THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; SEPTEMBER 26, 2018
A few thoughts to kick start your Wednesday morning.
The late, great Al McGuire once described his defensive philosophy as “you cut the head off the snake.” Al was talking basketball but the same philosophy applies to football, particularly for the Florida Gators when they travel to Starkville Saturday night to face Mississippi State in Dan Mullen’s return to the place that launched his head coaching career. In the case of Mississippi State, the head of the snake is quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, whose college football career totals are 4,942 passing yards for 43 touchdowns (23 interceptions) and 2,772 rushing yards and 38 touchdowns. He’s the guy the Gators have to stop Saturday night if they expect to win. Kentucky turned Fitzgerald into a very average – if that – quarterback last Saturday night. Florida has to do the same thing.
Complicating matters for the Florida defense is Fitzgerald’s ability to use his feet to turn bad plays into big gainers. The Gators, if you remember, were done in against Kentucky by the quick feet of quarterback Terry Wilson, who ran the ball 10 times for 105 yards and a TD, most of those yards coming after the pocket broke down. It must be noted that the Gators contributed mightily to Wilson’s big night by one of the worst tackling efforts in recent UF football history. For the Gators to cut the head off the Mississippi State snake Saturday night, it starts with tackling. The Gators cannot allow Fitzgerald to break tackles and get into the secondary. When they get their hands on Fitzgerald, they’ve got to take him down.
Second, the Gators cannot allow Fitzgerald to make easy reads. That means rarely giving the same defensive look two straight snaps. It also means disguising where the pressure is coming from and bringing it from different places every time. The last thing the Gators can allow is for Fitzgerald to get into a groove whether it’s running the ball, throwing it or making the right reads.
Third, the Gators have to play great assignment football. That’s how Kentucky beat the Bulldogs so handily (28-7). The Wildcats were easily the best prepared team and they had the discipline to carry out their assignments. Kentucky made it a priority to cut the head off the Mississippi State snake, holding Fitzgerald to 16-32 passing for 145 yards (4.5 per attempt), no touchdowns and one interception and 16-20 (1.25 per carry) and one TD on the ground.
If the Gators can do what Kentucky did, they will cut the head off the snake and leave Starkville with a win.
STATS THAT MATTER FOR MISSISSIPPI STATE: Mississippi State is off to a 3-1 start. The stats were exceptional the first three games, but dismal (201 total yards offensively; gave up 165 rushing yards and four TDs to Benny Snell Jr. defensively) last week against Kentucky.
Rushing: Kylin Hill 36-307 and three TDs; 4-14 vs. Kentucky; Fitzgerald 50-286 and five TDs; 16-20 and one TD vs. Kentucky; Aeris Williams 21-138 and one TD; 8-22 vs. Kentucky
Passing: Fitzgerald 58-117 (49.6%) for 973 yards (8.3 per attempt), nine touchdowns (three interceptions)
Receiving: Osirus Mitchell 9-184 and two TDs; 6-65 vs. Kentucky; Stephen Guidry 8-174 and one TD; 2-36 vs. Kentucky; Justin Johnson 6-109; 0 catches vs. Kentucky; Keith Mixon 6-101 and one TD; 0 catches vs. Kentucky
Scoring: 39.3 per game
Scoring defense: 13.5 per game
Rushing: 247.75 per game; 6.56 per carry
Rushing defense: 121 per game; 3.25 per carry
Passing: 243.3 yards per game; 8.3 per attempt; nine TDs
Pass defense: 148.3 yards per game; 5.6 per attempt; two TDs; four interceptions
Sacks allowed: 5-39
Turnovers gained: Four interceptions
Turnovers lost: Three interceptions
HOOPS DU JOUR: Florida held its basketball media day Tuesday afternoon. The Gators are picked sixth in the Southeastern Conference by Street and Smith, Athlon and Lindy’s in the preseason magazines, but all three magazines predict the Gators will make the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year in the Mike White era. Here are some quotes from White Tuesday.
On replacing Chris Chiozza with freshman Andrew Nembhard: “He’s (Nembhard) going to have to play through mistakes, and Mike Okauru as well, and continue to breed confidence as much as possible, and, of course, have an open line of communication, not only with staff, but with myself on a daily basis. At the same time, ride him. Let him do what he does, because it’s not like he’s a huge work in progress. Andrew is a very talented young man, and he’s a high-level passer high IQ … He’ll be one of the better passers that we play all year. He’ll have a chance to be in the conversation to be one of the better passers in all of college basketball … He sees the game at a high level. He’s a split-second thinker. Again, he’s very intelligent. Not only is he an elite passer, but he’s an elite passer with size, which makes it even a little bit easier for him to deliver some passes that other guys with equal vision can’t deliver.”
About Keith Stone taking another big step this season: “Offensively … very talented offensively. I think Keith’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. He knows he’s a little older and he’s feeling pretty good about himself and I expect him to have a big year.”
About Jalen Hudson’s decision-making process to test the NBA waters before returning to school: “He was transparent with myself and my staff. What he wanted to do, he did. I thought he went through it with a lot of maturity. He wanted some NBA teams to work him out. He wanted to get as much feedback as possible. He’s utilizing that feedback now to help him be the best player he can be and he understands his deficiencies have become more clear to him coming from the NBA guys … Yeah, so I was proud of the way he handled the process and he’s had a good offseason.”
About the possibility of playing all 13 scholarship players on his roster: “Right now, assuming we have 13 healthy guys, I’m not saying we’re going to be a great team by any stretch, but I can’t tell you one of the 13 that I just know is not going to play, and I think that’s a good problem to have.”
Some player quotes:
KeVaughn Allen: “We are learning to use our bodies more, even in terms of when and when not to use them, and I think it is helping us learn to take another step in our game. We’ve added more to our offense, which will help us in so many ways. This team just has to continue to listen to Coach White and do what he wants us to do.”
Gorjok Gal: “I worked on my shot a lot – mid-range and threes … That’s going to give me a lot of confidence, stretch out my game the option to do things I can do – passing, dribbling and stuff.”
Kevarrius Hayes: “I’m going to take more of a leader role instead of just leading by example. I want to be vocal and keep our healthy guys motivated at practice by bringing energy to practice. I’m definitely trying to stress the mental effort.”
Jalen Hudson: “I got a chance to graduate and another chance to play with these guys and grow closer together. We got all our starters back outside of Chiozza. I feel really confident about this season.”
Keith Stone: (Talking about Andrew Nembhard) “Great point guard, great passer. I love his game. Sometimes he makes passes that I don’t know are there. He’s been throwing some great passes to me and Kevarrius. He is very fundamentally sound. He doesn’t make many mistakes when he has the ball in his hands.”
SOME SEC FOOTBALL STUFF: I guess you have to find something to complain about. Nick Saban talked Monday about his concerns with the Alabama (4-0, 2-0 SEC) punting game. Freshman Skyler DeLong is averaging only 35.9 yards per punt. Not that he’s all that necessary. Alabama is averaging 53.8 points and 539.5 yards per game … The tall task for South Carolina (2-1, 1-1 SEC) this week against 17th-ranked Kentucky (4-0, 2-0 SEC) will be finding a way to slow down Benny Snell Jr., who has run for 125 or more yards in three of Kentucky’s four games … Kentucky was fined $100,000 by the SEC for its students rushing the field after last week’s win over Mississippi State. When you rush the field after beating Mississippi State in September it tells you something about the lack of success Kentucky football has had in the last 40 or so years … Auburn’s front seven has 13 sacks for -87 yards, but the Tigers (3-1, 1-1 SEC) have to be concerned about an offensive line that has given up seven sacks and is forcing QB Jarrett Stidham to get rid of the ball quicker than he wants. Last year Stidham averaged 8.6 per pass attempt. Through four games this year he’s averaging 7.4 … Georgia (4-0, 2-0 SEC) starting RG Ben Cleveland will be out indefinitely. His leg injury has been diagnosed as a fractured fibula … Injuries on the O-line are a problem for 5th-ranked LSU (3-1, 1-0 SEC). Garrett Brumfield is out indefinitely and Andrew Magee is questionable for Saturday’s game with Ole Miss (3-1, 0-1 SEC) … Ole Miss QB Jordan Ta’amu is dealing with a shoulder injury and wide receiver A.J. Brown has trouble with his hamstring but both should play against LSU … When Texas A&M (2-2, 1-1) opens holes for Traveon Williams, good things happen. Williams has 42 carries for 362 yards and four TDs in the Aggies’ two wins. He has 25 carries for 62 yards in the two losses … Vanderbilt (2-2, 0-1 SEC) wide receiver Camron Johnson had surgery Tuesday and will miss the rest of the season. The Commodores face D1AA Tennessee State Saturday.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Ryan Fitzpatrick had three consecutive 400-yard passing games in Jameis Winston’s absence. Do the Bucs stick with Fitzpatrick or do they turn the team over to Winston, who is back from suspension this week? And, do the Bucs pick up his $20.9 million option for 2019? … San Diego State running back Juwan Washington will be out for six weeks with a broken collarbone. Through four games, Washington had 513 rushing yards and five touchdowns … UConn head coach Randy Edsall walked out on the media Sunday after he was questioned about defensive coordinator Billy Crocker. The Huskies rank dead last in Division I in yards allowed per game (664) and scoring defense (54.4 points per game) … A day after Clemson coach Dabo Swinney named freshman Trevor Lawrence as his starting quarterback for Saturday’s game with Syracuse, Kelly Bryant missed practice. Under the new redshirt rule, Bryant could quit the team and count those four games played this year as a redshirt, then be eligible to play next season. Stay tuned … Ohio State All-American defensive end Joey Bosa will be out until November after surgery on an injured groin … With the Ryder Cup starting in Paris on Friday, pay close attention to the Europeans’ Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia, who also seem to play at a different level in this event. Poulter is 12-4-2 all-time in the Ryder Cup while Garcia is 19-11-7 … The American with the best Ryder Cup record is 2018 Masters champ Patrick Reed, who is 6-1-2. Tiger Woods is 13-17-2 and Phil Mickelson is 18-20-7 … Bryce Harper, who will be a free agent when the Major League Baseball season concludes, says he would love to remain with the Washington Nationals. Harper is only 25 years old with 184 career homers and 521 RBI. Bet the ranch that whatever the Nationals offer Harper the Yankees and the Red Sox will offer more. I’d put my money on the Yankees.