In Week 3, we got some important data points to digest as multiple teams in the SEC East played conference games. There were lessons learned and tests passed.
As we head into the last weekend of September, this division is starting to take shape.
Georgia is dominant
The Bulldogs are now 3-0, and Kirby Smart’s sixth team in Athens looks like the national championship favorite through 12 quarters.
After squeaking by Clemson without an offensive touchdown, Georgia pounced solid UAB and South Carolina defenses at home. After missing Week 2, JT Daniels returned to the lineup to complete eight passes of 15-plus yards on his way to 303 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s defense recorded three sacks and had 26 quarterback hurries in 29 pass attempts. The Gamecocks simply could not block Georgia’s front and outside of a few deep passes had their way with South Carolina.
The Bulldogs travel up to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt this weekend before a huge three-game stretch with Arkansas, Auburn, and Kentucky in October leading into the Cocktail Party.
There is a lot of football to be played, but this team is loaded with talent and looks like a legitimate threat to win UGA’s first national title in four decades.
Florida has elite ground game
In one of the feature games of the SEC season, Florida found itself trailing No. 1 Alabama 21-3 at the end of the first quarter, and a blowout seemed imminent.
However, the Gators hunkered down and leaned into their strengths.
As Todd Grantham’s defense settled in, Dan Mullen’s offense sliced and diced the Alabama defense on the ground. Florida ended the game with 260 non-sack rushing yards on 42 attempts with a 50 percent success rate and averaged 6.19 yards per rush. An Alabama defense that hangs their hat on run defense just could not get stops as Florida had nine rushes go over 10 yards.
Florida came away with a loss but held a 6.3-5.2 yards per play advantage and won the explosive play battle. However, one turnover turned into seven Alabama points and a missed PAT in the second quarter was the ultimate deciding moment of the game.
Florida still has major passing game issues, and the defense has some weak spots, but Mullen appears to have figured things out on offense once again. The Gators have an elite rushing offense and will be able to win a lot of games because of it.
Missouri still has defensive issues
Eliah Drinkwitz’s second offense at Mizzou is doing some really positive things. The Tigers rank 18th in yards per play offense (7.10) and are third nationally in red zone touchdown rate (90%). Connor Bazelak looks to be in total control under center, and Tyler Badie is one of the best all-purpose threats in college football (487 yards and six touchdowns on 63 touches).
Yet, this is still a team with some legitimate issues.
Under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, Mizzou currently ranks 114th nationally in yards per play allowed (6.61), and their rushing defense ranks 128th in yards per rush allowed (6.37). Their pressure-heavy scheme is collecting eight tackles for loss per game, but the Tigers are giving up too many chunk plays for the havoc stats to really make an impact.
On Saturday, Mizzou heads to the northeast to take on Boston College in Chestnut Hill for a sleepy noon kick. The Eagles have a run rate of 71.56 percent, and that ranks sixth nationally. The Tigers will get tested again as things are getting chippy between the two second-year head coaches.
Missouri has a team that could scare some people this year due to the versatility of the offense, but that run defense must get fixed soon. Saturday will be a big test.
Josh Vann creates explosive plays
Entering the season, South Carolina’s rushing attack powered by an experienced offensive line and a plethora of capable tailbacks were supposed to lead the way. However, the Gamecocks currently rank 12th in the SEC in yards per rush (3.74).
Luckily, senior wideout Josh Vann has been able to provide some big-play pop on the perimeter.
The former four-star recruit out of Metro Atlanta has six receptions of 25-plus yards this season and is averaging 27.1 yards per reception after posting barely eight yards per reception in his first three seasons. Talk about a breakthrough.
The veteran is giving the Gamecocks some splash plays and that has been much needed through three games.
Hendon Hooker gives Tennessee some hope
All signs point to year one for Josh Heupel being a long one. The Vols have major roster management issues and must institute some type of winning culture in Knoxville. However, finding a quarterback and providing proof of concept on offense can by any new head coach some time.
Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker has given the Big Orange a glimmer of hope.
After Michigan transfer Joe Milton was knocked out of the game against Pittsburgh, Hooker entered the lineup and threw for 188 yards with 49 rushing yards as the Vols hit the comeback trail. He then looked the part against FCS Tennessee Tech.
This week will be a much bigger test against Florida in The Swamp, but Hooker has some solid numbers (57.45% passing success rate, 64.29% rushing success rate, 8.34 yards per attempt, 6 total touchdowns). Keep up this production, and Tennessee will have a puncher’s chance in a lot of games.
Vanderbilt is dealt another blow
It’s been a rough season for the offense on the West End. Before the year, first-year head coach Clark Lea demoted his offensive coordinator, and Vandy would not score a point against FCS East Tennessee State. The ‘Dores would go on the next week to be outgained by Colorado State. This is not trending well.
In the loss against Stanford, top running back Re’Mahn Davis was lost for the season. The Temple transfer has a torn toe ligament that requires surgery and will cause him to miss the season. Now the Commodores must find answers from elsewhere.
Not much is going right for a group that ranks No. 122 nationally in yards per play offense (4.46). All signs are pointing to this being a very long season for Lea and the Vanderbilt football program.