A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning:
Barring a few players testing positive for Covid-19 between now and Saturday, it is expected Dan Mullen will have a full roster, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, for the first time Saturday in Jacksonville when 8th-ranked Florida (3-1) takes on 5th-ranked Georgia (4-1). That’s quite a contrast to Georgia, which hasn’t lost a single player to the virus so far this season, but has been hit with a string of injuries, most of them on the defensive side.
Lost in the groans about the Gators inability to get defensive stops in three of the first four games was how many key players missed games because of injury or suspensions. There are no injuries heading into Saturday’s game and the players who missed last week’s win over Missouri are all expected back for Georgia. Against Missouri last week, the Gators had their best defensive effort of the season, holding the Tigers to 248 total yards and 17 points and that was with three starters missing.
Can the Gators repeat that effort against a Georgia team that runs the ball well (175.2 yards per game) but has sputtered in the last six quarters (second half against Alabama, all four quarters against Kentucky) throwing it? Since throwing for 177 first half yards against Alabama, Georgia has a combined 223 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions.
Over on the other side, the Georgia defense will be missing both starting tackles (Julian Rochester and Jordan Davis) along with All-American safety Richard LeCounte. Starting safety Lewis Cine is banged up with a sprained ankle but he’s expected to play while linebacker Quay Walker should play even though he suffered a neck injury against Kentucky. Defensive back Dominique Stevenson also left the Kentucky game with an undisclosed injury. On the offensive side of the ball, starting left guard Ben Cleveland is expected to play even though he was hurt against Kentucky. Wide receiver George Pickens (upper body) and running back Kenny McIntosh (knee) are possible.
The way Georgia has recruited the last three years Kirby Smart will be plugging in a former four- or five-star player into the lineup but can they make up for the experience? And can the Gators take advantage of a full, healthy roster for the first time this season?
Florida has a clear advantage offensively with Kyle Trask at quarterback, a veteran offensive line whose depth should be bolstered by the expected return of Ethan White, and playmakers such as tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receiver Kadarius Toney. Last year, despite no running game, Trask still threw for 257 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Trask (18 TDPs this year) and Pitts (7 TD catches this year) connected on four passes for 78 yards last year. The Georgia game was Toney’s first game back from injury last year. He only touched the ball once for no gain. Toney has caught 22 passes for 297 yards and six touchdowns this season while rushing for 83 yards and a TD on eight carries.
The Gators can score points, even on a team that’s at full strength. Saturday they will have a chance to take advantage of inexperienced players filling in for key starters. That leaves the defense needing to make some stops. With Kyree Campbell at the nose tackle for the second straight game and the threesome of Marco Wilson, Shawn Davis and Donovan Stiner back from the virus, Florida’s defense will be in better shape than at any time this season. It’s going to take a concerted effort to give the Gators their first win over Georgia since 2016.
RUMBLING, STUMBLING, BUMBLING IN THE SEC
Who’s hot and who’s not for Saturday’s games:
ARKANSAS (2-3): For Arkansas to beat Tennessee, QB Feleipe Franks will need to have a big game against a UT secondary that is giving up 254 yards per game, 67.1% completions and 8.9 yards per attempt. Franks is completing 66% of his passes, 7.6 yards per completion and 243.2 yards per game. Franks (11 TDPs) threw two interceptions in game one against Georgia but he’s thrown only one in the four games since.
#5 GEORGIA (4-1): Georgia is allowing only 80 yards per game on the ground but with defensive tackles Julian Rochester and Jordan Davis out Saturday that could be a problem against Florida, which is coming off a 169-yard game against a Missouri team that held Kentucky to just 95 yards the week before. A year ago, Georgia held the Gators to 21 yards in 19 attempts. In its last two games, Georgia has allowed 147 rushing yards to Alabama and 138 to Kentucky.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-4): As of Tuesday, Mike Leach still hadn’t decided who’s going to start at quarterback against Vanderbilt: grad transfer K.J. Costello or true freshman Will Rogers. Costello had to leave last week’s Alabama loss with a head injury so his status is up in the air. Rogers finished up the Alabama game, throwing for 147 yards and two interceptions.
SOUTH CAROLINA (2-3): Although Will Muschamp says QB Collin Hill gives the Gamecocks their best chance to win, Hill is a statue in the pocket and his lack of mobility – he’s been sacked 16 times in five games – makes him a liability. That’s why mobile freshman QB Luke Doty could be inserted into Saturday’s game with Texas A&M.
TENNESSEE (2-3): How long will HBC Jeremy Pruitt stick with QB Jarrett Guarantano Saturday at Arkansas? Guarantano has taken nearly all the snaps for the Vols so far this season, but his productivity (914 passing yards, 6.8 per attempt, just six TDPs) has been underwhelming. During the open date last week Pruitt tried to give backups Brian Mauer, Harrison Bailey and JT Shrout plenty of reps. The Vols have lost three in a row and the offense has produced 803 total yards and 45 points in those games. For the season, Tennessee is averaging just 22.2 points and 323.8 yards per game.
#7 TEXAS A&M (4-1): Ever since being held to 115 rushing yards by Alabama in game two, the Aggies have responded with 573 yards combined in the last three games. Sophomore Isaiah Spiller has 370 of those yards with five touchdowns. For the season he’s run for 512 yards for 6.02 per carry.
VANDERBILT (0-4): As if the Commodores need more bad luck, they will be without two starters Saturday in what looks like their one chance to avoid doing a reverse run of the table when they take the trip to Starkville Saturday afternoon. The biggest hit is running back Ja’Veon Marlow, who ran for 83 yards in the Commodores’ loss to LSU a few weeks back. Marlow, who leads the team with 148 rushing yards, has been suspended for a violation of team rules. Defensive back Donovan Kaufman will miss the game for what is being deemed a “medical related issue.” Kaufman has been in on 15 tackles with one pass breakup.
DUMB, DUMBER AND DUMBEST
DUMB: These are the people who declared Jamie Newman a legitimate Heisman threat and the best quarterback in the Southeastern Conference before he ever played a game. Newman did well going against bad to average defenses in the Always Climpson Conference, but when he had to face Climpson, he looked bad. Really bad. Fast forward to August when Newman decided to opt out for 2020, presumably because of Covid-19, but there are serious doubts. Was it the virus or did he struggle mightily against SEC defensive backs who are equal to or better than those who dumbfounded him at Climpson last year? Was he being outperformed in practice by the likes of Stetson Bennett IV, D’Wan Mathis and freshman Carson Beck? Either way, Georgia’s QB situation is a real concern right now for Poodle fans, particularly when they see what’s going on at Ohio State where Justin Fields seems to be in a white knuckles race with Trevor Lawrence for the Heisman Trophy. Is Kirby Smart to quarterbacks what the cross was to Dracula?
DUMBER: Those are the people who predicted freshman QB Bryce Young would supplant Mac Jones as Alabama’s quarterback. Maybe they didn’t see Jones last season when he took over the Bama offense following the injury to Tua Tagovailoa. Nobody throws a better deep ball than Jones, who was a mere 3-star recruit. Through six games, Jones is completing 78.5% of his passes, which is remarkable considering the number of deep balls he throws every game. He’s averaging 12.4 yards per ATTEMPT and has 16 touchdowns against only two picks. Young, meanwhile, only gets in games when it’s a blowout. He’s 8-15 for 84 yards and no touchdowns and his six rushing attempts have netted zero yards. A real question: What will Mac Jones do at the end of this season? If he bolts for the NFL, then Young sticks around. If he stays, will Young spend another year as a backup or enter the transfer portal knowing that the rules are going to change so he will be immediately eligible wherever he decides to go? If you’re prone to wager on such things, bet the farm he transfers if Jones comes back although right now most mock drafts have Jones going in the first round, perhaps among the first ten players selected.
DUMBEST: In case you haven’t been paying close attention, Wisconsin’s game with Purdon’t has been cancelled due to the number of positive Covid-19 cases in the Wisconsin program. All football activities remain on hold and next week’s road trip to Michigan is in serious jeopardy. Thanks to the ultimate stupidity of the Big Ten presidents and rookie commissioner Kevin Warren, there is no possibility for a makeup date either for this game or last week’s game with Nebraska. So far, the virus has only affected Wisconsin, but what happens if some of the other more highly regarded programs start losing games? The potential for further chaos just goes to show how the league completely overestimated its importance in the grand scheme of things. Not only did the Big Ten think everyone would follow their lead when they elected to cancel the fall season but they didn’t add any wiggle room to account for postponements when they started up a couple of weeks.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYED SOMEWHERE BEYOND THE SEC
Ohio U is a 2.5-point favorite to beat the Fighting Old Yellers (AKA Central Michigan) tonight in the season opener for both teams. You can catch that one on ESPN at 7 p.m.
BYU’s unbeaten season (7-0) and chance to crash the College Football Playoff could come to an end Friday night when the Cougars travel to Boise State (2-0). The Cougars are a rather slim 3-point favorite to win on the Smurf Turf.
The highlight game of the Pac-12’s first weekend of football will be Arizona State at Southern Cal. The game is scheduled for 12 noon Eastern Standard Time, which means 9 a.m. in Los Angeles. That means the players will eat breakfast at 5:30ish, get taped up sometime around 6:30 and then take the field to start warming up around 7:30. And here we are complaining when there is a 12 noon start in the SEC.
PITHY AT MIDWEEK: There are 11 schools implicated in the Federal probe into college basketball corruption that await their fate from the NCAA including SEC schools Alabama, Auburn, LSU and South Carolina. Writes Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated, “Despite ongoing major infractions cases, three of those four SEC schools have scored recruiting coups this month: Auburn got a commitment from national top-give prospect Jabari Smith; LSU received a commitment from top-50 prospect Alex Fudge; and Alabama beat out Auburn and others for top-15 prospect J.D. Davison, one of several recent power moves by the Crimson Tide. Compliant schools are still losing out on the recruiting trail to schools that have not yet paid a price for alleged violations.” This is another reason why the Power Five schools need to hurry up and leave the NCAA. The NCAA moves with all the speed of a turtle … Former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville won the US Senate seat for the state of Alabama by a wide margin over incumbent Doug Jones. Obviously a few University of Alabama fans voted for Tuberville unless there are that many Auburn fans registered to vote in the state … Arizona’s athletic department is eliminating 21 full time jobs along with some frozen positions as part of an effort to save $30 million. Arizona is expecting to lost at least $45 million this fiscal year. I wonder how many athletic departments are going to be teetering on the verge of bankruptcy by the time spring arrives.