THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; OCTOBER 23, 2018
THE NUMBERS DON’T LIE
A year ago, on its way to a Southeastern Conference championship and a date with Alabama for the national championship, Georgia clearly understood that the way to unhinge the Florida Gators was to get in the head of Feleipe Franks early and often. Georgia brought pressure on every pass play, rarely from the same place two plays in a row, and left Franks dazed and confused. He completed 7-19 passes for 30 yards with one interception. Franks’ longest completion was a first quarter screen pass to Kadarius Toney that went for eight yards. Franks was sacked five times for 46 yards in losses. One of those sacks resulted in a fumble that was returned for a third quarter touchdown.
It’s important to point out the many problems Franks had in 2017, not only in the Georgia game but the entire season. Of the 37 sacks the Gators gave up in 2017, Franks was the QB who went down 29 times. But, since it’s Georgia week, it’s important to highlight what happened last year while pointing out a couple of key points: (1) Franks and Florida’s offensive line are much improved in 2018 and (2) the chief reason Georgia has good defensive numbers through seven games is because of a very weak schedule.
When evaluating sacks, blame has to be placed on both the offensive line and the quarterback. Not every sack in 2017 was the result of poor pass blocking. Some of those sacks had everything to do with the poor coaching Franks received. He was too often deer in the headlights against teams capable of bringing pressure from different angles and even when there was adequate time to throw, Franks often held the ball far too long then panicked and made a bad throw.
Fast forward to Florida’s 6-1 start (4-1 in the SEC) that includes three road wins in conference play along with wins over dominant defensive units such as Mississippi State and LSU. Franks has been sacked only eight times in seven games (-56 yards in losses), in part because the offensive line is doing a much better job but also because Franks doesn’t hold the ball forever. His completion percentage (56.6) would likely be 4-5 points higher if he didn’t throw the ball away rather than force a pass into coverage or to avoid a sack. Franks is averaging 7.7 yards per pass attempt, up from 6.3 last year, and he’s thrown more TD passes (15) in seven games than he did in 11 last year (9). Of course, it’s not all about Franks. The offensive line is doing a much better job not only in pass protection but also in the running game where the Gators are averaging 197.29 yards per game and 5.1 per carry. Last year the Gators averaged 156.36 yards and 4.3 per carry.
It’s also important to point out that Georgia had a truly elite defensive unit in 2017 against a schedule that included six ranked teams. This year, Georgia was blown out by the only ranked team on the schedule (LSU) and that one would have been far worse than 20 points (final score, 36-16) if Coach O hadn’t gone conservative in the red zone. LSU ran for 275 yards and threw for 200 more. It could have been worse. Georgia got to the quarterback 34 times last year, but the pass rush has managed only nine seven games. Georgia intercepted 12 passes last year. This year, the Bulldogs have four.
None of this guarantees the Gators will score a win that will keep their SEC East hopes alive while eliminating Georgia, but there is no question this is a much improved Florida team with Dan Mullen at the help in 2018 and Georgia, while still very good, isn’t quite the same. The numbers don’t lie.
AROUND THE SEC
#1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC): It’s a bye week for Alabama so backup QB Jalen Hurts had surgery to accelerate the healing process on a high ankle sprain suffered while scoring a touchdown in Bama’s 58-21 win over Tennessee. Hurts is expected to be back practicing next week.
Arkansas (2-6, 0-4 SEC): Former Clemson QB Kelly Bryant was in Fayette Nam for the Hogs’ 23-0 win over Tulsa. He has already visited North Carolina and will visit Missouri next week. Bryant has a relationship with Arkansas coach Chad Morris dating back to when Morris was the offensive coordinator at Clemson.
Saturday: vs. Vanderbilt (3-5, 04 SEC), 12 noon, SEC Network
Auburn (5-3, 2-3 SEC): Anders Carlson is 11-21 on field goals after misses of 47 and 45 yards against Ole Miss (he made a 28-yarder). Carlson is 1-8 on field goals of 50 yards or longer, 8-9 on field goal attempts of 40 yards or fewer.
#7 Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC): Right guard Ben Cleveland and defensive end David Marshall are both out for Saturday’s game with the Gators. Running back D’Andre Swift, who missed all of last week’s practices with an ankle sprain, is expected to be available.
Saturday: vs. #9 Florida (6-1, 4-1 SEC) in Jacksonville, 3:30 p.m., CBS
#12 Kentucky (6-1, 4-1 SEC): After a game in which quarterback Terry Wilson completed only 3-9 passes for a whopping 18 yards, UK coach Mark Stoops said that Wilson will start this week “but we need to look at the other guys if things go poorly. We’ll work Gunnar (Haok) pretty extensively this week as well.”
Saturday: at Missouri (4-3, 0-3 SEC), 4 p.m., SEC Network
#4 LSU (7-1, 4-1 SEC): Placekicker Cole Tracy was honored as the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week after booting four field goals in LSU’s win over Mississippi State. Tracy, a graduate transfer from Division II Assumption, is 21-23 on field goals this season. Both his misses have been from more than 50 yards.
Mississippi State (4-3, 1-3 SEC): While all fingers tend to point to QB Nick Fitzgerald after he was 8-24 passing for just 59 yards with four interceptions in the loss to LSU, Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead says it’s not all Fitzgerald’s fault. “Three things need to happen for a pass game to be successful,” Moorhead said Monday. “You need to protect, you need to run good routes and gain separation and the quarterback needs to throw the ball accurately. Unfortunately, right now, not all three of those things are clicking.”
Saturday: vs. Texas A&M (5-2, 3-1 SEC), 7 p.m., ESPN
Missouri (4-3, 0-3 SEC): In four non-conference games, quarterback Drew Lock has thrown for 1,412 yards and 15 TDs with only one interception. In three SEC games, Lock has thrown for 567 yards with one TD and five interceptions.
Saturday: vs. Kentucky (6-1, 4-1 SEC), 4 p.m., SEC Network
Ole Miss (5-3, 1-3 SEC): The loss to Auburn (31-16) was all about missed opportunities. Ole Miss was in the red zone four times but had to settle for field goals three times while scoring only one TD.
South Carolina (3-3, 2-3 SEC): Edge rusher D.J. Wonnum, who has been out since game one with a leg injury, will return Saturday when the Gamecocks play host to Tennessee. Wonnum had 13 tackles for loss, six sacks, five passes batted down and a blocked kick in 2017.
Saturday: vs. Tennessee (3-4, 1-3 SEC), 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
Tennessee (3-4, 1-3 SEC): Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who had to leave the game against Alabama after taking a hard shot to the chest, is expected to be ready to go Saturday against South Carolina. “I think he is going to be fine,” UT coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “He took a pretty good shot. I expect him to be out there.”
Saturday: at South Carolina (3-3, 2-3 SEC), 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
#16 Texas A&M (5-2, 3-1 SEC): Wide receiver Kendrick Rogers (foot) and offensive lineman Keaton Sutherland (ankle) will be back in the lineup Saturday. Both missed the Aggies win over South Carolina. The Aggies aren’t certain when wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon (foot), defensive lineman Micheal Clemons (fractured foot) and defensive back Clifford Chatman (high ankle sprain) will return.
Saturday: at Mississippi State (4-3, 1-3 SEC), 7 p.m., ESPN
Vanderbilt (3-5, 0-4 SEC): Saturday the Commodores will be taking the second of three straight road trips, still looking for both their first SEC and road win of the season. The Commodores had a close call in Lexington Saturday night, prompting head coach Derek Mason to say, “We’re close.” That would be enough if the sport were hand grenades.
Saturday: at Arkansas (2-6, 0-4 SEC), 12 noon, SEC Network
Ohio State’s unbeaten dreams weren’t the only thing that fizzled against Purdue. Dwayne Haskins pretty much fell out of contention, leaving this a two-man race between Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray. It’s going to take a spectacular run for anyone to overtake these two guys.
The two guys in front
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: The fact that Tua has yet to throw an interception this season only makes his numbers gaudier. Through eight games, he is 107-152 passing (70.4%) for 2,066 yards (13.6 per attempt) and 25 touchdowns. Additionally, he is 26-123 rushing (4.73 per carry) for two more TDs.
Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma: The only player who seems to have a reasonable chance to take the Heisman from Tua is Murray, whose stats are every bit as spectacular. In seven games, Murray is 115-159 passing (72.3%) for 1,977 yards (12.4 per attempt) with 25 TDs (3 interceptions); 66-428 rushing (6.48 per carry) for five more TDs.
The next four guys
Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: When Ohio State needed TDs in the red zone against Purdue, Haskins couldn’t deliver so his Heisman stock has dipped although he has great numbers. He is 247-343 passing (71.1%) for 2,801 yards (8.9 per attempt) and 30 TDs (5 picks) with 56 rushing yards for another TD.
McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF: Milton sat the ECU game with an injury. As if he was actually needed. He will have to come up big in UCF’s final four regular season games and the Knights will need to remain unbeaten for him to get to New York. In six games, Milton is 119-200 passing (59.5%) for 1,797 yards (9.0 per attempt), good for 16 TDs (4 picks); 48-204 rushing (4.25 per carry) for six more TDs.
Benny Snell Jr., RB, Kentucky: Circle the Georgia game. If Snell runs over, around and through Georgia to lead Kentucky to the SEC East title, he will be on the Heisman podium. He put the Wildcats on his back in the fourth quarter Saturday night to lead UK to a 14-7 win over Vandy. This season he is 160-868 rushing (5.43 per carry) for nine touchdowns.
Will Grier, QB, West Virginia: For Grier to get back in consideration, he’s got to come up big in the last five games, especially against Texas and Oklahoma. His six-game totals are 137-192 passing (71.4%) for 1,919 yards (10.0 per attempt), good for 22 touchdowns (7 picks).
Blips on the radar
Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State: Since that incredible game against Ohio State, McSorley hasn’t had a dominating game. His numbers for the season are 111-206 passing (53.9%) for 1,461 yards (7.1 per attempt), good for 11 TDs (3 picks); 98-554 rushing (5.65 per carry) for eight TDs.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: Taylor had a very workman-like 27 carries for 159 yards against Illinois but he hasn’t had a great game against a decent defense. For the season he is 170-1,109 rushing (6.52 per carry) and eight TDs.
Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis: He was injured in the first quarter of a blowout loss to Missouri and didn’t return, finishing the game with four carries for 15 yards. His season totals are 114-1,148 rushing (10.07 per carry) for 13 TDs; 12-211 receiving (17.58 per catch for two TDs.
Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: Oliver’s numbers are outstanding – 13.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, nine QB hurries – but he plays for a defense that gives up 29.1 points and 482.9 yards per game.
Karon Higdon, RB, Michigan: If Michigan continues to win and Higdon puts up exceptional numbers his stock could rise. Currently, he is 153-831 rushing (5.43 per carry) for six TDs.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The World Series begins tonight in Boston with Clayton Kershaw going for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chris Sale going for the Red Sox. I’m pulling for the Dodgers and yes, I plan to watch. This isn’t the NFL or the NBA, after all … The NFL equivalent of a store closing sale is under way in Oakland. The Raiders traded wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys for a first round pick in 2019 … The Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t benched QB Blake Bortles yet but he’s been placed on what is described as “a short leash” … The University of Maryland Board of Regents has the results of an investigation into the football program but those results have yet to be shared with school president Wallace D. Loh … The Chicago Bulls waived center Omer Asik Sunday. For getting fired by his team, Asik will get $14.3 million unless a team is stupid enough to claim him on waivers … Clemson has been established as a 16-point favorite over Florida State. Consider me shocked that it’s not somewhere closer to 25.