A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:
Kirby Smart and his defensive coordinator Dan Lanning probably thought they had a very good game plan going into last Saturday’s game with the Florida Gators. They planned to bracket tight end Kyle Pitts as much as possible and get physical with Kadarius Toney to prevent him from catching the football in space. On paper it must have seemed solid and sound, but it didn’t take into account Dan Mullen calling pass plays for his running backs on wheel routes up the sideline.
Georgia was caught flatfooted, trying to cover Florida’s swift running backs with linebackers who simply couldn’t keep up. On a day when UF quarterback Kyle Trask was in a zone (30-43 for 474 yards and four TDPs), the running backs combined to catch 10 passes for 212 yards.
Malik Davis (5 catches, 100 yards), Nay’Quan Wright (3-71) and Dameon Pierce (2-41) exposed the fatal flaw in Georgia’s defensive preparation. They outran the Georgia linebackers and Trask hit them in stride. Davis had big gainers of 37, 22 and 18 yards. Wright had a 50-yard reception and Pierce had one go for 35 yards.
In many respects, the passes to the running backs were just an extension of the running game. Instead of pounding it between the tackles or trying to run sweeps, Mullen isolated a running back on a linebacker and got the ball to him in space. It was easy pitch and catch for Trask, who saw the field so well that he completed passes to 10 different players.
“I know everybody says whoever runs for the most yards wins, but maybe it’s whoever’s running backs get the most yards win,” Mullen said Saturday after the Gators took out Georgia 44-28 to gain the upper hand in the race for the SEC East Division championship.
In addition to throwing so often to his running backs, Trask also found tight ends not named Pitts four times for 90 yards (Kemore Gamble 3-51, 1 TD; Keon Zipperer 1-39). When Georgia focused on neutralizing Florida’s wide receivers, Mullen was prepared with an alternative. Mullen had creative answers to every look Georgia presented. Georgia’s defenders played much of the game like lost balls in the very tall grass.
Georgia tried very hard to adjust but Mullen always seemed at least one or two steps ahead. This was the first game of the season in which the running backs were so essential in the passing game. When Pitts (2-59, one TD) went down with an injury in the second quarter Mullen got the ball to the backup tight ends. The next man up theory worked to perfection.
This is a Florida offense that is capable of hanging huge point totals on any team in the country. Saturday was a textbook version of why that’s not only possible but almost probable every time the Gators strap it on.
RUMBLING, STUMBLING, BUMBLING IN THE SEC
#1 ALABAMA (6-0): Running back Trey Sanders, who took a redshirt last year after undergoing foot surgery, will miss the rest of the season due to injuries suffered in an auto accident. Sanders, who ran for 134 yards while playing in four games, ran for 80 on 12 carries against Mississippi State in Bama’s last outing.
ARKANSAS (3-3): Unless he can pass three Covid-19 tests between now and Saturday, HBC Sam Pittman will be out for Saturday’s road trip to #6 Florida. If Pittman is unable to make the trip, defensive coordinator Barry Odom, formerly the HBC at Missouri, will be the interim head coach.
#24 AUBURN (4-2): The Tigers’ game at Mississippi State has been postponed and rescheduled for December 12 due to a Covid-19 outbreak among the MSU team.
#12 GEORGIA (4-2): Stetson Bennett IV gets far too much blame for what has gone sideways for Georgia this season. Instead of pointing fingers at Bennett, maybe it’s time to take a good hard look at an offense that has shown very little creativity under new coordinator Todd Monken and a defense that has allowed 85 points and 1,135 yards in the two losses. There has been no discernible development at the quarterback position and both Alabama and Florida picked apart that vaunted defense, which doesn’t come anywhere close to matching the hype.
KENTUCKY (2-4): At his Monday press conference, HBC Mark Stoops seemed to indicate that Terry Wilson will start at QB vs. Vanderbilt. Wilson, who has thrown for 602 yards and four touchdowns, did not play in the Wildcats 14-3 loss to Georgia a couple of weeks ago.
LSU (2-3): As of Monday, LSU was scrambling to find enough players to meet the Southeastern Conference minimum of 53 for Saturday’s game with #1 Alabama. It is being reported that LSU has only one scholarship QB available (freshman TJ Finley), no tight ends or long snappers. If this game is not played, there is not a possible makeup date since both have already had their open date and LSU is scheduled to play Florida in a makeup game on December 12.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (2-4): Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen said the Bulldogs couldn’t have fielded the SEC-mandated minimum 53-man roster for Saturday’s game with Auburn, which has been rescheduled for December 12. Maybe with the time off, Mike Leach can figure out how to run the football. The Bulldogs average just 21.5 yards per game on the ground, easily the worst mark in both the SEC and the nation.
MISSOURI (2-3): There is no shortage of optimism that Missouri could finish with a break even or better season. Following Saturday’s home game with 12th-ranked Georgia (Georgia is an 11.5-point favorite), Missouri’s last four games are (at) South Carolina, Arkansas, (at) Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. Mizzou will likely be favored to win at least three of the four.
OLE MISS (2-4): Wide receiver Elijah Moore leads the SEC in receptions (61) and receiving yards (829). He will be working Saturday against a South Carolina secondary that has given up an SEC worst 14 touchdown passes.
SOUTH CAROLINA (2-4): The South Carolina fan base has become enamored with Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze (7-0) but would Freeze leave Liberty, where he has plenty of job security, not a lot of pressure and a $2.5 million per year salary, for the pressure cooker that is the Southeastern Conference? Of course, there is also that matter of a buyout for current South Carolina HBC Will Muschamp, a mere $13.2 million. Unless the South Carolina fans put together the cold hard cash to buy Muschamp out, there is no way athletic director Ray Tanner is going to let him go, particularly in a year in which $50-80 million of red ink is bled.
TENNESSEE (2-4): Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who left the Arkansas game after taking a hit to the head, is listed day-to-day by HBC Jeremy Pruitt. In the event Guarantano can’t answer the bell for 5th-ranked Texas A&M Saturday, the likely starter is true freshman Harrison Bailey, who completed six passes to his UT teammates and two to Arkansas in the Vols’ 24-13 loss. For the season, Bailey is 7-13 for 89 yards. Also, defensive lineman Latrell Bumphus, who suffered a leg injury in warmups for the Arkansas game, is out for the rest of the season.
#5 TEXAS A&M (5-1): After one player and one staffer tested positive for Covid-19 after the South Carolina game, Texas A&M put a pause on all football activities while waiting on further tests to determine if the outbreak is confined to those two or has spread among the team. The entire team and football staff were tested Monday and while no results have been released, HBC Jimbo Fisher stated, “Right now, everything is full go” for Saturday’s game at Tennessee.
VANDERBILT (0-5): The Vanderbilt offense has generated eight touchdowns this season. That’s six fewer than Alabama running back Najee Harris has scored this year.
ELSEWHERE IN THE COLLEGE TACKLE FOOTBALL PLAYING WORLD
On WJOX in Birmingham, Paul Finebaum went into his rip and shred mode when the subject of Michigan coach Him Harbaugh was brought up on the radio show Monday morning: “Jim Harbaugh has now become a Saturday Night Live parody. Where else do you go? He says the same thing after every loss, which is great. His message is as delusional, win or lose these days. [Michigan] needs to rectify that. You can’t take that kind of damage into your brand every weekend.” Just a week ago Finebaum reported that Harbaugh and Michigan have reached an amicable divorce that will take place after this season ends.
With so much expectation that Harbaugh is leaving, the speculators in the media are trying to come up with a list of potential successors. Here is what seems like the current short list (not in order of preference): (1) Luke Fickell, Cincinnati; (2) Matt Campbell, Iowa State; (3) Hugh Freeze, Liberty.
Utah’s game with UCLA has been moved from Friday to Saturday, that is, if it is played at all. Utah’s season opener with Arizona was postponed due to Covid-19 and there are lingering problems with the virus.
TUESDAY PITHY THOUGHTS: Sergio Garcia has tested positive for Covid-19, which means he will miss The Masters in Augusta. I’m sure we will all miss Sergio regripping his club about 15 times before he takes a shot … I’ll be seriously surprised if Tiger Woods contends for the championship at The Masters. I think last year’s surprising win at The Masters was the last major Tiger will win …Tom Brady completed more passes to the New Orleans Saints (3) than he did TDPs for the Tampa Bay Bucs (0) Sunday night ... The governor of Massachusetts signed an executive order banning large crowds at stadiums which means the New England Patriots won’t have fans at their remaining home games. As badly as they have been playing, Bill Belichick probably welcomes the move … The Associated Press released its top 25 basketball poll Monday. The Gators weren’t picked (no surprise there) as only two SEC teams (Kentucky #10 and Tennessee #12) made it.