Georgia Bulldogs: Jordan Reed
It's only fitting that the best offensive line in college football would produce some of the most intriguing prospects in the NFL draft. Alabama will likely have three offensive linemen taken in the first few rounds in April, further proof of the talent that resided in Tuscaloosa this past season.
2. The SEC's dominance is still being challenged: Even though Alabama brought home the SEC's seventh straight BCS title, the SEC's perception is still being challenged. Social media has been buzzing with chants of "overrated" directed toward the SEC because Mississippi State, LSU and Florida all fell flat in their bowl games. Mississippi State lost by 14 to Northwestern, LSU lost to Clemson on a last-second field goal and Florida was run ragged by Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Heading into bowl season, Florida and LSU weren't expected to lose, but they got away from their ground games and paid for it dearly. Still, the SEC went 6-3 (.667) in bowl games, including Texas A&M's 41-13 rout of Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and Georgia and South Carolina downing Big Ten teams. Only the WAC (2-0) and C-USA (4-1) had better winning percentages, and neither had nearly as many bowl teams. So is the SEC down? Well, while the SEC took a couple of bad losses in bowl season, seven teams finished the year in the Associated Press Top 25, including five in the top 10. The Big Ten and Big 12 had losing bowl records, the Pac-12 went 4-4 and the ACC was 4-2. So, if the SEC is overrated, what are the other conferences?
3. Florida's offensive issues are still a major problem: All season, we wondered what we'd see from Florida's offense. However, for 11 games, even if the offense came up short, the Gators found ways to win. Against Louisville, the Gators went in reverse and never got right again. Jeff Driskel threw a pick-six on the first possession, and the offense imploded from there. Mike Gillislee, who was easily Florida's best offensive weapon, carried the ball just nine times. The Gators panicked, but when they had to pass, they couldn't.
This has to be a major concern for the Gators going forward, because Gillislee is graduating and tight end Jordan Reed declared for the NFL draft. Driskel has to find some major help in the passing game this spring/summer, or Florida's offense will get pummeled again. Driskel's health is now a major concern because backup Jacoby Brissett is transferring, leaving the Gators with no experience behind Driskel.
4. More eyes will be on Ole Miss ... and Vanderbilt: Before the season, no one gave Ole Miss a chance at the postseason -- or even five wins -- but the Rebels went out and had a tremendous first year under Hugh Freeze. If not for a couple of horrendous second halves, the Rebels might have won eight games during the regular season. After a dominating performance in their BBVA Compass Bowl win against Pittsburgh, the Rebels could be looking at a spot in preseason Top 25 polls. Most of this team, including what could be a stellar recruiting class, will be in Oxford next fall, so expectations will be much higher.
The same can be said about James Franklin's Vanderbilt Commodores. After a historic nine-win season that ended with a commanding bowl win over NC State, the Commodores will be expected to keep up this act after being even better in Year 2 of the Franklin era. Vandy will lose some talent up front defensively, and Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy will be gone, but a host of playmakers will return, including receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd.
5. Johnny Football's legend just keeps growing: After Texas A&M lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury to Texas Tech, Johnny Manziel's field maturity was really going to be judged in the AT&T Cotton Bowl against the Sooners. Well, all he did without one of his best mentors was set a bowl record for total yards (516) in the Aggies' rout inside Jerry's World. Manziel zigged and zagged as though Kingsbury was feeding him info through an earpiece. People don't understand how much Kingsbury helped Manziel with his composure during games, but Manziel did just fine without him. It shows how much he's grown during his Heisman year. Things will be different next season with some key players also missing on offense, but to see Manziel play like that without Kingsbury has to be very encouraging for Kevin Sumlin and the rest of the Aggies' coaching staff.
ATHENS, Ga. -- In a season full of highlight-reel plays, Georgia’s All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones provided some of the most memorable moments.
Although injuries eventually derailed Mizzou’s season, the Tigers were a formidable opponent when the Bulldogs visited Columbia in Week 2 for the SEC newcomer’s first conference game. And Georgia’s outlook wasn’t particularly sunny late in the third quarter when it trailed 20-17. But Jones was the driving force in the Bulldogs’ 24-0 run to close the game, generating two touchdowns almost single-handedly.
With the Bulldogs leading 27-20 midway through the fourth quarter, Jones surprised Mizzou quarterback James Franklin by dropping back into pass coverage, picking off his throw at the Tigers’ 22-yard line and returning it all the way to the 1 to set up a Todd Gurley touchdown.
On Missouri’s very next possession, Jones ran down Franklin in the backfield for a sack and jarred the ball loose for a fumble that Jordan Jenkins recovered at the Tigers’ 5. Ken Malcome scored a touchdown shortly afterward that pushed what had been a one-touchdown lead to a three-score advantage in the matter of only a few plays.
The national media started pumping Jones for the Heisman that night, but a series of injuries would take the steam out of the junior’s grassroots campaign. However, if a defensive player ever gave a performance that merited that kind of attention, it was Jones’ similar game-changing effort in a 17-9 win against then-unbeaten Florida.
He actually improved upon a four-sack effort against the Gators from 2011 by dominating every facet of the rematch. His final line: 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries would be an acceptable total for the average defensive starter -- for an entire season.
Jones did it in one game and provided possibly the play of Georgia’s season when he chased down Gators tight end Jordan Reed at the Bulldogs’ goal line and forced a fumble that Sanders Commings recovered in the end zone with 2:05 remaining to snuff out Florida’s comeback bid.
Johnny Manziel, Manti Te’o or Collin Klein enjoyed more successful seasons in the eyes of the many Heisman voters who helped them become finalists for the award. But Jones at his best was every bit as important as any of those players -- and his performances in these two games in particular paved the way for Georgia to win its second straight SEC East title and come within an eyelash of playing for the BCS title.
“You know how they do me when it comes to pass rush and they throw two, three guys on me,” said Jones, who has been stuck on 10.5 sacks this season since last facing a more traditional offense three weeks ago against Auburn. “But it’s fun to get back in the range of it so we can run our defense and get out of this Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern mess. I hated the last two weeks of practice.”
Jones certainly expects to spend more time rushing Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron in Saturday’s SEC championship game than he did against Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern, who combined to attempt only 25 passes while focusing largely on the running game. Getting to McCarron against the Crimson Tide’s vaunted offensive line is a different story altogether.
At first glance, the Tide’s line has been fairly pedestrian in protecting the quarterback, ranking fourth in the SEC with 20 sacks allowed for a total of minus-161 yards -- a pace just ahead of Georgia’s 22 sacks allowed for minus-145. But Alabama surrendered six of those sacks for minus-48 in a 35-0 win against Western Kentucky. Otherwise, Alabama has not surrendered more than two sacks in any game, and none since Texas A&M sacked McCarron twice in dealing Alabama (11-1) its only loss of the season Nov. 10.
“They’ve got three All-Americans up there that are big and physical,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said, referring to Alabama center Barrett Jones, left guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker. “The reason their running backs have had success is one, the running backs are talented, but the offensive line makes some holes for them. They do a good job of getting them some running lanes, they keep the quarterback clean in the pocket.
1. SEC championship matchup: By late Saturday night, we could know exactly who will be playing for the SEC title in Atlanta. Alabama kicks things off with its game against red-hot Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa, while Georgia heads to the Plains on Saturday night to take on struggling Auburn. Neither of these games are gimmies, but Alabama and Georgia are favored and have the more complete teams. If the Bulldogs win, it'll be their second straight SEC East title, while Alabama would be winning the West for the first time since 2009. A loss by Georgia and Florida takes the East. A loss for Alabama, and it could come down to next week's game with Auburn to see who takes the West.
2. Tennessee's defensive changes: After so many bad defensive performances by the Vols, Derek Dooley said this week that he'll be much more involved with the defense going forward. That starts this weekend against a very banged-up Missouri team that has literally limped along on offense all season. But will Dooley's extra help make this defense that much better? He promised "major changes" but understands that he can't have a complete overhaul of things in just one week, and this unit might need exactly that. Still, taking on a struggling offense such as Missouri's could give this unit the confidence it needs to make some real positive strides this weekend.
4. Alabama's D vs. Johnny Football: We saw some holes open up in Alabama's defense last week against LSU. The players insist that things will get cleaned up this week, but the Aggies have an high-octane offense that could exploit Alabama's weaknesses, especially with a quarterback like Johnny Manziel. He has been the SEC's most exciting player and could pose quite a problem for this defense with his ability to run and throw. He's second in the SEC in passing and first in rushing. It comes down to being very sound and balanced on defense to contain him. Alabama's secondary gave up some big plays last week, and Texas A&M has a better passer and receivers for the Tide to handle.
5. Tide and Tigers fatigue: Last week's epic showdown between Alabama and LSU was great for TV, but it had to be very hard on all those bodies on the field. Both teams are a little nicked up this week, but expect to be relatively healthy for the weekend. Still, you have to think that these squads won't have the same amount of energy they had last week -- mentally or physically. That's a lot to ask after such a physical game. The Tide will need a lot of stamina to contain the Aggies, and LSU is dealing with a Mississippi State team that is looking to find its dignity after back-to-back blowouts. We'll find out a lot more about the character of both of these teams Saturday.
6. Bowl hopes: A handful of SEC teams are still looking to get to six wins, and could take crucial steps forward this weekend. Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are both a win away, and the Rebels are essentially in must-win mode with LSU and Mississippi State looming. Vandy has had the Rebels' number recently and has all the momentum going into Saturday's game. Missouri and Tennessee are both sitting at four wins and the Tigers really can't afford to lose, because they end the season at Texas A&M. The Vols still have Vandy and Kentucky on the schedule. Arkansas is also fighting for its bowl life, but has to take on South Carolina in Columbia. However, the Razorbacks have had a lot of success against the Gamecocks recently.
7. Playing without Lattimore: It's life after Marcus Lattimore at South Carolina. The true heart of the Gamecocks' team was lost for the season two weeks ago after suffering a devastating knee injury. Now, it's time for this team to proceed with the rest of its schedule without him. While he won't be on the field for the Gamecocks, he'll certainly be a part of this team and he'll provide major motivation. But how this team responds without Lattimore against Arkansas will say a lot about where it is mentally. South Carolina has running back options in Kenny Miles and Mike Davis, so the Gamecocks should still be able to run the ball. But can they stay focused?
8. Someone is going bowling in Oxford: Regardless of the outcome between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, someone will leave Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with a postseason berth. If the Rebels win, they will be bowl-eligible for the first time since 2009, after combining to win only six games in the prior two seasons. A Vanderbilt win, and the Commodores will be bowl-eligible for the second straight season, and will have a chance to play in a bowl in consecutive years for the first time in school history. Talk about major turnarounds for both programs. Ole Miss has lost three of its past four to Vandy, including two at home, so it's not as though the Commodores will be intimidated by entering the Rebels' home.
9. Rediscovering that swag: After back-to-back blowout losses to Alabama and Texas A&M, the Bulldogs have lost all of the swagger they had for the first seven weeks. You can point to that soft early schedule and say that it masked a lot of the issues this team has on both sides of the ball. But Saturday is a chance for some redemption for the Bulldogs. They'll take on a tired LSU team that just missed out on taking the SEC West. Their spirits could be low, and if the Bulldogs are going to pounce and generate some momentum for the rest of November, Saturday is the time to do it. It has the secondary to really frustrate quarterback Zach Mettenberger, but does it have the offense to put up points?
10. James Franklin's confidence: Missouri's quarterback has been beaten up all season. Two shoulder injuries and a sprained knee have made him a shell of his former Big 12 self. Franklin has shown his toughness all season, but he was visibly shaken after throwing four interceptions in an ugly 14-7 loss to Florida last weekend. You can tell some of his confidence is gone, and if the Tigers are going to have a chance at making a bowl in their first season in the SEC, they need Franklin to rediscover his confidence. He's hurting, but he still has the ability to make plays, and Tennessee's defense gives him the opportunity to find some of those big plays he's used to making.
Arkansas (4-5, 2-3 SEC) at No. 8 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2SEC), Noon ET, CBS: The Gamecocks are rested from the bye and the hope is the emotions from Marcus Lattimore's season-ending injury won't hurt this team's mindset. Arkansas escaped Tulsa over the weekend and will have to play its most complete game to top South Carolina. Both have a lot to play for, as a BCS bowl is still in the cards for the Gamecocks, while Arkansas needs two more wins to grab a bowl berth.
Missouri (4-5, 1-5 SEC) at Tennessee (4-5, 0-5 SEC), 12:21 p.m. ET, SECNetwork: Both of these teams are in desperate need of a win. Missouri's offense has sputtered along in SEC play, while Tennessee's defense has been sliced and diced by its opponents all season. Something has to give on Saturday. With Texas A&M still on the schedule, the Tigers might have to get this win if they are going to go bowling, while another Vols win will help take a little heat off of coach Derek Dooley.
Louisiana-Lafayette (5-3) at No. 6 Florida (8-1, 7-1 SEC), 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network: The Gators begin two weeks of cupcake play with the Ragin' Cajuns. The next two weeks should be devoted to figuring things out in the passing game for the Gators. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is getting little help outside of tight end Jordan Reed. The good news for Florida is that Louisiana-Lafayette is 118th nationally in pass defense, so if the Gators are going to get some confidence back in its passing game, Saturday should be a good start.
No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC)at No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: With the Crimson Tide coming off of a very physical and a very emotional win over LSU, the Aggies don't give Alabama the best matchup this weekend. LSU provided a bit of a blueprint on how to beat the Tide, and Texas A&M's high-flying offense is capable of generating some yards and points on this Tide defense. Containing Johnny Manziel will be Alabama's top objective, while the Aggies will be looking to stop the Tide's bullish running game.
No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) at Auburn (2-7, 0-6 SEC), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: A win for Georgia and the Bulldogs are heading to the SEC championship game for the second straight year. After being counted out (again), Georgia is in complete control of the East and is a win away from silencing a lot of those critics in Athens. Auburn finally got its second win of the year last weekend and has a new quarterback in Jonathan Wallace. The offense made strides against New Mexico State and this is a game that the Bulldogs can't overlook. It's a rivalry game and it's a night game in one of college football's best venues.
Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3 SEC) at Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3 SEC), 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU: When it comes to the postseason, this is a must-win for both teams. Vandy is cruising along on a three-game winning streak, while the Rebels are coming off of a blowout loss to Georgia. Ole Miss has dropped two straight to the Commodores and with LSU and Mississippi State remaining, this might be Ole Miss' best chance to get that sixth win. Things are really clicking for the Commodores, and they'll enter Saturday's game with a lot more momentum than the Rebels.
No. 21 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2 SEC) at No. 7 LSU(7-2, 3-2 SEC), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Tigers will likely feel quite the hangover from that tough loss to Alabama, but the Bulldogs are coming off of an embarrassing loss to Texas A&M. This will be another night game in Death Valley and the Tigers know they are still in line to reach the Allstate Sugar Bowl if they win out. LSU played its best offensive game of the season, while the Bulldogs have taken plenty of steps back on both sides of the ball in the past two weeks.
Bacarri Rambo’s interception
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The annual showdown in Jacksonville was downright nasty, with the two teams combining for 227 yards in penalties, and Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray was terrible for three quarters before leading a late touchdown drive that finally helped the Bulldogs pull away a bit.
But No. 10 Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC) showed toughness that clearly had been lacking in its last two games, handing No. 2 Florida (7-1, 6-1) its first loss of the season -- and its first back-to-back defeats against Georgia since 1988-89 -- taking over first place in the SEC East with two league games to play.
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The Georgia outside linebacker produced the two most memorable performances of his career against rival Florida at the Jacksonville Jaguars’ home stadium -- and that’s saying something, considering he was a first-team All-American last season.
The next time he takes this field, he might well be a member of the Jaguars.
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1. The East is Georgia's to lose: After being counted out heading into their big matchup with Florida, the Bulldogs are now atop the East again. That brutal loss to South Carolina appears to be nothing more than a distant memory in Athens. All those "for sale" signs fans gathered for Mark Richt's house will have to be used for more constructive means after Georgia topped Florida 17-9. The win didn't clinch the East for the Bulldogs, but they are firmly in the driver's seat with Ole Miss and Auburn as their only remaining SEC opponents. The Rebels are much better than they've been in two years, but Georgia likely will be a heavy favorite in that game, while Auburn continues to stumble along this season. House money is on Georgia to take the East, and if the defense feeds off its performance Saturday, the Bulldogs should cruise into Atlanta.
3. Florida needs more playmakers: The Gators have lived and died by running and smothering. But Saturday proved that if Florida is really going to rub elbows with the elites in college football, it has to find more offensive playmakers. Running back Mike Gillislee has been good, but he needs help from the passing game because teams are starting to crowd the box to key on him. Right now, tight end Jordan Reed is the only real reliable receiving target. Ironically, his fourth-quarter fumble sealed the Gators' fate against Georgia, but at least he was there to make some sort of play happen. Wide receivers Quinton Dunbar and Frankie Hammond Jr. have been wildly inconsistent, while utility man Trey Burton just hasn't been very effective since the Tennessee game. Jeff Driskel will take a lot of heat for his critical errors and turnovers on Saturday, but he wasn't getting much help. Someone has to emerge to take the pressure off Driskel and Gillislee.
4. Hugh Freeze was the right choice: Some weren't sure whether Ole Miss got it right with Freeze. He wasn't a sexy name in the coaching world, and many thought the Rebels could do better. Well, after Ole Miss' 30-27 win over Arkansas, the Rebels are one win from being bowl-eligible for the first time in two years and matching their win total from the past two years combined. Freeze has totally changed the culture at Ole Miss and has made the Rebels relevant again. The offense has been fun to watch, and this team has real fight in it. Players admitted to giving up during games last year, but this year's team has really bought in to playing for four quarters. This team wasn't supposed to be remotely close to the bowl picture. Now, it's a win from the postseason, and Freeze is a major reason. He deserves to be considered for SEC Coach of the Year.
5. Another loss could seal Dooley's fate: If the magic number for wins for Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is eight, the Vols will have to win out to get there. That means getting through November unscathed. It's manageable, with Troy, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky left, but it isn't close to a guarantee. The Vols have to really be hurting after that three-point loss to South Carolina. The defense was abused again, and two Tyler Bray turnovers were costly. This team hasn't won a game in October under Dooley and now has to have a perfect November to reach a bowl game. This team swept November in Dooley's first year and has to do it again if it is to have a chance at eight victories.
The main storyline that will come out of this year's edition of the Georgia-Florida rivalry is ugliness. Saturday's four-hour marathon was a grinding affair of turnovers and penalties -- an absurd amount of both of them. But it's safe to say nobody wearing red and black will care much, as the Bulldogs slogged their way to a 17-9 win -- their first back-to-back wins against Florida since 1988-89 -- and pole position in the SEC East championship race.
Here's how it played out in Jacksonville, Fla.:
It was over when: Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones stripped Florida tight end Jordan Reed on the Bulldogs' 5-yard line with two minutes to play. Georgia recovered in its own end zone and subsequently ran the clock out. The turnover denied the Gators an opportunity at a first-and-goal and a potential game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion.
Game ball goes to: Much was made of how badly the Bulldogs needed Jones to step up after he missed the narrow win against Kentucky. Suffice to say Jones got the memo. He almost single-handedly mauled the Florida offense, as he finished with 13 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. It was only fitting that Jones made the play that preserved the win.
Key play: The Georgia passing game delivered one of its only big moments when it absolutely had to, at the midpoint of the fourth quarter. Aaron Murray beat a Florida blitz on third-and-5 to find wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell on a 7-yard curl route. Mitchell shook off Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy and beat three other tacklers on the way to a 45-yard touchdown and a 17-9 lead. Mitchell's big moment came just two plays after he was hit with a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Key play part II: Trailing 7-6, Florida faced a second-and-goal from the Georgia 5-yard line with 17 seconds until halftime. The Gators had the opportunity to take a lead with either a touchdown or a field goal, but Driskel rolled to his right and fired across his body into end zone traffic. Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo nabbed it for an interception to preserve the Bulldogs' slim advantage. It was perhaps the most costly of Driskel's mistakes in an uncharacteristic game for the young quarterback.
Key stat: The game saw a staggering total of nine turnovers -- six by the Gators, three by the Bulldogs. Georgia converted just 1 of 11 third downs. Perhaps the most amazing stat: The referees threw a total of 24 flags during the 60 minutes of game play. Georgia drew 14 flags for 132 yards; Florida earned 10 for 95 yards.
Key stat part II: Florida entered the game averaging 212 rushing yards per game. Georgia's defense limited the Gators to just 81 yards on 41 carries, while Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley racked up 124 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.
What it means: The Bulldogs now become the favorite to claim a second consecutive SEC East title and advance to the SEC championship game in Atlanta. All is not lost for Florida, however. The Bulldogs must still face Ole Miss next week, and their annual rivalry game against Auburn comes on the road in two weeks. If the Gators can hold serve against Missouri, there is still some hope of a division title.
ESPN GatorNation beat writer Michael DiRocco was kind enough to answer five questions about the game that could very well determine this season’s SEC East champion:
Q: The most obvious factor in Florida’s turnaround is that it’s getting solid play from Jeff Driskel at quarterback instead of last season’s revolving door of uncertainty. Is that all it took? Why else is this Florida team so much better?
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With all due respect to the SEC West, the East has it going on this year.
I said before the season that the West had the muscle, but the East would be more fun to watch.
Well, after four weeks, it looks like the East doesn’t just have a more exciting race on its hands but the Big Three now reside on that side of the conference.
Now, before my Twitter feed gets spammed and I have to go into hiding in some bunker located in or around the city of Atlanta, hear me out.
Alabama and LSU are still the cream of the crop. They are the two best teams in the SEC, and might be the two best teams in the nation. Don’t let LSU’s ugly win over Auburn fool you. The Tigers are still extremely talented and that defense is just as fierce.
But after that, the East has the West beat. Arkansas, which was a part of the West's talented trio, has fallen to the bottom of the division and could be struggling to make a bowl. Mississippi State has looked good, but those lackluster wins against overmatched teams make me nervous.
Your new Big Three, ladies and gentlemen: Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. And each has to be taken seriously when it comes to winning the SEC.
I'm not saying they're better than Alabama or LSU, but they have a legitimate chance of ending the West’s reign of terror.
I’ll start with the Bulldogs:
GEORGIA (No. 5, 4-0)
- The Bulldogs have the SEC’s best offense. Georgia leads the league with 530 yards of offense a game and is as balanced as they come. Aaron Murray is passing for 273 yards a game and has tossed 10 touchdowns to two interceptions. Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett all have double-digit catches on the season and have combined for eight touchdowns.
- Freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have turned into quite the rushing duo, combing for 670 yards and nine touchdowns. Gurley currently leads the SEC with 406 rushing yards and is averaging 9.2 yards per carry.
- Where Georgia could have issues is with its run defense. The Dawgs are eighth in the SEC in rush defense (135.5 yards per game) and Alabama and LSU love to run the ball and wear down opponents. Georgia should know. But that should improve with the return of Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree. They will fill some of the holes we’ve seen on defense and help take some of that bend away.
- We’ve seen a lot more balance out of the Gamecocks’ offense in the past couple of weeks and it looks like Marcus Lattimore is getting stronger. He has the ability to wear down those defensive lines and open up the passing game for Connor Shaw. We’ll find out how much Lattimore is needed when South Carolina travels to LSU on Oct. 13.
- Shaw might have a fracture in his shoulder, but he’s shown that he’s extremely tough and South Carolina will need that. He also showed against Missouri that he’s got what it takes to really sling the ball, as he completed his last 20 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Balance will be key, and this offense is full of it.
- The secondary still has questions, but it’s getting better every week. South Carolina gives up a good chunk of yards through the air, but the Gamecocks have five interceptions and have allowed just three passing touchdowns. The play up front has really helped the secondary, as the Gamecocks are second in the SEC with 15 sacks. Jadeveon Clowney leads South Carolina with 4.5 sacks and is starting to find his groove.
- The Gators finally have an offense. They still struggle some in the first half, but the Gators have outscored opponents 78-13 in the second half and haven’t allowed any points in the fourth quarter. Alabama can’t even say that! That’s a credit to Florida’s conditioning and solid halftime adjustments.
- Florida also has a true downhill runner in Mike Gillislee, who is second in the SEC with 402 rushing yards, and have a budding star in quarterback Jeff Driskel. He can hurt teams with his legs and arm and has shown tremendous poise in harsh road conditions. This team has to find another consistent receiving threat outside of Jordan Reed.
- Florida has shown some bend in its rush defense, and was pounded on the ground by Alabama and LSU last year. The Gators have to be tougher up front if they want a chance at claiming the SEC. Play in the box is crucial, and the Gators didn’t do very well at all in this area last year when they were clobbered by the Tide and Tigers. Florida’s date with LSU in the Swamp on Oct. 6 will tell us what that front can really do.
None of these teams are perfect, but they’re all pretty good. Georgia is probably equipped with the most talent in the East, but South Carolina and Florida aren’t far behind.
Watching these three beat each other up this fall is gonna be fun, but watching one of them try to take down one of the big dogs on the other side of the tracks will be especially entertaining.
Don’t sleep on the East this year.
Davis said he and his mother enjoyed his time in Gainesville.
"It went great," Davis said. "Everything went great. I enjoyed the whole thing. My mom was impressed. The whole thing was just great."
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Here are our top 10 SEC tight ends:
2. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Sr., Auburn: He only caught 24 passes last year, but seven of those catches went for touchdowns. He's a big-time threat in the red zone and is a solid blocker as well. The addition of fullback Jay Prosch will give Lutzenkirchen a chance to be even more active in the receiving game.
3. Jordan Reed, Jr., Florida: There's no doubt that Reed is extremely athletic, but he can lose focus at times on the field. Still, when he's on the ball, he can make plenty of plays. He's the Gators' top returning receiving target and with two young quarterbacks throwing this year, Reed has the chance to rack up receptions as a close-to-the-line safety net.
4. Mychal Rivera, Sr., Tennessee: Rivera is a very reliable and consistent weapon for the Vols. Even with Justin Hunter coming back and Cordarrelle Patterson jumping into the receiving mix, Rivera might not see his production drop too much if Tyler Bray can stay health. This team will throw it around as much as possible.
5. Michael Williams, Sr., Alabama: Williams only caught 17 passes last year, but there were a couple more proven players around him. This time around, his experience will be valued more by quarterback AJ McCarron. He's a solid player and can be a beast on the field, so the coaches are expecting to get a lot more out of him this fall.
6. Malcolm Johnson, So., Mississippi State: He was once a receiver, but has now found a home at tight end. He averaged 18.7 yards on his 11 catches last year and scored three touchdowns. The Bulldogs have a lot of receiving options, but Johnson should have plenty of chances to improve on last year's production.
7. Justice Cunningham, Sr., South Carolina: He'll continue to have Rory Anderson playing on the other side of him, but Cunningham's a bigger, more experienced target in the Gamecocks' passing game and will likely get more looks this fall with Alshon Jeffery gone. He's a solid blocker and will even line up as a fullback in two-back sets.
8. Chase Clement, Sr., LSU: He's on the John Mackey watch list, but has just nine career catches, with seven coming last season as a backup. Clement will be used to block often, which is needed with a team that runs the ball as much as LSU does. And with an offense that's expected to be more pass-friendly, Clement could see the ball thrown his way more often.
9. Nehemiah Hicks, Jr., Texas A&M: The Aggies have three tight ends they can use in their offense, but Hicks might be the most gifted of the bunch. He started seven games last year and is coming off of shoulder surgery, but if he's healthy he'll be a nice looking target for whichever quarterback takes the field for A&M this fall.
10. Jamal Mosley, Sr., Ole Miss: While he only caught 12 passes last year, Mosley is expected to be used more often in Ole Miss' new spread offense. He's another one of those more athletic tight ends and should help the Rebels with their depth issues in the passing game.