Perhaps Florida’s defensive effort against Kentucky isn’t getting proper respect. It was Kentucky, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2010 and normally occupies next to last or last in the SEC East, but this is a team that did indeed score 35 points and throw for nearly 300 yards in the first half of the season opener against Southern Miss. What happened in the second half when Kentucky gave up 27 straight points to lose 44-35 wasn’t as much about the offense as it was the UK defense just couldn’t get the Golden Eagles off the field.
In the first half, however, Kentucky QB Drew Barker and his wide receivers were playing pitch and catch. Barker threw touchdown passes of 72, 43, 9 and 53 yards and 287 yards in a first half in which the Wildcats totaled 391 of their 409 yards for the game.
Against Florida, the Wildcats completed only 3 passes the whole game and if not for a double bust – containment behind the line and coverage in the secondary – they would have been held to TEN passing yards and ZERO points. Go all the way back to 2008 and the Gators have given up fewer than the 55 passing yards allowed against Kentucky only FOUR times – Vanderbilt in 2015 (30 yards), Missouri in 2014 (20 yards), Georgia Southern in 2013 (0 yards, tried only 3 passes) and Mississippi State in 2011 (33 yards). In that time the Gators have faced a lot of teams that would have killed for Kentucky’s skill position talent.
Helping the pass defense was intense pressure that came off the edge. Florida registered 5 sacks for -26 yards in losses after opening the season with 4 against UMass. This is a better team getting after the passer than last year when UF recorded 40 sacks in 14 games, the highest total by a UF team in years.
Against the run, the Gators allowed Kentucky 94 net yards but that was on 34 attempts for a 2.76 per carry average. For the season, two opponents have 69 carries, 140 yards and 2.03 per carry.
In two games the Gators have given up 336 yards – just 168 per game – which ranks #1 in the SEC and #2 nationally. To put in better perspective, since 2008 this is Florida’s best 2-game start to a season defensively.
Florida will indeed play tougher teams that have excellent athletes and the numbers won’t always be this stingy, but this is a very good defensive team that if it can stay healthy has a really good chance to finish top 4-5 nationally.
SEC FOOTBALL NEWS
#1 Alabama (2-0, 0-0 SEC): No lineup changes have been announced but expect Alabama to shuffle its offensive line this week against Ole Miss. Alphonse Taylor, who didn’t start but saw a lot of action against Western Kentucky after missing game one, probably returns to RG where he started 13 games last year. That would move Ross Pierschbacher to LG, where he started all last year, in place of Lester Cotton, who started the first two games this season. Alabama has run for only 183 yards per game (just 4.36 per carry) and the O-line has given up 5 sacks.
#24 Arkansas (2-0, 0-0 SEC): Although the Arkansas offensive line played much better in the win over TCU (LT Dan Skipper was SEC O-lineman of the Week), HBC Bret Bielema still isn’t committing to a starting five. The left side is all but set with Skipper, LG Hjalte Froholdt and Frank Ragnow in the middle. Jake Raulerson has played fairly well at RG but RT Colton Jackson, a redshirt freshman, has had problems with speed rushers off he edge and was called for holding twice against TCU.
Auburn (1-1, 0-0 SEC): MLB and Illinois grad transfer T.J. Neal wasn’t allowed to dress for game two after a rant in the twitterverse following game one with Clemson. Not that Neal was exactly needed for Arkansas State. Neal will be needed Saturday against Texas A&M which might have something to do with the fact that his suspension is over and he will play.
#13 Georgia (2-0, 0-0 SEC): There are legitimate concerns about the Georgia offensive line. Against Nicholls State, which is a D1AA bottom feeder, Nick Chubb was stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage 7 times. Georgia tried to overpower the smaller Nicholls D-linemen and couldn’t do it. It’s worth noting that in going for 222 yards against North Carolina, Chubb averaged 3.4 yards AFTER contact, which means the Tar Heels did a poor job of wrapping him up. Chubb averaged only 0.9 after contact against Nicholls. Another stat worth noting: Georgia has given up 5 sacks in two games against inferior defensive fronts.
Kentucky (0-2, 0-1 SEC): While HBC Mark Stoops is visibly more involved in the defense in practice this week, coordinator Eddie Gran is scaling down the offense and making it simpler ... On the injury front, starting LT Cole Mosier (ankle) is day-to-day so true freshman Landon Young could be playing most of the snaps against New Mexico State as he did against Florida. Also, RG George Asafo-Adjei, who missed the Florida game, is back at practice and is expected to start Saturday.
#22 LSU (1-1, 0-0 SEC): It is possible for Les Miles to say Danny Etling is going to start at quarterback without really saying he’s going to start Saturday against Mississippi State? Judge for yourself. Asked about it Wednesday, Les replied, “I can’t imagine Danny Etling won’t take the first snaps but we’re going to let that play out.” LSU alums such as SEC Network analyst Booger McFarland are saying in so many words that if Etling doesn’t start let the Lexit begin.
Mississippi State (1-1, 1-0 SEC): DE A.J. Jefferson, who leads the SEC with 6 tackles for loss and has recorded 3 sacks, is hoping for a more consistent season than last year when he had 13.5 tackles for loss but only 3 in the final seven games of the season.
Missouri (1-1, 0-0 SEC): One reason some experts think Mizzou might have a shot to score an upset over 13th-ranked Georgia is pass protection. Georgia has registered only 3 sacks in two games while the Mizzou offensive line has given up only 1 in 93 pass attempts … Even with experts believing Missouri could give Georgia a real run for its money Saturday, more than 15,000 tickets remain unsold in Columbia.
#17 Ole Miss (1-1, 0-0 SEC): If the Rebels can knock off Alabama Saturday they will become the first SEC team and only the third team ever to beat a Nick Saban coached team three straight years. While at Michigan State, Saban lost to Michigan (1996-98) and Purdue (1997-99) three in a row.
South Carolina (1-1, 1-1 SEC): The Gamecocks ran the ball 31 times against Mississippi State and netted 34 yards, an average of 1.1 yard per carry. Through two games, South Carolina has netted only 155 yards while averaging just 2.46 per carry. If the Gamecocks are going to get their running game going, they won’t find a better opponent than East Carolina, which comes to town Saturday. The Pirates are giving up 181.65 yards per game and 5.26 yards per carry.
#15 Tennessee (2-0, 0-0 SEC): Perhaps it’s too early to sound alarms, but Tennessee’s offense isn’t exactly clicking on all cylinders. The Vols are averaging only 324.5 yards per game, 183 on the ground and 141.5 in the air. Tennessee is averaging 4.74 yards per offensive snap but a very poor 5.9 per pass attempt and only 4.11 per rushing play. You don’t win championships with numbers like that.
#20 Texas A&M (2-0, 0-0 SEC): Stud defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall have to be drooling as game time with Auburn draws near. The guys in charge of slowing them down – LT Austin Golson and RT Robert Leff – will be making their first SEC starts. So much attention has been paid to slowing down Garrett and Hall that they have just one sack between them while the other Aggie defenders have combined for 7, good for 55 yards in losses.
Vanderbilt (1-1, 0-1 SEC): The Vanderbilt defense has been very good against the run through two games – 108.5 yards per game and only 4.09 per carry. The Commodores will get a test against Georgia Tech and its funky option offense Saturday. The Yellow Jackets average 241.5 yards per game, 5.03 yards per carry and spread the carries around. So far, 14 runners have carried the ball.
RANKING THE DIVISION I FOOTBALL CONFERENCES
1. Big Ten: The league has five of the top 12 teams -- Ohio State (4), Michigan (5), Michigan State (8), Iowa (11) and Wisconsin (12). Ohio State can score big points this weekend at #14 Oklahoma while Michigan State goes to #18 Notre Dame so the league could strengthen its hold on #1 with wins in those two games.
2. ACC: With three teams in the top ten (FSU 2, Clemson 3, Louisville 10) the ACC is at #2 … for now. FSU, Clemson and Louisville all play each other so the league will cannibalize itself starting this weekend with FSU traveling to Louisville. Don’t sleep on #25 Miami which is going to get much better.
3. SEC: Week two was far superior to week one although Georgia came within a whisker of losing to D1AA bottom feeder Nicholls State. Alabama remains the unquestioned #1 nationally, but Georgia is the next highest ranked SEC team at #13. Overall, the league has seven ranked teams (After Bama and Georgia, 15 Tennessee, 17 Ole Miss, 20 Texas A&M, 22 LSU, 23 Florida and 24 Arkansas.
4. Pac-12: Stanford (6) and Washington (9) are in the top 10 but then you have to go all the way down to #21 to find find Oregon, the next ranked Pac-12 team. They will have apoplexy on the Left Coast if Southern Cal goes to Stanford and wins this weekend. It could happen.
5. Big 12: Texas (11) is the top ranked team with Oklahoma at (14) and Baylor at 19. TCU dropped out fair and square after losing to Arkansas but Oklahoma State got screwed out of a win by the MAC zebras and the Big 12 replay officials, who didn’t know the rules. Texas has a good enough defense to make the top 10 and stay there while Oklahoma and Baylor are going to have to turn games into track meets. Right now, it looks like another year when the Big 12 gets shut out of the playoff.
6. American Athletic: Houston is ranked 6th but not the only good team in a most underrated league. Houston and the league’s chance of crashing the final four party could go down the drain if the Cougars lose to Cincinnati on the road tonight. There are a lot of Power 5 teams that Navy, Memphis and South Florida could beat.
7. Mountain West: Boise State, Air Force and San Diego State are good enough to make the top 25 and stay there with a couple more wins.
8. Conference USA: The league blew a great chance for a prestige win when Middle Tennessee got its doors ripped off by Vanderbilt by 23 points. Western Kentucky and Southern Miss are good enough to beat a lot of Power 5 teams but this is also a league that features Florida International, Florida Atlantic, Rice and Charlotte.
9. Sun Belt: Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are the best teams in the league and South Alabama has a win over an SEC school on the road.
10. MAC: Central Michigan has the league’s signature win over Okie State on the road. Okay, MAC zebras handed them the win but it’s still a win in the scorebook. The best two teams in the league are Western Michigan and Toledo.
FIVE GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK
#1 Alabama (2-0, 0-0 SEC) at #17 Ole Miss (1-1, 0-0 SEC): Does lightning strike three times? Ole Miss has beaten Alabama the last two years. Could it happen again?
#2 Florida State (2-0) at #10 Louisville (2-0): Boynton Beach product Lamar Jackson is good enough to light up the Seminoles and the Louisville defense is the best FSU has seen. This could be interesting.
#4 Ohio State (2-0) at #14 Oklahoma (1-0): If the Buckeyes can win in Norman they are very, very real. If Oklahoma loses, it’s out of the playoff picture.
Southern Cal (1-1) at #6 Stanford (1-0): Southern Cal isn’t as bad as it looked in game one against Bama and Stanford didn’t look all that great when it beat K-State in week one. A Stanford loss could seriously damage the Pac-12’s chances of a playoff team.
#8 Michigan State (1-0) at #18 Notre Dame (1-1): It’s a playoff elimination game for Notre Dame. Two losses mean another final four without the Irish.
It blows my mind that once again Wilber Marshall isn’t on the list of potential Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees. The list of linebackers who are on the long list includes Carl Banks, Cornelius Bennett, Tedy Bruschi, Seth Joyner, Levon Kirkland, Clay Matthews, Willie McGinest (also DE), Karl Mecklenburg, Sam Mills, Joey Porter, Zach Thomas. There isn’t a one of them I would have taken over Wilber in his prime.
The Atlantic Coast Conference has joined the NCAA in pulling championship events out of the state of North Carolina because of the bathroom bill, claiming the bill is inconsistent with values of “equality, diversity, inclusion and non-discrimination.” I have a problem with the NCAA and the ACC using sports as leverage against politics they don’t agree with. By taking this stance, the two organizations have opened up the possibility that they’ll try to leverage the economics of sports with their desire to be social warriors. I don’t think for one second this is the last time the NCAA or the ACC – and perhaps other conferences – will try to use their platforms to influence politics. From my standpoint, this is a very bad precedent.
Oklahoma president David Boren says Big 12 Conference expansion is “not a sure thing” and says he is “not certain” the league will make a decision about expanding at the next Big 12 board of directors meeting in October. No matter what Boren says, you can bet the farm that Houston is in. If the league doesn’t expand it’s because the Big 12 (a) can’t decide on adding two or four teams and (b) other than Houston doesn’t know who to invite.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Other than the Florida game for obvious reasons, which college football game will have your undivided attention this weekend?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
For 40 years, The Robert Cray band has been taking the blues to a new level. Whether he’s got the Memphis Horns touring with him or just with organ, bass and drums to back him, he always delivers. If you’re looking for a great album to add to your collection, try his 2015 release “4 Nights of 40 Years Live.” Today’s music is a 2008 concert from Montreux.