We are only four games into his first season as the offensive coordinator at Florida, but the sample size is big enough to declare the hiring of Charlie Weis a success at Florida.
Weis, the former head coach at Notre Dame and most recently the offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, has breathed new life into a Florida offense that stagnated for much of Urban Meyer’s final season in Gainesville. Fresh off of a 48–10 win at Kentucky, the Gators rank 22nd in the nation in total offense (461.8 ypg), up from 82nd last season (350.9 ypg).
The 2011 Gators are getting it done with the big play. Last season, Florida had 180 plays from scrimmage that went for 10-plus yards (ranking 50th in the nation) and 49 plays that went for 20-plus yards (tied for 78th in the nation). This year, under Weis’ guidance, those numbers are way up — 75 plays of 10-plus yards in only four games (tied for fifth nationally) and 23 plays of 20-plus yards (12th in the nation).
Weis is putting the ball in the hands of his playmakers, which is why most of the Gators’ big plays are coming in the running game. Chris Rainey already has 17 runs of at least 10 yards — five more than he had all last season. And fellow running back Jeff Demps currently leads the nation with eight rushes of 20 yards or more.
Florida head coach Will Muschamp, a defensive coach, praised the way his offensive coordinator is using Rainey and Demps after the duo each topped 100 yards vs. Kentucky.
“The thing that concerns you (as a defensive coach) is that Charlie does a great job of creating space plays for them that creates a lot of one on ones,” says Muschamp. “One missed tackle against those two guys, and they can take it the distance. They are great guys, have great speed, great in the open field, catch the ball well, run the ball hard, they are competitive and tough. They have all the intangibles that good football players have.”
Now comes the hard part.
Rainey, Demps and the rest of the Florida offense are about to embark on as difficult of a two-week stretch as possible, with dates against No. 2 Alabama and No. 1 LSU looming in the next two weeks. A year ago, the Gators were swept by the two SEC West powers thanks largely to an offense that managed only 281 yards against Alabama and 243 against LSU.
Weis will have a chance to earn his reported $765,000 salary in the coming weeks.
• Vanderbilt’s Trey Wilson leads the nation with 109 yards in interception returns, while fellow starting cornerback Casey Hayard is tied for third with 96 yards in returns. The Commodores as a team have intercepted 14 passes, five more than the No. 2 team in the nation, Ohio. One more stat: Vanderbilt has intercepted 11.5 percent of its opponents’ passes.
• Alabama has given up 15 points or less in 23 of its 31 games since the start of the 2009 season.
• Alabama is giving up 1.8 yards per rushing attempt to lead the league. Kentucky is last at 5.1 per attempt.
• Ole Miss quarterbacks Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt combined to complete 12-of-30 attempts in the Rebels’ loss to Georgia. In two SEC games, Mackey and Stoudt are 27-of-60 with seven interceptions.
• Georgia freshman Isaiah Crowell is living up to the hype. The Columbus, Ga., native is tied for fourth in the SEC in rushing with 411 yards, an average of 102.8 per game.
• SEC teams have combined to convert 33 of their 64 fourth down attempts. South Carolina and Kentucky lead the league with 10 fourth down tries each; the Gamecocks are 6-of-10, while the Cats are only 2-of-10.
but also allowed seven drives of at least 30 yards. In their first three games, the Tigers gave up a total of eight drives of at least 30 yards.
This might sound a bit obvious, but beating Georgia is a very good sign for South Carolina football. Consider the following: The Gamecocks are a combined 25–23 in the SEC in the six seasons in which they have defeated Georgia. On the other hand, they are 36–67–1 in conference games in the 13 seasons in which they have lost to the Bulldogs, and only once, in 2005, has South Carolina had a winning SEC record without beating Georgia.
So it’s clear that the Georgia game serves as a pretty accurate barometer for South Carolina. When the Gamecocks are good enough to beat Georgia, they are usually good enough to be a factor in the SEC East.
This season, Carolina will be more than a factor — I think at this point it’s clear to call Steve Spurrier’s club the favorite (despite what you might have read in Athlon Sports’ 2011 preview). Until we see what Florida looks like against a quality opponent, it’s hard to make the argument that South Carolina isn’t the best team in the SEC East.
Sure, the defense has been shaky, but Steve Spurrier’s club boasts some serious star power on both sides of the ball. South Carolina might have the best running back (Marcus Lattimore) and best wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) in the SEC — and maybe the nation. Defensively, true freshman Jadeveon Clowney is already showing signs why he was one of the most hyped recruits of the past decade, and junior Stephon Gilmore is one of the elite cornerbacks in college football. And we can’t forget about Melvin Ingram, a 271-pound defensive end who recorded nine sacks last season and scored two touchdowns, one on a 68-yard fake punt, in the win over Georgia.
“I think Melvin Ingram deserves a lot of credit for making some huge plays,” Spurrier said after the game. “He’s a heck of an athlete.”
Lattimore, however, is the key to this team. The sophomore tailback carried the ball 27 times for 176 yards against Georgia, with 94 of his yards coming in the decisive fourth quarter. I’d estimate that a team that has its tailback rush for 90-plus yards in the fourth quarter has about a 99 percent chance of winning that game.
Lattimore’s heroics allowed South Carolina to win despite a subpar game from quarterback Stephen Garcia. In his first start of his senior season, Garcia completed only 11-of-25 passes for 142 yards, and he was intercepted two times. The Gamecocks will need Garcia to play well to win an SEC championship, but they don’t need him to be the best quarterback in the league. His supporting cast is good enough — especially at the skill positions — for his team to win without 300-yard, four-touchdown games each week.
With the Georgia hurdle behind them — and successfully cleared — the Gamecocks now return to Columbia for a four-game home stand against Navy, Vanderbilt, Auburn and Kentucky. It will be a surprise if South Carolina is not 6–0 (and 4–0 in the SEC) when it hits the road for dates with Mississippi State, Tennessee and Arkansas.
Around the SEC
• Tennessee ranks fourth in the nation with a 66.7 percent success rate on third down, having converted 20 of 30 opportunities through two games. Last season, the Vols ranked 88th in the nation on third downs (36.5 percent).
• UConn marched 72 yards on 13 plays in its first drive (ending in a field goal) against Vanderbilt, but the Commodores only gave up 121 total yards on 52 plays the rest of the game.
• The LSU defense has only given up one play of 20-plus yards this season — even more impressive when you consider that the Tigers opened up against Oregon.
• It’s not all bad news at Georgia. Freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell looks like he will be a major contributor this season. He rushed for 118 yards on 16 carries against South Carolina and has a healthy 5.7-yard average in two games against quality competition.
• Auburn is 2–0 but ranks 111th in the nation in total defense (489.5 ypg) and 118th in rushing defense (280.0 ypg). It’s still too early to put too much stock in national rankings, but defensive coordinator Ted Roof can’t be pleased with those numbers.
• Ole Miss will have to tighten up its run defense, as well, after Southern Illinois rushed for 223 yards on 38 carries in last week’s 42–24 Rebel victory.
• Alabama has allowed a total of three points in the first half of its two games this season.
• Kentucky coach Joker Phillips raved about Josh Clemons in preseason camp, and the true freshman came through with a 14-carry, 128-yard effort against Central Michigan on Saturday. Clemons gave Kentucky its first lead of the game late in the third quarter when he broke free for an 87-yard touchdown. In two games, he has 165 yards on 25 carries.
Georgia’s quest to win the SEC East title in 2011 took a hit when running back Caleb King was ruled ineligible. Depth at running back was already an issue for the Bulldogs, especially after Washaun Ealey transferred following spring practice. When Ealey left, the Bulldogs were expected to have a solid one-two punch with King and true freshman Isaiah Crowell leading the way. With King and Ealey out of the picture, the Bulldogs will have to rely even more on Crowell.