A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning:
BLOWOUT OF AUBURN SOLIDIFIES FLORIDA’S POSITION IN SEC With their 74-57 blowout road win over Auburn (11-13, 5-10 SEC) Tuesday night, Florida (12-6, 8-5 SEC) remained in the hunt for a one of the top four seeds at the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville. While Florida was getting its second straight win, LSU was blown out by Georgia in Athens and Missouri suffered its seventh league loss at the hands of Ole Miss.
While Alabama winning the SEC championship is a foregone conclusion, the Gators actually have a legitimate chance to finish second if they can win their final regular season games at Kentucky and home against Missouri. Arkansas will face Alabama tonight and if the Razorbacks lose, that will create a three-way logjam with LSU and Florida at five SEC losses. Arkansas has games remaining with LSU at home and a pesky South Carolina team that plays very well at home. LSU plays Arkansas in Fayetteville and closes out with Vanderbilt. The Gators and LSU have a one-game lead in the loss column over Tennessee.
In beating Auburn, which was playing without leading scorer Sharife Cooper, the Gators put together one of their best halves of basketball all season when they raced out to a 44-22 lead. The Gators shot 50% overall and from the three-point line plus their press forced 13 Auburn turnovers which were converted into 13 points.
The Gators had difficulty with Auburn’s press to start the second half, when the Tigers closed the gap to 48-33 with 13:49 remaining thanks to four UF turnovers and too much reliance on the three-ball. The Gators figured out how to beat the Auburn press, which allowed them to stretch the lead back to 24 (66-42) with 5:43 to go. Then came one of those game-ending funks which saw Auburn finish the game on a 15-8 run.
Tre Mann, who scored 16 points in the first half, finished the game with 19 to go with a career-high 13 rebounds plus three assists and two steals. Scottie Lewis, who scored 14 in the half, finished the game with 16 points, one rebound and five steals.
The performance from Lewis was an unexpected lift. Coming into the game, Lewis had scored 16 points in his previous four games.
“Scottie Lewis, I thought had arguably his best game of the year,” Florida coach Mike White said. “I don’t have all the box scores in front of me, but he was really good. I thought his energy was fantastic, five steals, got some tips, was pretty sound defensively, you know, made some improvements, played with some maturity, made some shots. I thought he was really good.”
For the game, the Gators hit 28-63 from the field overall (44%) and 7-20 (35%) on three-pointers. The Gators scored 19 points off Auburn’s 21 turnovers and had a 40-20 margin on points in the paint. The Gators held Auburn to a dismal 7-31 shooting night (22.6%) from the three-point line and 35% (18-51) overall.
Tuesday SEC scores
FLORIDA (12-6, 8-5 SEC) 74, Auburn (11-13, 5-10 SEC) 57 Georgia (14-9, 7-9 SEC) 91, LSU (14-7, 9-5 SEC) 78 Ole Miss (13-9, 8-7 SEC) 60, #24 Missouri 14-7, 7-7 SEC) 53
Wednesday SEC games #6 Alabama (18-5, 13-1 SEC) at #20 Arkansas (17-5, 9-4 SEC) #25 Tennessee (15-6, 8-6 SEC) at Vanderbilt (6-12, 2-10 SEC) South Carolina (5-11, 3-9 SEC) at Mississippi State (12-11, 6-8 SEC)
THE OFFENSE TRANSFORMS TO TEBOW, PART DEUX
Kyle Trask was proof positive that Dan Mullen knows how to adjust his offense on the fly. From the moment Feleipe Franks went down with a season-ending injury in game three against Kentucky in 2019, Dan Mullen shifted from a run-pass option attack that took advantage of Franks’ ability to run the ball to a throw it from the time the Gators get off a moving bus attack with Kyle Trask taking the snaps. In 2019, Trask delivered the best passing numbers of any Florida QB since Tim Tebow in 2008 and he followed that up in 2020 by setting a number of UF passing records that might stand for years to come.
Now that Trask is gone to the NFL it’s not exactly a state secret that Mullen will need to transform the offense once again, this time to an attack that will most likely resemble the Florida offenses he used to call for Tebow and at Mississippi State for Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald to take advantage of the mobility of
quarterbacks Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson.
Jones and Richardson both have the quick feet that Trask didn’t have so the QB running threat and option will come back into play. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon or a brain scientist to figure that with the Gators five deep at running back and a likely 1-2 punch of fourth-year junior Dameon Pierce and Clemson transfer Demarkcus Bowman, there will be far more emphasis on the running game than we’ve seen in the Mullen era. The running back position is so deep that it’s not unthinkable for Mullen to put Nay’Quan Wright, Malik Davis and Lorenzo Lingard in the slot to force the same kind of matchup problems he had back when he had Tebow at QB, either Jeff Demps or Chris Rainey at RB and Percy Harvin as the dual threat runner-receiver in the slot.
Tebow didn’t have the kind of pinpoint accuracy that we got used to seeing with Trask, who could fit the ball into tight windows with astonishing consistency. Tebow didn’t have to throw laser beams, however. The threat of him taking off, Percy shifting into the backfield or running jet sweeps, and Demps and Rainey in space on the option created room for receivers to roam free. Tebow only had to get the ball reasonably close.
There isn’t enough in their limited bodies of work to indicate that either Jones or Richardson can throw the ball nearly as well as Trask, but if, as expected, Dan Mullen reverts to a Tebow, Part Deux offense, they won’t have to. The Gators won’t lack for downfield threats in the passing game who will get a lot of single coverage due to the threat of a running QB, jet sweeps or option pitches to running backs. There could very well be every bit as much explosion in the passing game even with more emphasis on the run. If you think the offense is going to take a big step backward, think again.
UF BASEBALL AND OTHER SPRING SPORTS
Bullpen issues had everything to do with the Gators losing the final two games of the Miami series and their drop from No. 1 to 3rd in the College Baseball Poll and 7th in three others. Bullpen issues resurfaced Tuesday night at North Florida but not enough to derail the Gators (2-2), who held on to a 9-6 win over the Ospreys.
The Gators were cruising along with a 9-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth when Ben Specht, working his fourth inning in relief, found the going a bit shaky. With one out, Specht gave up a single, a triple and a two-run homer back-to-back-to-back. He got the second out on a fly ball to center field but gave up his fourth hit of the inning before a final out fly ball to center field.
It’s early in the season but the bullpen issues are something that has to be resolved well before the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule kicks in.
Offensively Tuesday night, the Gators were led by freshman Colby Halter, who went 3-5 with a triple and four RBI. Jacob Young also had three hits as he extended his hitting streak to 22 games dating all the way back to the final game of the 2019 season. Jud Fabian, who struggled against Miami, had a pair of singles for his first multi-hit game of the young season.
The Gators will return to Florida Ballpark tonight (6 p.m.) to face the Ospreys once again.
Women’s golf: The 16th-ranked Gators and Ole Miss finished in a tie for the championship of the VyStar Invitational.
Gymnastics: The Gators continue to hold down the No. 1 ranking. The Gators will play host to 18th-ranked Auburn Friday night at the O-Dome.
Men’s Swimming: After one day at the SEC Championships, the 5th-ranked Gators are in 5th place. UF is going for its 9th straight SEC championship.
Softball: The Gators (8-0) remained 5th in the ESPN/USA Softball poll and 6th in the USA Today Coaches poll. Next up for the Gators is a Thursday matchup with North Florida at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
Lacrosse: Despite a loss to No. 1 North Carolina last weekend, the Gators (1-1) moved up to 5th in the latest Maverik Division I poll. The Gators will face 10th-ranked Loyola in Baltimore on Sunday.
Volleyball: The Gators remain 8th in the AVCA poll. Next up for UF (10-2) is a Thursday encounter in Knoxville with Tennessee (6-4).
Women’s Basketball: Jordyn Merritt was selected SEC Freshman of the Week. The Gators (10-11, 3-10 SEC) are idle until Sunday when they host 17th-ranked Georgia.
WILL THE ACCIDENT BE A CAREER-ENDER FOR TIGER WOODS? Through all the back surgeries (five) and knee procedures (many), Tiger Woods has put together enough brilliant rounds of golf to lend hope to those who wish to see him close out his career in style. With 15 majors – most recently the 2019 Masters – and 82 career wins on the PGA Tour, Tiger has put together a career only surpassed by Jack Nicklaus. But Jack never had to deal with all the injuries and he never had an auto accident the likes of which Tiger had Tuesday morning when his car rolled over several times on its way to a 700-foot descent down a canyon in Southern California. It took the jaws-of-life to remove him from his SUV and take him to the closest hospital where he underwent surgery to repair multiple leg injuries. He was listed in serious condition Tuesday night.
The latest injuries might pose an insurmountable obstacle in Tiger’s determined effort to play golf at the highest levels once again. The accident might very well have undone all the repair work from his recent back surgery and there will certainly be a prolonged rehab from the surgery on his legs. He is 45 years old and his body certainly isn’t going to heal as quickly as it might have 10-15 years ago.
Of course, everyone thought Tiger’s career was essentially over in 2019 when he stunned the world with a brilliant win in Augusta. This latest setback, however, seems much worse than any of the previous injuries and surgeries. This might not end his career completely, but it’s hard to imagine that he’s ever going to compete and win again on golf’s biggest stages.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: The Big 12 announced Tuesday that it will try to play 12 makeup games next week with 2nd-ranked Baylor, 7th-ranked Oklahoma, 10th-ranked West Virginia, 14th-ranked Texas and 18th-ranked Texas Tech all playing three times. I’ve been waiting three weeks for some sort of announcement from SEC commissioner Greg Sankey regarding makeup games but the silence from the league office has been deafening. Perhaps there is a plan in place that hasn’t been announced or that Sankey is willing to let things play out since there is an open Saturday on March 6 that could be used for games that could affect seedings for the SEC Tournament. Still, it’s strange that a commissioner who was so pro-active with football scheduling that the league got in 69 of 70 scheduled games hasn’t seen fit to announce anything regarding basketball.