Florida Gators: Cam Cameron

SEC lunchtime links

November, 6, 2013
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We're slowly pushing toward the weekend. Here are some links from around the SEC to get you through the afternoon.

LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and Zach Mettenberger are working to get the quarterback back to the form he displayed early in the season.

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has enjoyed some memorable moments against LSU.

Alabama coach Nick Saban's agent told Texas regents of the “special pressure” he feels in coaching the Crimson Tide.

Time for toughness as Alabama and LSU prepare to meet.

Maty Mauk says he's ready to hand the reins of Missouri's offense back to James Franklin.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn promises no more “questionable issues” in wake of the controversy over a player facing accusations that he faked an injury against Arkansas.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier plans to stay put with a number of starters returning to this young team in 2014.

What is Johnny Manziel worth to Texas A&M football? Aggie officials backtrack following an article where they minimized his impact.

Once the team's strength which Florida relied upon to keep it in games, its defense is getting off to progressively slower starts lately.

Saturday's game against Appalachian State will be Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray's 50th career start.

Mississippi State is in the middle of a daunting stretch of the schedule where it must play three ranked teams in a row.

Ole Miss can clinch bowl eligibility for the second straight season by beating Arkansas on Saturday.

Kentucky's secondary will have its hands full against Missouri's big receivers.

Tennessee's offensive line impresses Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.

Vanderbilt opened its football indoor practice facility on Tuesday.
It's easy to look at LSU's success offensively this season and believe that Cam Cameron has the Midas touch. The night-and-day difference has been that startling. The eye-popping numbers -- 488.7 yards per game, 45.5 points per game -- are leaps and bounds better than they've been in years past.

But truth be told, Cameron walked into the perfect situation when he was signed on as LSU's offensive coordinator in February. He didn't have to overhaul anything. He didn't arrive in Baton Rouge twirling a magic wand in one hand and a spellbook of plays in another. The parts were already in place. He just had to get them running efficiently.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Zach Mettenberger is only one of several worries for defenses facing LSU.
Les Miles would have told you so if you'd only asked. LSU's often eccentric head coach would have you believe he envisioned this kind of turnaround when he hired Cameron.

"I felt like it was just exactly the right pieces or factors to come together," Miles told reporters on Monday. "You have a veteran quarterback that can really throw it. You have a veteran receiving corps that can really run routes and receive the ball. Yeah, I really did [see it coming]. I don't underestimate our offense, nor do I underestimate Cam."

Whether you believe Miles' premonition is one thing. But understanding the root of LSU's offensive turnaround is cut and dried. What it comes down to is simple: balance. Cameron didn't bring an innovative scheme or better personnel with him, he simply unpacked his bags and used what was already there more effectively than his predecessors. His deft touch was golden, but not glaringly so.

LSU's scheme, as best summed up by its leading receiver, is downright elementary. It's old school in that it operates mostly under center and uses two or more running backs 72 percent of the time.

"You know, you can't run without passing and you can't pass without running," Odell Beckham Jr. said after LSU thumped Mississippi State 59-26 this past weekend. "We have great running backs in the backfield, and that's a threat. They have to respect that. If they load the box up we're going to throw the ball and then if they back off a little bit we're going to break big runs."

If Beckham's explanation seemed coy, it wasn't meant to be. Stopping LSU's offense isn't as simple as stopping the run or the pass. You can't blitz your way out of it or scheme against any one player in particular. As a defensive coordinator, you're basically left to hope for the best.

You can't double-team Beckham. If you do, Jarvis Landry will get you. The two receivers are first and second in receptions per game in the SEC. Beckham leads the country in all-purpose yards while Landry is tied for fourth in touchdown receptions. You can try playing off coverage and they'll burn you just the same. Mississippi State tried, playing 6 and 7 yards off of Beckham all night, and he still managed 179 yards and two touchdowns.

You can try playing two safeties back and shading them toward Beckham and Landry for help over the top, but that won't work either. If you leave only seven in the box, you're likely to regret it. With LSU's stable of running backs, they'll make you pay. Jeremy Hill, a 235-pound bowling ball of power and quickness, is second nationally with nine rushing touchdowns. When he leaves the game, Alfred Blue comes on, averaging 5 yards or more on 51.4 percent of his carries.

If you do everything right and somehow double-cover Beckham and Landry and stop the run, then you're still left with the matter of Zach Mettenberger. There might be no bigger turnaround in college football than LSU's senior quarterback. Mettenberger, thanks to the tutelage of Cameron, is first in the SEC and fifth nationally in raw QBR (86.7).

Mettenberger is fitting balls into windows that make scouts blush. The "oohs" from three pro scouts sitting next to me were audible even over the clanging of thousands of cowbells in Starkville, Miss., on Saturday night. You can do everything right and he'll still get you. The Bulldogs' defense played well and he still managed to complete a ridiculous 25 of 29 passes for 340 yards, defying blanket coverage and pass-rushers nipping at his heels.

"When you play LSU you have to prepare for the run," Mettenberger said matter-of-factly. "[Mississippi State] came out hyped and they did a really good job executing their run defense. But again that left holes in the secondary and we were able to execute and really soften them up for the run game."

Even LSU defensive tackle Ego Ferguson had to laugh.

"I told Coach Cam, 'What did you do that for?'" said Ferguson on LSU hanging 59 points and 563 yards of offense. "It was a great game, man. I've never seen an offense like that before. Zach Mettenberger is playing great. I call him old Drew Bledsoe."

And like those old Patriots teams, the theory on offense is balance. LSU doesn't run to set up the pass and it doesn't pass to set up the run. Cameron isn't using a gimmicky scheme. Instead, defenses make a choice: Would you like Hill and Blue to beat you, or Mettenberger, Beckham and Landry?

Pick your poison.

Florida will have to when it travels to Baton Rouge on Saturday. The 17th-ranked Gators have allowed the lowest Total QBR (13.0) of any defense and the second fewest rushing yards per game (65.0).

"They’re going to get movement in the run game, they do a nice job in protection, but again, balance is the word you’re looking for," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "You have to try and make this a one-dimensional game as best you can and understand they’re very effective at throwing the football, and that’s where they’ve hurt some people."

SEC lunchtime links

September, 16, 2013
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What a wild weekend of football it was. But now, we turn the page to Week 4 of the college football season and look forward to a new slate of games in the SEC.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
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Here are five things we learned on another crazy Saturday in the SEC:

East should be wild: Just as we all expected, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina each have a loss after all of two weeks. Georgia jumped into the division lead with its 41-30 win against South Carolina on Saturday, but the division's power trio all figure to hang around throughout the fall. They all have demonstrated glaring weaknesses that make a second loss possible for each of them -- and even if Georgia has the lead now, it also faces perhaps the most difficult league schedule of the three expected front-runners. It should be yet another memorable race in the East.

Pay attention, Tide: Johnny Manziel certainly looked like a Heisman Trophy contender in passing for 403 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another in Texas A&M's 65-28 thrashing of FCS squad Sam Houston State. But the Aggies' porous defense has to be a major concern for Kevin Sumlin, with Alabama's stable of running backs on tap next week. Sam Houston's Timothy Flanders rushed for 170 yards and scored three touchdowns against A&M's depleted defense. Several Aggies defenders should be back from suspensions next week against Alabama, which should help. But after allowing 450 yards per game in the first two games, the Aggies will have to get a lot better in a week's time.

[+] EnlargeShayon Green, Jeff Driskel
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesJeff Driskel and the Gators offense struggled in a 21-16 loss to Miami on Saturday.
More of the same at Florida: Jeff Driskel and Florida's offense still appear to be the middling bunch they were in 2012. In Saturday's 21-16 loss at Miami, Driskel passed for a career-high 291 yards, but the Gators turned it over four times inside the Miami 20 in another bumbling performance. Florida's defense surrendered just 212 yards and 10 first downs, but the offense still hasn't found consistent playmakers, and that was clearly evident Saturday.

Mettenberger for Heisman: It looks like the offseason talk about LSU making better use of Zach Mettenberger's powerful right arm under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was no joke. Mettenberger set a new school record with five touchdown passes in Saturday's 56-17 win against UAB. After passing for 282 yards against UAB -- with Odell Beckham Jr. grabbing five balls for 136 yards and three scores -- and 251 last week against TCU, Mettenberger has eclipsed the 250-yard mark in both of the first two games. He did so only three times last season.

Welcome back: Through two weeks, seven SEC programs are off to a 2-0 start. Included in that bunch are four of the five teams that failed to reach a bowl game last season: Auburn, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas. Enjoy it while it lasts, though, guys. Tennessee faces Oregon and Florida in the next two games. Auburn gets Mississippi State and LSU in the next two weeks. Arkansas draws Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama in a four-week stretch before long. And Missouri faces Vanderbilt, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in October alone. In other words, the road's going to get bumpy soon once they jump into conference play, and they can't feast on the Samfords, Arkansas States and Toledos of the college football world.

SEC lunchtime links

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
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Most of the SEC coaches spoke to the media on Tuesday. Read all about what's going on around the league this week.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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Ready or not, it's here. The start of the college football season is upon us with all of its promise and potential.

Throughout the SEC, there's a sense of new beginnings, of hope, of the fresh start so many programs have been longing for. Gus Malzahn will lead Auburn for the first time as its head coach, Bret Bielema and Butch Jones will coach their first games in the SEC at Arkansas and Tennessee, respectively, and Mark Stoops will take the first steps in rebuilding a Kentucky program that's struggled historically.

Everyone is on an even keel today, but that all changes when the lines are painted and the football is teed up for the start of the season. So as you get ready for all that Week 1 has to offer, keep an eye on these few things:

1. Return of the champs: Alabama has all the ingredients to make another run at a national title. AJ McCarron and T.J. Yeldon are Heisman Trophy contenders, and the defense is once again littered with potential All-Americans. With a league-best 16 players chosen to the Coaches' Preseason All-SEC Team, there's no doubting the talent assembled in Tuscaloosa, Ala. But can Nick Saban fend off complacency again and help his team meet its full potential? That remains to be seen, though a season opener against Virginia Tech is a good place to start. The Hokies are a three-touchdown underdog that Alabama could easily overlook with a bye week and Texas A&M to follow. Will overconfidence get the best of the Tide? If UA comes out with anything less than 100 percent effort, that could signal trouble for the road ahead.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsAaron Murray will aim to lead Georgia past Clemson in the Bulldogs' opener.
2. An early title test for Georgia: Mark Richt's Bulldogs won't get a chance to test the waters before jumping in headlong this season, as Clemson awaits in Game 1. Never mind letting Aaron Murray and his talented tandem of tailbacks get their bearings, and never mind allowing the revamped defense to find its stride; Georgia will encounter its first obstacle on the road to the national championship right away. Tajh Boyd and the Tigers offense are prolific -- and dangerous -- averaging 512 yards per game a season ago, which was good enough for ninth in the country. And while there's no doubting Georgia's ability on offense, there are some serious questions on the other side of the ball. After all, 10 of the 22 players listed on Georgia's two-deep depth chart have never played a down of FBS football.

3. Can LSU's offense turn the corner?: There have been glimpses of potential, but LSU's offense has never reached its full potential under Les Miles. The defense has been great, sure, but when it's come to scoring points, the Tigers left something to be desired. Not having the right quarterback had something to do with that, though, but this season, that excuse and all others won't be enough as Zach Mettenberger enters his senior season under center and new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron takes control. LSU will still line up and play power football, which it has always done well. The passing game, though, could use some spark, and Miles hopes Cameron is the guy to light that fire, starting with the season opener against TCU. Just because the Horned Frogs come from the defensively challenged Big 12 doesn't mean coach Gary Patterson's squad can't play ball. TCU has long been SEC-like on defense with playmakers like defensive lineman Devonte Fields and cornerback Jason Verrett. They'll get after Mettenberger and give LSU fans an early look at what the Tigers' offense is truly capable of.

4. Florida seeking playmakers: The Gators' woes on offense have been well documented. After all, Florida hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiver in almost a decade. Since Tim Tebow left, there hasn't been a lot of chomp to the Gators' bite. For all of Jeff Driskel's faults as a young quarterback, it was hard to figure out exactly who he was supposed to get the football to last season. There was no Percy Harvin to be found. While there doesn't appear to be an All-American brewing at wide receiver now, this season should be better. Losing Matt Jones for the season opener hurts, but it should give other players a chance to step up and make plays. With a date with in-state rival Miami looming, coming out with a bang against Toledo could serve as the springboard to bigger and better things in 2013.

5. Which Johnny Football will it be?: It's only Rice, but Johnny Manziel needs to come out and set the tone right away for what kind of season he hopes to have. The Aggies’ success depends on it. After an offseason filled with turmoil, it's time for all of College Station to turn the page. We've heard time and time again that it will get better when Manziel can put aside the distractions and focus solely on football. Now, he has to prove it. If he really is tired of the college life and ready to move on to the NFL, he'll have to show he's capable of handling the spotlight and performing on the football field. Veterans like Luke Luke Joeckel, Ryan Swope and Damontre Moore are gone. For better or worse, it's Manziel's team, and the pressure is on him now more than ever.

SEC's lunchtime links

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
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Game week has arrived. No more waiting for the action because it all starts this week. Here are some links from around the SEC to whet your football appetite as game day nears:

SEC lunchtime links

August, 7, 2013
8/07/13
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Here's a few stories from around the SEC to get you through your lunch hour.
  • Auburn fans can still celebrate victories at Toomer's Corner now that the city has installed a temporary wire structure. The city removed the poisoned oak trees in April.
  • What do SEC coaches think of the other teams in the conference? Athlon asked them anonymously, and some of their answers will surprise you.
  • Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon has no idea how fast he is, but that's okay because he'd rather run somebody over than try and out-run them.
  • Auburn has a tough, physical runner of its own: Cameron Artis-Payne, a junior college transfer who ran for 117 yards in the spring game.
  • LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger is encouraged by the bond he has developed with new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who has previously worked with Joe Flacco and Drew Brees.
  • Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith says he considered surgery for his injured shoulder in the spring but went with constant rehab and conditioning instead.
  • Tennessee receivers coach Zach Azzanni says he has no problem playing freshmen over upperclassmen if they're the best option.
  • South Carolina tight ends Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams will have plenty of opportunities to make plays this season.
  • Having a good season isn't good enough for Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy.
  • The Associated Press' Jim Litzke wonders if Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is in over his head.
  • Georgia coach Mark Richt has no intentions of opening practice.
  • It takes a while to list all the positions that Florida's Trey Burton plays. He's happy to do it.
It’s Rankings Week at GatorNation. Every day we’ll rank some aspect of the Florida football program heading into the 2013 season. Today we’re ranking the Football Bowl Subdivision teams on the Gators’ schedule. On Tuesday we’ll rank the top 10 offensive players Florida will face in the fall.

Ranking the schedule

1. Georgia (Nov. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla.): Sure, the Bulldogs lost nine starters on defense, but Aaron Murray, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley are coming back, and that makes them one of the SEC’s best teams. Georgia scored a school-record 529 points last season behind those three, and the offense figures to be explosive again in 2013. It’ll need to be to carry a rebuilt defense.

Chase of Alabama resumes this spring

February, 25, 2013
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SabanAP Photo/Chris O'MearaAlabama coach Nick Saban hoisting a national title trophy has become an extremely familiar sight.
Change is inevitable in the world of SEC football.

It’s as much a part of the league as fierce rivalries that divide families, championship teams that rise to legendary status and tradition-soaked Saturdays at such iconic venues as Tiger Stadium, Bryant-Denny Stadium and most recently, Kyle Field.

Four new head coaches will take to the field this spring in the SEC -- Bret Bielema at Arkansas, Butch Jones at Tennessee, Gus Malzahn at Auburn and Mark Stoops at Kentucky.

Of the 14 head coaches in the SEC, eight have been in their jobs for two seasons or fewer.

They say that NFL stands for “Not For Long.” Well, the same could be said about the SEC.

The one thing that hasn’t changed, at least recently, is that Alabama keeps on winning national championships. The Crimson Tide have won two in a row and three of the past four.

Their 42-14 rout of Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship placed the Tide in rarefied air. Not since Notre Dame in the late 1940s had one team won three outright national titles in a four-year span.

The worst-kept secret in college football is that the SEC has produced the past seven national champions. That drumbeat has become all too familiar for everybody outside SEC Country.

But within the league, an equally familiar question is beginning to circulate with increasing fervor: Can anybody catch Alabama?

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsEven South Carolina's Steve Spurrier concedes that Alabama has been college football's best team in big games in recent seasons.
And probably more precisely, how wide is the gap between Alabama and everybody else in the SEC?

Back on national signing day, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier probably summed it up best.

“We’re all chasing them, everybody in college football is … but they can be beat,” Spurrier said. “I know we’re not going to out-recruit them here at South Carolina, but it doesn’t always get down to [recruiting]. Sometimes, you just have to play better than the other guy, and Alabama has been super in the big games.”

That’s the challenge for the other 13 SEC teams, figuring out a way to unseat the Crimson Tide.

It starts all over again this spring. Georgia and Texas A&M are the first to crank up workouts this Saturday. South Carolina is up next the following Tuesday.

Speaking of the Aggies, who knocked off the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa last year, they get Alabama at home the third week of the season.

Both teams face similar questions this spring, starting with retooling a pair of offensive lines that were two of the best in the country a year ago.

Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel left early for the NFL, but Jake Matthews elected to return for his senior season and will move from right to left tackle. The Aggies also have to replace underrated senior center Patrick Lewis. Cedric Ogbuehi is expected to move from guard to right tackle.

Alabama is losing three starters in its offensive line, including three-year starter Chance Warmack and four-year starter Barrett Jones. But Cyrus Kouandjio returns at left tackle. Kouandjio and Matthews will be two of the best left tackles in college football next season.

If you don’t think offensive line play is crucial in the SEC, go back and find an offensive line on any of the past seven national championship teams that wasn’t outstanding, and in most cases, didn’t feature a couple of future pros.

The quarterback crop should again be strong in the SEC, and Alabama and Texas A&M have two of the best. The Aggies' Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy in 2012 with one of the best individual seasons in college football history, while the Tide’s AJ McCarron threw 30 touchdown passes and only three interceptions and led the country in passing efficiency.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia will certainly have high hopes in 2013 with Aaron Murray returning to lead the offense.
Right behind McCarron in passing efficiency last season was Georgia’s Aaron Murray, who returns for his senior season and is on track to break virtually every SEC career passing record.

One of the other interesting storylines this spring involving quarterbacks is at South Carolina, where Dylan Thompson will get the first-team work with Connor Shaw rehabilitating his surgically repaired left foot.

Nobody in the SEC has a better one-two punch at quarterback than the Gamecocks with Shaw and Thompson.

Quarterback will be a central theme at Auburn this spring as well, as Malzahn reintroduces his hurry-up, no-huddle offense and tries to find the guy best suited to run it. Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace will get first shot until three new signees arrive in the summer.

Ole Miss and Vanderbilt both will be looking to continue their momentum. The Commodores closed the season with seven straight wins and won nine games for the first time since 1915. They have to replace a couple of key leaders, namely quarterback Jordan Rodgers, running back Zac Stacy, offensive lineman Ryan Seymour and cornerback Trey Wilson.

The Rebels, who won seven games in Hugh Freeze’s first season, have one of the top signing classes in the country arriving this summer and return most of their key personnel from last season’s 7-6 team.

If you’re looking for new faces, the practice field at LSU will feature plenty of them. The Tigers lost 10 underclassmen to the NFL draft, and six of those were starters on defense.

This spring will also be Cam Cameron’s debut as LSU’s offensive coordinator. Getting that offense “fixed” will be paramount for the Tigers, especially after losing so much talent on defense.

There are always new stars and new leaders emerging in the spring.

This time a year ago, Damontre Moore, Dee Milliner, Mike Gillislee, Jordan Matthews, Tre Mason, Ace Sanders and Manziel weren’t exactly household names.

We’ll find out who the next wave of those guys are over the next several months.

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