SEC Football 2011: Stat Lines That Each Team Must Fix This Season

Jeremy Hillman@@SECpigskinContributor IAugust 23, 2011

SEC Football 2011: Stat Lines That Each Team Must Fix This Season

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    Coaches across the SEC have spent the last seven months, in Spring practices, Summer workouts and Fall scrimmages, trying to improve their football teams. They are looking for anything they can find to give their team an edge over the competition.

    They work to get stronger, polish and highlight their strengths, and build game plans around what they do best.

    However, the good ones also look at where they struggled the season before and focus on trying to get better in those areas of weakness.

    Even the very good teams from 2010, even the defending national champion, had stat lines that were less than impressive last season.

    Fixing these deficiencies could be the difference is making a bowl, or not, and winning a championship, or not.

    Some teams have more problems than others, but every team has at least one major glaring issue from the 2010 season.

    Click through the following slides to see the most important stat line and area of weakness for each SEC team to fix going into the upcoming season.

Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Stat To Fix: Sacks Allowed (In 2010 SEC games the Bama quarterback was sacked 27 times)

    2010 Conference Rank for This Stat: 11th

    Top Ranked Team in 2010 for This Stat: Ole Miss (allowed just 12 sacks)

    The Fix: In 2009, the Tide only allowed 10 sacks during conference play, so the 27 last season could have been an anomaly.

    Alabama did have a young offensive line last season, so that could have been the excuse for such a poor pass protection.  The good news is that now Alabama has more experience returning to the offensive trenches in 2011. 

    Center William Vlachos will anchor the middle of the line, all-star candidate Barrett Jones will team with Chance Warmack, and young and strong D.J. Fluker to form the nucleus of a potentially dominate solid offensive line.

    The only question is at left tackle where a capable, but not great, Alfred McCullough takes over as a new starter (JC transfer Aaron Douglas was scheduled to take over this spot, before his tragic death in May of this year).

    If they stay healthy, with four returning starters and more experience, this offensive line should give up a significantly lower number of sacks in 2010. Look for 2009 type numbers.

Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Stat To Fix: Penalties (the Razorbacks were called for eight penalties per SEC game last season. This lost Arkansas 66 yards per contest on average.)

    2010 Conference Rank for This Stat: 12th

    Top Ranked Team in 2010 for This Stat: Mississippi State (4 penalties per SEC game for just 35 yards)

    The Fix: Yellow flags plagued Arkansas last season. Whether it was holding, pass interference or  false starts, penalties killed drives and gave the competition better field position.

    In the Texas A&M game last season, the Razorbacks committed FIVE false start penalties.  Even worse, four offensive lineman committed a false start in that game. It was almost the entire unit, not just one or two guys.

    In total for that game, Arkansas was called for 13 penalties.

    The good news is that Arkansas was still able to win the Texas A&M game. A a matter of fact, the Razorbacks made a BCS Bowl with a 10-2 regular season record.

    The Razorbacks only return two starters to the offensive line, where a lot of the penalties occurred last season (although they do have 4 other players that have some starting experience). Could that be a good thing for penalties? Can the new guys avoid mental mistakes better than last season's unit?

    If young lineman like sophomore C Travis Swanson and freshman RT Brey Cook can avoid mental errors, this line might be able to avoid some of the penalties that hurt Arkansas a year ago.

    Stay tuned.

    Alabama did have a young offensive line last season and now has more experience returning in 2011.

Auburn Tigers

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    Stat To Fix: Pass Defense (last season Auburn gave up an average of 250 passing yards per game to SEC competition)

    2010 Conference Rank for This Stat: 10th

    Top Ranked Team in 2010 for This Stat: LSU (gave up an average of just 159 passing yards per SEC game)

    The Fix: Last season, especially early in the schedule, the Tiger defense was giving up tons of yards through the air.

    As a matter of fact, the Auburn defense surrendered 305 passing yards to South Carolina and 428 to Arkansas early last season.

    While Auburn won those games, and all the rest, last season, these type of passing defense numbers could really hurt the rebuilding Tigers this upcoming season. That stat has to improve.

    Neiko Thorpe moved to strong safety and he is a capable defender in the secondary. T'Sharvin Bell is back at one of the corner spots and should be improved with a year of experience under his belt.

    The questions come after that, with a young and athletic Demetruce McNeal needing to step up at the free safety position and highly touted freshman Jonathan Rose and Jermaine Whitehead battling for the other corner spot.These kids are talented, but will have to grow up quick.

    Look for a few struggles early for this rebuilt secondary, but it has more general talent, experience and depth than last season and could grow into a pretty solid unit by season's end.

Florida Gators

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    Stat To Fix: Red zone offense (Florida only scored 68% of the time when in the red zone last season)

    2010 Conference Rank For This Stat: 11th

    Top Ranked Team in 2010 for This Stat: LSU (scored in 93% of red zone visits)

    The Fix: Florida struggled mightily when in the red zone last season. The Gators only scored 19 touchdowns out of 32 trips to the red zone (adding 3 field goals in that span).

    Ten times last season Florida was in scoring reach and left with zero points.

    Florida has a brand new coaching staff, including a new Offensive Coordinator (Charlie Weis). Their goal will be to increase consistency and score more points on offense. They know it was a major problem last season for the Gators.

    Weis will be working with embattled quarterback John Brantley, who infamously threw more interceptions (ten) than touchdowns (nine) a year ago.

    Working with Charlie Weis' system should help Brantley find easier throws and run an offense that more fits his style of play. Look for improvements in consistency and production, even if only slight, from the quarterback position in 20011.

    Having a healthy Chris Rainey will also help. He can team with Jeff Demps to give the Gators a solid run attack near the goal line. That was missing at times in 2010.

    With a new offensive system, improved QB play, and a potentially effective running game, one would have to believe the Gators will score more often inside the red zone. How much improvement will depend on how effective the new staff has been in implementing the new system this off-season.

Georgia Bulldogs

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    Stat To Fix: Opponent 3rd Down Conversions (In 2010 the Georgia defense allowed a first down in 47% of 3rd down situations)

    2010 Conference Rank For This Stat: 12th

    Top Ranked Team in 2010 for This Stat: Arkansas (allowed opponents a first down in just 34% of 3rd down situations)

    The Fix: Last season Georgia gave up a first down in nearly half of the 3rd down situations on defense. In big games, the Bulldogs failed to be able consistently to get the opponents offense of the field.

    This problem came up in key situations in loses to Colorado, Florida and Auburn. You can be sure that coaches are focusing on crucial 3rd down defensive sets this off-season.

    The Georgia defense lost star defensive players Akeem Dent and Justin Houston to the NFL.  While both will be very hard to replace, the Bulldogs do return 7 starters to a defense that finished 4th in the SEC in total defense last season.

    Returning starters like linebacker Christian Robinson, safety Bacarri Rambo and cornerback Brandon Boykin must lead the defense, find a sense of urgency and focus on key third down situations.

    Another key may be JUCO transfer John Jenkins, a 340-pound defensive tackle that can anchor the defensive line. Georgia didn't have that big body in the middle last season.

Kentucky Wildcats

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    Stat To Fix: Sacks (the Wildcats only had eight defensive sacks during SEC games last season)

    2010 Conference Rank: 12th

    Top Ranked Team in 2010 for This Stat: South Carolina (racked up 27 sacks in SEC play)

    The Fix: Averaging one sack per game isn't going to get you very far in the SEC, and that is exactly what Kentucky did a year ago.

    Defensive Coordinator Rick Minter would love to run a 3-4 scheme, as opposed to the 4-3 they run now. However, the Wildcats just don't have the personnel to do that at this time.

    Kentucky will rely on hard hitting star linebacker Danny Trevathan to come up and make most of the plays near the line of scrimmage. However, he won't have many sacks.

    The role of pressuring the opposing quarterback and getting more sacks will have to fall on the defensive ends.  There is buzz that Collins Ukwu and Nermin Delic are two ends to keep an eye on this season.But will they get help from Ridge Wislon, the DE starter on the other side?

    It may be more of the same in Lexington in terms of sacks in 2011, but the talent on defense is there to make slight improvements.

LSU Tigers

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    Stat To Fix: Passing offense (the Tigers only averaged 179 passing yards per SEC game last season)

    2010 Conference Rank for This Stat: 10th

    Top Ranked Team in 2010 for This Stat: Arkansas (averaged an impressive 347 passing yards per game)

    The Fix: The LSU passing game was inconsistent and anemic, at times last season.

    The inconsistency of quarterback Jordan Jefferson has been well documented and discussed. Can he step up his senior season and reach his potential? Or will highly regarded transfer Zac Mettenberger have to come in and lead the offense?

    The good news is that there are quality receivers to throw to with guys like Russell Shepard and Rueben Randle looking to have big seasons.

    However, the unfortunate recent news that Offensive Coordinator Steve Kragthorpe had to step down from his position because of his battle with Parkinson's Disease (Greg Studrawa will take over as the new Offensive Coordinator) and the bar fight allegations and potential arrest of Jordan Jefferson, could make things even tougher on the LSU offense in 2011.

    While the Tigers may have some success moving the football, it may prove to be difficult for LSU to make a drastic improvement on the passing yards stat with all of the things going on off the field.

Mississippi State

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    Mississippi State:

    Stat To Fix: Passing offense (the Bulldogs threw the ball for an average of just 148 yards per SEC game last season)

    2010 Conference Rank for This Stat: 11th

    Top Ranked Team in 2010 for This Stat: Arkansas (the Razorbacks threw for an average of 347 yards per SEC game)

    The Fix: For Mississippi State to make the leap to the top of the SEC this season, or any season, they must figure out how to develop a vertical passing game.

    Senior quarterback Chris Relf has his final opportunity to develop into a top QB in the SEC.

    He was efficient most of last season, but failed to throw down the field consistently and keep teams from loading the box to stop short passes and the run. 

    Because of this, Dan Mullen and the Bulldog coaches have been focusing on developing more of a vertical passing attack this off-season.

    They have the talent at receiver to do it, with Arceto Clark and Chad Bumphis ready to have solid Junior campaigns. They also have talented wide receiver Chris Smith if he recovers fully from an off-season broken jaw.

    With a focus on more long passes and a crew of capable receivers, look for the Bulldogs to improve this stat line in 2011.

Ole Miss

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    Ole Miss:

    Stat To Fix: 3rd down offensive conversions (last season Ole Miss converted on just 29% of 3rd down offensive attempts in SEC play)

    2010 Conference Rank For This Stat: 11th

    Top Ranked Team in 2010 for This Stat: Auburn (last season the Tigers converted 55% of their 3rd down tries in SEC games)

    The Fix: Failing to convert on third down more than 70 percent of the time is lethal to an offenses production.  

    Ole Miss struggled with execution on key downs last season and that, among other things, lead Houston Nutt to bring in David Lee as the new offensive coordinator for 2011 (Lee was with Nutt at Arkansas during the healthy offensive days of McFadden and Felix Jones).

    Look for Lee, who often utilizes a wildcat type of offense, to try and make dynamic Brandon Bolden into a Darren McFadden type of weapon, which just might help on key third down type plays.

    My only concern is the passing game. You can't run all the time, and Ole Miss has yet to name a starter at quarterback (Barry Bruneti, Zack Stoudt and Randall Mackey are all still in the running).  

    After a capable Jeremiah Masoli, the transfer from Oregon in 2010, struggled last year, fans will need to see execution on offense before they get too excited about the newest new quarterback. Whoever it is will need to be a leader and get his team past the first down marker more often for Ole Miss to have the season it hopes to have.

South Carolina Gamecocks

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    South Carolina:

    Stat To Fix: Turnover margin (In 2010 SEC games, South Carolina had a -4 turnover margin)

    2010 Conference Rank for This Stat: 10th

    Top Ranked Team in 2010 for This Stat: Auburn (the Tigers had a +6 turnover margin in 2010 SEC games)

    The Fix: South Carolina has a solid team and could have a special season in 2011. However, for that to happen they must win the turnover battle.

    That is something they didn't do a year ago.

    The biggest culprit was quarterback Stephen Garcia (lead the SEC with 14 interceptions and had several key fumbles).

    Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks hope that Garcia can get it all together his senior season and make better decisions with the football. He has the talent to be very good, if he can avoid mental errors.

    On the defensive side, the Gamecocks defense had the fewest interceptions in SEC play of any team in the conference. Surprising since one of the better corners in the conference, Stephen Gilmore, is on this squad.

    Teams are more than likely throwing away from Gilmore and targeting other Carolina corners. Other secondary such as SS D.J. Swearinger, and senior CB Akeem Auguste need to step up and create turnovers in conference play.

    If Garcia and the cornerbacks can change the turnover margin, this South Carolina team could be headed for great things.

Tennessee Volunteers

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    Stat To Fix: Rushing offense (the Volunteers managed to average just 88 rushing yards per SEC game in 2010)

    2010 Conference Rank For This Stat: 12th

    Top Ranked Team in 2010 for This Stat: Auburn (the Tigers averaged 289 rushing yards per SEC game)

    The Fix: You have to be able to run the football to beat good teams in the SEC.

    In loses to top East Division SEC teams last season Tennessee ran for just 29 yards (loss to Florida),  nine yards (loss to Georgia) and 92 yards (loss to South Carolina).

    If the Volunteers have hopes of getting to the top of the SEC East, those rushing numbers will obviously not be enough.

    The good news for Vols fans is that the offensive line has more experience and running back Tauren Poole, who ran for over 1,000 yards last season, is back.

    With quarterback Tyler Bray ready to throw the ball down the field on a regular basis, the O-line should be able to open running lanes for Poole and increase their rushing yards per game against SEC competition in 2011.

Vanderbilt Commodores

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    Stat To Fix: Rush defense (Vanderbilt allowed an average of 205 rushing yards per SEC game in 2010)

    2010 Conference Rank for This Stat: 12th

    Top Ranked Team in 2010 for This Stat: Auburn (the Tigers allowed just 120 rushing yards per SEC game last season)

    The Fix: Allowing over 200 yards of rushing offense in SEC play will get you beat often.

    Kentucky ran for 341 yards against Vanderbilt last year. New head coach James Franklin knows they can't let those kind of stats happen, if they want to win games.

    This season the defensive line has more experience than last years group, but lost several starters. The starting defensive tackles for 2011, TJ Greenstone and Rob Lohr weigh only 280 pounds and are not overwhelming athletes.

    The saving grace for the Commodores is senior line backer Chris Marve. He is the best player on the field for Vanderbilt and will be a leader for this defense.

    Marve and returning starter DE Tim Fugger will be relied upon to slow down the opposing rushing attack. While they will do a serviceable job because of their talent, look for more big running days for Vanderbilt opponents this season.