Perception vs. reality in the SEC, Week 7
It’s time to look at some key topics across the SEC involving Saturday’s Week 7 slate of games (OK, mostly the Georgia-Missouri game).
PERCEPTION: SPURRIER’S TIMING WAS POOR
Steve Spurrier’s resignation from South Carolina sent reverberations throughout all of college football, not just the SEC. The Head Ball Coach was an institution in the conference for more than 25 years, but his departure in midseason with the Gamecocks struggling at 2-4 – and winless in the SEC – has left many questioning Spurrier’s timing.
It’s fair to criticize Spurrier’s timing. But the move was impulsive. Unconventional. Gut feel right or wrong. Much like his coaching style
— Rece Davis (@ESPN_ReceDavis) October 13, 2015
The media loves S. Spurrier. Any other coach the narrative would be “he quits on his team half way thru the season b/c they’re 2-4!” — Desmond Howard (@DesmondHoward) October 13, 2015
Next morning reaction: Spurrier built up SO much goodwill w/ media. 95 percent of coaches would be roasted for “quitting” on team midseason
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) October 13, 2015
REALITY: THE TIME HAD COME IN COLUMBIA
The Head Ball Coach was in institution at South Carolina, but after 10-plus seasons and 86 wins the Gamecocks program has run aground. And while Steve Spurrier had earned the right to coach in Columbia as long he wished, the uncertainty over his future has hung over the program of late. His waffling on how many years he’d continue coaching (“Give me two to three years”) cost him recruits.
In fact, the Head Ball Coach has been losing out on recruits for several years now and the results are palpable on the field — especially when it comes to keeping kids in the Palmetto State. You have to go back to 2010 to find the last South Carolina recruiting class that outranked in-state rival Clemson, according to 247Sports’ rankings. You have to go back to 2011 and Jadeveon Clowney to find Spurrier’s last five-star recruit. Since Spurrier inked Clowney, Clemson has signed seven five-star recruits to the Gamecocks’ none.
Clemson’s 2015 recruiting class ranked No. 9 while South Carolina’s ranked No. 19, the biggest discrepancy since 2011. Spurrier’s indecisiveness was holding them back. South Carolina did land three-star recruit Darius Whitfield this week, but if the Gamecocks want to get serious about rebuilding, there is no time like the present.
PERCEPTION: GEORGIA BOASTS ANOTHER VETERAN SQUAD
Mark Richt’s Georgia squad doesn’t rebuild. It simply cycles up raw undergrads into seasoned upperclassmen. The results are a Bulldog squad that has finished below .500 just once during the coach’s 14-plus years in Athens.
REALITY: BULLDOGS YOUNGEST TEAM IN NATION
It might be time to call 2015 what it truly is, a rebuilding-type year — especially with the season-ending injury to standout running back Nick Chubb. Mark Richt has played 22 true freshmen this season, more than any other team in the nation. And they’re not just filling in for injured veterans. Georgia played 19 true freshmen in its Week 1 win over Louisiana-Monroe. The most true freshmen Richt ever previously started in a game was 13 in 2012. Add in the fact that the Bulldogs are breaking in 11 first-time starters this year and a picture begins to formulate of a team that’s not lacking in talent, just big-game experience.
The growing pains were evident against Tennessee in Week 5 when Georgia was flagged for two illegal substitution calls (12 men on the field) and lost timeouts to prevent it from happening even more. Are we worried about Georgia? Not entirely. Anything can happen and the Bulldogs are still alive in an SEC East that just saw its first-place team (Florida) lose its starting quarterback for a year.
PERCEPTION: HANSBROUGH’S INJURY HURTS MIZZOU RUN GAME
Not too many teams can lose more than 2,000 yards rushing and survive. With Marcus Murphy (924 yards) graduated and Russell Hansbrough dealing with a nagging ankle injury for most of the season, the Missouri Tigers have struggled to establish a rushing attack. The senior Hansbrough accrued 1,084 of his career 2,074 yards on the ground last year, but just 166 yards on 33 attempts this season.
As a result, Missouri has plummeted from the No. 7-ranked rushing attack in the SEC in 2014 to No. 13 a year later — a mere 12 yards in front of Kentucky for last in the conference. Ish Witter has filled in to lead the team in rushing, but has done so with just 312 yards and single touchdown. No Hansbrough equals no rushing game in Columbia.
REALITY: WHAT ABOUT THAT O-LINE?
The running game certainly gets its share of the culpability for Missouri’s rushing woes, but the Tiger tailbacks aren’t solely to blame. The Missouri offensive line has struggled this season, which is a little odd with three returning starters in C Evan Boehm, RG Mitch Hall and LT Connor McGovern. The group has given up 12 sacks, worse than all but Florida, Texas A&M and Kentucky. That’s a number that could be higher without a scrambling quarterback in Maty Mauk (145 rushing yards, 1 TD) under center for the first four games. But it’s a little deeper than that.
Missouri ranks last in the SEC in adjusted line yards, according to the creative statisticians over at footballoutsiders.com. The adjusted line yards stat separates running backs from offensive lines using a simple algorithm based on the amount of yards per carry. By their calculations, Missouri’s 83.6 rating ranks the Tigers offensive line as No. 120 in the nation. A 100.0 rating is generally viewed as average. Texas A&M, for example, has a 132.5 average and just happens to be undefeated.
With Hansbrough getting healthier by the week and sophomore Ish Witter gaining valuable experience, there’s still time for the line to gel. Missouri is 4-2 but has two losses in the SEC, yet given Georgia’s recent struggles, Tennessee’s inconsistencies, Kentucky’s inexperience and own offensive line woes, combined with whatever is going on in Florida this week, and there’s no writing off Mizzou just yet.