SEC Saturday: Will Georgia Accept Identity Change?

Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to Alabama's bye week, there wasn't a bad game to watch in the SEC this week, and we even had two games come down to the wire.

In the end, Georgia prevailed over Florida and Kentucky eked out an ugly win against Missouri, setting up a showdown of 7-1 teams next week which will determine the winner of the SEC East. Mississippi State bounced back with a huge win over Texas A&M, while South Carolina overcame Tennessee to stay out of the conference's cellar.

Georgia gets the win, but have they found their groove?

Give the Bulldogs credit, they opened up the offense and let Jake Fromm go to work late, which resulted in two late touchdowns to put the game away. But Georgia relentlessly and unsuccessfully pounded the ball at Florida much of the game, using an unimaginative offensive approach and failing to account for constant overload blitzes by the Gators.

If the Bulldogs hadn't been so conservative against LSU, they would have won that game, but instead of learning from their mistakes, Georgia nearly let them be their undoing again. That isn't to say Georgia should never run the football; it's a big part of what they do and they are good at it. But with all of their weapons at wide receiver, they are a far more threatening team when they spread the field, attack downfield and get that extra defender out of the box.

Going into the fourth quarter Fromm had thrown just 17 times, the vast majority of which were screens and swings. The only time Georgia opened up the offense before the fourth quarter was during their drive right before the half, where they got aggressive and Fromm completed 5-of-6 passes for 75 yards to get the Bulldogs three points before halftime.

Georgia has four outstanding college football wide receivers in Riley Ridley, Terry Godwin, Mecole Hardman and Jeremiah Holloman, as well as two of the best (and most under-utilized) tight ends in college football in Isaac Nauta and Charlie Woerner. D'Andre Swift is an elite space back who can play from the slot and run legit routes. This passing attack could be special.

The more aggressive Georgia gets offensively, the better they play. Jake Fromm isn't an elite quarterback prospect, but with all of those weapons he doesn't need to be. The Bulldogs might be able to top Kentucky and Auburn by bumbling through three quarters, but they don't have a prayer against Alabama until they take the handcuffs off the offense and let their talent shine.

Never-ending list of talented draft-eligible tight ends

I don't know if he'll declare or not, but aforementioned Georgia tight end Isaac Nauta is a very good athlete, albeit a bit linear, with the speed to stretch the field and the hands to consistently reel in passes outside of his frame. His five catches for 73 yards led the Bulldogs in the passing game, and were one of the main reasons why the team emerged victorious in Jacksonville.

On the other hand, I'd be very surprised if Vanderbilt's Jared Pinkney went back to school for a fifth season, as the redshirt junior is enjoying a career year in Nashville. It's a low bar, but Pinkney torched Arkansas' secondary for 93 yards and two scores on five catches, including this honey hole grab with a few broken tackles to boot.

That's 30 catches for 485 yards and five touchdowns for Pinkney this season, who has come out of nowhere after back-to-back sub 300-yard seasons at Vandy. He's looked like a top 100 pick this season, which means I'll have his scouting report banged out this week.

Speaking of coming out of nowhere, Arkansas tight end Cheyenne O'Grady is finally taking off in his redshirt junior season, and he may also be wise to declare for this year's draft given the rebuild occurring at Arkansas.

His six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown against Vanderbilt featured a couple of excellent grabs outside his frame, pushing O'Grady to career numbers already with 21 catches for 284 yards and four touchdowns in the Razorbacks' feeble offense.

This tight end class won't let you come up for air at all.

Josh Allen continues to be ridiculous

Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen is the most improved player in the country in my opinion, going from a player I thought was disappointing in 2017 to a potential first round grade on my board. Not only is he winning with speed and bend, but his hand usage and overall nuance as a pass rusher is much improved.

Missouri's offensive line is a solid group, and Allen wrecked them from absolutely every angle. He's winning on outside rushes and inside rushes, dropping his pad level and chopping away hands to get a startling amount of clean looks at the quarterback. And boy is he finishing brilliantly too.

Allen is rushing from a square, two-point stance here, so a great get-off is out of the question. This makes life a lot easier for the Missouri right tackle, because he can build his house and not worry about a speed rush threatening him right away off the snap. Nevertheless, Allen swats his punch down, dips his inside shoulder, rips under the tackle's outside arm and turns his hips through contact to strip-sack Drew Lock.

That is an insane rush combination from a guy who was extremely raw coming out of last season. He's become so much more than just a one-trick pony as a pass rusher, and everything about his development screams arrow-pointing-up. I'm guessing Allen is a top 20 pick by the time it's all said-and-done, with a legit shot to go top 10.

Two Florida defenders elevating their stock

I've had some good laughs over the straight-up jaw-dropping missed tackles and business decisions that Chauncey Gardner-Johnson makes on the field at times, but he was engaged and physical against Georgia, flying around the field for 10 tackles, including several around the line of scrimmage.

I'm terrified of his inconsistency and lack of effort at times, but his size, athleticism and stickiness in man coverage are going to make him attractive come draft time.

Vosean Joseph is an undersized linebacker with excellent athleticism and a non-stop motor. I haven't watched him enough to know if stacking-and-shedding is a strength or a weakness, but I was encouraged to watch the smaller defender chuck a Georgia guard to make a tackle for a short gain. Joseph is also an excellent blitzer, with four sacks this season.

Quick Hitters

-If you're looking for a sleeper safety in this class, Kentucky's Mike Edwards is one of my favorites. He's smart, physical and has good ball skills, despite not being the biggest or most athletic safety. I think he can play in the slot, around the box or on the back end. He had four tackles, a key tackle-for-loss and a pass breakup against Missouri.

-On eight second-half possessions, Missouri failed to pick up a first down against the Wildcats. That's not all on Drew Lock, but another pedestrian performance against a top defense won't do his draft stock any favors. Lock doesn't have anything close to a signature win on his college resume. That matters to NFL evaluators, especially with Missouri's defense playing a lot better this season.

-Eight tackles-for-loss and one sack this season for Missouri defensive tackle Terry Beckner, who is making his case to be a top 100 pick now that he's finally healthy. I like his game and think he could be a riser during the pre-draft process if his health checks out.

-Florida right tackle Jawaan Taylor did a great job containing D'Andre Walker all game long, even putting the defender on the ground once. He's been more physical in the run game this season and looks far more comfortable in pass protection than he did a year ago at left tackle. I'm excited to give his 2018 tape a full study if he declares.

-Rough night for Jace Sternberger, the Texas A&M tight end whose stock has been skyrocketing this season. Two drops, a Jimbo Fisher earful on a play where he ran the wrong route and another failure to come up with a tough third down catch in tight coverage late in the game. He's been great this season, but Saturday was the first sign of struggle, so it'll be interesting to see how he bounces back.

-I don't know that the NFL will love Mississippi State linebacker Erroll Thompson, but I do. He's only a redshirt sophomore and almost certainly will not declare for this year's draft, as his athletic profile is pretty limited. Thompson is an old school middle linebacker at 6-1, 250 pounds, but he's made some crazy plays in zone coverage this season, including his second interception of the season on Saturday night. If he can test well enough, he'll squeeze out a role in the league eventually.

SEC Power Rankings

1. Alabama

2. LSU

3. Georgia

4. Florida

5. Kentucky

6. Mississippi State

7. Texas A&M

8. South Carolina

9. Tennessee

10. Auburn

11. Missouri

12. Ole Miss


14. Arkansas