A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
South Carolina has this annoying habit of making the Gators sweat bullets. With the exception of South Carolina’s 36-14 win at The Swamp in 2010 and Florida’s 44-11 bushwhacking of the Gamecocks in 2012, most of the games have been white knuckles heading into the fourth quarter. A year ago the Gators trailed South Carolina 20-17 at the start of the fourth quarter before Kyle Trask caught fire to lead UF to a 38-27 win. The year before at The Swamp, the Gamecocks held a 31-14 lead with 4:41 left in the third quarter only to lose, 35-31 when Feleipe Franks scored on a 1-yard run late in the fourth to give the Gators a 35-31 win.
It’s for that reason why so many pundits think the 3rd-ranked Gators (1-0) might have their hands full Saturday at noon when they face South Carolina (0-1) at a Swamp with a maximum of 17,000 fans on hand. Florida is coming off an impressive offensive explosion against Ole Miss while South Carolina snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Tennessee. The Gators have plenty to lose while the 18-point underdog Gamecocks can play fast and loose since nobody is expecting them to play well.
While history might tell us to expect a close game, there is one distinct reason why Florida should blow the doors off South Carolina this year. In 2018, the Gators had lost two in a row when they faced South Carolina. Last season, the Gators faced South Carolina the week after a heart-throbbing loss to LSU in Baton Rouge. The Gators aren’t regrouping this week. Instead they are fully focused, pretty close to full strength after playing Ole Miss on the road a few key players down a week ago. There are no lingering after effects of a loss hanging over the Gators’ heads as there were the previous two seasons.
A year ago, Kyle Trask threw four touchdown passes against South Carolina including three in the fourth quarter. The four TDPs look good on paper but this was not one of Trask’s better games. The Trask we saw dissecting Ole Miss last week is head and shoulders better than the one who got a win in Columbia last year.
Of course, the Florida offense is head and shoulders better than last year. Although the Gators ran for 154 yards against South Carolina a year ago, 75 came on one touchdown burst by Dameon Pierce. So on Florida’s other 29 carries, the Gators averaged 2.72 yards per carry. Trask threw for 200 yards but averaged only 6.06 yards per attempt, which tells you most of his passes were of the dink and dunk variety. What we saw last week against Ole Miss was evidence that Trask and the Florida offense have evolved into one that is capable of exploding against any team on the schedule.
One reason for the evolution of the offense is a line that is bigger, stronger and faster than the unit that had so many struggles last year. As we saw last week against Ole Miss, they gave Trask time to find 11 different receivers for 416 yards and six touchdowns, four to tight end Kyle Pitts. Trask made it to nearly every Heisman Trophy watch list with his performance and Pitts became the instant favorite to walk away with the Mackey Award. Florida also ran the ball for 196 yards while averaging 6.76 yards per carry, which is phenomenal.
The defense played poorly last week, in part because of a distinct lack of hitting in practice and also because key players like nose tackle Kyree Campbell, outside linebacker Jeremiah Moon and safeties Brad Stewart and Shawn Davis (targeting call in the first quarter) were missing. Those four will be back this week so it should be a vastly improved effort. It should be. South Carolina’s offense isn’t nearly the challenge of Ole Miss and Gamecock QB Collin Hill lacks the mobility of Matt Corral. Whereas Corral could extend plays and pick up chunks of yardage with his feet, Hill has had three knee surgeries and isn’t going to frighten anyone when he takes off running. THE SAYER SAYS SOOTH: Nothing would lift the Gamecock faithful and their sagging opinion of HBC Will Muschamp more than a win over the Gators. Muschamp will have the Gamecocks playing over their heads but it isn’t going to help. South Carolina has a better defense than the one the Gators faced last week but the offense is Romper Room comparatively speaking. Look for a big day from Dameon Pierce in the running game to complement Trask going off for more than 300 yards. Florida 41, South Carolina 20
SOOTHSAYING IN THE SEC
#13 TEXAS A&M AT #2 ALABAMA: We have been waiting for three years for Kellen Mond to show on the field what everyone suspects on paper. So far he hasn’t exactly wowed the masses. Saturday he’s on the big stage in Tuscaloosa, coming off a game against a bad Vandy team in which he constantly overthrew open receivers even when he wasn’t under duress. He will be under duress Saturday. Mac Jones has a chance to enhance his reputation as a righthanded version of Kenny “The Snake” Stabler, the best deep ball thrower Alabama has ever had. If the Aggies try to take the deep ball away from Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith, then Najee Harris will chew them up on the ground. The Sayer Says Sooth: This is year three, the one that Jimbo Fisher has said will be The Year of the Aggie. Only one problem. He doesn’t have a QB or enough talent to beat Alabama on the road. Did you know Nick Saban has never lost to one of his former assistants? He won’t lose this week. Alabama 38, Texas A&M 17
#7 AUBURN (1-0) at #4 GEORGIA (1-0): If the Auburn offensive line can protect Bo Nix, the Tigers win this game. Here is why. The Tigers put Anthony Schwartz (legit 4.27 in the 40, 10.15 in the 100 meters) on one side and beastly Seth Williams (6-3, 224, 4.42 in the 40, 10.6 in the 100, 42 or more vertical) on the other. One, or both, of these guys is going to have a day of days if the Tigers can keep Nix upright. If Georgia goes zone and tries dropping seven into coverage, Auburn will dink it and let the clock help with the defense. It doesn’t matter who plays QB for Georgia. The offense will struggle to be efficient. Did you know 14 of the Bulldogs’ 37 points against Arkansas were absolute gifts? The Sayer Says Sooth: Auburn gets just enough running game and scrambling from Nix to keep the Georgia defense honest and Seth Williams will do things to the Georgia secondary that would put civilians in the big house doing hard time. The Sayer Says Sooth: Auburn 24, Georgia 20
ARKANSAS (0-1) at #16 MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-0): LSU, which has far better athletes than they have at Arkansas, gave up 44 points and a bazillion yards to The Pirate last week. About the only thing that may keep K.J. Costello from having a second straight 600-yard passing day will be Leach feeling sorry for Arkansas coach Sam Pittman, who is a very likeable guy. This is a game in which Kylin Hill could do a 100/100 day as in 100 yards rushing and 100 receiving. The Sayer Says Sooth: Feleipe Franks ran for his life last week against Georgia. While he was doing his feets don’t fail me now act, Mississippi State was sacking Myles Brennan seven times. The Bulldogs could exceed that total this week. Mississippi State 55, Arkansas 28
#20 LSU (0-1) at VANDERBILT (0-1): Isn’t it amazing what losing five first round draft picks, nine other draftees and two free agents to the NFL will do for you? LSU went from a team that could beat you every which way but loose to a team that had its head on a pike at Tiger Stadium by the time Mississippi State got through with the Tigers last week. Well, that was then and this is now. Even without Joe Burrow and all those other guys who play for pay and the guys that opted out of 2020, the Tigers have sufficiently more talent than Vanderbilt. There probably isn’t a single player on the Vandy roster that LSU even considered in the recruiting process. The Vandy folks are probably still glowing about their near miss to Texas A&M last week in Aggieland. They probably haven’t figured out that an Aggie team playing badly is still better than Vandy playing well. This will get ugly early. The Sayer Says Sooth: The Derek Mason Run the Table in Reverse Tour continues in Nashville. There won’t be anyone in the stands which will make Vanderbilt feel right at home. The only people who will watch this game on the SEC Network will be LSU fans. Everyone else will be watching Auburn-Georgia on ESPN. LSU 35, Vanderbilt 10
MISSOURI (0-1) at #21 TENNESSEE (1-0: The Vols won their season opener at South Carolina in spite of the fact they weren’t very good on either side of the ball. The Gamecocks gave that game away, but a win is a win is a win and Tennessee has won seven games in a row dating back to last season. Never mind the fact UT hasn’t beaten anyone that’s any good, they’re winning and Vol fans think they have a clear path to the College Football Playoff. Imagine getting there with Jarrett Guarantano at quarterback. Donkeys might fly first. As for Mizzou, their faithful are gushing because they scored 19 on Alabama. Of course, that was against the Bama second and third teamers that made the road trip. The Sayer Says Sooth: The Vols will make it eight wins in a row even though they won’t look great doing so and their faithful will start doing their best UCF impersonations by declaring UT the best team in the Southeastern Conference. Tennessee 30, Missouri 14
OLE MISS (0-1) at KENTUCKY (0-1): This might be the most entertaining game in the SEC this weekend. Ole Miss has the ability to light up nearly every team in the league but its defense plays as if under Covid-19 distancing protocols. Kentucky needs better play out of quarterback Terry Wilson, better play calling out of Eddie Gran and better pass defense, particularly if Matt Corral is slinging it all over the ball yard like he was last weekend against the Gators. For Ole Miss to win, this has to be a shootout. For Kentucky to win, the Wildcats need to pound the rock between the tackles and play defense with their offense by taking time off the clock. Ole Miss can’t score if Kentucky is moving the chains. The Sayer Says Sooth: The Lane Train is going to be fun to watch this season. As bad as that defense is, Lane Kiffin is one of the most gifted play callers in all of college football and he has weapons to work with. Kentucky has to win games running the football and playing defense. The Wildcats are not a team built to play from behind so if Ole Miss breaks out ahead, it might be a long evening in Lexington for the UK faithful. Ole Miss 38, Kentucky 30.
FEELING PITHY ON A FRIDAY: Think of what happened with Demarcus Bowman as a window shopping expedition. The 5-star running back got up to Clemson, tried things on and then decided what they were selling he wasn’t buying. So two games into his foray up north, Bowman is in the NCAA transfer portal, determined to play close to his Lakeland home. Smart money is on the Gators, who recruited him hard out of high school. It doesn’t hurt that several of his former Lakeland buddies are Gators such as Fenley Graham, Lloyd Summerall III and Keon Zipperer as well as juco lineman Deyavie Hammond, who will be a Gator next year … The SEC approved the intra-conference transfers of Cade Mays (Georgia to Tennessee) and Joey Gatewood (Auburn to Kentucky). Still hanging in limbo is Ole Miss DB Otis Reese (from Georgia). This is just further proof we need to give every player a one-time free pass to transfer without restriction and with immediate eligibility. The NCAA could do something about it if Mark Emmert actually had a functioning brain … Not only has DB Clifford Chattman opted out of Texas A&M’s 2020 season, he’s also entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal. That’s six Aggies who have opted out. The magic pixie dust has worn off Jimbo. He might be fortunate to win five games … The Mountain West Conference announced its schedule that begins on October 24. Some of the teams will play eight conference games while Air Force will play six and Boise State and San Diego State will each play seven. This is what happens when a league allows the Big Ten to do its thinking instead of doing what is best for itself. If not for Pac-12 commish Larry Scott, Big Ten head man Kevin Warren would qualify as the worst conference commissioner in history.