THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; JANUARY 1, 2019
When he took the Florida job a little more than a year ago, Dan Mullen promised the Gators were going to improve on the offensive side of the football, a good thing considering UF spent most of the years from 2010-17 ranked #100 or lower in the NCAA total offense statistics. Prior to the bowl win over Michigan, the Gators were ranked #45 in total offense, by far their best showing since the 2009 season.
Mullen kept his promise and the numbers only prove it. Here are five prime examples:
1. BEST OFFENSE SINCE 2009: In 2009, Tim Tebow’s senior season, the Gators averaged 35.9 points, 457.9 yards per game and 6.97 yards per play. From 2010-17, the best year was 2014 when the Gators averaged 30.3 points, 367.6 yards and 5.24 yards per play. The 2018 Gators averaged 35 points, 426.7 yards and 6.23 yards per play.
2. NEAR PERFECT OFFENSIVE BALANCE: You would be hard pressed to find a more balanced team anywhere in the country than Florida in 2018. The Gators averaged 213.5 passing yards per game and 213.15 rushing yards per game. Not only is this a tribute to exceptional play calling, but it’s a tribute to improved play at quarterback, at receiver and on the offensive line as well.
3. BEST PASSING NUMBERS SINCE 2009: In 2009, with Tebow throwing for 2,895 yards and 21 touchdowns (just five interceptions) the Gators averaged 236.1 passing yards per game and 9.1 yards per pass attempt with an overall total of 3,305 passing yards and 28 TDPs (5 interceptions). The Gators’ best year for throwing the ball from 2010-2017 was 2016 when they averaged 215.8 yards per game, 6.8 yards per attempt and threw 18 TDPs with 15 interceptions. Led by Feleipe Franks in 2018, the Gators averaged 213.5 yards, 7.6 per attempt and had 28 TDPs with only six picks. In 12 games (Tebow played in 14), Franks threw for 2,457 yards, averaged 7.6 per attempt and threw 24 TDPs with only six interceptions. Thanks to wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales, the Gators had fewer dropped passes and ran crisper, more precise routes, which certainly played a big role in Franks’ improvement.
4. AN EXPLOSIVE RUSHING ATTACK RETURNS: In 2009 with Tebow rushing for 910 yards and 14 TDs, the Gators averaged 221.79 yards per game on the ground, 5.59 per carry and had 30 rushing TDs. From 2010-17, the best year for running the ball was 2012 when UF averaged 187.69 yards per game, 4.53 per carry and had 22 rushing TDs. The 2018 Gators averaged 213.15 yards, 5.27 per carry and had 23 TDs. After rushing for a season low 113 yards in the loss to Missouri, the Gators surpassed the 200-yard mark the next four games (367 vs. South Carolina; 201 vs. Idaho; 282 vs. FSU; and 257 vs. Michigan in the Peach Bowl). The Gators had a terrific 1-2-3 punch in Lamical Perine (826 yards, 6.16 per carry, 7 TDs), Jordan Scarlett (776 yards, 5.92 per carry, 5 TDs) and Damien Pierce (424 yards, 6.14 per carry, 2 TDs). Additionally, the Gators got 350 rushing yards and seven TDs from Franks.
5. DRAMATIC IMPROVEMENT ON THE O-LINE: Give O-line coach John Hevesy plenty of credit for this one. He took over an under-achieving unit that was like a sieve in pass protection (Gators gave up 37 sacks for -242 yards in 2017) and transformed them into the line that gave up the third fewest sacks in the SEC in 2018 (18 for -121 yards). Great O-line play always begins with the center since he not only snaps the football, but makes the line calls and has to handle a nose tackle. Hevesy took undersized redshirt junior guard Nick Buchanan (6-3, 291), who had played in three games total in 2016-17, and turned him into a consistent SEC caliber center who will be Florida’s only returning starter on the 2019 offensive line.
POLITE TO THE NFL
As if anyone should be surprised, edge rusher Jachai Polite has declared for the NFL Draft. This is a no-brainer since most experts have Polite projected to go in the first 25 picks of the May draft. First round money is large and guaranteed. You don’t pass that up, particularly when you play a position where knee injuries are fairly common.
Polite led the Gators with 11 sacks, which tied him with Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat for sixth nationally. Polite also forced a nation-leading six fumbles. Additionally, he had 17.5 tackles for loss, four pass breakups and three quarterback hurries.
In his two previous seasons at UF, Polite combined for four sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, seven quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.
GREEN WILL TRANSFER; CLAYTON WILL RETURN
Wide receiver Daquon Green, who entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal, made it official that he’s transferring out. Buried on the depth chart, Green played in three games, registering one catch for three yards. He will have three years of eligibility remaining.
Defensive end Antonneous Clayton, who many thought had already transferred out, announced that he’s not going anywhere. A former 5-star signee, Clayton played in only three games in 2018 with one tackle. He has 11 tackles, one sack and four quarterback hurries in his UF career. Clayton tweeted out Monday, “4th times a charm right … let’s try this again in the spring.” Clayton still has two years of eligibility remaining. Maybe after seeing how playing in Todd Grantham’s defense transformed Jachai Polite into a first rounder, Clayton decided to see if he can’t make similar improvement.
A LITTLE WHINE WITH THE CHEESE, PLEASE
Now that Clemson has so handily disposed of formerly unbeaten Notre Dame in a College Football Playoff semifinal, the Georgia Bulldogs feel the need to tell anyone who listen that they were jobbed because they didn’t make the final four. Doesn’t seem to dawn on them that they were hosed by those same LSU Tigers that Alabama shut out, 29-0. Doesn’t seem to dawn on them that no two-loss team has ever been selected to the playoff. Doesn’t seem to dawn on them that they had the equivalent of a first round playoff game in the SEC Championship where, of course, they lost to Alabama. It’s pretty simple, actually. Beat Alabama and Georgia is in. Lose to Alabama and Georgia is out. What’s so tough to understand about that? Okay, I know, it’s Georgia we’re talking about and some things just don’t seem to compute with them.
Notre Dame got into the playoff because (a) it went unbeaten in the regular season and (b) the playoff committee thought it’s better to rank an unbeaten Notre Dame among the top four teams than it is to rank a Georgia team which lost two games in the top four. But again, that doesn’t seem to compute with Georgia fans or players, who think that because Clemson pole axed Notre Dame in the playoff semifinal that Notre Dame didn’t belong.
Memo to Georgia: If you want to get into the playoff, then (a) win the game that matters most or (b) don’t lose twice.
BOWLING FOR DOLLARS
#18 Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Iowa (8-4)
#11 LSU (9-3) vs. #8 UCF (12-0)
#14 Kentucky vs. #12 Penn State (9-3)
#9 Washington (10-3) vs. #6 Ohio State (12-1)
#15 Texas (9-4) vs. #5 Georgia (11-2)
Cincinnati (11-2) 38, Virginia Tech (6-7) 35
Stanford (9-4) 14, Pitt (7-7) 13
Oklahoma State (7-6) 38, #23 Missouri (8-5) 33
Oregon (9-4) 7, Michigan State (7-6) 6
#22 Northwestern (9-5) 31, #17 Utah (9-5) 20
#19 Texas A&M (9-4) 52, North Carolina State (9-4) 13
Conference bowl standings
Conference USA 4-2
Mountain West 3-2
Sun Belt 3-2
Big Ten 3-3
Big 12 3-3
American Athletic 2-4
THE LONG SHADOW OF JOHN WOODEN
We don’t necessarily think of UCLA as a place good basketball coaches go to see their careers die, but that’s pretty much what it has become. Steve Alford is the latest to go down in flames, fired after a 7-6 start that included a 73-58 loss to Liberty. Alford lasted 5-1/2 seasons before he got the pink slip and became the 12th ex-UCLA coach to try to live up to the impossible standard set by John Wooden.
Steve Alford is a very good basketball coach. Actually, every coach UCLA has hired since Wooden has been a very good basketball coach but they are measured by Wooden’s seven straight national championships and 10 national titles in 12 years. Jim Harrick (1995) has the only national title since Wooden and he was fired a year later because he lied on an expense report to cover up who attended a recruiting dinner. Harrick later resurfaced at Georgia and was fired for committing NCAA violations.
The UCLA faithful will tell you that no one could ever match what Wooden did but they still hold whoever is coaching the team to that impossible standard. At Kentucky, Adolph Rupp won four national championships and in the 46 years since he retired, four different coaches have won a national championship and the Wildcats have made it to the Final Four 15 times. Would averaging a Final Four every three years and a national championship once every 12 (like Kentucky) be good enough for the folks at UCLA? That would mean living in the real world, a place the UCLA folks haven’t been in years.
So, another search has begun for the NEXT John Wooden. Someone will be foolish enough to think he’s oblivious to the high expectations and the pressure that comes with them but the countdown clock to firing day will start ticking the moment the ink is dry on the contract.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Aaron Rodgers $33.5 million, Matt Ryan $30 million, Kirk Cousins $28 million, Jimmy Garoppolo $27.5 million, Matt Stafford $27 million, Derek Carr $25 million. Those are the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL. What do they all have in common? None of them made the playoffs … Iowa State coach Matt Campbell declined a request to interview by the New York Jets. Smart move by Campbell who has a bright future as a football coach. The Jets job is a grave yard where good coaches go to see their careers die … The Cincinnati Bengals fired Marvin Lewis after 14 seasons and only seven playoff appearances (0-7 record). Evidence that Marvin’s perspectives warped over time and his sell by date expired long ago is his endorsement of Hue Jackson to be his successor. Yes, the same Hugh Jackson who went 3-36-1 coaching the Cleveland Browns … The Miami Dolphins have fired head coach Adam Gase. Just to show you how incestuous the NFL is, the Cleveland Browns are first in line to interview Gase … Also fired were Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph and Arizona Cardinals coach Steve Wilks … Here is a scary thought. Tampa Bay Bucs GM Jason Licht says whoever is the team’s next head coach has to accept Jameis Winston as his quarterback. Is he trying to ensure the Bucs will (a) get another subpar coach and (b) continue to erode the fan base?