THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; OCTOBER 1, 2018
A few thoughts to kick start your Monday morning.
The defining moment in Florida’s 13-6 win over Mississippi State Saturday night in Starkville came with 7:28 remaining in the game with Florida facing fourth-and-one at the MSU 13. Dan Mullen’s initial instinct had been to go for it but he let the clock wind down then called time out. With his team gathered around him on the sideline, Mullen went with his gut, sent the offense back onto the field and with ESPN’s announcers doing everything but calling him the village idiot for not kicking the field goal, Jordan Scarlett got the carry and the yard needed for the first down.
The field goal would have been a 30-yard chip shot for freshman Evan McPherson and as it turned out, McPherson was sent out on the field for a 21-yarder four plays later after the Gators came up a couple yards short of another first down. It is a kick that McPherson makes in his sleep and it split the uprights to give the Gators a 7-point lead with 5:22 left in the game.
Mullen got the same three points he would have gotten if he had sent McPherson onto the field when the ball was at the 13 but by opting to go for it, he took two full minutes off the clock and those were two minutes of Mississippi State’s football life the Bulldogs couldn’t get back. Think for a moment what that decision did for the Florida football team. Mullen sent a signal to his offensive unit that he trusted them to make a critical play with a game on the line. Just as important, it sent a clear message to coordinator Todd Grantham and his defensive troops that he trusted them to get the stops that would preserve a victory.
Florida would get two more defensive stops, a three-and-out on the possession after McPherson’s 21-yard field goal and the defining, lights out stop that ended with Donovan Stiner making sure Nick Fitzgerald hears the footsteps for years into the future with a 10-yard kaboom kind of hit for a fourth down sack with 1:02 remaining.
Go back to Mullen electing to go for it with 7:28 left. Average coaches typically kick the field goal because they don’t have the trust in their team and their team doesn’t trust the coach. Great coaches do it with total confidence and in such a way that the moment reverberates through the entire team. Call this a defining moment in year one of the Dan Mullen era at the University of Florida. Call this that moment when Mullen let his team know he is willing to trust them completely to get the job done when a game is on the line.
That the Gators showed that Mullen’s confidence was well placed sent a message that this Florida team so many questioned after the loss to Kentucky is not only heading in the right direction, but barreling down the highway with the gas pedal stomped to the floor.
THE REST OF THE SEC
#1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC): About the only thing to complain about in Bama’s 56-14 pulverizing of Louisiana-Lafayette is the Crimson Tide didn’t cover the spread (it was 49.5 points at game time). Tua Tagovailoa barely played a quarter, hitting all eight of his passes for 128 yards and two TDs while running for an additional 12 yards on two carries. Jalen Hurts blew all chances of doing a Kelly Bryant by playing nearly two full quarters in his fifth game of the season, hitting 4-6 passes for 118 yards and a TD.
Arkansas (1-4, 0-2 SEC): The Hogs weren’t embarrassed by the Aggies Saturday (24-17 loss). They should savor the moment because Alabama comes to Fayette Nam Saturday and it will not be pretty. The Hogs should take photos of the scoreboard before the opening kickoff because that 0-0 is as close as it will get.
#8 Auburn (4-1, 1-1 SEC): For the want of an offensive line a championship season will be lost. Auburn has a championship level defense. Its offense has a future NFL QB in Jarrett Stidham. It’s unfortunate they can’t block for him. Until the O-line can do something other than its finest imitation of a sieve, the Tigers are going to struggle to score points.
#2 Georgia (5-0, 3-0 SEC): Georgia looks the part of a contender but the Bulldogs really haven’t been challenged. They certainly won’t be challenged this week with Vanderbilt rolling into Athens. Two weeks from now they travel to Baton Rouge to face 5th-ranked LSU. After that it’s back-to-back-to-back with Florida, Kentucky and Auburn. If they are still unbeaten after that gauntlet then they’re worth the hype.
#13 Kentucky (5-0, 3-0 SEC): This is that time of the year when Kentucky generally folds its tents and calls it a season. After all, March Madness is just around the corner and everybody knows the only thing that really matters in Bluegrass country is basketball. You get the feeling that things are different this year. The Wildcats have a legitimate Heisman contender in Benny Snell Jr. (664 yards rushing and eight TDs), a QB who keeps getting better in Terry Wilson and offensive and defensive lines that are big, physical and capable of taking over ball games. The Aggies are next at Kyle Field. If UK emerges from that game still unbeaten, they can be considered legitimate contenders for the SEC East.
#5 LSU (5-0, 2-0 SEC): Okay, so it was Ole Miss, whose defense would have difficulty stopping a Pop Warner team, but Joe Burrow showed that he is really getting comfortable in the LSU offense. In the Tigers’ 45-16 win over the Rebels, Burrow was 18-25 passing for 292 yards and three TDs and he was 9-96 rushing with another TD. The Tigers have a serious defense. If the offense ignites behind Burrow LSU will be downright scary good.
Mississippi State (3-2, 0-2 SEC): So much for Joe Moorhead, Offensive Genius. After scoring 150 points in three easy wins, the Bulldogs have put up one offensive touchdown and 13 points total in the last two games. The Bulldogs never had two consecutive outings so poor under Dan Mullen. With Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M and Alabama still looming on the schedule, that record streak of eight straight bowl years could come to an end. That will fan the hate Dan Mullen flames while at the same time cause second-guessing of the hire of Moorhead.
Missouri (3-1, 0-1 SEC): The Tigers got to rest up and heal after the Georgia debacle last week. Now they have to go to South Carolina in what can only be described as must win for both teams. With Alabama looming the following week, this is a self-esteem game for the Tigers. If they go into Tuscaloosa feeling the after effects of a loss to the Gamecocks, they could see their entire season destroyed. It probably will be anyway, but they definitely need all the help they can get.
Ole Miss (3-2, 0-2 SEC): Lucky for Ole Miss the next game is in Oxford with Louisiana-Monroe, which means they’ll score a half zillion points and everyone will forget for at least a day that the Rebels might have the worst defense in the history of the SEC. Currently, Ole Miss is averaging 36.8 points while giving up 38.4 points and 518.8 yards per game.
South Carolina (3-2, 1-2 SEC): As they did against Georgia, the Gamecocks shot themselves in both feet against Kentucky. The Gamecocks turned the ball over four times and they’re still trying to figure out how to stop Benny Snell Jr. Mizzou comes to Columbia this week. South Carolina needs to win this one in the worst way.
Tennessee (2-3, 0-2 SEC): Georgia was favored to beat Tennessee by 31 points. The final margin was 26 so a moral victory was achieved. The Vols are favored by a touchdown this week but there’s a reason for that. It’s an open date. Sobering reality sets in after that with a roadie to Auburn and Alabama coming to Knoxville on back-to-back weeks.
Texas A&M (3-2, 1-1 SEC): The Aggies held Arkansas to 55 rushing yards and they’re giving up only 85 per game. While Jimbo continues to tweak the offense, he’s got a defense capable of stuffing a ground game, important since Kentucky comes to town with Benny Snell Jr. Stopping Snell has been mission impossible for five straight teams. If the Aggies can hold him to fewer than 100 yards, they’ll have a chance.
Vanderbilt (3-2, 0-1 SEC): The Commodores struggled to beat D1AA Tennessee State, which certainly doesn’t bode well for this week when they travel to Athens to face #2 Georgia with Florida and Kentucky to follow. Derek Mason desperately needs to get to six wins if he expects to be gainfully employed next year.
CLEMSON DOOR IS OPEN; WILL KELLY BRYANT KNOCK?: Dabo Swinney says the door is open for Kelly Bryant to return at Clemson. The question is will Bryant swallow his pride, beg forgiveness and come back to the team he abandoned when he discovered Dabo was going to start freshman Trevor Lawrence? If Lawrence is out for a protracted period of time the onus is on Chase Brice to lead the Tigers. Can they keep winning with Brice at QB? They could definitely win with Bryant, but (a) will he come back and (b) will teammates be able to accept the way he walked out on them without resentment?
COLLEGE FOOTBALL THOUGHTS: Remember when everyone was so enamored by the possibility of UF hiring either Chip Kelly or Scott Frost? Well, they are a combined 0-8 so far and things won’t get better this week. UCLA will get its doors blown off by #10 Washington and Nebraska will rise to crashing defeat at the hands of #16 Wisconsin in Madison … Lost in all the talk about Ohio State’s come from behind 27-26 win over Penn State in Happy Valley is the Buckeyes were down several defensive players due to injuries and a targeting penalty. At full strength, the Buckeyes might be the only team in the country capable of hanging with Alabama … The way Notre Dame’s schedule sets up, the Fighting Irish are looking like a lock to make the College Football Playoff. The toughest remaining game might be against Syracuse and it’s in South Bend … UMass coach Mark Whipple was suspended a week without pay for using the word rape to describe what an official had done to the Minutemen in a 58-42 loss to Miami of Ohio … UCF has won 17 straight games after blowing the doors off Pitt of the ACC, 45-14, at the Bounce House in Orlando. The Big 12 would be very smart to expand to include UCF and South Florida … In a Washington Post article about the abuses in the Maryland football program, D.J. Durkin is described by a former UM player as “a psychopath who thinks he is more powerful than God.” The Maryland Board of Regents meets on October 19, at which time you can almost bet the farm D.J. will be canned.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The US Ryder Cup team was wasted by the Euros, 17-1/2 to 10-1/2 over the weekend. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson combined to go 0-6, Dustin Johnson was 1-3 and Brooks Koepka was 0-2-1. When those four go a combined 1-11-1 you know you are in big trouble … The Brewers and Cubs have a one-game playoff today to decide the NL Central championship while the Dodgers and Rockies go at it for the NL West title … If I had a vote for MVP of each league it would be Boston’s Mookie Betts (.346, 30 HR, 80 RBI, 30 SB) in the AL and Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich (.323, 36 HR, 109 RBI, 21 SB) in the NL … My Cy Young picks would be Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell (21-5, 1.89 ERA) in the AL and Philadelphia’s Austin Nola (17-6, 2.37 ERA) in the NL … The Indianapolis Colts went for it on fourth-and-four in their own territory in overtime against the Houston Texans Sunday. They didn’t convert and the Texans scored a 37-34 win. Said Colts coach Frank Reich, “I’m not playing to tie” … Famous Jameis was inserted into the lineup during the Tampa Bay Bucs’ embarrassing, 48-10, blowout loss to the Chicago Bears. So much for Ryan Fitzpatrick holding onto the job and leading the Bucs to a magical season.