Tune-up \’t(y)u-nep\ n 1 : a general adjustment to insure operation at peak efficiency.
Tuning up their football teams on out-of-conference opponents so as to achieve peak efficiency before diving into league play, is how both Tennessee and Florida have been spending the last two weeks. Meanwhile, Georgia and Auburn have already taken the plunge into contests with SEC foes and find themselves in the unaccustomed spot of leading their divisions.
This weekend features the much-anticipated Florida-Tennessee game and a pair of key opportunity games for Georgia on the road at Arkansas and Vanderbilt hosting Mississippi State. Auburn and West Virginia present an interesting match, as the tune-up process is over, and the real work begins.
Tennessee vs. Florida
Let’s see how these two SEC East rivals have made use of the time in the two-week run-up to their showdown in the Swamp.
The Gators have tuned up against Charleston Southern and Troy. Along the way, they scored 118 points while yielding only 9. They have averaged 330 yards rushing per game while allowing opponents only 84. Through the air, the Big Lizards have gained an average of 313.5 yards per game and given up only 147.
Coach Urban Meyer’s offense has scored eight touchdowns rushing and eight by passing. His defense has allowed none. That’s right: zero, zip, zilch, and because we are not English only: nada.
How have the Vols been tuning up their game?
The Big Orange offense has scored an average of 39 points per game, averaged 247 yards rushing and 185 yards passing. Monty Kiffin’s Volunteer defense has permitted opponents to gain less than two yards per rushing play and allowed only 75 yards passing per game. But the Vols stats are skewed by the fact that most of the good ones were recorded against Western Kentucky, a team that was only able to muster slightly more resistance than air.
Against UCLA, the Tennessee stat sheet tells a much more disturbing tale. The Bruins gained only 186 yards on UT’s more athletic and tougher defense, but the Vol offense committed four turnovers, including three interceptions. Consequently, UCLA only had to gain an average of 32 yards on each of its five scoring drives.
Vol miscues gave the Bruins the ball at the UT 33 and 26 yard lines. From there, UCLA scored 10 points. Two other UCLA scoring drives started at their own 40- and 45-yard lines.
It tells you something about the culture in the Vols locker room when the headline on the official UT Web site on Sunday proclaimed “Berry Vows No Finger Pointing After UCLA Loss.”
You will get no argument from me that UCLA was a much better opponent than either Charleston Southern or Troy, against whom the Gators compiled their gaudy statistics. But UT’s offensive miscues showed up against Western Kentucky as well.
What does this mean for Saturday’s meeting between the two schools? Meyer is not the president of the Gainesville Chapter of the Lane Kiffin Fan Club. In fact, rumor has it that ever since Kiffin made his gaff-of-the-day debut by boasting that he would “sing Rocky Top all night after beating Florida this fall” and falsely accusing Meyer of recruiting violations, the maintenance crew at Florida Field has been busy installing an extra row of lights on the scoreboard so that Meyer can try to hit triple digits.
Despite the fact that Tennessee does indeed have a very good, hard-hitting, athletic, fast and well-coached defense, Florida is going to ring up a big score on the Vols this Saturday. And since there will be another very good, hard-hitting, athletic, fast and well-coached defense on the field, UT fans need to be prepared for a very low-scoring game ….at least on the part of the Vols.
The pick: Florida in a rout.
Vanderbilt vs. Mississippi State
I managed to bat .500 in my predictions last weekend for these two schools.
Vanderbilt proved to be every bit as tough as its opening win against Western Carolina suggested. And the ‘Dores gave LSU fits deep into the fourth quarter. As I predicted, the difference in the game came down to the depth of talent and the Tigers had the advantage.
Mississippi State, on the other hand, proved that there is a big difference between beating the likes of Jackson State and being competitive with an SEC team. Auburn had little trouble dispatching the Bulldogs in the second half, suggesting that MSU may very well be the least talented team in the conference.
Vanderbilt has the opportunity to get half way to bowl eligibility during the month of September. The game this weekend will help. The pick: Vanderbilt.
Georgia vs. Arkansas
After a week off following an opening game against Missouri State, the Hogs host Georgia for the first game of what might be the most brutal six-game stretch that any conference team plays this season. After the Piggies play Georgia this weekend, they go on the road to Tuscaloosa, College Station, Gainesville and Oxford, with only a visit from Auburn in the middle to give the bus drivers a rest.
With that kind of bad schedule luck, it will be very difficult for Arkansas to finish in the top half of the Western Division. And this weekend’s game is not likely to help. Against Missouri State, the Porkers proved that they can fling the ball all over the field, but they were not able to bring home the bacon in the running game even against a decidedly non-SEC defense.
In Athens, the Dawgs and Roosters put on a show. South Carolina put the ball in the air 53 times against the Georgia defense, completing 31 passes for 313 yards, a pair of TDs and an interception. The lead changed hands four times and the Fighting Chickens gained more yards on the ground and in the air than did the Puppies.
The difference in the game proved to be the Yard Birds’ inability to finish drives in the end zone rather than with field goals.
No Georgia running back has yet stepped up to fill the shoes of the departed Knowshon Moreno. But the Georgia defense has been sorely tested. It’s a fair argument to say that Georgia has played better quality opposition in its first two games than any other team in the league. Starting the season against Oklahoma State and South Carolina could prove to be the right way to tune up for a team coached by the pass-happy Bobby Petrino.
The pick: Georgia.
Auburn vs. West Virginia
Down in The Loveliest Village the inmates are running out of toilet paper, having decorated Toomer’s Corner two weeks in a row following wins over La. Tech and MSU. The Tigers have scored 76 points in two games, while yielding 37, thereby inspiring beat writers in Birmingham to publish columns that are like Valentine’s to AU’s offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn.
The opponent this week, West Virginia, may actually be an Auburn Doppelganger. The Mountaineers have scored 68 points and given up 40 in two games against Liberty, and East Carolina. West Virginia’s quarterback Jarrett Brown has completed 75 percent of his passes, thrown for four touchdowns and earned a pass efficiency rating of 180.1. He has also added 142 rushing yards on 19 carries, making him the second most prolific runner on the team behind Noel Devine who has rushed for 192 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Auburn’s “Spread Eagle” offense has averaged 572.5 yards per game and QB Chris Todd has earned a passer efficiency rating of 144.17 completing 27 of 49 pass attempts with two TDs and no interceptions. This weekend, the villagers will have to either recycle their toilet paper or drive to the nearest big box discount retailer to restock.
West Virginia has not yet faced a SEC caliber defense. It will on Saturday. The pick: Auburn.
Leave comments for The Commish at www.nashvillecitypaper.com