SCOTT: SEC News & Notes

After finishing 9-3 last year and losing at Alabama, LSU and South Carolina, Florida coaches spent the offseason challenging the toughness of their team.

With a 21-20 win over Tennessee on Sept. 16 and Saturday's 28-13 victory over Alabama, the Gators have proven their toughness.

 

"I'd like to thank our players," second-year Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "They toughed it out. They were challenged on their toughness about two million times at the beginning of the season, and that's now two games that they've come from behind to win.

 

"The first quarter was awful. We had the intent to run the ball because they were playing a three-man front, but didn't have much success. Once we got this thing going, we did well."

 

The Gators (5-0, 3-0 SEC) did a lot of things well, including mixing quarterbacks Chris Leak and Tim Tebow effectively, spreading the ball around to different playmakers and intercepting three passes. More important, they overcame a 10-0 second-quarter deficit and outscored Alabama 28-3 the rest of the way.

 

"We never got down on ourselves when we were losing," senior outside linebacker Earl Everett said. "We got back in the game and continued to fight. We are a different team this year."

 

While the Gators are most certainly doing more things to prove their toughness as they head into Saturday's showdown with LSU, they aren't that much different from other SEC teams in terms of weaknesses and shortcomings. They may have fewer than most SEC teams, but they've still got them.

 

LSU coaches will most certainly notice that starting tailback DeShawn Wynn suffered a knee injury early in the second half. While Wynn's status is uncertain for the LSU game, it's obvious the Gators didn't run the ball as effectively without him. Unless sophomore Kestahn Moore does something he's yet to do in a big game, Tebow would be Florida's best runner.

 

On defense, Alabama coach Mike Shula noticed the same thing Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer and Kentucky coach Rich Brooks saw: the Florida secondary can be beat.

 

Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson did make some poor decisions, due mostly to inexperience and an improved pass rush, and still passes for 240 yards against the Gators.

The Gators helped their cause substantially with three interceptions, but most important, they recorded three sacks and kept the pressure on Wilson all day. That's encouraging for Florida, but the Gators will see more talent and experience from LSU's offensive line and quarterback than they saw from Alabama.

 

Still, there's little doubt that the Florida team LSU will see on Saturday is better than the one the Tigers beat 21-17 at home last season.

 

"It's no secret that we've got some very good players," Meyer said, "and that we're developing some depth around here."

     

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Auburn coaches weren't in the mood to do any apologizing this weekend after looking back at last Thursday's 24-17 victory over South Carolina.

 

"It's about winning games," Tuberville said. "I could care less what they think, to be honest with you. We're not going to get the respect anyway, for some reason. We're going to earn it. We're going to keep playing like we're playing and worry about ourselves."

 

The Tigers entered the South Carolina game ranked No. 2 in the AP Top 25 and No. 3 in the coaches and Harris Interactive polls.

 

"I don't care what they're looking for," Tuberville said of the poll voters. "It doesn't make me any difference. I've got a smile on my face. A one-point victory is a heck of a lot better than (losing). We're paid to win games, and our guys have done a pretty good job.

 

"It's like people want you to apologize for winning. We're not going to apologize. I don't know if we have a great team, but I know we are good. These kids play as a team and they play hard. We knew we were walking into a trap. The kids hung in there and won the game.

 

"If going on the road and winning an SEC game isn't good enough, well, there's something really wrong with that."

 

If there's something wrong with the defense, it has more to do with youth and inexperience in the secondary than the defensive system. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who owns a national championship ring from his time as LSU's defensive coordinator under former coach Nick Saban, is taking a lot of heat for using a three-man front against South Carolina quarterback Syvelle Newton.

 

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier obviously spent a lot of time during the Wofford and Florida Atlantic weeks preparing his team to spin a few surprises in Auburn's direction, including a no-huddle offense with five receivers. Muschamp said his one season in the NFL with Saban and the Miami Dolphins taught him the best way to deal with a empty-backfield spread is to either drop eight players into coverage or blitz. Either way, Muschamp said, "You fill the zone up underneath."

 

The problems Auburn experience had more to do with young players giving too much in coverage or pass rushers missing and not containing Newton, allowing him to scramble out of trouble.

 

"We got pressure with three," Muschamp told the Huntsville Times. "We had two sacks rushing three guys. Really, from an efficiency standpoint, it was the most effective thing we did, other than when we max blitzed them, and you can't making a living doing that. They got their biggest plays when we rushed five.

 

"There are two stats that matter on defense. That's how many points you give up and whether you won or lost. I don't worry about the other stuff. Believe me, there are a lot of things out there to worry about other than what somebody thinks about a three-man rush."

 

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While Auburn finds itself having to defend a road win at South Carolina, Spurrier is fighting to raise the expectations of his own program.

 

The Gamecocks are blessed with a loyal fan following that fills 80,250-seat Williams-Brice Stadium on a regular basis, which says a lot for their fans when you consider South Carolina's lack of history compared to other SEC programs that draw well.

 

Maybe the program's lackluster tradition explains why the fans stood and applauded after the loss to Auburn, but that's something that has to change for the Gamecocks to make a legitimate move up the SEC ladder.

 

"I don't want our fans to boo. But please don't clap when we come close. I think it sends the wrong message," Spurrier said. "Our guys thought we'd done something pretty good, when in essence we didn't do anything but let a game get away that we were in a position to win."

 

Spurrier saw the same thing after last year's 13-9 loss to Clemson and he didn't like it then, either.

 

"I don't know if any coach has ever told our fans, ‘Please don't clap after we get beat,'" Spurrier said. "Even the Clemson game, they were clapping like, ‘Well, we thought we were going to get clobbered. And we didn't get clobbered. So that's OK.' It's not OK. We had a game we had a chance to win ... and we didn't do it."

 

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Georgia didn't do anything to resolve its quarterback situation in a 14-9 win at Ole Miss.

Redshirt freshman Joe Cox started and didn't get much done, while true freshman Matthew Stafford came off the bench this time and at least directed the Bulldogs on two second-half touchdown drives, but the Bulldogs basically won with defense and a strong performance from tailback Kregg Lumpkin, who rushed for 101 yards on 13 carries.

 

"Everybody's expecting at least 25 or 30 (points) a game," Stafford said. "It's not happening, but I know and the team knows that we're giving it all we've got."

 

Perhaps the best news for Georgia is that senior quarterback Joe Tereshinski returns to practice this week after missing most of the past four games with a sprained ankle. Considering the way Cox and Stafford played at Ole Miss, don't be surprised if coach Mark Richt gives the reigns back to Tereshinski.

 

Either way, the Bulldogs will likely have to be a lot better offensively to beat Tennessee at home on Saturday.

 

"We've got a long way to go, that's for sure," Richt said. "There's a lot of things we've got to get better at, probably in a hurry. If we don't, we won't stay undefeated very long."

 

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Richard Scott is a Birmingham based sports writer, author and a featured columnist in Tiger Rag magazine. Reach him at rscottsec@yahoo.com.


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