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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 Three: Turmoil at the top

The Hustler recaps the Week 2 results from around the SEC and looks ahead to this upcoming week’s matchups.
Nour Abida
Vanderbilt huddles on Sept. 2, 2023 vs Alabama A&M (Hustler Multimedia/Nour Abida).

Another week is in the books and it was a good one around the SEC. There were a couple of shockers, specifically Alabama falling in Tuscaloosa for the first time this decade, as well as some predictable snoozers, like LSU’s 62-point win over Grambling State. The Hustler got together to recap the games and update the top-to-bottom power rankings.

1. Georgia (2-0)

Georgia remains atop the AP Poll following an expected 45-3 demolition of Ball State. Quarterback Carson Beck threw for 283 yards, completing passes to an astounding 12 different receivers. Additionally, electric sophomore WR Mekhi Mews returned a punt for a TD to spark a 31-point explosion in the second quarter. The defense pulled their weight as well, stifling the Ball State offense all day and pulling off the first-ever Kick Pick.

Georgia opens SEC play on Saturday with an intriguing matchup against Spencer Rattler and South Carolina. While the Gamecocks might put up a fight, Georgia’s physicality on the defensive line and overall athleticism should help lead the Bulldogs to a win. The game should serve as valuable reps for Beck, as it will be the first SEC start of his career. Fans will also look for a bounceback game from All-American tight end Brock Bowers, as he was practically invisible last week with just  one catch for three yards).

2. LSU (1-1)

No. 14 LSU got back on track on Saturday with a gigantic 72-10 win over Grambling State. Quarterback Jayden Daniels threw for 5 touchdowns, Logan Diggs rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown and top wide receiver Malik Nabers added 87 receiving yards and a score. The defense surprisingly gave up 320 yards, but clamped down in the red zone to hold Grambling to just 10 points. Star linebacker Harold Perkins chipped in with a big performance after getting moved back to his preferred position as a pass-rushing linebacker.

Next up for the Tigers is a potentially tricky away matchup against an experienced Mississippi State team. While LSU is certainly the better team on paper, its defense still looked a little off last week. If the Tigers can’t make the necessary adjustments, a Bulldogs team featuring a balanced offensive attack and a ton of experience could give them some trouble. With Starkville sure to be rocking for the game, LSU could be on upset alert if it falls into an early hole. However, if LSU gets settled in, Daniels could put up massive stats.

3. Ole Miss (2-0)

No. 17 Ole Miss had the most significant SEC win of the weekend, knocking off then No. 20 Tulane 37-20. The game was closer than the score indicated, as Ole Miss scored a whopping 20 fourth-quarter points to put the game away. Jaxson Dart threw for 267 yards and two touchdowns, most of which was without star wide receiver Tre Harris, who left with an injury in the first quarter. On the other hand, all-world running back Quinshon Judkins was completely shut down with only 48 rushing yards. The Rebel defense gave up a concerning 342 yards to Tulane’s backup quarterback, but it ultimately came through with a massive scoop-and-score and stout fourth-down defense.

Next week, Ole Miss takes on heavy underdog Georgia Tech at home. This could be a perfect “tune-up” game for the Rebels, as their victory against Tulane revealed a few notable flaws. Most importantly was suspect offensive line play, as a solid but unspectacular Tulane defensive line lived in the Ole Miss backfield on Saturday. The team must address that deficiency before traveling to Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Sept. 23 for its game of the season. Head coach Lane Kiffin and co.  would also like to get Harris back for that game, as his presence means that teams can’t stack the box against Judkins. If the Rebels can do both of those things, watch out.

4. Alabama (1-1)

No. 10 Alabama was the biggest loser of the weekend, falling 34-24 to the Texas Longhorns (Are they finally back?). It was Alabama’s first home loss since 2019, and the Tide’s first double digit home loss in the Saban era. It was certainly not a fluke, as Texas dominated Alabama in every phase of the game. Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers threw for 349 yards, repeatedly torching the secondary and connecting on downfield throws, while Alabama’s Jalen Milroe completed a measly 14 passes and threw two awful interceptions. The Tide defense wasn’t much better, as it was gashed for 454 yards while forcing zero turnovers and not even registering a sack. The cherry on top was Alabama’s 10 committed penalties, a rarity for a Saban squad.

Alabama takes on USF next week but that won’t be the main storyline. It’s been years since the Tide have been so comprehensively beaten at home, and their matchup against Ole Miss in just two weeks is looming. Most are expecting Alabama to dominantly bounce back against the Rebels, but it’s hard to be certain. Saban’s teams have always been dominant by either featuring a superstar QB or a dominant run game backed up by the best defense in the country. This year, the Tide appear to have neither. While Alabama is clearly still a good, top-25 football team, it needs one of those phases to step up soon in the key moments of a game. If not, Alabama could be staring at two home defeats in a season for the first time in the Saban era.

5. Tennessee (2-0)

No. 11 Tennessee struggled mightily on Saturday but dispatched Austin Peay 30-13. While quarterback Joe Milton ended the day with a decent statline of 228 yards, three total touchdowns, and no turnovers, he struggled from start to finish, missing easy completions and reads constantly. His receiver corps did not help his cause at all, committing numerous drops along with a lost fumble by lead-man Ramel Keyton. They were bailed out by the Vols’ rushing attack, which rolled for 228 yards behind the elite duo of Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small. Meanwhile, the Volunteers’ defense had a pretty typical performance  – it gave up a ton of yards but clamped down on fourth down and in the red zone.

Next week, Tennessee takes on Florida in Gainesville in what is the highest-profile matchup of the week. While Tennessee opens as an 8.5-point favorite, the Volunteers haven’t won in Gainesville since 2013. Florida’s potent rushing attack is sure to come out looking to control the tempo against a “bend but don’t break” Tennessee defense. That said, all eyes will be on Milton and his young WR duo of Keyton and Bru McCoy. It will be their first SEC game, and Gainesville is not exactly an easy place to play in. If they struggle to find their rhythm, the Vols could be in for a brutal night. However, if the passing game manages to click early, watch for Tennessee to pick apart a suspect Florida secondary and end the game by the third quarter.

6. Arkansas (2-0)

Arkansas stumbled to an unimpressive 28-6 victory over lowly Kent State. The Razorback offense was unable to establish consistency all game, passing for only 136 yards and averaging a pedestrian 3.8 yards per carry. For a team that has been top-10 in rushing output over the past two seasons, this is a major problem. The Hogs were missing star running back Raheim Sanders to a knee injury, but the backup duo of AJ Green and Rashod Dubinson are still extremely talented. Thankfully for the Razorbacks, their defense was dominant from start to finish.

Up next for Arkansas is a critical matchup against the 3-0 BYU Cougars. Arkansas beat BYU 52-35 last year on the back of massive performances from Sanders (175 rushing yards and two touchdowns) and Matt Landers (99 receiving yards and two touchdowns). However, with neither of those guys playing this Saturday, someone has to step up to help stud quarterback KJ Jefferson shoulder the offensive load. Defensively, the Razorbacks were gashed last year for 471 yards by quarterback Jarren Hall and now-NFL star wide receiver Puka Nacua. This year’s BYU offense is far less intimidating, with transfer signal-caller Kedon Slovis still adjusting to life in Provo and an inexperienced receiver group. If Arkansas can pressure Slovis early, expect the Razorbacks to cruise to a straightforward victory.

7. Mississippi State (2-0)

The Bulldogs are coming off of a wild 31-24 win over Pac-12 bottom-dweller Arizona. Despite forcing multiple turnovers in the first quarter, Mississippi State couldn’t pull away and let Arizona right back in the game. Senior quarterback Will Rogers finally came to life with a beautiful 29-yard TD pass, while the Bulldog defense stopped Wildcat quarterback Jayden de Laura inches short of a first down to seal the game. However, it was not a pretty performance. Rogers inexcusably only had 17 passing attempts, while an insufficient running game had 37 carries. On the defensive side, the Bulldogs had a mixed performance with 5 forced turnovers but 431 yards given up against a mediocre Arizona offense.

Up next for Mississippi State is a monumental showdown against LSU. It’s easy to see a scenario where the Bulldogs pull their offense together, force a few key turnovers on defense and make this a close game. If that’s the case, the experience of Rogers might prove to be key in a shocking upset win. However, it’s just as easy to see a scenario where the Bulldogs conservative offensive play calling holds Rogers back while the defense gets gashed by Tiger quarterback Jayden Daniels. Which Bulldog team shows up on Saturday is truly a coin flip.

8. Texas A&M (1-1)

Texas A&M is coming off a demoralizing 48-33 loss to the now No. 22 Miami Hurricanes. Aggies quarterback Connor Weigman generally played well, with 365 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, but his 2 costly interceptions killed any hope for A&M. Meanwhile, star wide receiver Evan Stewart did his part with 11 receptions for 142 yards. The Aggie defense, which was consistently good last year, was dreadful in this game. Much-maligned Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke threw for 374 yards and five passing touchdowns, both of which were career highs for him. The A&M secondary let 4 different wideouts go for over 50 yards while not forcing a single turnover. Ouch.

The Aggies take on Louisiana Monroe this weekend. The Warhawks are 2-0 but certainly aren’t a match for A&M, so this should serve as a bounceback game for an Aggie defense that desperately needs one. Virtually every player on the field is a top recruit, so the talent is definitely not lacking. If the Aggies can build some cohesion before SEC play begins, they could be a team to look out for.

9. Kentucky (2-0)

Expecting an easy win in its matchup against the neighboring Eastern Kentucky Colonels, Kentucky was surprisingly challenged and had to grind out a 28-17 win. After blocking a punt in the opening minutes of the game, the Colonel defense shut down a shaky Wildcat offense until just before halftime. Transfer QB Devin Leary finally figured things out in the second half and threw for 299 yards and 4 scores. The Kentucky defense had a mediocre day, not giving up any big plays but not producing anything noteworthy either.

Next week, Kentucky will take on Akron in a final tune-up before the all-important Vanderbilt game. QB Devin Leary is going to look to further cement his rapport with wide receiver Tayvion Robinson after Robinson broke out last game with 136 yards and two touchdowns. Vanderbilt has had some trouble in the secondary this year, so Robinson could be key to a Wildcat triumph in that contest.

10. South Carolina (1-1)

Desperately needing to get back on track after a disappointing Week One loss to North Carolina, the Gamecocks did just that in a convincing 47-21 win over Furman. Quarterback Spencer Rattler played nearly perfectly, completing a mind-boggling 93% of his passes for 345 yards and three  touchdowns. Star wideout Xavier Legette, currently the top SEC receiver in yards-per-game, contributed 118 yards and a touchdown. Even more importantly, the Gamecock offensive line didn’t give up a sack after surrendering nine the week before. The South Carolina defense was alright, doing enough to get a comfortable win but not impressing anyone.

The Gamecocks now travel as heavy underdogs to Athens to take on No. 1 Georgia. It’s possible that Georgia will be up by 30 at halftime, but that’s no fun to think about. If the elite duo of Rattler and Legette comes out firing on all cylinders against a talented, but slightly inexperienced, Georgia DB room, things could turn out differently. On defense, the Gamecock secondary needs to avoid giving up big plays and force Carson Beck (also inexperienced) into a turnover or two. If the Gamecocks can keep it close through three quarters, anything can happen in 15 minutes of football.

11. Auburn (2-0)

The Tigers snuck away with a victory on Saturday, needing a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Payton Thorne to Rivaldo Fairweather to take the lead for good in Berkeley, Cal. against the Golden Bears. It was an ugly game all around, with seven combined turnovers, four from the Tigers’ sidelin, and three from the Bears. Nothing was working for either team on the offensive side of the ball for all 60 minutes.

With that being said, the Auburn defense is littered with playmakers. Eugene Asante was all over the field with 12 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a pass defended. Jaylin Simpson and D.J. James both picked off Sam Jackson V, and the defense as a whole only let up 273 yards overall. This team has a week to figure it out, welcoming what should be a tune-up game against the Samford Bulldogs before SEC play begins.

12. Florida (1-1)

After only putting up single digits on the score sheet against a stringent Utah defense, the Florida Gators bounced back in a get-right game against McNeese State, taking the victory 49-7. Signal-caller Graham Mertz simply did what was asked of him, which wasn’t much on this particular Saturday, as he was supported by a running game that gashed the Cowboys for 327 yards at the clip of 6.4 yards per carry. Everyone ate, and whether it was Trevor Etienne, Montrell Johnson Jr. or Treyaun Webb, it consistently hurt the Cowboys.

The Gator defense also made life miserable for Cowboys’ quarterback Nate Glantz, holding him to a mere six completions and 42 yards. Not that Glantz had any run support to help him, as the run game averaged only 1.8 yards per carry. The Gators might’ve had some fun this weekend, but it might not last as they welcome the No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers to the Swamp.

13. Missouri (2-0)

This was always expected to be a no-doubter for the boys from Columbia, Mo. A mid-major team at home was clearly chalked up as a win in the heads of the players before stepping on the field, and it almost came back to bite them as the final result was a tight 23-19 win at home against Middle Tennessee State. Brady Cook was efficient through the air, going 14-for-19 for 204 yards, two scores, and no picks, but he also took four sacks and struggled to do much with his feet.

The offensive line of the Tigers in general was pretty porous as the run game struggled to get going, and a safety late in the game almost handed the Blue Raiders a victory. On the bright side, the defense stood stout, only giving up 17 points to the McNeese offense. However, they failed to force any turnovers. Though they escaped unscathed, the Tigers will need a much better effort next week against a good Kansas State team.

14. Vanderbilt (2-1)

Though this was not the Commodores’ worst game on paper ― losing by two scores to a respectable Wake Forest football team ― this was an ugly game, as the Commodores fell 36-20 in Winston-Salem ). The Commodores were well within reach, receiving the ball down three with just under a minute to go in the first half, before Will Sheppard muffed a punt and it was returned for a lead-padding score. Extra salt was added to the wound as the player who scooped the ball up and found paydirt was former Commodore Brendan Harris. Vanderbilt never really recovered, and the Demon Deacons had no trouble running time off the clock, compiling 288 yards on the ground over the course of the game.

There are positives to look to in Nashville, however. Aside from the muffed punt, Sheppard  is playing the part of star wide receiver to a T, as he scored twice and hauled in eight receptions for 87 yards. He now leads the SEC with 20 catches and six receiving touchdown. Patrick Smith was ultra-efficient in his 10 carries, and AJ Swann threw for over 300 yards. Additionally, budding star WR London Humphreys won SEC Freshman of the Week with over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown. While this team will need to get tuned up heading into the SEC slate, it certainly has the offensive talent to make some noise this year.

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About the Contributors
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.
Adam Burns
Adam Burns, Staff Writer
Adam Burns (‘27) is from Scottsdale, Ariz., and studies human and organizational development, business and data science in Peabody College. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find him playing sports, spending time outdoors or exploring new places. He is also an extremely passionate Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Diamondbacks fan. You can reach him at [email protected].
Nour Abida
Nour Abida, Staff Photographer
Nour Abida ('25) is majoring in political science and medicine, health and society with a minor in Spanish in the College of Arts and Science. She is from Tunis, Tunisia. You can reach her at [email protected].
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