A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
The sky is not falling. The world is not coming to an end, at least it hadn’t at 12:01 a.m. Monday morning. It only seems that way and not just because the Florida Gators seem completely incapable of making a defensive play to get off the field on third down. Did you see what happened to LSU (Florida’s next foe) against Missouri? Did you see how Ole Miss lit up Alabama and the national pundits have been raving about the Alabama defense?
Traditionally, you can count on Florida, LSU and Alabama right at the top of the SEC defensive stats and typically they’re in the top 20 nationally. Right now, Alabama is 65th nationally (473 yards per game), LSU 71st (494.7) and Florida 72nd (495.0). In scoring defense, Alabama ranks 44th (30.6 points per game), LSU 51st (32.0) and Florida 58th (33.3).
A year ago, when the Gators had the 9th-ranked defense nationally (2nd in the SEC), there were nine SEC defenses ranked among the nation’s top 31. Alabama ranked 21st and LSU 31st.
So what happened? Did the coaches at Florida, Alabama and LSU forget how to coach? Not really. Did they lose key personnel from last year? All three of them did. Are some of the replacements not as good as the departed players? You could say that, too.
Maybe there is a better question such as are the offenses way ahead of the defenses in part because of the pandemic? The answer to that is absolutely. Defense is about hitting and tackling. Due to the pandemic very few teams are hitting and tackling in practice with the same frequency of a year ago. Even worse, there was very little hitting and tackling in the preseason. For example, let’s say you run a 4-3 and you have 12 scholarship D-linemen, eight of whom are veterans and four are freshmen. Due to the pandemic you can’t take the chance of an injury in practice because next week you might be without three or four due to the virus. A good example was Virginia Tech, which played and lost to North Carolina 56-45 down 15 players due to the virus. An already depleted secondary (down two starting safeties) lost its starting nickel to a targeting call in the first quarter. UNC scored eight touchdowns and rolled up 656 yards.
Offense is about patterns. You run to a certain place. You throw to a certain place. Blockers know who they’re supposed to block. Defense is more about reacting and making a play and that requires hitting and tackling practice.
Maybe that’s too simple an explanation for what has happened with the Florida Gators, who gave up 543 yards and 41 points in losing to Texas A&M Saturday, but LSU gave up 45 points and 586 yards in a loss to Missouri and Alabama gave up 643 yards and 48 points to Ole Miss. Florida fans want the head of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham on a pike outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. They have similar thoughts at LSU about Bo Pelini and at Alabama about Pete Golding.
If there is hope in the Florida situation it is that the bulk of the defensive players are in either their second or third year in Grantham’s scheme. They should – emphasis should – get better as the season progresses. If the Gators were to show significant improvement starting Saturday against LSU, the collective sigh of relief exhaled by UF fans would make Hurricane Delta seem like a light, early autumn breeze by comparison.
ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25 POLL
(1) Clemson 4-0; (2) Alabama 2-0; (3) Georgia 3-0; (4) Notre Dame 3-0; (5) North Carolina 3-0; (6) Ohio State 0-0; (7) Oklahoma State 3-0; (8) Cincinnati 3-0; (9) Penn State 0-0; (10) FLORIDA 2-1; (11) Texas A&M 2-1; (12) Oregon 0-0; (13) Miami 3-1; (14) Auburn 2-1; (15) BYU 4-0; (16) Wisconsin 0-0; (17) SMU 4-0; (18) Tennessee 2-1; (19) Michigan 0-0; (20) Iowa State 3-1; (21) Louisiana 3-0; (22) Kansas State 3-1; (23) Virginia Tech 3-1; (24) Minnesota 0-0; (25) Southern Cal 0-0
COACHES TOP 25 POLL
(1) Clemson 4-0; (2) Alabama 3-0; (3) Georgia 3-0; (4) Notre Dame 3-0; (5) Ohio State 0-0; (6) North Carolina 3-0; (7) Oklahoma State 3-0; (8) Penn State 0-0; (9) FLORIDA 2-1; (10) Cincinnati 3-0; (11) Texas A&M 2-1; (12) Miami 3-1; (13) BYU 4-0; (14) Auburn 2-1; (15) Wisconsin 0-0; (16) Oregon 0-0; (17) Tennessee 2-1; (18) SMU 4-0; (19) Michigan 0-0; (20) Iowa State 3-1; (21) Louisiana 3-0; (22) Kansas State 3-1; (23) Virginia Tech 2-1; (24) Southern Cal 0-0; (25) Minnesota 0-0
RUMBLING, STUMBLING, BUMBLING IN THE SEC
#2 ALABAMA (2-0): You have to go all the way back to 1936 to find the last time Alabama gave up 48 points in a football game. It’s highly doubtful there has ever been an Alabama team that has given up a combined 72 points and 1,097 offensive yards over a two-week stretch. Yet, that’s what Alabama has done the last two weeks. It helps, of course, that Alabama has scored 115 points and 1,277 yards in those two games. Alabama ranks third nationally in total offense (560.3 yards per game) and 65th nationally in total defense (473 yards per game). Next week: vs. #3 Georgia (3-0)
ARKANSAS (1-2): The SEC issued some absolutely non-sensical ruling to defend the zebras who absolutely blew it with 30 seconds remaining by calling an attempt by Auburn’s Bo Nix intentional grounding rather than a fumble. Nix was backing up after fumbling the snap, then clocked the ball behind him so it should have been a backwards pass (lateral) and a free ball which Arkansas recovered. Instead, the zebras called it intentional grounding and Anders Carlson was able to come into the game and kick the game winning field goal. Feleipe Franks (22-30, 318 yards, 4 TDPs, no picks) thoroughly outplayed Nix and deserved the win.
Next week: vs. Ole Miss (1-2)
#14 AUBURN (2-1): If he wasn’t already seriously concerned about Bo Nix prior to the Tigers’ 30-28 win over Arkansas, Gus Malzahn should be now. Nix has totally regressed from last season and isn’t nearly as efficient as he was as a true freshman. Auburn does have a real freshman bright spot in running back Tank Bigsby, who ran for 146 yards, caught four passes for 16 yards and ran back four kickoffs for 104 yards. Next week: at South Carolina (1-2)
#3 GEORGIA (3-0): This is a very good defense but are they really that good or is it a case of playing three mediocre offenses? Neither South Carolina, Missouri or Tennessee are all that good, but Georgia is playing at a very high level at a time when there are only a handful of defenses anywhere in the country playing well. This week the Poodles will find out just how good they are when they take on Alabama. It’s one thing to stop a Tennessee team quarterbacked by Jarrett Guarantano cold in its tracks but Alabama, Mac Jones, Najee Harris and those receivers? If the Poodles can do that, then they are very, very real. Next week: at #2 Alabama (3-0)
KENTUCKY (1-2): The Wildcats used the Arkansas blueprint against Mississippi State, dropped eight on nearly every play and finished the game with six interceptions while allowing MSU to average only 3.9 yards per pass attempt. Lucky for the Wildcats that the defense was playing well. They managed only 157 yards (73 passing, 84 rushing) of offense. At some point Mark Stoops is going to have to give Joey Gatewood a chance to get the offense going.
Next week: at #18 Tennessee (2-1)
LSU (1-2): At their current pace, the Tigers are going to be the worst defensive team in LSU history. They’re giving up 32 points and 494.7 yards per game. As bad as those numbers sound, things would be much, much worse if not for Vandy (7 points, 266 total yards) sandwiched between losses to Mississippi State and Missouri. LSU is giving up 380.7 passing yards per game which ranks 75th out of the 76 teams playing tackle football so far this fall.
Next week: at #10 FLORIDA (2-1)
MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-2): Wasn’t it just a week ago when K.J. Costello was being proclaimed as the perfect fit in Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense? No longer after the last two weeks when 114 launched passes have netted only 545 yards, a disastrous 4.78 yards per attempt. He’s thrown one TDP the last two games while completing seven passes (four Saturday) to the bad guys. Next week: vs. #11 Texas A&M (2-1)
MISSOURI (1-2): Excitement runneth over in ColMo where the Tigers are poised for a two-game winning streak when Vandy comes to town Saturday. Who would have ever thought that? The trigger man for such excitement is QB Conner Bazelac, who lit up LSU (29-46, 406 yards, 4 TDs, 0 picks). If Eli Drinkwitz can get the Tigers to three wins this season he might be SEC Coach of the Year. Next week: vs. Vanderbilt (0-3)
OLE MISS (1-2): Maybe the only way Ole Miss is going to win games is in a shootout. The defense is the worst in the country (641.3 yards and 51.7 points per game) but the offense is ridiculously good, ranking second in yards per game (573.0), fourth in passing yards (380.7), 24th in rushing yards (192.33) and 11th in scoring (41.7 points). If Lane Kiffin ever gets a defense, the Rebels are going to be scary good. Next week: at Arkansas (1-2)
SOUTH CAROLINA (1-2): Will Muschamp has found himself a running back in sophomore Kevin Harris, who has 326 yards through three games including 171 yards and two TDs against Vanderbilt. He has also caught nine passes for 65 yards and a TD. Next week: vs. #14 Auburn (2-1)
#18 TENNESSEE (2-1): The Vols are not ready for prime time as they showed in the second half against Georgia. They will never be ready for prime time as long as Jarrett Guarantano is the quarterback.
Next week: vs. Kentucky (1-2)
#11 TEXAS A&M (2-1): Kellen Mond threw for 338 yards and three TDPs against the Gators but the big story was running back Isaiah Spiller, who ran for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Spiller carried 20 times for 137 yards in the second half. Now you know why Jashaun Corbin transferred to Florida State.
Next week: at Mississippi State (1-2)
VANDERBILT (0-3): The Commodores can’t score and can’t stop anyone from scoring. Sounds like it’s business as usual at Vanderbilt even with a pandemic screwing up college football in every way possible. The Commodores have their one chance to win a game this week against Mizzou. Lose and oh-fer is inevitable. Next week: at Missouri (1-2)
HEISMAN HUNTING IN OCTOBER
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (1,140 passing yards, 9.8 per attempt, 10 TDPs and 0 INTs) is the front-runner and will continue to be, at least until Justin Fields (Ohio State) plays a game. A new name that is going to figure prominently in the Heisman race is Alabama QB Mac Jones, who has lit up three opponents for 1,101 yards while hitting 79.5% of his passes at an astonishing 13.3 yards per attempt. If anyone can break the quarterback stranglehold on the trophy it is Alabama running back Najee Harris, who has run for 347 yards (6.67 per attempt) and 10 touchdowns in three games while catching seven passes for 76 yards. Florida’s Kyle Trask leads the nation in touchdown passes (14) and he’s hitting 71.8% of his throws for 9.7 yards per attempt but he needs a couple of big games to stay firmly in the running.
THE (NOT SO) BIG 12 (MINUS TWO)
Now that Texas and Oklahoma each have two losses, the standard bearer for the Big 12 (Minus Two) is Oklahoma State, whose three wins are over Tulsa, West Virginia and Kansas. Not exactly overwhelming opposition which might explain why the Cowboys are ranked ninth in the nation in total defense. Iowa State and Kansas State each have just one loss, but it’s hard to take seriously teams that started their seasons with losses to a Sun Belt team (Iowa State lost to Louisiana while K-State lost to Arkansas State). Unless Oklahoma State runs the table you can all but bet the farm that no one from the Big 12 (Minus Two) makes the College Football Playoff.
PITHY THOUGHTS ON A MONDAY: The U is not back after that blowout loss to Climpson and you can scratch D’Eriq King as a Heisman candidate. The Himmicanes managed just 210 yards of offense … Florida State is going to be fortunate to win two games. Next blowout loss for the Seminoles will be Saturday against UNC … Hugh Freeze is 4-0 with Liberty. My guess is that he will be the next head coach at Southern Miss. Imagine this: a state with Lane Kiffin, Mike Leach, Deion Sanders and Hugh Freeze all as head coaches.