MAYBE IT’S NOT A SEXY CLASS, BUT IT’S EXACTLY WHAT UF NEEDED
Okay, so you wanted a sexier recruiting class at the University of Florida. You wanted a better class than the one Kirby Smart hauled in at Georgia. You wanted the Gators better than the Poodles and at least eye-to-eye with Alabama and LSU. Well, you didn’t get it.
What you did get was an exceptional class that fills the holes in the roster, particularly along the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary. This is, after all, a line of scrimmage league and now the Gators have depth they haven’t had in Dan Mullen’s first two years on the job. In the secondary, yes, they missed out on DeLand safety Avantae Williams, but they did sign Texas defensive tackle Princely Umanmielen, who projects to be a beast when lined up next to Gervon Dexter, maybe the best defensive tackle in the entire country.
Here’s my take on that. While Williams is no doubt an outstanding talent, the state of Florida churns out great corners and safeties every single year. Defensive tackles that are 6-4, 285 and still growing are much harder to come by. If you had told me the Gators could get only one of the two, my choice would have been Unanmielen 10 times out of 10.
Now, here’s my other take on National Signing Day. Mullen and his coaching staff have gone 21-5 in their two seasons in Gainesville, winning New Year’s Six bowl games at the tail end of both. In many cases, they’ve had to do it with smoke and mirrors because there wasn’t enough depth or experience at key positions left behind by the previous occupant of the head ball coach’s office. We’ve seen a staff that knows and understands how to develop talent and deliver a winning product on the field.
And, how many coaches can you think of who could have gone 11-2 after the starting QB went down in game three and the replacement hadn’t started a game since the ninth grade and had all of 27 pass attempts in his UF career? I’m not sure another coach could have done it. I know Mullen did.
And that’s why I look at this recruiting class that gives Mullen what can only be described as an SEC roster from top to bottom for the first time since he’s been here and I’m convinced the Florida Gators are on the verge of becoming the beast of the SEC East.
For a parting shot: I trust Mullen to get the Gators to the next level and win championships. He’s a better coach than Kirby Smart and has a staff that is much better at developing talent. All the 5-star recruits won't change the fact that Kirby isn't the brightest bulb on the coaching tree.
FORGET THE FIRST 24 MINUTES, THE LAST 16 WERE INCREDIBLE
With a little more than 16 minutes to go in the game Wednesday night, Georgia led the Gators (14-8, 6-3 SEC) 52-30. A blowout loss of Missouri proportions was on the verge of happening in front of an O-Dome crowd that groaned with every missed shot or turnover. The Gators couldn’t throw it in the ocean from the end of the pier while Georgia – particularly Anthony Edwards – didn’t seem capable of missing. Edwards scored 18 points in the first half. It only seemed like he had 30.
When the Poodles increased their 15-point halftime lead to 22 in the first four minutes of the second half, Mike White sent in three freshmen – Jason Jitoboh, Ques Glover and Tre Mann – to go with Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson. That unorthodox lineup got the rally going. From that point on, the Gators outscored Georgia 51-23 as they tied the school record for the greatest comeback in UF history.
The offense was borderline sensational but the defense was even better in those last 16 minutes. When White shifted to a 3-2 that would match up and then occasionally morph into a man-to-man, Georgia completely lost its offensive edge. Edwards, who had 26 points at the 14:41 mark, didn’t score again until there was 5:31 left in the game. His final four points came from the foul line.
Georgia had a chance to make it a one-possession game with 39 seconds left, but Scottie Lewis came out of nowhere for an emphatic rejection. That, per Georgia coach Tom Crean, was the dagger that sealed the loss.
What those final 16 minutes tell us is that if White can get the Gators to play like that for 40 minutes, this team could indeed live up to the preseason hype.
SEC BASKETBALL Wednesday’s scores FLORIDA (14-8, 6-3 SEC) 81, Georgia (12-10, 2-7 SEC) 75 Vanderbilt (9-13, 1-8 SEC) 99, #18 LSU (17-5, 8-1 SEC) 90 Ole Miss (11-11, 2-7 SEC) 84, South Carolina (13-9, 5-4 SEC) 70 Saturday’s games FLORIDA (14-8, 6-3 SEC) at Ole Miss (11-11, 2-7 SEC), ESPN2 #18 LSU (17-5, 8-1 SEC) at #11 Auburn (20-2, 7-2 SEC), ESPN #15 Kentucky (17-5, 7-2 SEC) at Tennessee (13-9, 5-4 SEC), CBS Texas A&M (11-10, 5-4 SEC) at South Carolina (13-9, 5-4 SEC), SEC Network Arkansas (16-5, 4-5 SEC) at Missouri (10-12, 2-7 SEC), SEC Network
Alabama (12-10, 4-5 SEC) at Georgia (12-10, 2-7 SEC), SEC Network Vanderbilt (9-13, 1-8 SEC) at Mississippi State (14-8, 5-4 SEC), SEC Network
SOME RECRUITING STUFF FROM AROUND THE SEC
ALABAMA: Alabama had a signing day setback when 4-star D-lineman Jayson Jones flipped to Oregon. More than half of Alabama’s 25 signees (13) enrolled in January and will be there for spring practice.
ARKANSAS: Malik Henry, who was the highest rated unsigned QB in the nation prior to Wednesday, signed with Arkansas, a coup for new coach Sam Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles. He had offers from Texas A&M and Alabama. Arkansas has four freshmen and a juco early enrolled.
AUBURN: Probably the biggest National Signing Day news for Auburn had nothing to do with a signee but a departure. Running Back Boobie Whitlow, who ran for 763 yards and 10 touchdowns in an injury-marred season, entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal. Perhaps his departure had something to do with Auburn bringing in running back Tank Bigsby or maybe new offensive coordinator Chad Morris likes to fling the football all over the yard. Auburn has nine freshmen and a juco early enrolled
GEORGIA: The big news on National Signing Day for the Poodles was holding on to 5-star offensive lineman Broderick Jones and 4-star O-lineman Sedric Van Pran. Alabama made a late run at Jones and both Florida and Alabama tried to flip Van Pran, but Georgia held onto both. Georgia has six freshmen early enrolled.
KENTUCKY: Running back Michael Drennen II pulled off a signing day shocker when he committed to Kentucky over Southern Cal. He still hasn’t signed his LOI, however. Kentucky has 10 freshmen and a juco early enrolled.
LSU: At his signing day press conference, Coach O said he’s looking mostly at the NFL for Joe Brady’s replacement. The guy to watch is New Orleans Saints wide receivers coach Ronald Curry, a former college QB who played 11 seasons as a wide receiver in the NFL. LSU has six freshmen and a juco early enrolled.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Mike Leach’s first recruiting class at MSU is highlighted by Stanford grad transfer QB KJ Costello, one of four transfers. Leach has nine early enrollees, three of whom are jucos.
MISSOURI: Defensive back Ennis Rakestraw, who took official visits to Texas and Alabama, signed with Missouri, the highlight of the day for first year coach Eli Drinkwitz. The QB in the class is 3-star Brady Cook. There are no early enrollees.
OLE MISS: Lane Kiffin’s first Ole Miss recruiting class includes three transfers including former Georgia DB Otis Reese. Kiffin landed Demon Clowney, younger brother of NFL star Jadeveon Clowney, and running back Henry Parrish out of Miami. There are no early enrollees.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Five-star defensive tackle Jordan Burch took part in a signing day ceremony where he said he had signed with South Carolina. Late Wednesday night, Will Muschamp still hadn’t received a signed LOI from Burch. Muschamp has 10 early enrolled, nine freshmen and a juco.
TENNESSEE: The Vols signed tight end Damarcus Beckwith, who was thought to be heading to Florida. There are three transfers in Tennessee’s signing class including former Georgia O-lineman Cade Mays and former Southern Cal wide receiver Velus Jones. Vols have four early enrolled freshmen.
TEXAS A&M: Running back Darvon Hubbard, a one-time Ohio State commitment, signed with the Aggies. Defensive tackle McKinnley Jackson chose the Aggies over Alabama. The Aggies have 12 early enrolled, all freshmen including QB of the future Haynes King.
VANDERBILT: The highlight of another last-place (in the SEC) recruiting class for the Commodores is Ohio State transfer defensive end Alex Williams. Vandy did sign three quarterbacks, a good thing since all the other scholarship QBs transferred out.
GOOD QUOTES FOR THURSDAY
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic on the trade of outfielder Mookie Betts and lefthander David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers for some guys you’ve probably never heard of: “The Red Sox had perhaps only an outside chance to overcome the Yankees and Rays this season if they had kept Betts, and now that chance becomes almost miniscule. This time, management cannot simply play the gree card with the expectation that fans will accept Betts as the villain. For Betts, the 2018 American League MVP, and left-hander David Price, the 2018 AL Comeback Player of the Year (though somewhat of a disappointment in Boston overall), the Red Sox will receive outfielder Alex Verdugo from the Dodgers and right-handed pitcher Brusdar Graterol from the Twins, who will acquire starter Kenta Maeda from LA to round out the deal.”
Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated on what’s next for Michigan State after Mark Dantonio resigned as head football coach on the eve of National Signing Day: “Luke Fickell would be the best (hirable) man for the job. He’s gone 22-5 the last two years at Cincinnati, he knows the Big Ten from his time at Ohio State and he knows the recruiting terrain. But he’s also got a potential top 15 or 20 team coming back at Cincy, which won’t be easy to leave. If he wants the job, the situation give Fickell all the leverage. Leave a good gig to take over a program that could lose its recruiting class? Convince your staff to uproot now. That could turn a five-year contract into six or seven years, or add another million dollars a year to the salary … If not Fickell, Pat Narduzzi would be a comfortable hire and probably a good one. The Pittsburgh coach was Dantonio’s right-hand man and defensive soulmate at Michigan State for several years. There would e no surprises on either side of the equation – State would know what it’s getting in Narduzzi, and Narduzzi would know what he getting in State. But he’s also never one more than eight games in the easier division of the Atlantic Coast Conference, which is a much easier league than the Big Ten.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Vanderbilt’s 25-game SEC basketball losing streak came to an end Wednesday night when the Commodores took out 18th-ranked LSU, which was 8-0 in SEC play coming into the game … Phil Mickelson has won five majors but never the US Open. He says he won’t accept an exemption to play in this year’s event … The NFL and the players association will meet today in Los Angeles to try to make some progress on a new collective bargaining agreement. It is being reported players want more health and safety improvements, particularly if the NFL wishes to expand the schedule to 17 games.