THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; SEPTEMBER 3, 2018
A few thoughts to kick start your Labor Day Monday afternoon.
1. Okay, it was Charleston Southern. Forget that. It was a night in The Swamp and the Gators, albeit shorthanded with six out with injuries and seven out due to suspensions, got to play against people they don’t share a dinner table with every day. This was a chance to play tackle football against an opponent and that it was a Charleston Southern team whose main goal was to pick up a paycheck without too many players sent to the emergency room is irrelevant. The Gators sent 84 players onto the field, a good many of them walk-ons or scholarship freshmen who will take advantage of new rules that allow them to get mop-up time experience without burning their redshirt. For the starters and second unit players, it was a chance to begin developing the kind of cohesion that will bode well as the season moves along. So, before you state “well, look who the Gators were playing” and then roll your eyes back in your head, consider these three facts: (1) The Gators won the game and 84 people saw the field; (2) nobody got hurt; and (3) enough excitement was generated by a 53-6 win that The Swamp will be packed to the rim and rocking next Saturday night when Kentucky comes to town.
2. Kentucky. Yes, it’s that time of the year when we remember that the last time Kentucky beat Florida in tackle football was the Franklin Pierce administration. Okay, it was during Reagan’s second term in office (1986) and Jimmy Carter was the president (1979; Florida went 0-10-1 that year) the last time the Mildcats won in The Swamp. For folks in The Bluegrass, it only seems like the word of the day was “Remember the Maine” the last time UK beat the Gators. As always, Kentucky will approach this game with the attitude that it’s about time to stick it to our long time tormenter and show that we (Kentucky) can play football as well as basketball. We hear that every year and to their credit, they’ve given the Gators some real runs for the money on the football field (Florida has won two national championships in basketball since 2000, by the way; Kentucky just one). Last year, for example, Kentucky would have ending the losing streak if only their cornerbacks had remembered it’s legal to cover wide receivers when they had a 27-14 lead with 11:43 to go in the game. Feleipe Franks started Florida’s comeback with a 45-yard TDP to an uncovered Tyrie Cleveland to start the rally. Luke Del Rio threw the game winning TD pass to an uncovered Freddie Swain with 43 seconds left and Eddy Pineiro kicked the extra point that provided the 28-27 margin of victory up in Lexington. It’s entirely likely that Kentucky remembers to put a hat on every UF wide receiver Saturday night, at least until the ball is snapped. At that point, it’s highly likely that Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes and Cleveland (among others) are going to look like a covey of quail scattering in the secondary while Kentucky’s DBs give chase. Florida has a serious speed advantage this year. Unlike last year when opponents knew they only had to double up on Tyrie Cleveland to take away Florida’s ability to stretch the field, this year the Gators have multiple guys with that kind of speed, plus the UF wide receivers are (for a change) well coached thanks to Billy Gonzales. You can bet the farm that wide receivers who won’t run their routes properly or can’t remember the route from the time the Gators break the huddle won’t be on the field. That wasn’t the case in all three of the Old Yeller (think teeth) years.
3. Feleipe Franks completed three of his first 10 passes against Charleston Southern. After that, he was 13-14. Pay no attention to the slow start. It was, after all, the first real game against people he doesn’t practice against every day and it was indeed a brand new offense he was running (a competent, well thought out offense at that!). Focus instead on the 13 completions in the final 14 attempts and the fact that Franks, who threw only nine touchdown passes all of last year, threw five Saturday night. Last year he threw 10 interceptions and probably should have been picked another 10-15 times. Saturday, there were no picks, a truly good sign of things to come. Again, it was Charleston Southern, but that’s not the point. The point is Franks looked like an improved version of the Ball Park Franks who so often looked like a lost ball in the high weeds last year. Obviously, there is room for improvement but he got out there Saturday night and as the first half wore on, he looked more and more like a quarterback who belongs in Division I. Against Kentucky, he will have a chance to look like a quarterback who is quite comfortable of playing and winning in the Southeastern Conference.
4. In their 35-20 season-opening win over Central Michigan, Kentucky allowed only 255 total offense yards (118 rushing and 137 passing). Kentucky allowed only 3.03 yards per rushing attempt and 5.1 per pass attempt. Those are very good numbers but they didn’t force a single turnover and only got to the CMU QB twice. The Mildcats gained 299 on the ground (6.95 per attempt) and 128 in the air (4.7 per attempt). They fumbled the ball five times (lost two) and threw two interceptions. Kentucky still plans to start Terry Wilson at QB against the Gators even though his UK debut was less than scintillating (11-18 passing for 78 yards; 4.3 per attempt; 0 touchdowns and two interceptions). If Wilson can’t pose any more of a passing threat than that against a vastly superior defense it will be tough for the Mildcats to get Benny Snell (125 yards; two touchdowns) and A.J. Rose (104 yards; two touchdowns) untracked on the ground.
5. Although Kentucky doesn’t have exactly what you would call a terrorizing pass rush, it will be better than the one the Gators saw against Charleston Southern. We’ll get a first hand look at how good John Hevesy’s coaching has improved the play of tackles Martez Ivey and Jawaan Taylor on the outside and what these months with Nick Savage have done to improve their lateral quickness. Don’t be the least bit surprised if you see Brett Heggie (6-3, 314) or Tyler Jordan (6-4, 321) starting at center. Either one of them can handle UK’s 6-3, 340-pound nose tackle Quinton Bohanna without help from the guards. Nick Buchanan and T.J. McCoy have neither the size nor the strength to get the job done without help. Florida’s offense can function at a much higher level if the guards don’t have to double up on the nose tackle every single snap.
6. Keep the name Dameon Pierce (9-73 rushing vs. CSU) circled and remember you heard it here first. By midseason he’s going to command 15-18 carries per game. He’s next to impossible to knock off his feet (squats 585 pounds) and a nightmare in one-on-one situations, plus he has a surprising burst once he gets to the second level. Pierce and the rest of Florida’s talented crew of running backs are going to make this a run-first offense and that will force opponents to abandon double coverage on the outside in favor of extra people in the box. Translation: The good running game is only going to make the job much easier for Ball Park Franks. It’s a lot easier to read defenses when they have to stack the line of scrimmage to try to stop the run. Expect something like a 65-35 run-pass ratio.
7. Some SEC notes: The SEC went 13-1 on the first weekend of the season. Tennessee was the only loser and that’s going to be a regular occurrence. Butch Jones left a raging dumpster fire in Knoxville. A losing season and a lot of bad losses are on the menu … Tua Tagovailoa is the real deal at Alabama. He runs every bit as well as Jalen Hurts and he can make throws that Hurts can only make in his dreams. In game one against Louisville, Tua was 12-16 for 227 yards and two TDs plus he ran 5-26 for another TD. With him at QB, Alabama is scary … LSU found its successor to Derrius Guice in Nick Brosette, who shredded Miami’s very good defense for 125 yards and two TDs … The Aggies will get a test by fire Saturday against #2 Clemson. Jimbo has a stud runner in Traveon Williams (20-240 rushing and three TDs in the season opener) … There is no QB controversy at Georgia. Jake (from State Farm) Fromm is the leader in chief for the Poodles (12-16, 157 yards and two TDs), Justin Fields (7-8, 63 yards and a TD; 3-33 rushing) is really good, but he’s got to wait patiently for his turn. Barring injury, it might be awhile … When the game was on the line against Washington, Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham played like a champion and drove the Tigers to the game-winning TD. If the Tigers are to have any balance in the offense, freshman tailback JarTavious Whitlow (scored the game winning TD) is going to have to get the bulk of the carries … Ole Miss will light up a lot of people on offense. A lot of people will light up the Ole Miss defense this year too. Juco transfer tailback Scottie Phillips (16-204 rushing with two TDs) might be the best runner the Rebels have had since Deuce McCallister … Georgia has opened up as a 9.5-point favorite for Saturday’s game with South Carolina in Columbia. Maybe I am in the minority here, but I won’t be the least bit surprised if Will Muschamp gets a signature win. The Gamecocks have a serious QB in Jake Bentley (22-29 passing for 250 yards and four TDs in the opener), a vastly improved running game and now that Deebo Samuel is healthy again, the best set of receivers in the SEC. If Muschamp can stop Georgia’s running game, the Gamecocks could spring the upset. It’s going to be a zoo at Williams-Brice … Mississippi State will get a serious test in The Little Apple Saturday night. Kansas State in Manhattan could take some of the luster off Joe Moorhead … Drew Lock threw for 44 TDPs last season, an SEC record. He got four in the season opener for Missouri and now has 75 for his career.
8. Some random thoughts: Is it my imagination or is Jim Harbaugh perhaps the most overrated and overpaid coach in all of college football? … Raise your hand and feel free to giggle if you are pleasantly amused by Chip Kelly and UCLA losing AT HOME to the likes of Cincinnati. It might be a long season in Westwood … I’ll be surprised if Kansas coach David Beatty is still the head coach when the calendar turns October … Ohio State lit up Oregon State for 721 yards and 10 offensive touchdowns in 12 possessions. Dwayne Haskins (313 passing yards for five TDs) is going to make people forget J.T. Barnett … You think the fine folks at Texas are asking what the hell were we thinking when we fired Charlie Strong? The Longhorns went 7-6 last year and they lost to a Maryland team with an interim coach in the opener. After Tulsa this week, it’s Southern Cal, TCU, K-State and Oklahoma in order. That’s a schedule that says breaking even will be a chore. Charlie Strong would have done much better than 7-6 last year and would have a national title contender this year if the powers that be in Austin hadn’t had a major brain fart … And speaking of Charlie Strong, he’s got at worst 9-3 or 10-2 team at South Florida. He’s a great fit in Tampa … The most fun team to watch (other than the Gators) this weekend was UCF, which sliced and diced Randy Edsall (another of the most overrated coaches in the business) and UConn to the tune of 56-17 on the road in Josh Heupel’s debut. UCF QB McKenzie Milton is as exciting as any player in the country. Against UConn he was 24-32 for 346 yards and five TDs and 7-50 rushing … It would not surprise me to see Virginia Tech win in Tallahassee tonight.