Georgia football briefly joins SEC's search for rock bottom as Alabama spirals | Toppmeyer

Georgia’s growing pains are real. The exit of an underappreciated starting quarterback and a bright offensive coordinator is showing its effects. The Bulldogs might miss their old kicker most of all, after two missed field goals and the opening kickoff going out of bounds factored into Georgia’s closer-than-expected win Saturday over South Carolina.

At Alabama, it’s worse than growing pains. Growth is fully stunted.

No wonder Nick Saban started Jalen Milroe the first two games of the season. Milroe is imperfect, but his two backups have more flaws. Alabama’s offensive line has the most of all. A group that vowed to be “ruthless” looks rudderless.

The SEC hasn’t hit rock bottom, but it keeps probing new depths after the conference's latest clunkers Saturday.

Another top-10 team, Tennessee, went down at the hands of Florida. An SEC homer would say that’s a sign of a tough league with great parity, but it’s looking more like the conference lacks elite teams.

The Vols suffered their usual nightmare at The Swamp. Arkansas got blasted at home against BYU. Those losses left the SEC with five undefeated teams after three weeks: Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Auburn and Ole Miss.

Kirby Smart didn’t like Georgia’s plan to combat South Carolina’s first-half defensive pressure. He applauded, though, the Bulldogs’ 21-point response after halftime for a 24-14 victory.

“(The Gamecocks) came into a tough environment with some relatively young players. They showed great composure and started with a really great plan against us,” Smart said.

Georgia (3-0, 1-0 SEC) doesn’t look deserving of any No. 1 ranking, but maybe this will be the wakeup call it needed. It endured a tough game against Missouri in September 2022 before winning a second consecutive national championship.

“We did respond to adversity, and that’s all it is. It’s going to happen all over the country, guys,” Smart said.

It’s happening in the SEC, anyway.

South Florida, which has five wins in its past 40 games, gave Alabama (2-1) all it could handle. At least Alabama’s defense played to the standard. It had to in order to compensate for two quarterbacks, Tyler Buchner and Ty Simpson, who combined for 107 passing yards.

USF didn’t register a single sack in the season opener against Western Kentucky, despite the Hilltoppers throwing 50 passes. The Bulls sacked Alabama quarterbacks five times.

“We messed up the protections several times,” Saban said. “We got beat a couple times. So we need to get that fixed.”

Ole Miss will arrive at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday with a chance to land a knockout punch on Alabama’s season.

Georgia should get a breather against UAB before a road game against Auburn that’s starting to look more interesting than it did in August.

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SEC West goes through LSU

We’ve seen LSU do this before. In fact, we saw it last year, when the Tigers lost an ugly season opener against Florida State before tearing through the SEC West.

LSU will face tougher games than it did Saturday, when it ripped apart Mississippi State 41-14, but this result showed that a loss to FSU does not alter LSU’s division possibilities.

Jayden Daniels played catch with Malik Nabers as if MSU had no defense on the field. It did, just not one that could stop one of the SEC’s premier quarterback/wide receiver combinations. Nabers racked up 239 receiving yards, and Daniels threw incompletions on just four of his 34 attempts.

MSU’s Will Rogers had four incompletions after two possessions. The veteran is struggling to calibrate outside of Mike Leach’s Air Raid.

“We needed this game, but it wasn’t the need for confidence,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said. “It was the need to go and validate who we were.”

Who are these Tigers?

The favorite in the SEC West.

Missouri’s ‘thicker kicker’ causes elation in CoMo

My first thought after Missouri fans rushed the field following Harrison Mevis’ game-winning field goal to beat Kansas State was: Why are fans storming the field to celebrate a mild upset of the nation’s 15th-ranked team?

My second thought: Missouri just won thanks to a 243-pound kicker drilling a 61-yard field goal. Of course fans were rushing the field after such theatrics delivered a 30-27 victory.

The field goal covered for coach Eliah Drinkwitz’s self-admitted “boneheaded” coaching in the closing seconds. He allowed Missouri to get flagged for a delay of game, which pushed Mevis’ kick past 60 yards. Then, Brady Cook nearly threw an interception before Drinkwitz finally sent out Mevis.

Criticizing Drinkwitz’s late-game management is fully warranted, but Missouri played like a well-prepared team. Credit him for that. Credit Cook, too. He quieted critics with a career-high 356 passing yards. But give the game ball to the guy whom Tigers fans affectionally know as “the thicker kicker.”

Three and out

1. Josh Heupel built goodwill with Tennessee fans by delivering the Vols’ best season in more than 20 years in 2022. A road loss to Florida doesn’t erase that, but he is approaching a critical midseason stretch, beginning in two weeks with South Carolina, followed by Texas A&M, Alabama and Kentucky. Don’t test the wrath of Vols fans. He needs to win at least three of those four.

2. Missouri’s next two games are against Memphis and Vanderbilt, meaning this experienced team has a chance to be ranked in the Top 25 when it hosts LSU.

3. Milroe should receive more support from Tide fans if he regains the reins against Ole Miss. That’s the silver lining to Alabama’s performance. There had been doubts as to whether Milroe was Alabama’s best quarterback. Saturday answered that. Better question is who should be Alabama’s left tackle.

Blake Toppmeyer is the USA TODAY Network's SEC Columnist. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

The "Topp Rope" is his twice-weekly SEC football column published throughout the USA TODAY Network. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Also, check out his podcast, SEC Football Unfiltered, or access exclusive columns via the SEC Unfiltered newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Georgia football briefly joins SEC's lows. Is Alabama already there?