THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; OCTOBER 2, 2018
IT STARTS UP FRONT
Since that embarrassing manhandling at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats in the second game of the season, Florida’s defensive front seven has undergone a serious transformation. They were a sieve against Kentucky, allowing 303 rushing yards (7.19 per carry), but they’ve turned into a stone wall in the three games since. Colorado State and conference foes Tennessee and Mississippi State have combined for 330 rushing yards, averaging just 2.57 per carry. If you want a key reason why Florida has won three straight games to return to the Associated Press top 25 (Gators are ranked #22) look no further than the Gators stuffing the run.
Against Kentucky, the Gators suffered through one of the worst tackling games in the past 10 years. So often they had QB Terry Wilson cornered but there were far too many whiffs as Wilson broke containment for 105 yards and a TD. In the three games since, the Gators have sacked opposing quarterbacks 12 times for 90 yards in losses. In their win over Mississippi State in Starkville Saturday night, the Gators dropped Nick Fitzgerald six times for 39 yards in losses including a 10-yard monster hit on a blitz by safety Donovan Stiner that sealed Florida’s 13-6 win.
LSU will bring the best offense the Gators have seen since the Kentucky game to The Swamp Saturday. The fifth-ranked Tigers (5-0, 2-0 SEC) have improved their offensive production every single game. Against Ole Miss Saturday night, LSU had its best scoring output (45 points) to go with a balanced 573-yard attack – 281 rushing yards, 292 through the air – led by quarterback Joe Burrow, who accounted for 388 yards of total offense including 96 on the ground.
Containing Burrow is the obvious task for the Florida defense, but to do that the Gators have to dominate the line of scrimmage much the same way they shut down Mississippi State, holding the Bulldogs to 202 total yards (104 rushing, 98 passing). That was against a healthy MSU O-line. Saturday, LSU’s offensive line might be a patchwork as injuries have taken their toll. Starting center Lloyd Cushenberry (6-4, 309) is considered “very questionable” so the likely starter is backup Cole Smith (6-3, 285), a freshman. Left guard Garrett Brumfield (6-4, 303) isn’t practicing this week and probably won’t play for another couple of weeks. Left tackle Saahdiq Charles (6-5, 305) has missed the last two games and his backup, Badara Traore (6-7, 323), missed practice Monday and may be out Saturday.
No matter who starts on LSU’s offensive line Saturday the Gators have to dominate and impose their will. That’s what it will take to make Burrow very ordinary.
UF DEFENSE IN THE NATIONAL RANKINGS
Total defense: 311 (19th)
Scoring defense: 14.0 (9th)
Sacks: 15 (14th)
Tackles for loss: 37 (20th)
Turnovers forced: 14 (1st)
SCORE ANOTHER BIG RECRUIT FOR MIKE WHITE
Everybody knows Mike White can X and O with the best of them and he’s a basketball equivalent of a defensive savant. Folks have been wondering what he could do if he ever started landing the four and five-star recruits. Well, we won’t have to wait much longer to find out. For the second time in the past three weeks, White came up big on the recruiting trail when he landed a commitment from four-star center Omar Payne (6-9, 215, Kissimmee, FL/Montverde, FL Montverde Academy), who joins five-star point guard Tre Mann (6-4, 185, Gainesville, FL The Villages Charter) in the class of 2019. Both Payne and Mann are top 40 talents.
The Gators will lose three seniors to graduation (KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson and Kevarrius Hayes) so officially there is room for one more player in this class, expected to be five-star small forward Scottie Lewis (6-5, 185, Eatontown, NJ). Lewis has narrowed his choices to the Gators and Kentucky, but he’s widely considered a very heavy Florida lean.
Keep close watch on power forward C.J. Walker (6-8, 200, Sanford, FL/Orlando, FL Oak Ridge), who is thought to be a tossup between Florida and LSU. The scholarship numbers typically have a way of working out so if Walker wants to be a Gator, it’s hard to imagine White telling him he can’t come to UF even if the class already has Mann, Payne and Lewis in the fold.
RANKING THE SEC TOP TO BOTTOM
1. ALABAMA (5-0, 2-0 SEC): The numbers are staggering. Alabama is averaging 54.2 points and 553.2 yards per game offensively and that’s with the first string quarterback (Tua Tagovailoa) rarely playing a full half of football. Tua, by the way, has thrown for 1,161 yards and 14 touchdowns without an interception. Over on the defensive side, Alabama is allowing an uncharacteristic 13 points and 317.6 yards per game. Don’t worry. They’ll get better. Amazingly, Alabama is only a 34-1/2-point favorite to beat Arkansas in Fayette Nam this weekend.
2. LSU (5-0, 2-0 SEC): The Tigers are ranked ahead of Georgia for one simple reason – they are the only team in America with wins over two top ten teams (#8 Auburn and #10 Washington). They also have a quarterback (Joe Burrow) who, even though he is learning the offense and teammates on the fly, has yet to throw an interception this season. LSU has been established as a 2-point favorite to win at Florida this weekend.
3. GEORGIA (5-0, 3-0 SEC): The Bulldogs are ranked second nationally but they really haven’t played anybody. They’re good, but are they that good? They won’t be challenged this week. Georgia is a mere 27-point favorite to beat Vanderbilt in Athens.
4. KENTUCKY (5-0, 3-0 SEC): In the immortal words of the late, great Freddie Mercury, “Is this the real thing? Is this just fantasy?” Yes, Kentucky is 5-0 with three SEC wins and we don’t hit the halfway point in the season until Saturday. We all know about Benny Snell Jr. but the real eye opener is a defense that’s allowing only 12.6 points and 288.8 yards per game. Those are better numbers than Alabama. Go figure. The Wildcats can make it 6-0 this weekend at Texas A&M where the Aggies are 6-point favorites.
5. AUBURN (4-1, 1-1 SEC): Unless the offensive line figures out that it is legal to block someone, Auburn will have to rely on its outstanding defense to gut out a bunch of white knucklers. The Tigers travel to Mississippi State Saturday where they are 3-1/2-point favorites to hand the Bulldogs their third straight SEC loss.
6. FLORIDA (4-1, 2-1 SEC): The offense is still a work in progress. The defense is trending nasty as coordinator Todd Grantham keeps finding ways to dial up exotic blitzes that leave quarterbacks like Nick Fitzgerald dazed, confused and wondering where the next hit is coming from. Obviously, the Gators are thought to have a legitimate shot to knock off LSU this weekend as the Tigers are only 2-point favorites.
7. TEXAS A&M (3-2, 1-1 SEC): The Aggies are 0-2 against ranked teams (#1 Alabama and then #2 Clemson). Thirteenth-ranked Kentucky comes to Kyle Field Saturday so it’s a chance for Jimbo Fisher to get his first statement win. The Aggies are 6-point favorites to knock Kentucky from the unbeaten ranks this weekend.
8. MISSOURI (3-1, 0-1 SEC): Missouri all but gave the Georgia game away two weeks ago. Was that the real Mizzou or will we see a high powered offense this weekend at South Carolina? Drew Lock needs to have a big game for the Tigers, who are 2-point road dogs. If Mizzou loses this one, can you imagine how bad it will be next week at Alabama?
9. SOUTH CAROLINA (2-2, 1-2 SEC): The South Carolina offense has looked like a lost ball in the tall grass in two SEC losses. Does this sound like a familiar tune from Will Muschamp’s days at Florida? Jake Bentley has as much talent as any QB in the SEC but you wouldn’t believe it by the losses to Georgia and Kentucky. The defense better show up in a big way this week because Mizzou comes to town. South Carolina is a 2-point favorite.
10. MISSISSIPPI STATE (3-2, 0-2 SEC): In the last two games, the Bulldogs have one offensive touchdown, two field goals and a combined 403 yards (201 vs. Kentucky; 202 vs. Florida). The Bulldogs might find it difficult to break the 200-yard barrier against Auburn this week. It’s only because Auburn’s offense stinks nearly as bad as MSU’s that the Tigers are only a 3-1/2-point favorite.
11. VANDERBILT (3-2, 0-1 SEC): When you have to rally in the second half to beat a D1AA team, what makes you think you can go toe-to-toe with Georgia? In Athens of all places. Vandy is a 27-point road dog. It will be an upset if Georgia doesn’t cover.
12. OLE MISS (3-2, 0-2 SEC): Ole Miss is in the NCAA jailhouse and can’t go to a bowl game so Matt Luke is selling his team that every game is their bowl game. Getting to 6-6 would be an extraordinary coaching job by Luke and his staff. There are perhaps three winnable games remaining on the schedule, one of which is this weekend when non-conference Louisiana-Monroe comes to town. Ole Miss is a 22-1/2-point favorite, surprising that it’s that close since Ole Miss is capable of hanging a 60 on the visiting War Hawks.
13. TENNESSEE (2-3, 0-2 SEC): It’s looking more and more like the Vols are going to do a reverse run of the table for a second straight year. The Vols can’t lose this week since they have an open date. Lucky for them.
14. ARKANSAS (1-4, 0-2 SEC): Hope springs eternal in Fayette Nam. Because the Hogs played the Aggies close on Saturday (24-17 loss) folks think an SEC win is just around the corner. Well, reality grabs the by the lapels and slaps them silly Saturday when Alabama comes to town. Bama is a 34-1/2-point favorite. Bet the farm that Bama will cover … by halftime.
SOME COLLEGE FOOTBALL THOUGHTS: Apparently, Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence has a neck strain and not a concussion. Chase Brice, who led the Tigers to a come-from-behind win over Syracuse after Lawrence went down with the injury, is splitting reps with Lawrence in practice as the Tigers prep for Wake Forest Gump … Since we’re talking about Clemson, there was no sign of Kelly Bryant swallowing his pride and trying to get back in the good graces of Dabo Swinney and his former teammates … The Mountain West Conference suspended one of its zebras for two games for “inappropriate conduct toward game management personnel” during Nevada’s 28-25 win over Air Force. ESPN reports that Adams grabbed the neck of a student manager, shook him and was verbally abusive. Sounds to me as if Adams should be suspended the rest of the season, not just for two games … Tennessee State linebacker Christion Abercrombie remains in critical condition after emergency surgery Saturday. Abercrombie collapsed on the TSU sideline before halftime of the Vanderbilt game. They’re still trying to figure out what caused Abercrombie to collapse … Former Alabama coach Mike Dubose is in the hospital with non-life threatening injuries after accidentally shooting himself … Are you like me, still trying to figure out what the heck Penn State was thinking to call a running play on fourth and four against Ohio State when the Buckeyes hadn’t stopped Trace McSorley all night long? … Miami is a 12-1/2-point favorite to whack Florida State Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium. I think Miami covers that spread easily.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Leveon Bell is expected to report to the Pittsburgh Steelers during their bye week October 21. Bell says he is “fully committed” to playing for the Steelers and hopes he will re-sign with the team … Now that Baker Mayfield is playing quarterback, the Cleveland Browns are relevant again. They may have lost to the Oakland Raiders Sunday, but does anyone remember the last time the Browns scored 42 points on anyone? … And since we’re talking about the Browns, rookies Nick Cubb and Antonio Callaway showed up big. Chubb had TD runs of 63 and 41 yards and Callaway had a 59-yard catch among his three receptions … I don’t plan to watch an NBA game this year. Like the NFL, it has nothing to do with politics. I just like the college game so much better … In Monday’s two tiebreaker games to decide the National League Central and West champions, the Dodgers claimed their sixth straight West title and the Milwaukee Brewers their first ever Central … Did you happen to catch that moonshot of a home run the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger launched in the fourth inning? … I like the Cubs in their wildcard game today with the Colorado Rockies. I think lefty Jon Lester (18-6, 3.32 ERA) will be the difference … Patrick Reed ripped Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk for splitting him up with Jordan Spieth. Reed and Spieth were 4-1-2 when paired together in Ryder Cup matches and 8-1-3 in the Presidents Cup. Paired with Tiger Woods, Reed went 0-2 although he did win his Sunday singles match. Spieth and Justin Thomas, meanwhile, went 3-1.