KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — SEC teams are getting pretty good at the quarterback shuffle, rotating between starting QBs because of injuries, suspensions and poor performances.
Ten of the 12 teams in the Southeastern Conference have relied on two or more quarterbacks to get through the first half of this season — with mixed results.
LSU has successfully played musical quarterbacks while strengthening its hold on the No. 1 ranking.
Nonetheless, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said it’s not an ideal situation.
"I think at the quarterback position you’d always like to get to the point where you just have one guy play," said Franklin, who has used senior Larry Smith and junior Jordan Rodgers in every game this season because of inefficient play.
Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino agrees.
The 10th-ranked Razorbacks and No. 24 Georgia have been able to stick with one quarterback. The Bulldogs have played their way into a tie for first place in the East Division thanks to consistent play from Aaron Murray and Arkansas finds itself at 5-1 largely because of the efficient passing of Tyler Wilson.
"It’s always great to be able to play with the same guy and have the continuity and the ability to improve and get better," Petrino said.
But most SEC coaches haven’t had that luxury for various reasons.
Florida lost three straight games and dropped out of the AP poll after senior John Brantley sprained his right ankle. Coach Will Muschamp has used a combination of freshmen backups Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel — who also was sidelined for a game by an ankle injury — and wildcat packages with running back Chris Rainey and tight end Trey Burton to manage the load at quarterback.
Brissett played one half in Saturday’s loss at Auburn, Driskel played the second half, and the Gators finished with just 194 yards of offense, the program’s second lowest total since 1988. Brantley is off his crutches and into a walking boot, and Florida hopes to have him back after its bye week for an Oct. 29 meeting with Georgia.
Tennessee lost sophomore Tyler Bray, who was leading the SEC in passing yards when he broke the thumb on his passing hand Oct. 8. Senior Matt Simms, expected to start the next five games for the Vols, was 6 of 20 for 128 yards and two interceptions in a loss to LSU last week.
"We need better play out of the quarterback position for us to compete against some good teams, and really that is to compete against anybody," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. "If you can’t get good quarterback play you aren’t going to beat anybody. You know there are a lot of examples out there on that."
Auburn coach Gene Chizik is replacing junior Barrett Trotter with sophomore Clint Moseley for Saturday’s meeting with LSU. Trotter was benched in the second half of the Tigers’ 17-6 win against Florida. He was 20 of 50 for 226 yards, three interceptions and two touchdowns over the course of two and a half games. Moseley is 4 of 9 in his career with the Tigers, who currently rank 106th nationally in passing.
"We’ve been struggling offensively the last couple of weeks. I don’t feel like that’s a secret," Chizik said. "We need a spark there. I feel like in the second half of the Florida game, Clint came in and gave us somewhat of a spark when we needed it. I think he’s earned the right for the opportunity to start."
Alabama coach Nick Saban tagged sophomore A.J. McCarron and freshman Phillip Sims as co-starters for three games before McCarron grew into the kind of efficient game manager Saban was looking for, earning him the top job. McCarron has thrown 151 consecutive passes without an interception.
Mississippi ranks 109th in the nation in passing and is on its third starting quarterback, with junior Randall Mackey having started the past two games after Zack Stoudt and Barry Brunetti were ineffective in their four combined starts.
Mississippi State expected senior Chris Relf to be among the SEC’s top quarterbacks this season, but Relf was replaced last week after 19 straight starts by sophomore Tyler Russell.
The Rebels and Bulldogs are a combined 0-7 in conference games.
QBs in trouble
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier had already benched senior Stephen Garcia for poor play, when he learned the fifth-year senior would be dismissed for failing an alcohol test. Sophomore Connor Shaw threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns against a struggling Kentucky team but followed that up with 155 yards passing and one touchdown in last week’s 14-12 victory over Mississippi State.
LSU’s Jordan Jefferson missed the first four games of the season while police investigated his involvement in a bar fight. Fellow senior Jarrett Lee had guided the Tigers to the top of the poll during his absence, and Jefferson returned to the team after his felony second-degree battery charge was reduced to a misdemeanor.
Coach Les Miles doesn’t see his two-headed attack as a problem; he’s the only coach happy with his two-quarterback arrangement.
Miles used Lee on 41 snaps in a 38-7 victory against Tennessee and Jefferson for 28. Miles likes Lee’s passing abilities and game management skills and Jefferson’s running abilities.
"The diversity of attack with the two quarterbacks is what we want," Miles said. "It gives defensive coordinators something to prepare for. I know we’re very fortunate to have two veteran starters who understand how to play when the game’s tight. We enjoy our quarterback situation at this point."