Muschamp's Gators toughen up
Notebook: Arkansas struggles, Tennessee losses momentum
All off-season, Florida head coach Will Muschamp told his team that in order to compete throughout the entire SEC schedule, it would need to toughen up, and it certainly has. In Year 2 of the Muschamp era, the Gators are trying to prove themselves as serious contenders in the crowded SEC East.
The Gators improved to 3-0 (2-0 SEC) and looked like a team calling for recognition as they stormed into Knoxville and comfortably took care of a confident Tennessee team Saturday. Sophomore QB Jeff Driskel led the way for the Gators, throwing for 219 yards and two touchdowns in the 37-20 victory against the then-No. 23 Volunteers.
Another slow start plagued the Gators in the first half, but they rallied for the second consecutive week in the second half. They outscored the Volunteers 27-6, including 24 consecutive points to end the game. The win was their fourth victory in a row in Knoxville.
“I’m just very pleased with the effort overall,” Muschamp said after the game. “They continued to play hard, continued to develop our identity as a team and a program. It’s not where we need to be, but it's certainly better than we’ve been.“
Florida, which is looking to keep pace with SEC East favorites Georgia and South Carolina, must keep performing in the second half and winning the fourth quarter. So far this season the Gators have yet to give up a point in the fourth period.
Alongside a solid rushing attack, Muschamp has built his gator team into a defensive force. Florida’s defense held Tennessee to five total yards in the fourth quarter. Tennessee had some success rushing the ball early in the game, but Muschamp and his staff made the necessary half-time adjustments.
As good as Florida has been in the second half, it needs to improve in the first half and Muschamp realizes that.
"Are we where we want to be? Heck no," Muschamp said. "Let's not start celebrating here. Let's be realistic where we are. We've got a long way to go, but we've got guys who bought into what we're trying to do, and that's what you need to have."
No. 1 Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC)
• Alabama once again proved it is the best team in the country as it tore apart Arkansas 52-0. It doesn’t seem as if any team is going to be able to compete with the defending champions outside of LSU.
• Nick Saban’s defense completed its second consecutive shutout, forcing five turnovers and holding the Razorback offensive attack to 137 total yards.
Next Game: vs. Florida Atlantic Sept 22
Arkansas (1-2, 0-1 SEC)
• The Razorback struggled again, getting beat in basically every phase of the game by No. 1 Alabama. QB Tyler Wilson didn’t play due to injury and Alabama’s third-string team was scoring on the Arkansas starting defense. The team has gone from having championship aspirations to being unranked and losing by 50 at home.
“It’s kind of hard to say anything at this point,” coach John L. Smith said. “That’s about as bad as I can ever remember, as a football team goes.”
Next Game: vs. Rutgers Sept 22
Auburn (1-2, 0-1 SEC)
• Auburn finally found a way into the win column as it barely escaped ULM in overtime to take a 31-28 victory. ULM gave Auburn everything it had a week after defeating then-No. 8 Arkansas. As sweet as the victory may have been, it won’t last long with powerhouse LSU on its way into town this week.
• Auburn narrowly avoided its first 0-3 start since 1950.
Next Game: vs. No. 2 LSU Sept 22
No. 5 Georgia (3-0, 1-0 SEC)
• QB Aaron Murray and the Georgia Bulldogs lit up FAU, accumulating a staggering 713 total yards of offense. Murray threw for a career-high 342 yards and two touchdowns. The offense has yet to take its foot off the pedal as it scored 40-plus points in its first three games this season.
• Georgia’s offense needs to continue to stay hot as it welcomes in Vanderbilt and Tennessee and then travels for a showdown at South Carolina in the next three weeks.
Next Game: vs. Vanderbilt Sept 22
Kentucky (1-2, 0-0 SEC)
• Kentucky suffered a bad overtime loss to Western Kentucky Saturday. Now, UK has a meeting with the surging Florida Gators in its conference opener this weekend. Kentucky’s road isn’t going to get any easier. After Florida, it still has seven more games against SEC opponents.
• QB Maxwell Smith fired off 60 passes, completing 32 of them with four interceptions. He hadn’t thrown an interception in his first 89 attempts this season.
Next Game: at No. 14 Florida Sept 22
No. 2 LSU (3-0, 0-0 SEC)
• The Tigers' passing game has been the main concern for Les Miles this season. After the 61-13 demolition against Idaho, it seems as if QB Zach Mettenberger is starting to hit his stride. Mettenberger threw for more than 200 yards for the first time in his career to go along with two touchdown passes.
"I think everyone can see that we can be a dominant football team,” Miles said. “In all three phases at different times we were dominant in this game. We need to eliminate some mistakes in the red zone. Frankly, we will learn from this game and we will be better for it. We will improve."
Next Game: at Auburn Sept 22
No. 23 Mississippi State (3-0, 1-0 SEC)
• The Bulldogs avoided another Sunbelt scare by beating Troy 30-24. Dan Mullen’s team has won 13 consecutive non-conference games and has started the season 3-0 for the first time since 1999.
• The production level from WR Chad Bumphis was more than Mullen could ask for. Bumphis caught touchdown passes of 72, 58, and 25 yards, reeling in six passes for 180 yards.
Next Game: vs. South Alabama Sept 22
Missouri (2-1, 0-1 SEC)
• Missouri’s defense kept it in the game, forcing four turnovers. Mizzou surrendered a 17-point lead only to hold off ASU on an interception from safety Kenronte Walker. The turnover came with under a minute to play and preserved the four-point Tiger victory.
• Mizzou’s schedule doesn’t get any easier as it travels to play No. 7 South Carolina Saturday. We will see how acclimated the Tigers are to the SEC as they have No. 1 Alabama waiting for them down the road.
Next Game: at No. 7 South Carolina Sept 22
Ole Miss (2-1, 0-0 SEC)
• Hugh Freeze’s defense was torched on Saturday as Big 12 powerhouse Texas put up 66 points on the Rebels. One bright spot was the 100-yard kickoff return by Jaylen Walker, tying four others nationally for longest KOR of the season.
• Ole Miss will try not to get caught in a trap game at Tulane Saturday as it has No. 1 Alabama waiting in Tuscaloosa in two weeks.
Next Game: at Tulane Sept 22
No. 7 South Carolina (3-0, 1-0 SEC)
• South Carolina cruised to another victory even though it is still struggling to find a steady arm behind center. QB Connor Shaw left the game again with a right shoulder injury. Backup QB Dylan Thompson came into the game and led the team to an easy win.
• The Gamecocks are going to have to figure out where to go with their QB position as they start a stretch of seven consecutive conference games beginning with Missouri Saturday. Head coach Steve Spurrier wouldn’t rule out Thompson playing ahead of Shaw.
"We'll see how they both feel in practice and go from there," Spurrier said. "I won't worry about it a lot. We'll play whoever we think is the best to go."
Next Game: vs. Missouri Sept 22
Tennessee (2-1, 1-1 SEC)
• Tennessee finally stepped into the national spotlight and then had a setback in a home loss to Florida. Tennessee gave up 336 yards on the ground and managed to accumulate only 5 yards of offense in the fourth quarter.
• The Vols dropped from the rankings after a quick one-week stint in the top 25. It was the first time the Vols had been nationally ranked since the 2008 season.
Next Game: vs. Akron Sept 22
Texas A&M (1-1, 0-1 SEC)
• Freshman QB Johnny Manziel continues to impress his opponents as he accounted for 418 total yards and six touchdowns in only three quarters of play against SMU, A&M's first victory of the season.
• Head coach Kevin Sumlin admitted that Manziel played a good game but he reiterated that his defense is what kept the Aggies in the game and gave them some much-needed energy.
Next Game: vs. South Carolina State Sept 22
Vanderbilt (1-2, 0-1 SEC)
• Vandy finally figured out a way to a win a football game this season after it lost two well-played games to begin the year. The Commodores dumped Presbyterian 58-0, which should give them some confidence going into the harder stretch of the season.
• Head coach James Franklin subbed out QB Jordan Rogers, who had started the past nine games, for Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta- Samuels. Carta-Samuels threw for 195 yards and a touchdown in his first start since 2010.
Next Game: at No. 5 Georgia Sept 22