A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
So maybe it wasn’t the 50-point blowout win over Vanderbilt that some Gator fans envisioned. A 38-17 win on the road in this strange season where Covid-19 precautions alter practice week and game day norms is nothing to sneeze at. The single most important thing to remember is this: The Gators traveled to Nashville to win a football game. Mission accomplished even if it lacked style points.
In his post-game remarks, Dan Mullen didn’t offer up any excuses nor did he lament the lack of energy. He got the win he was looking for. The team will pay the price for its lack of energy in practice this week, but isn’t it amazing that you can beat an SEC team by 21 points on the road when you left your energy back at the team hotel?
Ah yes, the team hotel. That’s where the Gators got dressed and did a good bit of their pre-game prep. It was an hour before the 12-noon kickoff when the Gators arrived at Vanderbilt Stadium. There was no pre-game chill time in the locker room, nor was there a pre-game speech in that tiny, cramped space. About the only thing the Gators used the locker room for was the bathroom facilities. Everything else was conducted outdoors, even halftime.
So it’s not like there was a normal routine which contributed mightily to the lack of energy. It took awhile for Kyle Trask to get the offense unleashed and even though he completed 26-35 passes and threw for 383 yards and three touchdowns, it seemed he was sleep walking. The whole team seemed that way even though there were some outstanding plays made by Kadarius Toney, Trevon Grimes and Justin Shorter and even though the offensive line kept grinding away so that UF finished the day with 173 rushing yards as well as a commanding 34:17 to 25:43 advantage in time of possession.
Oh sure, the defense didn’t exactly dominate, but they did force six punts and once they got over the first quarter funk allowed only one touchdown the rest of the way. Yeah, they missed a lot of tackles, but it’s not like they were playing dazed and confused. Maybe it’s time we face up to the fact they tend to play to the level of the competition. You saw the effort against Georgia after the Poodles broke out to a 14-0 lead. The defense tends to get enough stops to win games. They need to do better, but with the exception of the game with the Aggies they’ve been good enough.
The main takeaway from the Vanderbilt game is that the Gators won and moved another step closer to the SEC East title that will send them to Atlanta, winning by 21 points while racking up 586 yards and 29 first downs. The O-line gave up only one sack. Trask set an SEC record for 31 touchdown passes in his first seven games. Toney (107 receiving yards) and Shorter (94) had career highs for reception yardage.
Beautiful it wasn’t. Ho-hum it was. And still the Gators scored 38 points. Dan Mullen will take that kind of boring every single day.
ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25 POLL
(1) Alabama 7-0; (2) Notre Dame 8-0; (3) Ohio State 4-0; (4) Clemson 7-1; (5) Texas A&M 5-1; (6) FLORIDA 6-1; (7) Cincinnati 8-0; (9). BYU 9-0; (10) Oregon 3-0; (10) Miami 7-1; (11) Northwestern 5-0; (12) Indiana 4-1; (13) Georgia 5-2; (14) Oklahoma 6-2; (15) Iowa State 6-2; (16) Coastal Carolina 8-0; (17) Marshall 7-0; (18) Wisconsin 2-1; (19) Southern Cal 3-0; (20) Texas 5-2; (21) Oklahoma State 5-2; (22) Auburn 5-2; (23) Louisiana-Lafayette 7-1; (24) Tulsa 5-1; (25) North Carolina 6-2
COACHES TOP 25 POLL
(1) Alabama 7-0; (2) Notre Dame 8-0; (3) Ohio State 4-0; (4) Clemson 7-1; (5) FLORIDA 6-1; (6) Texas A&M 5-1; (7) Cincinnati 8-0; (8) BYU 9-0: (10) Georgia 5-2; (11) Oregon 3-0; (12) Indiana 4-1; (13) Northwestern 5-0; (14) Oklahoma 5-2; (15) Iowa State 6-2; (16) Marshall 7-0; (17) Coastal Carolina 8-0; (18) Southern Cal 3-0; (19) Auburn 5-2: (20) Wisconsin 2-1; (22) Oklahoma State 5-2; (23) North Carolina 6-2; (24) Louisiana-Lafayette 7-1; (25) Tulsa 5-1
RUMBLING, STUMBLING, BUMBLING IN THE SEC
#1 ALABAMA (7-0): Devonta Smith (65-903, 10 TDs) continues to make a case that he’s the best wide receiver in Alabama history. His career numbers are 188 catches for 3,190 yards and an SEC record 33 touchdowns. Najee Harris might not be the best running back in Bama history, but he is the best in the country this year. For 2020, Harris is 137-797 rushing for 16 touchdowns. He’s also caught 22 passes for 210 yards. Alabama is a 24.5-point favorite to win the Iron Bowl game with Auburn. Next week: vs. #22 Auburn (5-2)
ARKANSAS (3-5): The talk in Fayette Nam will be about the phantom fourth quarter targeting call that ended the day for safety Jake Catalon on what proved to be LSU’s game winning drive and the blocked field goal that kept the Razorbacks from tying the game with LSU. What should be asked is why send A.J. Reed out to kick a 44-yard field goal with 1:24 remaining in the game on a fourth-and-three when Feleipe Franks had already converted a fourth-and-three on the same drive? Franks was playing so well (17-26 for 339 yards and a touchdown; 14-43 rushing for a TD) and had just as good, if not a better, chance to get a first down than Reed had to make that field goal. Arkansas is a 1.5-point road dog at Missouri. Next week: at Missouri (3-3)
#22 AUBURN (5-2): Auburn’s three-game winning streak has plenty to do with Bo Nix doing a better job of protecting the football and throwing with more accuracy. He’s 58-80 (72.5%) for 758 yards and five touchdowns with only one pick. In Auburn’s first four games, Nix completed 54.9% of his passes with five touchdowns and four interceptions. The Tigers are 24.5-point road dogs for their Iron Bowl showdown with Alabama. Next week: at #1 Alabama (7-0)
#13 GEORGIA (5-2): Georgia fans are already in their full if only mode after JT Daniels threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns against Mississippi State in his first start. As in, if only he had played against Alabama and Florida. Let’s put things in perspective. He beat Mississippi State which came in with only 49 scholarship players and a few walk-ons available. It’s not like Daniels lit up a good team. And Poodle fans need to think about that marvelous defense. You know, the one that Alabama lit up for 41 points and 564 yards and which Florida burned for 44 and 571. The same one that allowed Mississippi State true freshman QB to throw for 336 despite the fact he didn’t have a running game to help him. They also need to be thinking what’s going to happen to D’Wan Mathis and Carson Beck. Is the transfer portal calling? Georgia is a 19.5-point road favorite to beat South Carolina. Next week: at South Carolina (2-6)
KENTUCKY (3-5): The Wildcats managed all of three points and 179 yards against Alabama. Terry Wilson ranks dead last as the worst QB in the SEC and if that’s not bad enough, the defense, which is supposed to be the team strength, has given up 916 yards and 98 points in the last two games. They get the Gators on the road next and they’re 24-point underdogs. Next week: at #6 FLORIDA (6-1)
LSU (3-3): The Tigers got a semblance of a running game going against Arkansas (148 yards) which was a big help to freshman QB TJ Finley, who threw for 271 yards and two TDs. The defense continues to be bad. LSU has not held a single opponent to fewer than 400 yards all season. Unless the Aggies sleepwalk on Saturday, they’ll probably pound LSU for at least 500 yards. LSU is a 12.5-point road dog. Next week: at #5 Texas A&M (5-1)
MISSISSIPPI STATE (2-5): Mississippi State did indeed lose to Georgia, 31-24, but Mike Leach thoroughly outcoached Kirby Smart. The Bulldogs, who have lost 18 players due to transfers and opting out, had only 49 scholarship players available plus walk-ons and yet they played Georgia with all its five-stars to a standstill. True freshman QB Will Rogers completed 41-52 passes for 336 yards and a TD against the Poodles. Mississippi State is a 12-point road dog at Ole Miss. Next week: at Ole Miss (3-4)
MISSOURI (3-3): HBC Eli Drinkwitz needs to figure out what went wrong in the second half before Arkansas comes to town. After a good first half against South Carolina in which they took a 17-0 lead and had 220 yards of offense, the Tigers punted five straight times and managed only 81 yards in the second half. Only an interception of a Luke Doty pass by Devin Nicholson with 2:37 left in the game preserved a 17-10 win for Mizzou. The Tigers are 1.5-point favorites to beat Arkansas. Next week: vs. Arkansas (3-5)
OLE MISS (3-4): It only took until the last third of the season, but the NCAA – in its infinite wisdom – has approved the waiver request of Georgia defensive back transfer Otis Reese. If there is good news for Reese it is that he can play in the final games of the season without it affecting his eligibility. He will still have two years. Ole Miss opens as a 12-point favorite over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Next week: vs. Mississippi State (2-5)
SOUTH CAROLINA (2-6): It only took Mike Bobo seven-and-a-half games to figure out Collin Hill can’t play QB in the SEC. Hill threw for 39 yards before true freshman Luke Doty relieved him in the second half. Doty completed 14-23 passes for 130 yards and helped himself with 11-59 running the ball as the Gamecocks made a game of it with Mizzou after falling behind 17-0 at the half with Hill running a pitiful offense. South Carolina is a 19.5-point home underdog to Georgia. Next week: vs. #13 Georgia (5-2)
TENNESSEE (2-5): The Vols have lost five in a row, all by at least 10 points, and Jeremy Pruitt is running out of satisfactory excuses to appease Tennessee fans who are ready to revolt. Pruitt is in way over his head but he’s not going anywhere. They’re still paying off Butch Jones and the athletic department is bleeding red ink by the gallons. How is it that Phattus Maximus gave Pruitt a raise and a contract extension? In what will likely be their final chance to win a game, the Vols are 10.5-point road favorites at Vanderbilt. Next week: at Vanderbilt (0-7)
#5 TEXAS A&M (5-1): The Aggies haven’t played since shellacking South Carolina 48-3 back on November 7. They need to run the table the rest of the way to stay in the discussion for an at-large bid for the College Football Playoff. The Aggies are 12.5-point favorites to take out LSU this weekend. Next week: vs. LSU (3-3)
VANDERBILT (0-7): The Commodores don’t have to go shopping for a quarterback. Freshman Kenny Seals followed up an outstanding performance against Kentucky by throwing for 319 yards and two touchdowns against the Gators. For the season, Seals is 153-230 for 1,610 yards and 10 touchdowns. Vandy will be a 10.5-point home underdog against Tennessee. Next week: vs. Tennessee (2-5)
TACKLE FOOTBALL NEWS FROM SOMEPLACE OTHER THAN THE SEC
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney on the cancellation of the Tigers game with Florida State, allegedly for virus concerns: “This game was not cancelled because of COVID. COVID was just an excuse to cancel the game. To be honest with you, I don’t think it has anything to do with their players. I have no doubt the players wanted to play and would have played. Same with the coaches. To me, the Florida State administration forfeited the game ... If they want to play Clemson, in my opinion, they need to come to Clemson or they need to pay for all expenses. Other than that, there’s no reason for us to play them. We were there, we were ready and we met the standard.” Tell us how you really feel, Dabo.
The Big Ten (Plus Four) had a bad day at the office. Ohio State (4-0) won but looked quite vulnerable doing it as Justin Fields completed three passes to Indiana. Wisconsin (2-1), which was highly overrated to begin with (10th) got whacked by Northwestern as the second coming at QB – Graham Mertz – took his cue from Fields and completed three passes to Northwestern (5-0) as part of a five-giveaway game. Penn State, which was in everybody’s top five in the preseason, is now 0-5 for the first time in school history after getting embarrassed by Iowa 41-21.
Liberty’s dream season came to an end against North Carolina State (5-3) when the Wolfpack blocked what would have been a game-winning field goal in the game’s final minute. Liberty is 8-1 now with games remaining against winless UMass and unbeaten and 16th-ranked Coastal Carolina (8-0).
SOME MONDAY PITHINESS: ESPN college football analyst Rod Gilmore is the Perry Como of announcing. He could cure insomnia … I’m not sure what we did to be so lucky, but Beth Mowins hasn’t been on the play-by-play for a single SEC game this season … The NCAA gave Alabama a 3-year probation for basketball after infractions revealed in the basketball corruption trials. Auburn, trying to avoid harsh penalties, has imposed a postseason ban for the upcoming season. Expect the NCAA to dole out something more severe.