A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
Another Saturday and no Florida football but there is hope on the horizon. The Gators will open up football operations on Monday with as they begin preparation for Missouri coming to Gainesville on October 31. The Gators will have to have the SEC minimum 53 players available for Mizzou but the hope is that UF will be somewhere close to full strength as reports indicate none of the players or coaches affected by Covid-19 are seriously ill.
The big questions for UF heading into Monday will be about conditioning and defense. With football ops shut down, nobody has been in the weight room or out on the practice field for the better part of two weeks. Conditioning seemed to be an issue particularly in the fourth quarters of the first three games. If the Gators return to the practice field in fairly good condition, then they should be able to pick up timing on the offensive end rather quickly.
The defense? That’s another story altogether. Will two weeks off make Florida’s troubled defense two weeks better? A friend texted me this Thursday afternoon: “The Gators are expected to score a win over Open Date this weekend if the defense can get a fourth quarter stop.”
My response: The defense can’t be any worse than it has been the first three weeks can it?
SOOTHSAYING IN THE SEC #2 ALABAMA (4-0) at TENNESSEE (2-2): It has been exactly 5,116 days since Tennessee last beat Alabama. Phil Fulmer was the Tennessee coach and Alabama was coached by Mike Shula. Much has changed since then. Alabama has won six national championships with Nick Saban as the head coach and Tennessee is on its fourth coach since Phattus Maximus was fired. Ironically, Fulmer is now the AD at Tennessee and the guy who hired current coach Jeremy Pruitt, the same Jeremy Pruitt who fired his defensive line coach during last week’s beatdown at the hands of Kentucky. Last Saturday night, Saban and the Crimson Tide destroyed Georgia, 41-24. That’s the same Georgia that ho-hummed its way to a 44-21 win over the Vols. Alabama comes into this game averaging 48.5 points and 561.3 yards per game. What that tells us is Tennessee is in very serious trouble. The Sayer Says Sooth: The Vols made Georgia’s Stetson Bennett IV look like the second coming of Joe Montana. Imagine what that crack defense will do against Mac Jones, who is averaging 13.2 yards per pass attempt. Texas A&M played its safeties 30 yards off the line of scrimmage and Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and John Metchie still got behind them. And when Mac Jones isn’t heaving it deep Najee Harris (499 yards, 11 rushing touchdowns) will run over them. And lest we forget, Jarrett Guarantano (0 TDPs vs. Alabama in three previous years) will be the QB for the Vols. Alabama is a 21-point favorite. It won’t be that close. Alabama 56, Tennessee 14
AUBURN (2-2) at OLE MISS (1-3): If Matt Corral completes passes to his own team instead of to the other team Ole Miss can score enough points to win this game. If the Ole Miss defense plays the way it’s been playing through the first four games, it may not matter how many passes Corral completes to his own guys. To help out that beleaguered defense, Lane Kiffin has moved three players from offense to defense. Offense is never a problem for the Lane Train when they’re throwing the ball to the same team. Meanwhile there is the Gus Bus, which can’t seem to figure out how to get the ball in the end zone. Auburn’s defense has been erratic at best, largely because the Tigers can’t seem to defend the pass. Gus Malzahn is clearly on the hot seat so this is a game he has to win, which means he better get the offense going and his defense better figure out how to stop people in a hurry. The Sayer Says Sooth: Lane Kiffin can lose this game and they’ll still love him in Oxford. Gus Malzahn can lose this game and they’ll be ready to run him out of Auburn on a rail. A week ago, Matt Corral couldn’t handle the zone defense Barry Odom threw at him. Expect the same this week only this week Corral needs to eliminate the turnovers. If he can do that, then Ole Miss can win this game if the defense can get a couple of stops. Auburn doesn’t have to play a perfect game to win but if the Tigers can’t play better than they did last week they could be in deepest and darkest. Ole Miss 41, Auburn 34
KENTUCKY (2-2) at MISSOURI (1-2): Kentucky’s formula for winning this game is run the football (206 yards per game) and force turnovers (nine interceptions in the last two). When it comes to throwing the football Kentucky ranks dead last in the SEC (142.5 yards per game). Can Missouri stop the Kentucky running game (Tigers allow just 3.66 per carry) and force the Wildcats to throw it? And when the Tigers have the ball can redshirt freshman QB Connor Bazelac avoid throwing interceptions? Expect the Tigers to load the box to try to force Kentucky out of its comfort zone. If they can’t stop the run, Kentucky will dominate time of possession and that will simply make their defense all the more lethal. If Kentucky can’t run it, can Terry Wilson throw the ball effectively enough? If Wilson can’t complete passes will HBC Mark Stoops make the change to Joey Gatewood during the game? The Sayer Says Sooth: Tennessee ran the ball for 232 yards on the Mizzou defense and the Vols aren’t nearly as good running the ball as Kentucky. If the Kentucky offense and defense come to play, it will make the Wildcats October 31 game with Georgia very interesting. Kentucky 24, Missouri 17
SOUTH CAROLINA (2-2) at LSU (1-2): The Gamecocks have been competitive in every single game and if not for a special teams goof in the season opener there is every good chance they would be 3-1 right now. LSU, on the other hand, is 1-2 with a defense that has been a no show in both losses. The defense better show up Saturday because it’s very likely the Tigers are going to be starting a true freshman QB so the offense might sputter a bit against the best defense they’ve seen so far. With Myles Brennan still recovering from what an injury suffered two weeks ago, the Tigers will have to start TJ Finley with another true freshman (Max Johnson) ready to step in if Finley is ineffective. They will be going against a South Carolina defense that has gotten to the QB 10 times and has forced seven turnovers. South Carolina’s path to win is fairly simple. The Gamecocks have to avoid turnovers offensively and keep LSU’s very fast receivers in front of them. LSU has to run the football, which they haven’t done very well so far, and their defense has to hold the Gamecocks to 24 or fewer points, which is a tall order. The Sayer Says Sooth: In Columbia this would be a no brainer. In Baton Rouge, even with the possibility of a true freshman at QB, LSU is a 6-point favorite. The key matchup to watch is South Carolina corner Jaycee Horn on Terrace Marshall Jr, who is averaging 20.19 yards per catch and 141.3 receiving yards per game. Shut him down and LSU might have some serious issues. The thought here is that Horn gets the best of the matchup and Will Muschamp gives some exotic looks to confuse a freshman. South Carolina 28, LSU 21
MORE SEC STUFF LSU has self-imposed sanctions on the football program ahead of the NCAA for players getting cash from former player Odell Beckham and a booster. Among the sanctions are four scholarships given up in each of the next two years as well as eliminating 12.5% of official and unofficial visits. The NCAA could impose further sanctions but this is an effort by LSU to head that off, particularly since LSU basketball is going to get seriously hammered for Will Wade. It’s possible that the entire LSU athletic program could get hit with that dreaded lack of institutional control moniker.
Former Georgia QB Aaron Murray, who is an analyst with CBS Sports Network, has an answer for Georgia fans who believe Southern Cal transfer JT Daniels should be the QB instead of Stetson Bennett IV. Murray said earlier in the week, “If he [Daniels] were the best quarterback he would be out there.”
Even though the Wildcats have won their last two games with impressive defense, Kentucky fans already have their sights set on basketball, especially now that Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr and Rhode Island transfer Jacob Toppin have been granted waivers by the NCAA.
THEY PLAY FOOTBALL OTHER PLACES THAN THE SEC
The Big Ten opens play tonight with Illinois traveling to Wisconsin. Wisconsin is a 19.5-point favorite over the Fighting Lovies. I’m sure you would be riveted to your TV sets if only you got the Big Ten Network. Don’t have it? Pity.
Ohio State is a mere 26-point favorite over Nebraska Saturday which is understandable. Penn State is only a 6-point favorite to whack a pretty average Indiana team on the road. That seems rather close for a team that a lot of Big Ten people think is a serious challenger.
Over in the Fun Belt, those same Arkansas State Red Wolves who beat Kansas State of the Big 12 in the Little Apple got stomped by Appalachian State, 45-17. The Happy Appys ran for 305 yards. The other big game in the Fun Belt this weekend is Georgia Southern at 25th-ranked Coastal Carolina, which is the last unbeaten standing in the league.
Texas is an 8.5-point favorite in Austin over Baylor on Saturday. If Baylor can upset the Longhorns the Texas faithful will be calling for Tom Herman’s head on a pike at the base of the Colorado River bridge that takes you into Bubba Land, where you can tell the good restaurants by counting the pickup trucks outside.
A VERY PITHY FRIDAY FOR YOU: Since arriving from Houston in 2019, Charlie Morton has been money in the postseason for the Tampa Bay Rays. He was 2-0 in 2019 with an 0.90 ERA and he’s 3-0 this season with a miniscule 0.57. He got the Rays into the World Series by beating his old Cheatin’ Hearts (aka Astros) teammates twice, throwing a combined 10-2/3 shutout innings while giving up just seven hits and walking only two. The Rays need Morton to be dominant tonight against the Dodgers in game three of the World Series when he will go against Walker Beuhler (no relation to Ferris as far as we know), who was brilliant in his last outing against Atlanta in the National League Championship Series, throwing six shutout innings while giving up seven hits. If Morton is on his game, the Rays have a really good shot at going up 2-1 … Fans at the ZoZo Championship in Los Angeles were hoping Tiger showed up Thursday but instead were treated to a 4-over par 76 by Eldrick Woods, who is 12 shots behind first round leader Sebastian Munoz. When he’s on his game he is indeed Tiger. When he plays like he did Thursday, he’s Eldrick … Russell Wilson believes bad boy wide receiver Antonio Brown deserves another chance to play in the NFL. Brown has a list of troubles longer than Tacko Fall’s leg but NFL teams will sign a repentant axe murderer if they think it will help them make the playoffs.