Category: News

Six Takeaways from the UGA Spring Game

1.What a difference an offseason has made at the QB position

Headed into last season, I was confident (borderline cocky) that no one from the East would upend the Bulldogs as long as Newman or Daniels was playing. So you can imagine my surprise when D’wan Mathis started the first game of the season and Stetson Bennett the next five. Bennett played with all-heart and gave the Bulldogs his very best every game. However, the QB seemed anemic the first half of the season.

JT finally got his first start of the season, and the rest could be the start of history. It is not just the emergence of JT and progression of his knee that is a positive sign for the Bulldogs. Carson Beck and Brock Vandagriff both flashed signs that they could be ready if the Bulldogs needed them later in the season. While Carson put up the big numbers, Vandagriffs performance might have been the most important. It has just been assumed he would need a year to adjust to the speed of the game after playing at the Single-A private school ranks.

2. Despite losing George Pickens, the Wide Receiver unit has plenty of weapons.

1st round prospect Pickens went down with a torn ACL, and Jermaine Burton went down with a spring season-ending injury as well. Not to mention Dominick Blaylock is still recovering from ACL surgery from last season. For those that were healthy in the spring, their growth was noticeable. Kearis Jackson is primed for a big season, and it appears the real Demetris Robertson has finally stood up. 

3. JT Has more weapons than just the Wide Receivers.

I am still convinced Darnell Washington is a government experiment. He is that rare tight end that could lead to defensive coordinators adjusting their scheme around his play. While he is an All-American candidate, he is not alone. John FitzPatrick is a solid weapon, and Brock Bowers is emerging as a third weapon at tight end. 

Then there are the running backs. Zamir White, James Cook, and Kendall Milton all bring a different skill set to the table, but all share the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. 

The bottom line is that JT will have playmakers at every single position, and anything short of a CFP spot would be a disappointment. 

4. The offensive line could be elite or a complete disaster.

No matter who Kirby replaced him with, losing Sam Pittman was going to be a blow. The hiring of Matt Luke appeared to be a homerun hire and still should be. However, it is time for him to prove his worth and this offensive line to reach their full potential. They have the talent to be elite and flashed it at times during the spring. With that said, there are still far too many missed assignments and too many inconsistencies. 

For this line to reach its full potential, the class of 2019 and 2020 need to step up. Broderick Jones, Tate Ratledge, and Amarius Mims arrived in Athens too talented not to be contributors this season.

5. Georgia Defense set up for a big year

If I listed my top five disappointments in the SEC last season, the UGA defense would be in the top three. Injuries played a part, but the defense simply did not play up to their standards last season. 

The good news for the Dawgs starts upfront with Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt. It is hard to imagine any offensive line in the nation slowing these two down. If Davis works on his conditioning over the summer, the anchor is set. With plenty of depth at linebacker and Nolan Smith ready to be a full-time starter, the front seven should be back close to 2019 form. The secondary is still a concern, but Lewis Cine and the unit seem to be progressing at a good speed. Everything I have heard about redshirt freshmen Kelee Ringo and Jalen Kimber has been very positive, and many believe this could be the surprise unit of the SEC. 

6. This needs to be the year for Kirby Smart

Many UGA fans will remember that I was against the hire of Kirby Smart and spent the first year mocking the hire……and I was wrong. He has built a program that should be a contender every season. Last year seemed like a great year for the Bulldogs to break the glass ceiling that has been over them since 1980. However, everything quickly fell apart with opt-outs and injuries. 

This season, the Bulldogs have something they have not had during Smart’s tenure and for a long time. They have a more experienced and talented roster than Alabama. Yes, Alabama could have another great season and national championship, but they have many more question marks than the Bulldogs. If Smart doesn’t win a national title this season, it doesn’t mean that his tenure has been a failure by any stretch of the imagination. However, having UGA with a decisive edge at many positions is not guaranteed ever to happen again. 

Six Takeaways from the Crimson Tides Spring Game

1. Bryce Young is the future, but plenty of questions remain.

Bryce Young is the QB of the future for Alabama, but the same concerns that I had before the game remained after the Spring. We already knew he has an elite arm and football IQ. The question was his height and weight. I don’t believe his height will be much of an issue. I do still have concerns about his size. He showed a willingness to step up in the pocket and hit his target. However, he also knew the defensive players couldn’t hit him. He looks tiny out there but does have amazing feet when scrambling.

This team will only go as far as Bryce’s health. There is no Jaylen-Tua or Tua-Mac combo in Tuscaloosa right now.

2. The Wide Receivers are young but very talented.

I believe this will be a season of growth for the Tide WR’s. This is not the same as Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy handing over the reigns to Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. There is not that type of experience, but there is plenty of talent.

How quickly they develop will decide how far this offense goes in 2021. Simple things like when to release inside and outside will help this unit grow exponentially. There were three SC top 10 catches but were made out of bounds for this reason and negated. The talent is undeniable, though.

3. The offensive line is a work in progress.

Even the most die-hard Crimson Tide fan knows that the offensive line will see a step backward this season. How far back is impossible to tell at this point. Alabama, like most teams, is fighting some injuries right now on the OL. The lack of continuity was on full display but should be a problem that works itself out with more reps in the fall. Emil Ekiyor, Evan Neal, and Chris Owens will likely be starters, but there are no less than six highly skilled linemen looking to fill the final spots.

4. Expect a big season from the RB’s and TE’s

There is no shortage of running back talent at the University of Alabama. This will likely be one of those seasons where there is a more significant emphasis on the unit than just one player. The Tide has four running backs that could start at most SEC schools because of their ability in both the running and the passing game.

Probably the biggest jump for me was by the TE’s. Jahleel Billingsley and Cameron Latu could end up being the best TE duo in the SEC. With an inexperienced QB, these two could become primary targets.

5. The defense will take a step (maybe two) forward.

The defense is projected to get better just based on the amount of talent they have returning. However, my takeaway is that they may be a step or two ahead of where I thought. They have an excellent pass rush, athletic linebackers, and uber-talented secondary that could mean big things for the Crimson Tide next season.

Can they limit the mental errors that have become synonymous with the Tide defenses the last few years? There were not many in the scrimmage, but Latu’s 59-yard touchdown was costly. For all the criticism Pete Golding has received, it appears he has the defense headed in the right direction quickly.

6. Them Freshman though

The Crimson Tide coming off the highest-rated class in recruiting history, appear to be worth all the hype. If Kool-Aid McKinstry and Agiye Hall are any indications, this class will exceed expectations. Hall’s ability to catch balls in traffic reminded me of UGA wide receive George Pickens right away. Kool-Aid has 1st round written all over him and should be a starter very early into the season.

 

 

Week 3: SEC Previews and Predictions

Florida (-5) vs Texas A&M

Headed into this week’s matchup between the Aggies and the Gators, it seems like a tale of two teams headed in very different directions. Florida must remain focused because the Aggies still have a ton of talent. Florida’s offense does look the part, but for all the offensive fireworks, they only outgained Ole Miss and South Carolina 989 to 942 yards.

I said last week, and I still remain skeptical that the Gators offense will continue to operate with this efficiency as the competition gets tougher. Kyle Trask has been great statistically this season, but there are still some areas of concern. PFF notes, “Of his 21 completions, 18 were to a receiver with more than a couple of steps of separation from the defender. On throws to receivers who weren’t charted as “open” by our graders, Trask went 3-of-10 for 66 yards and one interception.” In other words, he still has some cleaning up to do.

That might not be an issue this week if the Aggies defense does not play much better in the secondary than they did last week against Alabama. Florida does not go over the top as much as Mac Jones and the Tide, but they have to do a better job of pressuring the QB.

On offense, the Aggies need to give the Gators an early and often dose of running back duo Isaiah Spiller and Ainias Smith. Coach Jimbo Fisher has only had them carry the ball 34 total times in their first two-game. Despite limited carries, they totaled 222 yards for a 6.5 YPC average. Alabama limited the duo, but the Gators are not Alabama on defense.

Score Prediction Florida 38 Texas A&M 28

 

LSU (-14) vs Missouri

LSU secured a bounce-back win last week against Vanderbilt who looked improved in week one against Texas A&M. Derek Stingley Jr. returned to the lineup after missing the opener against Mississippi State and the results were instant.

The Missouri offense, on the other hand, has looked anemic in the first two weeks as they scored just 31 points in losses to the Crimson Tide and Volunteers. After rotating quarterbacks Shawn Robinson and Connor Bazelak the first two weeks, Coach Eli Drinkwitz has decided to start Bazelak after he went a respectable 13-of-21 for 218 yards against Tennessee.

At this point in the season, no one is going to confuse the 2020 LSU offense for the 2019 version. However, they are averaging 37.5 PPG and startting to find their identity. Quarterback Myles Brennan has thrown over 300 yards in each of his first two starts and the three headed monster at running back is getting healthy.

Missouri is slowly finding some weapons but three straight weeks of top 25 teams is going to take a toll.

Score Prediction: LSU 41 Missouri 17

 

South Carolina (-13) vs Vanderbilt

After a solid performance in week one by the Commodores they got throttled last week against LSU. Their offensive line is just not jelling yet and that is a bad combination when you have the first freshman quarterback to start a season opener in the SEC since 1972.

South Carolina’s offensive line has not been much better to start the season. So when you look at Collin Hill’s stats and see 502 yards and three scores, it is impressive with what he has dealt with. Vanderbilt has not shown the ability to get after the quarterback .

This game will come down to who controls the clock, and South Carolina will make a few big plays when needed.

South Carolina 27 Vanderbilt 13

 

Tennessee vs UGA (-12.5)

Jim Chaney loves balance and the ability to use multiple running backs to carry the load. The Vols are passing for 225.5 YPG and rushing for 182.5 YPG and are 5th in PPG in the SEC at 33.

The offense, however, will have their biggest test of the season with the Georgia Bulldogs defense ready to shine in another prime time game. For Tennessee to be able to win this game, they have to be able to run the football. It won’t be easy as UGA is only giving up 2.32 YPC and hasn’t let a running back rush for a TD in 678 days?

I will be surprised if the Bulldogs have much trouble limiting the Vols running game and while Chaney is the best in the business at hiding his quarterbacks flaws, he will have to let Jarrett Guarantano try to make some plays if the want to win this game.

The big question mark for the DAWGS is can Stetson Bennett keep up the level he has been playing at? For all of the talk of wide receivers not getting seperation for the Bulldogs last season, Bennet has thrown to more open receivers in attempts over 10-plus-yards than any other QB in the SEC.

If Bennett and the offense don’t turn the ball over more than twice, UGA rolls.

UGA 27 Tennessee 14

Arkansas vs Auburn (-14)

This will either be a bounce back win for Auburn or the beginning of the 2021 HC search for the Tigers. The Razorbacks shocked the world by upsetting Mississippi State in week one. However, it is time for people to realize that this Arkansas defense is the most improved unit of this young season.

The question for Auburn is will we get good Bo (Kentucky) or bad Bo (UGA). The Auburn offensive line were manhandled last week and I think Arkansas could find some success against them as well.

The Razorbacks offense has to take a step forward this week if they are going to win this game. Last week against MSU they only gained 1.7 yards per carry. Rakeem Boyd left the game with an ankle injury but has not looked like the running back we expected early in the season. FSam Pittman says he should be ready to go against Auburn but they will need to find more creative ways to get him involved.

I think Auburn gets the win but I don’t think Bo Nix will play well enough to cover the spread.

Auburn 24 Arkansas 17

Alabama (-23) vs Ole Miss

Let me start by saying that Mac Jones and John Metchie III are who I thought they were. My No. 1 breakout pick (Jones) and my No. 6 break out player (Metchie) had another big game last week. Jones has thrown the most catchable ball of anyone this season in college football according to PFF. I would like to see Najee a little more explosive this week as he is averaging 1.3 yards less per carry this season than his career average headed into the year.

As you should know by now, Ole Miss has some true playmakers on their team. Matt Corral has been exceptional the first two weeks of the season and has been lethal when targeting WR Elijah Moore. Jerrion Ealy has also been efficient when called upon.

After this game, we will know if the Alabama defense is as good as they have looked the first two weeks. They will have their work cut out for them but they will make adjustments early.

Alabama 45 Ole Miss 24

Kentucky (-3) vs Mississippi State

I am 10-4 on the season straight-up and 11-3 ATS. However, all four games that I have loss have involved Kentucky and Mississippi State – So take this prediction with a grain of salt.

With as bad as the Kentucky secondary has been and with the Air raid in town, there is plenty of reasons to believe the Wildcats will drop to 0-3.

However, I think their offensive line can help control the clock. The question is can they create turnovers. So far this season, they don’t have one.

To be honest, I am so confused by these two teams right now, I am going to flip a coin.

Kentucky 29 MSU 24

SEC Week 2: Previews and Predictions

South Carolina VS Florida (-16.5)

Kyle Trask was exceptional last week throwing for 416-yards and six-touchdowns. While I am becoming a believer, I am not ready to book his NY ticket just yet. While it is hard to criticize a 30-for-42 effort, but there is still room for improvement when you rewatch the game. Will he be able to be elite if any team can take Kyle Pitts out of the game? I think so but I am not ready to fully commit.

This week will be a slightly tougher challenge for the Gators offense. South Carolina’s defense isn’t elite, but they do have two future NFL cornerbacks in Israel Mukuamu and Jaycee Horn. It sounds like Isreal might be able to play, and Horn didn’t allow a single yard passing against Tennessee.

Florida defense was as horrific as I have seen them in my ten years of covering the SEC. They gave up over 600 yards and 35 points to the Rebels.

Mike Bobo did a respectable job with South Carolina last week and he was creative in finding ways to get the ball as he caught ten passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. Graduate transfer Colin Hill played a pretty good game throwing for a respectable 290 yards. He will need to take another step this week for South Carolina to have a shot.

Score Prediction: Florida 38 South Carolina 20

 

Missouri VS Tennessee (-12)

The Missouri Tigers are heading to Knoxville after a better than expected performance versus Alabama. Yes, they did most of their scoring against the second team, but they fought all night. Probably most impressive for the Tigers was outside linebacker Tre Williams and defensive lineman Kobie Whiteside. Both played solid all night.

They will need some help to stop this Jim Chaney offense. I have often said that Chaney is the best in the business at hiding his quarterbacks’ flaws. Jarrett Guarantano was far from perfect, but he did not make any killer mistakes as he threw for 259-yards, one touchdown, and zero interceptions. Eric Gray struggled running the football against South Carolina, but Ty Chandler covered his clack rushing for 86-yards on 13 carries.

Score Prediction: Tennessee 27 Mizzou 13

 

Texas A&M VS Alabama (-18)

While watching Mac Jones play last week, one song came to mind – I told you so by Randy Travis. Jones did just what I thought he would -dominate the game. Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith were once again spectacular, and John Metchie proved he was ready to be the new No. 3. Najee once again was a bully, and the starters looked the part.

The Aggies, on the other hand, were awful on offense. Kellen Mond was the most disappointing as he looked like he regressed on passes over 10 yards as he completed just three of 11 such attempts. Isaiah Spiller was the one bright spot for the Aggies offense, rushing for 117-yards on only eight carries.

Alabama and Texas A&M both looked good on defense, but both were facing anemic offenses. We should get a better idea of where they both are after this weekend.

Score Prediction: Alabama 35 Texas A&M 13

 

Ole Miss vs Kentucky (-7)

Kentucky was very disappointing last week as the collapsed against Auburn in the second half. Ole Miss, on the other hand, gave up over 600 yards but also put up over 600 yards.

For Kentucky, it was all about mistakes from the QB position. Terry Wilson Jr. got off to a good start but was horrific in the second half. The good news is the offensive line and running backs played pretty well overall. If Wilson can shake off the cobwebs, they should be in good shape.

For Ole Miss, quarterback Matt Corral was excellent completing 22-of-31 passes for 395 yards and three touchdowns, and WR Elijah Moore caught ten passes for a career-high 227 yards.

I hope I do not regret this, but Kentucky should be able to grind the ball and control the clock.

Score Prediction: Kentucky 24 Ole Miss 21

 

Auburn vs UGA (-6.5)

In Auburn’s last five trips to the state of Georgia to play the Bulldogs, they have only averaged 7.6 PPG. Making things more interesting, this will be the best UGA defense they have faced during that time. Bo Nix and company did have moments where they looked the part last week against what should be a very good Kentucky defense.

Nix should have a ton of confidence coming into this game, not only because of how he played against Kentucky but because he will have wide receiver Seth Williams who bullied his way to six passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns. With that said, the Tigers will need to get much better in the rushing game, and Williams will need more help.

We all know how good this UGA secondary should be this season led by Richard LeCounte who has had four interceptions in his last two games. If they can keep Auburn receivers in front of them, it should be a fun game for the defense.

On offense, who knows? Despite the terrible start, I will say the play-calling looked much improved. Once Monken found his groove, he just started dialing them up. Will it be Stetson Bennett or JT Daniels? I think either is good enough to win this game, but they cannot play musical chairs with them. Auburn is not Arkansas, and this could get ugly quick if they come out slow.

Score Prediction: UGA 24 Auburn 17

 

Arkansas Vs Mississippi State (-17)

Arkansas leading Georgia in the first half had more to do with the spotty offensive line and D’Wan Mathis’ play than anything else. Outside of the second drive of the game, the Razorbacks were flat. Obviously, Mississippi State defense is not as talented as UGA’s defense, but they can still play. Rakeem Boyd was a non-factor but should have more success this game.

Also problematic for Arkansas, they will not be facing an inexperienced QB this week. In fact, last week against LSU, Bulldogs QB K.J. Costello was historically good throwing for 623 yards and five touchdowns in that 44-34 win against LSU. Mississippi State’s offense as a whole recorded 15 plays that resulted in at least a 20-yard gain. The closest to them last week was 11.

Score Prediction: MSU 35 Arkansas 20

Vanderbilt VS LSU (-21)

The Coomodores were impressive last week defensively against the Texas A&M Aggies and that was without their leading tackler from last season Dimitri Moore. Yes, Kellen Mond played bad but some of that was because of Vanderbilt. This defense should get better and beter as the season goes on.

LSU is not going to just move the ball up and down the field on this defense early. However, the lack of playmakers on offense for Vanderbilt will be problematic because the dam will eventually break and this offense will get going in the second half.

Score Prediction: LSU 30 Vandy 7

SEC Week 1: Kentucky vs Auburn Preview and Predictions

The Auburn Tigers and Kentucky Wildcats will square off, and what I believe is the marquee game of week one. Although the opening line has Auburn a 7.5 points favorite, this should come down to the last drive.

Auburn Offense vs Kentucky Defense

Auburn Offense

Auburn fans are hoping that Chad Morris and his smashmouth spread offense will be the answer to the never-ending roller coaster that has been the Auburn offense under Gus Malzahn. It definitely will not be easy as he has two of the nation’s premier defenses (Kentucky, UGA) in the first two weeks of the season without spring practices.

Despite Coach Morris being an excellent fit for Auburn, it will not be without growing pains. The offensive line has four new starters this year, and their leading rusher over the last two seasons, JaTarvious Whitlow, transferred to Western Kentucky. The Tigers will use a running back by committee this season and have a stable of running backs with unlimited potential, and DJ Williams has looked the part at times

The biggest question mark for me is quarterback Bo Nix who won the SEC’s Freshman of the Year honor in 2019. He passed for over 2,500 yards and thew 16 touchdowns to only six interceptions. He also made some clutch plays in the Oregon and Alabama game. We know that Nix will do well with quarterback designed runs. Can he improve in the passing game is the big question. According to PFF.com, Nix ranked 107th in clean pocket passing last season, which history tells us is one of the most revealing stats when predicting future growth. A positive for Nix is that he will have Seth Williams, who loves to bully defensive backs.

Kentucky Defense

You will be hard press to find a more underestimated SEC unit headed into the 2020 season. The Wildcats defense finished 14th in the nation in scoring defense last season. This defense has great depth, and while you might not know them all by name, there are plenty of playmakers as well. Coach Stoops will look to pressure Nix early and often led by the Boogie Man Jamar Watson. He is tied for the most returning sacks in the SEC (6.5), and the third highest-graded returning edge rusher among all Power 5 schools.

The linebackers are loaded, but the biggest difference-maker might be in the secondary. From week four of last season, Brandin Echols only allowed 0.47 yards per cover snap, leading all FBS cornerbacks. He is not alone because this unit could be one of the best in the nation before adding LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph.

Kentucky Offense vs Auburn Defense

Kentucky Offense

If games are won at the line of scrimmage, Kentucky will be in any ball game. They have the best offensive line in the SEC with the return of Darian Kinnard, Landon Young, Drake Jackson, and Luke Fortner. They also return running backs A.J. Rose, Kavosiey Smoke, and Christopher Rodriguez Jr, who combined for 1975 rushing yards. The return of

Perhaps most important for the Kentucky offense, they will have an actual QB in this game. The dual-threat QB gets a lot of unfair criticism and will have a big season this year.

Auburn Defense

Yeah…Auburn is loaded again on defense. Defensive end Big Kat Bryant and tackle Tyrone Truesdell are going to have an all-conference type season. K.J. Britt will lead one of the top linebacker units in the nation.

The secondary took a hit losing starting cornerbacks Noah Igbinoghene and Javaris Davis and safeties Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas. However, I am not convinced they will take even the smallest step back, and Roger McCreeary is going to be one of the nations best.

Predictions

I love this Auburn team as the season goes forward and could very well see them winning the SEC if Nix develops as a passer. The problem is that they have an experienced Kentucky team to start the season and JHS with only 20k.

I expect this game to be like the old smashmouth SEC game. Both teams have an excellent defense and running game, with athletic QB’s. The difference, in my opinion, will be the Kentucky offensive line vs the Auburn defensive line. As long as Terry Wilson does not turn the ball over, and Kentucky limits Auburn in special teams, the Wildcats should win this game.

Score Prediction: Kentucky 24 Auburn 21
Stat Prediction: Terry Wilson 250 total yards and two touchdowns.

Week 1: UGA vs Arkansas Preview and Predictions

It could be argued that when Kirby Smart was hired at UGA before the 2016 season, that his most important hire was offensive line coach Sam Pittman. Fast forward to the 2020 season, and Pittman and the Arkansas Razorbacks will be hosting his former boss and team when they square off with the Bulldogs.

Both coaches will be surrounded by new faces as they both made impressive hires to their coaching staff. Since Pittman’s departure, the Bulldogs brought in Todd Monken (OC), Matt Luke (OL), and Scott Cochran (ST). The Bulldogs also added one of the top young offensive minds with the hiring of Buster Faulkner.

Pittman did a phenomenal job of bringing in a top-notch staff despite it being his first head coaching job. He is known as a great player recruiter, but he proved he could do it with coaches as well with the hiring of DC Barry Odom (Former Mizzou HC) and Kendal Briles (FSU).

Razorbacks offense vs UGA defense

Arkansas Offense

Arkansas’ new OC Briles arrives with high expectations and several playmakers. However, he is taking the least efficient offense in the SEC over the past two seasons. He will have the most explosive running back in the SEC last season in Rakeem Boyd, who was first in the SEC (2nd in FBS) in touchdowns over 50-yards. Boyd posted five on the season and no other SEC running back had more than two.

The Razorbacks will also have a new quarterback, but one UGA is very familiar with in Flordia Gators transfer Felipe Franks. It is not likely that Franks will be a Heisman candidate this season, but he is a major upgrade for the Razorbacks. In his past 15 starts, Franks has thrown for 3,155 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also posted a 12-3 record during that span. The problem is that he hasn’t been very well against UGA. In two starts, he has combined for 20-40 passing for 135 yards, one touchdown pass, and two interceptions. Florida was defeated in both games by a combined score of 78-24.

Coach Briles will try to ease some of the pressure with stud wide receiver Treylon Burks. The 6’3 and 232 lb wide receiver led the Razorbacks with 29 catches for 475 yards as a freshman. Burks is a threat in every aspect of the offense and a threat as a returner on special teams. This is why he finished second on the team in all-purpose yards with 866.

UGA Defense

This UGA defense should be one of the best in recent memory. The Bulldogs have a player at every position group who should be considered one of the most elite in FBS. The Bulldogs have 17 players returning that have started at some point, or played starter minutes.

This is from a team that only gave up 18 or more points one-time last season, and they will be even better this season. The job Defensive coordinator Dan Lanning is doing cannot be overstated.

Although Pittman will have this Arkansas line much improved, I expect the UGA defensive line to hold serve while releasing edge rushers Nolan Smith and Azeez Ojulari to disrupt the backfield.

With nine of their 10 deep rotation back at linebacker, Boyd could be running into a brick wall all day. Remember, this is the same defense who has not given up a rushing touchdown to a running back in 665 days. The last time was the second quarter of the SEC championship to Alabama running back Josh Jacobs.

Richard LeCounte III with Eric Stokes and company should have no problem limiting the Arkansas passing game as long as they don’t take any plays off against Burks.

UGA Offense vs Arkansas Defense

UGA Offense

It has been a long time since the Bulldogs have entered a season with this many question marks on the offensive side of the football. The offensive line should be deep and dominant, as well as the running backs led by Zaire White and James Cook. Expectations are high for White who is the former no. 1 running back recruit in the nation. While he only had 78 carries last season, he led the Bulldogs in missed tackles per run. If he can return to 90 percent of the player he was before his two ACL injuries, he could be the next in line for greatness at Running Back U. Watch out for Cook as well as he looks like he has added some good weight and has the skill set to be a force in the Monken system.

The biggest question of course is who will play quarterback. Expectations were high for Jamie Newman before he abruptly opted out. The general consensus was that USC transfer JT Daniels might have won the job anyway. Then a curveball out of left field that it might be D’wan Mathis who is the new QB1 despite only being a year and half removed from undergoing emergency surgery for a potentially life-threatening brain cyst.

The truth is, I have no idea who the QB is going to be. However, they only have to be serviceable in most of UGA’s games. Last season the Bulldogs won despite their offense. Against their last seven SEC opponents, the Bulldogs only averaged 19.8 PPG.

This season they will be better by play calling alone. There was no better trade in NCAA than James Coley for Monken, Luke, and Faulkner. The Bulldogs have gone from the worst play caller in the league to three of the brightest minds in the league in one room.

For the QB, the option is simple. Find a way to get the ball into George Pickens catch radius. There should be no doubting he has the best hands in the SEC are perhaps the best in all of college football. Last season, as a true freshman he had 0 drops on 49 catchable targets. That is an astonishing number. Only 49 passes were thrown to him that were deemed catchable. He caught every single one of them for 49 receptions for 727 yards, and eight touchdowns.

Arkansas Defense

New coordinator Barry Odom will turn this ship around for the Razorbacks but it is going to take time. hHe takes over a unit that ranked 110th in total defense and 122nd against the rush.

The Razorbacks leading tackler last season, linebacker De’Jon Harris (101 tackles), is now on the Green Bay Packers practice squad. Odom will have linebacker Bumper Pool (94 tackles) and safety Joe Foucha (87 tackles) back. Arkansas is hoping for a spark out of linebacker Grant Morgan (39 tackles).

Odom will have to find a way to get more pressure on the QB this season but he will have Dorian Gerald back who only playeds in one game with an artery issue in his neck. If he can return to form, and Mataio Soli take another step forward, that would be huge for the Razorbacks. Despite being a freshman, Soli started the last 11 games and finished with 19 tackles, nine solo, and two quarterback hurries

Special Teams

Not a whole lot of talk for either team headed into week one on special teams. The Bulldogs do have Jake Camarda who is an All-SEC preseason selection at punter after averaging 46.8 yards-per-punt which was good enough for sixth best in the nation.

The most pressing question for UGA is who will replace Lou Groza Award winner, and social icon, Rodrigo Blankenship who connected on 27-of-33 field goals last year.

Arkansas will likely have Duke Grad transfer AJ Reed. This past season This past season, Reed went 15-18 on field goals and 34-of-34 on extra points. They will also look to a transfer at punter as well in former Michigan Wolverine George Caratan. Although he never played in a game at Michigan, he did average 46 yards per punt at St. Thomas More School in Connecticut before joining Michigan in 2018.

Prediction

I expect Monken and the offense to show a few wrinkles to get ready for the Auburn game next week. However, I think we will see a heavy dose of the run game. Arkansas will not be able to move the ball against UGA with any consistency. As a result, I think Kirby just wants to leave Arkansas with a good win, no injuries, and without embarrassing Coach Pittman.

Score Prediction: UGA 34 Arkansas 6 (SU Confidence 10, ATS 6)
Stat Prediction: UGA rushes for 250+ yards and holds Franks under 150 yards.

Week 1: Alabama vs Mizzou Preview and Predictions

As we enter into the 2020 football season, the University of Alabama and the University of Missouri are both heading in the right direction. Nick Saban is looking to win his sixth national championship while at Alabama, and the Tigers might have one of the premier up and coming coaches in the nation in Eli Drinkwitz.

The bad news for the Tigers is that they will be breaking in a new offensive system against one of the top defenses in the nation. Making things more difficult, Mizzou will be without seven players. At the time of this article, Coach Drinkwitz is keeping their names out of the media but it appears that they will only have 67 scholarship players for the game against the Tide.

No spring…no warmup game…it could be a long game for the Tigers.

Tide Offense vs Tigers Defense

Alabama Offense

The Crimson Tide did lose a ton of offensive players last season. Four of the first 15 picks of the NFL draft including QB Tua Tagovailoa, OT Jedrick Wills Jr., WR Henry Ruggs III, and WR Jerry Jeudy. Don’t weep for the Crimson Tide though, because they might have just as many or more next season. What other program in the nation could lose two first-round wide receivers and still have the top WR duo in college football? That is what the Tide has with DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle? Since 2018, the dynamic duo ranks first and second in the nation in percentage of targets that resulted in a 15+ yard play (Waddle 33%, Smith 32.9%).

With those weapons, it only makes sense that all eyes are on Alabama quarterback Mac Jones in this game. Many are waiting for 5-star phenom Bryce Young to take the reins. My advice to them – don’t hold your breath because Jones isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. No Jones in not Tua, but no one in Alabama history has been. However, he was impressive when given a shot last season.

Passer Efficiency Rating 2019
1. Tua 206.9
2. Burrow 202.0
3. Jalen Hurts 191.1
4. Mac Jones 186.8
5. Justin Fields 181.4

In his four starts last season, Mac Jones threw for 1,172 yards, 13 touchdowns, and only two interceptions. In his only opportunity to start in back-to-back games, he threw for 662 yards and seven touchdowns against Auburn and Michigan on the road.

Another great advantage for Jones is the return of the “Nightmare” Najee Harris, who will be NY bound this season. Last year finally being the premier back, he racked up 1500 total yards and 20 touchdowns. Najee surprised many by returning for his senior year he did so with a huge chip on his shoulder after getting a lower than expected NFL Draft grade.

Mizzou Defense

The Mizzou defense finished No. 14 in the nation in total defense and No. 16 in scoring defense (19.4 PPG) last season and could be even better this season. They will be led by Nick Bolton, who was second in the SEC in tackles. He was also second among NCAA linebackers for making plays on the ball in pass coverage (10).

Despite senior defensive lineman Chris Turner opting out, the Mizzou defensive line will still be very good. They will be led by Kobie Whiteside whose 6.5 sacks last season ties him with the most of any returning player in the SEC.

The Tigers had the second-best pass defense in the SEC last season with 179.3 passing yards per game but will have to replace both their starting corners. Expectations are still high, however, with the return of safeties Tyree Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe.

Mizzou Offense vs Bama Defense

Mizzou Offense

Coach Drinkwitz has gained the reputation of being a coach who fits his play-calling to his personnel. In 2018, at NC State, he threw the ball over 500 times. Fast forward to 2019 at Appalachian State where they ran the ball 43 times a game. With the QB position still up for grabs between Connor Bazelak and Shawn Robinson (TCU Transfer), it is likely they will go the Appalachian State route.

The good news is that they have one of the best running back units in the SEC with Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie. The bad news is that three starters on the offensive linemen are now in the NFL. There is some young talent there, but once again, facing Alabama their first game is not ideal.

There is also the concern if Roundtree III will be a good fit in this system. He loves to run the ball between the tackles, and the bulk of Drinkwitz play calls are outside zone runs.

In the passing game, the Tigers don’t have much depth at wide receiver, but they do have some capable playmakers. The duo of Jalen Knox (16.2 YPC) and Virginia Tech junior transfer Damon Hazelton could be very special. Hazelton has 20 career touchdowns, including 11 TDs from vertical routes, which is 10th best in FBS.

It is going to be a steep learning curve for the Tigers, but they should have a pretty good offense by the end of the season.

Bama Defense

In regards to Alabama’s defense, they are older…they are healthier…and they will be much improved this season. Alabama has had up and down play in the secondary, but we saw the front seven struggle like we had not seen in the Nick Saban era. That, however, should be a blessing in disguise as they will have added depth and experience this season.

Having their quarterback of the defense, Dylan Moses back will be huge, as will having Patrick Surtain II directing traffic in the secondary. Surtain has only allowed 0.73 per coverage snap since 2018. In my opinion, the final piece could be Christian Barmore, who is banged up but expected to play. He led all FBS interior defenders (Min. 150 snaps) in pass rush percentage by winning 20.8% of his 168 pass rushes. If he can continue that pressure with more snaps, the Tide could be an elite defense once again.

Special Teams

All eyes will be on the kicking game for both teams. The difference, Mizzou is short players, and Alabama has the SEC Special Teams Player of the Year Jaylen Waddle that led the nation with a 24.4-yard average on punt returns.

Prediction

The Missouri Tigers will get better each week but drew a nightmare matchup for their first game. They will likely go run-heavy in this game but will find little success. Their defense is one of the best in the SEC, but you will not know it this game. The offense will leave them on the field too long, and they will break in the second half.

Score Prediction: Alabama 38 Mizzou 7 (SU Confidence 10, Spread 6)
Stat Prediction: Jones 300+ yards and three touchdowns.

 

2020 Vanderbilt Preview and Predictions

2019 Season in Review

Last season was a complete disappointment for the Vanderbilt Commodores when they finished the season 3-9. Vanderbilt was my most overrated team by far in 2019, where I had them winning seven games. What I failed to account for was how much the departure of offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig to Utah would have on the Commodores. Gerry Gdowski, Vanderbilt’s quarterbacks’ coach, was promoted to fill the offensive coordinator vacancy. The hire made sense at the time but ultimately was a disaster.

The Vanderbilt offense only averaged 16.5 points per game, which ranked 125th of 130 in the nation. That was a 12 point drop from the previous season. With head coach Derek Mason’s job on the line, he ended the Gdowski project after one season. In addition to losing Coach Ludwig, they also were out QB Kyle Shurmur from the 2018 team. However, having playmakers Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Kalija Lipscomb, and Jared Pinkney should have been enough to keep this offense from being anemic.

2020 Preview and Predictions

Despite being on the hot seat, Mason upgraded his staff by adding six new assistants, including veteran coordinators in Todd Fitch (offense) and Ted Roof (defense). They were able to get a few practices before COVID-19 shut football down. The problem is that the all-SEC schedule will hurt Vanderbilt as much as any team in the nation.

Offensive Preview

The bad news for Coach Fitch is that his QB’s have attempted just nine passes at the NCAA level and zero at Vanderbilt. The good news is that Vandy has quite a bit of young talent and one of them could become the face of the program.

Transfer QB Jeremy Moussa has the most experience by playing two games as a freshman at Hawaii, where he completed four of his nine passes for 77 yards and one touchdown. Jeremy decided to transfer to San Bernadino Valley College, where he played nine games where he completed 53% of his passes for 3179 yards and 37 TD.

At this point, Jeremy’s greatest competition might be the Texas gunslinger Ken Seals from Weatherford High School. Despite playing at a 6A high school in Texas, Seals threw for 3,060 yards and 33 touchdowns and rushed for nearly 500 rushing yards. I have been a big fan of Seals since his junior season and believe he could be a star in the SEC.

Two other quarterbacks to keep your eye on are Mike Wright and Danny Clark. Although I have not seen as much film on Wright as I have Seals, what I have seen has been impressive. The dual-threat QB was rated as a four-star by Rivals, and the 247 Sports composite ranks him as the #19 dual-threat quarterback in the 2020 class. Wright produced 3,369 yards of total offense (2,653 passing yards and 716 rushing yards) and 50 touchdowns as a senior while leading Woodward Academy to a 13-1 record and Georgia 4A state semifinals. Clark is another JUCO transfer who completed 158-of-306 passes for 2186 yards, with 18 touchdowns while at Copiah-Lincoln CC in Mississippi. His ceiling does not seem as high as Seals and Wrights but the experience could play into his favor.

Regardless of who wins the starting spot, junior wide receiver Cam Johnson will likely be their no. 1 target. Johnson specializes in short screen or hitch routes were the majority of his 30 receptions last season came from. The Commodores might not have a ton of proven playmakers but they do have a good bit of size on the edge with Amir Abdur-Rahman (6’4″), Chris Pierce (6’4″), and James Bostic (6’3″).

The offensive line for 2020 looked very promising heading into 2020. However, when NFL prospect Devin Cochran transferred to GT (and then didn’t enroll), and three opted out due to COVID-19, new Vanderbilt’s offensive line coach Peter Rossomando has some tough decisions ahead of the season. There is still plenty of potential there with Tyler Steen (12 starts), Grant Miller (seven starts), and Dan Dawkins (two starts). They also added Michigan grad transfer Stephen Spanellis, who appeared in 37 games during his time with the Wolverines, and Connor Mignone was a two-time All-Conference selection at Central Connecticut State.

The news at running back is just as murky. Not only did they lose one of their best running backs in school history in Ke’Shawn Vaughn, but there is not a lot of proven production behind him. At this point, it appears that Vanderbilt will use a running back by committee approach led by Keyon Brooks (4.5 YPC) and Jamauri Wakefield (4.4 YPC). For this offense to turn the corner, these two backs will need to play better this season.

Defensive Preview

The bad news is that defensive coordinator Ted Roof also has many question marks on the defensive side of the football. The good news is there a ton of young talented players in place already. The strength of the Commodores will be on the edge with Dayo Odeyingbo and LB Andre Mintze. Odeyingbo will need to be more consistent but finished last season with 45 tackles (30 solo), 12.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 quarterback sacks, two quarterback hurries. His partner in crime, Mintze, started nine games and finished the season with 40 tackles (23 solo), 7.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 quarterback sacks. He also was fifth in the SEC with 18 run stops.

The secondary has some question marks but could develop into a special unit. Jaylen Mahoney was rock solid last season as a freshman. The physical CB from South Carolina only allowed three first downs on his 201
cover snaps. In fact, he ranked sixth in the nation at yard allowed per coverage snap with just 0.54. If CB Allan George can put it all together for the Commodores this season, this defense could take huge strides. At safety, they have Tae Daley and Frank Coppet returning but watch out for four-star prospect Donovan Kaufman who I am projecting to make the SEC All-Freshman team and All-SEC in 2021.

Overall, this unit should improve between returning players and Power 5 transfers Derek Green (Oklahoma) and Malik Langham (Florida).

Special Teams Preview

One of the few bright spots for the Commodores last season was placekicker Ryley Guay who converted 9-of-11 field goals as a senior, including 7 of 9 between 40-49 yards. He will likely be replaced by Javan Rice who has converted the only field-goal attempt (28-yards) and four extra points during his Vanderbilt career. Punter Harrison Smith (43.0) returns and should be one of the top 20 punters in the nation this season. Justice Shelton-Mosley will no longer be returning punts and kicks this season. It is unclear who will replace him but I would love to see Kaufman get a shot at the job.

Final Predictions

Best Case Scenario
(2-8)

Opening up with Texas A&M and LSU will likely mean an 0-2 start to the season. However, the next four games are the Commodores’ best shot of winning a game when they face South Carolina, Missouri, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State.

Worst-Case Scenario
(0-10)

The SEC-only schedule is brutal for the Commodores. I am convinced the defense will be improved this season and the offense will be better schematically but will there be enough weapons? Unless some players show dramatic improvement, it is going to be a long season.

Dr. SEC Prediction
0-10

We all know that coach Mason is fighting for his job. However, I hope the decision-makers will take into account several mitigating factors. There are two things I want to see for coach Mason to keep his job. No. 1, is the defense better. The talent is there and coach Roof should be able to help in that process. No. 2, do they have a clear cut quarterback headed into next season. If I was coach Mason, I would let Moussa start the season. If the team struggles, as they likely will, you promote Seals or Wright. That will give the new QB four of their easier games on their schedule to start their SEC career. At the end of the season, if the defense is better and you have a quarterback of the future, bring him back.

SEC Breakout Player No. 1: Mac Jones

Mac Jones might be the most underrated and overlooked player in the SEC heading into the 2020 season. Many of my respected colleagues have predicted that freshman QB Bryce Young will be a breakout star, but that will not be happening this season. While Young is the most talented QB in the 2020 class and a future star, this will be Mac Jones season and could set up quite a controversy headed into the 2021 season.

In his four starts last season, Mac Jones threw for 1,172 yards, 13 touchdowns, and only two interceptions. In his only opportunity to start in back-to-back games, he threw for 662 yards and seven touchdowns against Aubrun and Michigan on the road.

People will focus on the two interceptions that he threw against Auburn, but he also threw for more yards and three more touchdowns than Joe Burrows who went on to win the Heisman Trophy. In fact, he only passed for nine yards less than Jake Fromm, and Kyle Trask combined for last season against the Tigers.

Here is the reality. Chances are very high that Bryce Young will have a better career than Mac Jones. However, as a redshirt junior, Jones will be more productive than Young as a true freshman. With the talent Mac has around him, he will not do anything to get himself beat out by a true freshman.

Mac will pass for over 3300 yards and 30 touchdowns. This will lead to an interesting story headed into his senior season. Will Bryce be willing to risk coming off the bench for a second season? Nick Saban is unlikely to pull the trigger, with Jones producing at a high level.

SEC Breakout Player No. 2: Jerrion Ealy

Heading into last season, I ranked Ole Miss running back Jerrion Ealy as my No. 1 freshman running back. After only rushing for nine yards on eight carries his first two games, Ealy began to find his footing. The star freshman running back finished the season with 722 yards on just 109 carries.

Despite Ealy’s success, the Rebels finished the season losing five of their last six games. Lane Kiffen would replace former head coach Matt Luke at the end of the season. This should be huge for Ealy’s development as Kiffin has produced some of the top running backs in NCAA history, including Heisman Trophy winners Reggie Bush and Derrick Henry.

Ealy will not only be one of the top running backs in the SEC but in all of the FBS. He will eclipse the 1200 yards mark this season and ten touchdowns.