Florida Gators: Morgan Newton

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida nearly doubled its season total in sacks after taking down LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger four times in a 14-6 victory on Saturday.

Linebackers Jon Bostic and Lerentee McCray, safety Josh Evans and defensive tackle Damien Jacobs each recorded a sack. The Gators had only five sacks in their first four games, but UF coach Will Muschamp said that was more a result of the style of offenses the Gators faced in the first four games than a lack of production from the pass rushers.

[+] EnlargeLerentee McCray
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida senior buck linebacker Lerentee McCray collects one of the Gators' four sacks against LSU.
Bowling Green and Texas A&M were teams that used short, quick timing passes that didn’t allow enough time for UF’s rushers to get to the quarterback. Kentucky used a rolling pocket to keep the rush off backup QB Morgan Newton. The only team that used a seven-step drop and wanted to throw the ball vertically down the field was Tennessee -- and the Gators sacked QB Tyler Bray three times.

"I think we’ve pressured pretty well but we haven’t faced a team other than Tennessee that throws the ball vertically down the field," Muschamp said. "We can talk about pressuring all you want, [but] you’re not going to get there [against those type of teams] in most situations. We’ve been pressuring them but we’ve been more effective this game."

Bostic and Evans’ sacks came on blitzes. McCray was able to beat the tackle around the edge, and Jacobs’ sack was the result of him helping collapse the pocket in the middle.

SEC power rankings: Week 5

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
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Another week and it still remains pretty clear Alabama is top dog in the SEC and nationally.

But has our No. 2 team fallen after a sloppy win on the road?

1. Alabama (4-0; LW: 1): I feel like a broken record, but Alabama dominated yet again Saturday. It's hard to find any real weaknesses in this team. Although the backups did give up a touchdown to Florida Atlantic, so there's that.

2. LSU (4-0; LW: 2): The Tigers looked pretty sloppy offensively in a tough 12-10 win against Auburn Saturday. LSU probably will have its name dragged through the mud after its play this weekend, but all good teams have those hiccup games. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger has to play better, but the defense still looks extremely dominant. The goal now is to not let that hiccup bleed into future games.

3. Georgia (4-0; LW: 3): This Bulldogs offense has been really fun to watch through the first four weeks. Quarterback Aaron Murray has looked like a real Heisman candidate at times, while freshman running back Todd Gurley just gets better every time he gets on the field. Georgia completely overwhelmed Vanderbilt and heads into a fun showdown with Tennessee with a load of confidence.

4. South Carolina (4-0; LW: 4): Connor Shaw has proven he's a true player for the Gamecocks. He battled through a hairline fracture in his throwing shoulder to complete 20-of-21 passes in a blowout win against Missouri. You're starting to see more balance from this Gamecocks offense and that will be very important as SEC play continues. The defensive front is also getting stronger each week.

5. Florida (4-0; LW: 5): The Gators seem to be growing up with each week. After back-to-back tough road wins, Florida shut out Kentucky at home and now has two weeks to prepare for LSU. This really has become more of the blue-collar team Will Muschamp wants, but we'll really find out how tough Florida is when LSU ventures into the Swamp.

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Film study: Gators vs. Kentucky 

September, 23, 2012
9/23/12
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here’s an analysis of three key plays in Florida’s 38-0 victory over Kentucky on Saturday.

Jaylen Watkins’ interception return

The score: Florida leading 10-0 with less than nine minutes remaining in the first half.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida didn’t need to rally from a halftime deficit this week, instead rolling to an easy victory over Kentucky on Saturday. Here are the good and the bad from the Gators’ 38-0 shutout of the Wildcats at Florida Field.

THREE UP

1. Turnovers: Florida’s coaching staff has been harping on forcing more turnovers throughout the offseason and the Gators intercepted UK QB Morgan Newton three times. Jaylen Watkins returned one for a touchdown. UF could have had two more interceptions but couldn’t come down with the ball. UF also locked down UK WRs La’Rod King and Aaron Boyd. The two entered the game averaging a combined 13.7 catches per game. King caught three passes and Boyd none.

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Heading into the spring, the SEC had a few fun quarterback races to watch in both divisions. Some of those battles have come to an end, while a few still remain.

Let's take a look at each one from the spring and see where they currently stand:

AUBURN

The matchup: Sophomore Kiehl Frazier left the spring with the edge because he took most of the reps, as a sore shoulder sidelined junior Clint Moseley. This fall, freshman Jonathan Wallace entered the race and has continued to impress Auburn's staff.

The winner is: Frazier has the most athleticism and has felt much more comfortable throwing the ball with help from first-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. While coach Gene Chizik continues to say the race is even between Frazier and Moseley, who is still dealing with shoulder soreness, we'll go with Frazier because of overall talent. He can make more plays with his feet and if his arm really does improve, he could be a solid dual-threat QB in this league.

FLORIDA

The matchup: This two-horse race between Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel has been intense since the spring. Brissett has had a little bit of the edge because of his game experience last year, but Driskel has made tremendous strides under the direction of new offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

The winner is: Will Muschamp continues to say the race is dead even. Driskel's bruised shoulder didn't even complicate the race. It doesn't sound like anyone really knows who has outperformed the other, but the concensus is the team and the coaches can win with either. With that said, Brissett has more experience and we assume is completely healthy, so we'll go with him, but both should play in the opener.

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Earlier, we ranked all 14 quarterback groups in the SEC. Now, it's time to rank the top 10 SEC quarterbacks heading into the 2012 season.

Again, we are looking at overall talent, game-changing ability and experience. We also looked at past performances and projections for 2012.

Here are our top 10 SEC quarterbacks:

[+] EnlargeTyler Wilson
AP Photo/David QuinnArkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson passed for more than 3,600 yards and 24 touchdowns last season.
1. Tyler Wilson, Sr., Arkansas: He could have easily left for the NFL after passing for more than 3,600 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. His big-time arm and incredible toughness weren't too shabby either. While his decision-making came into question sometimes last season, Wilson made tremendous strides this spring and should be an even smarter passer this fall.

2. Aaron Murray, RJr., Georgia: Murray has a chance to own a few more school and SEC records before his time at Georgia is up, but he does have to get over his turnover issues. Murray has some of the best technique and mechanics around, and when he's on and focused, he is one of the most talented passers out there.

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SEC post-spring power rankings

May, 18, 2012
5/18/12
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We're putting spring behind us and looking toward the fall with our post-spring power rankings:

1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs, as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.

2. Alabama: While the defending national champs saw a lot of "new" faces on defense this spring, coach Nick Saban left happy with where his players were -- but not satisfied. There is still work to be done, especially in the secondary, where the Tide must replace three starters. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at linebacker, but the coaches were impressed with how Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard played this spring. Some think Hubbard, a redshirt sophomore, could be Bama's top pass-rusher. Offensively, quarterback AJ McCarron is back, more mature and surrounded by a very veteran line. He has a group of younger receivers to throw to, but has at least four quality running backs. Alabama's road to repeating is tougher, with games at Arkansas and LSU.

3. South Carolina: A healthy Marcus Lattimore (knee) at RB makes South Carolina an even better contender for the SEC East crown. His status is uncertain, but the pieces around him are pretty impressive. Quarterback Connor Shaw had an impressive spring, and looks ready to be the passer coach Steve Spurrier wants him to be. The defense is once again stacked, especially up front with ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. There are questions in the secondary, with two new, young starters in Victor Hampton (cornerback) and Brison Williams (safety), while senior Akeem Auguste returns after missing last season with a foot injury. Still, Spurrier is chirping about his SEC counterparts, so you know he thinks he's got a good team this year.

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SEC East post-spring notes

May, 9, 2012
5/09/12
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Now that you've seen some SEC West notes delivered by the SEC office, here are some SEC East notes for your viewing pleasure:

FLORIDA
  • Florida returns 10 starters on defense where the Gators ranked eighth nationally in total defense (299.5 yards per game) in 2011. The Gators ranked second in the nation in third-down defense in 2011, holding opponents to 48-for-176 (.273).
  • Florida returns 14 of its top 15 tacklers for the 2012 season, including leading tackler senior linebacker Jon Bostic, who tallied 94 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and three sacks. Also returning for the Gators are their second and third leading tacklers, junior safety Matt Elam who recorded 78 tackles, a team-leading 11 tackles for a loss and a team-high-tying two interceptions, and junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins who totaled 75 tackles and a team-best six pass break-ups.

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Spring preview: Eastern Division

February, 24, 2012
2/24/12
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Now that you've seen what to watch in the SEC Western Division, let's check out the East:

FLORIDA

Spring practice start date: March 14
Spring game: April 7

What to watch:

Finding offensive playmakers: Year 2 of the Will Muschamp era begins with the team trying to find someone who can make a few plays for this fall. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease has a host of unproven offensive talent to work with. Wide receiver Andre Debose was Florida's best deep threat last year, and the coaches raved about receiver Quinton Dunbar's potential, but neither was consistent enough in 2011. Maybe Florida can finally turn to bigger backs Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown in the playmaking department.

Toughening up the offensive line: The Gators' line struggled throughout the 2011 season. It wasn't always at 100 percent, but Florida's line also just wasn't tough enough -- mentally or physically. The Gators couldn't get the tough yards on the ground and didn't exactly protect quarterback John Brantley enough. The line should get a boost with early enrollees D.J. Humphries, who was the top offensive line prospect in the 2012 class, and Jessamen Dunker, but Florida will have to get improvement from players who return to a line that lost just one starter from last season.

Quarterback battle: Brantley is gone, leaving rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy. Brissett replaced Driskel as Florida's No. 2 quarterback last year, while Murphy has yet to take a college snap. Brissett and Driskel had plenty of down moments last fall but should get a chance to reinvent themselves this spring with new leadership and more practice reps. This spring will be extremely important for all three quarterbacks as they try to improve a position that struggled mightily the past two years.

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You've already seen Chris Low's to-do lists for the Western Division teams, so now it's time to check out what the East teams need to take care of before next fall:

FLORIDA
  • Two major areas new offensive coordinator Brent Pease needs to hit during his first offseason with the Gators is running back and wide receiver. Florida must find a downhill running back for Pease's offense, and a reliable go-to wide receiver -- two things Florida lacked in 2011.
  • With quarterback John Brantley graduating, Pease must find a new starting quarterback. That means developing rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel, who struggled in relief of Brantley at times last season, and Tyler Murphy, who has yet to take a snap.
  • Toughen up mentally and physically. The Gators ranked 89th nationally in penalties, and were called out by coach Will Muschamp as being too soft in his first season. Soft can't win in the SEC.

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Early 2012 SEC power rankings

January, 10, 2012
1/10/12
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We officially said goodbye to the 2011 season Monday night and crowned the Alabama Crimson Tide as college football's new champions. Now, it's time to shift our focus to 2012. Here's to hoping the Mayans were wrong:

1. Alabama: The defense will get hit the hardest by graduation and the NFL draft, but Alabama's offense should be better. While it's almost a forgone conclusion that junior running back Trent Richardson will declare for the NFL draft, Alabama returns a veteran offensive line, has a good set of up-and-coming receivers and has some pretty talented running backs to work with, including pounder Eddie Lacy. Oh, and that quarterback ain't too bad, either.

2. LSU: The Tigers might have come up short in the big one, but it's not like LSU is going anywhere. That defense that ranked second nationally was made up by a slew of youngsters. LSU returns double-digit starters next year, including most of its front seven. A major bright spot for this team is that former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger will now get his chance, and has skill that Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee lacked.

3. Georgia: The Bulldogs might return more starters next year than LSU. After surpassing expectations and challenging LSU for the SEC title, the Bulldogs should enter next fall as the favorites in the SEC East. Stud quarterback Aaron Murray returns and so do most of his weapons. With arguably the easiest schedule (again) in the SEC, Mark Richt will be expected to take his Dawgs back to Atlanta.

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Top surprises in the Eastern Division

December, 22, 2011
12/22/11
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Now that you've seen our SEC West surprises from the 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the surprises in the SEC East:

FLORIDA

The offense didn't take a step forward: Even though quarterback John Brantley appeared better suited for Charlie Weis' pro-style offense, the Gators didn't look much better after last year's ugly offensive output. Things looked better during the first four weeks, but the more SEC defenses the Gators saw, the worse they got. A complete turnaround wasn't expected, but improvement was and Florida just didn't have it.

Weis leaving for Kansas: Staying with the offensive theme, Florida received quite the surprise when Weis left Florida to take over as Kansas' head coach. People around the program were pretty surprised when they received the news, but it seemed especially odd considering how outspoken he was about staying at Florida for the long haul.

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