With a month already gone in the 2016 season, the narratives for each SEC team are starting to come into focus.
Today we’ll attempt to look at one statistic that best explains where each conference team sits as we push into October. We checked out the SEC West earlier today. Now we move to the Eastern Division:
Florida: Seven completions of 20-plus yards. In Florida’s first three games, its ballyhooed defense had surrendered just five completions that covered 20 or more yards. In last Saturday’s collapse against Tennessee, the Volunteers totaled seven such completions against the Gators. One-loss Florida still remains a contender behind Tennessee in the SEC East, but the Vols’ 38 points, 498 total yards and 319 passing yards were a black eye for a defense that came in ranked among the FBS statistical leaders in multiple defensive categories.
Georgia: Nine turnovers. Georgia’s defense hasn’t been especially good overall, but it has managed to stifle its share of opponent possessions with nine takeaways, a total that is second in the SEC and tied for 14th nationally. In fact, if Georgia hadn’t gotten turnovers on four of Missouri’s last six possessions on Sept. 17, there is no way the Bulldogs would have slipped out of Columbia with a 28-27 win. Another telling turnover-related statistic: Georgia is 110th in points-off-turnover margin (minus-18). The Bulldogs’ struggling offense has turned those nine takeaways into just 13 points, while opponents have turned their seven takeaways into 31 points.
Kentucky: 27.3 defensive efficiency score. In nearly every way you’d measure a defense’s effectiveness, Kentucky sits at or near the bottom of the heap. But just to make things easy, we’ll go with ESPN’s defensive efficiency score, a 1-100 scale based on contribution to scoring margin on a play-to-play basis. Kentucky’s score of 27.3 is 114th nationally and second-to-last among Power 5 teams.
Missouri: 391.2 passing ypg. Missouri ranking first in the SEC and fourth nationally in passing offense (391.2 ypg) is somewhat deceptive since games against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State fattened up those numbers. But let’s not forget just how atrocious Missouri’s offense was last season before Josh Heupel came along. The Tigers were 112th in passing last season (165.5 ypg) and 124th in total offense (280.1 ypg). We’ll see how they fare against upcoming SEC competition, but the Tigers already have made giant leaps in the right direction.
South Carolina: 4.52 yards per play. South Carolina’s offense is not very good. The Gamecocks already have played three SEC games and their best scoring total in any of those games is 14 points. They have a shortage of exceptional skill talent and a true freshman at quarterback. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that they rank last in the SEC, last among Power 5 teams and 124th in the FBS in both yards per play (4.52) and total offense (282.8 ypg).
Tennessee: Minus-24/Plus-35. Wanna see a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance on Saturday? Tennessee is one of your most reliable options. The Volunteers have come out of the gates slowly and finished like Usain Bolt to reach 4-0. Opponents have scored 24 points more than the Vols in the first quarter this season, a scoring margin that ranks last in the SEC. However, Tennessee’s plus-35 scoring margin in the fourth quarter is the best in the conference. They outscored Florida 21-7 in the fourth quarter last week to win 38-28 and take control of the SEC East.
Vanderbilt: 6.4 yards per play allowed. Vanderbilt’s sluggish offense remains a work in progress, but its defense was supposed to be the consistent force that would help the Commodores contend for bowl eligibility. That hasn’t been the case through Vandy’s 2-2 start. Derek Mason’s defense is surrendering an SEC-high 6.4 yards per play and sits second-to-last in total defense at 452.5 ypg. Georgia Tech’s offense made them look especially silly, rolling up 511 total yards in a 38-7 blowout.