SEC Notebook: Florida making a play as conference contender

McElwain's team has surprised with its play thus far in 2015
Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

Fresh off a 38-10 drubbing of Ole Miss, Jim McElwain’s Florida team has announced itself as a sure-fire contender within the SEC. 

The "rebuilding" process has been expedited quicker than many may have predicted. Although it’s a team relying upon many underclassmen (especially on the offensive side of the ball), McElwain has instilled a culture rooted in toughness, energy, and passion. 

Sitting at No. 11, Florida now must manage these newly gained expectations. The defense has proven itself to be one of the best in the conference. A pass-rush led by Jonathan Bullard has been fantastic. The secondary is a major strength from a depth and talent standpoint, and the linebacker duo of Antonio Morrison and Jarrad Davis is racking up tackles in droves. 

Offensively, quarterback Will Grier has proven himself to be an effective passer. He’s completing passes at a 67.2-percent clip, and has thrown for 10 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards on the year. Kelvin Taylor has taken on the role of a lead back, and has helped immensely in giving Florida’s offense balance. 

Florida has also demonstrated the ability to win games in a myriad of ways, whether it’s of the come-from-behind variety (Tennessee), winning with a complete effort on both sides of the ball (Ole Miss), and even with a staunch defensive effort (Kentucky). 

There’s no question Florida appears to be the class of the SEC East at this point in the season. 

Mizzou freshman Lock facing potential defensive slugfest with Florida

With the suspension of initial starting quarterback Maty Mauk extended indefinitely, the Missouri Tigers will continue to start true freshman Drew Lock under center. 

Lock was an efficient 21-of-28 for 136 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-10 win over South Carolina this past Saturday. Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel opted to keep things simple for his signal-caller. Lock took care of the football by executing quick and manageable throws. There wasn’t much effort to drive the football down the field, as evidenced by the longest pass-play totaling 17 yards on the day.

Florida comes to town this week, and presents Lock with some potential issues. The Gators are second in the conference in sacks with 18. The likes of CeCe Jefferson, Bryan Cox, Jr., and Alex McCalister are active and athletic off the edge. Bullard leads the team with 4.5 sacks, and interior lineman Joey Ivie is a force in the middle. The secondary is also among the best, not only in the SEC, but the nation as well. 

While Florida has a quality defensive unit, Missouri is also no slouch on the defensive side of the ball. The Tigers lead the conference in scoring defense and are second in the nation with 48 tackles for loss. This contest could ultimately turn out to be a defensive struggle, especially when involving two freshmen signal-callers. 

It also may be a case of Missouri mucking up the game as much as possible. This might be the most effective way of pulling the upset against the Gators. 

Will South Carolina’s free-fall continue versus LSU?

Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina team is on the precipice of a very tough year. A sense of desperation has seeped into the collective psyche of the city of Columbia. 

Sitting at 2-3 (0-3 in SEC play), the Gamecocks host LSU on Saturday. If South Carolina were to lose this contest, it’d be the first time since 1999 in which a Gamecocks’ team started SEC play 0-4. Things won’t get any easier, as Spurrier’s team still has Texas A&M, Florida, Tennessee and Clemson remaining on its schedule. 

There truly seems to be confusion as to how the team will function on both sides of the ball. The injury to Brandon Wilds and the instability at the quarterback position surely contribute to this premise. However, there’s also been a glaring lack of consistency all throughout the squad. 

With this game being played at Williams-Brice Stadium, South Carolina needs to pul out all the stops in order to get a much-needed victory. This includes inventiveness on offense, and unpredictability with blitz packages defensively. Not only that, but the Gamecocks needs to figure out a way to slow Leonard Fournette. LSU’s running back is averaging 216 yards a game rushing through the first four games of the season. 

Quick hits: Ole Miss will look to bounce back from its embarrassing loss to Florida with a home date against New Mexico State. The Aggies are 0-4 on the year, and look primed for a spanking in Oxford this weekend…Mississippi State will play host to Troy. The Bulldogs will likely rely upon the arm and legs of Dak Prescott to lead them to their fourth victory on the season.