- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida may have the day off, but there are still plenty of things happening today that can impact the Gators throughout the rest of the Southeastern Conference season.
Four future SEC opponents are in action, including next week’s foe LSU. Here’s a breakdown of what the Gators and their fans should pay attention to in each game:
Tennessee (3-1, 0-1 SEC) at Georgia (4-0, 2-0), 3:30 p.m.
It appears the Bulldogs will be at full strength on defense for the first time this season because all indications are that All-American S Bacarri Rambo and starting LB Alec Ogletree will make their season debuts. The two had been suspended for the first four games of the season for violating team and university rules.
Georgia has looked pretty good defensively without those two anyway, ranking eighth in the SEC in total defense (343.2 yards per game), eighth in rush defense (135.5 ypg) and sixth in pass defense (207.8 ypg). But adding Ogletree to a linebacking corps that includes Jarvis Jones (4.5 sacks) gives the Bulldogs more big-play potential.
Rambo’s return means Sanders Commings, who along with LB Chase Vasser was suspended for the first two games, can go back to his cornerback spot. Those guys will have several games to get up to speed before the Florida-Georgia game on Oct. 27.
Georgia’s offense has been rolling, scoring 40 or more points in a school-record four consecutive games. The Bulldogs lead the SEC in scoring (47.5 ppg) and total offense (530.0 ypg). QB Aaron Murray has thrown for 1,092 yards and 10 TDs and the Bulldogs have the league’s leading rusher in Todd Gurley (406 yards).
Florida’s defense is giving up only 12.8 points per game and 185.5 yards per game passing, but hasn’t been as good against the run (119.2 ypg).
South Carolina (4-0, 2-0) at Kentucky (1-3, 0-1), 7 p.m.
South Carolina QB Connor Shaw had a rough beginning to the 2012 season when he suffered a hairline fracture of his throwing shoulder in the season opener against Vanderbilt, but he seems to be fully recovered and is starting to get into a rhythm under Steve Spurrier.
That’s not something Gators fans want to hear with the Gamecocks heading into Gainesville on Oct. 20.
Shaw is coming off a 249-yard, two-touchdown performance against Missouri in which he completed 20 consecutive passes. He threw for a career-high 311 yards and four touchdowns against Kentucky last season.
South Carolina’s defense has given up just three touchdowns this season -- tied with Alabama for the best mark in the SEC -- and is allowing opponents just 67.0 yards per game rushing. That’ll be a tough matchup for UF RB Mike Gillislee, who is second in the SEC in rushing (402 yards).
Towson (2-1) at LSU (4-0), 7 p.m.
The Tigers will win this game easily and it should be a chance for QB Zach Mettenberger to finally get going. He hasn’t been impressive so far this season, which is a concern because he was supposed to be a considerable upgrade from the Jarrett Lee/Jordan Jefferson combo.
Mettenberger is averaging only 194.5 yards per game passing and his pass efficiency rating of 147.9 is 11th in the SEC behind guys like Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace and Texas A&M freshman Johnny Manziel. The Tigers are averaging more yards passing this season than last, but they still have not thrown for 200 yards in a game.
Mettenberger has thrown four touchdowns but he has also thrown two red-zone interceptions and he fumbled twice in the first quarter of last week’s 12-10 road victory over Auburn.
In Mettenberger’s defense, he has been victimized by several drops -- including two last week -- and the pass protection has been inconsistent because of the loss of LT Chris Faulk to a season-ending knee injury. Josh Dworaczyk moved over from guard and has struggled somewhat, particularly last week against Auburn.
That’s encouraging for a Florida defensive front that has not been able to mount a consistent pass rush. UF has a league-low five sacks (tied with Tennessee and Mississippi State).
Missouri (2-2) at Central Florida (2-1), noon
Another quarterback who was supposed to be putting up better numbers is Missouri’s James Franklin.
Franklin is averaging 164.0 yards per game passing and has thrown just three touchdown passes in three games. Granted, he hurt his throwing shoulder against Georgia on Sept. 8 and sat out the Arizona State game the following week, but he’s still experiencing pain when he throws, and he admitted earlier this week that he’s lost some of his confidence.
What Franklin is finding out is that success in the SEC doesn’t come as easily as some of his teammates said it would (WR T.J. Moe in particular). Franklin averaged 220.4 yards per game passing and had 3,846 yards of total offense in the Big 12 last season.
Franklin has run for just 41 yards on 70 carries this season. He had 260 yards on 72 carries through his first four games last season.
It’s going to be rough transition for the Tigers to the SEC, and they can’t have a quarterback with a confidence crisis. That’s why Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is being so effusive in his support of Franklin.
Missouri needs Franklin to play like he did last season to have any chance of success in the SEC, especially in hostile road environments like Florida on Nov. 3.
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