S-E-TD!: SEC teams look to be more offensive this season
The points came quickly and against all types of opponents in a very successful opening week for the defensive-minded teams in the Southeastern Conference.
Offenses around the SEC made a statement the rest of Power Five leagues can’t help but notice — and left little doubt they have the offensive firepower to light up scoreboards all year after their impressive performances in Week 1.
Mississippi State put up 63 points in its first game under new head coach Joe Moorhead. Arkansas and its new leader, Chad Morris, beat Eastern Illinois 55-20. While Jimbo Fisher and his revamped Texas A&M attack gained 738 yards in its 59-7 win over Northwestern State.
“With new coaches and aggressive schemes, it’s a perfect storm in the SEC,” said former Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers, now with the SEC Network.
Up and down the league, the margins were eye-opening and points came in amazing amounts, even against top competition. No. 1 Alabama opened a few eyes with its 51-14 win over Power Five opponent Louisville, fueled by dynamic playmaker Tua Tagovailoa. LSU and new quarterback Joe Barrow scored 33 points and easily handled No. 22 Miami, 33-17. South Carolina scored its most points in more than four seasons in beating FBS opponent Coastal Carolina 49-15.
In all, 11 of 14 SEC teams scored 35 points or better as the league went 13-1 in week one.
Last year, only Missouri, Alabama and Georgia averaged 35 points a game or more.
“Growing up, I always heard the SEC runs the ball and has great defenses,” Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley said. “But teams are making statements that we have great firepower as well.”
Many are ready to buy into the offensive.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said people don’t have to watch much football to know there are “a lot of good teams in this league this year and a lot of good quarterbacks, too.”
Rodgers, the brother of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, believes what’s happening on the field is the response to the SEC’s strong defenses. Teams like Arkansas and Texas A&M who want to compete need to find ways to keep strong defenses like Alabama and Georgia off balance. That comes from fast-tempo, run-pass option schemes seen almost everywhere in the game these days.
“From the wide view of 60,000 feet, the offensive landscape is changing,” he said.
That’s easy to see by how scoring outputs have increased the past few years. In 2009, four SEC teams had scored 400 points or more in a season. That had grown to seven schools — half the league — by 2014.
So when several schools went searching for new leadership this past offseason, they locked on to coaches with offensive mindsets.
Dan Mullen, at Florida, was Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator with the Gators before leading Mississippi State from 2009-17. When he returned to Florida last year, Mullen’s mission was perking up an offense that had grown stale despite winning the SEC East in 2015 and 2016.
Arkansas’ Morris made his nationally in transforming Clemson’s offense as coordinator from 2011-2014. His wide-open attack set records — along with luring quarterback Deshaun Watson that primed the Tigers run to the national title in 2016.
Moorhead was James Franklin’s offensive coordinator for two seasons before taking Mullen’s spot at Mississippi State.
Ole Miss, which defeated Texas Tech, 47-27, hired Phil Longo as offensive coordinator two years ago after Longo led the most productive offense in the FCS in Sam Houston State.
“All the offenses in this conference are explosive. They’re capable of having explosive plays, have explosive days because they have explosive players,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “So it does not surprise me. And it’s only going to get better.”
Offensive eruptions have happened in the SEC before. Florida coach Steve Spurries “Fun-n-Gun” in the 1990s revolutionized offensive football and forced other league teams to adapt. Meyer and Heisman winner Tim Tebow kept the high scoring going by posting 611 points in 2008, the last time an SEC team surpassed 600 points in a season.
Not everyone’s convinced.
When asked about the scoring surge, Muschamp said, “I think a lot of teams played out of conference schedules. That helped.”
Most of this week’s games are out of conference, too, with only No. 3 Georgia at No. 24 South Carolina and Kentucky at No. 25 Florida.
Rodgers, the SEC Network analyst, sees it as the expected answer from a league dominated in large part by Saban’s Alabama defense — and spread by several of his former assistants at other league teams like Georgia’s Kirby Smart, South Carolina’s Muschamp and Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt. In Rodgers’ mind, the next few years might be a battle for the very soul of SEC football.
“I don’t think (SEC) defense is going anywhere,” Rodgers said. “But the scales are beginning to balance.”
AP Sports Writers Mark Long in Gainesville, Florida, John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, David Brandt in Oxford, Mississippi, Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tennessee contributed to this report.
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