Week two of the SEC schedule has arrived, and while this week’s slate of games is — well, let’s just say they’re not last week’s games — there are still quite a few interesting storylines. Vanderbilt turned the ball over seven times in a loss to Temple last week, and as I pointed out on Twitter, the Commodores had a +7 turnover margin last year (30 takeaways, 23 giveaways). South Carolina experienced quite the opening-game struggle, as evidenced by this stat from intrepid Gamecock beat reporter Matt Connolly. Tennessee also had a tremendous opening victory, but it proved a bit Pyrrhic, as they lost a starter on an already-challenged offensive line.
We’ll be breaking down these storylines and much more throughout the remainder of this piece. We also have a new feature called “Print that, tweet that, whatever”, as explained in our ACC version of this weekly article. Off we go to look at the week, but first, it’s time for a trivia question!
SEC Trivia, Week 2 (answer at the end of the column): Alabama quarterback Blake Sims set the record for completions and attempts in a first game with the Crimson Tide in last week’s victory over West Virginia. Whose completions records did he break?
Top of the Ratings
East Carolina (1-0, 0-0 AAC) at #21 South Carolina (0-1, 0-1 SEC)
7:00pm ET, ESPNU
Last week’s episode: East Carolina 52, NC Central 7; Texas A&M 52, South Carolina 28
Program guide: To say it hasn’t been the best of weeks for the HBC is a dramatic understatement. Spurrier told reporters earlier this week, “Hopefully we can run around and show some fire and act like we really enjoy playing the game.” He also dubbed the loss “embarrassing” and immediately began the process of making changes.
Those changes are going to be vital when facing off against a Pirate club who was second in their final year in Conference USA in total offense, and shows no signs of slowing down this year. Star quarterback Shane Carden went 26-for-37 for 283 yards and three touchdowns against NCCU last weekend, bringing his career passing total over 7,500 yards. Carden’s next touchdown pass will also be the 60th on his career.
Senior receiver Justin Hardy also grabbed eight passes for 87 yards and two scores in last week’s outing, along with throwing a 41-yard touchdown pass. Hardy leads all active FBS receivers in career catches (274) and receiving yards (3,134). Receiver Isaiah Jones also starred last week, catching 10 passes for 150 yards and a score.
This offensive firepower presents quite the concern for a Gamecocks defense that had next to no pressure in the backfield in that A&M loss, and provided very little resistance against a dynamic passing attack. Dylan Thompson also needs to complete greater than the 50 percent of his passes that found the hands of Gamecock receivers in week one. Mike Davis is also expected to play, which should be a boost to a running game that saw no back gain greater than 45 yards and had a receiver as their third-best rusher, in terms of yards.
Of note: A Spurrier victory would place him at 200 as an SEC head coach, one behind Vince Dooley for the second-best total.
Tweet that, print that, whatever: South Carolina should right the ship this weekend. They should hope for their — and their worried fans’ — sake that they do.
Florida Atlantic (0-1, 0-0 CUSA) at #2 Alabama (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Noon ET, SEC Network
- 48 straight: With 4:56 to play in the first quarter last Saturday, a Jaquez Johnson-to-Luck Whitehead 20-yard pass tied the game for FAU against Nebraska. The next nearly 50 minutes were not so joyous for the Owls, as Nebraska scored 48 consecutive points.
- Not (totally) flying blind: New Florida Atlantic coach Charlie Partridge may be just one game into his first head coaching experience, but he does have some familiarity with SEC-style football. Partridge spent last year at Arkansas, serving as the assistant head coach and defensive line coach.
- 94 percent: Alabama has won 94 percent (well, 93.75 percent, actually) of their games against Conference USA squads. Their only loss came 14 years ago, as Southern Miss shut out the Tide 21-0 in 2000.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Alabama may have been a bit slow to get untracked against West Virginia, but should not experience the same against the Owls.
Arkansas State (1-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) at Tennessee (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Noon ET, SEC Network (Alternate Channel)
- Collecting notches on the Belt: Tennessee has never lost to a current Sun Belt school in seven attempts. One of those victories came over the Red Wolves at Neyland Stadium on September 22, 2007. The Vols won that game 48-27.
- A career night: Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley finished just 19 yards shy of setting a career-best for passing yards in last week’s victory against Utah State. Worley’s career-high is 291 yards, achieved in 2011 against Middle Tennessee. Worley did, however, achieve bests in completions (27) and pass attempts (38) in the game.
- A fluid situation: Arkansas State seems to have become a stopover point for collegiate head coaches, between Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and, most recently, Bryan Harsin. Former North Carolina and Southern Miss offensive coordinator Blake Anderson now leads the Red Wolves. Anderson spent some time in Tennessee as an assistant at Middle Tennessee. The ASU program owns a recent win over an SEC school, though Texas A&M was still affiliated with the Big 12 when they fell 18-14 to Arkansas State in 2008.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: I’m not as confident of an ASU victory as my colleague, but Michael Gordon and Fredi Knighten make the Red Wolves a factor.
#24 Missouri (1-0, 0-0 SEC) at Toledo (1-0, 0-0 MAC)
Noon ET, ESPN
- A little SEC flavor: Toledo is not an SEC school, but they do have a quarterback who knows the conference. Phillip Ely, who transferred from Alabama, is an interesting fit in coach Matt Campbell’s high-octane offense. Ely threw for 337 yards in the Rockets’ 54-20 victory over FCS opponent New Hampshire last week, completing 24 of his 34 attempts.
- It’s been one week: One has to consider the sample size and opening opponent with Toledo, but the Rockets rank eighth in total offense after one week. The Rockets gained 666 yards against UNH, with only Arizona, Nebraska, Western Kentucky, USC, Texas State, Texas A&M and Oregon amassing higher totals.
- No receivers, no problem: We chronicled last week the departure of Mizzou’s three leading receivers (Dorial Green-Beckham, L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas), but that negligibly — if at all — affected the Tigers’ offensive output. Receiver Darius White totaled a career-best 83 yards, with two long touchdown grabs. Junior running back Russell Hansbrough capably filled in for the graduated Henry Josey, building on last year’s 685-yard, four-touchdown season with 126 yards on 20 carries against South Dakota State last week.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Toledo is just a 3.5-point dog, and is rarely out of a game with Campbell’s offense. Mizzou will have its hands full in the Glass Bowl.
UAB (1-0, 0-0 CUSA) at Mississippi State (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
2:00pm ET, FSN
- The Clark bar: New UAB coach Bill Clark joined the Blazers after the somewhat late resignation of Garrick McGee, coming to Birmingham after leading Jacksonville State to the FCS playoffs. His new charges hammered in-state foe Troy 48-10 in week one, ending a string of four consecutive seasons without a victory in the opener.
- Where were you ten years ago?: UAB was busy beating Mississippi State for the first — and only — time. Current Atlanta Falcons star wideout Roddy White caught seven passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the October 9, 2004 victory.
- Defending the home turf: Mississippi State is playing for their thirteenth consecutive non-conference victory at Davis Wade. The last team from outside the SEC to win in Starkville was Houston, who defeated the Bulldogs 31-24 on October 10, 2009.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: As impressive as UAB was in week one, they’ve won one road game against an SEC team. Ever. Don’t expect there to be a second this week.
Ohio (1-0, 1-0 MAC) at Kentucky (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
3:30pm ET, ESPNU
- 2004 was good for another team wearing green: Just as UAB defeated Mississippi State in that fateful year, so too did Ohio beat Kentucky. The 28-16 victory for the Bobcats — also the last time the two teams faced off — came on October 2, 2004. Interestingly enough, neither starting quarterback completed 50 percent of his passes on that day. Both teams also rushed for exactly 90 yards, with Ohio outpacing Kentucky in rushing attempts 40-38.
- Not-so-sweet 16: Kentucky scored the greatest amount of points in an opener in 16 years last week, notching a 59-14 defeat of UT Martin. That 45-point victory was the Wildcats’ largest since 2002.
- Here’s the kicker: The Wildcats have a new kicker in redshirt freshman Austin MacGinnis. MacGinnis made 1-of-2 attempts last week (20 yards), while drilling 70 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. Meanwhile, Ohio kicker Josiah Yazdani gave his team a 17-14 victory in the season and conference opener against Kent State, as he was true on a 44-yard field goal as the final horn sounded. Yazdani also hit both of his extra point attempts.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: The Bobcats have a veteran coach in Frank Solich and a team that knows how to win. This is a new day for the Kentucky program, though.
Eastern Michigan (1-0, 0-0 MAC) at Florida (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
4:00pm ET, SEC Network
- Take two: Florida tried to start their season last week — they delayed the game for hours — but managed to play just a few seconds against Idaho before weather ruled the day in Gainesville. The game was declared no contest, and the teams will add a game against each other in 2017.
- On the road again: Eastern Michigan will start an unenviable stretch with this trip to The Swamp. After this game, EMU will travel to Old Dominion (Norfolk, VA), Michigan State and Akron, before finally facing Buffalo for Homecoming weekend on October 11.
- Enthusiastic Eagles: Eastern Michigan started the season 1-0 under new head coach Chris Creighton. Creighton came to Eastern Michigan from Drake, bringing a career .753 winning percentage. The last season in which EMU finished with an above-.500 record was 1995. Rick Rasnick coached that team. The school has finished with a winning record in just five of the last 30 seasons.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: EMU had to scrape to defeat FCS-level Morgan State last weekend. This isn’t a favorable matchup for the Eagles. Florida’s favored by 37.5.
Nicholls (0-1, 0-1 Southland) at Arkansas (0-1, 0-1 SEC)
4:00pm ET, SEC Network (Alternate Channel)
- Born to run: Arkansas rushed for 153 yards in their season opener against Auburn, but that’s not the number that should excite Razorback fans. Nicholls surrendered a staggering 539 rushing yards in a season-opening loss to Air Force. AFA carried 73 times for the aforementioned total, finding the end zone six times.
- One step up: Nicholls holds a win against an FBS Arkansas school. That school was Arkansas State, but it occurred in 2001. The Colonels defeated an FBS school last year (Western Michigan), but lost their other two games against FBS foes Oregon and ULL by a combined score of 136-10. Nicholls is currently on a seven-game losing streak, not having won in nearly 11 calendar months.
- Glory days: Arkansas’ sports information department mentioned before the season that the Razorbacks would play the toughest schedule of any NCAA team this year, with their opponents posting a combined 103-54 record in 2013. That record was good for a .656 winning percentage. That schedule strength held in the first week, as these teams won 11 of 12 games last week. Nicholls had the only loss.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Despite Arkansas’ second-half struggles last week at Auburn, one has to think Nicholls might be goin’ down (down, down) this week.
#15 Ole Miss (1-0, 0-0 SEC) vs. Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-0 SEC)
4:30pm ET, ESPN
- Stability is key: Vanderbilt rotated through three quarterbacks in last week’s loss to Temple. Sophomore Patton Robinette started the game and completed 4-of-6 passes for 38 yards. He was inexplicably pulled after that beginning, replaced by senior LSU transfer Stephen Rivers. Rivers went 12-for-25 for 186 yards and an interception. Freshman Johnny McCrary played in relief of Rivers later in the game, completing none of this three attempts. Two of those attempts resulted in interceptions.
- Rushing struggles: Ole Miss and Vanderbilt experienced some issues in establishing a ground game last week, for different reasons. The teams rushed a combined 63 times for 125 yards. The Rebs finished in the middle of last year’s SEC pack, averaging 190 yards per game on the ground. Vandy finished last, rushing for 139 yards per game and 3.59 yards per carry.
- Looking to build on last year: This is the second consecutive SEC opener in which Vandy and Ole Miss have faced each other, and last year’s game will be tough to beat. Ole Miss escaped with a 39-35 victory in the debuts for both Bo Wallace and Laquon Treadwell. Wallace completed 31-of-47 passes for 283 yards in that contest, while Treadwell had nine catches for 82 yards. The Commodores’ top passer (Austyn Carta-Samuels), rusher (Jerron Seymour) and receiver (Jordan Matthews) from that game are either no longer with the program or battling injuries.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: How much difference can a week make? This game will be the first of many tests of Derek Mason’s coaching ability.
San Jose State (1-0, 0-0 MWC) at #5 Auburn (1-0, 1-0 SEC)
7:00pm ET, ESPN2
- Approaching three decades: San Jose State has not started the season victorious in its first two games in 27 years. The Spartans are also attempting to post victories over a top-25 team in consecutive years for the first time in school history.
- Long time coming: SJSU quarterback Blake Jurich is a fifth-year student in the program, but did not secure his first start until last week’s lid-lifter against North Dakota. Jurich completed 22-of-25 passes for 250 yards and three scores last week.
- Climbing the Mountain: Auburn has won all three previous contests in which toe met leather against the Mountain West Conference. Fresno State, Wyoming and Utah State have all fallen victim to the Tigers at Jordan-Hare. This will be the first meeting between these schools.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: The Spartans are no cupcake, but this is a highly unfavorable matchup on hostile turf for Ron Caragher’s team. They’ll compete, though.
Sam Houston State (1-0, 0-0 Southland) at #12 LSU (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
7:30pm ET, SEC Network
- Ruling the FCS: There are just three schools that have made the FCS playoffs for three consecutive years. Sam Houston State is part of that exclusive club, joining North Dakota State and New Hampshire. Though previous head coach Willie Fritz departed for Georgia Southern in the offseason, their current leader also knows how to win at that level. New coach K.C. Keeler was the coach of the 2003 Delaware FCS (then I-AA) national championship team.
- Finding a way in the fourth: LSU’s 28-24 victory over Wisconsin was the 22nd by a Les Miles team — 15 of those against nationally-ranked opponents — during his tenure at LSU. The Tigers scored 15 unanswered points in that fourth quarter, denting the scoreboard on a John Diarse touchdown grab and Kenny Hilliard touchdown run.
- It’s Death Valley for the FCS, too: No FCS team has ever defeated LSU in nine attempts. The most recent came last year, as LSU outgunned eventual playoff participant Furman by scoring 28 unanswered points after taking a slim 20-16 lead to the locker room at the half.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: The Bearkats have a clear track record in the FCS. LSU has a clear track record in the FBS. Fun game, but the Tigers should pull away.
Lamar (1-0, Southland) at #9 Texas A&M (1-0, 1-0 SEC)
7:30pm ET, SEC Network (Alternate Channel)
- Will ESPN get their wish?: ESPN made a bit of a snide remark on last week’s Aggie season-opener that five-star quarterback recruit Kyle Allen might be playing if this were Lamar and not South Carolina. This was, of course, before Kenny Hill completed his captivating performance. Aggie fans may get their first shot at seeing the prized youngster at some point against the Cardinals.
- A milestone birthday: Lamar’s last game against an SEC opponent turns 40 this year. Mississippi State — the only previous SEC opponent Lamar has faced — defeated the Cardinals 37-21 on October 12, 1974.
- A different look: Lamar allowed 192 passing yards in a 42-27 victory against Grambling State last week. Opponents passed for fewer than 200 yards per game against the Cardinals in 2013. Kenny Hill passed for 292 in the first half against South Carolina last week.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: It’s really tough to find a scenario in which the Cardinals leave Kyle Field with a win. There’s always a chance, no matter how minute.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Alabama quarterback Blake Sims set the record for completions and attempts in a first game with the Crimson Tide in last week’s victory over West Virginia. Whose completions records did he break?
Former Alabama quarterback John David Phillips completed 17-of-29 passes for 188 yards in the Tide’s 38-31 victory over BYU on September 5, 1998. Phillips also connected on five extra points and a 34-yard field goal in that contest.