DOES THIS SEEM LIKE 2006 ALL OVER AGAIN?
Until the Gators knocked off Auburn, 24-13, last Saturday, nobody at the major media outlets seemed all that impressed with Florida. General consensus was the Gators were overrated and the only reason they had a top ten ranking (they were 10th prior to the Auburn game) was because they played in the SEC. Auburn, it was thought, would win the game and forever end the fallacy that the Gators belonged.
Well, as we all know now, a funny thing happened on the way to the freefall from the top ten predicted by so many of Florida's critics. Florida's defense neutered the Auburn offense and made Bo Nix look every bit like the true freshman he is. Over on offense, the Gators should have scored at least two or three more touchdowns but a serious case of self-flagellation prevented what could have been a win of blowout proportions.
Maybe the critics weren't completely impressed, but quite frankly, Dan Mullen couldn't care less what they think. At his Monday press conference Mullen stated, “The biggest, most important factor to me is making sure we win the game. If we win the game 3-2 or we win the game 49-48, we're winning.”
When Mullen made that “just win, baby” statement Monday, it was difficult not to think back to the grind that was 2006. The Gators went 13-1 but that national championship was won by a defense that bludgeoned opponents into submission and an offense that spent an entire season searching for consistency. Five wins were by seven or fewer points including a 21-20 win at Tennessee and a 17-16 win over South Carolina that required two blocked field goals in the fourth quarter to pull off. There was a six-point win over Vanderbilt and there were seven-point wins over Georgia and Florida State. The Gators outslugged LSU, 23-10, and the 28-13 win over Alabama was white knuckles until Reggie Nelson's fourth quarter pick six provided the final margin of victory. The lone loss to Auburn is all the proof you need that the offense was wildly inconsistent. Auburn won the game, 27-17, without scoring an offensive touchdown.
It was the lack of blowout wins that made Florida a controversial choice to play Ohio State in the BCS national championship game in Glendale, Arizona. Ohio State had only one close call all season, which had some folks comparing the Buckeyes to 1995 Nebraska as perhaps the greatest of all time. That is, until the Buckeyes met up with Florida, whose 41-14 win win probably the only game against a quality opponent that the Gators scored style points on both sides of the ball.
So here we are 13 years later and halfway through the season the Gators are unbeaten, ranked seventh nationally and college football's impersonation of Rodney Dangerfield (They still don't get any respect!). With the exception of one or two competitive games, the six teams ranked ahead of the Gators are plundering and pillaging anything and everyone that gets in their way. Ranked teams 1-6 are getting a lot of style points by scoring so many points while the Gators are playing great defense and getting just enough offense to win.
The way the Gators are winning makes this feel so much like a rewind of the 2006 season.
No matter how the Gators are winning, fact is they're winning and that is all that matters. As much as Mullen enjoys putting a blowtorch to an opponent for a 40-point win, he understands the single most important concept of football – the object of the game is to win and it doesn't matter if it's by one or 101 points. Just do whatever it takes and leave the ball yard each Saturday with another notch in the W column.
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF
#1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC): Center Chris Owens was described by HBC Nick Saban as “very questionable” for Saturday's game with Texas A&M. That means Landon Dickerson is almost certain to get the start at center with Deonte Brown moving into Dickerson's right guard slot. Saturday: at #25 Texas A&M (3-2, 1-1 SEC)
Arkansas (2-3, 0-2 SEC): Center Ty Clary will be ready to go Saturday against Kentucky, but it's still day-to-day for left tackle Colton Jackson. Wide receiver Jordan Jones is also day-to-day. Saturday: at Kentucky (2-3, 0-3 SEC)
#12 Auburn (5-1, 2-1 SEC): With Boobee Whitlow done for at least 5-6 weeks, Kam Martin (34-171 rushing, two touchdowns) will get the first crack as the #1 running back. Gus Malzahn will make a decision between freshmen DJ Williams and Harold Joiner which one is the primary backup to Martin. Saturday: Open
#3 Georgia (5-0, 2-0 SEC): One of the reasons QB Jake Fromm is completing 77.5% of his passes this season has everything to do with protection. Through five games, Fromm has only been sacked once. Saturday: vs. South Carolina 2-3, 1-2 SEC)
Kentucky (2-3, 0-3 SEC): Neither HBC Mark Stoops or offensive coordinator Eddie Gran would say who will start at quarterback against Arkansas although it is anticipated that Sawyer Smith will get the call. Saturday: vs. Arkansas (2-3, 0-2 SEC)
#6 LSU (5-0, 2-0 SEC): Stud freshman corner Derek Stingley was not seen at LSU's Wednesday practice. No report as of yet if Stingley is injured or had some other reason to miss practice. Stingley leads the SEC in pass breakups with eight and has two interceptions, tops on the team. Saturday: vs. #7 FLORIDA (6-0, 3-0 SEC)
Mississippi State (3-2, 1-1 SEC): HBC Joe Moorhead still won't say who he's going to start at quarterback Saturday at Tennessee. Who starts or even who plays might have something to do with who's the healthiest between grad transfer Tommy Stevens and true freshman Garrett Shrader. Saturday: at Tennessee (1-4, 0-2 SEC)
Missouri (4-1, 1-0 SEC): Kelly Bryant (knee) says he's 90% for Saturday's game with Ole Miss. If for some reason Bryant can't start or has to leave the game, backup QB Taylor Powell would take over. He completed 6-8 passes for 57 yards in the second half of the Tigers' win over Troy last week. Saturday: vs. Ole Miss (3-3, 2-1 SEC)
Ole Miss (3-3, 2-1 SEC): If Ole Miss wants to keep the football out of the hands of Kelly Bryant and that explosive Mizzou offense then the Rebels might go the ball control route Saturday, which would likely mean freshman John Rhys Plumlee would get the start at QB over Matt Corrall. Since stepping in after Corrall got hurt against California, Plumlee has run for 327 yards and two touchdowns. As a team Ole Miss averages 234.33 rushing yards per game. Saturday: at Missouri (4-1, 1-0 SEC)
South Carolina (2-3, 1-2 SEC): Asked on the SEC Coaches Teleconference what sets Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm apart, Will Muschamp said, “His overall command of what they do, he is an extension of what they want done as coaches.” Saturday: at #3 Georgia (5-0, 2-0 SEC)
Tennessee (1-4, 0-2 SEC): For the Vols to have a chance to spring the upset on Mississippi State Saturday they'll need to exploit the Bulldogs' porous pass defense, which is giving up 234.4 yards per game and 8.1 yards per pass attempt. Freshman Brian Maurer, who threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia, will get the start at QB … Senior wide receiver Brandon Johnson will take a redshirt the rest of the season. In the four games he has played, Johnson has caught two passes for 31 yards. Saturday: vs. Mississippi State (3-2, 1-1 SEC)
#25 Texas A&M (3-2, 1-1 SEC): A year ago the Aggies gave up 415 passing yards and four touchdowns to Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa. The Aggies gave up 253.2 passing yards per game in 2018. Tua will be facing a better Aggie secondary this year. Through five games A&M is allowing only 191.4 yards per game, which ranks 31st nationally. The 30th-ranked pass defense belongs to Alabama. Saturday: vs. #1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC)
Vanderbilt (1-4, 0-3 SEC): You could call UNLV the cure for Vandy's inept defensive unit. The Rebels are averaging just 15.3 points per game against Division I opponents and they haven't gained more than 340 yards against a Division I team. Vanderbilt's defense is giving up 503.6 yards and 37.4 points per game but that's against four Power Five teams, three of which belong to the SEC. Saturday: vs. UNLV (1-4)
GOOD QUOTES FOR THURSDAY
From Andy Staples of The Athletic on the interception of Auburn QB Bo Nix by Florida safety Shawn Davis last Saturday:
“Take the second-quarter interception by Gators safety Shawn Davis. Florida had four defenders at the line of scrimmage, but only three rushed. Linebacker Jeremiah Moon set the edge on the left side of the defense in case the back, who stayed in to protect Nix, leaked out into the flat. Auburn receiver Eli Stove ran a short hitch and began waving his hands more to draw the attention of defenders than to get Nix’s. The goal was to distract the Gators so Sal Cannella could sneak past on a wheel route. The problem for the Tigers? Greenard got just enough of an upfield rush to force Nix to climb in the pocket and reveal his target sooner than he wanted to. Florida linebacker James Houston was ready to pounce on Stove for no gain if the ball went that way. Florida safety Amari Burney bit on Stove’s ruse for a moment, but that only helped set the trap. Davis was playing a robber role, watching Nix the entire time. Nix, unfortunately, was not watching Davis. As soon as Nix released the ball, Davis broke and snagged it with one hand. How well did the Gators, especially Greenard and Davis, do their jobs on this play? They pressured the quarterback, covered every available receiving option and intercepted the pass with only 10 men on the field.”
From Stewart Mandel of The Athletic when asked to compare the situations of Auburn vs. Alabama and Michigan vs. Ohio State:
“But I can’t say the situations are completely similar, for two reasons. One: Auburn has still won a national title and played for another this decade. It’s been in three SEC championship games. Michigan has not won the Big Ten since 2004 and has not played for a national title since 1997. But also, the Wolverines have had more than just an Ohio State problem recently. They’re 3-8 against Michigan State since 2008 and 3-5 against Wisconsin since 2007. It would actually be more understandable if, like Ohio State in the ’90s, Michigan was having great seasons but just couldn’t get over its one dominant rival. But it’s also fallen behind programs that it consistently beats in recruiting.”
From Jason Whitlock on who's really behind the NBA controversy with China:
“The shoe companies like Nike and Addidas – they run American basketball from the high school level all the way to the pros. And, the shoe companies are dependent on the China market and that's where all of this is coming from."
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The St. Louis Cardinals made it to the National League Championship Series Wednesday with a 13-1 thumping of the Atlanta Braves to take that series 3-2 … Rutgers QB McLane Carter, who transferred in from Texas Tech, is retiring from football for health reasons. He suffered a concussion in the second game of the season and hasn't played since … The NFL has upheld the season-long suspension of Oakland Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Burfict appealed the suspension for a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit but the NFL denied the appeal … Cornerback Richard Sherman of the San Francisco 49ers had to walk back his claim that Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield refused to shake his hand at midfield before the Monday night coin toss. Video showed the two shaking hands, prompting Sherman to say “my bad” and promise to apologize to Mayfield … Hall of Fame basketball coach Jim Calhoun has been accused of sexual discrimination by former University of Saint Joseph associate athletic director Jaclyn Pisciteli. Pisciteli claims she was fired after complaining about Calhoun, the former UConn coach who now is the head coach at Saint Joseph … Rapper Snoop Dog is making no apologies whatsoever for his raunchy performance at Kansas Late Night this past Friday. On the Howard Stern Show, Mr. Dog said, “When you pay for Snoop Dog, you gonna get Snoop Dog.”