THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; OCTOBER 4, 2018
CUTTING THE HEAD OFF THE SNAKE – AGAIN
Another week and the game plan for the 22nd-ranked Florida Gators (4-1, 2-1 SEC) will seem a lot like the one that worked so well last week when the Gators stopped Mississippi State, 13-7, in Starkville. It’s called cut the head off the snake and this week the snake is Joe Burrow, the Ohio State grad transfer quarterback who is the only QB in the country with wins over two top ten teams.
The method of cutting the head off the snake will differ somewhat this week. Last week, UF had to make sure Nick Fitzgerald threw the football. Fitzgerald is a talented runner who was kept in containment and never could shake loose against the Gators. The Gators dared Fitzgerald to throw the ball downfield and he failed miserably, hitting only 11-26 of his passes for 98 yards (3.8 per attempt). Florida’s fierce pass rush got to Fitzgerald six times for 39 yards in losses.
Burrow is a very good runner, but his strength is throwing the ball downfield. He’s good at getting outside the pocket and throwing on the move. Although he ran for 96 yards against Ole Miss last week, it marked the first time he had run for more than 22 yards in a game all season. Florida has to keep Burrow contained and prevent him from getting to the second level if he turns upfield. Small gains are acceptable but big ones are not. Burrow’s accuracy has been improving with each game and against Ole Miss he hit 18-25 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns. Ole Miss ranks 126th nationally in defense so it’s not like Burrow was actually challenged Throughout the season Burrow has shown that when he’s given time to throw he has a strong, accurate arm.
What the Gators will have to do Saturday afternoon is mix up the pressure and get in Burrow’s face. The Gators have the speed off the edge in Jachai Polite (four sacks for -22 yards) and Jabari Zuniga (3.5 sacks for -36 yards) but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has shown in the last three games (12 sacks for -90 yards in losses) that he will bring the blitz from anywhere at any time (Fitzgerald will hear the footsteps for years to come; just ask Donovan Stiner). Last year when he was at Mississippi State, Grantham’s all out blitzes turned LSU’s passing game very pedestrian – just 13-29 for 137 yards, a pitiful 4.7 yards per attempt). That’s a number Grantham would be happy to duplicate this year.
For a number that matters in Saturday’s game, set it at 5.5 as in 5.5 or fewer yards per pass attempt. If the Gators can deliver that number they will stand a very good chance of cutting the head off the snake and coming away with the upset of unbeaten and 5th-ranked LSU (5-0, 2-0 SEC).
ELSEWHERE IN THE SEC
#1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC) at Arkansas (1-4, 0-2 SEC): The question isn’t will Alabama win this game but by how much? The Crimson Tide is a 35-point favorite against the hapless Hogs and the over is 56 points. One player who won’t be suited up for the Crimson Tide is backup corner Daniel Wright. Nick Saban suspended him for a violation of team rules. Saban could suspend his starters on both sides of the ball and still win this game.
Vanderbilt (3-2, 0-1 SEC) at #2 Georgia (5-0, 3-0 SEC): Three weeks ago Vanderbilt had Notre Dame on the ropes in South Bend. How could that same team get stomped by 23 by South Carolina in Nashville and barely beat a D1AA team in the two weeks since? If the Commodores play like they did in South Bend, they’ll still lose in Athens Saturday (Georgia is a 27-point favorite) but for the sake of the rest of the season, they need to make it a respectable whipping. The over is 54 points might be a little bit high but if Vandy plays like it did last week, the over will be reached by the third quarter.
#8 Auburn (4-1, 1-1 SEC) at Mississippi State (3-2, 0-2 SEC): “It’s going to get better,” Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said Monday, claiming the light at the end of the tunnel is “an opening, not an oncoming train.” The State folks might think it’s a train after Saturday evening. Auburn’s offense isn’t all that good but compared to what Moorhead puts on the field at MSU (19 points and 403 total yards in the last two losses combined) it’s the second coming of the point-a-minute teams Fielding “Hurry Up” Yost put on the field at Michigan from 1901-03. Auburn is a 4-point favorite in a game where there is a 41-1/2-point over. It’s hard to imagine Auburn failing to cover.
#13 Kentucky (5-0, 3-0 SEC) at Texas A&M (3-2, 1-1 SEC): When we think of Bear Bryant, we think of Alabama but before he became the head coach in Tuscaloosa, Bear was the winningest coach (still is) in Kentucky history and had Texas A&M on the verge of a national championship. Maybe we should call Saturday’s matchup between Kentucky and the Aggies “The What Might Have Been if Bear Had Stayed Bowl.” Neither Kentucky nor Bama have been the same since. This game is also a reunion for Jimbo Fisher (A&M coach) and Mark Stoops (UK head coach). Stoops was an assistant for Fisher at FSU from 2010-12. The Aggies are 6-point favorites with an over of 50-1/2 points.
Missouri (3-1, 0-1 SEC) at South Carolina (2-2, 1-2 SEC): Until he messed up a groin in the week three win over Purdue, Emanuel Hall had caught 18 passes for 430 yards and three TDs. He didn’t catch a pass in the loss against Georgia and if he still can’t go full speed – he will play against South Carolina but probably not at 100% — there’s no way the Tigers will be able to stretch the defense. Missouri is a 1-1/2-point favorite and the over is 63 points. The over is probably high because Will Muschamp is going to take the air out of the football.
Louisiana-Monroe (2-3) at Ole Miss (3-2): File this one under who cares? Ole Miss is favored by 22-1/2 points and will probably win by at least five touchdowns but it’s a non-conference game against a team from the Sun Belt that has absolutely zero chance to stop those future NFL wideouts. Louisiana-Monroe will score a bunch of points, but a Pop Warner team could score on Ole Miss.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL THIS WEEKEND: ESPN says nine teams still have a chance to make the College Football Playoff – Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State, Washington and Michigan. Funny, but the last time I checked, LSU is unbeaten and the Tigers not only have two top ten wins (Miami and Auburn) but they also play Georgia (at Tiger Stadium next week) and Alabama. And what about UCF? Can the playoff leave UCF out if the Knights are 12-0 with a 25-game winning streak? … The top ten coaches by salary per USA Today: 1. Nick Saban, Alabama $8,307,000; 2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State $7,600,000; 3. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan $7,504,000; 4. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M $7,500,000; 5. Gus Malzahn, Auburn $6,700,000; 6. Kirby Smart, Georgia $6,603,600; 7. Dabo Swinney, Clemson $6,453,000; 8. Dan Mullen, Florida $6,070,000; 9. Tom Herman, Texas $5,500,000; 10. Scott Frost, Nebraska $5,000,000. Other SEC coaches and their rank: 21. Will Muschamp, South Carolina $4,200,000; 23. Mark Stoops, Kentucky $4,000,000; 26. Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee $3,846,000; 36. Chad Morris, Arkansas $3,500,000; 37. Ed Orgeron, LSU $3,500,000; 44. Matt Luke, Ole Miss $3,000,000; 46. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt $2,812,523; 49. Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State $2,600,000; 56. Barry Odom, Missouri $2,350,000 … The buyout for Jimbo is $68,125,000. It’s a mere $33,600,000 for Saban … If I’m an athletic director at a Power Five school starting to make a short list of potential new football coaches, the first three guys are: 1. Neal Brown, Troy; 2. Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic and 3. Seth Littrell, North Texas … True freshman running back Jermar Jefferson of Oregon State might be the best player you haven’t heard of. Playing for one of the worst teams in the country, Jefferson is 105-727 rushing for eight TDs. He lit up Arizona State for 254 yards and two TDs last week … Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald has thrown for 2,100 yards and 24 touchdowns through six games … Baylor has received a notice of allegations that include lack of institutional control from the NCAA. This is in the wake of a sexual assault scandal that caused the firing of football coach Art Briles and led to school president Kenneth Starr stepping down.
COLLEGE HOOPS TRIAL: PLAYERS FOR SALE
Oregon, which we typically equate with college football and Nike and not basketball recruiting, apparently is up to its wazzoo in trouble as the first of three trials involving corruption that could shake the college game to its very foundations. In her opening remarks to the jury in New York, defense attorney Casey Donnelly (represents former Adidas exec Jim Gatto) said that Oregon offered recruit Brian Bowen “an astronomical amount of money if he’s go to Oregon.” The attorney for co-defendant Merl Code, who is a former Adidas consultant, confirmed that Oregon was prepared to pay big bucks for Bowen. Bowen allegedly took $100,000 from Louisville, which was one of the events that led to the firing of former basketball coach Rick Pitino. Bowen ended up going to South Carolina but never played a minute. He turned pro in the spring and is now playing for a team in the Australian league.
Prosecutors say there was an agreement to pay recruit Billy Preston $90,000 to go to Kansas (he never played a minute) and that Arizona was willing to pay $150,000 to land Nasir Little of Orlando Christian, who ended up going to North Carolina. North Carolina State is said to have paid $43,500 for point guard Dennis Scott Jr.
According to documents revealed in court Wednesday, former runner/agent Christian Dawkins, one of three defendants in the New York trial and formerly connected to disgraced agent Andy Miller, paid former Alabama one-and-done Collin Sexton $5,000 plus $1,500 per month. Additionally, $21,000 was paid for his family to cover travel expenses and his brother got a four-year job that started at $35,000 with annual raises of $5,000. So far there is nothing that indicates if Alabama was aware of the payments to Sexton.
Some other names that will be mentioned in the trial are Duke freshman Zion Williamson and Indiana freshman Romeo Langford.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Here we are just four weeks into the NFL season and there are only two unbeaten teams – Kansas City and Los Angeles Rams, both at 4-0. I think it’s safe to say that the Miami Dolphins of 1973 will remain the only team in NFL history to go unbeaten through an entire season … Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell will miss the first 40 games of the 2019 season for violating Major League Baseball’s sexual assault and child abuse policy … The Baltimore Orioles fired manager Buck Showalter after a season in which they lost 115 games. Showalter is a really good manager. It’s not his fault the Orioles organization has become as bad as there is in all of professional baseball … Kobe Bryant wants to become the king of smell good. He has unleashed his brand of deodorant, body wash and soap under the brand name Art of Sport … The New York Yankees won the American League wild card game Wednesday night, beating the Oakland Athletics, 7-2. The Yankees will face AL East champ Boston in the American League Divisional Series … Now that the Tour Championship has been settled and the Ryder Cup has been played, it’s time for the PGA Tour to crank up the new season with the Safeway Open played in Napa, California. The biggest name in the tournament is Phil Mickelson.