A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning:
MANN SCORES 19 TO LEAD GATORS TO SEASON-OPENING WIN
As season openers go, Florida’s 76-69 win over Army (3-1) was an aesthetic disaster. The Gators (1-0) looked every bit the team that had its first three games cancelled and spent 10 days in Covid-19 protocols, particularly in a first half that saw them trail by as many as 12 points on two occasions.
There were way too many first half turnovers, too many missed wide open shots, way too much one-on-one, bad spacing, matador defense and silly fouls that resulted in a 39-31 halftime deficit. That’s not to say the second half was perfect because it wasn’t, but the Gators found some rhythm to their game and started making plays. They found an offensive spark in Cleveland State transfer Tyree Applebee, who scored all 15 of his point in the second half, and sophomore Tre Mann had the best game of his career, finishing with 19 points, six rebounds, five steals and four assists.
Despite battling foul trouble (three in the first half), preseason SEC Player of the Year Keyontae Johnson finished with 16. Michigan transfer Colin Castleton, who got the start over Omar Payne, was solid with nine points and eight rebounds.
After a first half that produced only seven Army turnovers, the Gators ramped up the effort in the second half to force 13 from which UF concerted into 17 points. The Gators were only 7-13 from the foul line in the first half, but went 17-23 in the second half including 9-10 in the final 2:23. Hitting free throws with the game on the line bodes well for the future.
Next up for the Gators is Boston College (1-2) of the ACC, which lost to St. John’s 97-93 in its last outing.
GATORS MAY FACE TRUE FRESHMAN QB SATURDAY IN KNOXVILLE Florida’s improving defense might be facing true freshman QB Harrison Bailey Saturday afternoon in Knoxville. Although he stopped short of naming Bailey as his starter, UT coach Jeremy Pruitt did say Wednesday that Bailey “will definitely play Saturday.”
Starting Bailey could be a sign that the Vols are going to try to slug it out on the ground against 6th-ranked Florida (7-1). Bailey is a dual threat who has only thrown 23 passes this season for 175 yards and two interceptions. He doesn’t have the experience or the arm of senior Jarrett Guarantano, who has started all seven games with six TDPs and four interceptions. There are currently at least 16 Vols in Covid-19 protocols and while some have speculated that Guarantano is one who will miss the game, there has been no confirmation.
In all probability, Bailey would represent a limited pass option for the Tennessee offense, meaning an attempt to ground and pound similar to what Kentucky tried last week. The Vols have two very good running backs in Eric Gray (659 yards, four touchdowns) and Ty Chandler (315 yards, two TDs). Gray has run for 296 yards in the last two outings (Arkansas and Auburn, both losses).
A week ago, Kentucky tried the grind it out approach behind its big, experienced offensive line and the strategy worked for a half in which the Wildcats ran for 126 yards. But the Gators adjusted in the second half, stacked the box and dared UK to throw, holding the Wildcats to 33 rushing yards and 13 passing yards as part of a 221-yard effort that produced a single offensive touchdown.
RUMBLING, STUMBLING, BUMBLING IN THE SEC #1 ALABAMA (8-0): It’s still unclear if Nick Saban will be coaching Saturday night when Alabama goes to LSU. Saban went into quarantine last Wednesday so the earliest he could be cleared is Saturday, but that would mean he had to be 10 days symptom free.
ARKANSAS 3-5): With Rakeem Boyd done for the year (opted out), the Arkansas running game will fall on the shoulders of Trelon Smith and T.J. Hammonds. Smith has run for 469 yards (5.27 per carry) and two touchdowns while Hammonds has three carries for 24 yards.
AUBURN (5-3): Auburn has managed a combined 285 rushing yards in the last two games, in part because stud freshman Tank Bigsby has been limited to 14 carries and 63 yards due to nagging injuries. Saturday, Auburn will be going against a Texas A&M run defense that is allowing only 87.14 yards per game, which ranks fifth nationally.
#8 GEORGIA (6-2): All-American safety Richard LeCounte hasn’t played since October 31 but he’s practicing now, although he hasn’t resumed contact.
KENTUCKY (3-5): On his weekly radio show, HBC Mark Stoops addressed the Wildcats’ lack of offensive production. “Believe me, it’s alarming to me,” Stoops said. The Wildcats rank dead last in the SEC and 121stnationally in total offense (291.8 yards per game), which is why an increasing number of UK fans are calling for coordinator Eddie Gran to be gone or demoted.
LSU (3-4): On his Wednesday radio show, Coach O said he plans to start TJ Finley at quarterback against #1 Alabama but Max Johnson will also play in the game. Finley has thrown for 797 yards with four TDPs and five INTs while Johnson has thrown for 285 with two TDPs and no INTs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (2-6): The 18.3 points Mississippi State is averaging per game is the worst for a Mike Leach-coached team since his second year at Washington State, when the Cougars averaged only 20.4 per game.
MISSOURI (4-3): Although he hasn’t publicly declared that he will be leaving early for the NFL, linebacker Nick Bolton is expected to announce very soon. Bolton leads the team and ranks fifth in the SEC with 76 tackles (10.86 per game).
OLE MISS (4-4): Lanke Kiffin says QB Matt Corral, who has thrown for 2,744 yards (10.8 per attempt) and 24 touchdowns, told him recently, “I’m a thousand percent coming back. I need another year here.” Corral is a third-year sophomore who is eligible to leave for the NFL. If Corral elects to stay expect John Rhys Plumlee to enter his name in the NCAA transfer portal.
SOUTH CAROLINA (2-7): More and more it’s looking like South Carolina will hire Oklahoma associate head coach/special teams coordinator Shane Beamer as the new head coach although there is also some speculation that school prez Lt. General Bob Caslen is pushing for Army coach Jeff Monken.
TENNESSEE (2-5): On his Wednesday night radio show, HBC Jeremy Pruitt was asked by a caller, “When are you going to admit you’re not a ball coach and go back to Alabama?”
#5 TEXAS A&M (6-1): The Aggies head to Auburn on the heels of their worst offensive game of the season. In their 20-7 win over LSU, the Aggies managed a season-low 267 yards and averaged only 3.76 yards per snap.
VANDERBILT (0-8): Despite rumors to the contrary, Charlotte coach Will Healy, a native of Chattanooga and the former HBC at Austin Peay, says he has had no contact with the Vanderbilt administration regarding their vacant coaching job.
SEC MEN IN SHORTS
The big news Wednesday was an 83-75 win by Missouri (2-0) over 21st-ranked Oregon as five players scored in double figures, led by Xavier Pinson with 22.
Arkansas (3-0) knocked off Texas-Arlington 72-60 behind 24 points and nine rebounds by Moses Moody.
Former Texas A&M and Kentucky head coach Billy Gillispie got a standing ovation from Aggie fans in attendance Wednesday night before his Tarleton State team lost 73-66 to A&M.
Alabama (3-1) scored an 88-71 win over Big East foe Providence (2-2) as five players scored in double figures.
Georgia (2-0) got an easy 84-62 win over DII North Georgia as Sahvir Wheeler had 17 points and 10 assists.
IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM, THEN DON’T PLAY THE GAME
On the day that its game with Maryland was postponed, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel went off on Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN, who earlier in the week insinuated that Michigan might opt out of its season-ending game with Ohio State to avoid a beatdown and to keep the Buckeyes from playing the league-mandated six games to make the Big Ten (Plus Four) Championship Game.
With great indignance, Manuel said, “I have to pause my words, the anger, I was infuriated by the insinuation that Michigan would do anything other than play a football game. We’ve been playing this game since 1879. We’re the winningest program for a reason, because we play whoever’s in front of us. And the only way we want to keep anybody from moving on is to beat them on the fields of play. To insinuate that, to say something other than that, is a statement by a fool.”
Later on Wednesday, the Maryland game was postponed due to Covid-19 issues at Michigan. All football activities were also put on pause, which means the earliest Michigan can begin practicing and preparing for the December 12 game with Ohio State is Monday.
So if the Ohio State game is cancelled because of the virus, it won’t necessarily be because Michigan wanted to avoid a beatdown. It will be quite interesting to see how the Big Ten (Plus Four) deals with Ohio State if the Buckeyes can’t play six games. It will be even more interesting to see how the College Football Playoff Committee deals with Ohio State. Is it fair to allow Ohio State in the playoff if the Buckeyes manage to play only five or six games while Florida, Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame – and others in the hunt – play ten or more?
MORE TACKLE FOOTBALL STUFF FROM SOME PLACE OTHER THAN THE SEC
The Atlantic Coast Conference elected to eliminate December 12 games for Clemson and Notre Dame. The move clinched a spot in the ACC title game for 2nd-ranked Notre Dame. Third-ranked Clemson needs only to beat Virginia Tech to get in. The Tigers are a 22-point favorite. No indication what the ACC will do in the event Virginia Tech springs an upset Saturday. Notre Dame plays Syracuse. Donkeys might fly before the Orange knock off Notre Dame.
The new football coach at Southern Miss is Tulane offensive coordinator Will Hall. With one game to go in the regular season, the Green Wave are averaging 35.4 points and 394.1 yards per game.
The Las Vegas Bowl has been cancelled, bringing to nine the number of post season games that have been eliminated.
Former Notre Dame (and William and Mary, North Carolina State, New York Jets, Arkansas, Minnesota and South Carolina) head coach Lou Holtz will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Trump.
FEELING PITHY ON THURSDAY: With the signing of a contract extension, LeBron James will have been paid in the neighborhood of $435 million during his career by the time the 2022-23 season is complete. I’m not saying he hasn’t been worth it to the teams he’s played for, but it does make me wonder how much Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell would have been paid if the economics of their time were the same as the ones now. LeBron is a great player but having seen all three in person, I’ll take Wilt and/or Russell every day of the week if all things are considered the same.