THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: DECEMBER 30, 2019
MIDDAY ORANGE BOWL EDITION
Maybe it doesn’t sound like much, but there is an almost light year’s difference between a 10-3 season and 11-2. Dan Mullen understands what it means for the Florida Gators to knock off the Virginia Cavaliers in tonight’s Orange Bowl game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Last year’s 10-3 was somewhat of a surprise in Mullen’s first year. Going 11-2 in year two, which would entail a second straight win in a New Year’s Six bowl game, not only represents improvement but it puts the Gators among that handful of teams that has won 21 games in the last two years. When you’re busy trying to win hearts and minds of recruits in a state with the kind of talent that Florida produces on an annual basis, 11 wins resonates. When you’re in the Orange Bowl and Miami is required to spend another week in Shreveport for losing in the Independence Bowl and finishing 6-7, 11 wins is a big deal. When you’re in the Orange Bowl and Florida State is playing in something called the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl in El Paso while hoping to avoid a second straight losing season, 11 wins is a big deal.
That’s why this has been a business trip for the Gators. Mullen has let his team have some fun, which is an absolute requirement to keep kids who have hours with nothing to do at bowl locations from going stir crazy. There’s only so much football that can be crammed into 24 hours, but Mullen knows when to reel his team back in and re-focus them on football.
By all accounts, Mullen has done a good job of selling the Gators on the fact that Virginia is a very capable team despite the Cavaliers’ 9-4 record. Quarterback Bryce Perkins is a dual threat quarterback who can make all the throws and pick up yardage in chunks when the pocket collapses (3,215 passing yards, 18 touchdowns; 745 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns). He’s not Joe Burrow, but he has the ability to light up opposing defenses, especially ones that come to the ball yard distracted. Over on the offensive side of the ball, Mullen has to be prepared for an all-out blitz on just about every snap. The Cavaliers will be without their top pass rusher (Jordan Mack, 7.5 sacks) but because they run such an exotic array of blitz packages, they will feel confident they can pressure Kyle Trask.
Offensively, the Gators should have some success running the ball, but Mullen isn’t about to depart from what got them here in the first place and that’s the passing game. Despite its success rushing the passer (Virginia has 46 sacks this season), the Cavaliers have given up 228.2 yards per game and 22 touchdown passes. More telling is the 8.0 yards per pass attempt they allow. The easiest way to slow down a team that lives and dies with the blitz is quick hitters and drag patterns but the UVa scheme leaves the Cavaliers extremely vulnerable to the tight end in the middle of the field and running backs on wheel routes.
This is a very winnable game for the Gators. They’re very aware that an Orange Bowl win means the football program has taken that vital next step on the road back to the championship level that has been missing for the last decade.
The Sayer Says Sooth: Because the Orange Bowl crowd will be about 80% pro-Gator, Mullen will try to turn the crowd rowdy early with up-tempo offense and a very aggressive defensive game plan that will put the Cavaliers on their heels. The passing game will slice and dice the Virginia defense and Todd Grantham’s defense will smell blood and turn this into a sack party. Watch for Jabari Zunigan and Jonathan Greenard to turn their final game as Gators into a lasting memory. My choice for offensive MVP – senior wide receiver Van Jefferson. FLORIDA 38, Virginia 14.
THE SEC SOOTHSAYER
Mississippi State (6-6) 24, Louisville (7-5) 23: The Bulldogs had to beat a D1AA team and Ole Miss to earn their way into the Music City Bowl. Ole Miss was so embarrassed from losing to a Joe Moorhead-coached team that they fired Matt Luke and hired Lane Kiffin to make sure something like that never happens again. Louisville coach Scott Satterfield can coach rings around Moorhead and he might actually do it in this game, but my conscience won’t allow me to pick an ACC team over one from the SEC, even one coached by Joe Moorhead.
TWO QUICK TAKES FROM THE PLAYOFF SEMIFINALS
I understand completely why the Ohio State folks think they got the shaft on that fumble that was ruled an incompletion. I also understand that a single overturned call from the replay booth shouldn’t have made a difference. Ohio State lost that game because the Buckeyes only scored one touchdown in FIVE (count’em) trips into the red zone. They settled for three field goals and threw an interception and you can’t do that against a Clemson team that is up against the ropes. If it’s 24-0 (three touchdowns and a field goal) instead of 16-0 (one touchdown and three field goals), I don’t think Clemson could have rallied for the win. So, sure the Buckeyes have a right to be upset with that overturned call, but they should be more upset with the fact they had more than adequate chances to put Clemson away early to turn the game into a rout and they didn’t get the job done. When the Buckeyes point a long boney finger at the replay booth they need to understand there are three fingers pointing right back at themselves.
I’ve been writing and analyzing college football for the better part of 50 years and this LSU offense is without a doubt the best I’ve ever seen. If Ed Orgeron had wanted to he could have scored 80 points on Oklahoma. He called off the dogs at the half, understandable because he didn’t need to pour it on and he didn’t need to risk getting people hurt that he might need against Clemson in the national championship game. Joe Burrow made it abundantly clear why he won the Heisman Trophy. He also made me wonder how it is Dwayne Haskins beat him out for the starting job at Ohio State in 2018, which necessitated him transferring to LSU.
THREE QUICK HITTERS I think Georgia is going to get its doors blown off by Baylor in the Sugar Bowl. The Bulldogs aren’t taking this game seriously and they’ll be missing too many players, either the cowards who say they’re skipping the game to prep for the NFL Draft or some who are legitimately injured. I believe this game will convince Jake Fromm that he absolutely, positively has to leave Georgia for the NFL.
I have to wonder if Alabama mails it in against Michigan or if Nick Saban convinces the Crimson Tide that there will be hell to pay in the spring if they lose to a Jim Harbaugh-coached team. My gut feeling tells me Alabama will show up in a big way.
I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of coaches leaving for another job in December ahead of a bowl game. I think it’s high time the people in charge think things through and find a better way of doing things. I am all for adjusting the signing day schedules and spring football so a moratorium on hiring coaches can be put in place until AFTER the bowl games. The perfect example is Memphis, which was 12-1 heading into the Cotton Bowl. The best season in school history ended in the Cotton Bowl with a loss to a Penn State team that really isn’t all that great. I have to think that Memphis probably would have beaten Penn State if Mike Norvell hadn’t departed for FSU in December. If the NCAA really cares about student athletes then it needs to make sure the athletes aren’t the ones who get the shaft at bowl time. I can’t blame coaches for taking a higher paying job, but if they adjust the signing day and spring football schedules, the players could be rewarded for a great season and coaches could still get their high paying jobs. They would just have to wait a month, that’s all.