Week Three Lowe Down: The Palmetto state shines

Matt Lowe

September 15, 2017 at 2:55 pm.

Sep 9, 2017; Columbia, MO, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley (19) throws a pass during the first half against the Missouri Tigers at Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 9, 2017; Columbia, MO, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley (19) throws a pass during the first half against the Missouri Tigers at Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Week Three of The Lowe Down.

When I’m out working in the yard this time of year, my No. 1 nemesis is pinecones. You see, my yard backs up to a bunch of pine trees and it seems like it’s always under a constant bombardment from my prickly little friends.

So I can either A) just run over the dag ‘um things with my lawn mower or B) pick ‘em up. Most of the time, I choose to pick them up because I don’t like them blowing up and spreading all over the place when I do truck one … or two. That just creates an even bigger mess. Either way, constant upkeep is always needed for these pointy suckers after they decide to take the plunge.

Although I have yet to implement it, I might start giving out a Golden Pinecone Award each week to the coach who is most inept — because that’s basically what a pinecone is once it falls. If I were to do this for last week, it would go to Auburn head coach Gus Malzan.

After he said all summer long that he would stay out of the Tigers’ offense, it seemed pretty obvious watching the Clemson game that wasn’t the case. Outside of the first quarter, Auburn looked confused, unorganized, stale and basically inept.

Now I’ve said a number of times over the years that I think Auburn’s offense, which by no means is complicated, needs a running threat at quarterback to be successful if the shell of the O is Malzahn’s offense. Ever since Nick Marshall left following the 2014 season, a running QB has been nowhere to be found. That said, last week’s offense looked like the debacle against Clemson to start last season and the debacle at Georgia and Alabama to end the season. It also looked like the debacle against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. To put it bluntly, it looked like Malzahn’s offense, which just doesn’t go without a running QB.

This week it was announced that offensive coordinator (um, ok) Chip Lindsey is moving to the box to see the field better. But in all honesty, that likely won’t change anything unless Malzahn actually lets Lindsey call the plays with what appears to be another quarterback whose specialty isn’t running.

Hey, it’s early in the year and Auburn lost to the national champs, but something will have to change offensively for the Tigers to live up to their lofty preseason expectations. Will Malzahn actually let Lindsey, who has good passing scheme concepts, do his thing? Or will he continue to try to fit a square peg into a round hole by sticking to his guns as a play-caller with a player behind center that is more of a gun-slinger? The answer lies in the coming weeks.

Last week’s record was 11-6, bringing the yearly record to 27-13. To the games we go…

Friday, September 15

Illinois (2-0) at No. 22 South Florida (2-0)
Illinois has really made strides on defense under second-year head coach Lovie Smith (yes, the former coach of the Chicago Bears), but it will need to get more out of its offense to keep pace with the high-scoring Bulls. In an pretty impressive win over Western Kentucky — which won 11 games a year ago and led the country in scoring offense (45.5 points per game) — last week, Illinois’ defense, which starts three freshmen, limited the Hilltoppers to 244 total yards and just 7 points. It also scored a defensive TD and held WKU to just six yards on the ground, which was the school’s lowest total since 2000. The passing game isn’t a strength for Illinois, but dual-threat QB Chayce Crouch and freshman tailback Mike Epstein (165 yards rushing in two games) could pose problems for a Bulls defense that’s been inconsistent to start the year.
The Lowe Down: South Florida 27, Illinois 23

Saturday, September 16

No. 9 Oklahoma State (2-0) at Pittsburgh (1-1) 11:00 a.m. CT
Is it Pitt or Pittsburgh? Only reason I say that is because I got into a Twitter dog fight with a dude who covers the team hell-bent on saying the team is called “Pitt.” Regardless, the Panthers will have their hands full. The Cowboys are the real deal offensively and they shouldn’t have a problem scoring on a Pittsburgh ( ) team that’s reloading at a lot of spots under a defensive-minded head coach in Pat Narduzzi. But an early morning game is always tricky and the Cowboys will be on back-to-back road trips.
The Lowe Down: Oklahoma State 37, Pittsburgh 20

No. 23 Tennessee (2-0) at No. 24 Florida (0-1) 2:30 p.m. CT
If Florida is going to be a contender in the SEC East, then it will have to get a number of issues resolved. Most notably, keeping its best offensive players on the field. As of now, it appears as if Florida’s top offensive players (wideout Antonio Callaway and tailback Jordan Scarlett), will not play in this huge divisional matchup due to an ongoing investigation into “misusing school-issued funds.” If that’s the case, I just don’t think Florida has the horses on offense to win the game. I also think the Gators’ defense will have its share of problems with a Tennessee O that has its share of weapons (tailback John Kelly and wideout Marquez Callaway in particular) and a quarterback (Quinten Dormady) who has done a decent job moving the ball and making good decisions.
The Lowe Down: Tennessee 27, Florida 23

Colorado State (2-1) at No. 1 Alabama (2-0) 6:00 p.m. CT
Alabama still looks like a work in progress on offense — and that’s to be expected — but you have to wonder if Brian Daboll’s offense really fits Jalen Hurts’ skill set. Look, Jalen is a premier running quarterback in the mold of former great running QBs like Tommie Frazier, who led Nebraska to back-to-back national titles in 1994 and 1995, and Tony Rice, who led Notre Dame to the 1988 national title. He’s not a classic drop-back passer. So it will be interesting to see how Hurts develops in Daboll’s offense, which is a pro-style system that wants to get the ball downfield in the air attack, as the year goes on. Regardless of how it shakes out, Hurts needs to run the ball because he is one of Alabama’s best players at doing that due to his speed, vision and impressive power. Colorado State, under the direction of former Georgia quarterback Mike Bobo, is a capable team offensively. Quarterback Nick Stevens has passed for nearly 1,000 yards and six TDs in three games, and his favorite receiving option, wideout Michael Gallup, is a candidate to play on Sundays. But the Rams really struggled against a pretty good defensive team in Colorado two weeks ago and that will probably be the case squaring off against the Crimson Tide.
The Lowe Down: Alabama 38, Colorado State 7

No. 12 LSU (2-0) at Mississippi State (2-0) 6:00 p.m. CT
The upset hype-train is at full steam for this SEC West clash, but if Mississippi State wants to make a statement it will need to get a big game out of its defense, notably the run defense. LSU had a lot of success on the ground (177 rushing yards) in Baton Rouge a year ago, and the Bulldogs, who were playing without quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, had a chance to potentially win the game late before All-SEC end Arden Key, who returns to action this weekend, forced a fumble of then-QB Damian Williams to end the game. This year, with Fitzgerald behind center, you have to think MSU has a good shot to win this game. The Bulldogs have been executing well on offense and Fitzgerald’s rushing prowess will test a young Tiger linebacking corps. But LSU’s offense is a different animal this season under the direction of new coordinator Matt Canada and slowing Derrius Guice is critical. Canada’s offense uses a lot of pre-snap motion and shifts and is a play-action based scheme, but it is extremely difficult to defend when the run game is churning up yards. Limiting Guice on the ground (say, around 80 yards) might be a key to an early-season upset.
The Lowe Down: LSU 27, Mississippi State 24

No. 18 Kansas State (2-0) at Vanderbilt (2-0) 6:30 p.m. CT
Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason is a firm believer in playing physical football. He wants his team to be able to run the ball and stop the run and that all starts and ends at the line of scrimmage. So far, the Commodores have been able to do just that in wins over Middle Tennessee and Alabama A&M, but Kansas State is a different animal. The Wildcats are a veteran team with skill at key positions, most notably at quarterback (Jesse Ertz), offensive and defensive line and in the secondary. But Ertz, who is one of the more underrated players in the country, is the straw that stirs K-State’s drink. As he goes, so does the team. If Vanderbilt can bottle Ertz up, it has a shot at the upset. But quarterback Kyle Shurmur and veteran tailback Ralph Webb will need to supple some punch on offense for the Commodores to position themselves for the upset in the fourth quarter.
The Lowe Down: Kansas State 27, Vanderbilt 25

Kentucky (2-0) at South Carolina (2-0) 6:30 p.m. CT
I heard the talk about Kentucky being a possible dark horse in the SEC East this offseason, but I didn’t hear a whole lot said about South Carolina. But that may begin to change if the Gamecocks can handle the ‘Cats at home in front of what is expected to be a wild crowd. Offensively, South Carolina has one of the best quartets of skill players not only in the SEC, but in the country. Yes, I said the country. Jake Bentley is one of the best young quarterback’s in America, Deebo Samuel is one of the country’s most electrifying playmakers (two receiving scores, one rushing score and two returned kickoffs for TDs), Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams are a terrific one-two punch at tailback and Hayden Hurst is a quality target at tight end. If that offensive talent stays healthy and the Gamecocks keep improving on defense, Will Muschamp’s bunch will be a serious contender for the East division title.
The Lowe Down: South Carolina 30, Kentucky 23

No. 3 Clemson (2-0) at No. 14 Louisville (2-0) 7:00 p.m. CT
Clemson’s defense turned in a dominant performance against Auburn last Saturday and it will need to have a strong sequel if the Tigers expect to pull out a road win at Louisville. Lamar Jackson is hands down the best player in college football and he’s picked up right where he left off a year ago through the Cardinals first two games. Jackson, who looks a lot stronger this year compared to last, is averaging an eye-popping 505 total yards per game. To put that in perspective, only 25 teams nation-wide average more yards per game than last year’s Heisman winner. Quite simply, the key to this game will be Clemson’s D slowing — and hitting — Jackson because he is Louisville’s offense. I like the moxie of new Tigers’ starting quarterback Kelly Bryant and I think Dabo Swinney’s team will be able to score its share of points. But not letting Jackson run wild will likely be the key to the game.
The Lowe Down: Clemson 29, Louisville 23

Ole Miss (2-0) at California (2-0) 9:30 p.m. CT
Points, points and more points will likely be the storyline when these two high-powered offenses hook up in Berkeley. Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson has thrown for 918 yards and nine touchdowns in two games, including a school-record 489 yards and five scores in the Rebels’ 45-23 win over UT-Martin last weekend, and his receiving corps and offensive line is brimming with talent. Defensively, Ole Miss needs work. The same could be said for Cal, which gave up 431 yards to Weber State in Week Two.
The Lowe Down: Ole Miss 49, California 29

In other Saturday games:

Air Force 20 at No. 7 Michigan 35

No. 25 UCLA 33 at Memphis 36 (Upset Special)****

Baylor 17 at Duke 38

Coastal Carolina 23 at UAB 26

No. 16 Virginia Tech 42 at East Carolina 23

Notre Dame 20 at Boston College 23

No. 10 Wisconsin 30 at BYU 18

SMU 23 at No. 20 TCU 45

Purdue 36 at Missouri 30 (Upset Special) *****

Mercer 7 at No. 15 Auburn 56

Army 14 at No. 8 Ohio State 48

Tulane 10 at No. 2 Oklahoma 54

Troy 31 at New Mexico State 27

Texas 20 at No. 4 USC 45

No. 19 Stanford 38 at San Diego State 17