Being Offensive Isn’t a Bad Thing
The SEC East needs to think about this one for a moment. As a whole, the teams in the SEC East averaged a finish of 77th in Total offense out of the 128 FBS schools. Three of the seven teams finished 110th or worse, two more finished outside the Top 50, and Missouri was the only school in the Top 30.
I know most of you who pull for one of the seven will argue that the defenses in the SEC are just that much better than everyone else in College Football. For those fans, your team doesn’t play in the “real” SEC. That Conference starts in Alabama and moves westward. The SEC East can’t continue to ride the coattails of the West or they will soon be relegated to the likes of the ACC Coastal.
So why was the SEC East so bad on offense last year? Tennessee had the most potential to be explosive last season. Turns out, the Volunteers only wanted to play one half of football each Saturday. South Carolina and the University of Georgia hired new head coaches who were of the defensive mind. Both these teams needed a QB at the start of the season and neither of them truly found the answer. Kentucky had a mid-life crisis early on before finally settling into its own. The Gators from Gainesville, haven’t been relevant on offense since Urban Meyer faked illness to resign after Tim Tebow departed. Vanderbilt is the Duke of the SEC. It’s hard to find athletes in college who can maintain a 4.0, score better than 2000 on the SAT and still score touchdowns. Missouri led the way for the conference on offense with arguably the second worst talent. It all comes down to coaching, installing an offense built around the players you have in the system and making the most of opportunities.
If You’re “Smart”, Things “Will” Change
For the SEC East to be successful, two things have to happen. Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp must make tough decisions at the QB position.
Jacob Eason wasn’t very reliable last season for the Dawgs but has talent that oozes from head to toe. This Spring, Eason has some competition in the form of newcomer Justin Fromm. Eason will need to be quicker with his release and show he can make the right decisions while under pressure.
Losing Isaiah McKenzie “The Human Joystick” is a big loss but I believe his loss will benefit the Dawgs offense more than it will hurt. McKenzie was the guy, regardless of the situation, Eason would throw the ball to. There must be more to the offense than Chubb or Michel running the ball and then a pass to McKenzie.
The Dawgs return Ridley and Godwin at WR and Nauta at TE. With the right play calling, the trio could be very dangerous for defenses. If you factor in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel running behind an offensive line only replacing one starter, this group has a chance to be very effective. After averaging only 6.5 yards per pass attempt last year, Kirby Smart will need to push his Offensive Coordinator to be more aggressive.
If the QB position was decided today, Eason would be in trouble. Justin Fromm has gone into the spring showing flashes of brilliance. However, this is a battle that will wage into the mid-late summer. That alone will benefit Eason. Knowing the offense, the guys in the locker room, and having experience leading the team will be the deciding factors for Eason.
Will Muschamp had a similar decision to make. Going into Spring Practice the Gamecocks learned Brandon McIlwain would transfer after the spring semester. With the transfer, Muschamp has only two scholarship quarterbacks on the team, the other being Michael Scarnecchia. Scarnecchia missed all of the 2016 season with a shoulder injury and doesn’t look primed to challenge Jake Bentley for the starting job.
While Bentley gave some life to the anemic Gamecock offense, he floundered against good defenses. Against Florida and Clemson, Eason went 25 of 50 for 254 yards without a touchdown and two interceptions. With an average of 5.08 yards per attempt, Will Muschamp will need his offense to be a little more creative. South Carolina has the firepower to compete day in and day out against mediocre teams but if they want to compete against the upper echelon, someone needs to emerge this offseason.
Deebo Samuel and Hayden Hurst will again be the go to guys in the passing game. Someone else needs to take the pressure off those two and Chavis Dawkins might be that guy. In the running game, Rico Dowdle and AJ Turner will provide a nice 1-2 punch with the ability to hit a homerun here and there. Just like UGA last season, the offensive line didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Production for the Gamecock offense starts up front and if they can find continuity there, USC fans will once again see a bowl game located in their favorite state, Alabama.
Do I have any Volunteers?
It seems as though; the Alamo has been overrun and the Volunteers have left building. How many passes were thrown by a quarterback not named Joshua Dobbs last season? The answer is eighteen. Of those passes, 13 were completed and only two of those completions came against FBS competition. Welcome back to the cellar UT fans.
Finding a new QB will prove to be difficult, especially when there wasn’t a lot of talent behind Dobbs. If the quarterback position was the only concern, Knoxville might not be a lonely season. However, the Volunteers will be replacing Croom (TE), Malone (WR), and Kamara (RB). Jalen Hurd was also dismissed from the team last year. This leaves just Jauan Jennings (WR) and Ethan Wolf (TE) as the only pass catchers with a touchdown. The offensive line will stay intact for the most part but versatile starter Dylan Wiesman has graduated. The offense gave up 25 sacks last year which was about average in college football but each sack accounted for a 9-yard loss (on average). Only Texas Tech lost more yards per sack than Tennessee last season.
The Best is Yet to Come
For teams like Kentucky and Missouri, they are getting the most out of their scholarship money. Drew Lock and Stephen Johnson have been overlooked by most but the two are probably the best quarterbacks in the SEC. While other quarterbacks may have more talent, Johnson and Lock did more with less last season. If either of the teams would have had a defense, they could have easily walked away with the East Division.
Damarea Crockett and Stanley Williams also averaged 6.9 and 6.8 yards per carry respectively last season. Only three other running backs in the South-Eastern Conference had a better average per carry (assuming 100 or more attempts). Those three backs were from A&M, LSU, and Alabama. With the entire OL coming back for Missouri and Kentucky only replacing their center, both teams should be set up nicely in the running game. Keep an eye for J’Mon Moore this season. If he improves his route running and limits his drops, Moore could be one of the first three receivers taken off the board in 2018.
Biggest needs on Defense
Georgia is in the driver’s seat on defense. Kirby Smart only replaces one starter and his crew returns with aspirations of achieving a Top 10 Defense. The Dawgs finished with a final ranking of 16th and are in position to finish as the SEC’s second best defense (behind only Alabama). The defensive line needs to put more pressure on quarterbacks this season and if that happens, Dominick Sanders and Malcom Parrish could shut down their opponents passing game.
Florida had a Top 5 defense last season but the Gators were demolished by Alabama and 9 players are gone from that unit. It will be a long road for the Gators and the biggest issue will be stopping the run. In a 4-4-3 Defense, you cannot afford to replace 6 of 8 starters at DL and LB. The Gators don’t have the plug and play ability that Alabama does and the best years may be long gone. It is possible Jim McElwain will come down with a mysterious illness and retire for a year like former head coach Urban Meyer. Former UF coaches are known for bailing on their teams when things aren’t going well. Ask South Carolina fans about Steve Spurrier. Hopefully he has his shirt on, wherever he is.
Speaking of the Gamecocks, they have suffered big losses in all three phases on defense, both ends are leaving for the NFL. Accompanying them are fellow defenders Chaz Elder (SS), TJ Holloman (LB). Holloman is probably the best secondary defender South Carolina has seen since Stephon Gilmore. The Gamecocks will also lose Moody (S), Walton (LB), Griffin (DT) and Bryant (LB). For a unit that finished 66th overall on defense, these are big time losses. There is still talent, a lot of it which is young and raw. The Gamecocks gave up a lot of big plays last season. With the losses in the personnel department, accountability and assignment football will be the focus of the spring and summer.
What Happens Next
Georgia’s schedule looks almost too easy this season. The Dawgs will face only two defenses that finished in the Top 50 last season. One of those teams is Appalachian State (ask Michigan about underestimating them) and the other is Notre Dame. Those also happen to be the first two games of the season. If the Dawgs go to South Bend and beat the Irish, they should enter the bye week 7-0. The bye week comes right before the largest outdoor cocktail party in the country. Florida won’t pose much of a threat to the Dawgs but Georgia cannot afford to look ahead to the game against the Gamecocks. Look for a final record of 10-2 with a trip to the SEC Championship to face an Auburn that will have already beat them once.
Kentucky and Florida will finish 8-4 with three losses in conference but the game between them on Sept. 23rd will decide who finishes second.
South Carolina: 6-6