With a 16-7 victory over No. 5 Tennessee, the No. 6 Gators showed that it will take a lot more than a high-flying offense to beat the Vols. First-year Florida coach Urban Meyer's spread offense never really got going, but the Gators still won with defense and special teams.
"We are not a great football team," Meyer said. "That was a big win by a good defense and good special teams."
Florida blocked a field goal off the corner in the second quarter and then scored nine of its points off second-half field goals, with plenty of help from Tennessee special teams breakdowns.
First, Jonathan Hefney fumbled a punt after Florida's opening possession of the third quarter. Then freshman punter Britton Colquitt showed a lack of judgment on a fourth-and-nine play from his own 32-yard line. Florida disguised its punt coverage to make it look like receiver Inky Johnson was wide open on the right side. Colquitt then took it upon himself to lob a pass in Johnson's direction, only to be nearly intercepted by Florida's Tony Joiner, who had rotated over to cover Johnson.
"I thought I saw something, but I should have never thrown it," Colquitt said. "We're not supposed to even try that unless we're past the 35."
Colquitt also produced an 8-yard punt that set up Florida's third field goal of the half.
"We are a team, and we are all on the same ship," Vols linebacker Kevin Simon said. "If special teams break down, it hurts me, too. I appreciate their effort, but it wasn't good enough tonight."
The same could be said of the offense, especially the quarterbacks. Neither starter Rick Clausen nor backup Erik Ainge played particularly well, except for the one scoring drive Ainge directed in the second quarter to tie the game at 7-7. Florida did its part with two sacks and constant pressure on both quarterbacks.
"We left a lot of plays on the field, whether it was a bad route, bad throw or dropped pass," Ainge said. "I thought we played pretty good, but pretty good isn't enough against Florida."
Or LSU for that matter.
"Right now, we're just not very good on offense," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "It's frustrating, it's concerning, it's all of those things. We're not being nearly as productive as we obviously all thought that we would be."
Here's something to keep in mind following the annual September showdown between Florida and Tennessee: since the SEC went to its 12-team, two-division format in 1992 the winner of the Tennessee-Florida game has won the East nine times and advanced to the championship game.
"It's a tough loss right now, but it's not the end of the season," Fulmer said. "I think we all know that with our schedule, we're going to have to play a lot better."
Even Meyer would agree with that, especially with the way his offense played against Tennessee. It's obvious the Gators are still in the learning stages with his offense and at some point quarterback Chris Leak is going to have to be willing to run the ball to make the option effective.
"Our offensive line is not playing well," Meyer said. "We've got to get that taken care of. It's nonsense. We've got to get better."
The Gators also have to find immediate replacements for two key players. Starting receiver Andre Caldwell suffered a season-ending broken leg while starting defensive end Ray McDonald suffered a right knee injury that could end his season.
Impressed with Vanderbilt's gutsy 31-23 victory over Ole Miss and the Commodores' remarkable start? Think about this: Vandy could realistically be 5-0 by the time LSU goes to Nashville on Oct. 8.
The Commodores are 3-0 for the first time since 1984 and sit in first place in the SEC East. They will be 4-0 for the first time since '84 if they beat Division I-AA Richmond at home on Saturday. The next week, they play host to Middle Tennessee.
"Our guys won't be afraid to play anybody, but we know we have to play well to hang in there and we plan on doing that," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said.
The Commodores haven't won five consecutive games since their last winning season, when they finished 8-4 and played in the Hall of Fame Bowl in 1982. Vandy hasn't started 5-0 since 1943 when it finished 5-0 in a season limited by World War II.
"There are a lot of faithful Vanderbilt fans who haven't had an opportunity like this," Vandy receiver Erik Davis said.
It will be interesting to see how Vandy handles its new-found success, but if the Commodores' play against Ole Miss and their post-game reaction is any indication, don't bet against that 5-0 start.
"We enjoy the games that we've won directly afterward," tight end Dustin Dunning said. "But when we get back to meetings on Sunday, it's all business. But, I will say that it's a lot more fun to practice when you have some confidence and you're winning and you're playing for something."
For the past two seasons Alabama fans have talked about coach Mike Shula's need for a "signature" win.
Despite a 37-14 road victory at South Carolina, Shula is still on the waiting list for that monumental win.
Yes, Shula's team beat Steve Spurrier's team but long-time Alabama observers will insist the Crimson Tide did what it should have done against the Gamecocks – no more, no less.
"This is probably the biggest win we've had in a couple of years, no doubt about it," quarterback Brodie Croyle said. "It was good for us to play as good as we did. But this is just one step. We're 1-0 in the SEC. We can enjoy it the rest of tonight but come tomorrow, it's all business again."
On the plus side, Alabama played its most complete game in three seasons under Shula, rushing for 338 yards and gaining 489 total yards, it's highest total in the Shula era. Between Ken Darby's running and Croyle's passing and a defense that held South Carolina to 256 total yards, the Crimson Tide is once again moving towards becoming a serious contender in the SEC Western Division.
"I think, to be quite honest, we're real good," Darby said.
South Carolina fans waiting for Spurrier to produce an immediate championship contender can officially stop holding their breath.
Spurrier is 0-2 in the SEC for the first time and suffered his worst home loss in 15 years of college coaching, but he's not the problem.
"We've got some building to do," Spurrier said. "If you don't control the line, it's tough. ... Offensively, we were terrible."
The situation isn't going to change until the Gamecocks get a lot better up front on both sides of the ball. They can start by lining up and trying to be more physical in the running game this week against Troy.
"The only things positive is we have got to change our ways and not put on a performance like this again," Spurrier said. "It shouldn't have got out of hand like it did."
The headline in Sunday's Lexington Herald-Leader said it all for Kentucky: No excuse: No heart, no spirit, no enthusiasm.
Kentucky went into the Indiana game with a multitude of key injuries to experienced players, especially at wide receiver, but that's no excuse for allowing 305 rushing yards to an Indiana team that came in averaging 2.8 yards per carry. Indiana topped 300-yards for the first time in four years on the way to a 38-14 victory over Kentucky.
In the process, the Wildcats dropped to 1-10 in road games under embattled coach Rich Brooks, who still has a lot to prove in his third season at Kentucky.
"They kicked our fannies," Brooks said. "I guess it's my fault. I don't know how else to put it. We did some things to try to freshen them up a little this week because we were a little beat up after the first two games. We shortened practice. I didn't get them ready."
The worst thing about USC's 70-17 victory over Arkansas? It came as no surprise to oddsmakers who made the top-ranked Trojans a 30-point favorite. Imagine that: a Pac-10 team favored by 30 over an SEC team, followed by a 53-point victory. That's not just bad news for Arkansas and coach Houston Nutt, but the entire SEC.
It's also a lesson in humility and strategy for new Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring. USC coaches and players were amazed when the Razorbacks continued to try and play tight, aggressive coverage throughout the game, and USC quarterback Matt Leinart ate it up.
"This is the best team I have seen," Nutt said. "They have all the weapons you need or could hope for. They can score so fast, it messes you up. We had the score 7-7, the next thing we knew, it was 21-7. Leinart is a coach on the field, he is a true playmaker. We wanted to run, but we could not, being that far behind. I'm worried about the psyche of our defense, I hope we can get our confidence back."
The Razorbacks better find it quickly, because they play at Alabama on Saturday.
Richard Scott is a featured columnist and Tiger Rag's SEC expert. A longtime journalist in the Birmingham area, Scott has worked for a number of newspapers in addition to writing two books "Legends of Alabama Football" and "Tales from the Auburn 2004 Championship season." He can be reached by e-mail at Rscottfree@aol.com.