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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

SEC Power Rankings Week Two: Bulldogs hold strong

The Hustler recaps the SEC’s Week One results and looks ahead to this week’s matchups.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Mike Wright enters the stadium before Vanderbilt’s matchup with Elon (Vanderbilt Athletics).

1. Georgia

UGA had possibly the most staggering win of the week, absolutely dismantling the No. 11 Oregon Ducks 49-3. Stetson Bennett was incredible, going 25-31 for 368 yards and 2 touchdowns without turning the ball over. The same could not be said for Oregon quarterback Bo Nix, who coughed up the ball twice. Any questions about how the Bulldogs would fare without the 15 players they lost to the  NFL draft last April were answered, as they seem to be just as dominant as last year.

If they were able to beat one of the best teams in the PAC-12 so overwhelmingly, I’m almost scared to see what they do next week as they take on Samford University. Yes, Samford is coming off of a win, but, in all honesty, I have no idea who they played. Or what conference they’re in. Or where the college is. Unfortunately, this game will be a bore. UGA should dominate at literally every position on the field, even more so than Kirby Smart’s team would otherwise.

2. Alabama

The top-ranked Crimson Tide stayed atop the AP Poll after an unsurprising demolition of an overmatched Utah State team. Heisman winner Bryce Young threw five touchdowns and ran for another against a mid-major Utah State team. Utah State only gained 136 total yards against Will Anderson and Co. Here’s a telling statistic: Alabama scored on every single drive of the first half, and Utah State only got two first downs in the same period of time. 

The Crimson Tide will now travel to Austin, TX, to take on transfer Quinn Ewers and the Texas Longhorns. This week, Ewers tossed two scores in his college debut, on his way to a 52-10 beatdown of Louisiana-Monroe. Ewers was not playing a team coached by Nick Saban though. Even at home, the Longhorns are 20-point underdogs, a testament to the absolute mismatch that is to come.

3. Texas A&M

The Aggies shut out Sam Houston State 31-0 on Saturday. The game was never in question, as the Bearkats were unable to move the ball against a stout A&M defense. They went three-and-out on all first half drives except one, which ended in an interception anyways. The Bearkats only gained 198 yards all afternoon and turned the ball over twice. 

The Aggies offense was not quite as impressive. Ainias Smith was the only player that really showed up, popping off for 164 yards and 2 scores. Quarterback Haynes King was subpar, sporting a 49.0 QBR with 2 picks, and lead back Devon Achane averaged only 2.3 yards on 18 carries. This may be nitpicking, but it is somewhat distressing for the No. 6 team in the country to have offensive starters playing in the fourth quarter against an FCS opponent. With all that being said, a win is a win.

Texas A&M will now host Appalachian State, a team that scored 40 points in the fourth quarter alone against UNC last week. They are currently the second in the nation in yards per game, albeit with a one-game sample size. On the other hand, the Texas A&M defense is tied for first in the nation, allowing zero points a game. Though, as commendable as App State quarterback Chase Brice was on Saturday, UNC is no Texas A&M. And there is no ignoring how tough it is to play in College Station. App State has a history of being David, but I don’t foresee the Aggies being Goliath this week.

4. Arkansas

No. 19 Arkansas took down No. 23 Cincinnati, 31-24 on Saturday. Quarterback KJ Jefferson was as advertised, accounting for 222 yards and 3 scores with his arm, along with another 62 yards and 1 touchdown with his legs. He also lost a fumble. Senior tight end Trey Knox caught 6 balls for 75 yards and 2 of Jefferson’s 3 touchdown tosses. On the less glamorous side of the ball, Bumper Pool accounted for 13 tackles and cornerback Dwight McGlothern picked off Bearcat’s quarterback Ben Bryant. Though a close game throughout, Arkansas never trailed and led by at least 7 for all but 11 minutes of game time.

The now-16th ranked Razorbacks are 8 point favorites at home against South Carolina this week. The Gamecocks’ Spencer Rattler is very turnover prone, but can be dangerous if he’s being appropriately cautious with the football. The Razorback front seven should look to dominate against a weak South Carolina run game, forcing Rattler to play hero ball. That game script combined with a solid showing from Jefferson and a raucous home crowd in Little Rock should lead to an Arkansas victory.

5. Florida

The formerly unranked Gators pulled off the biggest upset of the week, taking down No. 7 Utah in an absolute nail biter. However, the upset was more surprising on paper than in reality, especially when you take into account the talent on this Gator team and the absurd home-field advantage they sport in The Swamp. Anthony Richardson was consistent through the air and electrifying on the ground, throwing for 168 yards on 24 attempts and rushing for 106 yards and 3 touchdowns on 11 attempts, including the go-ahead score with 1:25 left. He also proceeded to break the internet with a downright lethal pump fake spin move to convert on a key two-point conversion early in the fourth quarter. The nail in the coffin was an Amari Burney interception on 2nd and Goal from the Florida 6-yard line with 17 seconds left in regulation. 

The win propelled Florida up to No. 12 in the AP Poll as they prepare to face No. 20 Kentucky on Saturday. This is a huge matchup early in the season for these two SEC East rivals. Kentucky is a team that struggles mightily to run the ball, but has pro-caliber Will Levis under center. Florida is a team that just put up 283 yards on the ground against a top 10 team, but did not do much damage through the air. The Gators will need repeat performances from backs Montrell Johnson Jr, Nay’Quan Wright and Trevor Etienne. The contrast here is the key of the game; whichever team can pull the other outside their comfort zone should come out on top.

6. Tennessee

The Tennessee Volunteers absolutely ravaged Ball State last week from start to finish in a 59-10 rout of last year’s MAC champions. The first play from scrimmage was an interception off of Cardinals quarterback John Paddock on an ill-advised and poorly executed flea-flicker. Henden Hooker capitalized on the next play, throwing a 23-yard score to wideout Jalin Hyatt. Tennessee would go on to score on every drive of the first half aside from one punt and went into halftime up 38-0. The offense was so dominant, they only punted twice all game. The defense was also stellar, picking off Paddock twice and forcing a fumble.

Then again, they were playing Ball State. The real challenge will be this week in Pittsburgh, PA, against a very solid Pitt Panthers team. Even though the No. 17 Panthers are ranked higher and at home, they still come into the game as 6.5 point underdogs to the now 24th ranked Volunteers. Pitt is also coming off of an emotional win at home against West Virginia, tying the game with just over three minutes left before sealing the Mountaineers fate with a pick-six less than a minute later. If the Vols have Hooker firing on all cylinders like last week, it’s hard to imagine many teams matching their electric offense, but Pitt is definitely capable. Panthers quarterback Kedon Slovis is no slouch in his own right, throwing for upwards of 300 yards last week. You can expect a whole lot of offense here in an exciting Week Two matchup.

7. Kentucky

No. 20 Kentucky survived a shaky first half against Miami (OH) before pulling away in the third quarter to beat the Redhawks 37-13. Starting the second half, the Wildcats got a kickoff return score from return man Barion Brown, recovered a Redhawk fumble in their first set of downs and took two more plays to find pay dirt. Quarterback Levis threw for 303 yards and 3 scores with just 1 interception. His counterpart, Brett Gabbert, was largely ineffective, throwing for 166 yards on 28 attempts with no scores or picks, for a measly 5.9 yards per attempt. Kudos to the Wildcat secondary for keeping in check the consensus top arm in the MAC by keeping plays in front of them. The line was also effective, sacking Gabbert three times.

Kentucky will take a trip down to the swamp this weekend to face SEC East counterpart, No. 12 Florida. The Gators come in favored by six points after their statement win against Utah last week. Gainesville is a brutal place for visiting teams in general, and coming off last week, the crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will be electric. That makes it even more important for Levis to improve on his average performance last week. Adding to that, he will need some assemblance of ground support, which his backs failed to give him last week, rushing 26 times for just 50 yards. The other key will be protecting Levis better, as he was sacked four times last week. This is an even matchup on paper but with the rowdy Gator crowd in attendance, Kentucky will have their hands full.

8. Ole Miss

The No. 22 Rebels ran all over Troy this past week, building a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter and cruising to a 28-10 victory. Lead backs Zach Evans and true freshman Quinshon Judkins combined for 217 yards on 34 attempts, and quarterback Jaxson Dart chipped in 40 yards of his own on 4 attempts. Dart was pretty average overall, completing 66.6% of his passes and throwing one touchdown to one interception. The Ole Miss defense was stout, forcing three turnovers and keeping the Trojans away from pay dirt until late in the third quarter when the game was pretty much out of hand. 

Next on tap for the Rebels is a game against Central Arkansas in Oxford. The Bears were dominated last week by Missouri State, only putting up two scores in garbage time to cover the spread and make the score look respectable. ESPN FPI gives Ole Miss a 99.1% chance to win this week, and even that may be generous to Central. There probably will not be much opportunity for Dart to build on last week, as an early lead will likely mean more work for the backs and second stringers, but when he is in the game, it should be interesting to see how he fares against this weak Bears team.

9. Mississippi St

The Bulldogs hostedand proceeded to thoroughly dominate—a solid Memphis Tigers team. Quarterback Will Rogers did not disappoint, throwing for 450 yards, the second most in the nation this week, to go along with five touchdowns, one interception and one lost fumble. He also spread the ball around beautifully, as eight Bulldogs had three or more receptions on Saturday. His play was the second most electrifying aspect of the game, as lightning delayed the game for the better part of three hours. On the other side of the ball, linebacker Jett Johnson had himself a game, with 13 total tackles.

The Bulldogs will now go cross-country to Tucson, to face the 11-point underdog Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats are coming off a thrilling win over San Diego State behind four touchdown tosses from quarterback Jayden de Laura, three of them to fellow transfer wide receiver Jacob Cowen. However, his Mississippi State secondary will be a more formidable opponent for de Laura, and if the combination of Jalen Green, Corey Ellington, Jackie Matthews and Collin Duncan can shut down the Dde Laura-Cowen connection, this could be a one-sided affair. With that being said, Arizona pulled off an upset last week, and could be poised to do it again.

10. LSU

LSU became the first SEC team to lose this year, dropping a tightly contested matchup with Florida State. Yes, Seminole quarterback Jordan Travis was amazing, and yes, LSU mounted a comeback late in the fourth quarter, but the main story from Brian Kelly’s SEC debut was the LSU special teams struggles. The Tigers had a field goal blocked and fumbled off of a punt return in the first half. Then, after cutting the FSU lead to seven with under two minutes left, the Tigers forced a punt that was muffed by return man Malik Nabers inside the LSU 10-yard line. LSU proceeded to force a fumble from FSU lead back Treshaun Ward, then the offense drove 99 yards for a game-tying score that failed to tie the game when the PAT attempt was blocked. If we’re counting, that’s two blocked kicks and two punt return fumbles in a game that the Tigers lost by one.

Aside from those costly miscues, the Tigers looked pretty solid. Jayden Daniels was phenomenal, accounting for 209 yards in the air and 114 on the ground, along with a pair of scores. Even with the LSU backs only averaging a touch over three yards a carry, the team only punted twice, and the offense did not turn the ball over at all, which makes it even more unbelievable they only put up 23 points. Next, they have Southern University making the trip to Tiger Stadium. The Jags have a 1.3% chance of beating LSU, so this could be a good bounceback spot for Kelly’s Tigers.

11. Auburn

The Tigers took care of business against Mercer on Saturday, winning 42-16 behind Tank Bigsby’s 147 yards and 2 touchdowns. Bigsby was efficient too, racking up those yards on only 16 carries, for an average of 9.2 yards per carry (YPC). Quarterback T.J. Finley was relatively shaky, getting sent to the bench after his second pick midway through the third quarter. Backup Robby Ashfrod was serviceable in relief, going 4-of-7 for 100 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. 

The Tigers host San Jose State next week—their second of a five-game homestand. The Spartans eked by Portland State on Saturday 21-17 behind two touchdown runs from quarterback Chevan Corderio and 11 tackles from linebacker Kyle Harmon. Harmon will be a key piece to gameplan around for the Tigers, as he finished with 133 tackles last season, good for third in the nation. The matchup to watch will be Harmon and the Spartan D-Line vs. Bigsby and the Auburn O-line.The edge should go to Auburn here. I would not expect a close game, and Auburn should start 2-0 for the second year in a row.

12. South Carolina

The Gamecocks took care of business at home against a frisky Georgia State team, but not without their trials and tribulations. South Carolina trailed 14-12 midway through the third quarter before a Spencer Rattler touchdown toss and subsequent two-point conversion scamper put the Gamecocks ahead for good. The nail(s) in the coffin were two blocked punts returned for touchdowns—one late in the third and another early in the fourth. That padded the score of a game that was much closer than the box score may suggest, as even with the Gamecock defense limiting Panthers quarterback Danny Grainger to only 7-of-29 for 111 yards, the Gamecocks got outgained overall. Adding to that, they lost the turnover battle as Rattler threw two picks, with one coming on his own side of the field, ultimately leading to Georgia State’s last score of the day.

The real test for this team will come next Saturday, as the Gamecocks take a trip to Little Rock to try to shut down QBJefferson and the prolific Arkansas Razorbacks offense. To win that game, South Carolina will have to average more than the putrid 2.5 YPC that they sported against Georgia State. Arkansas is also coming off a big win against a Cincinnati team soon to be in the Big 12. If Rattler is on, anything can happen, but with his shaky track record, my gut says Arkansas will take home a win.

13. Missouri

After a first quarter that saw the Tigers trailing 3-0, Missouri dumped 21 unanswered on the lowly Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, and cruised to a 52-24 win. Five-star wide receiver prospect Lutheran Burden III lived up to the hype, catching a score and running for another, but it was the Mizzou defense that came away as big winners on Thursday. Heralded as one of the worst rush defenses in College Football last year, the Tigers held Louisiana Tech to a mere 11 yards on 22 carries and picked off quarterback Matthew Downing three times, with one interceptionbeing returned for six by Joseph Charlton.

Next week will be more challenging for Charlton and company, as they travel to Manhattan, Kansas, to take on a Kansas State team fresh off a 34-0 thumping of South Dakota. To truly change the perception of this football team as a group that can be run all over, they will need to shut down the Wildcat’s proficient rushing offense.

14. Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt is off to their first 2-0 start since 2018 with a 42-31 win over Elon on Saturday. Vandy looked poised for a repeat of their Week Zero dominance, jumping out to a 21-0 lead late in the first quarter following three Mike Wright touchdowns, two in the air and one on the ground. Elon responded immediately when backup quarterback Matthew Mckay connected with wideout Chandler Brayboy for a 75-yard score on the first play of the drive, which shifted momentum and kept the game from getting out of hand. The aforementioned Wright was the catalyst for this win, accounting for a school record six touchdowns. The ‘Dores needed all six of their touchdowns to keep the game from becoming a nail biter, as the Vandy secondary struggled to stop Mckay and the air attack. The Commodores will need to play like they did against Hawaii to have a chance of outlasting No. 23 Wake Forest next week.

The Demon Deacons, coming off a 44-10 rout of VMI, are favored by 13.5 points at FirstBank Stadium. Starting Sam Hartman will make his 2022 debut after winning MVP in last year’s Gator Bowl. The way this Commodore offense has been operating through Wright and lead back Ray Davis, the ‘Dores can definitely make this a competitive game, even a win. With that being said, Wake Forest is head and shoulders above Vandy’s previous competition. 

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About the Contributor
Noah Roslin, Former Staff Writer
Noah Roslin ('26) is planning to double major in human and organizational development and economics in Peabody College. When not writing for The Hustler, you can usually find Noah at the hockey rink, at the tennis courts or at home looking for new Soundcloud remixes.
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