THOUGHTS OF THE DAY
By Franz Beard GatorBait Sr Columnist
During their 2017 run toward Nick Saban's fifth national championship at Alabama, the Crimson Tide opened its season with a rather lackluster, 24-7, win over a very average Florida State team. Five weeks later, the Crimson Tide nearly bought the ranch on the road at Texas A&M, winning that one, 27-19. That was a Texas A&M team that finished 8-5 and fired Kevin Sumlin at the end of the year. Alabama had to score two fourth quarter touchdowns to beat Mississippi State, 31-24.
Last year, while going 15-0 and winning the national championship, it took an interception in the end zone on a two-point conversion for Clemson to beat Texas A&M, 28-26. Three weeks later, Kelly Bryant quit the team and with Trevor Lawrence sidelined with a concussion for the last half, the Tigers had to rally for two touchdowns late to beat Syracuse in Death Valley. What do those examples have to do with the Florida Gators and their 24-20 win over Miami last Saturday night? Nothing and yet everything. Every team is different but it's really rare that exceptional football teams make it through an entire season without a few near hiccups along the way. Good teams tend to use those close calls as motivation to improve.
Florida's mistake-filled first game of the year could be an omen of things to come that will dampen the spirits of Gator fans everywhere. Or it could be just one of those hiccups that every really good team goes through.
It's early in the season so I haven't lost my optimism for the Gators about 2019. I think they're going to be really, really good. I also don't think they're going to go against too many defenses as good as the one they faced against Miami. We tend to overlook the fact that Miami gave up only 278.9 yards and 19.5 points per game in 2018 and the front seven that was the heart and soul of that defense returned practically intact. At halftime in the press box of Saturday night's game, one national writer who's a long time friend told me the Gators would not see a faster defense all year than the one they were seeing against Miami. Having watched the Hurricanes for the full 60 minutes I can't say that I disagree.
And yet, if not for a couple of ill-timed turnovers in the first half the Gators could have worn the Hurricanes out and sent them home to South Florida nursing the wounds of a blowout loss. If you've watched the video replay then you know that Feleipe Franks would have had one of the easiest touchdown passes of his career if Lamical Perine had let go of the football on that exchange at the UM seven. I'm convinced the Gators would have scored again if not for the second fumble in the second quarter. Those two turnovers turned a potential blowout into white knuckles, but things like that happen in the first game of the season
I am also convinced after the first game that Florida's offensive line is going to be decent early on and really good as the season progresses. Miami had 40 sacks last year but those same guys who were such fierce pass rushers last year only got to Franks for one sack. They got some pressure, for sure, but most of the second half they gave Franks adequate time to throw the football. The Gators didn't run the ball very well, but just like the pass protection got better in the second half, the run blocking will get better in the next few weeks.
Now, if the Gators keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again, then it could be a somewhat disappointing season, but I don't think that is going to happen. Mullen teams tend to get progressively better and like most good teams, a close call or two can actually be a help and not a hindrance.
GOOD QUOTES FOR WEDNESDAY From Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it's win a national championship or the season is a bust for Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs: “Smart has gotten everything he wants from Georgia. That includes a contract with a salary that ranks third-highest among coaches who have never won a national championship. Smart probably has the Bulldogs closer to doing that than Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, and he’s clearly closer than Gus Malzahn at Auburn. Now Smart must do it … It’s national championship or bust for the Bulldogs. They were bummed about being in last season’s Sugar Bowl, and that was just their second major bowl in 11 years. It was a letdown after Smart’s fake-punt fiasco against Alabama. The 2018 Rose Bowl victory over Oklahoma was thrilling, but the subsequent big-game losses to Alabama were deflating … It will be difficult for Georgia to overtake Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s decline has been greatly exaggerated by the shock of seeing Clemson bully them in last season’s national championship game. If the Bulldogs finally get past Bama, they still would have to deal with Clemson.”
From Ted Nguyen of The Athletic on Jacoby Brissett's chances to be a successful quarterback in the NFL now that he's thrust into the starting job of the Indianapolis Colts following the retirement of Andrew Luck: “Though he wasn’t very productive in his first year as a starter, Brissett played well enough in a disastrous situation in 2017 to warrant the belief by some that he could be a starting-caliber quarterback. He has all the traits necessary to be productive. He can make every throw with excellent ball placement, he processes quickly and has strong pocket presence. Additionally, this will be his second year in the system and he’ll have one of the league’s best offensive lines and some dangerous weapons to throw to like T.Y. Hilton and (Eric) Ebron.”
From John Wertheim of Sports Illustrated on the talent evaluating genius of the late Al Davis, who went from the 33-year-old head coach of the Oakland Raiders to the owner and one of the most influential owners the National Football League has ever seen: “Davis approached his roster construction as broadly and as creatively as possible. Again and again he found discarded players and transformed them into stars. Long before Kurt Warner was discovered stocking grocery shelves, Davis was combing the equivalent of clearance aisles. His Raiders teams, as Ribowsky put it, were made up of "oddities and irregulars, factory seconds and chaingang escapees." Jim Plunkett, for one, had been cut by the 49ers before Davis transformed him into a Super Bowl QB. One of Plunkett's favorite targets, Todd Christensen, had been cut by four different teams before Davis thought otherwise. Defensive end John Matuszak, the top pick by the Houston Oilers in 1973, was a wild and woolly washout ... until Davis revived his career.”
SEC FOOTBALL/BASKETBALL STUFF #2 Alabama: Veteran running backs Najee Harris and Brian Robinson have been suspended for the first half of Saturday's season opener for missing a team function. Freshman Kielan Robinson will get the start. Saturday: vs. Duke in Atlanta
Arkansas: Experience is why HBC Chad Morris selected SMU grad transfer Ben Hicks as his starting quarterback. Morris said, “We are going to play a lot of young guys, and that alone was the main deciding factor, is his ability to know where everybody’s supposed to be, to get our offensive line in the right protection and do it at a pace to where the game, because of his experience, is a little bit slower”… Arkansas will open its 2022 season at home against Cincinnati of the American Athletic Conference. Saturday: vs. Portland State
#16 Auburn: Coordinator Kevin Steele will move from the press box to the sideline this season, a move HBC Gus Malzahn believes will benefit the Tigers' highly regarded defense due to his ability to get audibles in from the sideline faster. Saturday: vs. #11 Oregon
#3 Georgia: Offensive coordinator James Coley will call the plays from the sideline instead of the press box. This is Coley's first year as the play caller. He spent the last two seasons in the press box on game day. Saturday: at Vanderbilt
Kentucky: Corner Kelvin Joseph, who transferred from LSU to Kentucky, has the same problem as Georgia transfer Brenton Cox Jr. has at Florida. Joseph has already applied for an NCAA transfer waiver that will allow him to play immediately, but even if the NCAA grants the waiver Joseph still has to get approval from SEC commissioner Greg Stankey. SEC rules stipulate a transfer within the conference has to sit a year unless (a) he's already earned an undergraduate degree and (b) the school he's transferring from is on NCAA probation that includes a bowl ban. Saturday: vs. Toledo
#6 LSU: When LSU practiced on Monday, nine players missed the entire day with various ailments and two were wearing yellow non-contact jerseys. The most notable absentees were freshman guard Kardel Thomas and freshman safety Marcel Brooks, both of who are expected to play vital roles on the depth chart. Saturday: vs. Georgia Southern
Mississippi State: Center Darryl Williams, linebacker Erroll Thompson, quarterback Tommy Stevens, punter Kody Shexnayder and STAR Brian Cole II were named as Mississippi State's captains for the season opener. Saturday: vs. Louisiana-Lafayette in New Orleans
Missouri: Quarterback Lindsey Scott, who began his career at LSU before leading East Mississippi Community College to the national juco championship in 2017, has decided to transfer in search of playing opportunities. Receiver Alex Odofile, whose father is the tight ends coach at Missouri, has elected to retire from football. Odofile already has his masters degree in communications. Saturday: at Wyoming
Ole Miss: Right tackle Alex Givens was seen practicing Tuesday in a green non-contact jersey. Givens is expected to play Saturday at Memphis. He had a surgical procedure on his back in July. Saturday: at Memphis
South Carolina: Tight end Evan Hinson will transfer out of the program to a school where he plans to play basketball. Defensive tackle Kier Thomas has an infection in his ankle that will keep him out for two weeks. Saturday: vs. North Carolina in Charlotte
Tennessee: Defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon, a transfer from Michigan, received his waiver from the NCAA Tuesday so he will be eligible this season … Suspended corner Bryce Thompson, who was arrested for misdemeanor assault charges against a woman and for threatening to “shoot up the school,” has a history of violence against women. In 2018 a South Carolina woman had to file for a restraining order against Thompson. The woman who filed the complaint claimed Thompson slapped her, choked her, threw her around and threatened gun violence against her if she dated another man. Saturday: vs. Georgia State
#12 Texas A&M: The Aggies are 34-1/2 point favorites for their season opener with Texas State of the Sun Belt Conference. Thursday: vs. Texas State
Vanderbilt: HBC Derek Mason explained how his defense has changed to meet the demands of playing mostly against spread offenses in the SEC: “We’ve morphed that way as our conference has morphed more to playing 11 personnel. When you start seeing spread personnel, it morphs you out of a 3-4 structure. … I’m not sure we’ve totally gone to 4-3, I’m just saying that’s what our structure looks like most of the time.” Saturday: vs. #3 Georgia
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, denied an appeal for a waiver for immediate eligibility for offensive lineman Brock Hoffman, a transfer from Coastal Carolina. Hoffman was seeing to move closer to his mother, who had surgery to remove a brain tumor ...In an experimental move, Mountain West Conference basketball coaches will have access to real time analytics during MWC games this season. NCAA rules currently prohibit electronic transmissions of any kind to the bench during games so this is a trial run that could shape the future of the college game … With his 42ndhome run of the season Tuesday night, a 407-foot blast to right field, former Gator Pete Alonso broke the New York Mets single season record. With a month to go in the season, Alonso needs 10 homers to tie the New York Yankees Aaron Judge for the Major League Baseball all-time rookie record of 52.