SEC: Richard Kent


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- No. 4 Florida had to overcome injuries, double-digit penalties, and giving up its first fourth-quarter points of the season to extend its winning streak over Vanderbilt.

How the game was won: After Vanderbilt closed Florida's lead to 24-17 late in the fourth quarter, the Gators took over on their own 30-yard line after a Commodores squib kick. UF needed just one play to seal its 22nd consecutive victory over Vanderbilt. QB Jeff Driskel kept the ball on the option to the right and went 70 yards for a touchdown.

Turning point: Florida turned the game permanently in its favor with two special-teams plays in the third quarter. DE Earl Okine blocked Richard Kent's 44-yard field-goal attempt, which gave the Gators the ball on their own 38-yard line with 6:17 remaining. Four plays later, the Gators lined up to punt on their own 43, but instead ran a fake. Up back Trey Burton took a direct snap and handed the ball off to WR Solomon Patton, who was streaking across the formation. Patton went 54 yards down the left sideline before getting pushed out of bounds at the Vandy 3. That set up Driskel's touchdown run with 4:31 remaining to put the Gators ahead 18-7. Vandy also gave up a 61-yard kickoff return to Andre Debose that set up Caleb Sturgis' 26-yard field goal with 5:22 remaining.

Stat of the game: Florida won the game despite going 2-for-11 on third down. The Gators didn't convert a third down in the second half (0-for-4).

Player of the game: Driskel rushed for 177 yards, which is a UF record for rushing yards by a quarterback. He ran the ball only 11 times, but two of those carries went for touchdowns. One was a 37-yarder and the other was a 70-yarder that clinched the victory. Driskel also went 11-for-20 for 77 yards.

Second guessing: Vanderbilt hit a big play to quickly get down to Florida's 22-yard line with a little less than five minutes remaining and the Gators leading 24-14. But instead of going hurry-up, the Commodores huddled and ran four consecutive plays and wasted about 90 seconds of clock time. Vandy also had all three timeouts remaining but coach James Franklin chose to keep them for defense. Turns out the Commodores didn't need them because Driskel went 70 yards for a touchdown on the Gators' ensuing possession to seal the victory.

What Florida learned: All the talk about the Gators being a deeper team in 2012 was proven true on Saturday, as they were able to overcome a slew of injuries. Florida was without three starters (G James Wilson, DT Dominique Easley and LB Jelani Jenkins) and lost two more on the offensive line (LT Xavier Nixon, C Jonotthan Harrison) and starting TE Jordan Reed in the first half. Reed eventually returned in the second half, but the Gators had several other players leave the game for periods of time before returning. UF would not have been able to overcome those losses last season.

What Vanderbilt learned: Franklin may have found something effective with a hurry-up offense late in the second half, but the Commodores still only managed to throw a scare into one of the SEC's traditional powers. Vanderbilt is still searching for that breakthrough victory.

What it means: Florida (6-0, 5-0 SEC) already has as many regular-season victories this season as it did in 2011. The Gators will play host to South Carolina in a key Eastern Division game next Saturday and then plays against Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla. UF could make that game in Jacksonville the division championship game if it beats South Carolina.

Ranking the SEC's punters

July, 23, 2012
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Now that we've looked at the SEC's top kickers, we're checking out the league's top punters.

Past rankings:
Here are our top 10 SEC punters:

1. Brad Wing, Soph., LSU: He was one of the league's most entertaining people last year, and he had the left leg to back it up. The first-team All-American averaged 44.4 yards per punt last season, with a long of 73 yards, and pinned 27 kicks inside his opponents' 20-yard line. He also had 20 punts of 50 or more yards.

2. Steven Clark, Jr., Auburn: The Ray Guy finalist and the SEC coaches All-SEC selection was one of the most accurate punters in the nation last fall. Not only did he average 40.8 yards per punt, he pinned 33 of his 72 kicks inside the 20. He had a long of 58 yards and sent 13 punts 50 yards or more.

3. Dylan Breeding, Sr., Arkansas: He returns as the SEC's top statistical punter after averaging 45.3 yards per punt last fall, with a long of 70 yards. Breeding landed 16 of his 53 punts inside the 20, and had 17 punts of 50 or more yards. He ranks fifth all-time at Arkansas in punts (166), punt yardage (6,971) and punt average (42.0).

4. Tyler Campbell, Sr. Ole Miss: He ranked fifth in the SEC last season, averaging 43.6 yards per punt with a long of 73. He also had 28 of his 72 kicks drop inside the 20, and had 16 punts go for 50 or more yards. Campbell is both powerful with his kicks and very accurate, making him a big weapon for the Rebels' defense.

5. Trey Barrow, Sr., Missouri: He was a second team All-Big 12 member last season, and ranked second in the league in punting average (44.8). Barrow, who also shared place-kicking duties, had a long of 74 yards last season, pinned 10 punts inside the 20, and had 18 punts of 50 or more yards.

6. Richard Kent, Sr., Vanderbilt: He averaged 42.5 yards per punt last season, with a long of 67. He also pinned 23 punts inside the 20 and had 18 punts of 50 or more yards. He had a 41.2-yard net punting average, and has put at least one punt inside the 2o in 24 of his 25 career games.

7. Baker Swedenburg, Jr., Mississippi State: He averaged 41.8 yards per punt, with a long of 58 last season. Nineteen of his kicks dropped within the 20, and he had 14 punts of 50 or more yards. The staff expects him to be even better after having a tremendous spring in Starkville this year.

8. Ryan Epperson, Sr., Texas A&M: He averaged 41.2 yards per punt last season, and pinned 19 inside the 20. He had a long of 68 yards, and sent 10 punts 50 or more yards. He directed four punts inside the 20 against Arkansas and Texas last season.

9. Cody Mandell, Jr., Alabama: He averaged just 39.3 yards per punt, but had a long of 52 yards, pinned 11 inside the 20, and had two punts of 50 yards or more. He put a season-high five punts inside the 20 against Florida last fall. The former walk-on enters his third year as a starter this fall.

10. Kyle Christy, Soph., Florida: He became Florida's starting punter during the last seven games of the season, but the spot is now all his. He still finished with 30 punts, and averaged 40.9 yards per kick along the way, with a long of 67 yards. Ten of his kicks were downed inside the 20. In his debut against Auburn, four of his punts were downed inside the Tigers' 20.
The SEC has six players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Lou Groza Award, which is presented annually to the nation's most outstanding kicker.

Here are the six SEC players who made the Groza watch list:
For the full Lou Groza watch list, go here.

The SEC also has five players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Ray Guy Award, which is presented annually to the nation's most outstanding punter.

Here are the five SEC players who made the Guy watch list:
For the full Ray Guy watch list, go here.

Top performer: Punter

May, 21, 2012
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Our look at the SEC's most productive returning players in 2012 continues with a look at the league's top returning punters.

Past producers:
The SEC returns seven of the top 10 punters from last season. We're going by average yardage per punt. Note: To qualify, a punter must have at least 2.5 punts per team's games played. The top punter returns, but he'll surely have some tough competition this fall.

Here's a look at the top returning punter by kick average:

Dylan Breeding, Arkansas: He averaged 45.3 yards per punt last fall, with a long of 70 yards. Breeding pinned 16 of his 53 punts inside opponents' 20-yard line and had 17 punts of 50 or more yards. Breeding has one of the best legs in the league, but is also pretty accurate. His leg became another defensive weapon for the Razorbacks and he returns as one of the school's top punters. With a new defensive coordinator and some missing defensive parts from last year, Breeding will be even more important for the Hogs when the offense falters.

The SEC returns six more of the top 10 punters:
  • Brad Wing, LSU: He averaged 44.4 yards per punt, with a long of 73 yards. He also pinned 27 kicks inside the 20-yard line and had 20 punts of 50 or more yards.
  • Tyler Campbell, Ole Miss: He averaged 43.6 yards per punt, with a long of 73. He also pinned 28 kicks inside the 2o and had 16 punts of 50 or more yards.
  • Richard Kent, Vanderbilt: He averaged 42.5 yards per punt, with a long of 67. He also pinned 23 kicks inside the 20 and had 18 punts of 50 or more yards.
  • Baker Swedenburg, Mississippi State: He averaged 41.8 yards per punt, with a long of 58. He also pinned 19 kicks inside the 20 and had 14 punts of 50 or more yards.
  • Steven Clark, Auburn: He averaged 40.8 yards per punt, with a long of 58 yards. He also pinned 33 kicks inside the 20. (Punts of 50 or more yards not available.)
  • Cody Mandell, Alabama: He averaged 39.3 yards per punt, with a long of 52 yards. He also pinned 11 kicks inside the 20 and had two punts of 50 or more yards.

Punting can be a little more predictable than place-kicking, so Breeding has a pretty good shot of retaining his crown. If Arkansas' offense didn't eat into his production last year there might not be concern of it happening again. Campbell should challenge Breeding because Ole Miss' offense is looking to install a new offense this fall, and that will take some time for players to get used to.

Obviously, Wing is someone who could push for the top average as well. He has a cannon for a leg and has pinpoint accuracy. He's also the most entertaining kicker out there.

Definitely keep an eye on Missouri's Trey Barrow. He was second in the Big 12 in punting average (44.8) and had a long of 74 yards last season. He also pinned 10 kicks inside the 20 and had 18 punts of 50 or more yards.

Florida's Kyle Christy averaged 40.9 yards per punt last year, but didn't meet the criteria of having at least 2.5 punts per his team's games. He also struggled to crack the starting lineup at first before starting the last seven games of the season. If he can start things off as the Gators' starter, he could push for the crown.

Texas A&M's Ryan Epperson could also challenge for the throne after he averaged 41.2 yards per punt and pinned 19 kicks inside the 20. He had a long of 68 yards and booted 10 punts for 50 or more yards.

Keep an eye on Joe Mansour and Jay Willmott at Kentucky, as they battle for the starting spot.

Season report card: Vanderbilt

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
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The regular-season grades for the Vanderbilt Commodores are pretty spiffy. They’re headed to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl to face Cincinnati on Dec. 31.

OFFENSE: B-

When you consider that the offensive grade for the Commodores each of the past two seasons was a resounding F, the fact that they check in this season with a B- is a testament to how much they improved on offense. That improvement was most glaring in the offensive line, which paved the way for Zac Stacy to rush for a school-record 1,136 yards. The Commodores averaged 26.9 points per game, a full 10 points more than they averaged a year ago. Jordan Rodgers’ emergence at quarterback helped bring the big play back to the Vanderbilt offense. Sophomore receiver Jordan Matthews averaged 19.5 yards per catch, while redshirt freshman receiver Chris Boyd caught seven touchdown passes. After being held without a touchdown in back-to-back games against South Carolina and Alabama, Vanderbilt averaged 31.6 points in its final seven games and scoring at least 21 points in all seven.

DEFENSE: B

The Commodores had several veterans returning on defense and played at a high level on that side of the ball all season. Early on when the offense was trying to find its identity, the defense carried this team. Senior leaders Chris Marve, Tim Fugger, Sean Richardson and Casey Hayward all had big seasons, and it’s a defense that specialized in taking the ball away. The Commodores forced 27 turnovers, tied for fourth in the SEC, and returned four of their 17 interceptions for touchdowns. The Commodores ranked 19th nationally in total defense, allowing an average of 324.6 yards per game, and were 27th in scoring defense, giving up an average of 20.8 points per game. Vanderbilt has had some good defenses over the years, but this one ranks right up there with any of them.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C+

The Commodores made some big plays on special teams. They gave themselves a chance to beat Georgia with the late blocked punt, and Andre Hal returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown earlier in that game. But they also made just 7 of 13 field-goal attempts, missing two in the 27-21 overtime loss to Tennessee, and had a costly running-into-the-kicker penalty go against them in that loss to the Vols, too. They were fourth in the league in both net punting and kickoff coverage. Richard Kent averaged 42.5 yards per punt.

COACHING: B

Some might look at this grade and think it’s a bit high for a team that went 6-6 in the regular season. But how many times have the Commodores won six games in the regular season, and how many times have they played in a bowl game? In his first season, James Franklin came in and completely changed the culture at Vanderbilt. He also brought an edge to the program that should serve it well for years to come. It wasn’t just Franklin, either. His staff is excellent. Look at the job offensive coordinator John Donovan did with a unit that ranked 112th nationally in scoring offense last season. The same goes for offensive line coach Herb Hand, who was the only holdover from the previous staff. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is one of the brightest defensive minds out there. It’s a staff that wasn’t shy about trying new things, either, and they obviously pressed all the right buttons with this team – only the fifth in school history to play in a bowl game.

Lunchtime links

August, 23, 2011
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We're bouncing around the league to find out what teams are up to as classes get underway.
We're pulling double-duty with the kickers today. Instead of ranking 10 place-kickers and 10 punters, we're doing the top five for each position.

These aren't the workout warriors that grab all of the headlines, but try to find a team that would go through a season without using them. Last season, 15 games involving SEC teams were determined by three points or fewer.

Here are our top five place-kickers:

[+] EnlargeBlair Walsh
Dale Zanine/US PresswireBlair Walsh already has missed five field goals this season, the same amount he missed across his sophomore and junior seasons combined.
1. Blair Walsh, Georgia, Sr.: Walsh was very reliable for the Bulldogs last season, making 20 of 23 (87 percent) field goals. For his career, he’s hit 55 of 68 kicks in his career, including 22-of-29 from 40 yards and beyond. He has missed just two kicks within 30 yards in his career.

2. Zach Hocker, Arkansas, So.: He was only a freshman last season, but Hocker nailed 16 of 19 field goals, with seven from 40 yards or better. With the high-powered offense the Razorbacks have, Hocker will get plenty of opportunities again. Now that he’s gone through a year of learning in the SEC, he should be even better, which is scary.

3. Bryson Rose, Ole Miss, Jr.: Rose returns with the highest kicking percent in the league after connecting on 16 of 18 (89 percent) field goals in 2010. He only attempted two kicks from 40 or more yards last year, but he hit both and might see more long attempts this season if the offense is slow out of the gate.

4. Derek DePasquale, Mississippi State, Sr.: He shared time with Sean Brauchle last season, but was still 10-of-12 kicking with a long of 43 yards. The Bulldogs’ offense should get him more attempts this season and the coaches were pleased with his range this spring.

5. Jeremy Shelley, Alabama, Jr.: Shelley was used for kicks within 40 yards, while Cade Foster dealt with the long ball. The two should be utilized the same way this fall, but Shelley will again get more attempts to score points. He was 12-of-16 in 2010.

Here are our top five punters:

1. Tyler Campbell, Ole Miss, Jr.: Campbell led the nation with a punting average of 46.4 yards per kick in 2010. He had 19 punts of more than 50 yards and five were launched 60 or more yards. Campbell is the ultimate field-position changer.

2. Drew Butler, Georgia, Sr.: Butler completes the dynamic kicking duo in Athens. He ranked fourth in the league, averaging 44.5 yards per punt last season. Nineteen of his 50 punts landed inside the 20-yard line.

3. Dylan Breeding, Arkansas, Jr.: Breeding will help out Arkansas’ defense with his extremely strong leg. He pinned 18 punts inside the 20 a year ago and averaged 42.5 yards per kick, which the coaches expect to increase after a solid spring.

4. Ryan Tydlacka, Kentucky, Sr.: He’s been a kicker of all trades during his time at Kentucky. He started as a pooch punter, kicked a few field goals and has now been a two-year starter at punter. He averaged 43.8 yards per punt in 2010 with a net average of 35.3 yards.

5. Richard Kent, Vanderbilt, Jr.: It’s hard to believe he still has a leg after the year he had in 2010. Kent kicked a nation-leading 84 punts last season and had 27 downed inside the 20. He only had a 41.8 yard-per-kick average, but that’s to be expected with all those kicks.
We’re finally at the end of our position rankings and we’ll finish up with special teams. This group does a lot more than people think and teams are starting to put their best athletes out here.

Kickers and punters don’t get a lot of respect in the athletic department, but they are crucial assets to teams.

Let’s see how the SEC special-teams units stack up:

1. Georgia: It would be hard to find another special-teams unit better than the one in Athens. The Bulldogs return the dependable Blair Walsh at kicker, who nailed 20 field goals on 23 attempts (87 percent). Punter Drew Butler averaged 44.5 yards on 50 punts, with 19 landing inside the 20-yard line. Georgia also has a talented returning duo in Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith. Boykin is the school’s all-time leader in kick return yards and averaged 24.3 yards per return with a touchdown in 2010. Smith only returned 10 punts last year, but is dynamic in space.

[+] EnlargeJoe Adams
Paul Abell/US PresswireJoe Adams was fifth in the nation in punt returns last season, averaging 15.6 yards per return.
2. Arkansas: Joe Adams might be one of the most fun guys to watch in the return game. He was fifth in the nation, averaging 15.6 yards per return last year, and is one of the shiftiest returners out there. He also had a touchdown. Dennis Johnson is back from injury and when he was healthy, he was one of the best kicker returners in the league. In the kicking game, sophomore Zach Hocker had an impressive freshman year where he connected on 16 of 19 field goals, with seven from 40 or better. Punter Dylan Breeding averaged 42.5 yards per kick and pinned 18 inside the 20.

3. Alabama: Trent Richardson not only heads the Tide’s offense, but he’s extremely dangerous as a kick returner. He averaged 26.4 yards per return and had a touchdown last year. Marquis Maze, who grabbed 21 punt returns last year, has great speed to break one at any time. Alabama actually returns two kickers in Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster. Shelley handled kicks within the 40-yard range, while Foster had long distance duty. The job at punter hasn’t been settled, with Cody Mandell and Jay Williams battling it out.

4. Florida: Caleb Sturgis is finally healthy after suffering a back injury last season. He was solid from farther out as a freshman, but struggled to stay consistent closer to the end zone. Ray Guy winner Chas Henry is gone, but freshman Kyle Christy enrolled early and immediately took over punting duties, launching a punt 55 yards in the spring game. Andre Debose was named the nation’s top kick returner by the College Football Performance Awards in 2010 after returning two kicks for touchdowns and Chris Rainey could be the slipperiest punt returner in the SEC. Florida also has been the best punt/kick blocking team around the last few years.

5. Ole Miss: Place-kicker Bryson Rose made 16 of 18 kicks last year and should be just as solid and might have to come up with even more kicks this fall. His kicking partner, punter Tyler Campbell, had a nation-leading 46.4 yards per punt average in 2010. He launched 19 punts over 50 yards and five of 60 or more yards. Jeff Scott was solid on kick returns, but Ole Miss’ staff will look to junior college transfer Philander Moore for kick and punt returns. Last season at Blinn (Texas) College, Moore had 811 total return yards and six touchdowns.

6. Vanderbilt: Kicker Ryan Fowler and punter Richard Kent return in 2011. Fowler was solid as a freshman, but took a few steps backward in 2010 kicking 8-of-13 and missing all of his kicks from beyond 35 yards. Carey Spear, who handled kickoffs last season, could push Fowler. Kent had one of the strongest and most durable legs in the country last season, leading the nation with 84 punts and averaged 41.8 yards per kick. Twenty-seven of them were downed inside the 20. Vanderbilt did, however, have four punts blocked. When healthy, Warren Norman is one of the most dynamic returners in the league. As a freshman, he took three kickoffs back for touchdowns and averaged 25.4 yards per return before his injury last season.

7. LSU: The Tigers had one of the most exciting place-kickers to watch in Josh Jasper because he not only kicked but he was the master of the trick play. LSU will now look to Drew Alleman, who has had issues with consistency. Jasper also punted here and there, but regular punter Derek Helton is gone, leaving redshirt freshman Brad Wing in charge. The Australian-born athlete has a lot to learn about the SEC. Now that Patrick Peterson is gone, LSU is starting over in the return game. No one on the roster is as dynamic, but the Tigers will look at Rueben Randle, Tyrann Mathieu and Ron Brooks to carry the load by committee.

8. Mississippi State: Kicker shouldn’t be an issue for the Bulldogs. Derek Depasquale has hit 20-of-24 field goals in his two seasons in Starkville and nailed a 54-yarder in the spring game. Mississippi State must replace punter Heath Hutchins, but Baker Swedenburg should fill in nicely. The Bulldogs have a lot of athletes to throw out into the kicking game this year. LaDarius Perkins, who is Mississippi State’s talented backup to running back Vick Ballard, will be used on kicks, along with receiver Brandon Heavens. Chad Bumphis returned punts last season, but Heavens could take over that role.

9. Kentucky: Returners Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke are gone, but there are some athletes ready to fill in. Randall Burden, Winston Guy and Martavius Neloms got looks at punt returner this spring and there are a few options at kick returner. Both Raymond Sanders and Jerrell Priester fielded a few last season. Both kickers are back. Walk-on Craig McIntosh made 11 of 15 field goals last season, with a long of 50, while punter Ryan Tydlacka averaged 43.8 yards per kick.

10.Tennessee: Kicker Michael Palardy only attempted seven kicks last year while backing up Daniel Lincoln. His only three misses were from beyond 40 yards. Tennessee will also be breaking in new punter Matt Darr this fall. The Volunteers were in the middle of the SEC pack in kick returns last year, but were 11th in the league in punt returns, totaling just 73 punt returns. Da’Rick Rogers will return punts and showed improvements there, while the Vols have yet to find their punt returner.

11. Auburn: Record-setting kicker Wes Byrum is finally gone, so the Tigers’ new kicker literally has big shoes to fill. That person should be Cody Parkey, who primarily kicked off last year. Auburn also lost punter Ryan Shoemaker. His replacement, Steven Clark had nine punts in 2010, with two dropping inside the 20. Onterio McCalebb should return more kicks this season and dynamic redshirt freshman Trovon Reed could be used on punt returns, where the Tigers averaged just 6.2 yards per return a year ago.

12. South Carolina: Gone is dual-threat kicker Spencer Lanning, who kicked field goals and punts. Jay Wooten impressed at times this spring and can place-kick and punt. There’s a chance the Gamecocks might end up having two kickers as Patrick Fish competed for the punting spot this spring. The Gamecocks were last in the SEC with a 3.4-yard average on punt returns, while the tiny Bryce Sherman averaged 20.4 yards on kicks, with a long of 37. The shifty Ace Sanders and newcomer Damiere Byrd could compete for time at punt returner.

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