THOUGHTS OF THE DAY, APRIL 12, 2019
MULLEN HAS ALREADY SEEN WHAT HE NEEDS TO SEE
The heavy lifting was completed a day or so ago so all that’s left of spring football practice is the annual dog and pony show at The Swamp Saturday when Dan Mullen’s two biggest concerns are (1) don’t get anyone hurt and (2) entertaining fans and (more importantly) recruits. Mullen and his staff have already seen everything they need to see in the past few weeks and while they want to make the Orange and Blue game a fun afternoon, they’re not going to allow anything important to be DVR’d by opposing coaches.
By all accounts, the two biggest takeaways from practice have been the nastiness of the defense and the continued emergence of Feleipe Franks as both a top caliber quarterback and leader. I’m told the defense is quicker off the edge than last year and tougher in the middle. Getting Chris Steele in as an early enrollee and the return of Marco Wilson has solidified the secondary, which should be ranked among the top three or four nationally when all the preseason magazines come out around Memorial Day. Franks’ continued development will be huge because the Gators have more speed and talent at the skill positions than they’ve had since 2008. He could have the kind of year that makes leaving early for the NFL an option. People keep telling me Kyle Pitts is going to be a nightmare for opponents because with his combination of size and speed and that Trevon Grimes is uncoverable.
The offensive line, I’m told, has surprised even John Hevesy with its development. That’s not to say they’re game ready because they aren’t but there is an entire summer for getting stronger both physically and between the ears, plus 25 practices once fall camp begins. A friend who spent a good bit of time in the trenches in his day tells me where the O-line is right now and where they were when spring football began is light years difference. He expects this will be an exceptional unit in the fall.
GATORS GET CRITICAL WIN OVER SOUTH CAROLINA
Brady McConnell’s 3-run homer in the bottom of the third highlighted a 6-run outburst as the Gators (23-13, 5-8 SEC) won the first of a 3-game weekend series with South Carolina (20-14, 3-10 SEC), 9-5, at McKethan Stadium. It was a critical win for the Gators who are tied with Tennessee (25-10, 5-8 SEC) for fourth place in the SEC East. Only the top four teams from each division will make it to the SEC Tournament.
McConnell hit a first pitch 3-run homer over the wall in right field to stake the Gators to a 3-0 lead in the third. By the time South Carolina retired the side, Kendrick Calilao, Cory Acton and Jud Fabian had delivered run-scoring singles. Acton had a run-scoring double in the fifth. In the eight, Calilao scored on a wild pitch and Fabian drove home a run with a sacrifice fly.
Tommy Mace (6-3) got the win, allowing 2 runs and 3 hits in 6 strong innings.
The Gators will send freshman Christian Scott (3-1, 3.60 ERA) to the mound tonight in game two.
Other UF spring sports: It was a good day on the courts for the Florida women’s tennis team (11-9, 7-5 SEC) as the Gators knocked off 14th-ranked Michigan, 4-3. The Gators play host to 5th-ranked South Carolina (16-3, 11-1 SEC) Saturday … In their final non-conference lacrosse match of the year, the Gators (8-6, 2-0 Big East) smacked Jacksonville, 19-13. The Gators are at home Saturday against East Carolina in a Big East match … Florida’s 9th-ranked softball team (33-9, 6-6 SEC) will try to build on the momentum of last weekend’s sweep of Arkansas when the Gators face Texas A&M (25-15, 3-9 SEC) in College Station in a 3-game SEC series starting tonight … The Florida men’s tennis team (19-2, 11-0 SEC) has already clinched at least a tie for the SEC title. The Gators can win it outright Sunday when 18th-ranked South Carolina (15-7, 5-6 SEC) comes to Gainesville.
MASTERS STUFF: KOEPKA WANTED TO BE A GATOR
Brooks Koepka, who has won three of the last seven majors (US Open in 2017-18, PGA in 2018) is tied atop the Masters leaderboard with the very interesting Bryson DeChambeau at 6-under, played his college golf at FSU. In an interview with ESPN in the days leading up to Thursday’s first round, Koepka was asked what gives him a chip on his shoulder. He mentioned the fact that he wanted to play golf for the Florida Gators but UF (then coached by Buddy Alexander) had absolutely zero interest in him. He went to FSU and made All-America three times.
DeChambeau, who majored in physics at SMU, has an application on his smart phone that measures air density, which he checks before deciding which club he’s going to swing next. Obviously, it works quite well. He also changed grips, club lofts, etc. to accommodate wind patterns and air density in Augusta. DeChambeau is 25, already with five PGA Tour wins, and has a lot of folks thinking he could be every bit as good as Koepka.
And then there is Lefty. Phil Mickelson rebounded from bogeys at 10 and 11 with five back nine birdies to finish a stroke behind Koepka and DeChambeau. If Mickelson can pull off a win in Augusta this weekend, it would not only be his fourth green jacket but he would become the oldest (he’s 48) winner of a major in history.
A few other notables: Dustin Johnson (-4), Adam Scott (-3), Tiger Woods (-2), Rickie Fowler (-2), Jason Day (-2), Bernhard Langer (age 61, -1), Bubba Watson (even), Rory McIlroy (+1), Justin Thomas (+1) and Jordan Spieth (+3).
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF
Linebacker Terrell Lewis (knee), OL Jedrick Wills (ankle) and LB Ben Davis (leg) won’t dress for Alabama’s A-Day spring game. Tight end Major Tennison (concussion) is listed as questionable.
Mississippi State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop lost a front four that will all be playing in the NFL next year, which might have something to do with why he says the strength of this year’s defense will be the linebackers and secondary.
All four quarterbacks (Malik Willis, Joey Gatewood, Cord Sandberg and Bo Nix) will take snaps at Auburn’s spring game Saturday but HBC Gus Malzahn says he hasn’t decided on the rotation and says “we feel more comfortable with them than when we started but we’re still in a battle.”
With Benny Snell Jr. gone to the NFL, Kentucky is going to have to throw the ball more in 2019. Incumbent starting QB Terry Wilson thinks the passing game will be much improved. Wilson said, “I feel like we’re going to be explosive, really explosive.”
Due to expected lighting and thunderstorms Saturday, Texas A&M will play its spring game tonight.
The showpiece of Missouri’s spring game Saturday will be quarterback Kelly Bryant, who is a grad transfer from Clemson. Bryant says he loves it at Missouri because “now I feel like I can be who I actually am.”
SEC BASKETBALL STUFF
Jeff Goodman of Watch Stadium is reporting that South Carolina coach Frank Martin is a key target for Cincinnati, which is seeking a successor to Mick Cronin, who took the UCLA job. Although it would certainly be easier for Martin to make the NCAA Tournament at Cincinnati than in an SEC that is now loaded with top talent both on the floor and on the sideline, it would be shocking if he left for a job in a lower tier conference.
The LSU job should be officially open within a matter of days. Suspended coach Will Wade is set to meet with the LSU administration and the NCAA today. That Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams and Javonte Smart have all declared for the NBA is a pretty good hint that things are not going to go well for Wade. Wade was caught on an FBI wiretap discussing payments to land Smart. There is every good reason to believe that Williams and Reid are trying to stay one step ahead of the NCAA jailer by leaving early since neither one is expected to go in the top 25 picks of the NBA Draft.
Kentucky freshman Keldon Johnson has declared for the NBA but doesn’t plan to hire an agent, paving the way for a return to UK if he doesn’t get a favorable evaluation from NBA scouts. Point guard Ashton Hagans has already announced he will be returning but there is no word yet from shooting guard Tyler Herro.
Admon Gilder, who missed the past season while dealing with a blood clot, has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal and will leave Texas A&M as a graduate, immediately eligible to play. Gilder started 59 games for the Aggies, averaging 13.7 points as a sophomore and 12.3 as a junior. If he’s healthy, he will be a hot ticket item. Smart money says Texas Tech will be his landing spot.
THE CHRIS DAVIS HIT WATCH
Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles went 0-3 Thursday although he did get a walk and score a run. He is now 0-32 this season, which sounds pretty bad until you take into account his last hit was September 14, 2018. Since that last hit he is now 0-53, which is a Major League Baseball record. Making matters worse is Davis makes a mere $23 million a year through 2022 and all the money is guaranteed. The hit(less) watch continues in Boston tonight.
THINKS ITS BASKETBALL PROGRAM IS STILL RELEVANT
After striking out trying to hire John Calipari (Kentucky), Jamie Dixon (TCU) and Rick Barnes (Tennessee), UCLA made a desperation hire and signed Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin to a deal worth $4 million a year. UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero is trying to spin this as a home run hire. Home run? It’s not even a long single but this is UCLA, after all, and UCLA still thinks it’s relevant on the national scene. Cronin is the 10thcoach since Wooden hung up his whistle.
In its latest coaching search – one that was obviously modeled after Tennessee’s football coaching search for the likes of Derek Dooley and Butch Jones – UCLA offered Calipari less money ($8 million) than he was already making at Kentucky ($9.8 million per year). Then UCLA was too cheap to pay Dixon’s buyout ($8 million) and while they threw $5 million at Barnes, there were two chances he was going to leave Knoxville – (1) no way and (2) no how. UCLA hired Cronin for $4 million a year, which doubled his salary. He’s a decent coach but worth $4 million? You don’t play $4 million for someone who hasn’t made it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in eight out of nine NCAA years and who has no connection to the left coast. If UCLA really wanted a home run hire, it would have backed up a Brinks Truck in Mark Few’s driveway in Spokane and offered him that same $8 million John Calipari turned down plus whatever else he wanted.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks) and Dwayne Wade (Miami Heat) played their final NBA games Wednesday night … Leonard Fournette of the Jacksonville Jaguars was pulled over for speeding Thursday and by the time the officer finished writing the tickets Fournette was also charged with improper tint on his rear and side windows along with driving on a suspended or revoked license. Fournette spent 30 minutes in jail before paying a $1,508 bond for his release … Former Penn State president Graham Spanier will report to jail by May 1 to begin serving a criminal sentence for the way he handled the Jerry Sandusky affair. Spanier will do his time in a local jail and will get do participate in work-release … Of the six mock drafts by the CBSSports.com experts, five of them have Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray going with the first pick to the Arizona Cardinals. Pete Prisco has the only differing opinion. He has Alabama DT Quinnen Williams going first. Five of the six have Florida OT Jawaan Taylor going #7 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s #8 in Will Brinson’s mock, heading to the Buffalo Bills.