That's a wrap: SEC East spring football summary

That's a wrap: SEC East spring football summary

May 2nd, 2017 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm greets fans before last Saturday's G-Day spring game inside Sanford Stadium.

Photo by Cory A. Cole

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Where East Division teams in the Southeastern Conference stand after spring football practice:

 

FLORIDA

Spring-game recap: Redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks completed 8 of 14 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown April 7 to guide the Orange team of starters to a 31-0 defeat of the Blue. Franks had an early 46-yard strike to Josh Hammond and a better evening overall than fellow redshirt freshman Kyle Trask, who went just 2-of-8 with the second-team unit against the starting defense. Third-year coach Jim McElwain said Franks is "no doubt" ahead of Trask in the competition, which was without Luke Del Rio, who underwent shoulder surgery in January. Del Rio went 10-of-11 passing against the second-team defense in last year's spring game.

Moving forward: The two-time defending East champs cut down on offensive mistakes this spring, which is a sign of progress, and the potential is there for improvement with the return of running back Jordan Scarlett and with Hammond and Antonio Callaway back at receiver. The biggest gap from a year ago is obvious, as Florida is having to replace three defensive backs (safety Marcus Maye and cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor) who were selected in Friday night's second round of the NFL draft.

Opener: Sept. 2 against Michigan at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

 

GEORGIA

Spring-game recap: Second-year coach Kirby Smart wanted a tight game and a big crowd and got both, as the Red topped the Black 25-22 before an announced audience of 66,133. The Red team consisted of the second-team offense and starting defense. Early enrollee Jake Fromm quarterbacked the Red and completed 7 of 10 first-half passes for 100 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown strike to fellow newcomer Jeremiah Holloman. Sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason struggled through a first half in which he completed just 8 of 21 attempts and was intercepted, but he finished with 311 yards and had a pair of second-half touchdowns. The proven commodities of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combined for one carry.

Moving forward: The Bulldogs are expected to be picked this summer to win the East based on returning experience, but will Trenton Thompson be part of that experience? The MVP of December's Liberty Bowl sat out spring with an undisclosed medical condition, but Smart is optimistic that Thompson will be back and better than ever. Georgia also held its G-Day game without inside linebacker Roquan Smith and safety Dominick Sanders. The most intriguing aspect to Georgia's preseason camp should be at offensive line, where some talented newcomers are expected to join a group that performed well for much of spring but looked overmatched at G-Day. This is also the time of year the Bulldogs could stand to avoid the police blotter, and they aren't doing a great job of that right now.

Opener: Sept. 2 against Appalachian State in Sanford Stadium.

 

KENTUCKY

Spring-game recap: An impressive crowd of 37,172 watched the Blue team of starters defeat the White reserves 31-14 at what was then called Commonwealth Stadium but is now known as Kroger Field. The game was tied at 14 at halftime due to the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Gunnar Hoak, who went 12-of-18 passing for 92 yards and two touchdowns against the starting defense in the first half. Hoak played with the starters during the second half and led a pair of touchdown drives. Starting running back Benny Snell got just three carries and gained 22 yards, with Sihiem King receiving most of the work and rushing 19 times for 107 yards.

Moving forward: The Wildcats have some confidence and momentum after capping a 7-5 regular season with a road upset of Louisville, though they fell flat during a loss to Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Kentucky is moving on offensively without center Jon Toth and running back Stanley "Boom" Williams, neither of whom were drafted, and Stephen Johnson is the favorite to claim the starting quarterback spot but is not a lock with Drew Barker back from injury and should Hoak keep excelling. The biggest challenge this program faces is defensively, as the Wildcats were a wretched 110th nationally a year ago in stopping the run, allowing 228.2 yards per game.

Opener: Sept. 2 at Southern Mississippi. The game will kick off at 4 p.m. EDT, televised by the CBS Sports Network.

 

MISSOURI

Spring-game recap: Sophomore running back Dawson Downing rushed three times for 38 yards on the opening possession April 15 to help the Gold team to a 24-0 win over the Black before an announced crowd of 16,457 at Faurot Field. "We were a little more in control of what was going on," Tigers second-year head coach Barry Odom said following his second spring game. "We have miles to go, but I like the way they performed this spring." Drew Lock gives Missouri stability at quarterback, while Downing is part of a potentially stout tailback collection that contains Damarea Crockett and Ish Witter, who both sat out the spring game.

Moving forward: The Tigers were disastrous last season defensively, with Odom snatching play-calling duties down the stretch from coordinator DeMontie Cross. Missouri gave up 31.5 points per game and ranked 118th in total defense, yielding 479.7 yards per contest, and that was with NFL first-round pick Charles Harris at end. Rashad Brandon, a 6-foot-3, 308-pound defensive tackle, could help reverse last year's woes after racking up 69 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and four sacks the past two seasons at ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y. Brandon had five tackles, including one lost-yardage stop, in the spring game.

Opener: Sept. 2 against Missouri State at Faurot Field.

 

SOUTH CAROLINA

Spring-game recap: Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns April 1 to lead the Black over the Garnet 35-24 before an announced crowd of 12,345 at Williams-Brice Stadium. The game was moved up several hours due to South Carolina's basketball program making its first Final Four appearance. Bentley completed 19 of 31 passes, including a 68-yard touchdown strike to Bryan Edwards on the second play, and was named the team's offensive MVP for the spring. Defensive MVP honors went to end D.J. Wonnum, who had 32 tackles last season as a true freshman.

Moving forward: Second-year coach Will Muschamp said this spring was "night and day" from a year ago, which could bode well for the Gamecocks, given that their eventual 6-6 regular season was among the more pleasant surprises in the league. Linebacker Skai Moore, who missed last season after undergoing neck surgery, is arguably the program's best player and received an ovation at the spring game. The offense returns 10 starters and has added North Carolina transfer tailback Ty'son Williams, who had 11 rushes for 83 yards in the spring game, but don't look for Muschamp to go overboard on optimism with a defense that could struggle to pressure the quarterback and could be mediocre in the secondary. The Gamecocks did, after all, end last season with a 56-7 loss to Clemson and a 46-39 loss in overtime to South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl.

Opener: Sept. 2 against North Carolina State at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

 

TENNESSEE

Spring-game recap: Inclement weather shortened the Orange and White Game to one half on April 22, but junior quarterback Quinten Dormady made the most of his time by completing 10 of 10 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns before an announced crowd of 35,000. Dormady also delighted fans in the skills challenge by hitting a cardboard cutout of receiver Jauan Jennings to successfully re-enact the Hail Mary that Josh Dobbs produced in last year's win at Georgia. Tight end Ethan Wolf had three receptions for 28 yards in the spring game, including a 19-yard touchdown. Defensively, sophomore safety Nigel Warrior, an All-SEC Freshman selection last season, was praised by coach Butch Jones for having "as fine a spring" as any player he's had during his five seasons in Knoxville.

Moving forward: Jones offered no timetable in naming Dormady or Jarrett Guarantano as the starting quarterback, and tailback John Kelly will be eager to make his mark after sitting out the spring game. Kelly recently told the SEC Network that he believes there isn't a better running back in the conference. The Volunteers could have their top offensive line of the Jones era, but obviously a lot of talent has to be replaced throughout the roster. Jones has posted consecutive 9-4 seasons and just had six players selected in the NFL draft, so the biggest question now is whether the accomplishments of the past two seasons can be sustained.

Opener: Sept. 4 against Georgia Tech in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The game will be televised in prime time by ESPN, but the kickoff time has not been announced.

 

VANDERBILT

Spring-game recap: The Commodores bypassed a game and instead held its "Spring Showcase" on March 25. Starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur completed 7 of 13 passes for 88 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while backups Shawn Stankavage and Deuce Wallace completed just 1 of 9 attempts for 6 yards. Senior tailback Ralph Webb, already the school's all-time leading rusher, sat out the showcase, which enabled Khari Blasingame to get the start and bolt 53 yards for a touchdown early in the scrimmage. Tre Herndon, the senior cornerback out of East Hamilton High School, took another step toward becoming the defensive leader of this year's team by notching four tackles and a blocked field-goal attempt.

Moving forward: Vanderbilt stunned Georgia and Tennessee last season during its 6-6 regular season but has bid farewell to linebacker Zach Cunningham, the first consensus All-America position player in program history who was a second-round selection last Friday night of the Houston Texans. Also having to be replaced is defensive tackle Adam Butler, who logged a lot of starts and signed a free-agent deal with New England. The Commodores should develop a starting 22 to be competitive again later this year, but depth is an issue, and Shurmur must look like the quarterback who defeated Ole Miss and Tennessee down the stretch and not the one from the Independence Bowl loss to North Carolina State.

Opener: Sept. 2 at Middle Tennessee State. The game has an 8 p.m. EDT kickoff will be televised by the CBS Sports Network.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.