With No. 15 Florida on a bye this week, I am going to take the time to decipher the Gators’ performance through its first six games. This will be a four-part series focusing on a different aspect of the team each day. Part 4 focuses on Florida’s first three games after the bye week.
Oct. 29: Georgia (in Jacksonville)
Record: 4-3 (2-3 SEC)
Coach: Kirby Smart (1st season)
The Bulldogs have the weapons to attack opponents in both the pass and the run game. On the ground, junior Nick Chubb (586 yards, five touchdowns, 5.1 yards/carry) is having a solid rebound season after a brutal knee injury cut short a 2015 season that had him in contention for the Heisman Trophy. Fellow junior Sony Michel (358 yards, one touchdown, 4.9 yards/carry) and freshman Brian Herrian (341 yards, three touchdowns, 6.6 yards/carry) have been valiant change-of-pace backs behind him. Herrian is third nationally in yards per carry among freshmen with at least 50 carries and Georgia is one of two teams in the SEC and one of just five in the Power 5 conferences to have three players to each have at least 300 yards and a rushing touchdown (the others: Alabama, Baylor, Ohio State and Nebraska).
In the passing game, freshman quarterback Jacob Eason has shown flashes of brilliance halfway into his first season. The former five-star recruit is third among true freshman quarterbacks in both passing yards per game (195.1) and quarterback rating (118.96) and has nine passing touchdowns to just five interceptions. He has posted a pair of 300-yard outings, including a 308-yard, three-touchdown performance against Missouri in which he capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a 20-yard go-ahead touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie with less than two minutes left to play. McKenzie (30 catches, 415 yards, five touchdowns) has been Eason’s favorite and most consistent receiver thus far this season.
The Bulldogs have been stout against the run this season, placing third in the SEC and 15th overall in average yards allowed on the ground (111.1/game). They’ve held four opponents to no more than 125 rushing yards. Sophomore Trenton Thompson (five tackles for loss) anchors the defensive line and linebackers Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith (81 combined tackles) have been stout at linebacker.
Georgia’s pass defense, on the other hand, has not been as successful. UGA is giving up 228.6 yards per game, a mark that ranks ninth in the SEC and 67th among FBS teams. Most of the damage came in a back-to-back games against Missouri (376 yards) and Ole Miss (330 yards). The defense also collapsed late against Tennessee, giving up 136 second-half passing yards and three touchdowns in a 34-31 loss. The Bulldogs have also given up 11 passing touchdowns compared to forcing eight interceptions. Linebacker Lorenzo Carter leads the team with four sacks.
A poor showing against Vanderbilt and a last-second hail mary from Tennessee are the only things stopping this team from being 4-1 in conference play heading into next weekend’s matchup against Florida.
Nov. 5: No. 22 Arkansas (in Fayetteville)
Record: 5-2 (1-2 SEC)
Coach: Bret Bielema (fourth season)
Arkansas offense has been fueled by a powerful run game for most of recent time. This year, however, the Razorbacks’ passing game has found life and has helped the Hogs add an extra wrinkle to their offense. Redshirt junior quarterback Austin Allen, the younger brother of former Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen, is averaging 265.9 passing yards per game, good for third in the SEC and 31st in the nation. He has an SEC-best 18 touchdowns through seven games and has thrown at least two touchdown passes in every game this season.
In the ground game, sophomore Rawleigh Williams II is averaging 112.1 rushing yards per game, the second-best mark in the SEC and the 17th-best in FBS. He has four games with at least 120 rushing yards on the season and is averaging a staggering 5.6 yards per carry.
While its offense has flourished, Arkansas’ defense has been a middle of the road group this season and has fallen apart in conference play. In three SEC contests -- a 45-24 loss to Texas A&M, a 49-30 loss to Alabama and a 34-30 win over Ole Miss -- Arkansas has given up a staggering average of 503.7 yards.
This game will be interesting. It’s the farthest road trip the Gators will make in the regular season and the outcome will more than likely determine the importance of Florida’s Nov. 19 matchup with LSU in terms of determining the SEC East champion.
Nov. 12: South Carolina (in Gainesville)
Record: 2-4 (1-4 SEC)
Coach: Will Muschamp (first season)
Like most Will Muschamp offenses, South Carolina is struggling. The Gamecocks have the third-worst offense in the country, averaging 304.5 yards per game and are scoring an FBS-worst 14 points per game.
South Carolina is shaky at quarterback, with both senior Perry Orth (57/90, 661 yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions in four games) and true freshman Brandon McIlwain (56/106, 567 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) receiving extensive playing time in the Gamecocks’ first six games. The State reported this week that Muschamp might turn the team over to another true freshman in Jake Bentley.
Freshman A.J. Turner leads the run game with a meager 300 yards and two touchdowns. His 50 yards per contest are tied for 21st in the SEC with UF freshman Lamical Perine (who is the second-best back in the Gators’ four-back committee).
South Carolina’s defense can be described in two sentences. It excels against the pass. It fails against the run.
The Gamecocks are second only to Florida in the SEC in pass defense (173 yards allowed/game) and are last in the conference in run defense (222.7 yards allowed/game). Seven of the eight touchdowns South Carolina’s defense has given up during its three-game losing streak have been rushing touchdowns.
Final Words: Muschamp’s return to The Swamp on Florida’s senior night is an interesting way for the Gators to close out their home slate (remember: the Nov. 19 game against Presbyterian was canceled and the Gators will play LSU in Baton Rouge instead). This is arguably Florida’s lone guaranteed win left on the schedule. A win would have McElwain go undefeated at home in his second season, something that hasn’t happened for UF since 2012.