There is one thing that you can count on after the first weekend of the season. Fans are going to overreact—both good and bad—to what they have seen.
We in the media, of course, are no different.
But, hopefully, we do learn things. Or we think we learn things. So here are Five Things We Learned about SEC football on the first weekend of the 2018 season:
[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
1—With Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, this could be the best offense Alabama’s Nick Saban has ever had:
Yep. You read that right.
Nick Saban listened to the question all summer and, yes, he was getting pretty tired of it as the first game with Louisville approached. But when the game started the answer was obvious. Tagovailoa can do things in the passing game that Jalen Hurts simply cannot do. And, folks, it ain’t even close. Saban knows it and, more importantly, the Alabama players know it. After watching Alabama destroy Louisville 51-14 in Orlando the whole world knows it.
Alabama has a deep roster of running backs—Damien Harris, Najee Harris, and Joshua Jacobs—and, in my opinion, one of its best groups of wide receivers in school history. And with Tua distributing the ball the Crimson Tide could be virtually impossible to stop. I have to give credit to ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit who made the call last week. He said that if Tua ran on the field for the first snap against Louisville it was over. He did and it was.
Hurts, a junior, is 26-2 as a starting quarterback for Alabama and it is clear that Saban wants him to stick around. He will and he will get to play.
But this quarterback debate is officially over and a lot of defensive coordinators around the SEC are now very, very worried.
2—Auburn showed some special toughness in coming back to beat Washington: Early in Saturday’s game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, No. 9 Auburn moved the ball at will against No. 6 Washington. But the Tigers got bogged down in the red zone and had to settle for a bunch of field goals. Washington, behind senior quarterback Jake Browning, found its rhythm and came back to take a 16-15 lead with 14:10 left in the game. The Pac-12 favorite had all of the momentum.
But Auburn put together an impressive 10-play, 76-yard drive to take a 21-16 lead with 6:15 left. Then Auburn turned the game over to its defense. Washington drove the ball 36 yards on its final possession but was stopped by what many people believe is the best defensive front in college football.
It was the kind of ugly, in-the-trenches game, that Auburn would have lost in the past.
“We talked about overcoming adversity,” Coach Gus Malzahn said after the game. “Last season we didn’t win hardly any close games.”
Auburn gets Alabama State this Saturday and then hosts LSU.
3—Georgia-South Carolina is going to leave us breathless: Both teams showed efficient, up-tempo offenses as Georgia beat Austin Peay 45-0 and South Carolina romped over Coastal Carolina 49-15.
Georgia was so good that Austin Peay coach Will Healy asked his friend, Georgia’s Kirby Smart, to shorten the fourth quarter to 10 minutes, a request that was mercifully granted. Georgia gave the fans at Sanford Stadium a short peek at freshman quarterback Justin Fields, who completed seven of eight passes.
South Carolina, who installed the up-tempo offense this spring and summer, got four touchdown passes from Jake Bentley and 263 yards rushing.
Yes, both offenses feasted on cupcakes but it sets the stage for Saturday’s nationally-televised SEC East meeting (3:30 p.m., CBS) at Williams-Brice Stadium. Both teams will go fast hoping to wear the other down in one of the hottest places on Earth on a September Saturday.
South Carolina over Georgia has been a trendy upset pick all spring and summer (I know because I made it) which is only going to make things even hotter.
4—Tennessee has a lot—and I mean a lot—of work to do: I didn’t expect Tennessee to beat West Virginia in Charlotte. The Mountaineers are just too talented on offense with quarterback Will Grier, who did nothing to hurt his budding Heisman Trophy campaign with 429 yards passing in a 40-14 win over the Volunteers.
Here’s what was so disappointing: Tennessee trailed only 10-7 in the final seconds of the first half when West Virginia tacked on a field goal to take a 13-7 lead. There was a one-hour weather delay at halftime and in the second half the Volunteers just came out flat. The Mountaineers outscored Tennessee 27-7.
It was a difficult head coaching debut for Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt.
“How your team plays tells you what kind of coach you are and their team played better than our team today—so that’s on me,” Pruitt told reporters after the game.
Tennessee has now lost nine straight games to Power Five opponents.
The Vols have two winnable games at home with East Tennessee and UTEP before Florida comes to Knoxville on Sept. 22. They had better get some things worked out before then.
5—Florida looks more than ready for Kentucky’s visit: Dan Mullen was hired at Florida to re-invigorate the offense and to make football fun again. The Gators did both in the opener against Charleston Southern, scoring on six of its first seven possessions in the first half and posting 354 yards at intermission on the way to a 53-6 victory. Quarterback Feleipe Franks, who never got comfortable in the offense last season under Jim McElwain, had five touchdown passes. He had only nine in 11 games last season.
Remember this: Since Tim Tebow left after the 2009 season, no Florida quarterback has accounted for more than 16 touchdowns in a season.
Kentucky, who comes to Florida on Saturday looking to break a 31-game losing streak to the Gators, got off to a shaky start against Central Michigan with four turnovers. But the Wildcats rallied from a 17-7 deficit to win 35-20. Starting quarterback Terry Wilson, a JUCO transfer who started his career at Oregon, struggled early with three turnovers and had to leave the game with a banged up shoulder. Sophomore Gunnar Hoak came into the game and led the Wildcats to a touchdown and a 21-20 lead at halftime. Wilson ultimately returned in the second half and led a couple of touchdown drives.
Remember that last season Kentucky suffered one of the toughest losses ever when it blew a 27-14 lead late to fall to the Gators 28-27.