College football is college football, right?
Not in the Southeastern Conference, home to six straight national championships and the inside track to a seventh this season. The players seem faster, the talent level is higher, the scrutiny hotter than anywhere else.
Take it from the coaches and coordinators — especially the new arrivals who have to adjust quickly if they want to stick around for any length of time.
"It's like every week is murderer's row," Arkansas coach John L. Smith said. "You've got to prepare for the real guys, the guys who look like they should be playing on Sundays."
Smith has seen college football from just about every angle in his 40 years of coaching. His career began at his alma mater, Weber State, and his 19 years as a head coach has included stops at Louisville and Michigan State.
The 63-year-old Smith received his first full-time taste of the SEC in 2009 when he was hired at Arkansas by Bobby Petrino as an assistant. Smith coached against SEC teams at his previous stops, including an annual matchup with Kentucky while with the Cardinals, but nothing prepared him for the athleticism he saw in the SEC on a weekly basis — leading to fewer running lanes and even fewer open receivers.
"I'm not downgrading any of the other leagues, but you take a look at some of the other leagues and you say, 'My goodness, that's slow football,'" Smith said. "From the sideline sometimes, you're saying 'OK, we've got a hole and we're going to get 7-10 (yards).' And you look back and you've got 2-3, just because it's a faster game."
Coaches enter the league with reputations as an offensive whiz, only to find they must quickly change plans to counter the oncoming rush of the SEC's defensive linemen.
First-year Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who spent two seasons in the same position at Kentucky in 2001-02, said keeping the quarterback in one place in the pocket simply isn't an option. The undefeated Gators are last in the SEC in passing offense this season, averaging just 137.7 yards per game through the air, but their spread-option attack has kept defenses off balance and led to 212.7 yards rushing per game.
Florida coach Will Muschamp cut his coaching teeth as a graduate assistant at Auburn before later coaching at LSU and then back to Auburn. Muschamp left the SEC in 2008 for a three-year stint in the pass-happy Big 12 as Texas' defensive coordinator.
The second-year Florida coach said he believes in doing whatever it takes to win games, even in that means throwing the ball "60 times a game." That said, he echoed Pease's thoughts about the difficulty of trying to do exactly that in the SEC — where four teams (Alabama, LSU, Florida and South Carolina) are in the top 10 nationally in total defense.
"The defensive lines, that's the difference in playing in this league and these other leagues you watch on TV," Muschamp said. "I know y'all like all these points being scored, but the quarterback won't make it through the game and the season in our league."
Former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, now in his first season as the head coach at Arkansas State, spent 15 years as a high school coach in Arkansas before earning his first chance as the Razorbacks offensive coordinator in 2006. During his last prep stop at Springdale High School, Malzahn would often times leave Saturday afternoon film sessions and make the 15-minute drive to go watch Arkansas play — likely preparing in his own mind for his future as a college coach.
"(The speed) was overwhelming, especially if you're not used to it," Malzahn said. "It's just a different game as far as the speed factor is concerned."
Malzahn spent two seasons at Tulsa's offensive coordinator before returning to the SEC and helping the Cam Newton-led Tigers to the national championship two seasons ago. He said the biggest adjustment as an offensive coach in the SEC was how the league's defenses play more man-to-man coverage than most — relying on the cornerbacks' sheer speed and skill to shut down opposing receivers.
Malzahn replaced current first-year Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze at Arkansas State. Both brought reputations of up-tempo, spread offenses with them, and Freeze has done his best to stay true to that with the Rebels.
Ole Miss is fourth in the league in total offense this season, showing flashes of Freeze's same offensive creativity that led to 10 wins last season at Arkansas State. Freeze said there was "no question" that his previous SEC experience — a two-year stint with the Rebels — has helped with his transition, as well as understanding the adjustments aren't just on the field.
"From speaking engagements to media requests, it's a much higher magnitude here," Freeze said. "But as far as the day to day operations, the kids are the same, the headaches are the same, the challenges are the same."
College football is college football, right?
- Local News
Students challenge community, leaders to ‘stop the violence’
“Keep calm and stop the violence,” “Save our streets” and “No more violence” were the words echoed by Eighth Street Middle School students early Tuesday morning as they stood in front of the school behind caution tape and orange cones, shouting and holding up signs as they waved at passing motorists who smiled and returned the gesture.Continued ...
- Concert in the Park: Austin Kilby to headline concert Friday
- Tifton man arrested in marijuana sting
- Elderly woman attacked in her residence
- Northside kicks off Olympic Field Games
- Students challenge community, leaders to ‘stop the violence’
- Local Sports
Evan Gattis, middle, is congratulated by teammates Jason Heyward, left, and Freddie Freeman, right, after his fourth inning grand slam home run against the Minnesota Twins Wednesday.
Gattis’ grand slam leads Braves past Twins 8-3
Evan Gattis no longer seems amazed by his improbable rookie season.
Yet, there are still times when it’s a bit of an adjustment for the Atlanta Braves catcher.
Like when someone recognizes him in the grocery store.
“It’s a little weird,” the 26-year-old Gattis said. “I’m not used to that yet.”
- Sports briefs for May 23
- Two from Tift named 1st team All-Region
- Battle for state golf title held at Spring Hill
- Spurlin snags state title
- Gattis’ grand slam leads Braves past Twins 8-3
Embrace glorious stories with a visit to LaGrange, Ga.
Guess who cooked my lunch on a jaunt to LaGrange, Georgia? The great-great grandson of the legendary town philanthropist, that’s who.
- Explore the edges Mississippi Gulf Coast
- St. Augustine: Abounding with excellence suiting every taste
- Embrace glorious stories with a visit to LaGrange, Ga.
- Police Reports
- Your Agenda