THOUGHTS OF THE DAY, JULY 24, 2019
FLORIDA FLASHBACK: THE FUN ‘N’ GUN IS BORN
September 8, 1990. The mood should have been one of celebration at Florida Field. Steve Spurrier was home where he belonged, about to make his Florida coaching debut against Oklahoma State but nearly everyone in Gainesville was an emotional wreck because six students had been brutally murdered during the previous two weeks. A serial killer was on the loose and while there was hope that the Friday arrest in Ocala of drifter Danny Rolling brought the brief reign of terror to an end, no one was really certain the police had their guy. There was an edge to the record crowd of 75,428.
The edge was replaced by absolute giddiness on the first play of the game when Shane Matthews, the previous season’s 5th-string quarterback, completed a 26-yard pass to Ernie Mills. The crowd was buzzing as the Gators sprinted down the field and lined up without huddling. Matthews found Tre Everett for 17 yards. The crowd went nuts. No huddle again and Matthews to Mills covered 22 yards to the Okie State 5. Two plays later Dexter McNabb scored the first TD of the Spurrier era. The 5-play drive took all of 75 seconds. It had been years since Florida Field had been so loud.
Matthews threw for 141 yards in the first quarter alone and finished the game with 332 of Florida’s 384 passing yards. The Gators racked up 567 offensive yards and looked nothing like the predictable units of the previous few seasons. The defense was every bit as good as advertised.
When the stands emptied after that auspicious debut, there was real hope in the air – hope that the serial murders were over, hope that Florida football was on the verge of something great, hope that Shane Matthews was the real deal. It turned out Rolling was the serial killer and something great was happening with UF football. There was a new coach, a new offense and a quarterback who understood that good things happen when you throw the football to people wearing the same color shirt you’re wearing.
THE LIST FOR TUESDAY
The 10 most impactful games in Florida football history.
1. Florida 18, Georgia Tech 17, October 1, 1960: This game gets #1 on the list because by beating 10th-ranked Georgia Tech, it was a clear signal that UF football was emerging from the dark ages and would begin the trek toward a championship program. After enduring 10 years of Bob Woodruff punting on third down, it was refreshing when Ray Graves went for two to win the game. Woodruff would have certainly gone for the tie. Florida went on to what was at the time the most successful decade in school history and more important, Ray Graves was able to parlay Florida’s success into the recruitment of one Steven Orr Spurrier.
2. Florida 52, Florida State 20, January 2, 1997: A funny thing happened on the way to the Sugar Bowl. Well, actually several. First off, in the month following Florida’s 24-21 loss to FSU in Tallahassee, the Gators got healthy along the offensive line. Second, Spurrier elected to go to the shotgun to give Danny Wuerffel a second or so extra to find a target and throw the football. Third, Spurrier used the month to put all the pressure squarely on his shoulders and keep the media talking about him complaining that FSU played dirty, thus leaving the UF players alone. Fourth, and finally, unbeaten and 2nd-ranked Arizona State lost to 4th-ranked Ohio State New Year’s Day, setting up a January 2 showdown between #1 and unbeaten FSU and 3rd-ranked Florida. All those factors added up to a blowout win for the Gators and UF’s firs national championship in football.
3. Florida 41, Ohio State 14, January 8, 2007: The “experts” were calling
this minor little speedbump that stood in the way of Ohio State taking its place among the greatest teams in college football history. Urban Meyer and the Gators knew better. They knew the Buckeyes couldn’t match Florida’s speed on both sides of the ball. Ohio State’s Ted Ginn ran the opening kickoff back for a TD. That was about all OSU fans could celebrate. The rest of the game was all Florida all the time. The Ohio State defense was so frightened by Florida’s offensive speed that the safeties were playing 25 yards off the line of scrimmage so Chris Leak was content to dink and dunk his way down the field. Ohio State couldn’t protect Troy Smith against UF’s pass rush so after the midway point of the second quarter the Buckeyes were in max protect and reduced to running two-man routes. The popular bumper sticker in Florida for months after read, “Honk if you sacked Troy Smith!”
4. Florida 31, Alabama 20, December 6, 2008: Alabama came into this game unbeaten and ranked #1 while the Gators were ranked #2. Heading into the fourth quarter, Alabama held a 20-17 lead but Tim Tebow led the Gators on two scoring for a 31-20 lead. Joe Haden’s interception of John Parker Wilson sealed the win and Florida’s place in the national championship game against Oklahoma.
5. Florida 24, Oklahoma 14, January 8, 2009: At the Heisman Trophy ceremony, a Big 12 writer for a major publication said that Tim Tebow would only be the fifth or sixth best QB in the Big 12. Four weeks later that same beat writer saw clearly that Tebow was a much better QB than Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and that Oklahoma’s point-a-minute offense wasn’t nearly as effective against an SEC defense. Tebow and Percy Harvin dominated the fourth quarter and Ahmad Black sealed the win with an interception as the Gators won their second national championship in three years.
6. Alabama 32, Florida 13, December 5, 2009: How would this have turned out if Carlos Dunlap hadn’t been arrested for a DUI on the Tuesday morning prior to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta? Florida was certainly distracted and it showed in the way the Gators played, but was Alabama so good it would have won even if the Gators had shown up fully focused? In the early Sunday hours after this loss, Urban Meyer was rushed to the emergency room with severe chest pains. Three weeks later he would announce he was retiring immediately after the Sugar Bowl game, but changed his mind a couple of days later. He coached the 2010 season but things were never the same again. Had Florida beaten Alabama and then beaten Texas for a second straight national championship would Meyer’s health and other issues dominated his life? Florida hasn’t been the same since.
7. Georgia 41, Florida 27, November 6, 1976: This is better known as the “Fourth and Dumb” game. Florida came into the game ranked 10thnationally with a 6-1 mark, but 4-0 in the SEC. Georgia was ranked 7thbut the Poodles were 3-1 in SEC play. Florida dominated the first half for a 27-13 lead but Georgia took the second half kickoff and then marched 80 yards for a TD to cut the lead to 27-20. That’s when Doug Dickey had a monstrous brain fart. Facing a fourth and less than one at the UF 29 on the ensuing possession, Dickey decided to go for it. Florida ran wide, got stuffed for a 1-yard loss and over the next quarter and a half saw its dreams of a first-ever SEC championship go down the drain. This was the beginning of the end for Douglas Adair Dickey, who was fired two seasons later.
8. Tennessee 13, Florida 12, December 8, 1928: File this game under what might have been. The Gators came into the game unbeaten and the nation’s highest scoring team. When they arrived at the stadium Saturday morning, the field was an absolute quagmire. Legend has it that Bob Neyland tried to sell everyone that a sudden, overnight storm had rained buckets on Shields-Watkins Field, amazing since East Tennessee was in the grips of a drought. In reality Neyland had his people hosing down the field for hours overnight to negate Florida’s speed advantage. The Vols had longer cleats for the soggy field but only enough for their team. All the sporting goods stores in Knoxville were sold out. Tennessee won the game when Bobby Dodd blocked ending UF’s chances at an unbeaten season. You wonder what might have been with Florida football had the Gators gone unbeaten that season.
9. Florida 35, Tennessee 18, October 12, 1991: This game was personal for Steve Spurrier because of his distaste for Tennessee coach Johnny Majors and the fact Tennessee twice led the voting of SEC presidents to prevent Florida from winning the SEC title, most recently in 1990, Spurrier’s first year on the job at UF. The Vols came into this game unbeaten and ranked #4 nationally. All week long the hype was how Andy Kelly and wide receiver Carl Pickens were going to carve up the Gators and while Kelly threw for 392 yards and Pickens caught seven passes for 145, the UF defense turned the Vols one-dimensional. Three second half interceptions, one returned 44 yards for a TD by Larry Kennedy, proved UT’s undoing. Florida went on to go unbeaten in the SEC, winning the first SEC title in UF history that counted. This time there was nothing Tennessee could do about it.
10. Florida 28, Alabama 13, December 4, 1993: In the final minute of the third quarter when the Gators clinging to a 14-13 lead over Alabama in the SEC Championship Game in Birmingham the Gators faced a 4th-and-8 at the Florida 37. When Alabama brought six guys up the middle to block the punt, Shayne Edge took off around the right side where he found space and a couple of blockers. He was seven yards into Alabama territory before he was tackled. On the next play, Terry Dean found Jack Jackson behind the Alabama safety at the 3-yard line for a TDP. On Florida’s next possession, a couple of holding penalties contributed to a 2nd-and-31 from the UF 24. Dean found Willie Jackson on a seam route for 33 yards and a first down at the Bama 43. Seven plays later Errict Rhett scored from two yards out to give the Gators the first of four straight SEC titles and to avenge the 28-21 loss in the first SEC Championship Game the year before.
Thursday: Decades of excellence in the SEC
A GOOD QUOTE FOR WEDNESDAY
From Matt Fortuna of The Athletic, a former UConn football assistant talks about the obstacles to UConn being a consistently good football program, especially now that it’s leaving the AAC for the football-less Big East:
“It will have a much better shot at being a consistent winner in the MAC or FCS,” a former UConn assistant coach told The Athletic. “I’ve always said it’s too much of a tweener in too many areas for football to thrive. It’s a good school, but not a great school. So you’re still competing against Ivy League schools and (Boston College) regionally for some kids and you’ll lose that battle for academics. It’s FBS, but it’s not Power 5, so who’s going to want to go to UConn instead of Syracuse or BC or Virginia in the region?”
SEC/FOOTBALL BASKETBALL STUFF
From CBSSports.com: The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook lists Kentucky (7-1 odds) as the most likely NCAA basketball champ for 2019-20, followed by Memphis (14-1) and the Florida Gators (20-1). SEC teams and their odds are: LSU (40-1), Mississippi State (60-1), Tennessee (60-1), Auburn (60-1), Georgia (100-1), Alabama (200-1), Ole Miss (200-1), Missouri (300-1), Arkansas (300-1), Texas A&M (300-1), South Carolina (500-1) and Vanderbilt (500-1).
ESPN did the research to come up with which colleges produce the most and best NFL players at each position since 1998. Here is where SEC teams rank with each position:
QUARTERBACK U: (7) Auburn; (8) Florida; (9) Texas A&M
RUNNING BACK U: (1) Alabama; (3) LSU; (9) Arkansas; (10) Auburn
WIDE RECEIVER U: (5) LSU; (7) Florida; (9) Alabama
TIGHT END U: (4) Missouri
OFFENSIVE LINE U: (1) Alabama; (10) Florida
DEFENSIVE BACK U: (2) LSU; (3) Alabama; (4) Florida
DEFENSIVE LINE U: (1) Alabama; (4) LSU; (8) Florida; (10) Tennessee
LINEBACKER U: (1) Georgia; (2) Alabama; (10) Florida
CBS will broadcast Notre Dame’s visit to Georgia in prime time on September 21.
Of the 58 passes that Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw that traveled 20 or more yards in the air last year, he completed 32 of them, good for 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Mark Sanchez has hung up his cleats after a 10-year NFL career in which he threw more interceptions (89) than touchdowns (86). Sanchez is going to become an ESPN college football analyst … Dodger Stadium will undergo a $100 million renovation that will be completed prior to the 2020 Major League Baseball season. If you’ve never been there, it’s one of the truly great places to see a baseball game … Running back Adrian Peterson has made $99.22 million in his NFL career but he’s being sued for millions by numerous creditors … Former Gator Jonathan India has been promoted to AA Chattanooga of the Southern League. He went 1-3 in his debut Monday night.