The number to remember is 92, as in 92 turnovers forced by the Ole Miss defense in the three years and four games of the Hugh Freeze coaching era. It’s important to keep those forced turnovers in mind, because Ole Miss hasn’t exactly been a lock down defense during the Freeze era. The Rebels do give up yards – 367.8 per game this year – but they force opponents to turn the ball over and tend to convert turnovers into points.
Take the recent Alabama game, for instance. The Rebels forced and recovered two fumbles plus they picked off three Bama passes. In their book “Hidden Game of Football,” Pete Palmer and Bob Carroll contend that a turnover is worth an average of -4 points to the team that loses the ball, +4 to the team that gains it. Years of statistical analysis have proven this isn’t some radical theory but an adequate judge of performance. Alabama’s five turnovers led to 24 Ole Miss points. Meanwhile, Ole Miss was perfect in the ball security department – no fumbles and no interceptions, which equals no points to offset what the Crimson Tide gave away. Not even mighty Alabama can spot a good team 24 points and win. Alabama gained 503 yards and put up 37 points but still lost to Ole Miss, 43-37.
A week later, the Rebels had one of those rare games – it’s only happened three other times since 2012 – when they didn’t force a turnover. So, after scoring 76, 73 and 43 points and forcing 10 turnovers in their first three games, the Rebels forced no turnovers and needed a late fourth quarter touchdown to eke out a 27-16 win over Vanderbilt. Against Vandy, the Rebels turned the ball over twice, so that’s -8 points for the Rebels, +8 for Vanderbilt according to Palmer and Carroll’s book. In other words, Ole Miss should have scored at least 35 points and eight of Vandy’s 16 points were courtesy of Ole Miss.
Since 2012, the Rebels are 21-7 in games in which they’ve forced two or more turnovers. They’re 7-8 in games when they turn opponents over 0-1 times.
Given Florida’s razor thin margin for error, it’s imperative that the Gators win the turnover battle Saturday against an Ole Miss team that is averaging 54.8 points and 543.5 yards per game. The Gators cannot afford to give a team with as much offensive talent as Ole Miss any extra opportunities or points and expect to spring the upset.
It must also be noted that the last two times Ole Miss has come to The Swamp, the Rebels have won both the game and the turnover margin. In 2003, Florida threw three interceptions and fumbled once in a 20-17 loss to Ole Miss. Ole Miss turned the ball over once. In 2008, the Gators fumbled the ball away three times (Ole Miss threw one pick) and lost, 31-30.
Alabama (3-1, 0-1 SEC): In addition to running back Bo Scarbrough (knee/suspension) cornerback Jonathan Allen and backup safety Jabriel Washington are practicing and will be available for Saturday’s game at Georgia … After starting the season 1-5 on field goals, Adam Griffith hit from 35 and 40 yards out in his only two attempts against Louisiana Monroe.
Arkansas (1-3, 0-1 SEC): For a team needing a win to end a 3-game losing streak, the Razorbacks face a real uphill climb Saturday in Knoxville. The last time the Hogs beat Tennessee at Neyland Stadium. George Herbert Walker Bush was the president (George the First). Since that 25-24 win in 1992, Arkansas is 0-6 at Neyland Stadium.
Auburn (2-2, 0-2 SEC): Sean White, who couldn’t get the Tigers into the end zone against Mississippi State, will get his second start at quarterback Saturday against non-conference foe San Jose State. “We feel like he’s going to get better,” head coach Gus Malzahn said.
Florida (4-0, 2-0 SEC): This is the first time Ole Miss has returned to The Swamp since 2008 when the unranked Rebels stunned #4 Florida. Of course, following that game, Tim Tebow addressed the media and gave his now famous speech in which he promised he would work harder than any player in the nation and no team would work harder than the Gators the rest of the way. The Gators won the next ten games including the SEC Championship Game over Alabama and the national championship game over Oklahoma in Miami.
Georgia (4-0, 2-0 SEC): While the focus Saturday when Alabama comes to town will be on running backs (Georgia’s Nick Chubb; Alabama’s Derrick Henry), Mark Richt says, “At a certain point, the quarterbacks have to make a play.” In his last two games, Georgia QB Greyson Lambert is 33-35 for 476 yards and five touchdowns … Wide receiver/punt returner Isaiah McKenzie has been accused of making “terroristic threats or acts” toward a female at Chili’s in Athens. No arrest has been made. Teammates Dominick Sanders, Terry Godwin, D’Andre Walker and Jarvis Wilson are listed on the police report as witnesses to the alleged incident,
Kentucky (3-1, 2-1 SEC): Leading rusher Stanley Williams, demoted to second team on Monday, did not practice Tuesday. Head coach Mark Stoops said that Williams is going through some personal issues and would not elaborate. Asked if Williams will play Saturday against Eastern Kentucky, Stoops said, “We’ll see.”
LSU (3-0, 2-0 SEC): The focus in practice this week is cutting down on penalties. The Tigers were whistled 14 times for 120 yards in losses last week against Syracuse. A 5-yard illegal formation penalty erased an 87-yard touchdown run by Leonard Fournette. The Tigers committed five false starts.
Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1 SEC): Although Saturday’s trip to Texas A&M is just the third SEC game on the schedule, Dan Mullen knows this is a make or break game for the Bulldogs if they entertain any hope of winning the SEC West. “Everyone wants to win the SEC West undefeated but that doesn’t happen very often,” said Mullen, whose Bulldogs are 1-1 in league play. “Two losses … that’s harder to come back from.”
Missouri (3-1, 0-1 SEC): Quarterback Maty Mauk was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team policies Tuesday night. Also suspended was backup left tackle Malik Cuellar. With Mauk suspended freshman Drew Lock (15-25, 225 yards and 1 TD) will take over as the starting QB when South Carolina visits Saturday.
Ole Miss (4-0, 2-0 SEC): The Rebels have gotten to the quarterback only three times in four games, a concern for Hugh Freeze. “Either we’re getting a lot of max protection, or the ball is coming our really fast,” Freeze said. Even though the pass rush hasn’t been consistent, the Rebels are giving up only 5.3 yards per pass attempt, which is outstanding.
South Carolina (2-2, 0-2 SEC): The fact that Missouri lost its first SEC game doesn’t faze Steve Spurrier, who has seen Mizzou win the last two SEC East titles. “They lose one game somewhere along the line and then they win the rest of them,” Spurrier said.
Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC): Tennessee’s secondary will be challenged Saturday by Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen, who completed 20-25 of his passes against Texas A&M for 225 yards and a touchdown. On the season, Allen is 82-117 (70.1%) for 1,141 yards, 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
Texas A&M (4-0, 1-0 SEC): Keeping Dak Prescott in the pocket is the focus for the Aggies this week. Prescott is averaging 267.3 passing yards per game this year and he’s only averaging 7.5 rushing attempts per game. Last year Prescott averaged more than 16 attempts per game when he ran for 986 yards and 14 touchdowns including 77 yards and 3 TDs against the Aggies, a game in which he also threw for 268 yards and 2 TDs.
Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2 SEC): Vandy is already 0-1 against Conference USA this year. The Commodores make the short trip to Murfreesboro Saturday to face CUSA foe Middle Tennessee (2-2), whose quarterback (Brent Stockstill) has thrown for 1,221 yards and 13 touchdowns through four games.
NCAA SANCTIONS SMU, SUSPENDS LARRY BROWN
The NCAA handed down a 1-year postseason ban for SMU basketball, suspended Larry Brown for 30% of SMU’s games this year for lack of coach control over his program and has taken away nine scholarships over the next three years. That’s no big surprise. Every time Larry Brown has coached college basketball, he’s gotten someone in trouble. He took UCLA to the 1980 NCAA championship game, but that appearance was vacated because UCLA had two ineligible players. He won the national championship with Kansas in 1988 but the Jayhawks were put on probation the next year. So why should anyone be surprised that Brown is playing fast and loose with the rules again at SMU, the school that turned cheating into such an art form that it got the death penalty for football back in the 1980s.
A case could be made that Brown’s latest run-in with the NCAA is a case of selective enforcement. Did SMU cheat? Yes, and that’s been fairly well known for the past couple of years, but SMU is hardly the only school out there taking liberties with a rulebook that is absolutely ridiculous. One of the reasons Billy Donovan is in the NBA right now is because he got tired of following the letter of the law and losing top recruits to schools who cheat like crazy and get away with it. That’s not speculation. That is fact.
LANE KIFFIN STILL STANDING
A week after the rumor mill heated up with “in the know” folks claiming that Lane Kiffin was about to be fired, he’s still coaching for Nick Saban at Alabama, which travels to Georgia Saturday in an SEC showdown that will be the nation’s most-watched game. Saban is a no-nonsense kind of coach who demands three things of his assistants: (1) uncompromised loyalty; (2) the energy to work the kind of hours that would kill most assistants; and (3) do nothing that would distract from your performance or the performance of the team.
We’ve seen nothing that would indicate that Kiffin has been in any way disloyal to Saban and coaches who know Kiffin claim he might be the hardest worker on the Alabama staff. Last of all, if Kiffin were having affairs with the wives of boosters or with Saban’s daughter – subjects of last week’s rumors – he would have been gone on no uncertain terms. The fact he’s still coaching should tell you some folks played a few games with the truth.
As for Kiffin’s offense, Alabama is averaging 35.8 points per game this year (36.9 for an entire season last year) and 460 yards per game (485.4 last year) in spite of the fact he has zero in the way of experience at quarterback, three new offensive linemen and is breaking in an entirely new receiving corps (all three starting wideouts who accounted for 183 receptions and 21 touchdowns last year are in the NFL).
How bad does Ohio State miss former offensive coordinator Tom Herman? Now the head coach at Houston, Herman’s offense is putting up 48.3 points and racking up 590.3 yards per game. Ohio State, meanwhile, is averaging 34.5 points and 436 yards per game. While Houston’s offense is soaring, the Buckeyes have been inconsistent and have blown numerous scoring opportunities.
The Basement, an Orlando bar that prides itself in its support of the UCF Knights, is offering free beer on game days until UCF breaks into the win column. Predicted to challenge for the American Athletic Conference championship, the Knights are 0-4 heading into Saturday’s game with Tulane in New Orleans.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall doesn’t seem to grasp Forrest Gump. Speaking at his Monday press conference, Edsall said, “Life is hard. Everything’s not going to be, as Forrest Gump said, a box of chocolates. There’s always going to be adversity in life and we’re playing a game. Gump wasn’t talking about adversity when he said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”
TMZ reported that Cleveland Browns players were upset that Josh McKown started at quarterback last Sunday, claiming that Mike Pettine’s decision to start McKown over Johnny Manziel was “messing with team chemistry.” Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, however, tweeted, “The story is 100% made up.”
Derrick Rose was injured at practice Tuesday and will have surgery to repair an orbital fracture. Will Rose ever make it through another season healthy?
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Since 2010, the Gators have lost 11 games at The Swamp, which is almost as many (13) as they lost from 1990-2009. From 1990-2009 opponents said the crowd at BHG had much to do with Florida’s success on the field. Do you think the crowd can make a difference Saturday when 3rd-ranked Ole Miss comes to town?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
With the announcement of a Friday release of never before heard live recordings from 1967 of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, it’s only fitting that today’s music is a live recording of the British blues legend. This is a 1982 concert at the Capitol Theatre in New Jersey in the midst of a reunion tour. Mayall is 82 years old and still touring more than 100 nights per year. Currently touring in Europe, Mayall will be coming to the US in March. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fthFo2E94YI