Over on the defensive side of the ball, the numbers that matter most are rushing yards per carry, rushing yards per game, yards per pass attempt and turnovers forced. The team that wins those four statistical categories wins the game. When you analyze Florida's numbers for 2013 on the offensive side of the ball and then look at what happened on defense it's not difficult to see why the Gators went 4-8.
While the offense struggled to put points on the board (18.8 per game) the defense held opponents to a respectable 21.1 but that was 6.6 points per game more than the Gators allowed in 2013. The Gators lost to Miami by five points, Georgia by three, South Carolina by five and Georgia Southern by six. Subtract 6.6 points from their totals and the Gators are 8-4 and everybody is talking about the remarkable coaching job Will Muschamp did to win eight games in spite of all the injuries.
The other numbers will tell you why opponents got those extra 6.6 points per game.
The Gators gave up 4.35 yards per rushing attempt in 2013. The Gators were very good those first four games – only Toledo averaged more than 3.0 per carry and the Rockets only attempted to run the ball 16 times – but things went downhill in a hurry after that. In the final eight games, only two teams (Arkansas and Vanderbilt) averaged less than 4.0 per carry. Missouri ran for 5.54 per carry, South Carolina 4.69 and Georgia Southern a whopping 7.94 per carry. In 2012, only Kentucky and Florida State averaged more than 4.0 per carry.
In the first five games of the season, the Gators gave up a combined 315 yards per game. In the last seven, the Gators gave up 429 to Georgia Southern, 205 to Missouri, 175 to LSU, 164 to South Carolina and 156 to Georgia. Compare that to 2012 when eight of the 13 teams on the Florida schedule were held to less than 100 yards and the most allowed was 159 to Kentucky in a game the Gators won in a 38-0 blowout. The 2012 Gators allowed only 94.54 yards per game. The Gators gave up 17 rushing touchdowns in 2013, only 12 in 2012.
The yards per pass attempt against the Florida defense were actually quite respectable in 2013 – opponents averaged only 6.5 yards per attempt and 171.8 yards per game – but that's nearly one more yard per attempt than 2012. The 6.5 yards per attempt was the most the Gators allowed since 2007.
The turnover numbers are glaring. Florida forced 30 turnovers in 2012 – 10 fumbles and 20 interceptions – but the Gators forced only 18 in 2013 when they recovered eight fumbles and picked off only 10 passes.
Injuries have a lot to do with the decreased numbers for 2013. When Dominique Easley went down after game three, the Gators lost their dominant defensive lineman who was on his way toward an All-America season. The Gators didn't have anyone nearly as disruptive and Dante Fowler Jr. was less effective coming off the edge because there was no push up the middle. Linebacker play wasn't exactly off the charts. Injuries played a part, but the biggest difference was Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins playing in the NFL instead of making plays for the Gators. Without an effective pass rush, the secondary numbers had to go down but injuries that kept Marcus Roberson out of five games and a subpar season by Loucheiz Purifoy didn't help either.
What is obvious is the Gators have to get their defensive numbers in the same range as they were in 2012. Watch the rushing numbers. If the Gators are holding opponents to 3.0 or less per carry and 100 or fewer rushing yards, they're going to be very good and that means linebackers such as Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison are playing well. If Dane Fowler Jr. can get some help to free him up on the edge, there will be a decent pass rush, which means the yards per attempt will be lower and there should be more interceptions and fumbles.
Not that it's exactly a shocker, but LeBron James has opted out of his Miami Heat contract, which means he will be a free agent as of July 1. LeBron was scheduled to make $20.35 million with the Heat next season, so you can figure the starting point for offers will be somewhere in the $25 million per season range. LeBron is so good that someone is going to make him the highest paid player in the game today, perhaps the highest paid player in the history of the NBA. Additionally, LeBron brings in more than $42 million a year in endorsement money and you can bet the ranch that if he called Uncle Phil at Nike and demanded another $10-15 million a year, he'd get it. Meanwhile, Pat Riley is willing to back up a Brinks Truck to LeBron's Miami mansion to get him to stay. If he bolts, which I expect he will do, the spin will be that he's looking for another championship but let's face it, whether he goes or whether he stays, the team he plays for will be considered one of the two teams likely to play for the 2015 NBA championship. The reality is that LeBron's loyalties belong to whoever is writing the checks. If he stays with Miami it won't be about winning championships. He can deny it all he wants, but this is all about the money and that's the way it has always been.
There is a remarkable difference between LeBron James and Tim Duncan that goes beyond talent. While Duncan is one of the best power forwards to ever play in the NBA no one will ever confuse him for LeBron, who will go down as one of the three or four best ever to play the game by the time he calls it a career. While James has won a couple of NBA titles and taken Miami to four straight NBA championship finals, he's done so as a hired gun while Duncan, who got his ring for the thumb just a little more than a week ago, has spent his entire career in San Antonio playing for the same coach. Duncan could have held the Spurs hostage for more money by opting out of his contract to force the organization to pay him what the market would bear but instead he signed again for $10.3 million, which is less than he can get on the free market. Neither Duncan's loyalty nor his commitment to winning have ever been called into question. There is something to be said about that.
A day after Southern Cal announced that it will make all scholarships in football, men's basketball and women's basketball four year contracts, the Big Ten presidents endorsed the four-year deal. The Big Ten also endorses the idea of honoring the scholarship for athletes who go on to the pros after their professional playing days are over. That's a novel approach ... Shades of Mike Tyson. Did you see Uruguay's Luis Suarez bite the player from Italy during their World Cup match? ... While Brazil and Argentina remain the favorites to win the World Cup, the best story so far is Costa Rica, which won its group that included Uruguay and Italy with two wins and a draw ... Oklahoma is probably going to pay Bob Stoops more than $5 million next season ... It's expected the Orlando Magic will pass on Joel Embiid and go with Dante Exxum if he's available, Noah Vonleh if he's not ... I think Julius Randle won't be a bust in the NBA but he will never live up to the hype ... If Mitch McGary's back is healed, he will be the steal of the draft. Watch someone trade down Thursday, get a solid veteran and then pick up McGary in the final 10 picks ... If I was drafting, I'd find a way to get Shabazz Napier on my team ... ESPN's Chad Ford thinks Florida's Patric Young will go to the Spurs with the final pick of the first round. Patric would be an excellent piece to the San Antonio puzzle ... I think Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin and Will Yeguete will all be playing in Europe next year ... I think the USA loses its match to Germany Thursday and fails to qualify for the knockout round.
What is the key to Florida's defensive improvement for 2014?
How good is Pat Metheny on the guitar? When he was a freshman at the University of Miami he was named a professor of music. He's one of the most prolific jazz musicians in the world and without question, the one who takes more musical risks. His constant experimentation with his music has made Metheny perhaps the most accomplished jazz musician of the last 40 years. This is "First Circle" from The Pat Metheny Group's 1984 Grammy Award winning album by the same name.