The first week of the college football season is in the books, which means some fanbases are happy and others are panicking. Overreactions aside, there’s plenty of season left, and while Week 2 doesn’t have as many star-power match-ups on the docket, there’s a big game coming on the SEC on CBS. The game of the week features a battle in the East division, with the Georgia Bulldogs making the trip to Columbia, South Carolina for a date with Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks.
To break down that game, along with several others on the CBS family of networks this weekend, we caught up with CBS Sports Network analyst Houston Nutt. Our conversation is below and it’s been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
CBS Local Sports: Full slate of games on tap this weekend for CBS and CBS Sports Network. First up, the SEC Game of the Week sees Georgia battle South Carolina. What do the Gamecocks need to do to pull the upset?
Houston Nutt: They have to take full advantage of that home-field advantage. That also means you have to take care of the ball. You can’t give a good team anything, and you sure can’t turn it over. Georgia’s defense is very quick and fast, and South Carolina has to do a good job on offense. They had a good start last week, with quarterback Jake Bentley going 22-for-29 passing. He looked really sharp.
On the outside, Deebo Samuel is a guy who I love watching, and I have my eye on him this weekend. He’s such a difference maker. They [South Carolina] have to be able to keep the ball, and on defense they have to be able to stop the run, while not giving up big, explosive plays. If they can do that and get to the fourth quarter in a close game, they’ll have a chance.
CBS Local Sports: On the flip side, for Georgia and Kirby Smart, what are you watching for from them as they face their first real test of the year?
Houston Nutt: I’m going to be watching going into a hostile environment, everybody is so excited about the home team. How does Georgia handle that? Especially in the first five minutes.
Jake Fromm has been so good, and it seems like, even last year, the lights weren’t too bright for him. They have to go in and execute and get the running game going, before running play action off of it.
On defense, they’re going to have to do a good job of keeping Deebo Samuel and the Gamecocks receiving corps from having explosive plays. I’m looking for Jake Fromm and the running game, with guys like D’Andre Swift, to execute. If they can do that, and not turn the ball over, they’re going to be in good shape.
CBS Local Sports: While that game’s on CBS, you have an American Athletic Conference battle between Memphis and Navy. The Tigers are expected to be in contention for the West division title. What match-up or match-ups do you think will decide the game against the Midshipmen?
Houston Nutt: I’m always curious how the team that is playing Navy or Army is going to defend the option. It’s always tougher to defend when you have just three days to prepare. The speed, the blocking scheme, all those things, they [Navy] do such a great job executing it. The Midshipmen have Malcolm Perry and Zach Abey back, Abey moves to receiver, where he’ll still be able to touch the ball on sweeps and different things. He’s an outstanding playmaker.
So, I’m always curious how a team like Memphis is going to get stops consistently to get Navy off the field. Navy does such a good job of eating up the clock and shortening the game. Memphis has to stop the option, which means responsibility, gap integrity, and it’s not easy to prepare for in three days.
CBS Local Sports: Later in the evening, Arkansas, with new coach Chad Morris, heads to Fort Collins, Colorado to take on a struggling Colorado State team. Morris brings a more spread-style to Arkansas, which is quite the change from the previous regime of Bret Bielema. What are you watching for from the Razorbacks here in the first few weeks under coach Morris?
Houston Nutt: The first thing I’m looking at is they only had about 80 rushing yards against Eastern Illinois in Week 1. They have to improve that. From Game 1 to Game 2, that is the time when most teams improve the most. So for the Razorbacks, how have they improved the running game? That will be so important in order to take the pressure off of the quarterbacks.
On defense, Arkansas did a good job of taking away the ball in their first game. Whenever you take away the ball and win the turnover margin, it usually gives you a great chance to win. They’ll need that again, especially this week as they make their first road trip under Chad Morris. This will be interesting going to Colorado State. Colorado State is struggling right now, already 0-2, so their confidence is probably a little down.
Again, I’ll go back to the first five minutes. If Arkansas can jump on them early, that will definitely help. However, Arkansas gave up a couple of deep balls against Eastern Illinois, and I’m sure Coach Bobo (of Colorado State) is going to be looking at that on film with his quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels. He’s been good throwing the football, and if they (Colorado State) get him going and somehow stop the run of Arkansas, they’ll have a chance.
CBS Local Sports: Overall, which team or teams impressed you the most with their Week 1 performances?
Houston Nutt: I’ll start with the state of Alabama (laughing). You look at the defenses of Alabama and Auburn, and I thought they were outstanding. Of course, on offense for the Tide, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was outstanding, and they still have Jalen Hurts, but the defenses were just so outstanding. They were consistent, doing a good job of stopping the opponent.
Then, there’s also more and more talk about the quarterbacks in the SEC. It seems like the last few years the quarterbacks have been down, but this year it looks like they’re much improved. That makes me look forward to games like South Carolina-Georgia.
When you look across the country, Virginia Tech’s defense was also outstanding. They did a great job of filling the gaps, and the pursuit was just awesome.
On the other side of things, when you look at a Texas or a Florida State, you’re expecting much more. Texas is a team that, in my days in the Southwest Conference, you always expected to be at the top, and it seems like they still have a little ways to go.
CBS Local Sports: In that same vein, is there a player who stood out with their play in the first weekend of games?
Houston Nutt: Let’s go to LSU and the LSU-Miami game. All summer long, it seemed like there was a little bit of negativity around the program. Everybody was talking about Ed Orgeron possibly being on the hot seat. Most folks already had Miami winning the game. Then you go and watch this team play, and linebacker Devin White, I just love watching him play. I hate that his teammate K.J. Chaisson got injured for the year. That will hurt them, but I just thought LSU was outstanding.
Then, I want to go to the other side of the ball with LSU. Quarterback Joe Burrow is probably the best quarterback I’ve seen at LSU in the last four or five years. Very accurate, and he did some really good things. That’s going to help LSU.
Overall, I’m just excited to be back watching college football. There’s nothing like it.