Five things we learned about SEC football on the second week of the 2018 season:
1—Georgia is as good as any team in the country—and that includes Alabama:
Okay. I’ll fess up. I picked Georgia to lose on Saturday at South Carolina. The Bulldogs were 1-3 in their last four trips at Williams-Brice Stadium and the one win was in a game that was played on a Sunday because of Hurricane Matthew.
[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]But Saturday I was in Columbia and saw Georgia up close and personal. After the first half, which saw Georgia holding a 17-10 lead, the Bulldogs literally imposed their will on the smaller South Carolina defense. Georgia drove the ball 75 yards on two consecutive possessions and that was that. You could literally see South Carolina wilt under the 90-degree heat.
“I told them to trust their training,” Coach Kirby Smart said after the game. “Trust the fact that we make it very demanding in practice so the game is easier.”
On ground level Georgia is a fast, physically-imposing football team in the same vein as—dare I say it—Alabama.
After a non-conference game with Middle Tennessee State this week Georgia will jump into the conference schedule with Missouri, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and LSU in the next four weeks. Missouri and LSU are on the road.
2—Kellen Mond grew up right before our eyes Saturday night:
Another confession on my part: I though Nick Starkel was the right quarterback for Jimbo Fisher’s first team at Texas A&M. Fisher coaches his quarterbacks hard and does not tolerate mistakes, particularly the mental ones. I thought Starkel was a better fit.
But Saturday night against No. 2 Clemson, Mond was magnificent, throwing for 430 yards and three touchdowns against one of the best defenses in the country. Of that total, 333 yards came in the second half.
“The moment was not too big for him,” Fisher said after the game. “His composure in the game and his decision making was excellent.”
Yes, Texas A&M lost the game 28-26 on a failed two-point conversion with 46 seconds left. But the Aggies put the rest of the SEC on notice: They are getting better and they are getting better in a hurry.
After a game with Louisiana-Monroe this week, the Aggies host No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 22.
3—The debate is over: The SEC West—not the Big Ten East—is the best division in college football:
With Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State all ranked in the preseason AP Top 14, there was an argument to be made that the Big Ten East was the superior division. But Michigan and Michigan State have already lost and Penn State was fortunate to get past Appalachian State in overtime on Sept. 1.
After just two games the SEC West has four teams (Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State) in the top 16, a Texas A&M team that took No. 2 to the wire, and an Ole Miss team that has scored 123 points in its first two games. Collectively, the SEC West is 13-1 in the first two weeks. (Arkansas lost at Colorado State on Saturday).
Let’s put it this way: If Ole Miss is your sixth-best team that’s a pretty strong division.
4—Kentucky was clearly the better team in breaking the 31-game losing streak to Florida:
Last spring I sat in the office of Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops. We talked about missed opportunities. There were several during the 2017 season but none bigger and more painful than literally giving the game away to Florida (28-27) and extending the losing streak against the Gators to 31. To his credit, Stoops did not shy away from the topic.
“We did it. It cost us the game and we have to own it,” said Stoops that day. “But I’m telling you. We’re getting better. We’re not among the elite teams in the SEC. But I promise we are moving in that direction.”
Here is why Saturday’s 27-16 win in The Swamp was so sweet. Kentucky just lined up and outgained Florida 454-360. The Wildcats had 303 yards rushing. Benny Snell, who is a grown man, had 175.
And the win was also validation for the building job that Stoops has done since he arrived in 2013. He was 4-20 in SEC play in his first three seasons but athletics director Mitch Barnhart stuck with him. Now Kentucky appears headed for a third straight bowl game.
Kentucky has also invested around $200 million in facility improvements for football over the past several years.
And Saturday all those investments paid off.
“I just feel so blessed to be the head coach here,” said Stoops.
5—If Kylin Hill can keep this up, Mississippi State might make some real noise in the SEC West:
We knew about Nick Fitzgerald, the Mississippi State quarterback. We knew about the two pros (Montez Sweat, Jeffery Simmons) on the Bulldogs defensive line. We knew about Aeris Williams, who ran for over 1,000 yards last season.
We knew very little about running back Kylin Hill.
Now everybody knows about him.
The sophomore from Columbus, Miss., had his national coming-out party Saturday at Kansas State with 211 yards rushing on 17 carries. He scored two rushing touchdowns and caught a 16-yard pass for another touchdown.
We wondered who was going to play the Saquon Barkley role in the offense of Joe Moorhead, who came to Starkville from Penn State. Now we may know.
“Certainly Kylin runs with a tremendous physicality and runs behind his pads and also has the second gear to take it the distance,” said Moorhead.
Hill carried 78 times for 393 yards as a freshman in 2017. Last spring Hill asked running backs coach Charles Huff what he needed to do to get more carries.
Huff’s advice: Lose some weight.
So Hill dropped about 15 pounds and is playing around 210.
Mississippi State gets Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday and then goes to Kentucky on Sept. 22.