A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
In the two games since the Gators lost 41-38 to Texas A&M on the last play of the game, Florida’s beleaguered defense has allowed a combined 525 yards on 121 offensive snaps, an average of 4.33 yards per play. In the three games prior to wins over Missouri and then 5th-ranked Georgia, the Gators gave up 1,485 yards on 235 snaps, an average of 6.32 yards per play.
The defensive improvement is dramatic, not only because it has kept the 6th-ranked Gators (4-1) from winning games in shootout fashion. In the Gators’ 44-28 win over Georgia Saturday, they gave up 136 yards and two touchdowns on the first seven plays of the game but settled down afterward to allow just 141 yards on 51 plays, an average of 2.76 yards per play. The Gators gave up 112 passing yards on 29 attempts and 165 rushing yards, also on 29 attempts.
Georgia had 92 of its 165 rushing yards on its first four attempts of the game, one of which was a 75-yard TD run on the game’s first play. Georgia picked up 45 of its 112 passing yards on the second series. From that point on, Georgia averaged just 2.48 yards per pass attempt, which is dramatic considering Ole Miss was good for 13.4 per attempt and the Aggies 9.4.
The defense remains a work in progress, but the Gators are starting to play up to their talent level in part because coordinator Todd Grantham finally has pretty much all of his roster to work with. Perhaps the most important piece of the equation was getting nose tackle Kyree Campbell back, which allowed Zachary Carter to move outside instead of trying to make a go of it inside. Carter, who missed the first half of the Georgia game, didn’t have a single tackle but was credited with five of Florida’s seven pressures on the QB (the Gators also finished with three sacks). The Gators also picked off three passes, their first interceptions since freshman Gervon Dexter got one off a deflection in the Ole Miss game.
It is worth mentioning that during the two weeks off due to Covid-19, Grantham and his assistants simplified the defense. The Gators are relying more on instinct and reaction instead of complicated reads. There are still some glitches that will have to be worked through but the improvement the last two weeks tells us Florida is well on its way toward becoming a complete team.
ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25 POLL
(1) Alabama 6-0; (2) Notre Dame 7-0; (3) Ohio State 3-0; (4) Clemson 7-1; (5) Texas A&M 5-1; (6) FLORIDA 4-1; (7) Cincinnati 6-0; (8) BYU 8-0; (9) Miami 6-1; (10) Indiana 3-0; (11) Oregon 1-0; (12) Georgia 4-2; (13) Wisconsin 1-0; (14) Oklahoma State 5-1; (16) Coastal Carolina 7-0; (17) Marshall 6-0; (18) Oklahoma 5-2; (19) SMU 7-1; (20) Southern Cal 1-0; (21) Texas 5-2; (22) Liberty 7-0; (23) Northwestern 3-0; (24) Auburn 4-2; (25) Louisiana-Lafayette 6-1
COACHES TOP 25 POLL
(1) Alabama 6-0; (2) Notre Dame 6-0; (3) Ohio State 3-0; (4) Clemson 7-1; (5) FLORIDA 4-1; (6) Texas A&M 5-1; (7) Cincinnati 6-0; (8) BYU 8-0; (9) Miami 6-1; (10) Indiana 3-0; (11) Georgia 4-2; (12) Oregon 1-0; (13) Oklahoma State 5-1; (14) Wisconsin 1-0; (15) Marshall 6-0; (16) Iowa State 5-2; (17) Coastal Carolina 7-0; (18) Oklahoma 5-2; (19) SMU 7-1; (20) Southern Cal 1-0; (21) Auburn 4-2; (22) Liberty 7-0; (23) Northwestern 3-0; (24) Texas 5-2; (25) Army 6-1
RUMBLING, STUMBLING, BUMBLING IN THE SEC
#1 ALABAMA (6-0): By ascending to #1 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, Alabama extended its record to 13 consecutive seasons in which the Crimson Tide has been ranked #1 for at least one week. Alabama received 59 out of 62 first place votes while Notre Dame had two and Ohio State one. In the Coaches poll, Alabama is also #1 after receiving 55 of the 62 votes. Next week: at LSU (2-3)
ARKANSAS (3-3): Feleipe Franks set the stage for a homecoming at the University of Florida by throwing for three third quarter touchdowns to lead the Razorbacks to a 24-13 win over Tennessee. Through six games, Franks has thrown for 1,428 yards and 14 touchdowns against only three interceptions while leading Arkansas to a most improbable 3-3 record. The Hogs are 16.5-point underdogs against Florida. Next week: at #6 FLORIDA (4-1)
#24 AUBURN (4-2): With the offense coming around (83 points combined in the last two games) there is optimism for a strong finish. The Tigers will be heavy favorites to win the next two games (Mississippi State, Tennessee) then they close out with (at) #1 Alabama and #6 Texas A&M. Win one of those two and Gus Malzahn is safe for next year. Win both of them and the Auburn fan base will be in love with him again. Auburn is a 13.5-point favorite to beat Mississippi State.
Next week: at Mississippi State (2-4)
#12 GEORGIA (4-2): Georgia has lost two football games and its chances to make the College Football Playoff are basically below the green grass that grows over the septic tank. And why is that? It’s because Kirby Smart gave the keys to the Cadillac to the cabana boy, as in Stetson Bennett IV. Since Smart took over the Georgia program, he’s run Jacob Eason and Justin Fields out of the program in favor of a game manager in Jake Fromm (State Farm). Bennett is a game manager also, although not nearly as talented as Fromm. Georgia fans have to be asking if Kirby is smart enough to figure out that he’s not going to win championships without a dynamic playmaker at QB and without an offense designed to eat up huge chunks of yardage in the passing game. Next week: at Missouri (2-3)
KENTUCKY (2-4): The Wildcats have lost four in a row and they have the worst passing game in the SEC (118.5 yards per game, which is also 117th out of the 123 teams that have played a game so far). The Wildcats are coming off a bye week and if they weren’t able to do something to juice up their passing game the last four games are going to be very boring against a very bad Vandy team. Kentucky is a 17.5-point favorite to beat Vanderbilt Saturday. Next week: vs. Vanderbilt (0-5)
LSU (2-3): In a season already gone south, LSU fans got another dose of bad news last week when Coach O announced that Myles Brennan is “very doubtful” for Saturday’s game with #1 Alabama. If Brennan doesn’t heal in a hurry the Tigers will have to go with true freshman TJ Finley, who is coming off a two-interception performance in the Tigers’ 48-11 loss to Auburn. LSU is a 22.5-point home underdog to Alabama. Next week: vs. #1 Alabama (6-0)
MISSISSIPPI STATE (2-4): The Bulldogs were outgained 478-204 and managed -22 on the ground, yet they avoided their fifth straight loss because they picked off three Vanderbilt passes and recovered two fumbles. Freshman QB Will Rogers threw for 226 yards, averaging 4.9 per attempt against Vandy’s rush three, drop eight defensive scheme. MSU will be an underdog in the four remaining games on its schedule. Next week: vs. #24 Auburn (2-4)
MISSOURI (2-3): Catching Georgia the week after a big loss to Florida and dealing with all sorts of injuries makes Saturday’s game intriguing. Mizzou can throw the ball all over the yard (see LSU, 406 yards) and they have done a decent job protecting QB Connor Bazelac. Can they load the box, dare Georgia to throw and get away with it? The Tigers are a 12.5-point home dog against Georgia. Next week: vs. #11 Georgia (4-2)
OLE MISS (2-4): Lane Kiffin has to be salivating at the thought of going against a South Carolina defense that has given up a combined 100 points in its last two games. Kiffin’s offense ranks fifth nationally in yards per game (541), 16th in passing (325.3 yards), 18th in scoring (38 points) and 22nd in rushing (215.67 yards). Matt Corral is hitting 71.7% of the passes he completes to his own team with 18 TDPs. Next week: vs. South Carolina (2-4)
SOUTH CAROLINA (2-4): It’s taken long enough but South Carolina has opened up its quarterback competition. Collin Hill did indeed play QB for South Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Bobo when the two were at Colorado State, but he’s been largely ineffective at South Carolina. He hasn’t been very accurate, he’s too quick to go to a dump off receiver and he’s been sacked 18 times, which ranks 100th in Division I. Last year’s starter Ryan Hilinski and true freshman Luke Doty will get a chance. If they aren’t better than Hill it will be a long last four games. Next week: at Ole Miss (2-4)
TENNESSEE (2-4): Jeremy Pruitt on what he told the Vols after their loss to Arkansas – “I told them I’m not discouraged, I’m not disappointed with where we’re at. I’m pissed off where we’re at, obviously.” Now imagine where Tennessee fans are with Pruitt. They’re starting to ask what the hell were we thinking when we ran Butch Jones off? And, they’re starting to think Phil Fulmer as the AD is a complete and total disaster. The Vols are 12.5-point home underdogs to Texas A&M Saturday. Next week: vs. #5 Texas A&M (5-1)
#5 TEXAS A&M (5-1): Ever since the Alabama game, Kellen Mond has been playing at a very high level with 13 touchdown passes and only one interception. He has to play well in the last four games if the Aggies are to stand a chance of making the College Football Playoff as an at large team. They will be favored in the next three games. The only one that seems a bit iffy at this point is the final game at #21 Auburn. Next week: at Tennessee (2-4)
VANDERBILT (0-5): The Commodores quest to avoid a reverse run of the 2020 table was shot in the foot (several times) by turnovers that negated the best offensive output of the season. Turnovers led to two Mississippi State touchdowns and a fourth-and-two gamble at midfield gave the Bulldogs a short field that led to a field goal. The Commodores will be favored to lose Next week: at Kentucky (2-4)
TACKLE FOOTBALL PLAYED SOMEPLACE OTHER THAN THE SEC
The inappropriately named Big Ten (14 teams so how is it the Big Ten) should be renamed Ohio State and the 13 Dwarfs. Penn State (0-3) and Michigan (1-2) were supposed to be right there with the Buckeyes for the league title but both are going to struggle to break even. Paul Finebaum says that Jim Harbaugh and Michigan will be parting ways after this season. The folks at Penn State aren’t exactly enamored with James Franklin, either. Both Harbaugh and Franklin knock down $8 million a year so fans expect to get a few more bangs for their bucks.
The Fighting Flames are 7-0 after knocking off their second Power Five team. Hugh Freeze has Liberty on the verge of an unbeaten season. Standing in the way are a North Carolina State team that can run up points but can’t stop anyone and unbeaten (7-0) Coastal Carolina in the final game of the season. Freeze left Ole Miss under the cloud of NCAA suspicion (he was never implicated but the school took a hit), made worse by less than flattering revelations about his personal life. Freeze might be considered damaged goods but he’s 15-5 at Liberty and they’re paying him a cool $2.5 million
Illinois punted on fourth-and-goal Saturday in its 41-14 loss to Minnesota. Here is how that happened. On second-and-goal from the Minnesota 10, there was a 23-yard loss by Illinois QB Coran Taylor, who then threw incomplete on third down. So on fourth-and-goal from the Minnesota 48, Illinois punted with a fair catch call at the 11. It’s that kind of season for Lovie Smith, who probably will keep his job even with a winless season because Illinois can’t afford to pay him off.
Utah State (0-3) is in the market for a new head coach. Gary Andersen, who went 7-6 last year, was fired Saturday night after three losses by a 114-29 deficit. Andersen was making $1.2 million.
FEELING PITHY ON MONDAY: Bill France has to be rolling over in his grave. NASCAR held its championship (won by Chase Elliott) Sunday in Phoenix, Arizona, which was a slap in the face of a fan base rooted in the south. When it comes to the races that decide the championship, they need to be held in Daytona, Charlotte, Talladega or Darlington. No place else. You don’t take the championship away you’re your grass roots support. Phoenix? That’s just dumber than dumb … It’s Masters Week. Fortunately, it’s always played at Augusta National and there isn’t anyone dumb enough to move the tournament somewhere else. NASCAR should take note … The warmup for the Masters was played at Houston this weekend, a tournament won by Danny Ortiz, the first Mexican to win a PGA event in 42 years. There were people in the gallery in Houston, something we won’t see in Augusta … Tua Tagovailoa led the Miami Dolphins to a 34-31 come-from-behind win over the Arizona Cardinals in just his second start as an NFL quarterback.