Back when he was the head coach at Florida, Doug Dickey would write on the locker room blackboard every single game: Stress the kicking game. Dickey was a very strong branch on General Bob Neyland’s coaching tree and one of his famous “Seven Maxims of Football” was “press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made.”
Does that sound a lot like Florida football 2015 under Jim McElwain? If it doesn’t, it should because the Gators’ emphasis on the kicking game has paid enormous dividends in punting and kickoff coverage.
Let’s start with Johnny Townsend, who is averaging 43.6 yards per punt. The SEC is a league loaded with fine punters, but if I had a vote, Townsend would be my #1 and the stats bear it out. Of Townsend’s 44 punts, only 16 have been returned for a total of 60 yards and 38 of those yards came on two returns, both in the Tennessee game (22 by Alvin Kamara; 16 by Cameron Sutton). Townsend has pinned opponents inside the 20 15 times and 12 of his punts have traveled at least 50 yards. In Florida’s last four SEC games, opponents have netted -7 yards in returns.
Here is what the punting game did against Georgia: Townsend punted five times for a 37.80 average. Georgia got -4 yards in returns and muffed a punt that was converted into Florida’s first touchdown. On the other four punts, Georgia’s best starting field position was the 30.
When you have a punter who can flip the field, pin opponents deep in their own territory and a coverage unit that allows almost no breathing room, you rarely lose the field position battle.
Florida’s kickoff coverage has also been outstanding. Even with all the kicking problems, the Gators have 27 touchbacks this year, the most since thunderfoot Caleb Sturgis had 33 in 13 games in 2012. The Gators have allowed only four kickoff returns of more than 30 yards (37 by Reggie Davis of Georgia) and opponents have started their drives at the 40 or beyond (40 vs. UT, 42 vs. UGa) only twice.
Punting and kickoff coverage don’t merit a lot of ink in the print media nor do they get a lot of mention by the people who broadcast, but Florida’s units have plenty to do with why the Gators need only a win Saturday to clinch their first trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game since 2009.
AJC COLUMNISTS SAY FIRE MARK RICHT
The heat on Mark Richt’s seat was measurably raised Monday when columnists Mark Bradley and Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution both wrote that it’s time for the University of Georgia and Richt to part company.
Writes Bradley: “Winning nine games while coaching Vandy would be fabulous, but Richt isn’t coaching Vandy. I never thought I’d say this, but here it is: He and Georgia need to part.”
Writes Schultz: “The circumstances at Georgia suggest this: Mark Richt has failed. He should not be back as Georgia’s coach next season.”
SEC PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Offensive Player of the Week: Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss
Defensive Player of the Week: Antonio Morrison, LB, Florida
Special Teams Player of the Week: Evan Berry, KR, Tennessee
Freshman of the Week: Kyler Murray, QB, Texas A&M
Offensive Lineman of the Week: Mitch Smothers, C, Arkansas
Defensive Lineman of the Week: Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss
THE SEC IN NCAA STATISTICS
Scoring (points per game): (13) Ole Miss 39.4; (14) LSU 38.9; (27) Tennessee 36.1; (36) Mississippi State 35.1; (42) Alabama 33.5; (51) Arkansas 32.5; (53) Texas A&M 32.1; (57) FLORIDA 31.5; (63) Georgia 29.4; (82) Auburn 27.3; (97) Kentucky 24.3; (105) South Carolina 21.4; (Tie, 123) Vanderbilt 15.8; (126) Missouri 14.9
Rushing (yards per game/per attempt): (5) LSU 309.1/6.66; (21) Tennessee 214.1/4.60; (35) Georgia 197.3/5.56; (36) Arkansas 196.0/5.06; (41) Alabama 188.5/4.53; (59) South Carolina178.8/4.81; (65) Auburn 173.6/3.92; (66) Ole Miss 172.9/4.77; (70) Texas A&M 168.9/4.49; (86) Vanderbilt 156.1/3.84; (94) Mississippi State 149.6/4.89; (99) FLORIDA 143.1/3.80; (100) Kentucky 142.6/4.12; (121) Missouri 100.5/3.31
Passing (yards per game/per attempt): (11) Ole Miss 346.7/8.76; (22) Mississippi State 295.5/8.47; (36) Texas A&M 262.9/7.33; (38) Arkansas 260.0/9.16; (49) Kentucky 244.5/6.86; (54) FLORIDA 237.8/7.89; (59) Alabama 233.4/7.07; (81) Tennessee 210.0/7.34; (86) Georgia 206.4/7.57; (87) Vanderbilt 204.3/5.71; (93) Auburn 197.5/7.75; (102) South Carolina 186.1/6.96; (108) Missouri 177.1/5.41; (116) LSU 156.9/8.51
Total offense (yards per game/per play): (11) Ole Miss 519.6/6.86; (28) LSU 466.0/7.19; (33) Arkansas 456.0/6.79; (39) Mississippi State 445.1/6.80; (44) Texas A&M 431.8/5.83; (46) Tennessee 424.1/5.65; (49) Alabama 421.9/5.65; (66) Georgia 403.6/6.43; (78) Kentucky 387.1/5.51; (83) FLORIDA 380.9/5.62; (89) Auburn 371.1/5.32; (Tie, 91) South Carolina 364.9/5.71; (97) Vanderbilt 360.4/4.72; (125) Missouri 277.6/4.40
Sacks allowed (number/yards lost): (Tie, 9) Arkansas 7-45; (Tie, 16) Georgia 9-51; (19) LSU 8-67; (Tie, 21) Mississippi State 10-69; (Tie, 41) Alabama 13-95; (Tie, 47) Ole Miss 15-120; (Tie, 49) Auburn 14-98; (Tie, 56) Vanderbilt 15-99; (Tie, 64) South Carolina 16-102; (Tie, 73) Tennessee 17-134; (Tie, 90) Missouri 20-125; (Tie, 102) FLORIDA 22-111, Kentucky 22-146
Turnovers lost: (Tie, 1) LSU 2; (Tie, 7) FLORIDA 6; (Tie, 11) Arkansas 7; (Tie, 16) Tennessee 8, Mississippi State 8; (Tie, 29) Missouri 10, Auburn 10; (Tie, 43) South Carolina 11; (Tie, 65) Kentucky 13, Texas A&M 13; (Tie, 81) Alabama 14, Georgia 14; (Tie, 122) Ole Miss 21, Vanderbilt 21
Scoring (points per game): (3) Missouri 12.5; (7) FLORIDA 15.5; (13) Alabama 16.4; (21) Mississippi State 17.8; (24) Vanderbilt 18.5; (27) Ole Miss 19.7; (28) Georgia 20.4; (39) LSU 22.6; (50) Tennessee 24.3; (56) Texas A&M 24.6; (Tie, 63) Arkansas 26.6; (69) South Carolina 27.4; (83) Kentucky 29.1; (85) Auburn 29.4
Rushing (yards per game/per attempt): (3) Alabama 78.5/2.60; (6) LSU 93.7/3.25; (15) FLORIDA 110.6/3.43; (18) Vanderbilt 114.9/3.45; (20 Arkansas 117.9/3.64; (23) Missouri 120.5/2.92; (24) Ole Miss 121.6/3.08; (35) Georgia 138.0/3.63; (60) Mississippi State 161.8/3.82; (62) Tennessee 163.1/4.41; (87) Kentucky 182.3/4.45; (98) Auburn 194.4/4.83; (106) Texas A&M 206.8/4.88; (11) South Carolina 215.3/5.43
Passing (yards per game/per attempt): (6) Missouri 161.6/5.62; (21) Georgia 183.0/6.45; (28) Texas A&M 191.5/6.23; (29) FLORIDA 192.4/5.87; (38) Alabama 197.3/5.48; (50) Vanderbilt 208.5/6.27; (56) Mississippi State 213.5/6.28; (58) South Carolina 215.3/6.89; (64) LSU 222.1/6.03; (70) Ole Miss 226.8/5.83; (74) Kentucky 232.4/7.53; (80) Tennessee 240.3/7.07; (93) Auburn 252.1/6.84; (114) Arkansas 273.0/8.27
Total defense (yards per game/per play): (4) Alabama 275.8/4.16; (6) Missouri 282.1/4.03; (15) FLORIDA 303.0/4.66; (18) LSU 315.9/4.81; (20) Georgia 321.0/4.84; (22) Vanderbilt 323.4/4.86; (35) Ole Miss 348.3/4.45; (54) Mississippi State 375.3/4.91; (62) Arkansas 390.9/5.98; (66) Texas A&M 398.3/5.45; (70) Tennessee 403.4/5.68; (81) Kentucky 414.6/5.77; (96) South Carolina 430.5/6.07; (107) Auburn 446.5/5.79
Sacks (number/yards lost): (Tie, 6) Alabama 27-181; (Tie, 12) Texas A&M 25-143; (Tie, 19) Missouri 23-131; (Tie, 25) FLORIDA 22-177; (Tie, 33) LSU 18-122; (Tie, 36) Mississippi State 20-147; (Tie, 49) Vanderbilt 18-122; (Tie, 63) Tennessee 16-86; (Tie, 77) Georgia 15-85; (82) Ole Miss 16-108; (Tie, 83) South Carolina 14-98; (Tie, 90) Kentucky 13-87; (Tie, 101) Auburn 12-80; (Tie, 123) Arkansas 7-54
Turnovers created: (Tie, 7) FLORIDA 19; (Tie, 19) Alabama 17, Ole Miss 17; (Tie, 33) Texas A&M 15; (Tie, 67) Auburn 12, South Carolina 12; (Tie, 82) Arkansas 11, Georgia 11, Tennessee 11, Missouri 11; (Tie, 93) Kentucky 10, Vanderbilt 10; (Tie, 103) LSU 9, Mississippi State 9
#7 ALABAMA (7-1, 4-1 SEC): LSU brings a run-heavy attack that averages 309 yards per game and 6.66 yards per carry to Tuscaloosa this weekend. Bama’s defense is giving up only 2.6 per carry. Georgia, which got a bunch of yards in fourth quarter garbage time, is the only team to average more than 4.0 per carry against Alabama, which has given up only 4 rushing touchdowns all year. Take the Georgia game out of the equation and Alabama has given up only 435 rushing yards and 2.21 per carry in the other seven games.
ARKANSAS (4-4, 2-2 SEC): Wearing a shoe Nike designed especially to relieve the pain in his turf toe, Alex Collins responded by rushing for 173 yards and five touchdowns on just 16 carries against Tennessee-Martin. Collins is the active career rushing leader in the SEC with 3,086 yards.
AUBURN (4-4, 1-4 SEC): Auburn’s defense was forced to defend the field for 91 plays against Ole Miss, in large part because the offense converted only 2-15 on third downs. It didn’t help that Auburn’s offense was 0-3 in the red zone for touchdowns and had to settle for three field goals.
GEORGIA (5-3, 3-3 SEC): Mark Richt wouldn’t name a starting quarterback on Monday, saying the Bulldogs are considering “all possibilities” for Saturday’s game with Kentucky in Athens. Meanwhile Richt says he is confident there is enough talent “to turn this thing around … for this season and beyond.”
KENTUCKY (4-4, 2-4 SEC): Folks are starting to ask hard questions about Kentucky football after consecutive blowout losses to Mississippi State and Tennessee. Mark Story of the Lexington Herald-Leader asks if Kentucky has improved at all during the three years of head coach Mark Stoops. Writes Story, “It is the third year; I do not think it was too much to ask to expect Kentucky to be competitive in all SEC games.”
#4 LSU (7-0, 4-0 SEC): Fullback John David Moore, who Leonard Fournette calls his “flashlight” is healthy and ready to go this week against Alabama. Fournette says having Moore as a lead blocker has plenty to do with his 1,352 yards through seven games.
#24 MISSISSIPPI STATE (6-2, 2-2 SEC): After a bye week, the Bulldogs are facing Missouri on the road Thursday night. Dan Mullen called Missouri’s defense, “The best defense in the Southeastern Conference, a huge challenge for us … we’re going to have to play at a high level.”
MISSOURI (4-4, 1-4 SEC): The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting that the decision to suspend quarterback Maty Mauk the rest of the year was triggered by a series of alleged incidents that involved Mauk outside a bar in downtown Columbia shortly after midnight Thursday morning.
#19 OLE MISS (7-2, 4-1 SEC): When Laremy Tunsil returned to the lineup after a 7-game NCAA-imposed suspension, the Ole Miss running game saw immediate improvement. Held to just 40 rushing yards by Memphis, the Rebels have run for a combined 386 in the two games since Tunsil was reinstated.
SOUTH CAROLINA (3-5, 1-5 SEC): Interim coach Shawn Elliott has a dilemma on his hands now that he has three healthy quarterbacks. Connor Mitch, the starter before he got hurt in the second game, has the strongest arm. Freshman Lorenzo Nunez is a dynamic runner but lacks experience in the passing game. Perry Orth, who has played fairly well the last two games, has limitations both as a runner and a passer. The Gamecocks need one of those three to emerge if they are to win three of their last four games to become bowl eligible.
TENNESSEE (4-4, 2-3 SEC): The Vols got a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Evan Berry and an 84-yard punt return for a TD by Cameron Sutton against Kentucky. That was the third kickoff return for a TD this season by Berry and the first for Sutton.
#25 TEXAS A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC): Freshman Kyler Murray put up 223 passing yards and 156 rushing yards in the Aggies’ win over South Carolina. He was the first Aggie quarterback to do a 200/100 game since Johnny Manziel pulled it off against Ole Miss back in 2013.
VANDERBILT (3-5, 1-3 SEC): The spin at Vanderbilt was the Commodores “held” Houston to a season-low 34 points Saturday. Of course, the Commodores didn’t score any and turnovers had plenty to do with that. Vanderbilt has turned the ball over 13 times in the last four games and ranks #121 nationally with 21 for the season.
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY UPDATES
Several outlets are reporting that UCF has its eye on two of its former assistants: UF defensive coordinator Geoff Collins and Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
USAToday’s Dan Wolken says Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is “very interested” in the Virginia Tech job.
Currently, there are 20 openings and it’s expected there will be another 10-15, which will make this one of the most active years we’ve ever seen for coaches changing jobs.
Don’t be surprised if one name you’ll hear in conjunction with a lot of openings is North Carolina coach (and former Florida OC) Larry Fedora, who has the Tar Heels in the hunt for a division championship in the ACC. Fedora makes just $2.1 million and he’s more than concerned that the athletic department-wide academic scandal is going to affect recruiting well into the future.
Houston coach Tom Herman’s name will be mentioned prominently for just about every opening at one of the five power conferences. He’s almost certainly going to leave because of a lack of cash, facilities and a stadium that’s never filled. A lot of folks seem to think he will land at either Southern Cal or Miami.
Rich Rodriguez could emerge as the hot candidate to take over at Maryland.
Antonio Morrison is one of 10 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, given yearly to the best linebacker in college football. I don’t doubt that Morrison is one of the best 10 linebackers in the country, but how can you have a list that doesn’t include Kentrell Brothers of Missouri? He already has 103 tackles this season, which not only leads the SEC but the entire nation. Last year he had 122 and he has 307 in his career. This guy is a tackling machine who never misses an assignment. His problem? He doesn’t play for a great team.
Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports raises an interesting question about how Urban Meyer will deal with the suspension of QB J.T. Barrett for driving under the influence. Feldman writes, “Knowing how the off-field issues ruined Meyer’s program at Florida, it’ll be very interesting to see how he handles Barrett.” On Monday, Meyer suspended Barrett’s scholarship for one term.
According to the New York Daily News, Notre Dame has fired an academic advisor to the athletic department amid allegations that the academic coach “forced basketball and football players to have sex with her daughter.”
It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Hawaii elects to drop football at the end of this season. The athletic department is swimming in red ink with the cost of travel and scholarships the biggest drain. It’s a 6-hour flight to the mainland and that’s also where 80% of the recruits come from.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Mark Richt has a better record than Vince Dooley at this stage of their careers. It took Dooley 17 years to win a national championship. Should Georgia give Richt the same consideration it gave to Dooley or is it time to make a move and bring in someone new?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Today’s music is dedicated to Georgia fans everywhere. The name of the band alone tells you the state of mind in Athens and throughout the Peach State – Widespread Panic. This is a full set the band performed at the Lockn’ Festival in Arrington, Virginia back on September 12.