Robert Wilson has been watching SEC football since his first SEC game on his 11th birthday when Archie Manning and Ole Miss upset Alabama and Coach Bear Bryant 10-8 at Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson in 1968. He was hooked and still loves it. He will be doing an SEC football column each week and also talking about players and coaches with Mississippi connections in the SEC. Enjoy.
By Robert Wilson
Arkansas (0-1) at Mississippi State (1-0), 6:30 p.m. SEC Network
First-year Mississippi State outside receivers coach Steve Spurrier, Jr. said in August that if his receivers can’t catch the ball he wouldn’t hesitate to move them to defense. There aren’t likely any changes this week.
Although quarterback K.J. Costello received national headlines after breaking the 27-year SEC record for most passing yards in a game, MSU’s receivers and Spurrier should receive a tremendous credit for an A-plus performance in the 44-34 surprising victory over defending national champion and then-No. 6 LSU.
Ten Bulldogs caught passes, led by running back Kylin Hill with eight for 158 yards and one touchdown. Wide receiver Orsius Mitchell with seven for 183 yards and two TDs and JaVaonta Payton caught six passes for 122 yards and one TD. It was only the second time in school history that three players caught at least 100 receiving yards in the same game.
Said Spurrier: “We expect to have two or three guys with more than 100 yards every game and if we don’t, it’s a bad day.”
Costello threw a school record 60 passes and there weren’t many drops, a dramatic improvement from the last few seasons. It shows these Bulldog receivers are in shape, running great routes and have put in tons of time catching balls. For example, the last TD pass was to Mitchell, a 24-yarder down the sidelines.
“When Orisus came off the field, I asked him how many times he has ran that same exact play in practice, about 300 times,” Spurrier said. “It was a fun day for our receivers and they had a lot of smiles on their faces. It was great to see them reap the benefits of the 10,000 passes we force them to catch every day and every week in practice.”
This is nothing new for Spurrier, who came with Leach from Washington State where they led the nation in passing yards both seasons Spurrier was there. Spurrier was first on the same staff with Leach at Oklahoma in 1999 and have been keeping in touch every since. Spurrier, who played at Duke, has been a part of two national championship staffs (Florida in 1996 with his dad, Steve Spurrier, and Oklahoma in 2000), three SEC and two Big 12 titles and 17 bowl games. He coached with his dad at South Carolina from 2005-15. All along the way, Spurrier’s receivers set school records for receptions and TD catches.
Now comes the next test, Arkansas, which surprisingly led No. 3 Georgia 7-5 at half before losing 37-10. Can Costello and his improved receiving group repeat their performance from LSU? They might not get 623 yards, but based on prior years of Leach and Spurrier, they should put up big numbers. Washington State’s quarterback had nine games of 400 or more passing yardsd last season, including games of 606, 570 and 520. And MSU has scored more than 50 points each in the last two years against Arkansas.
Ole Miss (0-1) at Kentucky (0-1), 3 p.m., SEC Network
Costello set the SEC record for most passing yards, but the other passer for a Mississippi SEC team Saturday – Matt Corral – leads the SEC and is sixth in the nation in passing efficiency. Corral completed 22 of 31 passes for 395 yards and three TDs with only one interception, and that was on a tipped pass. Corral’s passing efficiency rating is 203.48. Florida’s Kyle Trask is second at 201.77. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence leads the nation at 234.60. Corral also leads the SEC in yards per pass, 12.74.
First-year Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said Corral can get even better.
“His feet were a little bit all over the place, at times, in the passing game,” Kiffin said. “We have to clean that up. He was late on some balls that were really open and he ended up completing but that should have been touchdowns.”
Corral gets another chance this week at Kentucky, which allowed 233 yards and three TD passes to Auburn’s Bo Nix in a 29-13 loss to Auburn.
Look for Corral to try to find Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore, who caught 10 passes for a career-high 227 yards, just short of A.J. Brown’s school record of 233 yards, set against South Alabama in 2017.
“I thought Elijah was really special, just from watching film of last year,” Kiffin said. “When I first met him, I told him he had to work harder than anyone in the country, because you’re going to shatter the school record for most catches in a year.”
Missouri (0-1) at Tennessee (1-0), 11 a.m., SEC Network
Jimmy “The Jet” Holiday won many games for Madison Central by throwing TD passes or running for TDs from his quarterback position.
But Saturday, Holiday clinched a win in his first college game for Tennessee with another type of heads up play. Holiday, playing on the punt coverage team, recovered a fumble that bounced off the back of South Carolina’s Cam Smith from a punt by Paxton Brooks with 1 minute, 24 seconds to play. Tennessee ran out the clock for a 31-27 victory.
Holiday signed with Tennessee in December as a quarterback, but he was moved to receiver in August. Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said Holiday wanted to move from receiver to quarterback to have a better chance of playing time. And he’s already making the most of his opportunity by being at the right place at the right time and being alert for a big play for the Vols.
Holiday, who first verbally committed to TCU before signing with Tennessee, graduated in December and enrolled early at Tennessee after an outstanding career at Madison Central. He passed for 3,507 yards and 37 TDs and ran for 3,568 yards and 51 TDs in three seasons. He led the Jaguars to the Class 6A semifinals as a sophomore and junior and a 9-3 record. Madison Central was upset in the first round by Olive Branch to end Holiday’s career. He played in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game.
LSU (1-0) at Vandy (0-1), 6:30 p.m., ESPN
Myles Brennan isn’t Joe Burrow. Brennan, the St. Stanislaus High alumnus who passed for more yards than anyone in Mississippi history, probably won’t win the Heisman Trophy like Burrow did last year. He won’t set the SEC record for most passing yards in season like Burrow. He won’t set the NCAA record for TD passes in a season like Burrow.
But Brennan did have the greatest debut of any quarterback in LSU history in the Tigers’ 44-34 loss to Mississippi State. Brennan’s performance was overshadowed by MSU’s K.J. Costello, who broke the SEC record for most passing yards in a game. Brennan completed 27 of 46 yards for 346 yards and two TDs. Consider Burrow’s first game (11 of 24 for 140 yards against Miami in 2018) and maybe Tiger fans will give Brennan a break. Also consider he didn’t have a spring practice or much of a fall one.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron isn’t panicking about Brennan.
“Myles knows what he’s looking at,” Orgeron said of Brennan’s knowledge of the offense. “There’s no question. But it’s a matter of making a decision. And what Joe did is make a decision quick and let go of the ball quick. He (Brennan) has to learn how to avoid the rush by stepping up in the pocket like Drew Brees instead of going outside. Be patient and let receivers come open. And pull the trigger, just like any great quarterback would.”
Brennan will be throwing more passes, yards and TDs this week when LSU visits Vanderbilt, which surprised many with a close, 17-12 loss at Texas A&M.