THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; SEPTEMBER 27, 2018
A few thoughts to kick start your Thursday morning.
Florida’s defensive task Saturday night in Starkville is to neutralize Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. On the other side of the ball, the Gators have to find a way to control the line of scrimmage. They will be going against a Mississippi State front seven that has already recorded 13 sacks good for 87 yards in losses. That strong pass rush has plenty to do with the Bulldogs allowing only 5.6 yards per pass attempt. On the ground, opponents have managed only 121 yards per game and 3.25 per carry.
Although the Bulldogs were dominated on the scoreboard last week against Kentucky (Kentucky 28, Mississippi State 7), they only gave up 300 total yards. Of course, Kentucky chose to shorten the game and allow Benny Snell Jr. to grind out the yards (165 yards and four rushing TDs). The Wildcats threw the ball only 14 times, completing eight for 71 yards so, in some respects, the numbers are deceiving. Why throw when you can hand off to either Benny Snell or his backup, Asim Rose (9-47 rushing)?
The big question is can the Gators win the battle at the line of scrimmage? Kentucky did it, running the ball 47 times for 229 yards (4.87 per attempt). The Wildcats gave up three sacks for -23 yards, 1-1/2 of them to Montez Sweat, a 6-4, 245-pound defensive end who season totals are 4.5 sacks for 35 yards in losses to go with a couple of QB hurries. Neutralizing Sweat is a must for UF.
Against Kentucky, the Gators had what looked like a below average game running the football (29-128, 4.4 per carry) but one reason for that is the Gators (a) couldn’t get Kentucky off the field (UK ran for 303 yards) and (b) since they trailed much of the second half, they were forced to throw (38 times) more than they wanted. Kentucky only got to Feleipe Franks twice (-14 yards in losses) but they pressured Franks into a bad decision day. Franks ran the ball 11 times and far too often he wasn’t looking for receivers when he broke out of the pocket.
For Florida to win Saturday night, it starts with good decision-making by Franks. In each of the last two games, Franks has shown marked improvement in that area. In both the wins over Colorado State and Tennessee the Gators have thrown sparingly but efficiently. In both games, Franks has kept his eyes looking downfield whenever he broke out of the pocket and the result is a much more effective passing game. His 65-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Swain against Tennessee was a classic example of a quarterback keeping his eyes downfield, looking for a bigger play than he could make with his legs. At least four of his nine incompletions against Tennessee were throwaways – heaving the ball out of bounds rather than take a sack or throw into coverage.
Mississippi State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is the same guy who promised no one would run the ball on the Tennessee Vols in 2016-17 when he worked for Butch Jones. The Vols gave up 218.54 rushing yards per game in 2016 and 251.25 in 2017. Yes, Mississippi State’s overall numbers this season look really good against the run but that has a lot to do with playing D1AA Stephen F. Austin, Kansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette in the first three games, none of which runs the ball particularly well. The team that does run it well – Kentucky – went over, under, around and through Shoop’s defense. Florida might not have as good an O-line as Kentucky, but the Gators have to be good enough to run the ball effectively against Mississippi State.
If the Gators can establish the run, they can slow down the pass rush and that’s critical because it is how Mississippi State compensates for corners and safeties that will have a very difficult time covering Florida’s receivers. Give Franks time and he’s going to find Freddie Swain, Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes and Tyrie Cleveland.
Franks is the triggerman for the UF offense but for him to have a good decision-making game and make plays that keep the chains moving, Florida’s offensive line is going to have to come through with its best performance of the year. Can Martez Ivey and Jawaan Taylor handle the speed guys like Sweat coming off the edge? Can Brett Heggie and Tyler Jordan give Nick Buchanan the help he will need to handle Jeffery Simmons, the 6-4, 300-pound nose tackle that could be one of the top D-linemen taken in the 2019 NFL Draft?
THIS WEEK IN THE SEC
FLORIDA (3-1, 1-1 SEC) at #23 Mississippi State (3-1, 0-1 SEC): Mississippi State is a 7.5-point favorite
Louisiana Lafayette (1-2) at #1 Alabama (4-0): Former Alabama assistant Billy Napier will become the 15th former Nick Saban staffer to go down in crashing defeat against the former boss. Alabama is a 48-point favorite and it’s surprising the spread is that low. You won’t see Tua beyond the second quarter as Nick gives Jalen Hurts plenty of snaps to keep his former starter sharp and happy. Well, at least as happy as he’s going to be.
Arkansas (1-3, 0-1 SEC) at Texas A&M (2-2, 0-1 SEC): Think of Arkansas as medicine to soothe an aching soul for Texas A&M, still smarting from that beatdown by Alabama last week. The Aggies are 21-point favorites and they’ll probably win by 30 or more.
Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC) at #2 Georgia (4-0, 2-0 SEC): This should be over by halftime (or sooner) if you are to believe the oddsmakers, who have established Georgia as a 32-point favorite. Jake Fromm (State Farm) shouldn’t have to play more than a half, which will mean Georgia fans will spend the second half drooling over freshman Justin Fields. Tennessee’s offensive and defensive lines are in a heap of trouble. The byword for UT quarterbacks Jarrett Guarantano and Keller Chryst should be “Feets don’t fail me now!”
Southern Miss (2-1) at #10 Auburn (3-1): If the Vegas bookmakers are right (Auburn is a 27-point favorite) then this should be a get well game for Auburn’s inconsistent offense, which put up only 225 yards last week against an Arkansas defense that is the second worst in the SEC behind Ole Miss. The Tigers need to give Jarrett Stidham enough protection so he can throw the ball downfield instead of so many dumpoffs.
Tennessee State (2-0) at Vanderbilt (2-2): Vandy should be halfway to bowl eligibility after this game (no Vegas line) against a D1AA team. After Saturday, however, the Commodores have only two games in which they should be favored to win – at Arkansas and vs. Tennessee in the last game of the season.
South Carolina (2-1, 1-1 SEC) at #17 Kentucky (4-0, 2-0 SEC): Kentucky is just a 1-point favorite, which is surprising considering the game is in Lexington and the Wildcats already have two convincing SEC wins under their belts. For South Carolina to break its four-game losing streak to Kentucky, the defensive front seven has to at least slow down Benny Snell Jr. and the offensive line has to keep Jake Bentley upright. The point spread seems to indicate oddsmakers think that’s a real possibility.
Ole Miss (3-1, 0-1 SEC) at #5 LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC): LSU is a 12-point favorite in this rivalry game. It’s a chance for LSU to get its offense and transfer QB Joe Burrow truly untracked against the worst defense in the SEC. For Ole Miss to win, the game has to become a shootout and Jordan Ta’amu can’t throw interceptions.
KELLY BRYANT WILL TRANSFER FROM CLEMSON: Kelly Bryant would be one high ankle sprain or concussion away from regaining his starting quarterback job at Clemson except that he’s taking advantage of the redshirt transfer rule instead of serving as the caddy to hotshot freshman Trevor Lawrence. Through the first four games, Bryant completed 36-54 passes (66.7%) for 461 yards (8.5 per attempt) and two TDs with one interception. He also ran for 133 yards (4.33 per carry) and two TDs. Those are decent numbers, but clearly, Lawrence has been more productive. Lawrence is 39-60 passing (65%) for 600 yards (10.0 per attempt) with nine TDPs (two interceptions). He has also run for 24 yards (2.67 per carry). Bryant is a senior who is 16-2 as a starting quarterback in his career so it’s not like he’s been ineffective, but the Clemson offense is simply better when Lawrence runs the team. Even so, Bryant called being benched, “A slap in the face.” By transferring out prior to playing in a fifth game, Bryant can claim 2018 as a redshirt season and be eligible to play next year whether he graduates or not. Maybe that sounds like a good idea but how will he feel if Lawrence goes down with a season-ending injury a game or two down the road?
PLAYERS THAT HAVE TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF THE TRANSFER RULE (PER CBSSPORTS.COM)
John Broussard, DB, Auburn
Kelly Bryant, QB, Clemson
Nate Craig-Myers, WR, Auburn
Taj Griffin, RB, Oregon
Jalen Harris, TE, Auburn
Ardarius Lemons, RB, Florida
Jalen McCleskey, WR, Oklahoma State
Devon Modster, QB, UCLA
Jayvaughn Myers, DB, Auburn
Jonathan Nance, WR, Arkansas
NICK SABAN ON THE REDSHIRT/TRANSFER RULE: “It’s a little bit of a slippery slope when players start to decide whether they’re going to play or not. I’ not saying there aren’t some circumstances out there where it’s not beneficial to the player to save a year so that he could play in another circumstance. But those things should probably be agreed upon. But it is what it is. I think the intent of the rule was to help the development of young players. This is sort of an unintended consequence probably of the rule, which in some cases might help a player.
“I can’t speak for others. If we had circumstances in our program where players don’t do what they’re supposed to do – whether we have rules about going to class or going to meetings and players decided that ‘I’m not going to do that’ – what are we supposed to do? When is it insubordination when a player doesn’t do what he is supposed to do to be part of the team?”
WILL MUSCHAMP ON THE REDSHIRT/TRANSFER RULE: “I understand the new rules. If someone wants to leave, we understand. We want guys that want to be here and if they don’t we wish them the best.”
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL STUFF: Since Ole Miss travels to LSU Saturday evening, do yourself a favor, go to Youtube and watch Billy Cannon’s punt return to beat Ole Miss in the 1959 classic at Tiger Stadium. Prior to the game, LSU will unveil a statue of Cannon, the only Heisman Trophy winner in school history … It took Damon Evans years to rebuild his reputation after a 2010 DUI arrest in which he also tried to bribe the officer who made the arrest. That led to his resignation as Georgia’s athletic director. Evans seemed to have rehabbed his image and career at Maryland where he spent three years as an associate AD and a year as the interim AD before having the interim tag lifted earlier this year. Now, Evans may be on his way out again, this time for the ongoing controversy surrounding the heat stroke death of football player Jordan McNair back in June. Now, Evans is claiming he was given “inaccurate information” about the events of the workout that led to McNair’s death. If you are prone to wager on such things, put your money on Evans sent packing along with suspended football coach D.J. Durkin … Miami made the change to redshirt freshman QB N’Kosi Perry, who will get the start tonight when the #16 Hurricanes (3-1) face North Carolina (1-2) … Thirteenth-ranked UCF (3-0) puts its 16-game winning streak on the line Saturday afternoon against Pitt (2-2) of the ACC. Even though Pitt is off to a dubious start with wins against D1AA Albany and a bad Georgia Tech team, the Panthers are from a power conference and that will look good on UCF’s resume if the Knights can keep the streak going … #4 Ohio State (4-0) is a 3.5-point favorite Saturday night in Happy Valley against #9 Penn State (4-0) … The over for Saturday’s matchup in Lubbock between #12 West Virginia (3-0) and #25 Texas Tech (3-1) is 75. They might score that many points by halftime. WVU is a 3.5-point favorite.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: New York Mets lefty Jacob deGrom lowered his Major League leading ERA to 1.70 with seven shutout innings of two-hit baseball against the Atlanta Braves Wednesday night. DeGrom, a native of DeLeon Springs, played his college baseball at Stetson … Hall of Fame basketball coach Jack Ramsey died Wednesday. Ramsey coached collegiately at St. Joseph’s and in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers, Indiana Pacers and Kansas City Kings … The Le Golf National course on which the Ryder Cup will be played this weekend has very tight fairways, which will not favor America’s big hitters … Phil Mickelson says Ryder Cup teammate Tiger Woods’ swing is the best it’s ever been.