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Defensive Pass Efficiency: The Stat To Watch In The SEC

For years the Southeastern Conference was a run-first league.  Then came Steve Spurrier.  His Fun ‘N’ Gun offense at Florida change all that.  Suddenly it was alright to put a team’s best weapons on offense and fling the ball all over the yard.  Enter quarterbacks like Danny Wuerffel, Peyton Manning, Tim Couch, Eli Manning, and David Greene and the league was transformed.

Now, late in 2012 the most important statistic — aside from turnovers — in the SEC is defensive pass efficiency.  Basically, it’s just “reverse quarterback rating.”  A team’s ability to defend itself against opposing gunslingers is more closely tied to winning and losing than a team’s own ability to move the ball through the air.  In other words, forget pass efficiency and study defensive pass efficiency instead.

Here’s why:

 

  School   Def. Pass. Eff. Vs SEC   SEC Record
  Florida   88.7   7-1
  Alabama   103.5   6-1
  LSU   105.4   4-2
  Vanderbilt   112.3   4-3
  Texas A&M   122.5   5-2
  S. Carolina   123.5   6-2
  Georgia   125.0   7-1
  Miss. State   140.4   3-3
  Missouri   140.4   2-5
  Ole Miss   145.6   2-4
  Kentucky   154.1   0-7
  Arkansas   154.5   2-4
  Auburn   159.0   0-7
  Tennessee   182.0   0-6

 

Amazingly, those teams that hold opposing SEC passers below a 140 passing efficiency rating are a combined 50-12 in SEC games this fall (80.6% win pct.).  Those defenses that allow opponents to post pass efficiency numbers of 140 or higher are a combined 9-36 in the SEC this year (25.0% win pct.).

Turnovers are massively important as we’ve pointed out many times, but if you’re looking for another stat to watch that ties directly to SEC wins and losses, defensive pass efficiency is the number to keep an eye on.  Shut down the other guy’s passer and your team will most likely win.

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UK QB Smith Out With Ankle Surgery; Freshman Towles To Play

Joker Phillips must feel that he’s being trailed by a black cloud these days.  Two plays into Saturday night’s game with South Carolina, quarterback Maxwell Smith — who Kentucky had built its up-tempo, passing game around — went down with an ankle injury.  Today, the severity of that injury was learned.

According to The Lexington Herald-Leader, Phillips said Smith (pictured at left) is out indefinitely after tearing a ligament in his left ankle.  Surgery will obviously be required.

On the bright side — at least for fans — they’ll be able to see “the next Tim Couch” in action on Saturday against Mississippi State.  In addition to true freshman signal-caller Jalen Whitlow who went in for Smith in UK’s 38-17 loss to Carolina, true freshman Patrick Towles will see action. Phillips said, “They’ll both play.”

As we noted last week, Towles was going to redshirt this season, even though fans, Towles and Towles’ father — who went to the press with his concerns — wanted to see what the Bluegrass State’s former Mr. Football could do.

On Saturday, everyone will find out.  And Phillips will hope all of the “next Couch” hype turns out to be true.

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Smith Gets Starting QB Gig At UK

Morgan Newton got off to a disastrous start for Kentucky last season.  The starting quarterback in last year’s season opener, Newton is coming back from off-season surgery on his throwing shoulder as well.  So it’s no surprise that sophomore Maxwell Smith was named UK’s starting quarterback yesterday.

The only real surprise is that it took so long for Joker Phillips to make that call.

It’s possible that Phillips and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders wanted to have a true competition in fall camp.  It’s possible that they knew Smith was their guy all along — he did take over for Newton last season — but they wanted to push him.  It’s also possible that Smith didn’t take the job and run with it in the way the coaches had hoped (though they have said otherwise).

Regardless, Smith is the right man for the job.  Newton looked flustered under fire last season.  And freshman Patrick Towles — “the next Tim Couch” to many Wildcat supporters — is too young for a coach on the hot seat to turn to.  Smith makes the most sense.  And he showed improvement over the course of last season.

Smith first got playing time against Florida, LSU and South Carolina last season.  The results: 7 completions in 19 attempts for 50 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.  Not good.

But after Newton went out with an injury, Smith took over in full and began to make strides.  In his final four appearances of the season (against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Georgia), he completed 77 passes in 134 attempts for 769 yards, four TDs and two interceptions.  Much better.

More telling, his yards-per-attempt improved from a ridiculous 2.63 in his first three games to a somewhat healthier 5.73 in his last four contests.  If he can make improvements again this season, the Wildcat offense should be nowhere near as anemic as it was for much of last season.

For his part, Smith says he now knows Kentucky’s playbook.  Sanders admits that his young pupil has made improvements, but he laughed at the “knows the playbook” notion:

 

“He’s still wrong, but the nice thing now is at least he knows what he didn’t know.  There is still more for him to learn.  He’s worked very hard at it and he’s so far beyond where he was.  Last year I used the analogy that we were teaching him Algebra I.  Well, he’s way beyond that point, but I don’t think he’s quite into the (trigonometry) part of it yet.”

 

He may not have to be.  As UK fans learned last year, even a steady quarterback like Mike Hartline — who was hardly a crowd favorite in his day — can be good enough to win some games.  In fact, if Smith can even sniff Hartline’s senior year production (3,178 yards, 23-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio), he’ll be a Bluegrass State hero this fall.

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Year Two A Biggie For UK’s Phillips

The more money coaches make, the quicker the pressure on them rises.  Every year a few more head coaches and assistants break the bank.  And every year a few more coaches feel their seats begin to warm.

Take Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, for example.  (I was tempted to pull a Henny Youngman right there.)  UK’s head football coach is entering just his second season as the Top Cat in 2011.  But still, Alex Scutchfield of the Kentucky-centric blog ASeaOfBlue.com writes that this season is of maximum importance for Phillips:


“Unlike his predecessor and mentor Rich Brooks, Phillips cannot weather the storm of a couple of losing seasons.  Expectations (that he helped create as an offensive coach and recruiter) are simply too high.  Yet Joker will start the season with offensive skills position and defensive linemen playing key roles who would have likely not seen the field at any point in the last five years at Kentucky.  A winning record will require a very good coaching job, much like the virtual masterpiece Brooks coaxed out in 2009.  The Cats will need to play 60 minutes of football each week, make up for weaknesses by winning turnover margin battles, and find two or three surprise contributors.

Phillips knows this, and if it keeps him up nights, well, it probably should.  It’s his time.”


Phillips is a Kentucky native and a graduate.  He played football at UK.  As offensive coordinator he oversaw some of the most productive seasons in UK history (not involving hotshot Tim Couch or rule-bending Hal Mumme).  Phillips is tried and true Big Blue.

But he’d better darn sure win in Year Two.

Ya think we all might be getting just a little too caught up in the “win big every year” thing?  Then again, as long as coaches keep pushing for more money, the more they’re asking for out of whack expectations.

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Theismann Says Newton’s Not A First-Round Pick

Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.  And former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann is entitled to his.  Even though we think he’s daffy to publicize it:

“To be honest with you, and I’ve never said this any place else, I don’t think Cam Newton’s a first round pick,” Theismann said to WTEM-AM in Washington, DC.

Huh?  What?  Why?

“You’re talking about a kid that started one year of football,” the former Redskins great said.  “He’s rushed the ball a lot more than he’s thrown it.  He hasn’t thrown the football a lot.  And when he did throw at the combine, he was not impressive. … I think the interview that he did with Jon Gruden (on ESPN) showed another side of him that wasn’t impressive. … I like all these (quarterbacks) as kids, but I’m talking about purely as football players, I think wherever you go, you’re stretching.”

Hmmm.  Well, okay.  He does make some valid points there.  But Newton is most assuredly first-round worthy. 

In hindsight, we might someday include Newton in a list of SEC quarterback busts like JaMarcus Russell, Tim Couch or Heath Shuler, but like all of those players, Newton obviously has the athletic ability to be considered a first-round pick — if not the first pick overall.

It’s Theismann’s opinion and he’s welcome to it.  But it’s hard to look at Newton’s vast upside and believe 32 times would be wise to risk passing on him.

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Nightmare Off Dickson Street (For Them, Not Us)

Arkansas
Content provided by Razorback Expats.

Fans cheer for Arkansas before the start of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Beth Hall)

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Beth Hall – AP

about 16 hours ago:

Fans cheer for Arkansas before the start of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Beth Hall)

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Actually, I don’t know if you can say that being beaten 49-14 is as much of a nightmare for Vanderbilt as rather just another day at the SEC gridiron for them. However, you can say the game began with the look of an unfolding nightmare for the Hogs. Vandy scored on their first two possessions, and their first time play caller was making it look like he had been calling up ball plays all his life as the Hogs looked clueless about how to stop the Vanderbilt offense. Then for some reason Vandy changes quarterbacks for a series, an interception follows, the Hogs then score, and that mysterious force in college football known as momentum takes its bag of treats and sits down on the Hogs’ bench for the rest of the game. Here are some thoughts about Vandy 2010, which was a much better experience than Vandy 2005 “The Haunting.” 

*Have you ever pulled out a winter coat and found a ten or tweny dollar bill stuffed in a pocket? Wow, I had this all summer and didn’t know it! Found money! Must spend, must spend, haha. Well, that was sorta the feeling that I got when I discovered I do in fact have Fox Sports South and would be able to see the Hogs play their homecoming game from about five counties away here in Oklahoma.

*Didn’t care for the announcers leading off the broadcast by reminding us that we won’t be going to Atlanta. Thanks! I’ll be sure to invite Tim Couch over to dinner sometime and begin our conversation by telling him he won’t ever win a Super Bowl.

* Like I imagine a lot of you were, I was also watching the Georgia / Florida game on CBS when the Fox Sports broadcast from Fayetteville began. I guess I was pulling for Georgia because we beat them this year and that Urban Meyer is just about as pleasant as rat droppings. Alas, Florida wins in overtime and proves again that the CBS game at 2:30 is by some law of nature just about always going to be the most entertaining game of the day.

* Pre-game Thought: Never underestimate the Hogs’ ability to play down to the level of the competition.

 

* The lack of defense on the first two Vanderbilt offensive possessions and the special teams breakdown with the simple extra point sure seemed to say that my pre-game thought was going to be the reality of the night. I could see us having to mount a last minute Mallett led drive to get Hocker in range to kick a field goal to beat lowly Vanderbilt.

* In the past the Hogs have had the ability to make freshmen or off the bench quarterbacks look like Heisman contenders. They have an odd “gift” for this. I was wondering if this was carrying over to first time play callers as well. The announcers kept on and on about how Vandy’s new offensive play caller had never done this before. Were the first two series just beginner’s luck? Vandy didn’t go anywhere after that.

* Please keep reading, but this is probably my best observation on the night. Jarius Wright dressed up for Halloween. Yeah, he went as Joe Adams!  I am worried now about Childs, but I do love that we have so much depth at this position. Remember when it was pretty much just Marcus Monk?

* Rudell Crimm (a great name for a Halloween eve game) was deadly in the secondary with an interception that helped turn the momentum and a wonderful play on the ball that prevented a Vanderbilt touchdown reception.

* My love for Knile Davis grows by each hand-off. Did you see with what authority he ran his last touchdown in? D.J. Williams gave him a key block, but I think Davis would have ran straight through the defender.

* My sense that this was the homecoming opponent we were looking for came when Vanderbilt allowed a safety that morphed from two points to nine points after the Hogs scored a touchdown on the following possession.

* Negatives of the night: Childs getting hurt again, the lack of focus /stops by the defense to start the game, and worse of all was the continuing trend of our shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties. We had thirteen last night for 130 yards. That will get you beat most likely in Columbia or Starkville.

* I still pine to see Brandon Mitchell play some role in a game. I thought we might see him at the end of last night’s game, but it was Tyler Wilson time instead. I think Brandon could be a late season Dexter McCluster type of impact player, so I am hoping Bobby Petrino is going to unleash him here soon in some fashion. The guy is elusive.

* The audience looked pretty thin there in the 4th quarter. Seeing as we finally came upon a fourth quarter where we could relax and just enjoy the game, I don’t understand why people would leave. If I had been there in Fayetteville, I would have been enjoying every last second of it.

* USC, Michigan, Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, all have hurt the Hogs – all lost this weekend! A big Nelson Muntz “Ha! Ha!” to them.

* BIG PICTURE THOUGHTS: We find ourselves at 6-2 (Bowl eligible) and still in the Top 25 with two thirds of the season in the record books. But for two truly nightmarish fourth quarters against teams from Alabama, we could very well be where Auburn is now. As I remember Roseannaannadannah (Gilda Radner) from the old SNL skit saying, “It is always something.” Yeah, it seems that way with the Hogs. But 11-2, a January 1 bowl, and a top ten finish are all still out there waiting for a team that can avoid penalities, execute on offense, clamp down on defense, and not turn over the ball. Even if it was just against Vanderbilt, I am encouraged that of those things we did all but the first one last night. Here is hoping we do all of them next weekend. We’ll certainly need to do so. The slayer of Alabama is no Vanderbilt.

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