Welcome to SEC Saturday, a weekly series with conference play in full throat! Each week, the TDN staff will divide up the conferences, watch the games pertaining to their assigned conference and then write up an extensive overview of the key takeaways from that weekend in college football.
Fun week in the SEC, as always. The top draft-eligible quarterbacks continue to be more bad than good, and SEC parity is as good as it has ever been, well, except for Alabama of course.
Florida turning over a new, yet old, leaf
What a job Dan Mullen has done through the first half of the season. Florida could have crumbled after losing to Kentucky early in the season, instead their players have improved immensely, and a once soft and low-effort mentality is slowly transforming into the exact opposite of that.
The Florida teams we’ve seen since the Tim Tebow era ended would never have come back from down 18 points against anyone, Vanderbilt included. Yes, the Gators made a ton of dumb moves to put themselves in a hole, but to come back from being down 18 points with Feleipe Franks at quarterback is truly impressive. With Georgia losing, Florida might be the new favorite in the SEC East.
Gators RB duo still formidable
Florida has gone with a heavy committee approach in their backfield this season, but coming into Week 7 true freshman Dameon Pierce was the real story, averaging almost 10 yards per carry on about half the attempts of upperclassmen Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine.
On Saturday however, the elder Gator ball carriers put the offense on their backs and destroyed Vanderbilt’s defense for a combined 234 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries. Perine was an all-around monster, catching four passes for 93 yards in addition to his 121 rushing yards. Scarlett doesn’t make the same impact as a receiver, but he still galloped for 113 yards on just 16 attempts.
Both backs run hard and physical, and while neither are athletic phenoms, both will have a great chance to carve out a role with an NFL team when their time comes.
Jarrett Stidham ain’t it
I know, I know. I’ve been saying this for awhile now, and am in danger of beating a dead horse. But this was a game Auburn absolutely had to win given the competitiveness of the SEC this season, and the biggest reason they failed to do so was because of the play of Jarrett Stidham.
The redshirt junior threw two interceptions in the first half, both egregiously bad decisions under pressure. He also held the ball far too long and was strip-sacked for a scoop-and-score in the second half. Stidham continues to be a mess when bothered at all in the pocket, showing decision-making and inaccuracy to all levels of the field that is troubling for a player with his experience.
It’s time to not only start asking if Stidham is a top 100 pick, but if he’s even draftable. Ultimately, I think Stidham has enough tools to be drafted, but his play this season, with more responsibility on his shoulders, has tanked his draft stock. It’s hard to envision a team viewing him as a guy that can turn their fortunes around as a starter.
The enigma of Drew Lock
Facing his toughest test all season, there was Drew Lock, staying patient in a clean pocket, waiting for a receiver to get open and then throwing a dart to hit him in stride in the back of the end zone. There he was, dropping two gorgeous dimes down the sideline to beat tight coverage and give his receivers the opportunity to make splash plays.
But there he also was, poorly placing a back-shoulder toss resulting in an early-game interception. There he was, consistently struggling under pressure, showing a poor internal clock and holding the ball carelessly despite oncoming defenders.
At the end of the day, Lock’s concerns will keep him from getting a first round grade from me, but his peak plays are really exciting. I’m just not sure how much better he’ll get under pressure, or at reading the field quickly to get rid of the football in a timely fashion. He looks like a deer in the headlights way too often for a senior with four years of starting experience.
Please declare for the draft, Quinnen Williams
Ed Oliver included, Alabama redshirt sophomore Quinnen Williams has been the most dominant interior defensive lineman in the country this season. His game tapes are highlight reels, showing the explosiveness, range and power to dismantle every type of opponent. Williams was completely unblockable against Missouri, consistently pushing his adversary a couple yards deep or getting into the backfield himself.
Williams sacked Lock for a safety by bodying a Missouri offensive lineman into his lap for the two-point sack. He’s putting together one of the more dominant seasons that I’ve seen for a player at his position.
Listen…watch Jace Sternberger
I know this tight end class is loaded, but JUCO transfer Jace Sternberger is lighting it up at Texas A&M this season. Not only is the production there (he leads all FBS tight ends in touchdowns with six), but so are the traits. He’s big, fast and extremely physical after the catch.
Sternberger torched South Carolina’s secondary for 145 yards a touchdown on seven catches, beating linebackers down the seam, breaking three tackles after one reception and even dragging a defender with him for 25 yards after the catch. There are elements of his game that need some polish, but Sternberger has looked every bit the part of at least a top 100 pick this season.
- Van Jefferson continues to be quietly impressive in Florida. He’s not the most explosive or flashy receiver, but he’s technically sound, creates separation in his releases and rarely drops the football. His 38-yard touchdown in the third quarter was a big turning point in the game.
- Elijah Holyfield might be the running back this draft class needs. Athleticism, power, physicality and patience were on display as he knifed his way through LSU’s defense for 56 yards on just seven carries. He’s been really productive this season despite not getting a ton of carries due to Georgia’s workload.
- Despite the ugly outcome for Georgia, wide receiver Riley Ridley and tight end Isaac Nauta both helped their draft stock considerably. Ridley beat Greedy Williams vertically to force a DPI, then came back with a couple big catches late in the game to finish with 75 yards receiving and a score. Nauta made a couple tough, contested snags to finish with three grabs for 47 yards, his best output of the season.
- Jordan Ta’amu isn’t a great quarterback prospect, but he’s better than a lot of the big names you hear about every week. I think he’s proven a lot this season, I just wish he had another college season to improve before heading to the NFL. 141 rushing yards and 387 passing yards without D.K. Metcalf most of the game.
- Still think Devin White is more of a mixed bag than I’d like to see from a first round linebacker prospect. He has some incredible peak plays, but also gets nailed down at the second level a lot, doesn’t process quickly enough and can get bodied by blockers. I think he’ll be a polarizing prospect this year.
- Dawson Knox, who grabbed two passes for 65 yards on Saturday, now has seven catches for 166 yards this season. He’s a tight end. Given that production, wouldn’t it be cool to see him get a few more targets? I think so. Let’s make it happen Ole Miss.
- There might be an Ole Miss defensive prospect worth talking about. I know that sounds crazy, but Benito Jones was exceptional against Arkansas, bullying his way for consistent penetration against the run due to a quick first step and a low pad level. Might not be a great pass rusher, but there is definitely something there with him as a run defender.
- Y’all know I really like DaMarkus Lodge as a prospect, and one of the more underrated reasons is because of how outstanding he is as a blocker. He threw two key blocks that resulted in huge plays for Ole Miss in their comeback win. Lodge is ready to play right away and contribute in a multitude of ways at the NFL level.
- Big-time win for Tennessee, a team that has significantly improved each week since their loss to Florida. On the flipside, Auburn is reeling and could drop a few more games before the season is over.
- I think Georgia is the second-most talented team in the SEC, but LSU is a better football team right now. Even though they lost to Florida, I think the Tigers are the other team to watch in the SEC unless Georgia gets it together. Therefore…
SEC Power Rankings
6. Texas A&M
7. Mississippi State
9. South Carolina
12. Ole Miss