A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:
WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF EVIDENT …
NOT JUST THE GATORS, EVERYBODY’S DEFENSE IS OFF
On their way to an 11-2 record in 2019, Todd Grantham’s Florida defense got better as the season moved along. The Gators gave up 15.5 points per game (7th nationally) and 304.8 yards (9th). It was a solid unit led by Jonathan Greenard (9.5 sacks) that ranked 8th against the run (102.77 yards per game) and got to the quarterback 49 times (5th nationally).
A year later there is no Greenard or C.J. Henderson locking people down in the secondary. The Gators are allowing 25.1 points (44th nationally) and 381 yards (50th) per game. Against the run the Gators give up 138.33 yards per game (42nd nationally) and they’re allowing 242.7 passing yards (79th), which is 40 more than last year.
On paper you would say it’s a really bad year for the Gators, but what’s on paper doesn’t take into account how few games Grantham has had a full deck to play with because of injuries, suspensions and the virus. When the Gators lost to Texas A&M (Aggies scored 41 and had 533 total yards, 205 on the ground and 388 passing), Grantham was missing several key players.
Also – and this can’t be over-emphasized – the pandemic has reduced the amount of hitting and physicality in practice. Since Grantham can’t know if he’s going to be missing two or three players due to the virus on Saturday, he can’t afford injuries during the week for conducting physical practices. The lack of tackling and physically taking on receivers shows on Saturdays.
Those may sound like excuses but this is the reality in which we live and it’s pretty much the same everywhere you go.
To Florida’s credit, the defense is getting much better in part because Grantham has more moving parts to work with now than at the beginning of the year. Kyree Campbell missed the first three games and didn’t really play a full rotation at nose tackle until game five. Safety Brad Stewart missed the first two games. Shawn Davis missed the Missouri and Tennessee games. Jeremiah Moon has been available only four games. James Houston has played in only six. And the list goes on and on.
Despite the issues with personnel, there have been some particularly strong moments. After giving up two touchdowns and 136 yards in Georgia’s first two possessions, the Gators held the Bulldogs to 141 yards and one offensive touchdown the rest of the way. Missouri ran for only 40 yards. The Gators gave up 221 and picked off three passes against Kentucky. A week after lighting up Auburn for 222 rushing yards, Tennessee managed just 94 against the Gators.
So, things are getting better but if you’re a numbers freak, then yes, the numbers are down considerably. They’re down everywhere in the SEC however. It’s not just Florida.
Georgia was billed as the best defense in the country yet Alabama lit up the Poodles for 41 points and 564 yards. Florida went off for 44 points and 571 yards. Georgia is allowing 338.1 yards and 20.6 points a game one year after leading the nation in scoring defense (12.6 per game) and finishing third (275.7 yards) in total defense.
A year ago, Alabama ranked 13th in scoring defense (18.6 points per game) despite allowing a combined 94 points to LSU and Auburn, and 324.4 yards (21st). This year, Alabama is giving up 18.3 points (tied for 15th) and allowing 357 yards (35th).
Auburn gave up 19.6 points and 337 yards per game last year. This year the Tigers give up 418.8 yards and 25.2 points per game, worst in Kevin Steele’s tenure on The Plains. He’s paid $2.5 million per season.
It’s somewhat unfair to mention LSU since most of its 2019 defense is playing in the NFL now but the Tigers are giving up 33.4 points (95th) and 469.1 yards (115th) per game under new coordinator Bo Pelini, who brings in a cool $2 million.
One of the few SEC teams whose defense has improved is Texas A&M, which gave up 340.2 yards (29th) and 22.5 points (36th) a year ago. The Aggies give up 22.1 points (32nd) and 329.5 yards (21st) in 2020.
As far as the SEC goes, the Gators rank 4th in scoring defense, 5th in rushing defense, 6th in pass defense and 5th in total defense. Are they elite? Hardly, but nobody else is either. There are very few teams nationwide playing defense with the same efficiency as last year. The offenses are clearly ahead of the defenses and that’s not going to change at least this year.
It is true the Gators aren’t playing at the same level as a year ago but nobody else is either. West Virginia is the only Power Five defense holding teams to fewer than 300 yards per game but the Mountaineers still allow 20.4 points.
GATORS BREAK INTO TOP 25 IN COACHES HOOPS POLL
A 3-0 start has moved the Gators into 25th place in the Coaches Top 25 Poll. The Gators are unranked in the Associated Press poll but they trail only Michigan and Saint Louis among teams that finished outside the top 25.
Coaches Top 25 Poll: (1) Gonzaga 3-0; (2) Baylor 3-0; (3) Iowa 3-0; (4) Michigan State 5-0; (5) Kansas 4-1; (6) Villanova 4-1; (7) Creighton 3-0; (8) Houston 4-0; (9) Illinois 3-1; (10) West Virginia 4-1; (11) Duke 2-1; (12) Texas 4-1; (13) Wisconsin 3-1; (14) North Carolina (3-1); (15) Virginia Tech 4-0; (16) Tennessee 0-0; (17) Texas Tech 4-1; (18) Virginia 3-1; (19) Richmond 2-0; (20) Ohio State 3-0; (21) Florida State 1-0; (22) Rutgers 3-0; (23) Arizona State 3-1; (24) Louisville 4-0; (25) FLORIDA 3-0
AGGIES PLAYOFF HOPES JUST TOOK A HIT
The College Football Playoff path for 5th-ranked Texas A&M (7-1) was never easy since the Aggies have no control over their own destiny, but what chances they have to make it as a wild card team took a big hit Monday when their game with Ole Miss (4-4) was canceled because of Covid-19 issues within the Ole Miss program. Since Ole Miss went off for 35 points and 613 yards against the 6th-ranked Gators and for 48 points and 647 yards against #1 Alabama, the Aggies needed to score a shutdown win over the Rebels to enhance their wild card status. They have one remaining game on December 19 against Tennessee, which should result in a blowout.
The way it stands right now, Florida makes the playoff by beating LSU Saturday and then beating Alabama in Atlanta on December 19. As long as Alabama doesn’t stumble against Missouri this week, the Crimson Tide is in the playoff no matter what happens against Florida. When you’ve won five national championships since 2009 and your name is Nick Saban, you get a mulligan every now and then. If Florida and Alabama are in, the remaining spot could be either Clemson or Notre Dame (or possibly both if Clemson beats Notre Dame) and Ohio State if the Buckeyes beat Michigan and then beat Northwestern for the Big Ten Championship. No path for the Aggies that way. If Alabama beats Florida there could still be two ACC teams if Clemson beats Notre Dame. If Clemson and Notre Dame have one loss apiece and Ohio State beats Michigan and then Northwestern for the Big Ten championship, the Aggies again have no path to the playoff.
The only way for Texas A&M to even have a chance is for Alabama to beat Florida and Notre Dame to beat Clemson. That would give both Florida and Clemson two losses so they would be out. Ohio State would be in if undefeated. A loss to Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game could also open things up for the Aggies. However, not playing Ole Miss will indeed hurt since it’s late in the year and would be an eye test win if the Aggies were to shut down that Ole Miss offense. Without a win over Ole Miss, the Aggies could be jumped if Cincinnati finishes 10-0 as the American Athletic Conference champ.
DOES HABAUGH STAY OR DOES HE GO? A few weeks back Paul Finebaum, who has spent the last 40 years cultivating impeccable sources not only throughout the Southeastern Conference but in all of college football, reported that Jim Harbaugh and Michigan had reached a mutually agreed upon divorce. Harbaugh was gone and Michigan would turn the page to the next sucker that thinks he’s going to beat Ohio State on a regular basis, which is what it takes to make Michigan alums happy. There has been a ton of speculation in the subsequent weeks but nothing concrete to let us know that Harbaugh hits the road after the annual beatdown at the hands of Ohio State, which happens to be this Saturday in Columbus. Ohio State is a mere 29-point favorite and it may take a miracle of feeding the 5,000 proportions for it to be that close.
Michigan is 2-4 in a season in which the Wolverines were in just about everybody’s preseason top 15 and thought potentially top 10 if Harbaugh found a reliable QB. No QB has been found and the Michigan defense gives up 34.5 points and 429.3 yards per game. Those numbers could swell to even more ridiculous proportions if Ohio State runs up the score, which you know Ryan Day will do if given the opportunity.
That puts Michigan in a serious squeeze. If Harbaugh decides he isn’t going anywhere would Michigan have the nads to shove him out the door? And if he indeed is gone, who does Michigan hire? The obvious first choice would be Iowa State coach Matt Campbell, but he’s on the verge of the school’s first conference championship in football since 1912. He’s got a good thing going at Iowa State with far less pressure than he would have at Michigan. They wouldn’t go after Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell, an Ohio State man to the core, would they? And has Oregon’s 3-2 start taken all the luster off Mario Cristobal?
THE 1972 DOLPHINS CAN BREATHE EASILY FOR ANOTHER YEAR
For those of you too young to remember, the 1972 Miami Dolphins made history by becoming the only team in NFL history to run the table. Nobody has done it since. The Pittsburgh Steelers were playing so well prior to Monday that folks were beginning to think they had a legitimate shot at going unbeaten but their 11-0 start came crashing to a half Monday in Pittsburgh. Behind Alex Smith the Washington Football Team scored a 23-17 win, not just underscoring once again just how tough it is to go unbeaten in an NFL season but how remarkable it was for the Dolphins.
Because they went through an entire regular season, playoffs and Super Bowl unbeaten, a strong case can be made that the 1972 Miami Dolphins are the greatest team in NFL history. The 1985 Chicago Bears were certainly great (12-0 before the first loss to the Dolphins, 6-0 the rest of the way) as were the 2007 New England Patriots, who didn’t lose until the Super Bowl against the New York Giants. The 1962 Green Bay Packers were perhaps Vince Lombardi’s best team with a 13-1 record that included a 16-9 win over the New York Giants in the NFL Championship Game.
It’s hard to compare teams from different eras because the game constantly changes so the only fair way is by record. The 1972 Dolphins went unbeaten and nobody did it before or has done it since. Until someone can run the table again, it’s hard to say the Dolphins aren’t the best of all time.
TUESDAY PITHINESS: The University of Louisville pays football coach Scott Satterfield $3.25 million per year. He interviewed last Saturday with South Carolina, which presumably had the lure of more money and a chance to coach in the SEC. Satterfield either didn’t get the South Carolina job or turned it down. Louisville fans weren’t happy that he took the interview. Monday, Satterfield made things worse by saying this at his press conference: “As a player, you're there for three to four years and then you're done. As players, you don't have a family. It's just you. As coaches … and I'm just thinking in general terms here … coaches have wives and kids. As a job, are they going to be at a job at 40 years? There are a lot of different things that are involved in coaching. With players, like I said, it's three to four years, and they have to be all in." Let’s see how many Louisville players put their names in the transfer portal after a coach who makes millions says they have to be “all in” but he can do whatever he wants.