Thoughts of the Day: February 17, 2021

A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning:

NO SPRING GAME? NO BIG DEAL

For the second straight year, there won’t be an Orange and Blue Game. Last year’s game was canceled when all sports shut down because of the Covid-19 virus. Although the Gators could hold a spring game before a smaller than usual crowd this year, Dan Mullen decided he could better utilize the time in a real scrimmage rather than having his players go through the motions for the fans.


There was a time when spring games had a real measure of importance for players trying to work their way up the depth chart with one last push in a game-like setting. That was then. This is now. The fear of injuries is most often given as the excuse for turning the spring game into Football Lite, but the evolution of the internet and television coverage has made coaches paranoid about showing off who’s made real progress for the whole world – and opposing head coaches and coordinators – to see.


The other reason why the spring game evolved was recruiting. When you can draw 40,000 or so fans and maybe as many as 150 recruits to the stadium on a warm spring day it’s a great atmosphere and a chance for the coaching staff to gauge who’s really interested in being a Gator or who’s just here because it’s a chance to have the ego stroked. Get the game over in a hurry so the coaches can spend the time with recruits who made their way to the campus. The NCAA extended its dead period for recruiting until April 15 and is likely to bump it until June, so a stadium that’s maybe 25 percent filled and no contact with recruits eliminated the effect of the spring game for Mullen and the Florida staff.


Since the spring game counts as an official scrimmage in the infinitely wise eyes of the NCAA, Mullen decided two hours on the practice field in which there is real hitting would be better served than four 12-minute quarters in the stadium with a running clock for the fans. Given the way the 2020 season ended and some of the holes that have to be filled, a scrimmage makes far more sense.


At his Tuesday press conference, Mullen said, “There's a big benefit in just having another, adding another scrimmage at the end of spring. That there's going to be a big plus to that of getting some more things accomplished in that scrimmage than you normally would in a spring game, which is kind of a little bit more of an exhibition showcase.”


Starting spring football a month earlier than usual probably will have an added benefit for roster management and helping kids who feel the need to find greener pastures. Typically, in the two or three weeks following the Orange and Blue Game anywhere from three to five kids elect to transfer out. A player at another school who feels the need to leave, will have a better idea of who’s staying and who’s leaving at Florida. The kids who are contemplating leaving Florida will have more than a month to explore landing options before they have to prep for final exams.


For this year, at least, the benefits of no spring game far outweigh playing one in front of a crowd that is less than half of what it normally is. The sour taste of three straight losses to finish 2020 probably helped Mullen and his staff decide there are too many important decisions for 2021 that have to be made to waste an afternoon on an exhibition.


FIVE WHO NEED TO HAVE A GREAT SPRING 1. Jacob Copeland: This is his contract year. A big spring could lead to the kind of fall that could vault him way up on NFL wide receiver prospect lists.

2. Stewart Reese: The lack of spring football and an offseason conditioning program caused him to put on 20 or more pounds which limited his mobility and made him undraftable. He needs a great spring and needs to get to less than 350 pounds. 3. Khris Bogle: He’s not the skinny kid who can’t win battles with offensive tackles anymore. He played at 240 last year. He needs to play at 250 or more in 2021. He needs a consistent spring in which he can prove he can be a terror off the edge.

4. Kemore Gamble: Mullen will use Arik Gilbert all over the field as a mismatch tight end. Gamble needs to prove he can be the hand on the ground guy who can be effective as a blocker while staying focused enough to remember to run good routes and catch the football.

5. Trey Dean III: It seemed he spent a good portion of 2020 like everyone else in the secondary – dazed and confused. He is the experienced guy on the back end. It’s time to put up or shut up.


GATORS HIT THE WALL, FALL TO ARKANSAS

For 13 minutes in the second half, the Gators (10-6, 6-5 SEC) played like a team on a mission from God as they erased a 14-point deficit to take a 62-61 lead over 24th-ranked Arkansas with 4:40 to go in the game. Maybe the Gators used up all their energy fighting back and maybe they just gave out of gas because they hadn’t played in two weeks and had only one practice with the entire team present during that time.


Whatever the reason, the Gators hit the wall once they took the lead and reverted back to the way they played in the first half, when Arkansas was in complete control for a 40-30 lead at the intermission. The last 4:40 was ugly and that’s probably being kind as Arkansas outscored Florida 14-2 down the stretch to notch a seventh straight SEC win, 75-64.


“I was very displeased with our overall physical effort in the first half,” Florida coach Mike White said. “We didn’t match Arkansas’ intensity and competitiveness level. I thought we did in the second half, but again down the stretch, didn’t make the plays needed but the first 15 minutes of the second half, we were very competitive.”


In the final 4:40 it was one bad, unproductive possession after another for the Gators. Florida went 0-6 from the field, scoring its only two points at the foul line while committing four costly turnovers that Arkansas converted into seven points. When the Gators got a shot off, they couldn’t come up with a single offensive rebound to extend a possession.


“I thought we lost a little bit of poise,” said Florida coach Mike White. “They’re a really good defensive team and we fought back. It’s a shame, we gave ourselves a chance there late and we just didn’t execute as well down the stretch as we needed to.”


It was a bad shooting night for the Gators, particularly in the first half when they hit only 30.6% of their shots (11-36) overall and 21.4% (3-14) from the 3-point line. Things improved in the second half when the Gators made their run to take their only lead of the night on a driving layup by Tyree Appleby. Until the final 4:40, the Gators were 12-19 from the field but they couldn’t make an outside jumper when they needed it. For the game, the Gators were 23-61 from the field overall (37.7%) and 4-21 (19%) from the 3-point line.


Appleby (16 points) and Colin Castleton (13) were the only two Gators in double figures. Castleton played 23 minutes despite the fact his only practice day while the Gators were sidelined with the Covid-19 issues was Monday.


Next up for the Gators is Georgia (13-8, 6-8 SEC) at the O-Dome Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday SEC games #24 Arkansas (17-5, 9-4 SEC) 75, FLORIDA (10-6, 6-5 SEC) 64 Georgia (13-8, 6-8 SEC) 80, #20 Missouri (13-6, 6-6 SEC) 70 Wednesday SEC games Kentucky (6-13, 5-7 SEC) at Vanderbilt (6-10, 2-8 SEC) South Carolina (5-9, 3-7 SEC) at #19 Tennessee (14-5, 7-5 SEC) Thursday SEC games #8 Alabama (17-5, 12-1 SEC) at Texas A&M (8-7, 2-6 SEC) LSU (13-6, 7-4 SEC) at Ole Miss (12-8, 7-6 SEC) Mississippi State (11-11, 5-8 SEC) at Auburn (11-11, 5-8 SEC)


UF SPRING SPORTS Softball: The Gators (2-0) moved up to 5th in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 poll. The Gators play their home opener against Jacksonville tonight (6 p.m.) at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

Gymnastics: Trinity Thomas, who scored a perfect 10 with her floor routine in Florida’s win over LSU in Baton Rouge last Friday night, was named SEC Gymnast of the Week. Thomas won the All-Around with a 39.90, the highest score of any gymnast in the country this season and the fifth highest in NCAA history … Nya Reed, who won the vault at LSU with a 9.925, was named the SEC Co-Specialist of the Week ... The Gators continue as the No. 1 team in the nation.

Baseball: The Gators are the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation in every baseball poll. The season begins Friday night against 21st-ranked Miami at the brand new Florida Ballpark. Tommy Mace is scheduled to be the Friday night starter with Jack Leftwich going Saturday and lefty Hunter Barco on Sunday.

Volleyball: The Gators (10-2) are ranked 9th in the latest AVCA Coaches poll. The Gators will travel to Mississippi State Friday.

Lacrosse: The Gators (1-0) remained 7th in the Inside Lacrosse poll. The Gators will face No. 1 North Carolina in Chapel Hill Saturday. Golf: The Florida women are ranked 13th while the UF men are ranked 29th in the latest poll from Golfweek.

Track and Field (Indoor): The Florida women are ranked 6th nationally while the Florida men are ranked 8th.


OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC Alabama: Lorenzo Washington, a starting defensive lineman on Alabama’s 2009 national championship team, passed away Monday. No cause of death was listed.

Arkansas: The season opening baseball game between 3rd-ranked Texas Tech and 8th-ranked Arkansas has been moved back to Saturday. The Razorbacks will play 9th-ranked Texas on Sunday and 10th-ranked TCU on Monday. All games will be played at Globe Life Field, home of the Texas Rangers.

Auburn: Travis Williams, who coached the linebackers at Auburn from 2014-20 and who recently joined the Miami staff, is on the move to UCF where he will be Gus Malzahn’s defensive coordinator.

Georgia: Georgia is planning to play a spring football game with attendance limited to what it was during the fall.

Kentucky: Kentucky’s season opening baseball series at North Carolina has been postponed due to Covid-19 protocols.

LSU: LSU has made it official that Clemson transfer linebacker Mike Jones has signed scholarship papers.

Mississippi State: It will be a busy weekend for Mississippi State’s 7th-ranked baseball team. Saturday, the Bulldogs take on 9th-ranked Texas with 10th-ranked TCU on Sunday and 3rd-ranked Texas Tech on Monday.

Missouri: Offensive lineman Jack Buford, who was a 4-star recruit in 2019, has placed his name in the NCAA transfer portal.

Ole Miss: The 6th-ranked Rebels open their baseball season in the same tournament with Arkansas and Mississippi State. They will face TCU on Saturday, Texas Tech on Sunday and Texas on Monday.

South Carolina: Division II Assumption college defensive back Carlins Platel will decide between Coastal Carolina, Mississippi State and South Carolina today. Platel will be a graduate transfer wherever he goes.

Tennessee: Tim Banks, who was the safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator at Penn State, is the new defensive coordinator at Tennessee where he will make $1.3 million in 2021 … New offensive coordinator Alex Golesh will be paid $750,000.

Vanderbilt: Last year’s Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Todd Fitch has taken a position as an analyst at Ohio State.


ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: Jalen Johnson, who is Duke’s most talented basketball player, quit on his teammates. He says it’s to prep for the NBA Draft but I’m not buying that excuse, just as I don’t buy the prepping for the NFL Draft excuse used by college football players. Oh, there are kids who are legitimately concerned with injuries, but it’s my guess 90% or more of the kids who skip out on their teammates are doing it because they’re getting money from an agent. Until someone comes up with a practical solution and perhaps some stiff penalties for agents tampering with kids the problem is only going to get worse.

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