A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning:
In wins over Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Tennessee, the Arkansas (3-3) defense picked off 11 passes and in each of the three games gave up 5.3 or fewer yards per pass attempt. Keep the Mississippi State and Ole Miss games in mind because in both games Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom chose to defend the run with three and drop eight into coverage.
K.J. Costello of Mississippi State attempted 60 passes and completed 43 but he had to dink and dunk the whole game. When he did try to go downfield he had three passes picked off. That eight-man zone was even more pronounced against Ole Miss. Matt Corral managed a season-low 200 passing yards for 5.3 per attempt. He had six passes picked off, two of which were run back for touchdowns.
When the Razorbacks come to Gainesville Saturday, it’s expected they will try a similar strategy to slow down Florida’s high-powered passing game. The 6th-ranked Gators (4-1) are averaging 369 passing yards per game behind quarterback Kyle Trask, who has thrown for at least four touchdowns in all five of the Gators’ games and has 22 for the season. Trask averages 10 yards per pass attempt and has thrown only three interceptions.
The Razorbacks don’t have the personnel to match up with Florida’s receivers even if All-Interplanetary tight end Kyle Pitts is still under concussion protocol. The Gators have a real advantage in terms of size, speed and athleticism with receivers like Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney so it would only figure Odom will drop eight in a zone with the hope that Trask will try to force throws into coverage.
The best way to loosen up a zone like that is to run the ball effectively. Despite numbers that are eerily similar to last season when the Florida running game was inconsistent in all but a few games, Florida’s running attack hasn’t been bad this year. Why settle for four and five-yard runs when you can go over the top and average 10 yards every time you throw it, 14.6 every time there is a completion? However, when the Gators have needed to grind out a first down running the ball, they’ve been effective for the most part.
Both Auburn and Ole Miss hammered Arkansas in the running game (Auburn 259 yards; Ole Miss 242) and both Texas A&M and Tennessee ran for 180-plus so the Razorbacks are vulnerable. Given their lack of size up front, this might be just the kind of game Dameon Pierce breaks out. He has 221 yards this season (4.51 per carry) and it seems he has had at least one run every game in which he was a half-step from breaking away.
If the Gators can get Pierce going early and can avoid the temptation to force the ball into a zone, this could be Florida’s best rushing game of the season. If the Gators run for 150 or more yards, that should open the passing game up for Trask.
GATOR HOOPS SIGN KOWACIE REEVES
Elite shooter Kowacie Reeves (6-6, 180, Macon, GA Westside) signed his scholarship papers to play for the Florida Gators Wednesday. Reeves, who turned down offers from Georgia, Auburn, Stanford, Xavier and Arkansas, among others, is a consensus 4-star recruit and the 31st-ranked player in the country (by Rivals). Reeves averaged 21 points per game last season for Westside.
It’s unlikely the Gators will sign another player in the early signing period. Florida has 13 on scholarship and no seniors on its roster.
Florida opens its season against Maine in the Basketball Hall of Fame Bubbleville at Uncasville, CT on November 25. The Gators will face Virginia at the same venue two nights later.
UF BASKETBALL ROSTER AS OF 11/11/20
Juniors: Anthony Duruji (6-7, 220); Noah Locke (6-3, 203); Keyontae Johnson (6-5, 229); Colin Castleton (6-11, 231); Osayi Osifo (6-7, 225); Tyree Appleby (6-1, 170)
Sophomores: Ques Glover (5-11, 182); Tre Mann (6-5, 190); Omar Payne 6-10, 230); Scottie Lewis (6-5, 189); Jason Jitoboh (6-11, 285)
Freshmen: Samson Ruzhentsev (6-7, 192); Niels Lane (6-5, 206)
Non-Scholarship Freshmen: Alex Klatsky (6-4, 185); Jack May (6-4, 175)
RUMBLING, STUMBLING, BUMBLING IN THE SEC
#1 ALABAMA (6-0): Nick Saban on how 3-star recruit Mac Jones has turned himself into a star QB with a legitimate chance to win the Heisman Trophy: “He’s worked hard to be a good quarterback. We liked him in high school and his arm talent … athletic, smart. He had an opportunity to sit behind some good players for a few years, worked to develop. He is a great example of developing as a player. Now that he has this opportunity he’s taking advantage of it.”
ARKANSAS (2-3): Arkansas HBC Sam Pittman says Feleipe Franks has had a good week of practice getting ready for his return to The Swamp, where he spent the first four years of his college football career. Pittman said, “He knows this game isn’t all about him. It’s about us but he’s a competitor and he’s going to want to play as well as he can. I think he will be fine. He’s looked good in practice.”
#24 AUBURN (4-2): Linebacker Josh Marsh has entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal. He played in three games in 2018-19 and had three tackles. He had not played in a game this season.
#12 GEORGIA (4-2): Barrett Sallee of CBSSports.com writes this about Georgia HBC Kirby Smart and the Georgia offense: “This offense is likely vanilla by necessity and not by choice. Do we know that for sure? Of course not. Smart could be the new version of Les Miles during Miles’ final few seasons in Baton Rouge and make empty promises about the offense opening up.”
KENTUCKY (2-4): HBC Mark Stoops says all four of Kentucky’s quarterbacks will be available for Saturday’s game with Vanderbilt. Stoops is optimistic that offensive coordinator Eddie Gran (Covid-19) will be available.
LSU (2-3): It appears QB Myles Brennan (lower body injury) won’t be back this season. Coach O said Wednesday, “We are looking at the injury. WE are looking to see if he can come back through rehab or if the best thing would be an operation that would help him. We have not made a final decision but he is unlikely to come back.”
MISSISSIPPI STATE (2-4): If the Bulldogs don’t improve their running game (21.5 yards per game) they will end up as just the second team in the last 10 years to fail to average 30 yards per game rushing. The other team was Washington State in 2012 (29.08 per game), also coached by Mike Leach.
MISSOURI (2-3): Chad Bailey, Markell Utsey and Dylan Spencer, who all three received a suspension for one half due to their participation in a midfield altercation against Florida, will see their suspensions carry over until next week against South Carolina due to the Tigers’ Saturday game with Georgia being postponed.
OLE MISS (2-4): Ole Miss spent plenty of time working on red zone offense during the bye week. In their loss to Arkansas earlier in the season, the Rebels turned the ball over in the red zone twice as part of a seven-turnover game. The Rebels also had a red zone turnover that proved costly in the loss to Auburn. “We’re as good as anybody in the country offensively outside the red zone when you look at numbers, yards and first downs,” said HBC Lane Kiffin as the Rebels prep for Saturday’s game with South Carolina.
SOUTH CAROLINA (2-4): Since converting 7-13 on third down in their 30-22 win over Auburn, South Carolina has gone in the tank, converting just 6-24 in their last two games, both of them losses.
TENNESSEE (2-4): Asked to evaluate his own coaching this season, HBC Jeremy Pruitt replied, “It’s all based on your record, right? Based on our record, it’s not where it needs to be. That’s pretty obvious.”
#5 TEXAS A&M (5-1): Only three Aggie players tested positive for Covid-19 but due to contact tracing protocols another 16 were forced to quarantine, which is what led to postponement of Saturday’s road game at Tennessee.
VANDERBILT (0-5): Another Vandy player has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal. Safety Frank Coppet, who has played in 16 games during his career but only two this season, is leaving the program.
INTERESTING BITS OF TID FROM THE TACKLE FOOTBALL PLAYING WORLD
The Dumpster Fire Formerly Known as Florida State University Football has lost its best offensive playmaker and best defensive player. Wide receiver Tamorrion Terry, who has been at odds with the coaching staff for quite some time, has opted out the rest of the season. Terry had 23 catches for 289 yards and a TD this year, 118 for 2,221 yards and 17 touchdowns in his career. Defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, who is projected to be a first rounder in the NFL Draft, will miss the remainder of the season with an injury. Also out for the remainder of the season with an injury is offensive lineman Devontay Love-Taylor. Finally, quarterback James Blackman will put his name in the NCAA transfer portal as soon as the season comes to a merciful conclusion. Blackman has thrown for 5,445 yards and 43 touchdowns in his FSU career.
When Liberty University (7-0) started beating up on Power Five teams, it seems Hugh Freeze’s name has been associated with everybody that might be asking their coach to find gainful employment elsewhere. Freeze, it turns out, isn’t going anywhere. Already making $2.5 million, he got a contract extension that will take him through 2026 and will make him one of the top – if not the top – paid coach among the Group of Five.
The NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, will vote to extend the recruiting dead period by 3-1/2 months to April 15. This is the recommendation of the NCAA Football Oversight Committee and it will be voted on, with expectations of approval, next week. If approved this will mean coaches have not been able to meet recruits face-to-face for more than one year and yet the December and February signing dates will remain in place. These people lack functioning brains. It is time for the Power Five schools to take their football and go play somewhere else.
Penn State running back Journey Brown, who was not playing this season due to medical issue that was discovered during a routine Covid-19 test, has been forced to retire. Brown was Penn State’s leading rusher in 2019 with 890 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Chief Yellow Teeth, leader of the Mount Pleasant, Michigan Chippewa tribe (also known as the Fighting Clarabelles), is 2-0 after Central Michigan’s 40-10 win over Northern Illinois Wednesday night.
Not that it really matters, but #3 Ohio State’s road trip to Maryland has been cancelled due to an outbreak of Covid-19 at Maryland. The game will not be rescheduled, a good thing for Maryland since the Fighting Yertles were going to get their doors blown off. Ohio State’s next game is against #10 Indiana (3-0) on November 21. Maryland’s next game is November 21 against Michigan State.
Quarterback Graham Mertz, who has been in Covid-19 protocol since testing positive after throwing for six touchdown passes in Wisconsin’s season opening win over Illinois, could be available Saturday when the Badgers travel to Michigan.
PITHY COMMENTS FOR A THURSDAY: It only took one year for former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook to have his fill of the Houston Rockets. Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, Westbrook has requested a trade. There were reports that James Harden also wanted out but apparently he will be sticking it out … The Masters begins today in Augusta. Those golfers who swim poorly are advised to carry a pair of water wings in their bag because there is going to rain almost all day long … Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger are battling it out to see which one can become the all-time leader in NFL history for being sacked. Brady and Roethlisberger have been sacked 513 times each. Brett Favre holds the record at 525 … Mark Daigneault is the new coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Apparently he was at UF on Billy Donovan’s staff back in 2014 but not as an assistant coach. Somehow I missed him.