SEC: Texas A&M Aggies
Bold? Sure. But so far, Garrett has done plenty to live up to superhero status for the Aggies’ defense.
Garrett, from Arlington, Texas, quickly made his presence felt for the No. 6 Aggies. A five-star recruit who was ranked No. 4 overall in the ESPN 300, Garrett was an impact player, collecting 5.5 sacks in Texas A&M’s first three games, tying the school’s freshman record held by Sam Adams and Damontre Moore.
No recruit had more hype and expectation in the recruiting process than Garrett. At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, he was physically ready to join the lineup immediately and showed up this summer as one of the strongest players on the team, thanks to a strong weight-room work ethic that dates to his days at Martin High.
He began to open the eyes of the coaching staff during preseason training camp. The Aggies have one of the country’s best offensive lines, and when he started beating the guys across from him, Sumlin, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and defensive line coach Terry Price knew they had something special.
“We've got two pretty good tackles in Germain Ifedi and Cedric [Ogbuehi],” Sumlin said. “Our line is pretty good. For a guy to walk in here and have the success he had during two-a-days [is impressive]. Did he win all the time? No. But against those guys, a lot of time, guys don't win any. He's had his moments with every guy on that offensive line.”
Price said the biggest deficiency on the 2013 defense – and thus, the biggest priority in 2014 recruiting – was adding speed to the edge.
“So we went out and tried to find the best we could find,” Price said.
Garrett has that speed, along with a host of pass- rush moves. He’s not being asked to do everything just yet – the Aggies have a healthy rotation of defensive ends that includes sophomore Daeshon Hall, junior Julien Obioha and freshmen Qualen Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson. The staff is doing its best to keep Garrett fresh, so he stays effective.
But he’s on his way to making a permanent mark. Garrett is on pace to break Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC record for sacks by a freshman (eight).
There is still much ahead for the Aggies’ prized recruit of the 2014 class. But so far, so good for Garrett.
“He's still a work in progress and he still has a lot of work to do,” Snyder said, “but boy, is he talented.”
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
What he did: Another week, another sack (or two) for Myles Garrett. In Texas A&M’s 38-10 win over Rice, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Garrett tallied 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and eight total tackles. He continues to live up to the hype that surrounded his recruitment and is now second in the country in sacks with 5.5 this season.
What it means: Garrett has already tied the Aggies’ school record for sacks in a season by a freshman and he is on pace to shatter Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC record for sacks by a freshman (eight). If Garrett continues to play the way he has as competition stiffens on A&M’s schedule, we're now talking about an All-SEC-caliber season. (Sam Khan)
Garrett Johnson, Kentucky
What he did: Johnson led the Wildcats with six receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He had three of UK’s biggest plays of the game: A 60-yard touchdown in which Johnson danced between two Florida safeties before running to the end zone; a back-breaking third-down conversion when he beat his man on a 30-yard catch and absorbed a big hit from the safety; then on the next play, Johnson gave Kentucky a 17-13 lead back when he streaked past a confused secondary and hauled in an easy 33-yard touchdown.
What it means: Johnson was Patrick Towles' favorite receiver in a triple-overtime game that opened a lot of eyes. Although the Cats lost, Johnson must have been especially pleased with his performance in The Swamp. The three-star recruit from Winter Garden, Florida, was rated the No. 84 prospect in the state and didn’t have a committable offer from the Gators. (Jeff Barlis)
Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
What he did: Although Oklahoma’s defense completely shut down the Tennessee running game in the first half, Hurd broke runs of 43 and 29 yards after halftime as the Volunteers tried to stay in the game. Oklahoma ultimately pulled away for a 34-10 win, but Hurd gave a standout performance with 97 rushing yards on 14 carries, plus 24 receiving yards on two catches. It was the best rushing outing by a Tennessee true freshman since Bryce Brown in 2009.
What it means: Although he hasn’t started yet, Hurd is Tennessee’s leading rusher with 48 carries for 209 yards and one touchdown. Each week he emerges a bit more as a star in the Vols’ backfield. Up next for Hurd and the Vols’ young offensive line will be a Sept. 27 trip to Georgia in Tennessee’s SEC opener. If the Bulldogs don’t clean up the run defense that South Carolina exploited last Saturday, Hurd might have a field day. (David Ching)
Armani Watts, Texas A&M
What he did: Watts had six tackles against Rice, but perhaps most notable was a play that won't end up on the stat sheet. After a blocked field goal, Watts raced to his own 7-yard line to pick up the ball and run across the width and length of the field for a 93-yard touchdown return. The only problem? A&M was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct as players on the sideline entered the field.
What it means: Though Watts' return didn't count, he has had three good games in an Aggies uniform. He has been one of the pleasant surprises at a position the Aggies sorely needed help: Safety. He's fifth on the team in tackles, leads in pass breakups (three) and has made an interception and two tackles for loss. He has been an impact player with a nose for the football, huge for an A&M defense trying to improve. (Sam Khan)
Darrel Williams, LSU
What he did: Williams took the fewest carries of anyone in LSU’s four-man tailback rotation, but he scored twice -- once on a nifty fullback dive where he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and broke away for a 22-yard scoring run -- and again showed off a powerful running style. Williams finished the game against Louisiana-Monroe with seven carries for 37 yards and is now tied with senior Kenny Hilliard for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with three.
What it means: Williams has been impressive in limited work in the Tigers’ last two nonconference games. While he won’t become LSU’s No. 1 running back this season, he has flashed some versatility by contributing at both tailback and fullback. He and Hilliard took the bulk of LSU’s short-yardage carries against ULM, so Williams has clearly done enough to expect to see more of him once the Tigers open SEC play this weekend against Mississippi State. (David Ching)
OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Carter recovered a Brandon Wilds fumble at the South Carolina 26-yard line to set up a field goal that gave Georgia a 10-7 lead in the first quarter. He finished the day with three tackles, a fumble recovery and a quarterback pressure.
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU: Fournette ran 10 times for 52 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown, caught a 20-yard pass and returned the opening kickoff 40 yards in a win against Louisiana-Monroe.
WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M: Noil caught three passes for 71 yards and scored on a 14-yard touchdown pass against Rice before leaving the game in the third quarter with an injury.
CB Henre' Toliver, Arkansas: Toliver started for the first time and helped the Razorbacks put the finishing touches on an enormous win over Texas Tech by intercepting a Davis Webb pass at the Arkansas 15-yard line on the Red Raiders’ final possession.
RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky: Williams made one of Kentucky’s plays of the night against Florida. On the Wildcats’ first overtime possession, he ran right after catching a pass, then reversed field all the way to the opposite sideline and dove to the pylon for a 25-yard touchdown that put Kentucky up 27-20.
Texas A&M hasn't taken a step back -- like many thought they would in the post Johnny Manziel-era -- and contributions from the Aggies' freshmen is a big part of that equation. So far, 14 true freshmen from the Aggies' fourth-ranked 2014 recruiting class have seen the field and several have become impact players immediately: defensive end Myles Garrett, safety Armani Watts and receiver Speedy Noil, just to name a few. The Aggies' move to the SEC did quite a bit for the program in terms of visibility, fundraising, image but the impact has probably been felt most in recruiting, where the Aggies have hauled in two consecutive top-10 recruiting classes and are on track for a third straight this fall.
Vanderbilt started three different quarterbacks in their first three games, and suffice it to say, it has been an adventure. Against Massachusetts, true freshman Wade Freebeck started but Patton Robinette -- the Game 1 starter -- came in later to lead a comeback victory. What to make of the way coach Derek Mason has handled quarterbacks? It certainly has been a guessing game for fans and observers. This week, Mason said Robinette is starting and he's sticking with him until there's a reason to go another direction. Here's hoping that is the case. Robinette was pulled quickly in the opener against Temple but perhaps gained confidence from his relief performance last week. Confidence can be a fragile thing with a quarterback since it's a position of high visibility. Hopefully Mason can help Robinette keep that confidence up and stick with him through thick and thin, which would show the rest of the team that it should be confident in him as well.
Around the SEC
- NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. dropped in on Ole Miss practice to hang out with Hugh Freeze and co.
- Arkansas coach Bret Bielema praised his team's poise after facing adversity in various points of its 49-28 win over Texas Tech.
- Here are 10 amazing stats from Week 3 in the SEC
- Tight ends embrace a larger role in South Carolina's offense.
- Mississippi State plans to open up the playbook -- offensively and defensively -- when it faces LSU.
- There's a 'fine line' when it comes to QB Jeremy Johnson's role in Auburn's offense behind Nick Marshall.
Sumlin accidentally said Jake Matthews probable for SMU. Meant Jake's brother, center Mike, but got some laughs. "I wish Jake was probable."— Kate Hairopoulos (@khairopoulos) September 16, 2014
Georgia's stud running back did just about everything he could have to win that game Saturday. He broke through tackles, changed the field on a dime during a wild 17-yard gain, drug Gamecocks -- likely kicking and screaming -- on his back and legs, and flattened guys in his way inside Williams-Brice Stadium.
Still, it wasn't enough, but who knows what would have happened if he'd been given the ball on that first-and-goal from South Carolina's 4-yard line with 5:24 left in the fourth quarter. I know Bulldogs fans are wondering how the Dawgs went away from their workhorse back at such a critical moment ...
Through two games, Gurley is second in the SEC with 329 rushing yards on 35 attempts. He's averaging a whopping 9.4 yards per carry and has four rushing touchdowns. He also has a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Gurley is your leader in the Heisman clubhouse nationally and the unquestioned one when it comes to SEC candidates. He has that special, rare blend of power, speed and agility that Playstation footballers wish they could compute.
But we already knew all that. So today, I thought we'd talk a little bit about the quarterbacks.
We can't have 10 legitimate Heisman candidates in the SEC. It's just not logical. But we can talk about a handful of guys who could throw themselves into the mix as the season goes on.
- Kenny Hill, Texas A&M: Obviously, he's the leader out of the quarterback gate. He leads the SEC with 1,094 passing yards and has 11 passing touchdowns with zero interceptions. It doesn't matter who he's played since that phenomenal performance at South Carolina, the kid deserves Heisman love.
- Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: He's the SEC's best dual-threat quarterback with his 696 passing yards and 273 rushing yards. Prescott has accounted for 11 touchdowns and looks much sharper as a passer in the pocket. The next step is seeing how he performs in SEC play. Oh, hello road trip to LSU.
- Bo Wallace, Ole Miss: OK, so we never really know which Wallace we'll get in games, but when he's on, he's not too shabby. He's second in the SEC with 1,023 yards and has nine touchdowns to four interceptions (three in the opener). With his 316 yards in a blowout win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, Wallace tied Eli Manning's mark of 10 300-yard passing games at Ole Miss, which is a school record. Wallace will break that record soon enough.
- Maty Mauk, Missouri: It's pretty obvious that the Tigers are just fine at quarterback with Mauk. All he's done as the full-time starter is throw for 647 yards and a league-high 12 touchdowns. Mauk can run if he needs to, and has really improved his pocket footwork, but he'd rather just stand and throw down field, which he does really well.
Now, will all of these guys be in the Heisman discussion in November? No. In fact, there's a good chance that by October most of this list will be eliminated from serious contention. But at this early part of the season, it was necessary to mention what these guys had done so far.
Here are a couple of other players to watch when it comes to SEC Heisman chances:
- Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Still the best receiver around. Leads the SEC and the nation with 33 receptions and has a conference-leading 454 yards with two touchdowns.
- Arkansas RBs: Alex Collins leads the SEC 411 rushing yards and has five touchdowns. Jonathan Williams is third with 322 yards and leads the league with six rushing touchdowns. Honestly, just take your pick with either back because they are both averaging more than 8 yards per carry.
- Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn: He was off this weekend, but is still fourth in the SEC with 289 rushing yards and has four touchdowns.
- Travin Dural, WR, LSU: He was finally kept out of the end zone against Louisiana-Monroe, but is still second in the SEC with 370 receiving yards and has a league-leading four touchdowns.
- Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida: Through two games, he has 21 receptions for 339 yards and three touchdowns. If he's not on the field, Florida doesn't beat Kentucky Saturday.
If Florida wants to be successful defensively, pressuring quarterbacks is paramount. On Saturday against Kentucky, Dante Fowler Jr. did a good job of it but didn't have a ton of help. That has to change when the Gators play Alabama this week. The individual matchup involving Fowler should be interesting -- he is facing Alabama true freshman Cam Robinson, the No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2014 recruiting class. For what its worth, the Gators said they needed some adversity, like Saturday's game provided, before going to Tuscaloosa.
Days after its loss at South Carolina, Georgia is still the subject of much conversation. A lot of it centers around the offensive playcalling and coordinator Mike Bobo. My colleague Edward Aschoff said not giving the ball to running back Todd Gurley near the goal line late in the game was the wrong call. That topic was even the first question posed to Mark Richt by a caller on his weekly radio show and he admitted that “I think we were all thinking the same thing on the ride home.” The Bulldogs play Troy this week, so don't expect that chatter to calm anytime soon.
Read more here.
Around the SEC
- The SEC released a statement on the non-delay of game call in Florida's win over Kentucky. Mark Stoops declined comment.
- Brandon Harris remains in LSU's plans at quarterback even though Anthony Jennings appears entrenched as the starter.
- Check out the top 10 SEC quarterbacks who defied recruiting rankings, a list that includes Johnny Manziel.
- By moving their most athletic players inside, Auburn has found a fit on its defensive line.
But every team has flaws and the Aggies are no exception. And several of those flaws were visible in Texas A&M's most recent game, a 38-10 win against Rice.
Texas A&M had fewer total offensive yards, rushing yards, first downs and ran only 59 plays to Rice's 91 on Saturday.
The offense had its hiccups, such as the opening drive which consisted of a dropped pass, an intentional grounding penalty and an incomplete pass. The Aggies were only 3-for-8 on third-down attempts. Even though it wasn't a bad offensive day (477 yards, 38 points), the Aggies' standard is set so high that a day like Saturday is considered a down day (the Aggies had more than 600 yards and 50 points against both South Carolina and Lamar, their first two opponents).
"People get a little spoiled with how we play offense around here," Sumlin said. "And if we don't score right off the bat, the sky is falling. We'd like to score every time the first series of every game. Our percentage is high enough that people get frustrated and our team starts pressing a little bit. But you know what? That's football."
Defensively, the Aggies allowed a season-high 481 yards including 240 rushing yards. It was the first time this season the Aggies allowed a team to reach 100 or more rushing yards, a far cry from last season when allowing 200 or more rushing yards was the norm.
But the first two weeks provided different circumstances. In Week 1 vs. South Carolina, the Aggies raced out to a large lead, virtually taking the running game away from the Gamecocks as a long-term option, and the Gamecocks' star back, Mike Davis, was injured. In Week 2, the Aggies were simply far superior to Lamar, an FCS squad.
Rice, a well-coached squad whose head coach (David Bailiff) knows Sumlin well from their days coaching head-to-head in Conference USA, provided a viable challenge. A mix of read-option, speed option, play-action passing and a mobile quarterback (Driphus Jackson) gave the Aggies plenty to deal with, especially minus a key player, starting middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni.
Still, Sumlin was happy with what the final scoreboard read.
"Ten points," he said. "That's pretty good. If we can keep our point totals down -- we gave up some yards, a lot of yards at time -- and the time of possession deal, third down. We're not nearly where we've been the last two weeks on third down.
"I think their quarterback played very, very well, particularly in the first half, extending drives, improvising, not just the option, but dropping back and taking off."
Sumlin noted third downs, which the Aggies allowed 10 conversions on 21 Rice attempts. The biggest play allowed was the result of freshman cornerback Victor Davis biting on a Jackson pump fake, which left receiver Mario Hull wide open for a 35-yard touchdown. With a lot of youth in key positions, things like that are bound to happen.
The result on the scoreboard was positive at the end of the night. But that doesn't mean the Aggies are perfect and Sumlin acknowledged that.
"Guys weren't very happy with how they played," Sumlin said. "Rice had something to do with that. They had a great plan. Our guys were kind of ho-hum in the locker room afterward and hard on themselves because of their performance. That's good, when you get to that point, as a team, because there's a lot of guys that would have liked to have won 38-10 today and be happy with how they played."
We had a major shakeup at the top of our predictions with South Carolina's 38-35 upset win over Georgia, but we're still going with one SEC team making the College Football Playoff and 11 teams from the league making it into the postseason:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Alabama
Orange Bowl: Texas A&M
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: South Carolina
Capital One Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: LSU
Outback Bowl: Ole Miss
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Georgia
Belk Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Mississippi State
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Florida
Birmingham Bowl: Tennessee
But the cheer wasn't for Allen or the Texas A&M offense or the play. It was for the Kyle Field grounds crew, who spent a few seconds placing sand in a divot. The group was rather busy on Saturday night during the Aggies' 38-10 win over Rice, tending to the playing surface as large divots emerged throughout the game.
The Aggies have a new grass surface this season (the previous one had to be replaced during the Kyle Field redevelopment project, which is ongoing) and College Station received a torrential downpour of rain on Friday night, which didn't help field conditions.
Rice coach David Bailiff expressed concern about the field conditions and, according to the Houston Chronicle, spoke with Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman after the game.
Kyle Field turf near midfield pic.twitter.com/u3AWryAji2— Joseph Duarte (@Chronicle_Owls) September 14, 2014
Turf conditions at Kyle Field pic.twitter.com/1uCB8GCN1b— Joseph Duarte (@Chronicle_Owls) September 14, 2014
Rice athletic director Joe Karlgaard said the Aggies were in constant communication on steps to keep the field safe throughout the game.
“We were comfortable with the way they handled it,” Karlgaard said.
Bailiff was complimentary of the grounds crew after the game.
"I thought their grounds crew did as good a job as anybody could do keeping up with that," Bailiff said.
The players noted after the game that the field did cause some difficulty at times.
"It's a new field and it's a pretty bad field," Texas A&M defensive end Julien Obioha said. "We've got to get used to it. Conditions aren't always perfect. There are times out there myself when I was on a block and the field would give out but you can't change anything about it. You just have to deal with it."
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said that if the field conditions caused big issues, they would have taken further action.
"I don't know how much [the field conditions] impacted the game," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "We got a lot of rain last night ... you never know with a new surface what it was going to be like. The good news is it didn't rain very much all day today. It could have been worse if it was raining.
"It was something we kept an eye on and if we thought it was going to be a really, really big issue, then there would've been decisions made, not necessarily by me, but in conjunction with a lot of other people that things would have changed."
In a wild sequence to end the first half of Saturday's game against Rice, the Aggies went from allowing three points to scoring six to scoring none. Rice kicker James Hairston made a 53-yard field goal to end the first half and pull the Owls to within 11 points of Texas A&M at 21-10.
However, the field goal was waved off by officials after they ruled that the Aggies made an illegal substitution. They had 12 men on the field and because it was a dead-ball foul, the play didn't count.
So Hairston and the Owls had to attempt the field goal again, this time five yards closer, and the 48-yard attempt was blocked. As the ball rolled toward the goal line, Texas A&M freshman safety Armani Watts sprinted to pick up the ball at the 7-yard line, ran all the way across the field and returned it 93 yards for a touchdown and a 27-7 lead.
However, some of the Aggies players on the sideline ran onto the field after the block and Texas A&M was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at its own 42. The Aggies received an untimed down at their own 27, but Kenny Hill took a knee and the half expired with the score the same way it was before Hairston connected on his first field goal try at 21-7.
The bizarre series of plays was followed shortly thereafter by a halftime interview where Kevin Sumlin discussed his team's dumb penalties and "bad football."
Here's the block and return that went for naught:
Sumlin spoke about the sequence after the Aggies' 38-10 victory.
“We coach our team that if the ball is blocked and it goes on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage then we will pick it up, scoop and try to score," Sumlin said. "If the ball is blocked and it goes on our side of the line of scrimmage, then we leave it alone, because there are only bad things that can happen. Unless you’ve got a guy like Armani Watts who has never played and been on the field goal block team."
Sumlin noted the chaos of having players run off the field, others running on it and Watts sprinting by them all en route to the end zone.
"I’ve been around 20-something years, I’ve never seen that happen," Sumlin said. "It was just a really bizarre ending to the first half. Hopefully we won’t see anything like that again."
UMass at Vanderbilt, FSN
When these teams met last season in Foxborough, Massachusetts, it was a competitive game before a Vandy team that would win nine games locked down a 24-7 victory. UMass gave Colorado a scare before falling 41-38 last weekend, so reeling Vandy had better come to play or it might be on upset alert.
Central Florida at No. 20 Missouri, SEC Network
When last we saw UCF, the Knights were suffering a heartbreaking 26-24 loss to Penn State in their season-opening matchup in Ireland. Mizzou is a 10-point favorite over the Knights, who won the Fiesta Bowl last season before stars Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson jumped to the NFL, but the opener made it clear that UCF can still compete with Power 5 opposition.
3:30 p.m. ET
Georgia's visits to South Carolina are almost always must-see TV, although these trips are rarely much fun for Mark Richt's Bulldogs. Even when Georgia has won in Columbia -- and it has lost its past two trips to Williams-Brice Stadium -- the outcome has frequently been in doubt even in the final seconds. Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley should get plenty of work for Georgia in this one.
Arkansas at Texas Tech, ABC
Here's a fun clash of cultures for a national TV audience, which will see Bret Bielema's ground-and-pound face Kliff Kingsbury's passing attack. Texas Tech has a couple of nail-biter nonconference wins on its resume, while Arkansas is coming off a 73-7 drubbing of Nicholls State. The home team is a narrow favorite here, but this could be a good one.
4 p.m. ET
Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 14 Ole Miss, SEC Network
This looked like a sneaky good game before the season, with ULL coming off three consecutive bowl appearances. But the Ragin' Cajuns absorbed a 48-20 beating from Louisiana Tech last week and Ole Miss dominated Vanderbilt in Nashville, so it doesn't look like an upset is in the cards for this one.
Mississippi State at South Alabama, ESPNEWS
This will be the first time an SEC opponent has played at South Alabama and excitement is high in Mobile -- particularly after the Jaguars opened the season with a win and Mississippi State struggled to put away UAB for a while last Saturday. Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott and company need to turn in a complete performance with a trip to LSU ahead next week.
6 p.m. ET
Southern Mississippi at No. 3 Alabama, ESPN2
Alabama gets another opportunity to kick around an overmatched nonconference opponent, just as it did last week against Florida Atlantic. The good news for the Crimson Tide, a 48-point favorite, is that most of the starters should be watching from the sideline in the second half, resting up for a visit from Florida next Saturday.
7 p.m. ET
Louisiana-Monroe at No. 10 LSU, ESPNU
Les Miles is a perfect 11-0 against in-state opponents and most of those games have been blowouts, so there is little reason to believe this will be a close contest. That said, the Tigers' secondary should face a reasonable challenge from the Warhawks' no-huddle spread attack.
7:30 p.m. ET
Kentucky at Florida, ESPN
Wildcats running back Jojo Kemp (a native Floridian) poked the bear this week when he made comments about how good it would feel to beat a couple of his former high school teammates -- and current Gators -- and rub it in their faces. Kentucky looks to be a greatly improved team, but it will be a major upset if this game is still close in the fourth quarter, and Kemp's comments probably didn't help the Wildcats' cause.
8 p.m. ET
Tennessee at No. 4 Oklahoma, ABC
As with Kentucky, this is a major measuring-stick game for an improving Tennessee team -- going on the road to face an opponent that virtually nobody expects the Volunteers to challenge. Butch Jones' Vols have been impressive so far, but their inexperience along the line of scrimmage will be their undoing in this one.
9 p.m. ET
Rice at No. 7 Texas A&M, ESPN2
For the second straight Saturday, the Aggies can help SEC viewers get to sleep by drubbing an in-state opponent in a late-night matchup. Rice, a 31-point underdog, might put up more of a fight than Lamar did in losing 73-3 to Texas A&M a week ago, but it won't be much more of one. Kenny Hill and the Aggies win big again.
The Aggies were high-powered enough offensively and too talented overall to allow lose the game, but it set the tone for what would be a rough season for Texas A&M's defense.
The numbers were eye-popping: 306 rushing yards allowed and 509 offensive yards allowed to the Owls in a 52-31 Texas A&M victory.
There were extenuating circumstances. The Aggies were missing five defensive starters for part or all of the game because of suspensions. There were true freshmen all over the field. Still, the performance left Snyder frustrated after his team yielded six yards per carry.
But the Aggies struggled on that side of the ball throughout the season with newcomers permeating the depth chart.
So far this season Texas A&M has showed improvement. After a season in which they were last in the SEC in yards allowed per game (475.8), rushing yards allowed per game (222.31), yards per play (6.36) and yards per carry (5.38), the Aggies have shown several signs of improvement in 2014. The run defense has been stingy (78.5 yards per game), the Aggies show signs of a pass rush (six sacks in two games) and though they have given up some big plays in the secondary, they are improving there as well.
But Rice is a team that knows the Aggies well. The Owls weren't intimidated when they made the trip last season, and the coaching staffs are familiar with each other. Rice coach David Bailiff used to go head-to-head with Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin when Sumlin was coaching Houston in Conference USA. Bailiff and Snyder clashed when Snyder was the head coach at Marshall.
Sumlin is expecting a disciplined Owls team to come in and play well.
"They weren't afraid coming in last year," Sumlin said of last season's C-USA champion. "So they'll be prepared, they're going to challenge us with our eye discipline like we talked about earlier, with play-action, giving some different motions, things like that."
Snyder expects the Owls to challenge them in a place they haven't been often this season.
"They're going to try to run the ball, they're going to try play-action, they're going to do what they do," Snyder said. "They're a very efficient offense. They're going to be good again this year. This is a very good football team we're getting ready to play."
Key personnel has changed on both sides (Rice has a new starting quarterback with veteran Driphus Jackson), but Snyder feels this game will serve as a good barometer to show him how much progress his unit has made since this time a year ago.
"It'll be a measuring stick to see exactly how far we've come," Snyder said.
The best quarterback in the SEC is ...
Here's an even trickier one: Who will be the SEC's best quarterback by season's end?
Good luck with both of those. Now, I'm sure a few people on the Plains are offended by the question. Surely, it's Nick Marshall, right? But after watching Jeremy Johnson sling it around, Marshall may have a little competition as the best quarterback on his own campus right now.
But unlike a year ago in the SEC, when the league was as star-studded as it's been in a while at the quarterback position and there was a very clear separation at the top, it's a tough call at this point on how the top three or four, or even the top six or seven, would break down if you were creating a pecking order.
Nobody's going to confuse the SEC with the Pac-12 when it comes to this year's quarterback crop, but don't sleep on the SEC, either.
Between them, Mississippi State's Dak Prescott and Missouri's Maty Mauk have accounted for 18 touchdowns in their first two games. They've each thrown eight touchdown passes, and both have the ability to extend plays with their athleticism, making it even tougher to defend them.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Prescott is the best fit for Dan Mullen's offense that he's had since taking the Mississippi State job in 2009, and Mauk is no stranger to big stages after stepping in for the injured James Franklin a year ago when the Tigers were in the midst of the SEC's Eastern Division race.
There's still a caveat with both players, though.
They need to do it for an entire season, leading their teams to big wins and putting them in championship contention, before anybody's going to label them as elite quarterbacks.
Perhaps the most intriguing wild card in the whole bunch is Florida's Jeff Driskel. All we have to go on this season is one glorified scrimmage against Eastern Michigan, but the vibe out of Gainesville in the preseason was that Driskel was primed to live up to his billing coming out of high school. First-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has helped polish his game, and the Gators are running more of a spread offense that suits what Driskel does best.
And how can we get into a conversation about the best quarterback in the SEC without mentioning the trigger man for Texas A&M?
He's been dynamic enough that his parents have already filed for the trademark to the Kenny Trill nickname. He's thrown for 794 yards and seven touchdowns in his first two games and is already popping up in early Heisman Trophy talk.
We'll wait until he faces a few more SEC teams before we hail him as the second coming of Manziel, but the tape doesn't lie. He's got a sweet release, knows where he wants to go with the football and isn't fazed by hostile environments.
By now, I'm sure the Ole Miss fans are wondering if I've forgotten about Bo Wallace, who's the most experienced quarterback of the group. Wallace's numbers speak for themselves, and his shoulder is finally healthy. If he keeps his interception total down, he could be the quarterback at the top of the SEC heap come December.
We only had one quarterback (Marshall at No. 6) among the top 25 players in the league in our preseason rankings. And in the spirit of full disclosure (and, yes, I've heard from a few Aggies over this), I ranked Texas A&M 12th in the league in our quarterback rankings.
That's about where I had the Aggies in our 2012 preseason quarterback rankings, but that's before Johnny Football had morphed into Johnny Football.
It's a reminder that quarterbacks in September can look a lot different come December.
And so can the way they're ranked.
Losing another voice of the SEC
We lost another treasured link to years gone by earlier this week when longtime Mississippi State radio play-by-play announcer Jack Cristil died. He was 88.
Cristil was part of a fraternity that made the SEC so special. He was calling Mississippi State games before they were all on television and before there was any cable. If you didn't go to the games, Cristil was the one who painted it for you on the radio every Saturday, and he did so in his own distinctive style for 58 years.
What a legendary collection of radio broadcasters this league has produced, and sadly, many of them are now gone.
It's impossible for me to think about the SEC without thinking about some of the radio voices that defined my childhood -- Larry Munson, John Ward, Cawood Ledford, John Ferguson, Jim Fyffe and Jack Cristil. Now, all except Ward are gone.
They truly brought the games to life when all you had in front of you was a radio with a big antenna.
I missed this earlier this week but couldn't resist posting it. Any time Nick Saban says something you don't necessarily expect to hear, it's interesting. This time, it was Saban using the words "beast mode" in a press conference. This isn't the first time Saban has used "beast" (he used it after motivational speaker Eric Thomas visited Alabama) but this is the first time I can recall he has used "beast mode" in this setting and he was referencing his players and Thomas' words, saying "everybody wants to be a beast."
And in case you missed it, the parents of Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill are working on trademarking the nickname "Kenny Trill" which blew up last week after the sophomore quarterback said he liked the nickname. I get the sense that this is as much about protecting Hill and keeping others from profiting off of it (someone else filed for it before Hill's parents did) than it is the Hills trying to profit off of their son's name down the road. Even so, I find it interesting, and maybe even puzzling, that fans, media and others in between feel it necessary that Hill has a nickname. Just because his predecessor, Johnny Manziel, had a cool nickname "Johnny Football," doesn't mean Hill needs one, especially after only two starts. For what it's worth, I like the nickname as a lifelong Houston resident (Houston rapper Bun B, who originally hails from Port Arthur, Texas, popularized the word "Trill," which is a hybrid of "true" and "real"), but if Bun B says Hill has to earn it first, then I'm on team Bun. To Hill's credit, he said he doesn't care too much about the nickname, but his teammates love it.
Around the SEC
- Tennessee's defensive line gets ready for a test against Oklahoma's offensive line, which is full of "big son-of-a-guns."
- Jojo Kemp's words might have infuriated Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, but bulletin-board material is overrated.
- Cameron Artis-Payne has made a big impact on the Auburn running game.
- Mississippi State is convinced that the 548 yards they allowed to UAB won't become a trend.
- LSU wide receiver John Diarse has become a key third-down contributor.
They most noticeable one turned up in the secondary on the night of Aug. 28, as the Aggies yielded 366 passing yards, a total that included two blown coverages that resulted in 69- and 46-yard touchdown passes.
Taking into account that their next opponent was much weaker than its first one, Texas A&M did show some improvement in that area in a 73-3 win over FCS foe Lamar on Saturday. And when reigning Conference USA champion Rice comes to town in a couple days, the Aggies will have more chances to see how their secondary has progressed.
Still, there are signs of optimism for the group. True freshman Armani Watts has been a pleasant surprise, sliding into the free safety position and immediately becoming a playmaker. In the season opener, he broke up two passes, including one that would have been a touchdown. He also intercepted a pass.
"Armani has been a pleasant surprise back there," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "I think [secondary coach] Terry [Joseph] has done a good job of getting across the message that we need to become more physical, disciplined, all those things. "
Watts is providing quality play at a position the Aggies sorely needed after they struggled at free safety in 2013. Big plays being given up were a routine occurrence, and Joseph is working on making sure that isn't happening this fall.
Both Snyder and Kevin Sumlin have been pleased with what their new secondary coach has done so far.
"Terry is very detailed-oriented," Snyder said. "He not only talks about the secondary, but he'll also talk about what's going on up front at the linebacker position, what's going on up front with the D-line, to give a broader perspective of what the whole defense is about, not just doing 'my role' or 'my job.' As kids get older, that's the way it should be. We've had to play catch-up there, but as time goes on, you see that maturation."
The unit is not operating with a full deck, either. Junior cornerback De'Vante Harris has been out nursing an injury he suffered during preseason training camp so redshirt freshman Victor Davis has had to slide into his position opposite senior corner Deshazor Everett. Howard Matthews continues to patrol strong safety, but the Aggies have added depth across the secondary thanks to their 2014 recruiting class and emerging veterans like Devonta Burns, who is the team's primary nickel back.
Allowing only 153 passing yards and not allowing any big pass plays was a sign of progress last week in the win over Lamar.
"There weren't a lot of guys [who] cut loose and were running free; we challenged routes," Sumlin said. "You've got to say there was at least some improvement from a week ago when we had a busted coverage for a touchdown and a bad eye violation with Howard for a touchdown."
Eye discipline will be tested further this week when Rice arrives. The Owls will use play action passing regularly so it'll give the Aggies an opportunity to see how they've progressed. But so far, Snyder is pleased with what he is seeing.
"I think Terry has done a good job of getting across the message that we need to become more physical, disciplined, all those things," Snyder said. "We're playing a little bit of catch-up there. I've been pleased with the progress of those guys. We'll see a lot more over the next couple of weeks where we're at."
Bowls are only one thing
The SEC went 7-3 in bowl games last season. Since 2000, the league is a robust 26 games above .500 in bowl games, which is a better win-loss differential than the ACC (minus-5), Big 12 (even), Big Ten (minus-23) and Pac-12 (plus-5).
Go ahead, fans of the SEC: Thump your chest at that.
But don’t go too far. Because bowls are only one piece of the puzzle, and it might not be all that significant in the first place. Given the long delay between the end of the regular season and the start of bowl season, coupled with the lack of motivation to play for a better tomorrow, is it really a fair sample to draw from?
If you think so, don’t try telling that to Alabama coach Nick Saban, who said it was a challenge to get his team to “try to play a consolation game” against Oklahoma in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.
Besides, the real test of scheduling isn't who you were selected to play, but who you decided to play of your own free will.
Saturday came and went without a single game of consequence in the SEC.
A week after scheduling nonconference games even Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops would qualify as “toughies” -- West Virginia, Wisconsin, Boise State, Clemson -- the SEC reverted to form and ordered up a bunch of cupcakes.
Alabama dominated Florida Atlantic, LSU trounced Sam Houston State and South Carolina survived East Carolina. Kentucky walloped Ohio and Missouri thumped Toledo. Florida saw Eastern Michigan’s troublesome cinder block wall and launched the Eagles right through it. All told, SEC teams outscored opponents by a cannon-wide margin of 462 points.
It certainly helped that none of those opponents were from Power 5 conferences. Sadly, one wasn’t even an FBS-level program, which we’ll have to get used to as teams pay for the right to beat teams like Western Carolina and Chattanooga.
Since 2004, SEC teams have scheduled 121 FCS opponents. Only four times have they lost. The average margin of victory: 31.5 points per game.
The top five worst offenders at scheduling games against teams outside the major conferences since 2004: Mississippi State (35), Ole miss (33), Arkansas (30), Alabama (30) and Tennessee (30). Outside of SEC newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri, Georgia had the fewest such games with 21.
During the regular season, the SEC is still king
It’s easy to poke fun at the SEC scheduling. When you’re on top, criticism comes with the territory.
But when it comes to scheduling nonconference games against Power 5 opponents, the SEC isn’t afraid to pull the trigger, contrary to the buzz outside the Southeast.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, the SEC has played 111 total regular-season games against Power 5 schools since 2004. Its 69-42 record is the best of the all Power 5 conferences, ahead of the Pac-12 (53-42), the Big 12 (42-42) and the Big Ten (36-45).
Over that time, the SEC has gone 42-23 against the ACC, 12-7 against the Pac-12, 9-8 against the Big 12 and 6-4 against the Big Ten.
Simple math says the SEC hasn’t shied away from playing its Power 5 brethren. The ACC leads the way with its 117 such nonconference games, but the Pac-12 (95), the Big 12 (84) and the Big Ten (81) all lag behind the SEC’s 111 total Power 5 matchups.
It’s going to get better -- sort of
Mark your calendars. Clear out your entire day on Sept. 3, 2016.
College football will (hopefully) be reborn on that day. Why? Because all the talk about improving strength of schedule will finally come to fruition. Alabama will play USC, UCLA will take on Texas A&M and Notre Dame will go to Texas. And those are just the games inside the Lone Star State. LSU and Wisconsin will do battle at Lambeau Field, and Clemson and Auburn will kick off in Atlanta.
It’s going to be a great day for college football fans. Just don’t expect it to last all season. Because while teams are beginning to go all in on premier nonconference games, it’s important to remember that it’s in the singular sense of the word. As in, only one per regular season.
According to FBSchedules.com, the week after Alabama plays USC, it hosts Western Kentucky. LSU, in the six weeks after playing Wisconsin, is set to welcome Southern Miss, Jacksonville State and South Alabama to Baton Rouge. And Auburn? It will be so exhausted with Clemson that it has to play Arkansas State in Week 2.
Unless something changes between now and the opening week of the 2016 season, Mississippi State will start out against South Alabama while Florida hosts the mighty UMass Minutemen. In Week 2, the Gators get the North Texas Mean Green.
12:00 PM ET Troy 13 Georgia 3:30 PM ET 6 Texas A&M SMU 3:30 PM ET Florida 3 Alabama 4:00 PM ET Indiana 18 Missouri 7:00 PM ET Northern Illinois Arkansas 7:00 PM ET Mississippi State 8 LSU 7:30 PM ET 14 South Carolina Vanderbilt