THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; NOVEMBER 1, 2018
IT STARTS WITH STUFFING THE RUN
Although Missouri (4-4, 0-4 SEC) has had its share of offensive struggles against Southeastern Conference opponents, when the Tigers get things cranked up they are a tough team to stop because they can balance a quick strike passing game (284 yards per game) with a running game capable of grinding things out (185.63 yards per game; 4.51 per carry). Two games come to mind. In their 40-37 win over the same Purdue team that blew the doors off Ohio State, the Tigers ran for 233 yards and passed for 375. In their 37-35 loss to South Carolina, the Tigers ran for 286 yards and threw for 204.
That’s the dilemma facing 14th-ranked Florida (6-2, 4-2 SEC) this weekend, particularly since the Gators are coming off a loss to Georgia in which they gave up 189 rushing yards and 240 through the air. While it is imperative for the Gators to put the clamps on Mizzou QB Drew Lock (169-279 passing; 60.6%; 2,144 yards; 7.7 per attempt; 16 touchdowns; 6 interceptions) the Gators can’t allow the 1-2 punch of Larry Rountree III (108-594 rushing; 5.5 per carry; 8 TDs) and Damarea Crockett (101-463 rushing; 4.58 per carry; 5 TDs) gash them the way De’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield did last week.
Complicating matters for the Gators is a Missouri offensive line that has given up only 10 sacks this season, tied for Florida for 18th nationally. The Tigers gave up only 13 sacks in 13 games last year and just 14 in 12 games in 2016. Florida has to get pressure on Lock, but at the same time the Gators can’t allow themselves to be susceptible to delays and draw plays that work so well against teams determined to bring the heat to the passer.
Florida will benefit from the return of corner C.J. Henderson, who missed most of the Georgia game with a back bruise. When he went down last week, it seemed the floodgates opened for Georgia QB Jake Fromm, who went 17-24 for 240 yards and three TDs. Also expected to return to the lineup is safety Brad Stewart, who missed last week’s game for undisclosed reasons.
Ideally, the Gators would like to make Missouri one-dimensional by taking away the running game. In their last two SEC games – a 39-10 loss to Alabama and a 15-14 loss to Kentucky – the Tigers have run for a combined 154 yards on 70 attempts; a paltry 2.2 per carry. Without the benefit of the run, Lock was a very pedestrian 13-26 for 142 yards (5.5 per attempt) against Alabama and 15-27 for 165 yards (6.1 per attempt) against Kentucky.
The Gators are favored by 5-1/2 points Saturday. If they’re to win this one and keep Missouri winless in SEC games, they will have to upset the balance in the Tigers’ offense and that starts with stuffing the run.
SATURDAY’S SEC GAMES
(Rankings using College Football Playoff Poll)
#1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) at #3 LSU (7-1, 4-1 SEC): Strange things have been known to happen on Saturday night in Baton Rouge when a good portion of the crowd of 100,000 or so has spent the last three days seeing how many brain cells can be killed with adult beverages. The place is going to be a zoo and outside Tiger Stadium you can expect a crowd similar to the one for the 2007 Florida game. There were more than 90,000 in the stadium that night (it hadn’t been expanded to 100,000 yet) and estimates were that many unticketed but seriously inebriated fans were outside. Alabama is favored by 15 points, up one point since Sunday, and if the Crimson Tide gives Tua Tagovailoa time to throw the football, he will pick LSU apart. LSU’s only chance is to pressure Tua and force him into bad decisions. If the Tigers can do that, they’ve got a chance. If they can’t Alabama will cover and win this one going away.
#6 Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC) at #9 Kentucky (7-1, 5-1 SEC): At Georgia, the faithful think the Bulldogs have their mojo back and that they’ll make it to Atlanta where they’ll knock off Alabama for the SEC championship. At Kentucky, the fans are living in a dream world. The UK football team, however, is thinking, “Why not us? Why not now?” A confident underdog (Georgia is favored by 9) is a dangerous thing to encounter. Nobody in Georgia – or in Las Vegas – gives Kentucky a chance. Hope springs eternal in Lexington but is hope enough or will a season’s worth of dreams get the football equivalent of a lobotomy?
Missouri (4-4, 0-4 SEC) at #11 Florida (6-2, 4-2 SEC): An embarrassing loss to the Gators wouldn’t result in Barry Odom getting pink slipped, but it would put him in the precarious situation of needing to sweep Vandy, Tennessee and Arkansas to finish 7-5. An embarrassing loss to UF and one loss in those final three would not bode well. The folks in the Show Me State are growing seriously impatient.
Louisiana Tech (6-2) at #18 Mississippi State (5-3, 2-3 SEC): Mississippi State is a 22-1/2 point favorite in this final non-conference game on the schedule. The main goal in this game is to get through it without any injuries since there is that teensy matter of a road game to Alabama a week from Saturday.
#20 Texas A&M (5-3, 3-2 SEC) at Auburn (5-3, 2-3 SEC): This is almost a make or break game for both teams. The Aggies have spent the last five years tanking in November so starting the month with a bounce back win on the road could be a sign of good things to come. A loss will have Aggie fans thinking, “Not again!” Auburn was thought to be no worse than a top ten team when the season began but an inconsistent offense has turned 2018 into a total disappointment. With #6 Georgia and #1 Alabama still on the schedule, it’s imperative for the Tigers to get a win Saturday. Auburn is shakily favored by four.
South Carolina (4-3, 3-3 SEC) at Ole Miss (5-3, 1-3 SEC): In South Carolina’s two SEC wins, the Gamecocks ran for 273 yards against Vanderbilt and 224 against Tennessee. That’s the kind of game they’ll need Saturday against Ole Miss, which gives up 217 per game, worst in the SEC. If the Gamecocks can run the ball, they’ll shorten the game and keep the Ole Miss offense (averages 38.4 points and 537.9 yards) off the field. In their last 20 games, the Gamecocks are 17-3 when they’ve run the ball for 100 or more yards. The Vegas oddsmakers have this one dead even.
Charlotte (4-4) at Tennessee (3-5, 1-4 SEC): Vegas favors the Vols by 21 in this game. If Charlotte has a chance to spring what would be a monumental upset, it still start with stuffing the UT running game. The Vols rank 99th in the nation running the ball (141.13 yards per game) while Charlotte is a surprising #6 against the run (89.8 yards per game, 3.09 yards per carry).
ABOUT FACE AT MARYLAND: DURKIN FIRED
You’ve got to hand it to University of Maryland president Wallace D. Loh. A day after he caved to the pressure from the Board of Regents and reinstated suspended football coach D.J. Durkin, Loh caved again, this time to the student government, campus deans and faculty. Wednesday, Loh reversed course and fired Durkin, something he should have done Tuesday, if not sooner.
The Board of Regents, which cannot hire and fire football coaches, but can hire and fire school presidents, wanted Durkin to be reinstated. At the Tuesday press conference in which he announced he was retiring at the end of the school year, Loh grudgingly confirmed that Durkin had been reinstated as the football coach. That met with outrage from students, faculty, Maryland governor Larry Hogan and media alike, not to mention was a source of anger from the family of Jordan McNair, whose death during an offseason workout was why Durkin was suspended in the first place. At Durkin’s first meeting with the football team, a number of players walked out and there were parents of numerous UM football players who made it known previously that if Durkin returned their kids were transferring out.
So Loh caved again, only this time the end result was what should have happened in the first place. Yes, terminating Durkin was the right thing to do, but it should have happened either Monday or at that ill-fated Tuesday press conference in which Loh looked like a coward and Regents chairman James T. Brady came across as an egotistical jerk. At least Loh corrected himself within 24 hours and amputated the problem rather than let this festering wound drag down the entire university and athletic department.
The damage to the Maryland image is enormous and won’t be glossed over anytime soon. There are still four games remaining in the football season and Maryland is a game away from bowl eligibility although it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which a bowl committee would get the warm and fuzzies about inviting the Terps to come spend a week in their burg. Interim coach Matt Canada will continue in his role as the interim. Durkin will be paid 50% of the $5.1 million he’s owed on his contract within 60 days with the balance in monthly installments.
So who does Maryland turn to next? The first call will likely go to former University of Florida assistant and now Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, a Washington, D.C. native who has twice served on the Maryland staff. Locksley is an exceptional recruiter with a strong track record for landing top talent from the D.C./Baltimore area.
Maryland could see Locksley as damaged goods, particularly in light of the highly charged Me Too movement, however. During his stint at the head coach at New Mexico, a complaint of age and sexual discrimination was filed against Locksley by an administrative assistant. The complaint was later withdrawn but the damage lingered.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Clay Helton has been given the dreaded vote of confidence from Southern California athletic director Lynn Swann. The Trojans are 4-4 in large part because of an unbelievable string of injuries that had them playing with their third string quarterback in their 38-35 loss to Arizona State … The Carolina Panthers will honor the military during their game with the Tampa Bay Bucs Saturday as part of the NFL’s “Salute to Service Week.” Panthers safety Eric Reid plans to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem … Considering the way NFL television ratings are in the toilet this year, you have to wonder how many people will tune in for tonight’s battle between the 1-6 Oakland Raiders and the 1-7 San Francisco 49ers … Willie McCovey, who spent most of his Hall of Fame career with the San Francisco Giants, died Wednesday at the age of 80. McCovey hit 521 home runs in his career. He was the National League MVP in 1969 when he hit 45 home runs and drove in 126.