Mitchell: SEC East Stumbles
Florida's Will Muschamp
Florida's Will Muschamp
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Sep 3, 2012


So much for the SEC East taking a step back towards the West... Perhaps it's simply a week one mirage, but all the preseason favorites in the East stumbled out of the gate. Opening day nerves, or a sign of things to come?

By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb

As much as it pains me, a quick nod to my colleague Brain Harbach, who in our Y’all Play Nice: SEC East Deep Dive argued that all three SEC East leaders (South Carolina, Georgia and Florida) were overrated and would struggle to start the season. While adding that Tennessee would be this year’s most underrated team from the East.

If the season were to end today he’d be bulls eye right.

SOUTH CAROLINA

South Carolina’s struggles didn’t come as that much of a surprise. We cautioned you back at the beginning of August that the Gamecocks had too many questions to be considered a top ten program, which was fairly evident on Thursday night. Carolina sputtered in nearly every aspect other than pass rushing, and had no business winning that game in Nashville against a spirited but average SEC squad in Vanderbilt.

UGA

The outcome of Georgia’s contest against Buffalo never truly felt in doubt – certainly not in the second half. Yet the Dawgs stumbled badly out of the gate. A 3-9 team in the MAC last year now with an inexperienced quarterback, Buffalo controlled much of the first half, outgaining UGA in total yards 243 to 188. More concerning, the Bulls dominated a vaunted UGA run defense for the first 30 minutes, pushing it up and down Sanford Stadium at will (147 rushing yards to Georgia’s 51). Not surprisingly, they also controlled time of possession…and for the full game as well.

The Dawgs didn’t put Buffalo away for good until the overmatched Bulls ran out of bodies in the second half; even then, UGA found efficiency only in fits and bursts .

FLORIDA

This year Florida returned seventeen starters, including ten on defense, and are the dark horse favorite for many an SEC East observer. Yet even with a year to adjust to head coach Will Muschamp’s defense, the Gators allowed themselves to be outplayed by a Bowling Green team that was sub-.500 in 2011.

Nothing seemed to come easily for the Gators...other than making a circus side show out of its quarterbacking search. Perhaps now Florida’s offense can focus on playing steady, mistake-free football instead of worrying about bruising people's feelings.

On the day, Bowling Green had nearly 60% more first downs than Florida (22-14), whose offense had difficulty sustaining drives. Not surprisingly, the Falcons ran 79 offensive plays to the Gators’ 63. This is in the Swamp, I remind you.

If not for the Falcon’s Stephen Stein missing two chip shot field goals from inside the Gators' 15 yard line, Florida would have been losing entering the fourth quarter.

Instead, Bowling Green had to make do with scoring the game’s first points, holding the Gators scoreless in the first quarter, chasing Florida into the fourth quarter down by just a field goal, and for most of the afternoon making the heavily favored Gators look inexperienced and downright pedestrian.

Speaking of average, and for some perspective… Largely playing other MAC-like schools, before Saturday Florida had won 22 straight opening games at home by an average score of 48-10. Florida has also won their last 11 straight games against MAC schools by an average score of…49-10.

Saturday the Gators needed 10 fourth quarter points to eek out a 27-14 victory against Bowling Green.

BOTTOM LINE

It’s week one... Hopefully all three programs learn from their forgettable starts and leverage this experience for successful campaigns. For the Gators and Dawgs those lessons had better be learned quickly, as both travel this week to play Texas A&M and Missouri in the latter’s first SEC games.

It might not matter...given the rather clear message the Vols sent down from Rocky Top on Thursday.


Russ Mitchell is CFN's lead SEC Columnist. Follow Russ for SEC and CFB analysis @russmitchellcfb