SEC East Rundown: Mailman delivers, Tennessee keeps improving

SEC East Rundown: Mailman delivers, Tennessee keeps improving

Article written by:Adam LuckettAdam Luckett

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watch-stetson-bennett-delivers-60-yard-touchdown-strike-down-center-georgia-bulldogs
(Photo courtesy of Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The college football season is in Week 7 and the SEC East will have its de facto division championship game on Saturday.

CBS, College GameDay, and SEC Nation will all be in Athens as No. 1 Georgia gets set to host No. 11 Kentucky in a battle of unbeatens. Both the Bulldogs and the Wildcats are off to 4-0 starts in league play and will battle for the inside track to Atlanta.

Meanwhile, there are many developments ongoing in the division with a ton of meaningful football games left to be played this season. KSR is here to catch you up to speed on all the happenings in the SEC East.

Todd Grantham, Florida are having defensive resurgence

Last season, Florida had one of the best offenses in college football but was held back by its defense. The Gators finished the season at 81st in success rate allowed and 88th in yards per play allowed. In their four losses, the Gators gave up an average of 46.25 points per game as this unit likely cost Dan Mullen’s program a chance at a playoff berth.

Long-time defensive coordinator Todd Grantham entered the 2021 season with some job pressure. His unit has had a strong bounce-back this fall.

The Gators have taken a big jump on the defensive side of the ball ranking in the top-30 of scoring defense, yards per play allowed, and yards per rush allowed. On Saturday, Florida recorded a shutout win by blanking Vanderbilt at home.

While the Gators go through a transition on offense, Florida has figured things out on the other side of the ball. It will be hard for this team to knock off Georgia at the Cocktail Party, but another season with at least nine regular-season wins under Mullen is still on the table thanks to this defense.

A 9-3 reset year is not a bad thing, Florida.

Mailman is back

Two weeks ago, Georgia passed a major test when top-10 Arkansas came rolling into Athens. The Bulldogs blitzed the Hogs for a 21-0 lead in the first quarter before putting it on cruise control in the 37-0 win over former Georgia assistant coach Sam Pittman.

Stetson Bennett threw the ball just 11 times in the start as UGA went ground-heavy. However, UGA was hitting the road to play in its first hostile environment in two seasons with a trip to the Plains in Week 6. More was going to be needed from the former walk-on.

The Mailman delivered.

In the 34-10 win over Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Bennett threw for 231 yards on 21 attempts and contributed 41 yards on the ground. The veteran showed off vertical accuracy on both wheel and post routes and executed efficiently in the zone-read game.

Bennett has now started three games for the Bulldogs this season and has a passing success rate of 53.23 percent. UGA’s passing offense is a bit limited with him in the lineup, but he managed the game against Arkansas and landed haymakers against Auburn.

It sounds like Daniels might be out another week and Bennett will once again get the start against Kentucky.

Missouri’s defense is still broken

Following a 62-24 loss to Tennessee at home, second-year head coach Eliah Drinkwitz knew a change had to be made. However, Steve Wilks is a first-year defensive coordinator that took over a unit that finished 89th nationally in yards per play allowed. The Tigers were a flawed unit, but this season’s performance was unacceptable.

After allowing at least 275 rushing yards to four consecutive opponents, Drinkwitz decided to release defensive line coach Jethro Franklin. That move didn’t fix all of the issues.

In the 48-35 home win over North Texas, the Tigers were outgained (491-474) as the Mean Green averaged 6.5 yards per play. For the season, Mizzou now ranks 122nd in scoring defense (37.5) and 123rd in yards per play allowed (6.84). There are some deep problems in CoMo.

Meanwhile, Mizzou appears to be wasting an offense that is elite in situational football — No. 4 nationally in third-down conversion rate and red zone touchdown rate. The Tigers have issues and Drinkwitz may need to make some tough decisions in the offseason.

Bad start dooms South Carolina

South Carolina’s first quarter in a blowout road loss could not have gone much worse. The Gamecocks went three-and-out to start the game and then saw Tennessee march 66 yards in 14 plays. The Gamecocks then had another quick drive followed by a three-play, 57-yard touchdown drive for Tennessee.

Then, things really got weird.

After their best drive of the game was ruined by a turnover on a trick play, Tennessee responded with an 80-yard touchdown drive. On the next play for Carolina, Luke Doty fumbled a snap and Tennessee came away with takeaways on consecutive defensive plays.

Tennessee would then score another touchdown to own a 28-0 lead heading to the second quarter.

From that point forward, the Gamecocks did some good things on both sides of the ball but the terrible start created a long day at Neyland Stadium.

South Carolina returns home this week with a winnable game against Vanderbilt before hitting the road to take on Texas A&M.

How good is Tennessee?

After a promising first half on the road against Florida, the Vols were blanked by a count of 21-0 in The Swamp and fell to 2-2. However, Josh Heupel’s crew seems to have turned a corner over the last two weeks.

The Vols beat divisional foes Missouri and South Carolina by a combined score of 107-44 to begin October. Tennessee is outgaining opponents by 1.44 yards per play and has a rushing offense that is No. 6 nationally with 253.67 yards per game.

Tennessee has a defense that has been better than expected and Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker has 16 total touchdowns and is averaging just under 10 yards per attempt since taking over behind center.

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Hendon Hooker has given Tennessee a huge spark. (Photo courtesy of James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Both Mizzou and South Carolina appear to be headed for losing seasons, but we’ll find out if the Vols are for real very soon. Tennessee hosts Ole Miss on Saturday night before a road trip to Alabama.

Kentucky will get a better read on Heupel’s first team before meeting the Vols on Nov. 6 at Kroger Field.

Vanderbilt held without a touchdown again

For the third time in six games, Vanderbilt did not score a touchdown. The Commodores were shut out in a 42-0 loss against Florida despite producing a couple of scoring opportunities. The Commodores were previously shut out by Georgia and only produced a field goal against FCS East Tennessee State.

If the Commodores are going to get an SEC win this season, it may have to come this weekend. Vandy travels to South Carolina before getting Mississippi State, Missouri, and Kentucky at home in a three-game homestand.

New head coach Clark Lea has a long road ahead of him.

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