Thoughts of the Day: October 13, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:

In the season opener against Ole Miss, the Gators held a 41-21 lead at the end of the third quarter and they stretched it to 44-21 just under three minutes into the fourth. Florida won the game 51-35. Against South Carolina, the Gators held a 38-14 lead with 4:44 remaining in the third quarter. Florida won the game 38-24. Last Saturday, the Gators held a 28-17 lead over Texas A&M with 9:38 left in the third quarter. They were outscored 24-10 the rest of the way and lost the game 41-38 on a last second field goal.

In all three games, Kyle Trask has lit up the opponents for the first three quarters. Trask has thrown 12 of his nation-leading 14 touchdown passes in quarters one through three. So why the lack of productivity in the fourth quarter?

Most fingers point to the defense, which is the most likely place to look since the Gators have been in a constant struggle to get stops. Against Texas A&M, the Gators forced only one punt and through three games, UF has only forced opponents to punt the football eight times. On the Aggies final drive to the game-winning field goal, they ate up the last 3:40 on the clock and the Gators seemed almost helpless to stop them.

A lack of hitting and contact in practice are among the culprits as to why the UF defense can’t get off the field. Injuries, suspensions and Covid-19 have kept a few players off the field and their absences have been felt. It has been suggested that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has become far too predictable and that it’s easy pickings for opponents who seem to know ahead of time where every hole and flaw is in Grantham’s schemes.

All those things certainly add up, but is there something more causing the late game collapses? Maybe a lack of leadership, there are no players like Jon Greenard and David Reese II, who were like coaches on the field? Perhaps a lack of conditioning, the result of several months in which Nick Savage wasn’t able to push the team in the weight room? A lack of a killer instinct to put opponents away?

Whatever the reason for the late game collapses, it is a disturbing trend. Some suggest Dan Mullen needs to run the football more to take time off the clock and give his defense rest. The Gators have snapped the ball for 183 offensive plays, throwing 57.9% of the time. Leading rusher Dameon Pierce (130 yards) has only 25 carries. Running the ball more and grinding out first downs would keep the defense off the field, but as logical as that seems why handicap Trask, Kyle Pitts and the rest of that Florida receiving corps? Still, Mullen might be forced to rein in his high-powered passing game in favor of pounding the ball a bit more if he can’t find an answer for the late game collapses.

Something has to give and give soon because one more loss and the Gators can all but kiss their championship hopes good-bye. They aren’t out of the championship race now, but they are hanging by a thread that will snap if they can’t find a cure for the fourth quarter woes.

RUMBLING, STUMBLING, BUMBLING IN THE SEC

#2 ALABAMA (3-0): Alabama ranks third in the country in total offense (560.3 yards per game), second in passing (385.0 per game) and first in scoring (51.0 points per game). The Crimson Tide have the nation’s leader in pass efficiency in Mac Jones, the leader in scoring in Najee Harris (10 rushing touchdowns) and the third leading receiver in Jaylen Waddle (132 yards per game). Saturday they will be going against Georgia, which ranks first in rushing defense (38.33 yards per game), second in total defense (236.7 per game) and fifth in scoring defense (12.3 points per game).

ARKANSAS (1-2): If the first three games are any indicator, then Feleipe Franks made the right decision when he transferred (graduate) to Arkansas. Franks is 61-94 passing for 730 yards (7.8 per attempt, which is more than he averaged at UF) with seven touchdown passes. He threw two picks against Georgia in game one but hasn’t thrown an interception since. Given the Ole Miss defense is the worst in the country, Feleipe could set a few Arkansas passing records Saturday.

#14 AUBURN (2-1): Former SMU and Arkansas head coach Chad Morris was supposed to be the guy who unleashed the potential in the Auburn offense. Through three games, the Tigers are averaging only 328.7 yards, just 6.2 yards per pass attempt and 4.18 per rush. The Tigers are 13th in the SEC in total offense. Only Kentucky and Vanderbilt average fewer yards per pass attempt.

#3 GEORGIA (3-0): Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com thinks Georgia’s defense is easily one of the best in the country. As for the offense, Fornelli says, “There’s no way Georgia can win a national title this season playing offense the way it is.” One key statistic that says plenty about the Georgia offense is yards per carry – 3.77 – which ranks eighth in the SEC (Florida is actually fourth at 4.8 per carry). Georgia ranks tenth in the league in yards per offensive play at 5.3.

KENTUCKY (1-2): The big question for the Wildcats is can they play a great defensive game for the second straight week? While holding Mississippi State to 295 total yards, the Wildcats picked off six passes including a pick six by linebacker Jordan Wright. The Wildcats rank fourth in the SEC in total defense, allowing 359.3 yards per game.

LSU (1-2): As bad as LSU’s defense has been (32 points per game, 494.7 yards allowed), the running game is even worse. In their 45-41 loss to Missouri, LSU had only one rushing yard at the half and finished the game with 49 yards on 20 attempts, an average of 2.45 yards per carry. For the season, LSU is averaging 3.22 yards per carry.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-2): Apparently, Mike Leach has been meeting with resistance from holdovers of previous coach Joe Moorhead. After losing to Kentucky, 24-2, Saturday night, Leach mentioned it might be time for a purge of some of the resistance. Monday, Leach said, “I think we do have some fence riders that are trying to decide if they’re going to commit to what everybody is doing here. Any time there’s a transition there are a certain number of guys who are going to do the wait and see thing.”

MISSOURI (1-2): Missouri’s shot at a two-game winning streak will have to wait as Saturday’s game with Vanderbilt has been postponed and tentatively rescheduled for December 12 due to quarantining of people in the Vanderbilt football program. Missouri’s next game is October 24 against Florida in Gainesville.

OLE MISS (1-2): Temple graduate transfer tight end Kenny Yeboah continues to make a huge impact with 15 catches for 355 yards (23.3 per catch) and four touchdowns. Against Alabama, Yeboah caught seven passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns. He has a touchdown catch in all three games.

SOUTH CAROLINA (1-2): The Gamecocks, who beat Vanderbilt, 41-7, in Nashville last Saturday are taking extra precautions now that 15 people associated with the Vandy football program have tested positive for Covid-19, forcing the postponement of the Commodores Saturday game at Missouri. A number of South Carolina players didn’t make the trip to Nashville although details for their absence haven’t been released.

#18 TENNESSEE (2-1): It will be interesting to see who Jeremy Pruitt rolls out at quarterback Saturday when the Vols play host to Kentucky. Jarrett Guarantano was terribly ineffective in the second half of last Saturday’s loss to Georgia (interception, two lost fumbles) and was sacked five times for 46 yards in losses but Pruitt says he gives the Vols the best chance to win. However, at a Sunday evening scrimmage, true freshman Harrison Bailey took every snap.

#11 TEXAS A&M (2-1): Caleb Chapman, who caught nine passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns against the Gators, is out for the season. Chapman injured his knee on his second touchdown catch, a 51-yarder from Kellen Mond.

VANDERBILT (0-3): Vanderbilt’s game with Missouri has been tentatively re-scheduled for December 12 due to Covid-19. Vandy has an open date on October 24 so the next game for the Commodores is October 31at home against Ole Miss.

THEY PLAY FOOTBALL OTHER PLACES BESIDE THE SEC

With all the uncertainty of the 2020 season and the financial impact being felt everywhere, there probably won’t be many coaching changes, but one coach who should be on everybody’s radar is UAB’s Bill Clark. The Blazers are 3-1 this season and a threat to win their division in Conference USA. Clark is 31-14 since UAB took a two-year sabbatical from the sport in 2015-16. He is in the final year of his contract that pays him $1.5 million so he’s a bargain and he’s a winner.

Texas fans are clamoring for Tom Herman’s head on a pike after a 2-2 start that essentially has the Longhorns out of the running for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Herman’s buyout is in the $20 million range and with Texas facing a serious budget shortfall (coaches salaries cut by 15%, staff layoffs) he will most likely be gainfully employed in Austin next season.

Chip Kelly is another coach whose job will be saved by the pandemic. Kelly, who is 7-17 in two seasons, makes $6 million a year with a $9 million buyout that UCLA can’t afford. Kelly said Monday the Bruins are switching to a 4-2-5 defense for the 7-game Pac-12 schedule. A year ago UCLA gave up 34.8 points per game.

The SEC isn’t the only league with officiating problems. The Big 12 admitted Monday that its officials gave Texas 39 extra seconds in the fourth quarter of the Longhorns 53-45 four overtime loss to Oklahoma. Although Texas didn’t score on the drive when the clock error happened, the Longhorns scored the TD that sent the game into overtime with just 14 seconds left in regulation.

Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated on the poor overall play of defenses throughout college football so far this season: “FBS teams are averaging 30.5 points per game, on pace to set the all-time record. Total offense is at 412 yards, which would be second highest in history. Passing yards per game (244.6) and yards per attempt (7.55) and completion percentage (.615) all are on record pace. Same for punts per game (4.4), which are on track for the fewest ever as coaches increasingly favor aggressive strategies.”

JOE MORGAN IS DEAD AND I DON’T FEEL SO GOOD MYSELF

Joe Morgan died Monday at the age of 77. I’ve been watching Major League Baseball avidly since the 1950s and Little Joe (5-7, 160 pounds) is the greatest second baseman I’ve ever seen. When Joe joined the Cincinnati Reds after a trade with the Houston Astros they became The Big Red Machine. He was the missing link that turned a really good team into a great one. Joe won the NL MVP in 1975-76, won five gold gloves, made the All-Star game 10 times and was a first ballot Hall of Famer. The Big Red Machine featured three Hall of Famers – Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez – plus the all-time hit king in Pete Rose and two of the greatest defensive players ever in Davey Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo.

IF IT’S TUESDAY, THEN I FEEL PITHY: With Dan Quinn fired, the smart move for the Atlanta Falcons for 2021 would be to hire Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy. The Falcons have weapons and Bienemy could rev up their offense. It is important to remember, however, this is the Atlanta Falcons we are talking about. Smart moves and the Falcons are like distant cousins … Martin Laird won a three-way playoff with Matthew Wolfe and Austin Cook to win the Shiners Hospital for Children Open in Las Vegas. All three finished 72 holes at 23-under part. I find golf more interesting when the course wins most of the time as in the US Open last month. Maybe that’s because the course always kneecaps me ... Former Gator Mike Zunino, hero of the Tampa Bay Rays Sunday win over the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series, hit a seventh inning homer Sunday as the Rays took a 2-0 lead. The Rays-Astros series is being played in San Diego rather than the Plastic Palace in St. Petersburg, hands down the worst stadium in the majors.

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