SEC spring in review
A question of quarterbacks around the conference
In our most recent issue, we tied a bow on LSU’s spring practice, breaking down the Tigers offense and defense. Now, as we turn our attention to the rest of the Southeastern Conference, there’s one central theme which permeates through the majority of the league: uncertainty at the quarterback position.
It seems that everywhere you look - aside from Alabama and Arkansas - SEC teams are either ushering in new, inexperienced signal callers or having to decide between a horde of unspectacular upperclassmen. For a league which has been so dominant in recent years, one thing it won’t be mistaken as is a quarterback’s conference.
Arkansas receives a pass from this discussion because it boasts rising junior Ryan Mallett, the strong-armed transfer from Michigan who routinely engineered four- and five-touchdown performances last season. Mallett is already being named on several Heisman watch lists for 2010. Alabama brings back senior-to-be Greg McElroy. Now, the Tide QB doesn’t have half the arm Mallett does, but he does have one more crystal ball to his name. Virtually every other SEC team would likely welcome more consistency at the most important position on the field.
Here’s a rundown of how each team’s quarterbacks fared during the spring as well as updates from the rest of the conference’s spring games:
QB situation: Greg McElroy returns for his final season in Tuscaloosa with arguably more offensive weapons at his disposal than anyone else in the SEC. Last season, he completed 61% of his passes for 17 touchdowns against only four interceptions. And, most importantly, the guy hasn’t lost a start in high school or college. Frosh A.J. McCarron is the immediate back-up.
Spring Game: As is the norm, far too many people attended A-Day (91,312 raving lunatics, to be exact). They saw a lot of what the team featured last season: power running, over and over again. Defending Heisman toter Mark Ingram scampered for 90 yards on nine carries, including one dash of 60 yards. Junior wide-out Brandon Gibson may have stolen the show, though, with eight catches for 142 yards and a score. The quarterbacks were accurate, but both sides were sloppy on third down, converting only 3-of-25 chances.
QB situation: Much like Bama, this position is one the Hogs can forget about and turn their attention to other places. Ryan Mallet’s the guy. He shredded opposing defenses last year to the tune of 3,627 yards through the air and 30 touchdowns. Tyler Wilson, a redshirt sophomore, is second-in-command.
Spring Game: Mallett sat out, still recovering from off-season foot surgery. His backups looked sharp in a high-scoring affair. Incoming freshman Jacoby Walker - who just stepped onto campus this semester - finished the day 6-for-11 for 183 yards and two aerial strikes. For good measure, he ran for 30 more yards. Wilson was 8-for-15 for 133 yards and a touchdown. Defense again was a no-show for Bobby Petrino’s squad, as the two sides racked up a combined 766 yards.
QB situation: 2009 starter Chris Todd proved to be a good fit in offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s pass-happy attack. Now that Todd’s out, the early edge for 2010 goes to incoming transfer (from Florida) Cameron Newton. He’ll be pushed by rising senior Neil Caudle, who saw limited action in 2009.
Spring Game: The Plainsmen had quite a day offensively, with four different quarterbacks slinging it at-will. Malzahn sounds like he’s not sure who’ll be the guy under center for Auburn in ‘10, indicating the QB competition would spill over into the fall. But he had to have been impressed with this effort: The four combined for 37-for-50 passing for 488 yards and three throwing scores. Also, kicker Wes Byrum connected on a 50-yard field goal in the game.
QB situation: Tim Tebow out, John Brantley in. With as much surrounding talent as there is in The Swamp, it’s almost that simple. Certainly, Brantley will be the starter and bring a more traditional skill set to the position, but replacing Tebow is a mammoth challenge. Waiting in the wings is quickly improving rookie Trey Burton (a dual-threat QB).
Spring Game: Brantley, 15-for-19 for 201 yards and two touchdowns, and Burton, 243 total yards and three scores (two on the ground), lit it up. The Florida QB’s connected with an impressive 10 receivers on the day. Junior kicker Caleb Sturgis went 3-for-4 on field goals (makes from 37, 42 and 52 yards, respectively). Defense was hard to find on the day, but frosh cornerback Joshua Shaw did pick off a Burton pass and return it 31 yards.
QB situation: Highly touted redshirt frosh Zach Mettenberger was kicked off the team after spring practice, leaving another redshirt freshman, Aaron Murray, left to compete with seldom-used junior Logan Gray. Murray will likely get the nod, but this isn’t the situation Mark Richt had hoped for leading up to a critical year in Athens.
Spring Game: The since-disgraced Mettenberger threw for two touchdown strikes and 150 yards. Murray was 10-for-22 for 96 yards and Gray was 10-for-17 for 132 yards and a score. The running game was done by committee, a familiar theme in the Richt era (save two years of unadultered Knowshon Moreno goodness). Projected starter Washaun Ealey gained 22 yards while two other Dawg rushers notched at least 40 yards. Georgia’s defense, in the midst of a switch to the 3-4 under new coordinator Todd Grantham, picked it up in the second half. Linebacker Nick Williams registered seven tackles.
QB situation: Outside of Auburn and possibly Vanderbilt, this is one of the tougher battles to call. Presumed starter Mike Hartline, a senior-to-be, has been so-so in spring practices and is being pushed heavily by rising sophomore Morgan Newton and even freshman Ryan Mossakowski. Hartline’s got the edge, but barely.
Spring Game: Sophomore runner Donald Russell was the offensive spark plug in the first spring game under new head coach Joker Phillips. Russell carried nine times for 118 yards and two touchdowns, including one from 70 yards out. He’ll likely back-up senior starter Derrick Locke, fresh off an ‘09 campaign in which he rushed for 908 yards and six touchdowns. The quarterback play was less spectacular as the three guys listed above combined to go 23-for-49 for 253 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
QB situation: With Tyson Lee graduated, the signal caller battle is now a race between dual-threat QB Chris Relf and redshirt freshman Tyler Russell. Relf’s experience (he appeared in 10 games in ‘09, often as the rushing QB) gives him the early lead in the clubhouse. Don’t be surprised to see both next season.
Spring Game: Dan Mullen’s bunch welcomed in the largest spring game crowd in the program’s history, and the cowbell toters left happy with the performance of Relf, who finished the day 13-for-24 passing for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Russell had a rougher go of it, throwing two interceptions and completing only 12 of 27 passes. The defense was spearheaded by Sean Ferguson, who totaled two sacks and five tackles overall on the day.
QB situation: Following Jevan Snead’s surprising decision to go pro, the Rebels will cede QB control to redshirt sophomore Nathan Stanley, who saw action in five games in ‘09. Stanley will be backed up by incoming frosh Raymond Cotton, a dual-threat quarterback from Maryland.
Spring Game: Points aplenty lit up the scoreboard at the Grove. The game ended, 49-35, and Stanley had a big day leading the Rebels offense. He finished 11-for-16 for 166 yards and two touchdowns, leading his side to four scoring drives in the process. Cotton, who played despite a sore shoulder, connected on 5 of 7 passes, including an 80-yard touchdown to wide-out Jesse Grandy. Defensive back Charles Sawyer picked off two passes on a tough day for the defense.
QB situation: Looks like the Ol’ Ball Coach will settle for the services of rising junior Stephen Garcia, who’s late-season dips in form typically coincide with the Gamecocks’ now-annual nosedive in the season’s second half (2-5 to close last year, 2-4 in 2008). Either Reid McCollum or Andrew Clifford will back-up Garcia.
Spring Game: Garcia was mediocre at best, completing 8 of 15 passes for 79 yards, while Clifford was 8-for-12 passing for 100 yards. Kenny Miles, with 35 yards, was the game’s leading rusher in a tough game for running backs. On the defensive side, redshirt freshman cornerback Stephon Gilmore picked off a tipped pass. Oddly enough, Gilmore also threw an interception, as he typically lines up at quarterback in the WildCock formation (yes, that’s evidently what they really call it).
QB situation: Like Georgia, the Vols lost one of their candidates in the running to replace a graduated QB this spring. Unlike the Dawgs’ situation, fifth-year senior Nick Stephens wasn’t looking like the frontrunner. When Stephens left the team, he all but handed the starting gig to Matt Simms. Simms’ immediate backup is freshman Tyler Bray.
Spring Game: First-year head man Derek Dooley watched Bray prove he’s got the goods, throwing for 200 yards and a touchdown. The defense was rock solid, though, and limited the game’s scoring. Interior defensive lineman Montori Hughes was a force inside and the secondary picked off three Simms’ passes. Barbe-product Janzen Jackson got into the special teams act, returning two punts for 43 yards.
QB situation: Redshirt junior Larry Smith is the most likely candidate to start for Bobby Johnson’s team. He started nine games last year before a hamstring injury sidelined him for the remainder of ‘09. Pushing Smith are Jared Funk and Charlie Goro.
Spring Game: The Dores defense was dominant, an accurate reflection of how many of the team’s spring practices looked. In the 58-play scrimmage, the offense managed to score only once, a 9-yard touchdown strike on the game’s final play from one back-up to another. None of the team’s top-rated QB’s led a scoring drive during the game. Running back Reece Lovell did have marginal success, gaining 44 yards on 10 carries. He’ll serve as the No. 2 to starting rusher Warren Norman, the ‘09 SEC Freshman of the Year.