Saturday will be the first Florida-Georgia game for Jim McElwain and as unique as the experience might be, it’s not like he heads into this game in Jacksonville without adequate preparation. After enduring four years of the Alabama-Auburn rivalry when he was Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator, McElwain knows all too well about the emotions that go into a rivalry game, especially one when championship aspirations are on the line.
As intense as Florida-Georgia is and has been traditionally, Alabama-Auburn is pure hatred. Because the Gators have a second rivalry (Florida State) that is every bit as intense as Florida-Georgia, there is some division among Florida fans as to which game carries the most importance. Some Gator fans insist that Florida-FSU is the most important, but for SEC purposes there is no question it’s Florida-Georgia. Yet, neither carry the year-long loathing and venom that you get with Alabama-Auburn.
Because he knows first hand Alabama-Auburn rivalry, consider McElwain very well prepared to handle the hype and intensity of Jacksonville. Nothing in his demeanor indicates that he’ll be overwhelmed and that is sure to carry over to the 11th-ranked Gators (6-1, 4-1 SEC), who can eliminate Georgia (5-2, 3-2 SEC) from the SEC East title race and all but assure a Florida appearance in Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference Championship Game for the first time since 2009.
On the injury front, Florida will be as healthy as its been since the season opener with New Mexico State. C’yontai Lewis (broken hand) will be back, which will allow McElwain to use those funky 3-tight end sets that are so difficult to defend. Also back on the offensive line will be backups Travaris Dorsey and Kavaris Harkless. Over on defense, tackle Joey Ivey (stomach issues) and safety Marcell Harris (ankle) will be good to go.
SEC PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: WEEK 8
Offensive Player of the Week: Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
Defensive Player of the Week: Trae Elston, S, Ole Miss
Special Teams Player of the Week: JK Scott, P, Alabama
Freshman of the Week: Dre Greenlaw, LB, Arkansas
Offensive Lineman of the Week: Spencer Pulley, C, Vanderbilt
Defensive lineman of the Week: Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss
THE SEC IN NCAA STATISTICS
Scoring (points per game): (Tie, 9) Ole Miss 41.0; (Tie, 13) LSU 38.9; (Tie, 33) Mississippi State 35.1; (42) Tennessee 33.9; (43) Alabama 33.5; (46) Georgia 33.1; (53) Texas A&M 31.7; (55) FLORIDA 31.6; (71) Auburn 28.4; (75) Arkansas 28.1; (93) Kentucky 24.7; (Tie, 110) South Carolina 20.4; (120) Vanderbilt 18.0; (126) Missouri 14.9
Rushing (yards per game/per attempt): (4) LSU 309.1/6.66; (22) Georgia 215.6/5.76; (31) Tennessee 209.1/4.45; (42) Alabama 188.5/4.53; (48) Arkansas 182.4/4.66; (52) Auburn 180.6/4.04; (62) Ole Miss 175.0/4.88; (69) South Carolina 168.1/4.63; (81) Vanderbilt 158.3/3.92; (91) Mississippi State 149.6/4.89; (95) Texas A&M 147.1/4.10; (101) Kentucky 139.4/3.98; (107) FLORIDA 126.7/3.51; (122) Missouri 100.5/3.31
Passing (yards per game/per attempt): (11) Ole Miss 339.8/8.94; (21) Mississippi State 295.5/8.47; (31) Texas A&M 268.6/7.26; (43) Arkansas 254.3/8.60; (Tie, 44) Kentucky 253.1/7.03; (48) FLORIDA 249.6/7.87; (61) Alabama 233.4/7.07; (68) Vanderbilt 227.1/5.98; (77) Georgia 213.9/8.14; (Tie, 86) Tennessee 206.7/7.13; (100) South Carolina 185.3/6.83; (103) Auburn 182.6/7.43; (107) Missouri 177.1/5.41; (115) LSU 156.9/8.51
Total Offense (yards per game/per play): (12) Ole Miss 514.8/6.97; (27) LSU 466.0/7.19; (35) Mississippi State 445.1/6.80; (40) Arkansas 436.7/6.36; (45) Georgia 429.4/6.74; (49) Alabama 421.9/5.65; Tennessee 415.9/5.47; (57) Texas A&M 415.7/5.71; (73) Kentucky 392.6/5.53; (81) Vanderbilt 385.4/4.91; (85) FLORIDA 376.3/5.55; (92) Auburn 363.1/5.24; (98) South Carolina 353.4/5.57; (122) Missouri 277.6/4.40
Sacks Allowed: (Tie, 8) Arkansas 6-38; (Tie, 15) Georgia 8-48, LSU 8-67; (Tie, 20) Mississippi State 10-47; (Tie, 39) Auburn 11-82; (Tie, 45) Alabama 13-95; (Tie, 51) Vanderbilt 12-78; South Carolina 12-76; (Tie, 56) Ole Miss 14-111; (Tie, 76) Tennessee 16-127; (Tie, 91) Missouri 20-125; (Tie, 107) Kentucky 20-139, FLORIDA 20-104; (Tie, 113) Texas A&M 21-135
Turnovers Lost: (Tie, 1) LSU 2; (Tie, 6) FLORIDA 5; (Tie, 11) Tennessee 6; (Tie, 16) Arkansas 7; (Tie, 18) Mississippi State 8; (Tie, 29) Auburn 9, Georgia 9, South Carolina 9; (Tie, 43) Missouri 10; (Tie, 60) Kentucky 11; (Tie, 82) Texas A&M 13; (Tie, 94) Alabama 14; (Tie, 115) Vanderbilt 17; (Tie, 122) Ole Miss 19
Scoring (points per game): (5) Missouri 12.5; (Tie, 13) Vanderbilt 16.3; (15) Alabama 16.4; (19) FLORIDA 17.3; (21) Mississippi State 17.8; (27) Georgia 19.4; (29) Ole Miss 19.8; (Tie, 39) LSU 22.6; (50) Texas A&M 24.1; (53) Tennessee 24.7; (58) Kentucky 25.9; (63) South Carolina 26.3; (64) Arkansas 26.4; (88) Auburn 29.7
Rushing (yards per game/per attempt): (4) Alabama 78.5/2.60; (7) LSU 93.7/3.25; (16) Vanderbilt 109.9/3.58; (18) Arkansas 114.9/3.41; (21) FLORIDA 116.6/3.46; (24) Missouri 120.5/2.92; (25) Georgia 120.9/3.30; (26) Ole Miss 121.1/3.09; (61) Mississippi State 161.8/3.82; (62) Tennessee 162.9/3.82; (77) Kentucky 172.7/4.24; (100) Auburn 199.94.94; (Tie, 101) Texas A&M 200.1/4.73, South Carolina 200.1/5.33
Passing (yards per game/per attempt): (11) Missouri 161.6/5.62; (26) Georgia 187.0/6.29; (29) Texas A&M 191.4/6.04; (41) Alabama 197.3/5.48; (42) FLORIDA 197.9/6.07; (51) Vanderbilt 206.7/5.95; (54) Mississippi State 213.5/6.28; (55) South Carolina 214.1/6.75; (60) Ole Miss 217.4/5.47; (64) LSU 222.1/6.03; (73) Auburn 230.7/6.65; (75) Kentucky 232.3/7.36; (91) Tennessee 248.3/7.27; (100) Arkansas 257.7/8.20
Total Defense (yards per game/per play): (6) Alabama 275.8/4.16; (10) Missouri (282.1/4.03; (15) Georgia 307.9/4.64; (18) FLORIDA 314.4/4.74; (20) LSU 315.9/4.81; (22) Vanderbilt 316.6/4.84; (31) Ole Miss 338.5/4.28; (52) Arkansas 372.6/5.72; (53) Mississippi State 375.3/4.91; (76) Kentucky 405.0/5.60; (80) Tennessee 411.1/5.72; (Tie, 85) South Carolina 414.3/5.98; (99) Auburn 430.6/5.73
Sacks: (Tie, 6) Alabama 27-161; (Tie, 15) Texas A&M 21-117, FLORIDA 21-174; (Tie, 19) Missouri 23-131; (Tie, 34) LSU 18-122; (39) Mississippi State 20-147; (Tie, 55) Vanderbilt 15-93; (Tie, 65) Tennessee 14-79; (Tie, 79) South Carolina 13-88, Georgia 13-78; (Tie, 87) Kentucky 12-80; (Tie, 92) Ole Miss 13-92; (Tie, 98) Auburn 11-71; (Tie, 119) Arkansas 7-54
Turnovers created: (Tie, 9) Alabama 17; (Tie, 14) Ole Miss 16; (Tie, 28) FLORIDA 14; (Tie, 41) Texas A&M 13; (Tie, 56) South Carolina 12; (Tie, 70) Missouri 11; (Tie, 79) Georgia 10, Auburn 10; (Tie, 91) Mississippi State 9, LSU 9, Tennessee 9; (Tie, 101) Vanderbilt 8, Arkansas 8, Kentucky 8
#7 ALABAMA (7-1, 4-0 SEC): It’s interesting that Alabama’s game-winning touchdown against Tennessee – a 14-yard run by Derrick Henry with 3:25 to go in the game – was a play offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin borrowed straight from the Ohio State playbook called “Deuce Jet Motion Counter.” It worked so well for Ohio State against Alabama in the College Football Playoff back in January that Kiffin incorporated it into the Alabama playbook and put it to use when a game was on the line.
ARKANSAS (3-4, 2-2 SEC): Is there a running back controversy brewing at Arkansas? Alex Collins may have gained 105 yards against Auburn but he fumbled the ball twice and limped off the field twice. In the four overtime periods, Kody Walker got all the snaps and scored two TDs. Said Arkansas coach Bret Bielema post game, “Alex Collins pissed me off. He was late for breakfast this morning. He’s got so much potential. The only guy who limits him is him.” The depth chart for Saturday’s game with Tennessee-Martin lists Collins OR Walker as the starter.
AUBURN (4-3, 1-3 SEC): Auburn’s beleaguered defense will get a serious boost if defensive end Carl Lawson is cleared to play against Ole Miss. The Tigers rank #99 nationally in total defense (430.6 yards per game), prompting coordinator Will Muschamp to say Sunday that the Tigers still “have miles and miles to go” before they’re a decent unit.
GEORGIA (5-2, 3-2 SEC): Mark Richt won’t know until later in the week if wide receiver/kick returner Isaiah McKenzie (hamstring) or Jordan Jenkins (linebacker) will be able to go Saturday. Since Georgia has no classes scheduled this Friday, Richt is flying the Bulldogs down to Jacksonville on Thursday.
KENTUCKY (4-3, 2-3 SEC): Is there a quarterback controversy about to brew at Kentucky? Patrick Towles sat on the bench in the fourth quarter Saturday night and watched redshirt freshman Drew Barker complete 7-9 passes for 42 yards. Towles has thrown more interceptions (9) than touchdown passes (8) and fans are starting to get restless.
#4 LSU (7-0, 4-0 SEC): Bad weather and LSU football are synonymous this season. The Tigers had their home opener cancelled because of lightning. The South Carolina game was played in Baton Rouge because of flooding in Columbia and their game with Western Kentucky was played in a torrential downpour that made the field a muddy mess. Despite the bad weather, QB Brandon Harris threw for 286 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 11 completions.
#25 MISSISSIPPI STATE (6-2, 2-2 SEC): As the Bulldogs enter the final third of the season, it appears the strategy is to cut loose QB Dak Prescott in the running game. He passed for 348 yards and 3 TDs, ran for 117 and 3 more against Kentucky last Saturday night, prompting UK coach Mark Stoops to say, “How anybody’s not talking about that guy in a Heisman race – you’ve gotta have your head examined.”
MISSOURI (4-4, 1-4 SEC): It has been 13 quarters since Missouri last scored a touchdown. The last time an SEC team was so inept was 1996 when Kentucky went three straight games without a touchdown (3 points vs. Cincinnati and Indiana, 0 vs. Florida) before scoring only one TD against Alabama.
#19 OLE MISS (6-2, 3-1 SEC): The sense is that a defensive revival is about to take place in Oxford after the Land Sharks held Texas A&M without a touchdown and only 192 total yards. Aggie QB Kyle Allen completed only 2 of his last 22 pass attempts and that was without the Rebels’ best pass rusher Robert Nkemdiche (concussion) out of the lineup.
SOUTH CAROLINA (3-4, 1-4 SEC): Connor Mitch and Lorenzo Nunez are healthy enough to play again, but interim coach Shawn Elliott will go with Perry Orth once again Saturday when the Gamecocks visit Texas A&M. Orth led the Gamecocks to a win over Vanderbilt a couple of weeks ago. Elliott said, “I think Perry, right now, is our solid starter. He’s playing really well, we though, against Vanderbilt and [he’ll] continue to do well in practice and make good decisions.”
TENNESSEE (3-4, 1-3 SEC): Aaron Medley, who missed a potential game winning field goal against Florida and missed three field goal attempts against Alabama might be feeling the heat from the fans but head coach Butch Jones has no plans to replace him. “No, Aaron Medley is our kicker,” Jones said at his Monday press conference.
TEXAS A&M (5-2, 2-2 SEC): There is indeed a full blown quarterback controversy at Texas A&M where John P. Lopez of CBS Houston writes that Murray was told he wouldn’t play against Ole Miss after he “went full F-bomb” on offensive coordinator Jake Spavital in the loss to Alabama. When Murray took no snaps with the first team offense during the practice week leading up to the Ole Miss game, Lopez writes, “Players began taking sides in the locker room more than ever, some believing [Kyle] Allen’s physical (shoulder) and mental struggles should have opened the door for urray to get a legitimate chance to make the team his.”
VANDERBILT (3-4, 1-4 SEC): Vandy started freshman Kyle Shurmur at quarterback but Johnny McCrary was in the game at crunch time. Shurmur completed 10-20 passes for 89 yards without an interception and drove the Commodores to their only touchdown of the game in the second quarter but McCrary (7-8 for 47 yards) engineered the drive in the fourth quarter for the game-winning field goal. The Commodores might elect to use that same strategy of Shurmur starting and McCrary relieving this week when they travel to Houston for a non-conference game.
COACHING SEARCH UPDATES
Ray Tanner expects to spend $3-4 million for the next South Carolina coach. Numbers like that will get the attention of young guys like Justin Fuente (Memphis HBC) or Tom Herman (Houston HBC). It would also get the attention of Larry Fedora (North Carolina HBC), who works for $2.1 million and has gotten commendations from the NCAA for the way he has guided the football program out of the mess left behind by Butch Davis. If Fedora were to come to Columbia with Gene Chizik as his DC, Tanner would have a nice hire on his hands.
Former Miami coach Butch Davis has made it known he would like to be the head coach again. Donkeys will probably fly before Miami hires him again. He’s damaged goods who still bears the stench of the mess at North Carolina while Davis was in charge. The ongoing investigation into academic fraud throughout the UNC athletic program won’t help.
There is some sentiment at The U to hire Alabama O-line and former FIU head ball coach Mario Cristobal, who played and coached at Miami. Hiring Mario would check a lot of boxes for a cash-strapped Miami athletic department. Mario would work cheap enough that The U could afford the Al Golden buyout plus his hiring would resonate well throughout Dade County.
Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution isn’t exactly predicting Mark Richt will become the head coach at his alma mater, but he is saying The U would be a good place for Richt go: Bradley writes, “But if he is weary of the Georgia grind and isn’t ready to stop coaching, Miami could be his exit ramp.”
Even though New Mexico State is winless, athletic director Mario Moccia says Martin will return as head coach next season.
Houston Nutt would like to be interviewed for the UCF job. Two chances – no way and no how. George O’Leary’s buyout assures he will be paid “at least” $200,000 a year through 2020.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
If you are the athletic director at either UCF or Miami, do you think it’s best to go with (A) an old hand such as Houston Nutt, Tommy Tuberville or Butch Davis; (B) hire an up and coming young coach such as Justin Fuente, Tom Herman or Dino Babers; or (C) hire a hotshot coordinator such as Brent Venables, D.J. Durkin or Kendal Briles?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
If your Southern rock and roll collection doesn’t include the Rossington Collins Band album “Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere” then it’s incomplete. Formed by Allen Collins and Gary Rossington after the 1977 plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zandt and two other members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the new band was together for only three years and produced two albums, both of which were very well received. When Collins’ wife Kathy died, a number of performances were cancelled and that led to the band breaking up.