Call this a warning sign.
Through three games the Florida Gators have converted only 34% of their third downs – just 17-50. Anything less than 40% conversions on third down is considered very, very poor. Over on the other side of the ball, the Gators are getting stops 45.7% of the time. Opponents have converted 21-46 and in the last game, Alabama was 12-16. Good teams get their opponents off the field at least 67% of the time.
Meanwhile, the Tennessee Vols are #1 in stopping opponents on third down – 11 conversions in 53 attempts or 20.8%. Offensively the Vols convert 41.4% of the time on 29-70.
That caught the attention of Florida head coach Will Muschamp Monday, who said, “Defensively, third down, they've got to be leading the country. They've got about three conversions in the last two weeks: two against Oklahoma (actually 3-12) and one last week (Georgia was 1-10), so they've done a nice job of getting off the field on third down which has been an issue for us offensively and defensively on both sides, which we worked a lot on in the open week. Hopefully we've made some progress there.”
There is no question that the Gators have to show progress. This is a Tennessee team that is going to have its biggest and most vocal crowd perhaps in years and the decibel level when the Gators have the ball on third down is going to be at an ear drum shattering level. That means Jeff Driskel is going to have to keep his cool and above all else, read the blitz because the Vols typically bring the house on third down, especially if it’s passing yardage. When the Gators are on defense, those young kids in the secondary are going to get a test. Muschamp said Monday that Brian Poole might be back at nickel, which will certainly help the coverage scheme but that will leave a true freshman on the corner opposite Vernon Hargreaves III in either Jalen Tabor or Quincy Wilson. There are also some issues at safety where another true freshman, Duke Dawson, might be the answer next to Keanu Neal.
Winning Saturday could very well come down to the team that does the best job on third down. Offensively, the Gators need to find themselves in third and one or third and two situations because the Vols have shown their last two games that they are extraordinary in getting stops on third and more than five yards. Defensively, the Gators cannot afford to have third downs like that screen pass from Blake Sims to Derrick Henry that covered 29 yards a couple of weeks ago when the Gators had Alabama almost out of field goal range on a third and 23.
#3 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC): Quarterback Blake Sims (bruised throwing shoulder) is back to practice this week. Wide receiver DeAndrew White is still in a walking boot so his status for Saturday’s game at Ole Miss is still up in the air. Safety Jarrick Williams, who broke a bone in his foot against West Virginia, is back practicing but he might not play for another week or so.
Arkansas (3-2, 0-2 SEC): Head coach Bret Bielema regrets the Razorbacks have yet to learn how to put a team away. The Hogs were up 28-14 in the fourth quarter over Texas A&M Saturday but gave up two touchdowns, then lost in overtime, 35-28. “I think we need to have that killer mentality to put that thing away,” Bielema said.
#5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0 SEC): Wide receiver Sammie Coates, who has been timed in the low 4.2s in the 40-yard dash, is still trying to get his knee healthy. Coates averaged 21.5 yards a catch but hasn’t caught a pass for more than 13 yards since hurting the knee against Arkansas in game one. Right tackle Patrick Miller is day to day with a left ankle injury.
#13 Georgia (3-1, 1-1 SEC): There is good news and bad news on the injury front. The good news is that receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley will practice and could play Saturday against Vanderbilt. The bad news is that freshman tailback Sony Michel is out for an expected six weeks with a shoulder injury.
Kentucky (3-1, 1-1 SEC): Kentucky moved to #25 in total defense nationally after allowing just 139 yards against Vanderbilt. The Wildcats are #23 in pass defense. On the offensive side of the ball, Kentucky expects guards Cole Mosier and Zach West to return to practice this week and be available against South Carolina.
#15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC): Freshman Brandon Harris will get the start Saturday when the Tigers travel to Auburn. After Anthony Jennings produced two interceptions and a fumble in his first three series against New Mexico State, Les Miles turned things over to Harris, who got seven touchdowns in seven series under center. Harris threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more.
#12 Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0 SEC): It doesn’t take a genius to understand what the Bulldogs have to prepare for this week. They give up 319 yards per game through the air, which ranks #121 in the nation, and they’re facing a Texas A&M team that throws for 401.2 per game (5th nationally) and has completed 20 touchdown passes.
#24 Missouri (4-1, 1-0 SEC): Missouri, which gets a week off, leads the SEC and is tied for #14 in sacks with 18, good for 132 yards in losses. Shane Ray leads the country with eight for 50 yards in losses while Markus Golden is tied for 12th with four good for 32 yards in losses.
#11 Ole Miss (4-0, 1-0 SEC): All-American safety Cody Prewitt just spit into the wind. Speaking about #3 Alabama which #3 Ole Miss plays Saturday in Oxford, Prewitt said, “We understand we haven’t played a team that’s going to be as good as Alabama but we don’t really think Alabama is as good as they have been.” Last year, the Rebel with the big mouth was quarterback Bo Wallace who talked about how Ole Miss was going to hang some points on the Bama defense. Bama responded with a 25-0 shutout win.
South Carolina (3-2, 2-2 SEC): The Gamecocks have given up 58 pass plays of 10 or more yards and 19 of 20 or more which has a lot to do with the fact they’re ranked #103 among the 125 Division I teams in pass defense, giving up 275.6 yards per game. The Gamecocks are tied for #92 in total defense.
Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC): Quarterback Justin Worley, who injured his elbow against Georgia, causing him to miss three critical series in the second half, is expected to be at 100% Saturday when the Vols try to end their 10-game losing streak to Florida. Wide receivers Von Pearson and Josh Smith are questionable with high ankle sprains. Backup linebacker Dillon Bates is out after suffering a torn labrum that will require season-ending surgery.
#6 Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0 SEC): The Aggies gave up 285 rushing yards to Arkansas and that was without the threat of a running quarterback. This week they will have to contend with a Mississippi State offense that grinds out 270.8 yards a game on the ground and features a dual threat QB in Dak Prescott. Prescott has thrown for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns in four games but he’s also run for 378 yards and three more scores.
Vanderbilt (1-4, 0-3 SEC): The Commodores have a lot of problems but hanging onto the football might be the one that is most troubling for head coach Derek Mason. Vandy ranks #110 nationally in that category, having lost five fumbles and thrown nine interceptions.
While it should come as no surprise that ESPN’s Heisman Watch has Marcus Mariota (Oregon QB) at the top of its weekly look at the candidates for college football’s ultimate award, it should be noted that Florida State quarterback and last year’s Heisman winner Jameis Winston doesn’t merit enough votes from the panel to crack the top five.
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Mariota will have the big stage all to himself Thursday night when Oregon faces Arizona in a battle of unbeatens. If he puts up Star Wars numbers his grip on the top spot will only tighten.
2. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Gurley has been spectacular but he still needs a signature game against a ranked team if he’s going to surpass Mariota. Next up is Vanderbilt, which will pad the stats but won’t change the need for a big game against a ranked opponent.
3. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Next up for Alabama is Ole Miss in Oxford Saturday night. The Rebels rank fourth nationally in total defense and they have an outstanding secondary. Cooper could seriously enhance his Heisman stock if he torches the Ole Miss defense.
5. Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M: He was average, at best, through three quarters against Arkansas but his fourth quarter and overtime were spectacular. This week he gets to go against a Mississippi State secondary that has been a sieve so far.
Now that Charlie Weis has been canned at Kansas, there is a lot of talk that Coach O will be targeted as the replacement. Kansas will be paying Weis through 2016. Notre Dame won’t stop paying him until December 31, 2015 … SMU is seriously considering retired Texas coach Mack Brown as the replacement for June Jones ... Brady Hoke hasn’t been fired at Michigan but it seems like it’s just a matter of time before that happens. Meanwhile Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who spent part of his formative years in Ann Arbor when his dad was a Michigan assistant, says he’s not interested. Meanwhile, NFL Network’s Deion Sanders says there are members of the San Francisco 49ers who want former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh out as their coach. If that is true, expect him to be Michigan’s top target.
Even if you are a Yankee hater, you have to admire Derek Jeter, who finished off a brilliant career Sunday afternoon in Boston. Jeter put up outstanding numbers in his career but what he did best was handle stardom and fame with a measure of class we rarely see these days and times. The Yankees were the only team Jeter ever played for and for 20 seasons he just went out and did his job to the best of his ability. On and off the field he was a role model whose name never showed up on a police blotter. There is something to be said about that.
North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren is in his second year in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Now he’s learning what all the other schools know about Florida State. Doeren complained about the Seminoles faking injuries in the fourth quarter to slow down NC State’s offensive tempo – as you might expect, Jimbo Fisher denied it – and then added this little shot: “There is some unbelievable holding by their offensive line that apparently is invisible.” Welcome to the ACC, Dave, and get used to officials who seem to swallow their whistles at times that seem to benefit the Seminoles most.
What are your two keys for Florida to come away with a win in Knoxville?
One of the least appreciated bands that produced a lot of good music in the 1960s was Tommy James and the Shondells, who produced two #1 hits and 12 that made the top 40 from 1966-70. Tommy James was 12 when he started his first band, The Echoes. James changed the name to Tom and the Tornadoes, then in 1964 changed to Tommy James and the Shondells because he thought it sounded cool. His breakthrough hit was “Hanky Panky” which made it to #1 in 1966. His second #1 was “Crimson and Clover” off the 1969 album by the same name. I always thought the best song on the album was “Crystal Blue Persuasion” which made it to #2.