preseason. It looked like stars were aligning for Mark Stoops in year six, with his most talented team in his tenure. This game cooled me on a little bit on Kentucky. The Kentucky offense looked like what one would normally expect from a Kentucky offense. Stephen Johnson only threw for 176 yards, but fans are not expecting 300 yards-five touchdown games from him. They are expecting a solid dual-threat quarterback that they can rely on to do enough to get the job done. The real disappointment was Benny Snell, the projected 1,000-yard rusher only came out with 67 yards on 20 carries against Southern Miss. It is only week one, so fans would hope that he gets better. Good for Kentucky though, the Wildcat defense looked like they could still be one of the best in the East, with a solid showing against what is actually a pretty strong Southern Miss offense. Courtney Love, Darius West, Josh Allen, and Denzil Ware all came up with great games on D. I would not sell Kentucky’s east stock just yet, but if this offense does not improve from week one, which one would expect them too, then this team will not be a threat in the East.
Mississippi State: 49 vs Charleston Southern: 0
Mississippi State had the most impressive stat of the weekend, by holding Charleston Southern to 33 total yards. The Bulldog defense even had a scoring impact by forcing two safeties. It was all around dominating performance in Todd Grantham’s Starkville debut. The offense showed some first game hitches, but in the end, had a solid performance as well. Sleeper Heisman contender Nick Fitzgerald threw for 239 yards and 2 touchdowns while adding another touchdown on the ground. The running game looked potent, with a 281-yard day, highlighted by Aeris Williams with 83 yards and a touchdown. Granted the game was against Charleston Southern, but Mississippi State looked like a team that could set themselves a part from the “rest of the pack” teams in the West.
Georgia: 31 vs Appalachian State: 10
Appalachian State is a team that power-fives never overlook when they show up on the schedule. The Mountaineers 2007 victory over Michigan, we all remember it, is the textbook example of why you do not come in overly confident against a group of five, or FCS team. The Bulldogs took care of business against Appalachian State, but the biggest storyline of this game was the injury to Georgia starting Quarterback, Jacob Eason. Eason went out with a knee injury after a late hit in the first quarter, forcing true freshman, Jake Fromm to come in. Fromm was able to lead the team to victory, going 10-15 with 143 yards and a touchdown. That being said, with Georgia having two of nation’s best running backs; the running game will be more pivotal to the offense’s success. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel fulfilled expectations, with Chubb gaining 96 yards and 2 touchdowns and Michel going for 87 and 1 touchdown. Going to South Bend next week without Eason will not be an easy task, but Chubb, Michel, and the defense should keep them in a good spot.
Auburn: 41 vs Georgia Southern: 7
My preseason take on Auburn: If Jarrett Stidham can be what we saw at Baylor, then the Tigers are a playoff contender. Stidham had his struggles in week one; fumbling the ball twice, and throwing an interception. While Stidham did not have a stat line that jumped off the paper, he definitely passed the eye test, showing that he is oozing potential. The running backs, on the other hand; had a stat line that jumped completely off the paper. Both Kam Martin and Kerryon Johnson had 136 yards each en route to an absurd 351 total rushing yards on the night. Kevin Steele’s defense looked like one of the best in the SEC, holding Georgia Southern to 78 yards. The talent is there for the Tigers, they just need Jarret Stidham to be like a fine vase, and be the centerpiece that brings everything together.
Ole Miss: 47 vs South Alabama: 27
It has been a long eight months without football in Oxford. Ole Miss was a team, that needed more than anything to just get out on the field, play football, and bring an end to the worst offseason in school history. The Rebels proved how eager they were to play by scoring a touchdown on their first drive, courtesy of a Shea Patterson pass to DaMarkus Lodge, the first of Patterson’s four touchdown passes. Patterson was not the only stand out performer for Ole Miss. Wide Receiver, AJ Brown had a record-setting performance with 8 receptions, 223 yards, and 2 touchdowns. It was not a pretty game for Ole Miss, but they showed some flashes of explosiveness, such as their 27 point outburst in the third. Ole Miss does not have anything to lose, which means we could see some fun games form an explosive offense laying it all out there.
Alabama: 24 vs Florida State: 7
What is there left to say about Alabama that has not already been said? Over the last ten years they have been by far the most dominant program in college football and looking at this team, it appears that 2017 will be business as usual for the Tide. In week 1 we saw a game that looked familiar. A game that started out close, but the opponent starts to wear down in the second half, and all at once the Tide hit a big play. Saturday it was Dylan Moses forcing a kick return fumble, recovered by Keith Holcombe, leading to an 11-yard touchdown run by Damien Harris. At that point, Alabama starts to pull away, as the other team tries to come back against a defense that continues to re-define dominant. Week 1 confirmed to us Alabama is going to be Alabama this season.
Vanderbilt: 28 vs Middle Tennessee: 6
It is another SEC vs group of five game, but this was not going to be an easy one. Last season Vandy only beat Middle Tennessee, not to mention, Middle Tennessee had the home field advantage this year. Vanderbilt was up to the challenge and went across the Nashville metro with a complete performance against the Blue Raiders. Kyle Shurmur threw for 3 touchdowns and spread the ball out to nine different receivers. Ralph Webb had 153 all purpose yards, and the defense only gave up 6 points. Vanderbilt looked incredibly well coached, and maybe, just maybe, looked like a team that could make some noise in the East.
LSU: 27 vs BYU: 0
On to the Advocare Texas Kickoff, played in New Orleans due to Hurricane Harvey. It was a de facto home game for the Tigers in their first game of the post-Les Miles post-Fournette era. No need to worry, because Ed Orgeron and Darrius Guice had them looking like the second best team in the SEC in a shutout victory over LSU. BYU racked up 365 total yards in a victory against Portland State last week, but LSU defense only allowed the Cougars 97 total yards. The defensive domination brought us some absurd stats from the BYU offense. -5 rushing yards. Six first downs. Eighteen minutes and six seconds of possession. Complete domination in every aspect by LSU against a pretty good BYU team. The ground game was especially good, and looked like it will power LSU’s offense, as always. Derrius Guice picked up 122 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Darrel Williams pitched in 92 yards and an additional touchdown. LSU showed fans a lot to be excited about in New Orleans. Ed Orgeron will do just fine piloting Les Miles’ team in 2017
Texas A&M: 45 vs UCLA: 44
I for one, am amazed that Kevin Sumlin still has a job at this point. I kept thinking all labor day weekend, that I would look down at my phone and see the notification that Kevin Sumlin is gone as A&M’s head coach. However, it appears that Sumlin will hold on to his seat a little longer after the surrender cobra game of the year. For those of you living under a rock, here is a quick recap of Sunday night’s game. UCLA got three points on the first drive. A&M would respond by forcing turnovers, executing a run game that was torching UCLA, playing great defense which to great offense. It was a complete performance. The Aggies were firing on all cylinders, dominating the Bruins, up 38-10 at halftime. They would continue to build the lead in the second half, up 44-10 at one point. Little did we know; it would end up being Freezing Cold Takes’ biggest night since the Super Bowl. Josh Rosen would lead the UCLA offense down the field on five consecutive touchdown drives, capped by a 10-yard game winning touchdown pass to Jordan Lasley, a play seen around the world. This is a game that will live on. For UCLA, it marks the ascension of Josh Rosen to the pantheon of Bruin greats. For Texas A&M it is the epitome of the Kevin Sumlin tenure. If this year is it for Sumlin, no singular moment will be associated with the Sumlin era more than the epic collapse against UCLA.
Tennessee: 42 vs Georgia Tech: 41
The SEC saved for the best for last this week, and what a game it was Monday night. A fourth quarter comeback followed by a double overtime victory for the Volunteers. We learned a few things in Monday night’s game. One: Tennessee struggles against the triple option, but who among us does not? We learned that Tennessee has a trash can on the sideline for turnovers. We also learned that Butch Jones may have a team that does not crack under pressure. There were times were it looked like the Yellow Jacket’s offense had Tennessee worn down against the ropes, but the Vols dug deep and showed some resilience. I really like what I saw from this team. They put together a complete performance on all facets, and looked the Tennessee team that could finally realize their potential.
Offensive Player of the Week
Missouri QB Drew Lock. 21/34 521 yards 7 TD 1 Int.
Defensive Player of the Week
South Carolina S DJ Smith. 7 tackles 6 solo 3 PD
7. Texas A&M
8. Mississippi State
10. Ole Miss
11. South Carolina