Franz Beard: Thoughts of the Day

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; OCTOBER 3, 2018

MIKE WHITE STRIKES AGAIN

One day after landing 4-star center Omar Payne (6-9, 215, Kissimmee, FL/Montverde, FL Montverde Academy), Florida basketball coach Mike White landed the second 5-star recruit in his 2019 class when small forward Scottie Lewis (6-5, 185, Evantown, NJ Ranney School) committed to the Gators over Kentucky. Florida’s class, which includes Lewis, Payne, 5-star point guard Tre Mann and preferred walk-on Alex Klatsky (6-3, 155, Evantown, NJ Ranney School) moved up to #2 in the 247Sports rankings.

Lewis is an intriguing prospect who can defend all three perimeter positions and who plays much taller than 6-5. He is explosive off the dribble and plays high above the rim on both ends of the floor. He’s a streaky shooter who can take over a game when he heats up but he doesn’t have to score big to dominate a game.

That Lewis chose the Gators over Kentucky tells you that Mike White is building a reputation in much the same way Billy Donovan did when he came to Florida from Marshall. Donovan had already proven he could coach when he arrived but in a matter of three short years he was making a big mark on the recruiting trail. In putting together this third full recruiting class, White is showing that he’s at that point where he can go toe-to-toe with the likes of John Calipari and bring top rated talent to UF.

CAN THE GATORS ESTABLISH THE RUN AGAINST LSU?

In Mississippi State’s 37-7 win over LSU in 2017, Dan Mullen’s offense cranked out 285 rushing yards (5.94 per carry) on an LSU defense that finished the season allowing only 128.38 yards per game. In his career as a defensive coordinator, very few teams have ever carved up a Dave Aranda defense like that.

Mullen has moved on to Florida (4-1, 2-1 SEC) but Aranda is still the DC at LSU (5-0, 2-0 SEC). When the Gators take the field Saturday against Aranda’s defense, it might be a tall order to dial up the same kind of running game that worked so well last year, but clearly, Florida is going to have to establish the run to win the game. Can the Gators run the ball better against this LSU defense (allows 103 yards per game; 3.01 per carry) than they did last week against Mississippi State (118 yards; 3.47 per carry)?

In that 2017 win over LSU, Mullen had the advantage of an option QB in Nick Fitzgerald (ran for 88 yards that night), who made all the right decisions whether to keep or pitch to Aeris Williams (146 yards). No one is going to mistake Florida QB Feleipe Franks for an option QB but he will have to be mobile enough to escape the rush plus he will need to call his own number in the running game enough times to keep the Tigers honest.

Expect the Gators to use a running back by committee approach against LSU but we will likely see a heavier dose of freshman Dameon Pierce than we saw last week (4-30 rushing with all his carries in the fourth quarter). Pierce is Florida’s leading rusher with 255 yards even though he has carried the ball only 25 times (10.2 per carry). He squats 585 pounds, which makes him exceedingly tough to knock off his feet, but he also has a surprising burst of speed once he gets to the second level.

Last week against MSU, Mullen loosened up the Bulldogs with tunnel screens that were like an extension of the running game. A similar approach might be in this week’s cards, but however he chooses to get the job done, Mullen and the Gators are going to have to run the football with some measure of consistency if they expect to upset the 5th-ranked Tigers.

LSU UPDATES: Starting center Lloyd Cushenberry practiced Tuesday. Practicing in non-contact jerseys were left tackle Saahdiq Charles, nose tackle Breiden Fehoko, corner Greedy Williams and backup corner Jontre Kirklin and backup safety Ed Paris. Missing at practice were defensive end Glen Logan, inside linebacker Jacob Phillips, backup left tackle Badara Traore and backup tight end Thaddeus Moss.

WHERE SEC DEFENSES RANK NATIONALLY

6. Georgia 275.6 yards per game (4.35 per play)
11. Mississippi State 286.8 yards per game (4.47 per play)
12. Kentucky 288.8 yards per game (4.46 per play)
16. Auburn 304.6 yards per game (4.47 per play)
19. Florida 311 yards per game (4.63 per play)
23. Alabama 317.6 yards per game (4.73 per play)
29. South Carolina 330.5 yards per game (4.95 per play)
32. LSU 333.8 yards per game (4.69 per play)
36. Tennessee 340.6 yards per game (5.73 per play)
55. Texas A&M 357.2 yards per game (6.42 per play)
57. Arkansas 362.4 yards per game (5.05 per play)
62. Vanderbilt 366.2 yards per game (5.19 per play)
86. Missouri 396 yards per game (6.31 per play)
126. Ole Miss 518.8 yards per game (6.19 per play)

WHERE SEC OFFENSES RANK NATIONALLY

5. Alabama 553.2 yards per game (8.23 per play)
7. Missouri 540 yards per game (6.3 per play)
13. Texas A&M 511.8 yards per game (6.66 per play)
24. Ole Miss 483.8 yards per game (7.33 per play)
34. Georgia 470.2 yards per game (7.26 per play)
51. South Carolina 438.3 yards per game (6.13 per play)
52. Mississippi State 433.2 yards per game (6.64 per play)
63. Vanderbilt 414.2 yards per game (6.18 per play)
70. (tie) Kentucky 407.2 yards per game (6.21 per play)
77. (tie) LSU 396.6 yards per game (5.7 per play)
92. Florida 378.2 yards per game (6.39 per play)
95. Auburn 376.2 yards per game (5.42 per play)
102. Tennessee 360 yards per game (5.68 per play)
108. Arkansas 348.8 yards per game (5.11 per play)

HEISMAN HOPEFULS

Saturday marks week six of the college football season and the first weekend of October, which means the Heisman Trophy race will begin separating the contenders from the pretenders. Here is how the race is shaping up heading into the weekend.

The four guys in front:

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: As spectacular as his season numbers are – 66-88 passing (75%) for 1,161 yards (13.2 per attempt) and 14 TDs (zero picks); 115 rushing yards (5.75 per carry) and two TDs – imagine what they would be if he ever played a full game. Most of the time he doesn’t get to play more than a quarter and a half. The only remaining games on the schedule in which he might get to play in the fourth quarter are at LSU and Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

Will Grier, QB, West Virginia: His Heisman hopes could have been torpedoed last week when he had an unproductive second half and West Virginia had to hang on for dear life after blowing a three TD lead in the fourth quarter to Texas Tech. But, since WVU won the game and the overall numbers for Grier are nothing short of spectacular, he’s still on the hot list. His season totals are 98-136 passing (72.1%) for 1,487 yards (10.9 per attempt) and 17 TDs (three picks). If he comes up big in games against Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State he will be in New York City on Heisman weekend.

Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: In leading Ohio State from 12 points down in the fourth quarter to a 27-26 win over Penn State in Happy Valley, Haskins seriously elevated his Heisman hopes. This season he is 109-154 passing (70.8%) for 1,464 yards (9.5 per attempt) and 19 TDs (two picks) and he has run for another TD. Haskins will benefit from high profile games November against Michigan State and Michigan.

Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma: Maybe Murray should be late to practice more often. He didn’t get to start against Baylor last week because he was late to practice Thursday so he made Baylor pay for his mistake by hitting 17-21 passes for 441 yards and six TDs while running for another 36 yards and a TD. His seasonal totals are 77-109 passing (70.6%) for 1,469 yards (13.5 per attempt) and 17 TDs (two picks); 47-276 rushing (5.87 per attempt) for four more TDs. Games with Texas, Oklahoma State and West Virginia will give him a chance to put up big numbers on the national stage.

The next three guys:

Benny Snell Jr., RB, Kentucky: He’s the poster child for Kentucky’s 5-0 start that has folks thinking the Wildcats could possibly beat Georgia and win the SEC East. Through five games he has 115 carries for 639 yards (5.56 per carry) and eight TDs, 4-29 receiving and 1-1 passing for 43 yards and a TD. He has 3,063 yards and 40 rushing TDs in his career and he’s just a junior. His Heisman hopes could rest on a big game November 3 against Georgia.

McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF: He lit up Pitt for 328 passing yards and four TDs while running for 51 yards and two more scores as UCF won its 17th consecutive game. His season numbers are 84-137 passing (61.3%) for 1,223 yards (8.9 per attempt) and 13 TDs (just three picks). He is 33-198 rushing for five TDs. If UCF runs the table a second straight year – entirely possible against a not so formidable schedule – and he plays lights out he might have a shot at making the podium.

Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State: The way he lit up Ohio State (286 passing yards for two TDs; 175 rushing yards) in a losing effort (what the hell was James Franklin thinking calling a running play on fourth down?), McSorley is very much on the Heisman radar. For the season he is 73-138 passing (52.9%) for 1,049 yards (7.6 per attempt) and 10 TDs (two picks); 66-410 rushing (6.21 per carry) for six TDs. Although he lost to Ohio State, he’s got high profile games remaining with Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin so he has adequate time to make his case for an invite to New York.

These guys have a lot of work to do:

Bryce Love, RB, Stanford: A high ankle sprain turned the last third of 2017 very ordinary and quite possibly cost him the Heisman. He has been less than spectacular through five games in 2018 and guess what? He’s got another high ankle sprain, suffered in the last really high profile game of the season for Stanford last week at Notre Dame where he had 17 carries for 73 yards and a TD. For the season he is 76-327 rushing for three TDs. In the next seven games he has to average 150 yards per game or more to get into the Heisman hunt.

A.J. Dillon, RB, Boston College: His overall numbers – 106-652 rushing for six touchdowns – are very Heisman-like, but he laid an egg (19-59 and no TDs vs. Purdue) in the highest profile game BC has played this year. To get in the serious Heisman hunt he better come up big in games against NC State, Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Syracuse.

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: In the last two games – 230 yards and no TDs in a loss to BYU and a win over Iowa – Taylor hasn’t exactly lit a fire under his Heisman hopes. His season totals are very good – 102-658 rushing (6.16 per carry) and five TDs – but he’s got to come up with some big games against the likes of Michigan and Penn State.

RANDOM THOUGHTS: Former Gator Brian Johnson won’t be on the Boston Red Sox roster for the American League Divisional Series with the winner of the wild card game between the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees … Major League Baseball attendance was down 4% this season. Given the high cost of taking a family to a game these days it’s no wonder … A year after the first arrests were made, the first federal trial into corruption at the highest levels of college basketball takes place. In addition to coaches at Kansas, Louisiville, North Carolina State and Miami, coaches at Arizona, Creighton DePaul, LSU, Maryland and Michigan State are involved in one way or another. Stay tuned for this one. It’s going to get very interesting … So much for my prediction that the Chicago Cubs would make it to the World Series. A day after they lost the NL Central tiebreaker to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs lost the wild card game to the Colorado Rockies, 2-1, in 13 innings … Former Gator and Cleveland Browns rookie wide receiver Antonio Callaway has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession and driving under a suspended license. Big surprise there … The latest high profile player to take advantage of the new redshirt/transfer rule is Tyjon Lindsey of Nebraska, who was Nebraska’s top signee two years ago.