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Sunday, September 21, 2014
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Hobbs Column: Gators strangely out of place in new SEC world

Last Modified: Tuesday, October 08, 2013 9:40 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

Gosh, but in this hectic, no-huddle world of college football that we live in these days, it is a bit refreshing to get off that Twitter account for a moment and discover that somebody still believes in the old, traditional values.

Somebody in the SEC not only wants to play honest, Greco-Roman defense, but still thinks you can win and contend with it … along with a strong running game, outworking your opponent, ball control, getting an edge with special teams, etc.

Somebody still believes in stop-and-go football; somebody is taking a stand against 60-point track meets with goal posts and doesn’t believe stationary huddles are just for outdated old goats and geezers.

All the old familiar coaching bromides are still in play in Gainesville, Fla.

Think of the Florida Gators as the old grump in overalls at the city council meeting shouting down the yuppies and all their slick new city-fied progressive improvements.

The Gators and head coach Will Muschamp are comfortable in the SEC’s old penny loafers.

They’re dancing an old waltz amid the hip-hop fun, dialing an old rotary amidst the texting onslaught.

The Gators are a Model-T in a Prius world and, good gosh, that’s enough of those comparisons don’t you think?

Yet the Gators used to be right at home in the SEC. As recently as last year they were certainly no anomaly.

But as the conference as a whole this season gets lost in its version of “Invasion of Body Snatchers,” the Gators are the last unaffected innocents. They seem to be wandering around all the mindless, up-tempo zombies and suspiciously eyeing them. They’re curiously wondering what is different about these somewhat familiar teams but with odd looks on their faces and blank, empty stares from their once-chippy defenses.

Alabama might still believe in the same values, but the Tide still has their strange encounter with Johnny A&M to answer for.

Last week Tennessee even jumped the Big 12 shark by wearing silly costumes instead of football uniforms and almost pulled off an upset of Georgia.

But imagine the Gators popping in the video — assuming they don’t still use 8-millimeter film on reels — to study up on LSU for this week’s traditional bare-knuckle, blood encounter.

Huh? Who are these guys?

Not the Tigers! Noooo, LSU, not you, too? Say it ain’t so.

“C’mon, join us, you’ll like it,” the film seems to be saying with a come-hither tone as Zach Mettenberger calmly presses the right buttons and converts another third-and-18. “Scheming can be fun and it doesn’t hurt a bit. Three-and-outs are sooooo 2011, outscoring people is the new ticket. It’s like a video game.”

Yes, the Gators think all this new-fangled offensive firepower is a Ponzi scheme. They’re not biting.

They’re going to play defense and be physical and hit you in the mouth and run the ball until … I don’t know, something old-timey hokey … until the cows come home.

Right now the Gators lead the near-defenseless SEC in rushing defense, passing defense, pass efficiency defense …

You might as well lean back and get comfortable.

… total defense, scoring defense, third-down defense, fewest first downs, red zone defense …

And there’s some other obscure categories, but that should about cover it. You get the picture.

Let the rest of the conference snicker. The Gators are going to be knuckles-down, in your face, the full 60 minutes.

They’re going to be LSU of — when? — oh yeah, was it only last year?

LSU coach Les Miles insists he hasn’t totally gone over to the dark side yet. The Tigers haven’t completely given up on defense. Performance to the contrary, Miles insists they do practice defense and are trying to get better at it, or at least find somebody who can tackle in it.

In fact, Miles said this week he fully expects the “easily correctable” mistakes to be ironed out for this Florida game to where somebody might recognize an LSU defense again. Of course, he said the same thing last week and lowly Mississippi State promptly rolled through the first half before turning into pumpkins again for the second half.

I’m not sure, frankly, how much of holding State to a second-half field goal was LSU adjustments or improvement and how much of it was just Mississippi State realizing it was Mississippi State, and just in the nick of time, too.

But here’s the crazy thing. As helpless as that LSU defense looks at times, it’s not really awful. By LSU standards, yes, it almost brings back horrible memories of Lou Tepper. But by the current SEC’s watered-down standards, it’s, well, it’s kind of, sort of, almost OK.

Believe it or not, there’s a lot worse out there.

The Tigers are basically in the middle of the pack of most of those stats that the Gators dominate.

Shocked me, too.

You’ll find them seventh or so in most and as high as fourth in — I kid you not — pass defense, fifth in pass efficiency defense.

So maybe Miles isn’t bluffing. Imagine if they start covering anybody?

It’s a strange new world.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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