Not half bad: At SEC's midway point, some surprises, some constants

— There are numerous ways of describing the competitiveness of Southeastern Conference football.

And even though he was joking, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt stated it earlier this week in a way that the average fan can understand.

"I don't see how gamblers do it in this league, I don't know how they do it," Nutt said. "If you think somebody is going to beat someone else on Saturday, you better watch out."

The SEC received preseason billing as the nation's toughest conference. It has had at least three teams in the top 10 each week through the season's first half.

Some things have changed since last season, such as Auburn's dramatic offensive improvement, quarterback upgrades at Arkansas and Alabama, and Georgia's offensive deep freeze leading to the Bulldogs' worst start since 1996.

Other elements have remained the same from a year ago, like defending national champion and No. 1 Florida, and No. 2 Alabama, clearly emerging as the league's best teams.

But through it all so far, despite coaching changes and more schools using offenses with formations and plays that appear to be drawn up in dirt on a playground, there are three constants that usually determine winners and losers each Saturday:

Rushing: The team that runs and stops the run generally wins. So far in 19 SEC games this season, the team that has rushed for the most yards is 15-4. Considering this, it's no secret why Florida and Alabama are the league's last two unbeaten teams.

Florida is first in the SEC and second nationally in rushing (284.6 yards per game), and second in the SEC and 11th nationally in rushing defense (87.4 yards allowed) with just one rushing TD allowed.

The reason last weekend that the Gators escaped Baton Rouge with a 13-3 victory over then-No. 4 LSU was a 193-66 advantage in rushing that helped eat 36 minutes of game clock.

"We're one of the top rushing teams in America right now," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "We have had (rushing) issues in the past, but that's because we didn't have the three backs we have right now or the (Maurkice) Pouncey-(Mike) Pouncey-(Marcus) Gilbert combination up front. I do feel we have to open our playbook more, but I would rather win games and do it the right way."

Alabama is fourth in the SEC and 11th nationally rushing (223.5) with a league-high 16 rushing TDs, and first in the league and seventh nationally in rushing defense (63.2).

Turnovers: The winning team in 15 of 19 SEC games so far has fewer or the same amount of turnovers as the losing team.

One reason that Auburn might be the surprise team in the conference so far is a defense that has created a league-best 14 turnovers. The Tigers have gotten the ball back for their offense, which leads the SEC in total offense (489.8).

"If you look at the two teams (Florida, Ohio State) that played for the national championship last year, they were both top five in the country in takeaways," Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "It's no coincidence."

On the flip side, a reason Mississippi State has won just two games, though the Bulldogs are fourth in the SEC averaging 399.8 yards (almost 125 more yards than last year's 276.0), is turnovers. State has coughed up a SEC-worst 18 turnovers, including 10 fumbles. Last season for the entire year, State had 20 turnovers and eight fumbles.

"It's a different thing on every play," first-year State coach Dan Mullen said. "It can be a matter of a guy straining for extra yards, not having his elbow locked and having poor ball security. It could be a poor handoff by the quarterback or a poor decision by the quarterback on the option. If it was one thing, it would be easy to fix."

Road games: Yes, it's tough to win on the road in the SEC. But it's not as hard as perceived so far this season, since road teams are 10-9 in league games. The bottom line is the best teams with the best players win anywhere, whether it's home, road or a Wal-Mart parking lot.

"What makes the home teams good are the players in the jerseys," Meyer said. "LSU is that way. We're that way. Alabama is that way. All that other stuff is overrated."

At this point, it appears that Florida and Alabama have clear paths for a rematch of last year's SEC championship game, won by Florida, 31-20, on a Tim Tebow-fueled fourth-quarter rally.

Alabama, 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the Western Division, has one game left outside its state, at Mississippi State on Nov 14. Besides that, Alabama has four remaining home games, and a regular-season ending date at in-state rival Auburn. The Tide has been the steadiest, most complete team in the league.

"One of the great things about this team is when the offense is having a little bit of an off day, the defense will pick us right back up," Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy said. "When the defense has a little bit of an off day, like against Kentucky, the offense goes and scores almost 40 points."

Florida, 5-0 and 3-0, has four remaining home games, its annual meeting in Jacksonville with Georgia and road games at Mississippi State (where Florida has lost its last two trips) on Oct. 24 and at South Carolina (where Meyer is 1-1) on Nov. 14.

"We can win every game that's left on our schedule and we're capable of getting beat by every team left on our schedule," Meyer said. "That's the way it is in this conference."

SEC's stars, so far

Top individual performances midway through the SEC season:

Passing: 408 yards by Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett vs. Georgia

Rushing: 184 yards by Auburn running back Ben Tate vs. Arkansas

Receiving: 153 yards by Georgia receiver A.J. Green vs. Arizona State

Field goals: Five by place-kickers Spencer Lanning of South Carolina vs. Georgia, and Leigh Tiffin of Alabama vs. Ole Miss

Longest field goal: 53 yards by Georgia place-kicker Blair Walsh vs. Oklahoma State

Punting average: 57.0 by Georgia punter Drew Butler (seven punts) vs. Oklahoma State

Longest punt: 75 yards by Butler vs. Oklahoma State

Tackles: 16 by linebackers Rico McCoy of Tennessee vs. Auburn, and Rennie Curran of Georgia vs. LSU

— Ron Higgins: 529-2525

© 2009 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 26

rockytopatl writes:

I don't guess Higgins thinks Tennessee is in the SEC. One mention, way down in the stats.

the10sevol writes:

he may have just found out about, atl, him being in memphis and all. i know that when i think of Tennessee, memphis is the farthest thing from my mind.

watching sec gridiron live on sunsports here in fla, david pollock is sporting pearl's Orange blazer for the show. you're a good sport, david.

GBO

bigorange101582 writes:

I will be extremely happy if we finish 2nd in the East which I believe is possible. As much as I hate Alabama (not as much as FL though) I hope they beat Carolina this weekend. Because #1 that will help us in the East and #2 I live in SC and I am tired of hearing it from the "Cocky" gamecocks. BTW we are 20-5 against them but they act like they own us. I was at the TN/USC game last year and after beating a terrible TN team, Carolina acted like that had just won the Natl Championship. Anyway, it's possible we beat Bama but not likely. So let's say we get beat by Bama and Ole Miss (which I think we beat) and then we beat USC, Vandy and Kentucky. That would give us 4 SEC losses but beating USC. USC lost to GA and let's say loses to Bama, TN and FL. That gives them 4 SEC losses with a loss to us so we finish ahead of them. GA lost to LSU and TN and hopefully lose to FL and Auburn which would give them 4 losses, 1 being to us. Finishing 7-5 and going to a bowl would be great and finishing 2nd in East would be awesome!

huntined#565710 writes:

Tell Coach Roof FLA beat the SOONERS last year not OHIO STATE.

auttat writes:

Ohio State played for the National Championship last year?

huntined#565710 writes:

in response to bigorange101582:

I will be extremely happy if we finish 2nd in the East which I believe is possible. As much as I hate Alabama (not as much as FL though) I hope they beat Carolina this weekend. Because #1 that will help us in the East and #2 I live in SC and I am tired of hearing it from the "Cocky" gamecocks. BTW we are 20-5 against them but they act like they own us. I was at the TN/USC game last year and after beating a terrible TN team, Carolina acted like that had just won the Natl Championship. Anyway, it's possible we beat Bama but not likely. So let's say we get beat by Bama and Ole Miss (which I think we beat) and then we beat USC, Vandy and Kentucky. That would give us 4 SEC losses but beating USC. USC lost to GA and let's say loses to Bama, TN and FL. That gives them 4 SEC losses with a loss to us so we finish ahead of them. GA lost to LSU and TN and hopefully lose to FL and Auburn which would give them 4 losses, 1 being to us. Finishing 7-5 and going to a bowl would be great and finishing 2nd in East would be awesome!

DON'T THINK WE WANT TO BRAG ABOUT 4 LOSES IN THE SEC..

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

Didn't Georgia kick a 54 yard field goal against Tennessee?

memphis_vol_fan writes:

in response to huntined#565710:

DON'T THINK WE WANT TO BRAG ABOUT 4 LOSES IN THE SEC..

You're right 4 losses isn't anything to brag about. But finishing 2nd in the East would be good enough considering that most people picked us to finish 4th or worse.

volntx writes:

Florida played Oklahoma... should have played Texas... but the way Ohio St. and Oklahoma stink up the NC game I guess they are interchangeable.

huntined#565710 writes:

in response to myfollower#555763:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Been a VOL many-many years and 4 loses in the SEC will never set good with me even if that makes us number 1 in the east..

69grad writes:

in response to bigorange101582:

I will be extremely happy if we finish 2nd in the East which I believe is possible. As much as I hate Alabama (not as much as FL though) I hope they beat Carolina this weekend. Because #1 that will help us in the East and #2 I live in SC and I am tired of hearing it from the "Cocky" gamecocks. BTW we are 20-5 against them but they act like they own us. I was at the TN/USC game last year and after beating a terrible TN team, Carolina acted like that had just won the Natl Championship. Anyway, it's possible we beat Bama but not likely. So let's say we get beat by Bama and Ole Miss (which I think we beat) and then we beat USC, Vandy and Kentucky. That would give us 4 SEC losses but beating USC. USC lost to GA and let's say loses to Bama, TN and FL. That gives them 4 SEC losses with a loss to us so we finish ahead of them. GA lost to LSU and TN and hopefully lose to FL and Auburn which would give them 4 losses, 1 being to us. Finishing 7-5 and going to a bowl would be great and finishing 2nd in East would be awesome!

I'm with you on that. I live in Greenville, SC and I hate both USC and Clemson. Anytime I wear orange, people assume I'm a Clemson (Clempson as they say around here)fan. You're so right about USC beating Tennessee. It was written up in the Columbia and Greenville news rags like world peace had been achieved. Like you, I hate Florida worse than Bama, so I'm pulling for Bama to beat them like a rented mule.

69grad writes:

In addition, who can pull for a team the refers to themselves as Clocks? (Misspelled on purpose.)

Cldvols1 writes:

in response to huntined#565710:

Been a VOL many-many years and 4 loses in the SEC will never set good with me even if that makes us number 1 in the east..

If we finish 7-5 then we go to a bowl, which I will gladly accept! Unlike last years record which was mearly flip-flopped @ 5-7 and we didn't go to any bowl. 4 losses in the SEC stinks but we are in a REBUILDING year. Very soon we'll be competing for conference and national titles but one has to be patient.

Keeping it real
Go Vols!!!

smokey_vols writes:

Found something interesting. Our 3rd down defense is 24th in the nation which is pretty darn good. LSU's John Mustang Chavis is 88th. Not a shock. We are 117th in kickoff yards allowed and 58th in punt yards allowed. Quite a bit of difference there. 48th in total offense... a far cry from 115 or so last year. Much improved and that is all we can ask for in a first year staff. Great Job.

BillyVol writes:

Not a mention of what Hardesty is doing this year.
grrrrr makes me want to eat nails and spit out thumb tacks, and go alligator hunting.

Down_The_Field writes:

in response to auttat:

Ohio State played for the National Championship last year?

"...did we just lay down and quit after the germans bombed pearl harbor?"

bigorange101582 writes:

in response to huntined#565710:

DON'T THINK WE WANT TO BRAG ABOUT 4 LOSES IN THE SEC..

Not bragging about 4 SEC losses but sure beats the 5 we had last year. Also, I said I think we can beat Ole Miss which would then be 3 losses. We have improved over last year and seem to be getting better each game this year. And that's what is important to me! Our future is looking bright.

murrayvol writes:

in response to civilianvol_formerly_marinevol:

Didn't Georgia kick a 54 yard field goal against Tennessee?

52....but it would've been good from 54.

seventysevenvol writes:

in response to bigorange101582:

I will be extremely happy if we finish 2nd in the East which I believe is possible. As much as I hate Alabama (not as much as FL though) I hope they beat Carolina this weekend. Because #1 that will help us in the East and #2 I live in SC and I am tired of hearing it from the "Cocky" gamecocks. BTW we are 20-5 against them but they act like they own us. I was at the TN/USC game last year and after beating a terrible TN team, Carolina acted like that had just won the Natl Championship. Anyway, it's possible we beat Bama but not likely. So let's say we get beat by Bama and Ole Miss (which I think we beat) and then we beat USC, Vandy and Kentucky. That would give us 4 SEC losses but beating USC. USC lost to GA and let's say loses to Bama, TN and FL. That gives them 4 SEC losses with a loss to us so we finish ahead of them. GA lost to LSU and TN and hopefully lose to FL and Auburn which would give them 4 losses, 1 being to us. Finishing 7-5 and going to a bowl would be great and finishing 2nd in East would be awesome!

huh?

volfan17 writes:

I agree. Hardesty should have been mentioned.

CrankE writes:

Da ROOf Da ROOf Da ROOf is on fiyaaaaa!

Worst press conference after a victory: Urban Meyer offering the whine flu as an excuse for why (cough) Tennessee was able (cough) to run so close with (cough) FL-U.

Can't spell FLU without UF.

asleep#212036 writes:

in response to smokey_vols:

Found something interesting. Our 3rd down defense is 24th in the nation which is pretty darn good. LSU's John Mustang Chavis is 88th. Not a shock. We are 117th in kickoff yards allowed and 58th in punt yards allowed. Quite a bit of difference there. 48th in total offense... a far cry from 115 or so last year. Much improved and that is all we can ask for in a first year staff. Great Job.

I wondered if maybe Chavis' defense, when played with a few more 5-stars on the field, might live up to the hype. NOT. The problem with his defense is that it plays way too soft on third down zones and counts on the D-line disrupting the QB/receiver timing. IF you have a great D-line, like we did a few times at UT, no problem. Anything less and you get the infamous "3rd and Chavis" situation that we have all suffered through. Unlike 2001 and 2007, the Bengal Tigers will now be on the wrong end of it and so far, it looks just as bad there as it did on the Hill. Arkansas will light them up. Heck, if we can scrape 8-4 we may end up in a New Year's Day bowl because the way it looks right now, nobody else will be any better and who wouldn't put Kiffin out there after all his mouthing. Good job Lane, keep us in the news. Go Vols!!!

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

in response to Down_The_Field:

"...did we just lay down and quit after the germans bombed pearl harbor?"

Always loved that line.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Here's a constant for you...Saban leads the league in fast talking BS in his recruiting.Iam not sure how this guy with zero personality and a reputation as an out and out LIAR manages to pull all these 5 star recruits..It's taken the dolphins 2 years to get unburied from his bad decisions and BS..His defensive schemes were so totally complicated his former LSU players couldn't grasp it with the dolphins !!!The whole recruiting thing baffles me to no end;What recruit could trust anything he spews..Another Saban constant; when he has great players he wins; when he doesn't he's just another average coach..As a Miami native "been there done that"

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to asleep#212036:

I wondered if maybe Chavis' defense, when played with a few more 5-stars on the field, might live up to the hype. NOT. The problem with his defense is that it plays way too soft on third down zones and counts on the D-line disrupting the QB/receiver timing. IF you have a great D-line, like we did a few times at UT, no problem. Anything less and you get the infamous "3rd and Chavis" situation that we have all suffered through. Unlike 2001 and 2007, the Bengal Tigers will now be on the wrong end of it and so far, it looks just as bad there as it did on the Hill. Arkansas will light them up. Heck, if we can scrape 8-4 we may end up in a New Year's Day bowl because the way it looks right now, nobody else will be any better and who wouldn't put Kiffin out there after all his mouthing. Good job Lane, keep us in the news. Go Vols!!!

I'd still like to see Chavis get a head coaching job..He's paid his dues being everybodys second in command and never pi##ed and moan about it.

murrayvol writes:

in response to asleep#212036:

I wondered if maybe Chavis' defense, when played with a few more 5-stars on the field, might live up to the hype. NOT. The problem with his defense is that it plays way too soft on third down zones and counts on the D-line disrupting the QB/receiver timing. IF you have a great D-line, like we did a few times at UT, no problem. Anything less and you get the infamous "3rd and Chavis" situation that we have all suffered through. Unlike 2001 and 2007, the Bengal Tigers will now be on the wrong end of it and so far, it looks just as bad there as it did on the Hill. Arkansas will light them up. Heck, if we can scrape 8-4 we may end up in a New Year's Day bowl because the way it looks right now, nobody else will be any better and who wouldn't put Kiffin out there after all his mouthing. Good job Lane, keep us in the news. Go Vols!!!

True story. Absent a dominant DL good OCs will put the screws to soft 3rd down defense most every time.

Agree that 8-4 may land a Jan. 1 bowl. FU & Bama are alone at the top. You can throw a blanket over the rest.

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