Florida Gators: Garrett Gilbert

SEC Saturday roundup

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
7:01
AM ET
There won't be any BCS implications in today's marquee SEC games -- so long as the big favorites in a couple of traditionally important divisional matchups take care of business.

No. 6 LSU (3-0) and No. 19 Florida (1-1) are both double-digit favorites over Auburn (3-0) and Tennessee (2-1), respectively. And both have controlled the recent history of series that have been much more competitive in the past.

Formerly THE most important annual game in the SEC East, Florida-Tennessee has become less interesting in recent seasons now that the Gators have won the last eight meetings, with only two of those games being decided by fewer than 10 points. Likewise, LSU has won five of the last six against Auburn, although the games have typically been more competitive.

We'll learn a lot more tonight about whether a last-minute win against Mississippi State last Saturday was a sign that Auburn is on the way back. The last two times Auburn visited Baton Rouge, it lost by 21 points (2009) and 35 points (2011), which was the biggest win by either team in series history. Tiger Stadium is a notoriously difficult place for the road team to win, so Gus Malzahn's Tigers certainly face long odds if they are to remain undefeated by the end of the night.

Meanwhile, Florida has been sulking for two weeks after repeatedly choking in the red zone against Miami and Tennessee has had a week to stew over its blowout loss to Oregon last Saturday. Only three Eastern Division teams have played a conference game yet, so today's winner in Gainesville will take a big step toward contending in the division.

Butch Jones' Vols could prove a lot about themselves by stealing a win in The Swamp -- and they'll have a chance if Florida doesn't clean up its act on offense. This will be a big game for Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel to begin progressing toward the more consistent play that Will Muschamp and Florida's coaches expected from him this season.

Those are the only two league games this week, with the rest of the SEC schedule featuring nonconference matchups that carry varying levels of interest (Vanderbilt AT UMass? What went into that decision?). Here are a couple more that could carry some intrigue:

Arkansas (3-0) at Rutgers (2-1) is perhaps the most interesting measuring-stick game outside of league play this week. The Scarlet Knights' 35-26 win in Fayetteville came in the middle of the Razorbacks' 1-4 start of the season -- a stretch that also included a 52-0 loss to Alabama and 58-10 defeat against Texas A&M -- and helped lead to Bret Bielema's hiring as Arkansas' head coach. It has been so far, so good for Bielema at Arkansas, with the Razorbacks beating three overmatched nonconference foes behind the running back duo of Alex Collins (second in the SEC with 139.3 rushing yards per game) and Jonathan Williams (third with 131.0).

Today will provide their toughest test yet -- their first game outside of Arkansas and a matchup against a team that has reached a bowl in seven of the last eight seasons. If Arkansas wins again today, a bowl bid becomes a much more likely possibility despite a murderous conference schedule that starts with a visit from Texas A&M next week.

And if the scoreboard at Kyle Field is still functional after the 91 points from last week's game against Alabama, SMU (1-1) at No. 10 Texas A&M (2-1) might place a further strain on its electrical supply. Texas A&M possesses the nation's fourth-highest-scoring offense at 53 points per game and should have little difficulty moving the ball against Saturday's visitors. The problem, though, is that the Aggies haven't shown an ability to stop anyone on defense. SMU is averaging just 27 points per game, but A&M has given up an average of 36 ppg to Rice, Sam Houston State and Alabama, good for 107th nationally.

SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert is third nationally in total offense, averaging 393.5 yards per game -- 352.5 through the air, which ranks fourth nationally. Defending Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel (379 ypg) is fifth in total offense, with 328 of his yards coming via the pass.

We fully expect Texas A&M to keep lighting up the scoreboard, but the Aggies might have to earn a stop to win one of these shootouts. They haven't demonstrated much of an ability to do that yet.

Here's today's lineup:
Vanderbilt at UMass, Noon ET, ESPNews
North Texas at Georgia, 12:21 p.m., SEC TV
Arkansas at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Tennessee at Florida 3:30 p.m., CBS
SMU at Texas A&M, 7 p.m., ESPNU
Colorado State at Alabama, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Troy at Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m., FSN
Auburn at LSU, 7:45 p.m., ESPN
Missouri at Indiana, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network

SEC Week 4: Did You Know?

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
10:00
AM ET
There aren't quite as many marquee games this weekend around the SEC, but we still have a couple of divisional rivalry games -- namely Tennessee-Florida and Auburn-LSU -- to look forward to, plus a couple of intriguing nonconference matchups. Let's take a look at some statistical notes from around the league with an assist from ESPN's Stats and Information group.
  • LSU's Zach Mettenberger was hardly a star-caliber quarterback last season, posting the third-lowest Total QBR (39.3) of all qualified quarterbacks in the SEC (50 is average on the 1-100 QBR scale). He's been anything but a failure through three games of his senior season, notching the biggest increase for any qualified FBS quarterback in the last two seasons. His 52.3-point increase this season gives him a 91.6 Total QBR that ranks eighth nationally. Missouri's James Franklin has posted the third-biggest increase, jumping 45.4 points to 84.2 (20th nationally).
  • Conversely, some of Florida's offensive woes can be attributed to quarterback Jeff Driskel, whose Total QBR inside an opponent's 20 (1.5) is the second lowest in the nation among quarterbacks with at least 10 action plays. Driskel is one of five qualified quarterbacks with more interceptions (two) than touchdowns (one) inside the red zone. Florida's three turnovers against Miami were its most red zone turnovers in a game in the last 10 seasons. The Gators have already matched or exceeded their total of red zone turnovers from each of the past three seasons.
  • It's no secret that Auburn coach Gus Malzahn wants his hurry-up, no-huddle offense to operate at an accelerated pace. The Tigers have already improved substantially over their snail's pace from a season ago, when they were the third-slowest offense in the nation with a play every 30 seconds. This season, Auburn is running a play every 23 seconds, which is 1 second faster than the FBS average. The Tigers are averaging 440.3 yards per game (135.3 more than last year, when they were last in the SEC), converting 42 percent on third down (11 percent better than last year, when they were last in the league) and scoring touchdowns on 24 percent of their drives (up 8 percent from last year's SEC-low percentage).
  • Despite last week's blowout loss at Oregon, Tennessee has enjoyed some success moving the ball on the ground. The Volunteers have gained 384 of their 733 rushing yards before contact and are averaging 2.8 yards before contact per carry. In Florida, the Vols face their toughest run defense test yet, however. The Gators have allowed 7 rushing yards before contact on 44 carries through two games.
  • Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's 562 yards of total offense last week against Alabama rank second in school and SEC history, trailing only his 576-yard performance last season against Louisiana Tech. Manziel is responsible for the top three total-offense games in league history.
  • Speaking of Manziel, last week's shootout against Alabama will certainly not be the last time the Aggies play in a high-scoring game. The next one could come this weekend when SMU visits College Station. SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert is third nationally in total offense (393.5 ypg), two slots ahead of Manziel (379).
  • A week after entering the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2009, Ole Miss jumped from No. 25 to No. 21 after last weekend's win at Texas. The Rebels, who are idle this week, are 3-0 for the first time since 1989 with a visit to No. 1 Alabama coming next week.
  • Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is one touchdown pass away from becoming the second quarterback in SEC history to toss 100 in his college career. Murray is 15 away from Danny Wuerffel's career record of 114. He should catch up to former Georgia star David Greene's SEC passing yardage record of 11,528 yards soon, as well. Murray is 805 yards behind Greene with 10,723 in his career.
  • Both of this weekend's marquee SEC games rank among the top 10 closest head-to-head SEC series since 2000 (that have been played at least 10 times). The average margin of victory in Auburn-LSU in that time period is 12.38 points, with seven of those games being decided by nine points or less. Florida has held the advantage in recent years against Tennessee with eight straight wins, but the average margin of victory in that series since 2000 is just 12.54 points.
  • Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron is approaching former Crimson Tide star Jay Barker's SEC career winning percentage record. Barker went 35-2-1 (93.4 percent) between 1991-94. McCarron can improve to 28-2 (93.3) if the Crimson Tide defeats Colorado State this weekend.
  • Quick, name the two SEC defenses that have allowed the fewest yards per game thus far. If you guessed Florida, you'd be correct. The Gators are third nationally with 208.5 yards allowed per game. The other team might be more of a surprise. Entering Saturday's game at Rutgers, Arkansas ranks sixth nationally by allowing 253 ypg.
  • Four players across the country have notched an FBS-high 4.5 sacks thus far. Two of them are from the SEC: Arkansas' Chris Smith and Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith, whose team is off this weekend.

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