Thoughts of the Day: February 9, 2021

A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:


FIVE THINGS THAT HAVE ME THINKING (I DO THAT OCCASIONALLY)

1. Florida’s offense will be far more unpredictable in 2021: There really wasn’t a lot of mystery to the Florida offense the last couple of years. Maybe you didn’t know who Kyle Trask was going to throw the football to, but you knew he was going to throw it. Sure, there were some running plays thrown in just to keep everyone honest, but the basic strategy was to start chucking the ball from the time the Gators got off the bus until they sang the alma mater and fight song after the game.


Most observers believe it will be just the opposite in 2021 with Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson doing the quarterbacking. They see Dan Mullen going 60-40 or better in favor of the run. Given the stable of running backs Dan Mullen has assembled and the fact that both Jones and Richardson have very fleet feet, the Gators are definitely going to run it more than they have the last couple of years, but I’m not sure it’s going to be so heavily tilted. I do believe the play calls will be far less predictable. I do not believe there is going to be a significant drop off in productivity.


Mullen’s offenses are always quarterback-centric so everything the Gators do will revolve around the skill set of Jones and Richardson and what Mullen is comfortable calling for them. Both of them are good runners who can execute the option, which is why I think we’ll Mullen see if Nay’Quan Wright, Malik Davis or Lorenzo Lingard into the slot. Think back to the Urban Meyer years when Mullen was the offensive coordinator. Percy Harvin spent most of his time in the slot where Mullen got him carries and receptions. When Percy shifted from the slot into the backfield, Tim Tebow could run what amounted to a veer option. Percy also ran jet sweeps, screens and deep pass patterns. I think that’s what we’re going to see with Dameon Pierce or Demarkcus Bowman as the running back and one of those other three in the slot. Imagine the pressure it puts on defensive coordinators.


The question is can Jones and Richardson throw the ball well enough to keep the safeties from crowding the box? I go back to the Tebow years once again. Tebow wasn’t exactly known for pinpoint accuracy when he threw the ball but there were enough threats in the passing game with speed and the threat of Percy either as a runner or receiver to spread the defense out. Tebow only had to get the ball reasonably close when he threw. Instead of having to throw lasers like we saw with Trask, I expect Jones and Richardson won’t have such a tight window in which to fit the football.


It’s just my opinion, but I think the ability to run the football will open up the passing game for Jacob Copeland, Justin Shorter, Trent Whittemore, Xzavier Henderson and Arik Gilbert. The Gators won’t throw it as much but I think the yards per pass attempt will still be more than 8.0.


The offense is going to change, but I’m not sure the productivity will drop off significantly.


2. What one SEC coach is saying about the UF basketball team: Writing in The Athletic, Seth Davis talked to coaches about each team in the SEC. One anonymous coach said this about the Gators: “You can beat ’em in transition. There are moments when they fall asleep and jog back. They have size and they can shoot it. Omar Payne is really coming on for them. Tre Mann is a pro. He can shoot it and get by you. They can be susceptible to a team that goes inside and crushes them on the glass. When Colin Castleton rotates over to block shots you can attack them on the back side. You want to keep them out of the paint and force them to take contested 2s. You can’t let Noah Locke make a couple because they’ll space you out and then you’re in trouble.”


What stuck out to me in that quote was the bit about beating the Gators in transition, but I think that applies also to defense in the half court. I think the Gators have these lapses when they go brain dead defensively. They’ve had real problems sustaining intensity on defense and that has cost them in all four of their SEC losses. Against South Carolina, there was a stretch when the Gators blocked a shot on four straight Gamecock possessions while taking an 8-point lead but the defensive focus and intensity went by the wayside and South Carolina dominated the rest of the way.


The Gators block a lot of shots and they have moments when they are very effective in the full court press, but they don’t seem to have the ability to maintain their intensity for a full game or even for long periods of the game. That has to change.


Offensively, they’re better when Mann is on one wing, Locke on the other and Tyree Appleby is at the point. When Mann is at the point, it takes away some of his focus on scoring and if he’s having problems scoring, the Gators are having problems winning.


The Gators are off until Saturday when Georgia comes to town. With eight SEC games on the schedule, UF (10-5, 6-4 SEC) almost has to go 5-3 the rest of the way to pretty much assure themselves a spot in the NCAA brackets without having to win one or two games at the SEC Tournament.


3. Brady’s best attribute was the confidence he brought to the Bucs: Tom Brady still has a great arm and he can still make big plays. In Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl win over the Kansas City Chiefs, he wasn’t required to make any unbelievable throws. Nearly every pass he completed was to a wide open receiver. Nearly every quarterback in the NFL can make those throws.


Not every quarterback in the NFL has Brady’s confidence, however. What transformed the Bucs from a loser into a Super Bowl champion was the confidence Tom Brady exuded from day one when he arrived in Tampa with the goal of winning another championship. When your greatest of all time quarterback comes to town with an unparalleled work ethic and brimming with confidence, it rubs off on the entire team. Offensive linemen want to hold their blocks a split second longer. Wide receivers are willing to run routes to perfection and take big hits over the middle. Running backs hit the holes harder. Over on the defensive side, everybody plays with a level of focus that wasn’t there before, knowing fully well that if they get the ball back, their QB will do something.


A year ago, when Jameis Winston was the QB, offensive players knew there was a good chance he would complete passes to the other team. The defense knew that if they got a stop, there was a good chance Winston would give the ball right back.


All that ended when Tom Brady showed up confidently ready to lead the Bucs to a championship. Brady can still make great throws, but the confidence he brings to the Bucs is his most important attribute.


4. The zebras didn’t cost the Chiefs the Super Bowl but … : Terry McAulay, who at one time was one of the most respected referees in the National Football League went to Twitter to proclaim that two of the defensive holding calls on the Kansas City Chiefs were bogus because they weren’t “close to the standard” the league had used for holding all season. One of those holding calls negated an interception by Tryann Mathieu. There were also some pass interference calls against the Chiefs that seemed a bit dubious. In all KC was called for eight first half penalties for 95 yards, 122 yards altogether. The Bucs were penalized four times for 39 yards even though there are people doing hard time in Raiford for less than their DBs did to Travis Kelce.


I thought the game was poorly officiated but I don’t think the officiating cost Kansas City the game. I think the Bucs would have won that game anyway, but I do believe the zebras helped turn what could have been a really close and exciting ball game into a blowout win for Tampa Bay. I’m glad the Bucs won, but I would have preferred a white knuckler decided late in the fourth quarter than a 31-9 blowout that was heavily influenced by some questionable whistles.


As I have gotten older, I’ve become far more critical of officiating. One reason why I think officiating in football has gotten so bad is because of instant replay. Knowing that every play is potentially reviewed and overturned in the booth you would think the zebras would work harder to get the call right the first time but the more games I watch, the more blown calls I see. Making it worse is the number of times the people in the replay booth get it wrong. That happens far too often.


And, don’t get me started on bad officiating in basketball. Jamie Luckie is horrible and I am being kind. Tony Greene’s sell-by date expired about 10 years ago but at least he’ll call a decent game if he’s paired with Doug Sirmons or Doug Shows or Ted Valentine. Bart Lenox shouldn’t be allowed to call a game at the YMCA. Ron Groover? Oh please. Mike Nance? Great if you’re on the road, scary bad if you’re at home. I could go on and on. There just aren’t enough college basketball zebras with the integrity to call a game in the last five minutes the same way they called it the first five minutes. Talk to any coach and they say give them a zebra crew that sets the way the game will be called in the first five minutes and then calls it that way the rest of the game.


But back to my original premise. I do not think the zebras are responsible for the Kansas City Chiefs losing the Super Bowl. I think Tom Brady would have found a way to win that one. However, I think the zebras had way too much influence.


5. One last pithy thought: Usually when Dick Vitale goes on one of his rants, I mute the sound on my television but I listened on Saturday when he lobbied for Oklahoma State to be included in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Oklahoma State is ineligible as part of its NCAA probation but since the assistant coach who was caught up in the cheating scandal has been fired, it is Dickie V’s opinion that since none of the current players on the Oklahoma State roster were involved that it is unfair they can’t participate in the tournament. That made me think back to 1990, Steve Spurrier’s first year as Florida’s football coach. Due to an incident that happened before any player on the UF roster was on campus, the Gators were on NCAA probation, ineligible for the Southeastern Conference championship and unable to play in a bowl game. Spurrier is still upset with that ruling and I can’t blame him. The NCAA needs to find a better way to deal out sanctions. Punish the kids and coaches who are involved. Fine the school an extraordinary amount of money. Dock a few scholarships, but don’t punish innocent kids. That’s just stupid. Savor this moment. I may not ever agree with Dickie V again.

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