Welcome to SEC Saturday, a new weekly series now that conference play is getting underway! 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.
I'm on SEC duty this week, and boy do I have a ton of takeaways for you from a weekend that taught us a lot in the conference.
Not Lock-ing it up
Still looking for his first signature win as Missouri's starting quarterback, Drew Lock played well enough to give his team a shot, but was ultimately undone by a bumbling supporting cast that blew protections, dropped passes and fumbled their way to a 14-point loss in a game that should have been very tight.
Lock was fine, showing off arm talent and the ability to hit tight windows most of the game. His placement and timing were off however, and his processing speed in the pocket just isn't where it needs to be yet. He's used to the one-read offense he played in before this season, and moving the defense with his eyes to open receivers up while deciphering where to go with the football is very much a work-in-progress.
Georgia also pressured Lock more than any other team this season, and the senior responded with several back-foot throws and some poor awareness in the pocket. Lock has some things going for him, but he just hasn't improved enough this season to look like a first round pick. Another big test in Alabama looms in Week 6.
Don't look now, but Kentucky looks like the only thing standing between Georgia and the SEC East title, and they might be a more formidable threat than anyone anticipated. Half of their defense will get a legit shot at the NFL, with at least three members likely to be drafted. Their offensive line has been masterful, and Benny Snell has emerged as one of the leading candidates to have a shot at RB1 in the class after an injury to Rodney Anderson a few weeks ago.
Snell looks like he's shed a few pounds and is running with more energy and burst in 2018. Last season I felt like he ran tough, not angry, where this year he's looking to dish out punishment more. Snell talks a big game and enjoys the physicality of his position, but his smarts and vision shouldn't get lost in the noise. He may not be a great athlete, but you don't need to be to succeed in the NFL.
While Snell was putting an inept passing attack on his back to carry the Kentucky offense to victory with 165 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, edge defender Josh Allen was leading the way defensively. Six tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a sack highlighted Allen's performance, which admittedly came at the expense of Mississippi State's horrendous left tackle that did not know how to pass set.
Allen's 2017 tape was rough, but this year he looks like an athlete starting to figure out how to use his body as a football player, which is a good sign. Allen was completely raw and overwhelmed as a pass rusher last season, but this year he's shown better get-off (working from a 3-point stance has helped) and the ability to get his hips and feet turned to the pocket earlier in the rep. He was solid against Florida and impressive against Mississippi State, building the resume of a player whose stock will probably rise during the pre-draft process, despite the concerns on tape.
Mississippi State's weak link
The Bulldogs defense is good, but even that talented of a group will wear down eventually if they can't stay off the field. Right now, Nick Fitzgerald just isn't competent enough as a passer to make plays when Mississippi State really needs them, and it's holding their offense back significantly.
The Bulldogs are talented enough to be a top ten team in the country, but having major concerns at quarterback is a recipe for disaster against defensive fronts with the talent Kentucky has. With Mississippi State's run game bottled up, they needed Fitzgerald to come up with the big plays in the passing game to bail them out, and he consistently failed to deliver. He's not a legitimate NFL prospect in my book.
Simmons and Sweat
While the result was disappointing for Mississippi State, the play of Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat continues to be awe-inspiring. Sweat added another 1.5 sacks to the three he already has this season, while Simmons improved his SEC-leading tackle-for-loss number to 7.5 (two more on Saturday) in four games.
Both players are just a nightmare for opponents right now. Simmons still has to do a better job of disengaging to finish up front, but he dominates almost every 1v1 rep. Although he has zero sacks this season, he's as impactful an interior rusher in terms of creating pressure as there is in the country.
Sweat is clearly stronger this season, and has been much more consistent as a run defender. I'm thrilled about his developing ensemble of pass rush moves, but I still wonder how he'll test. I'm not sure he's the twitchiest or bendiest athlete, although there are still other ways to win as a pass rusher.
D.K. Metcalf might be REALLY good
Yes, D.K. Metcalf is still young (redshirt sophomore) and relatively raw/inexperienced as a route runner, but I might just go all in on his insane traits. The dude has made special plays in every game this season, and has proven he can win with speed, in the air and after the catch.
Metcalf went off again on Saturday, catching five passes for 102 yards and a touchdown, with another leaping high-point grab in the back of the end zone taken off the board because of an illegal shift penalty. He has 18 catches for 368 yards and four touchdowns this season, while averaging 20.4 yards per grab. At 6-4, 225 pounds. I know it's Kent State, but he's clowning everyone this season. Big test coming up against LSU next week.
Welcome to the 2018 season, Dawson Knox
This summer, I heralded Ole Miss redshirt junior tight end Dawson Knox as a potential first round talent with high-end athleticism/size and terrific hands for the tight end position. Through the first three games of the season, Knox caught just one pass for six yards as Ole Miss' wide receivers feasted. There are only so many targets to go around in that offense, and like it or not, Knox isn't going to be a high priority all the time.
The Rebels finally got him involved on Saturday however, as he caught two passes for 79 yards. He was a force all game long, winning vertically down the field from the slot with strong positioning and top-end speed for the position. Jordan Ta'amu had him for a big gain earlier in the game, but threw high for an interception. It's not too late for Knox to still make good on all of his promise from last season, a process which he kicked off in style Saturday night.
Alabama keeps killing it
Another bloodbath for 'Bama, what else is new? There were a couple stars in this one, beginning with Mack Wilson's disgusting ball skills that remind me of Ryan Shazier, and ending with almost every defensive linemen making a few highlight reel plays for the Crimson Tide.
Quinnen Williams showed lite pass rush moves, quickness and bend to record pressures, while Isaiah Buggs racked up three sacks and 3.5 tackles-for-loss. If Williams and Raekwon Davis declare as redshirt sophomores, this might somehow be the best of a long line of incredible Alabama defensive line draft classes.
-Tyler Clark was in the backfield constantly for Georgia, but D'Andre Walker still stole the show. Two sacks and two forced fumbles while constantly harassing Lock highlighted an exceptional showing for Walker, who has improved his rush plan and is getting better at working off speed-to-power rushes into half-man to win the edge. He's an easy bet to be a riser this draft season given his all-around game and eye-catching physique.
-Devin White had 2.5 tackles-for-loss, a sack and three passes defensed against Louisiana Tech. I'm excited to check out the tape of this performance to see if it matches the box score.
-Nine catches for 81 yards for Missouri tight end Albert Ok on Saturday, including several tough contested grabs in traffic. Even as a redshirt sophomore, with Lock heading to the NFL and Ok's production about to go with him, he'd be wise to think about making the early jump to the pros. He should be a top 100 lock.
-Terry Beckner has had a lot of injuries in his Missouri career, but when he's been on the field, the tape is solid. He has a big hit on a Georgia runner early in the game, as well as a huge third down stop of the Bulldogs that kept Missouri in the contest momentarily.
-Jake Bentley is terrible, and it is killing Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards. Deebo is being used like Adam Gase used Jarvis Landry, despite the fact that he's open down the field a ton, and Edwards has to make leaping contested grabs or post-catch plays in order to pick up yardage. Both players evals are going to be tougher for teams if Bentley can't help them out more moving forward.