NCF Nation: Leonard Floyd

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Let’s not go overboard.

Let’s not even try to make the argument Georgia is better today than it was a week ago.

Let’s not pretend you can have a Heisman Trophy contender ripped off a team and have that met with sustained improvement.

Football, in the long term, just doesn’t work that way. Ask Texas A&M about life after Johnny or South Carolina about its now Clowney-less defense; they’ll tell you.

[+] EnlargeChubb
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb was fantastic against Missouri, but make no mistake -- Georgia is not the same team without Todd Gurley.
Georgia may indeed be the class of the SEC East after the way it manhandled Missouri this past weekend. It was every bit the statement game players described afterward.

“We had a chip on our shoulder as far as we don't have Todd (Gurley) and everyone thinks that the world is falling apart,” quarterback Hutson Mason said. “So we took it upon ourselves that we need to show everybody that there are 10 other guys on our offense that are making this thing go and 11 other guys on defense. It was a very big inspirational win, and a lot of emotions went into it.”

But today the question becomes how far that wave of emotion will take Georgia.

Nearly 48 hours after the Bulldogs celebrated in Columbia, it’s time to see whether what happened Saturday is truly sustainable.

Looking ahead less than a week, it’s hard to imagine what worked against Missouri will work against Arkansas this Saturday.

It’s hard to imagine Georgia’s defense, the real force behind the win at Missouri, will have another perfect day on third down, stuffing all seven attempts to move the chains.

Don’t expect another four-interception performance either. Georgia had four picks total coming into last weekend and Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen may not attempt more than four passes per quarter this Saturday.

Leonard Floyd, who terrorized Missouri’s Maty Mauk into all those mistakes, won’t be able to pin his ears back and rush the passer so freely. Not against Arkansas’ running game. It was good Floyd got four QB hurries last Saturday because he’ll likely drift back to the average of 1.6 hurries per game he had coming into the weekend.

Georgia’s defense has indeed come a long ways, but it probably won’t allow 50 yards rushing as it did against Missouri, which was essentially half its average coming into the game. If anything, we know Arkansas is going to run the football. With Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and that hefty offensive line, the Razorbacks are averaging the most rushing yards per game in the SEC and the 10th most in the country (278.7).

"They are a physical bunch of players," Georgia coach Mark Richt said Sunday. "They're a reflection of their coach. Those guys are playing that way on both sides of the ball. It's going to be a tremendous physical challenge for our players, no doubt."

Yes, Georgia’s offense will have to adjust as well.

Mason, who said he has adopted a more free-wheeling attitude under center, will have to continue making a greater impact on Mike Bobo’s offense. The fifth-year senior won’t face many secondaries as porous as Missouri’s, which entered the weekend allowing 236.4 yards passing per game. Arkansas may have lost to Alabama and Texas A&M, but Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks found a way to hamstring both teams’ previously prolific passing games.

At the same time, Georgia can’t continue asking Nick Chubb to touch the ball 40-plus times per game as he did against Missouri. Sure, he made a fan out of all of us when he bulldozed his way to 143 yards rushing and one touchdown. But Georgia’s backfield looks like a MASH unit these days with Gurley questioned by the NCAA and Keith Marshall and Sony Michel examined by doctors. Richt has to be careful, even if he’s not saying so.

"We've seen him in practice. We've seen him in the games," Richt said. "Every time Nick got in there, he looked pretty impressive. He didn't complain and he didn't look fatigued."

You have to admire the determination to carry the football 38 times as a true freshman. You even have to admire the collective results: 34 points and three rushing touchdowns from three different players. But when you look deeper at Georgia’s 3.6 yards per carry against a weak Missouri front seven, you should have a hard time believing that’s a sustainable formula.

The saying, "Three yards and a cloud of dust" isn’t a compliment, remember? Explosive plays are vital.

That’s where Gurley comes in.

Don’t take anything away from Georgia’s win at Missouri. Don’t put down the offense, which was practically flawless. Don’t put down the defense, which flew to the football and played its best game of the season.

But don’t forget what Gurley brings to the table.

Don’t forget that he makes plays no one else in college football can. He makes Chubb more effective, lifts the average yards per rush considerably and, in turn, makes things easier for Mason. Even the defense gets a break when he takes the offense on long drives.

Georgia can survive without Gurley. The Missouri game showed us as much. But without No. 3, the Bulldogs just aren’t the same.

We’ll find out against Arkansas whether the difference is enough to cost them.

SEC fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
10:00
AM ET
Believe it or not, we are two days away from SEC football officially kicking off the 2014 season. And you thought we'd never get here!

Each season we make perfect prediction after perfect prediction. From weekly game picks to preseason teams, we think we've got this whole prognostication thing down to a science!

It's become a tradition here on the SEC blog to release our fearless predictions for the season ahead. I'm riding solo on them this year, but they shouldn't be any less correct this time around.

Here are my 10 fearless predictions for the SEC in 2014:

1. The SEC champion will have two losses ... but still make the playoff: With the talent gap between the teams at the top and the middle of the pack growing tighter, the SEC might be in store for the most exciting divisional races we've seen in a long time. No team is perfect. I've said this since the end of last season: No team will go undefeated in the SEC and no team will leave Atlanta with fewer than two losses. But with how strong the conference is this year, there's no way the SEC champ will be left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesMike Davis rushed for 1,183 yards on 203 carries and 11 scores in 2013.
2. Mike Davis will lead the conference in rushing: He can steamroll over you or just run by you. Davis has everything you'd want in a back and even though he's dealing with a rib injury, he'll lead the SEC in rushing yards this season. It won't hurt that he has arguably the nation's best offensive line in front of him. Georgia's Todd Gurley has yet to make it through an entire season healthy, while T.J. Yeldon will undoubtedly have his carries eaten into by Derrick Henry. With what should be a solid passing game taking some pressure off him, Davis will blow by the 1,183 yards he had last year.

3. The SEC will have 12 bowl-eligible teams: Last year, the SEC saw 10 teams go bowling. This year, Florida and Tennessee will reach at least six wins this fall and join the teams that made bowl games last year. Yes, a Tennessee team with brand-new offensive and defensive lines will go bowling, and yes, Florida's offense will be much better.

4. Will Muschamp will finally beat Georgia: After going 0-3 against his alma mater, Muschamp will finally get a win at the World's Largest Outdoor, eh, Party. It's a rebound year in Gainesville with a better offense. Of course, the game will be close, but quarterback Jeff Driskel will engineer a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter to end the bleeding the Bulldogs have caused the Gators the past three years. That means the SEC East title will come down to the Gators' home game with South Carolina on Nov. 15.

5. Arkansas will have two 1,000-yard rushers: The Razorbacks came close last year after Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams combined to rush for 1,926 yards. With so many unknowns still lurking in the passing game, coach Bret Bielema will have no problem handing the ball off to his duo as much as possible. Williams might even lead the Hogs in rushing this year after an impressive offseason. Stacking the box won't stop this duo.

6. The Mississippi schools will reach nine wins: It seems like whenever Mississippi State and Ole Miss have higher expectations, they fail to live up to the hype. Well, that ain't happening this season. With two very manageable seasons, and a host of talent returning, both of these schools will reach at least nine wins this season. Ole Miss gets Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State at home and should sweep nonconference play. Mississippi State has an extremely soft nonconference slate and gets Auburn and Texas A&M at home. Both Mississippi teams will pull a big upset on their way to nine wins.

7. Leonard Floyd will lead the SEC in sacks: Last year, Floyd led the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks. This year, Georgia's best pass-rusher will push for All-American status by reaching double-digit sacks and leading the league. He's fast, strong and terrifying off the edge. Floyd had a great offseason and will be a nightmare for quarterbacks.

8. Vanderbilt will make it four bowl trips in a row: No James Franklin? No problem. What Franklin didn't take was the talented core of players the Commodores have. The Commodores return a strong offensive line and a deep, talented group of running backs. New coach Derek Mason also likes what he has defensively. The new 3-4 scheme will make the Dores faster off the edge with Kyle Woestmann and Caleb Azubike moving to outside linebacker. Vandy should win its four nonconference games and will find two more wins to make it back to the postseason.

9. The SEC won't win the national championship: Look at prediction No. 1. While I think the SEC is stronger than ever as a whole, the winner of this league (I'm predicting Alabama) will be pretty beat-up come playoff time -- monthlong break and all. But it isn't just that. I think the country has a great set of teams at the top this year, and I don't see one SEC team really sticking out like seasons past. The seven straight titles were good for the league, but the conference will hit a two-year snag.

10. Ohio State will lose to another SEC team: The loss of quarterback Braxton Miller might have spoiled the Buckeyes' playoff hopes, but they'll find a way to meet an SEC team during the postseason and continue their time-honored tradition of losing to the SEC. Come January, the Buckeyes will be 0-11 against the SEC in bowl games.

Preseason All-SEC team

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
9:05
AM ET
With the season exactly a week away, we're taking one last look at the best players the SEC has to offer.

We've ranked the 25 best players, every position and the top players at every position. That's a lot of rankings, but with the coaches announcing their All-SEC teams later Thursday, we thought we'd create our own 2014 preseason team. We're also releasing our ESPN.com All-American team on Thursday, so you're getting quite the gift!

The esteemed Chris Low and I put our heads together to create one team that we think won't garner any criticism. It's perfect, really:

OFFENSE

QB - Nick Marshall, Auburn: Although he started his SEC career as a cornerback at Georgia, Marshall enters the 2014 season as the most explosive quarterback in the conference. He’s also improved as a passer and should be even better now that he has an entire year in Gus Malzahn’s offense under his belt.

RB - Todd Gurley, Georgia: The only thing holding Gurley back last season was injuries. He just missed rushing for 1,000 yards for the second straight season but says he’s 100 percent healthy again. He has the perfect blend of size and speed and will be right in the mix for the Heisman Trophy.

RB - Mike Davis, South Carolina: He might have flown under the radar heading into last season, but Davis left little doubt that he was one of the premier running backs in college football. He’s built low to the ground and is tough to tackle but also has breakaway speed.

WR - Amari Cooper, Alabama: Lingering injuries a year ago kept Cooper from matching his production as a freshman, when he was virtually unstoppable down the stretch for the Crimson Tide. He’s once again healthy and poised to reclaim the mantle as the top college pass-catcher.

WR - Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss: All Treadwell did as a true freshman was lead Ole Miss in receiving with 72 catches. At 6-foot-2 and 229 pounds, he’s moving from the slot to the outside receiver position this season and has the hands, speed and size to have an even bigger season as a sophomore.

TE - O.J. Howard, Alabama: Coach Nick Saban has had some good tight ends at Alabama but nobody as talented as Howard when it comes to getting down the field and making big plays in the passing game. The 6-6, 240-pound Howard will be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.

OT - Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M: The Aggies just keep churning out premier tackles, and like Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel before him, the 6-5, 305-pound Ogbuehi is moving from the right side to the left side this season. Already some analysts have pegged him as the top tackle in next year's NFL draft.

OG - Vadal Alexander, LSU: Now in his third season as a starter on LSU’s offensive line, the 6-5, 340-pound Alexander is a powerful run-blocker and equally effective as a pass-protector. Of his 22 career starts, 13 have come at left guard and nine at right tackle, so he’s also versatile.

C - Reese Dismukes, Auburn: A finalist for the Rimington Trophy last season, Dismukes has been a starter since his freshman season, spanning 37 career starts. He’s the one who makes that Auburn offensive line go and a big reason the Tigers led the country in rushing last season.

OG - A.J. Cann, South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ offensive line has a chance to be one of the best in the league, in large part because Cann returns as one of the top interior offensive linemen. He’s a dominant run-blocker and a force at the point of attack.

OT - La’el Collins, LSU: Some thought the 6-5, 321-pound Collins might turn pro after last season, but he elected to return for his senior season and should be one of the top college tackles. He started his career at guard but is now protecting the blind side for the Tigers.

DEFENSE

DL - Dante Fowler Jr., Florida: The Gators' top pass-rusher, Fowler could be a monster this year as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. Fowler covers so much ground with his speed. He can terrorize the backfield and drop back to cover running backs and tight ends.

DL - A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama: As a freshman, Robinson led Alabama with 5.5 sacks and had eight tackles for loss as both an end and tackle. Robinson is extremely disruptive up front and has barely scratched the surface with his potential.

DL - Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss: He arrived in Oxford as the nation's No. 1 overall recruit, and although he only had two sacks and eight tackles for loss as a freshman, he's been the Rebels' best player this offseason. Nkemdiche has moved to his more natural position of tackle and has been nearly unstoppable in camp.

DL - Chris Jones, Mississippi State: He might not have had the hype attached to his name that Nkemdiche had as a freshman, but he made more of an overall impact for the Bulldogs. Jones can line up both inside and out and isn't just disruptive for his own sake. He creates tons of plays for his teammates.

LB - Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State: Quietly, McKinney enters the 2014 season with 173 tackles in the past two seasons. He's the captain of Mississippi State's defense at middle linebacker but has the speed to cover ground all over the field and can play outside if needed.

LB - Leonard Floyd, Georgia: After he led the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks last season, Floyd's hype is growing by the minute. His teammates have had trouble blocking him all offseason, and with his tremendous speed and strength, he should be an absolute terror off the edge.

LB - Ramik Wilson, Georgia: With his ability to cover so much ground and frustrate opposing backfields, Wilson has played himself into consideration for a first-round NFL draft grade for next year. During his first year as a starter with the Bulldogs in 2013, Wilson led the SEC with 134 tackles.

CB - Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: As a freshman last season, Hargreaves became one of the nation's best cover corners. He blankets receivers and has tremendous range, and he led the Gators with three interceptions and 14 passes defended in 2013.

S - Landon Collins, Alabama: Another Alabama safety with the potential to be one of the first defenders taken when the NFL comes calling, Collins can do just about everything for the Crimson Tide. He's a true ball hawk when he drops back but is also physical enough to play deep inside the box.

S - Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss: His range and and ball skills make him a dangerous man to throw against. Prewitt was named an All-American last year after defending 13 passes and leading the SEC with six interceptions.

CB - Tre’Davious White, LSU: He's excellent in man-to-man situations and led the Tigers with nine passes defended in 2013. He had only two interceptions last season, but with the amount of ground he can cover and his nose for the ball, White should have no problem pushing past that number this fall.

K - Marshall Morgan, Georgia: After a rocky first season, Morgan connected on 22 of his 24 field goal attempts in 2013. He really improved his long game, too, making 7 of 8 kicks from 40 yards or more.

P - Drew Kaser, Texas A&M: Not only did Kaser damage a light in A&M's indoor practice facility earlier this week, he was an All-American and a Ray Guy Award finalist last year after booming 17 punts 50-plus yards, putting 17 inside the 20-yard line and averaging a school-record 47.4-yard average per punt.

KR - Christion Jones, Alabama: One of the most versatile players in the league, Jones ranked second in the SEC in kickoff returns (28.7 yards per return) and punt returns (14 YPR) and returned three kicks for touchdowns last season.

Georgia Bulldogs season preview

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
10:30
AM ET
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Georgia Bulldogs

2013 record: 8-5 (5-3 SEC). Lost 24-19 to Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

Key losses: QB Aaron Murray, TE Arthur Lynch, DL Garrison Smith, S Josh Harvey-Clemons, S Tray Matthews, CB Shaq Wiggins, OT Kenarious Gates, OG Chris Burnette, OG Dallas Lee, DL Jonathan Taylor.

Key returnees: RB Todd Gurley, LB Ramik Wilson, LB Amarlo Herrera, OLB Leonard Floyd, OLB Jordan Jenkins, OT John Theus, CB Damian Swann, WR Malcolm Mitchell, WR Chris Conley, DE Ray Drew, C David Andrews, PK Marshall Morgan, WR Justin Scott-Wesley.

Instant impact newcomers: OLB Lorenzo Carter, RB Sony Michel, RB Nick Chubb, CB Malkom Parrish, DT Lamont Gaillard, DB Shattle Fenteng, TE Jeb Blazevich.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Floyd
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIAfter leading the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks as a freshman last season, big things are expected of Leonard Floyd in 2014.
Breakout player: Floyd. The lanky outside linebacker led Georgia with 6.5 sacks in 2013 and added 9.5 tackles for loss as a freshman. He’ll benefit from having a full year in Georgia’s conditioning program and could become a star in his second season.

Most important game: Sept. 13 at South Carolina. Two of the favorites in the SEC East will meet early in the season in Columbia, where the Gamecocks haven’t lost since 2011. They’ve beaten Georgia in their last two trips to Williams-Brice Stadium, including a 35-7 thrashing in 2012. The margin for error is typically narrow within the division, so the winner of this one will be the early team in the East driver’s seat.

Biggest question mark: The secondary is easily Georgia’s biggest area of concern. The Bulldogs’ pass defense was spotty at best in 2013, and the offseason departures of three regulars has left plenty of personnel questions. Coach Mark Richt kicked two starting safeties -- Harvey-Clemons and Matthews -- off the team, and cornerback Wiggins transferred to Louisville, so there is plenty of playing time available. Swann’s presence is big at cornerback, and converted running back J.J. Green was impressive in the spring, but junior college transfer Fenteng and Parrish will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact in August.

Upset special: Oct. 11 at Missouri. This could be a tricky game that might not get as much attention as it deserves with matchups against Clemson, South Carolina, Florida and Auburn also on Georgia’s schedule. The defending SEC East champs lost a ton of firepower, so Mizzou seems likely to take a step backward. But it’s a long road trip that kicks off a stretch of more than a month when the Bulldogs won’t play at home once -- and it could easily become a loss if Georgia doesn’t have its act together.

Key stat: 36.7. The average score of a Georgia game was 36.7 to 29.0 in 2013. Even if what was an inexperienced defense improves this fall, the Bulldogs will still likely rely on their star-studded offense. They might need to keep scoring at that prolific clip, which is somewhat uncertain with three longtime starting offensive linemen to replace, to allow time for the defense and their new set of coaches to develop some continuity.

Team’s top Twitter follows: The Bulldogs have some good choices here. Seeing as how he’s never started a game, it might seem surprising that senior offensive lineman Watts Dantzler (@WattsDantzler) has 12,000 Twitter followers. But he’s a natural-born entertainer who has a nationwide following that grew substantially when he live tweeted a harrowing spring break trip back to Athens on a bus. Another good pick is tight ends coach John Lilly (@JohnLillyUGA), who is a much more creative on Twitter than the typical coach. Lastly, Conley (@_Flight_31) regularly updates his 27,400 followers on his latest film exploits; he produced and starred in a well-received “Star Wars” tribute film over the summer and has started work on a new movie in recent weeks.

Preseason predictions:

ESPN Stats & Info: 9.06 wins

Bovada over-under: 9.5 wins

Our take: Georgia was better than an eight-win team last season, but the Bulldogs were absolutely decimated by injuries to key players like Mitchell, Gurley, Scott-Wesley, tailback Keith Marshall and eventually Murray. If new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt can get things straight on his side of the ball, the ceiling is extremely high for this team. The offense has an impressive array of talent surrounding senior quarterback Hutson Mason and should be difficult to contain. If the Bulldogs open with a win against Clemson at Sanford Stadium, this could easily become a 10-2 or 9-3 season where Georgia is once again in the thick of the East race.

Top SEC players: Nos. 25-21

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
9:00
AM ET
With the season inching closer and closer, it's time for us to once again take a look at the 25 best players the SEC has to offer.

This year, we're changing things up a bit. Instead of taking 25 days to do our countdown, we're making it a week-long effort and releasing five names a day. All of our reporters will be handling a list a day.

Remember that our criteria for each player on this list include talent, stats and importance to his respective team.

Today, we're starting with players 25-21:

25. Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas: Flowers has enjoyed a solid, three-year career with the Razorbacks. In 36 games (26 starts), Flowers has 12 sacks and 32 tackles for loss. He’s a terror off the line with his size, strength and speed. Although he’ll likely face more double-teams this fall with Chris Smith gone, Flowers has gotten into even better shape heading into the season in order to combat the pounding he’ll take this fall. He believes he’s stronger and faster, which is scary.

24. Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn: Heading into the past season, the Tigers weren’t sure who would be their top receiving threat. Well, Coates had no problem taking that title and registering a team-high 902 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Coates defined big-play athlete by averaging 21.5 yards per catch. He might not have had the “Kick-Six” in the Alabama game, but his 39-yard touchdown to tie it with 32 seconds left was pretty special too.

23. Ramik Wilson, LB, Georgia: Talk about underrated. Wilson quietly led the SEC with 133 tackles (76 solo) the past season. He will anchor Georgia’s defense at middle linebacker and poses as the Bulldogs’ defensive quarterback. Wilson covers so much ground on the field; he might start in the middle of the field, but he can roam sideline to sideline and make plays along the way. He even has the speed to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. The future early-round NFL draft pick might be one of the league’s most underrated players.

22. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: No, he hasn’t played a down of football at the college level, but the talk out of Baton Rouge is that this youngster is the real deal. He’s already being compared to Michael Jordan, for crying out loud! Fournette will make an immediate impact for the Tigers this fall after being the nation’s No. 1 recruit. He finished his high school career with 7,619 rushing yards and 88 rushing touchdowns, including 1,792 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior.

21. Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia: You might not know who Floyd is now, but he could be a household name in the SEC this fall. Georgia’s best pass-rusher, Floyd led the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks, and he had 9.5 tackles for loss. He was also second on the team with 22 quarterback hurries. Floyd can attack standing upright or with his hand in the ground and is incredibly quick off the line. Expect to see Floyd hurl himself into the double-digit sack column this fall.
The opening of SEC media days isn't the only news of the day. Two more college football award watch lists debuted Monday, and the SEC is a major player on both.

Thirteen of the 123 watch list honorees for the Lombardi Award, which is given annually to the top lineman or linebacker, are from the conference. Likewise, nine of the 51 nominees for the Butkus Award, which goes to the top linebacker, are SEC players.

Here are the full lists of SEC nominees:

Lombardi
G A.J. Cann, South Carolina
OT La'el Collins, LSU
C Reese Dismukes, Auburn
DE Trey Flowers, Arkansas
LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State
OG Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
LB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
DE A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia

Butkus
Trey DePriest, Alabama
Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Kris Frost
Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
Braylon Mitchell, Arkansas
Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Ramik Wilson, Georgia
ATHENS, Ga. -- One of the prevailing images from last Saturday's win against Tennessee was Georgia's players dogpiling on top of Marshall Morgan to celebrate his game-winning 42-yard field goal in overtime.

It capped a day where the sophomore claimed the SEC's special teams player of the week award for the second straight week after booting the longest field goal in Neyland Stadium history, a 56-yarder in the first quarter, and the game-winner in OT. But it wasn't much fun to be in Morgan's position at the time.

[+] EnlargeMarshall Morgan
AP Photo/Wade PayneGeorgia kicker Marshall Morgan kicked a 56-yard field goal against Tennessee, the longest on the road in school history.
“I was trying to get them off me,” said Morgan, whose Bulldogs (4-1, 3-0 SEC) host Missouri (5-0, 1-0) on Saturday. “That's a lot of weight. I've got asthma.”

Otherwise, the Bulldogs' special-teams effort was memorable for the wrong reasons, continuing what has been a season-long trend. Collin Barber had a punt blocked for a touchdown -- the second time that has happened this season -- and Blake Sailors received a five-yard penalty for defensive delay of game after Georgia forced a third-quarter punt, giving Tennessee a fourth-and-1 that prompted the Volunteers to instead go for a first down.

Vols running back Rajion Neal then broke a 43-yard run that set up his game-tying touchdown run when Georgia's defense could have been off the field if not for the rarely-seen penalty.

“If you make a movement that it looks like you're trying to get somebody to jump offsides, if they jump offsides, it's on the defense. It's on us in that case,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I've never really seen that happen before and it was pretty crucial, obviously. We had a great stop and they were in a position to punt. I think it was a fourth-and-1 or less and they get the long run. A lot of bad plays happened after that point, and we learned a lesson. Can't do it.”

Quayvon Hicks -- one of three protectors in Georgia's punt shield lineup along with Arthur Lynch and Josh Dawson -- said there was a miscommunication on the play and accepted blame for the Tennessee block.

“I put that all on me,” Hicks said. “I would say it was a miscommunication, but it was something that could have been prevented. It will be something that we're really working on, especially me as a player, to make sure that it doesn't happen in the future.”

Hicks could have saved the day if he had blocked Jalen Reeves-Maybin before he darted through to deflect Barber's punt, but front-line blocker Leonard Floyd also barely got a hand on Reeves-Maybin.

Their collective whiff allowed the Tennessee rusher to break through, and Lynch said the decibel level in Neyland Stadium played a direct role in the miscommunication.

“It's so much easier going out and practicing and doing it, even if it's full-speed practice because you kind of have that communication barrier and it really was a lot louder than I think a lot of people thought,” Lynch said. “Lucas Redd looked at me and was like, 'I had to read your lips.' That was one of the things that you just can't have those types of setbacks. I think we've cleaned it up.”

A skeptic might point out that Georgia has vowed to clean up its special-teams errors several times recently, only to see another mistake lead to an opponent touchdown. Asked what he thinks the team needs to do to remedy those miscues, Hicks was direct in his response.

“It's really not what we think, it's what we're going to do,” Hicks said. “Thinking, that's a part of football that really doesn't matter. I think Coach can only do so much. I know we're a very close team, so we're going to do what we have to do this week to make sure that not only in the Missouri game, but here on out, that that doesn't happen anymore. It's just something that could have been prevented. It could have cost us the game.”

That seems to be the message that Richt is imparting to his club, as well. Georgia's errors in the kicking game are simply a quality-control issue, where a lack of attention to detail has allowed opponents to steal easy points.

A shaky snap might have cost Georgia the game in its lone loss. The Bulldogs are fortunate that their ensuing mistakes weren't so costly, but they know their luck will likely run out if they don't fix the problems -- and keep them fixed.

“Us as coaches, we've got to do a better job of simulating what's going to happen in the game and coaching and teaching properly where these guys can be more dependable,” Richt said. “So it's a two-way street. Coaches gotta coach better, for sure, and the players have got to take on their responsibilities and take care of business.

“That's the way it is in life, so we're learning the hard way, and just by the grace of God the two times we had blocked punts, we still won the game. But the margin for error is just getting slimmer and slimmer.”

SEC freshmen power rankings

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
10:30
AM ET


We're continuing to look at the first quarter of the 2013 college football season today by checking out the effect true freshmen have had. We know that the days of freshmen sitting back and watching are over, and SEC teams have made sure to get the youngsters on the field as quickly as possible.

Who has received the best results from their freshmen through the first four weeks? Who not only has quantity but quality when it comes from the freshmen impact? Take a look:

[+] EnlargeLaquon Treadwell
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesTrue freshman WR Laquon Treadwell has been one of several instant-impact rookies for Ole Miss.
1. Ole Miss: The Rebels might have had the most talked about recruiting class this past spring, and boy has it delivered. Coach Hugh Freeze was concerned about the class receiving too much hype, but these kids haven't had trouble adapting to the college game. Heading into this week's Alabama game, Ole Miss has five true freshmen as starters on the depth chart. The headliners in the class have been defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who has 10 tackles, including four for loss, and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who is averaging 5.3 catches per game and has 154 receiving yards. Tight end Evan Engram has also had a major impact, catching 11 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns, while offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil will make his second straight start at left tackle. Starting nickel corner Tony Conner intercepted a pass on his first career defensive snap, while offensive lineman Austin Golson has played around 50 percent of the snaps.

2. Georgia: The Bulldogs knew they were going to have to get a lot out of their freshman class, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Through the first four weeks of the season, six of Georgia's top 15 tacklers are freshmen: safety Tray Matthews (14), linebacker Leonard Floyd (12), cornerback Brendan Langley (10), safety Quincy Mauger (five), defensive lineman John Taylor (four) and linebacker Reggie Carter (four). The Bulldogs have played 14 true freshmen this season, which ranks third nationally. Ten of them have played on the defensive side of the ball and three of them -- Matthews, Floyd and Langley -- have started. In addition, freshman receiver Reggie Davis has two catches for 134 yards, including a school-record 98-yard touchdown reception against North Texas.

3. Arkansas: The first thing you think about when you see this Razorbacks team is the running game. Alex Collins became the first freshman in SEC history to begin his career with three straight 100-yard rushing games and the first true freshman in the NCAA to record three straight 100-yard rushing games to start his career since Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson had nine straight in 2004. Collins leads the SEC with 481 rushing yards, is averaging 120.3 yards per game and has been named the SEC Freshman of the Week twice. Tight end Hunter Henry is second on the team with eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. Offensive tackle Denver Kirkland grabbed a handful of snaps against Southern Miss, while fellow tackle Dan Skipper blocked a field goal against Rutgers. Cornerback D.J. Dean has received a lot of snaps this fall as well.

4. Tennessee: Fourteen true freshmen and 22 freshmen overall have played for the Vols this season. Three true freshmen have made starts this season: wide receiver Marquez North (four), defensive back Cameron Sutton (four) and wide receiver Josh Smith (two). North, who leads the team with 12 catches for 112 yards, became the first true freshman to start the season opener for Tennessee at receiver since Marsalis Teague in 2009, while Sutton is the first true freshman defensive back to start a season opener since Justin Coleman in 2011. Defensive back Malik Foreman intercepted a pass in his debut against Austin Peay, becoming the first true freshman to record a pick in his Vols debut in the season opener since Dwayne Goodrich in 1996. Defensive back Devaun Swafford recorded a pick-six in Tennessee's loss to Florida last week.

5. LSU: The Tigers have played 14 true freshmen this season, and eight of those are defensive players. Cornerback Tre'Davious White is the only freshman to make a start this year, doing so against Kent State and Auburn. White has 17 tackles on the season, including one for loss, and has also forced a fumble and broken up a pass. Kendell Beckwith has received some good snaps at linebacker and on special teams. He also lines up at defensive end to provide more of a pass-rushing threat on third downs. Defensive lineman Christian LaCouture has seen time in the rotation along the Tigers' defensive line.

Defense still seeks competent play

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
7:00
AM ET
ATHENS, Ga. -- Winning is the best salve in sports, so Georgia's defensive lapses aren't as painful as they would have been if the Bulldogs had lost to South Carolina on Saturday and entered their bye week with an 0-2 record.

That alone is a relief for the young defenders who allowed 34 points and 460.5 yards per game against Clemson and South Carolina, surrendering 6.7 yards per play to the two highly ranked opponents.

“It definitely would have stunk. We probably would have been in full pads every day, hitting,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said of the bye-week practices. “It wouldn't have been a fun environment in Athens for these next two weeks.”

The members of Todd Grantham's defense realize that their shoddy tackling would have been the reason for the extra hitting, just as it was the reason they practiced in full pads twice last week leading up to the South Carolina game. They are simply nowhere near where they need to be if Georgia is to remain in the national championship conversation through the rest of the season.

[+] EnlargeAmarlo Herrera
AP Photo/John Bazemore)Amarlo Herrera forces a fumble by South Carolina QB Connor Shaw.
The Bulldogs' offense has mostly bailed them out thus far, but there have been too many missed tackles and busted coverages preventing Georgia's defense from even being considered competent to this point.

“We've still got some things to fix,” Jenkins said. “There were still some moments where some guys didn't know what to do. It still wasn't as much as it was last week, but we're just a defense that's coming along and we've just got to fix some small things. I know that's getting repetitive, but I feel like this week was really something that we needed as a defense.”

South Carolina finished with 454 yards of total offense and actually averaged more yards per play than did Georgia -- 7.4 to 7.1 -- but there were a couple of bright spots for the Bulldogs in the second half.

For starters, Amarlo Herrera continued his difference-making play at inside linebacker. A week after notching 12 tackles against Clemson, Herrera made another 12 stops -- none bigger than when he met Gamecocks running back Mike Davis at the goal line on a fourth-down option run and forced a turnover on downs.

“They just came out in a formation that we knew and [South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw] checked, so I kind of knew by the alignment what play they were going to run,” Herrera said. “So I just ran to the running back.”

Herrera also tracked down Shaw from behind in the third quarter and forced a fumble that Josh Harvey-Clemons recovered at Georgia's 25-yard line.

Because of those two giveaways, the Gamecocks mustered just six points in the second half on Saturday, despite generating 221 yards of offense and averaging 7.9 yards per play in the half.

Some of those yards played out in ugly fashion for the Bulldogs, such as when Davis broke a 75-yard run deep into Georgia territory, setting up a 3-yard touchdown run where he ran straight through tackle attempts by Herrera, Ramik Wilson, Harvey-Clemons and John Taylor. Or when Nick Jones twice burned freshman cornerback Brendan Langley for touchdown catches in the second quarter.

“It's not easy to play corner in this league, or any league for that matter, in college football,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “You're going to get challenged, especially if you're a rookie. And he got challenged. He got beat once or twice, but he hung in there.”

Certainly some of Georgia's early problems were to be expected. With a big group of inexperienced players taking over for 12 major contributors -- most notably NFL first-round picks Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree -- from the 2012 defense, naturally there have been some growing pains.

Langley is a true freshman who lined up against All-American Sammy Watkins and an array of other talented Clemson receivers in his first college game. Other new starters like Leonard Floyd, Harvey-Clemons, Sterling Bailey, Wilson and Tray Matthews intrigue the coaches with their talent, but sometimes frustrate them by not performing as consistently as they'd like.

“We're young and we're learning,” Harvey-Clemons said. “A lot of us -- like me and Corey [Moore] -- this is our first time playing, so once we get together and get some games under us and get that chemistry going, I feel like there will be a lot of trouble for offenses to come."

The open date comes at a good time for the Bulldogs (1-1), allowing them to regroup from as tough a first two weeks as Georgia has ever faced in program history. With a week off followed by a visit from North Texas (1-1) before LSU (2-0) comes to Athens on Sept. 28, Grantham and company can use the rocky first two games as a teaching tool in a low-pressure environment before life gets difficult again.

LSU has diversified its offense this season and will present a bigger challenge than its run-heavy attacks of the past. And Tennessee's and Missouri's offenses will likely try to spread the field and tear holes in Georgia's defensive scheme, as well.

In short, this is a nice break, but the Bulldogs must be better prepared to be on the defensive soon. They know it as well as anyone.

“We find a way to make a play, make a turnover, keep grinding,” Grantham said. “I think that I saw some improvement over last week. I thought our front guys were physically stout at the line of scrimmage. I think we've got to do a better job on the edges in the run game. … We've just got to keep working and if we do that, we'll be fine.”

Five things: Georgia-Clemson

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
8:00
AM ET


No. 5 Georgia and No. 8 Clemson will end a 10-year hiatus in their historic rivalry Saturday when the Bulldogs visit Death Valley n in one of the most intriguing matchups of opening weekend.

Let’s examine five key elements involved in a game that could impact this season’s BCS championship chase:

Big-play offenses: Las Vegas is predicting two of the nation’s most-prolific offenses to combine for around 70 points on Saturday night. And research provided by ESPN Stats and Information gives us plenty of reasons to see why many analysts expect a high-scoring game between the Bulldogs and Tigers.

Beyond simple scoring and total offense stats, they both ranked among the nation’s top big-play offenses a season ago. Georgia ranked first nationally or tied for first in touchdowns of at least 20 yards (31), 30 yards (22) and 50 yards (12) and led the nation with an average of 7.09 yards per play.

Clemson, meanwhile, led the nation in completions of 25 yards or more (51) and touchdown passes that covered at least 25 yards (20). Clemson’s Tajh Boyd had 11.2 percent of his passes go for completions of at least 25 yards, which was the highest of any quarterback in the country who attempted at least 150 passes.

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray led the nation in yards per pass attempt (10.1) and percentage of attempts to gain 20 yards or more (16.1).

Both quarterbacks improved their accuracy on passes of 20-plus yards last season, with Murray completing 46 percent of such throws (an increase of 17.3 percent) and Boyd hitting on 51 percent (an increase of 14 percent).

Will Watkins step up?: With Georgia breaking in a largely rebuilt secondary, this game would seem like a prime opportunity for Clemson’s 2011 All-American receiver Sammy Watkins to exploit the Bulldogs’ youth.

Watkins talked a big game about beating Georgia during the offseason, but will he reclaim his spot as the Tigers’ top receiving target after losing that title last fall to DeAndre Hopkins. Watkins was third nationally in all-purpose yards (2,288) in 2011, but totaled fewer than half as many a year later (1,073). His touchdowns-per-touch ratio dropped from 1-in-9.6 to 1-in-17.8, as well.

Clemson quarterbacks targeted Watkins 44 fewer times (from 123 in 2011 to 79 last year) and his catch (82 to 57), receiving yardage (1,219 to 708) and touchdown (12 to three) totals all dropped severely.

Hopkins led the nation with 11 touchdown catches of 25-plus yards last season, so the Tigers desperately need Watkins to live up to the standard he set in 2011 and replace some of the departed star’s production. Watkins is more than capable, posting 11 TD catches of 25-plus yards in his first two seasons as a Tiger.

Pound the run?: An interesting subplot to Saturday’s game is how Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will attack Clemson’s defense. The Tigers also have some concerns in the secondary -- this on the heels of surrendering 7.32 yards per pass attempt a season ago. But conventional wisdom seems to dictate that Georgia uses its powerful running game -- paced by All-SEC pick Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall -- to extend drives and provide time for its defense to rest between series against Clemson’s up-tempo offense.

Both players averaged better than 6 yards per carry last season, due in large part to their capabilities as home-run threats. They combined for 12 runs of 25-plus yards, eight of which went for touchdowns. Gurley alone had 27 carries that went at least 15 yards, which tied for fifth in the FBS.

Clemson ranked 57th nationally against the run last season, surrendering 155.92 yards per game on the ground in Brent Venables’ first season as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator. The Tigers were 71st against the pass at 240.3 ypg.

Murray on the big stage: Fair or unfair, Saturday’s game -- and the upcoming matchups with South Carolina and LSU in September -- will serve as another referendum on Murray’s status as a big-game performer.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsDespite big-name offensive talent, Georgia-Clemson could come down to young defenders like Tray Matthews.
Georgia’s quarterback caught plenty of guff over shortcomings against ranked opponents well into last season. He’s 3-11 in his UGA career against teams that ended the season ranked in the AP Top 25 with 23 touchdowns versus 16 touchdowns against those teams. He’s 25-2 with 72 touchdowns and 16 interceptions against teams that finished unranked.

The positive sign for Murray is that he has won two of his last three games against opponents that finished the season as a ranked team: Florida and Nebraska last season. Following an atrocious first half against Florida last season, Murray has tossed seven touchdowns against three interceptions in 10 quarters against ranked opponents, including the SEC championship game loss to Alabama.

Fresh-faced defenses: Let’s have some fun with numbers concerning Georgia and Clemson’s defensive depth charts.

After losing 12 key players from last season’s defense, Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham appears set to trot out a large group of newbies. Of the 22 players listed on the Bulldogs’ defensive two-deep in this week’s game notes, 16 of them have never started a college game. Heck, nine of them, including seven true freshmen, have never PLAYED in a college game.

But a number of them -- including outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, defensive lineman John Taylor, safety Tray Matthews and cornerbacks Brendan Langley and Shaq Wiggins -- could play big roles on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Clemson has some experience issues of its own. Ten of the 22 players on the defensive two-deep have never started and three of them are freshmen. They’re expected to be without injured freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who at No. 4 in the 2013 ESPN 150 was Clemson’s highest-rated signee in its most recent recruiting class.

It’s easily conceivable that Saturday’s outcome could be determined by which team’s young defensive personnel acquits itself more effectively in its first game in leading roles.

SPONSORED HEADLINES