Last season, Mississippi State gave up a whopping 272.8 yards passing yards per game including 435 yards and touchdown passes of 88, 81 and 75 yards in game two against UAB. Before we exhale with a collective gasp that will be mistaken for a gale wind 100 miles up I-75 in Valdosta, remember this: the only stats that matter in college football are PF and PA, as in points for and points against. In any single game that you have more PF than PA you win. That is an indisputable fact.
What Mississippi State did last season is important because the same guy who was calling the defensive shots at Mississippi State last year will be calling them for the Florida Gators this season. If choose to take a look at the entire body of Mississippi State’s work last year over the course of a 13-game season in which they held the #1 ranking for a few weeks, you will probably come away with a pretty good opinion about Geoff Collins.
Let’s start by looking at the PA first (we’re talking defense here) and then blend in the other stats.
Last year, the Florida Gators had a top 10 defense nationally that was the second best in the entire Southeastern Conference. The Gators gave up 21.1 points per game. The Gators held opponents to 116.1 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. The pass defense gave up 213.6 yards and 15 touchdowns while picking off 16 enemy scuds. Additionally, the Gators got to the quarterback for 30 sacks that totaled 232 yards in losses.
Meanwhile, up in Starkville where the Bulldogs were playing with a bunch of newbies in the secondary and six SEC West opponents, Mississippi State gave 21.7 points per game. Mississippi State gave up 151.5 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. The Bulldogs gave up only 17 touchdown passes while picking off 16. The Bulldogs sacked opposing quarterbacks 37 times for 225 yards in losses.
Back to PA. The Gators gave up 253 points in 12 games. Mississippi State gave up 282 points in 13 games. That’s a difference of .6 points per game.
So, yeah, there is a difference of nearly 100 yards per game but there is very little difference in the stat that counts the most, which is PA.
The passing stats have caught everybody’s eye because Mississippi State gave up such big yardage numbers last year, but the key is keeping people out of the end zone. Mississippi State’s secondary was considered bad but the Bulldogs only gave up 17 touchdown passes. Florida’s secondary was considered outstanding but the Gators gave up 15 touchdown passes in one less game (Florida played 12, Mississippi State 13). Florida gave up two fewer touchdown passes. Mississippi State gave up 59 more yards, but picked off one more pass and got to the quarterback seven more times.
Now take into account that Collins was working with far less talent than he has inherited at Florida and he had to play six SEC West opponents, most of whom had better offenses than anyone in the SEC East. At Florida, Collins will command one of the most talented defenses in the country with a secondary led by the nation’s top corner in Vernon Hargreaves III. Phil Steele rates Florida’s secondary #1 nationally in his preseason magazine.
In Collins, Florida has a coordinator who isn’t afraid to leave his secondary in one-on-one coverage while sending everybody else after the quarterback. His modus operandi is force the other team’s QB to decide whether he wants to unload the football way too early or take a sack. This is the perfect scheme for Florida’s defensive personnel.
Nothing is more important early on this season than giving Florida’s young, inexperienced offense a chance to grown and develop. The guy who could give the Gators just what they need is Collins. If he can put an aggressive defensive unit on the field that can reduce opponents’ scoring chances to a minimum, the Gators are going to have a chance to win games while growing into their offense.
Five best individual sack seasons since 2005:
1. Derrick Harvey, 2006: 11-89
2. Carlos Dunlap, 2008: 9.5-65
3. Carlos Dunlap, 2009: 9.0-61
4. Dante Fowler Jr. 2014: 8.5-64
5. Derrick Harvey, 2007: 8.5-63
Auburn 23, Florida 20; October 13, 2001
The Gators held the #1 ranking exactly a week. Playing without Earnest Graham, out with a sprained ankle, the Gators had no running game whatsoever, finishing the night with -36 yards. And without a running game to force the Tigers out of their 7-deep zone, Rex Grossman had his worst game of the season. Coming into the game, Grossman had only thrown three interceptions in five games but on this night he threw four including two in a disastrous fourth quarter in which three Florida turnovers gave Auburn 13 points. Early in the fourth quarter, after a bad punt snap had given the Tigers the ball on the UF 2-yard line, Chris Butler gave the Tigers a 17-13 lead. On the ensuing possession, Grossman was picked off on a ball first tipped at the line of scrimmage, then tipped into the hands of Auburn’s Mayo Sowell by Rob Roberts. That led to a 32-yard field goal by Damon Duval that made it 20-13. Florida wasted no time tying the score with a 1-play, 80-yard drive, Grossman to Jabar Gaffney for the TD. On its possession, Auburn drove 82 yards but on third and goal from the Florida 9, Alex Brown hit Daniel Cobb from behind, knocking the ball into the end zone where the Gators recovered for a touchback. Two series later Grossman was picked off by Karlos Dansby who returned it to the UF 24 with 4:28 to go in the game. The Tigers held the ball for 10 plays but somehow managed to lose three yards. That brought on Duval who kicked the game-winner from 44 yards out with 10 seconds to go. Overall, the Gators turned the ball over six times – four Grossman picks and two bad punt snaps by Roberts. The Gators came into the game 21-point favorites and averaging more than 500 yards per game, but with no running game Florida netted only 328 yards.
Alabama: The most publicized battle is quarterback where Alec Morris has quietly moved ahead of 5th-year senior Jacob Coker and true freshman Blake Barnett for the starting job. Redshirt freshman Marlon Humphrey is in a battle with sophomore Tony Brown for the cornerback job opposite Cyrus Jones.
Arkansas: Incumbent placekicker Adam McFain’s injury while playing Frisbee golf has probably opened the door for redshirt freshman Cole Hedlund, the national record holder for most field goals in a high school career, to take over the job on a permanent basis. Hedlund kicked 56 field goals in high school and 151 consecutive extra points.
Auburn: Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber have been 1-2 throughout most of August at running back but juco Jovon Robinson has come on so strong the last 3-4 practices that Auburn may go with a by committee approach.
Georgia: Head ball coach Mark Richt, when speaking about his quarterbacks, said Saturday, “When I make a big decision, I like to have peace and I don’t have that right now.” Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Greyson Lambert are in a dead head to become the starting QB and it’s close enough that Richt might alternate two of them when the season starts.
Kentucky: Three starters return on the O-line but there are two key battles for the other two positions. While right tackle Kyle Meadows missed practices with migraine headaches, early enrollee freshman Geoge Asafo-Adjei turned heads. Over at left guard, Zach West and Nick Haynes are battling it out for the starting job.
LSU: Les Miles is being rather coy about the quarterback battle between incumbent Anthony Jennings, who is running with the second unit, and sophomore Brandon Harris, who has taken the most first team snaps throughout August. Miles did concede that Harris had “a significant advantage” in snaps with the first unit at Saturday night’s scrimmage.
Mississippi State: The key battle on an O-line that is replacing three starters is at right tackle where Rufus Warren and juco transfer Martinas Rankin are battling it out. Rankin is good enough that he’s going to play somewhere so if he doesn’t win the RT job he might move inside and play LG.
Missouri: There is a battle going on for the backup quarterback job. Maty Mauk will start but Eddie Printz, Corbin Berkstresser and Marvin Zanders have all looked good vying for the #2 job. Then there is freshman Drew Lock, who might be better than all four of the others. Mizzou would like to redshirt him but he might be so good they can’t. Finding a placekicker might be a problem, too. Andrew Baggett has been battling back spasms and both his backups (Nick Coffman and Luke Jackson) are injured and day-to-day.
Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze says he has a starting quarterback in mind. Nobody else seems to know who that might be. Everybody expected Chad Kelly to step in and start but Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincaid have played so well in August that one of them might be Freeze’s mystery man.
South Carolina: It’s all about the quarterback and so far, nobody has made anything close to a statement. Freshman Lorenzo Nunez will not start, but Steve Spurrier has a special package just for him. That leaves Connor Mitch, Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia battling for the starting job. Spurrier has rotated two quarterbacks before. Would he dare try three?
Tennessee: When practice began in August, the Vols thought they had an offensive line ready to assert itself into the upper echelons of the SEC but season-ending injuries to Marcus Johnson and backup Austin Sanders have forced the Vols to shuffle the backups to try to find a starter. Dylan Wiesman, Jack Jones and Chance Hall are all trying to nail down the right guard slot.
Texas A&M: Kyle Allen was named as the starting quarterback Monday. Those who have been watching practices think the battle for the starting job isn’t over and that Kyler Murray might become the starter at some point during the season.
Vanderbilt: The loss of starting left tackle Andrew Jelks is causing an enormous problem. Right tackle Will Holden, left guard Jake Bernstein and center Spencer Pulley are all being given a look but that is causing a scramble all along the O-line. It’s not a nice picture with just 10 days remaining until the season opener.
CBSSports.com’s panel of seven college football experts has picked its overrated and underrated teams in the SEC. Four of the seven picked LSU as the most overrated team while Arkansas picked up two votes and Texas A&M one. In the voting for most underrated team, Missouri and Texas A&M each drew three votes while Mississippi State got one. Two of the panel picked Georgia to win the SEC.
If I had a vote:
Underrated: Missouri. I don’t require a straight SEC East championship to convince me that Gary Pinkel will have Mizzou in the thick of the SEC race.
Overrated: Georgia. Georgia always figures out a way to lose at least one critical game it has no business losing. This year will be no exception.
SEC prediction: Auburn will beat Missouri for the SEC championship.
The trial of Dalvin Cook for a misdemeanor battery charge against a woman lasted eight hours. It took a Tallahassee jury 25 minutes to come back with a not guilty verdict. Figure Jimbo Fisher will insert Cook into Florida State’s starting lineup sometime today. Is anyone surprised?
Tight end Greg Hart and linebacker Courtney Love, who transferred from Nebraska to Kentucky, were denied transfer waivers by the NCAA so they will have to sit out 2015.
Syracuse legend and former All-America point guard Pearl Washington will undergo surgery to remove a brain tumor later this week. Most folks who saw him play think Washington is one of the all-time great college point guards.
Johnny Manziel’s sore throwing elbow has everything to do with poor mechanics. Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo says Manziel’s ¾ delivery puts too much pressure on the shoulder and elbow.
Jameis Winston’s second professional start showed progress. He played the first quarter in the Bucs’ 25-11 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, completing 8-13 passes for 90 yards and capping an 80-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Three parts: What is your most overrated team in the SEC? Most underrated? Prediction to win the SEC?
Ten years ago when Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans, those that could fled and stayed away until the city began to rebound from the devastation. Out in San Francisco, five musically inclined Nawlins refugees started the Honey Island Swamp Band, whose southern musical roots blend the Allman Brothers, Muscle Shoals, Nashville and New Orleans for a distinctive sound. The band has produced three albums including critically acclaimed “Cane Sugar” in 2013. “Simply Southern Week” continues with the Honey Island Swamp Band’s live performance in Vail, Colorado in 2013.