GATORS SHOULD BE THE HEALTHIEST THEY'VE BEEN ALL YEAR
The silver lining to all the injuries, bumps and bruises that have plagued the Florida Gators from the outset of the season is that Dan Mullen and his staff have had no other choice but to send young, inexperienced players on the field, often in sink or swim situations. The baptism by fire approach to coaching isn't what Mullen planned back in August prior to the season opener with Miami, but the Gators have adapted. Quite well, actually.
“I think we’ve done an unbelievable job as a coaching staff this year and our players of next guy stepping up,” Mullen said at his Monday press conference. “Very few teams I don’t think in the country could have dealt with the injuries we’ve had and be in the position that we’re still in. That’s a tribute to our guys, next guy stepping up, and our coaches getting guys ready to play. When you start taking star players away from teams in big games and see what happens – a lot of them don’t win.”
With the exception of the LSU game when the injuries really did take a toll, the Gators have won. Florida is ranked sixth nationally with a 7-1 record (4-1 SEC) heading into Saturday's encounter with eighth-ranked Georgia (6-1, 3-1 SEC) in Jacksonville and that is despite a slew of injuries that would have completely crippled lesser teams.
Some of the more notable injuries: On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Feleipe Franks went down with a dislocated/fractured ankle in the Kentucky game. Slot receiver Kadarius Toney, who scored a touchdown on Florida's second offensive play of the season in game one against Miami, fractured a scapula in game two and has been out ever since. Running back Dameon Pierce suffered a concussion in the Auburn game then had to sit the LSU game. Over on defense, corner C.J. Henderson, the guy who defensive coordinator Todd Grantham called the best player he's ever coached college or pro, suffered a high anke sprain in game two and then missed the next three. Defensive end Jonathan Greenard, who was on his way to an SEC Defensive Player of the Year award, suffered a high ankle sprain against Auburn, tried to play against LSU then had to sit the last 55 minutes and missed the South Carolina game completely. Jabari Zuniga suffered an ankle injury against Kentucky, missed the next three games and then played awhile against LSU before he was injured again. Then he missed the South Carolina game.
Lesser teams would have struggled to stay relevant but the Gators have remained in control of their destiny in the SEC East race and have a chance to put a game between them and Georgia Saturday in Jacksonville when, with the exception of Franks, done for the year after surgery, the Gators will more closely resemble the team Mullen thought he was going to put on the field way back in August. This will be the healthiest the Gators have been all season, in part because the bye week the Gators enjoyed last week allowed some of the more banged up and battered Gators to get well.
The extra week of rest was particularly beneficial for Greenard, Zuniga and Toney, who should all be back in action against Georgia. Toney can alter what opposing safeties do, which opens things up or Florida's other wide receivers. With Greenard and Zuniga as bookends off the edge, Florida has perhaps the SEC's best rush tandem.
"We understand what we have when we're all healthy," Greenard said. "When we're all out there, we have one – in my opinion – we have the best defense in the country. With us healthy, we can make some really good plays. We've just got to play our game, don't do anything out of ordinary. Follow the game plan and follow the keys to victory."
GATOR HOOPS FACES LYNN UNIVERSITY IN EXHIBITION GAME TONIGHT
We get our first live look at Mike White's sixth-ranked Florida basketball team tonight when the Gators face Lynn University in an exhibition game at the O-Dome (7 p.m., SEC Network+). Three familiar faces will be in the starting lineup – point guard Andrew Nembhard, wing guard Noah Locke and power forward Keyontae Johnson – and they will be joined by center Kerry Blackshear Jr., who was the most coveted grad transfer in the country, and small forward Scottie Lewis, one of the nation's top ten freshman recruits.
White figures to dole out the minutes generously, playing as many as 11 players including six freshmen to get the Gators ready for their season opener against North Florida next Tuesday.
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF
#2 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC): At the Monday Morning Quarterback Club in Birmingham, Nick Saban responded to questions about whether Tua Tagovailoa will be able to play against LSU on November 9: “If he can perform to the best of his ability. We're not going to put him in a situation where he can't perform and if he can perform he'll be able to play. If he can't perform then he won't play.” Saturday: Open
Arkansas (2-6, 0-5 SEC): Colton Jackson, who started 21 games on the offensive line during his Arkansas career, announced his retirement from football after undergoing back surgery. Saturday: vs. Mississippi State (3-5, 1-4 SEC)
#11 Auburn (6-2, 3-2 SEC): Former NFL GM Michael Lombardi called Auburn's offense “the worst offense I've ever seen.” If might be noted that Lombardi is a FORMER NFL GM and Auburn HBC Gus Malzahn makes $7 million a year. Saturday: vs. Ole Miss (3-5, 2-3 SEC)
#8 Georgia (6-1, 3-1 SEC): Wide receiver Lawrence Cager (shoulder), defensive lineman Travon Walker (wrist) and corner Tyson Campbell (turf toe) are all expected to practice this week and play against Florida on Saturday. Saturday: vs. #6 FLORIDA (7-1, 4-1 SEC) in Jacksonville
Kentucky (4-4, 2-4 SEC): For his 206-yard rushing performance in Kentucky's win over Missouri, wide receiver turned quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. was named co-SEC Offensive Player of the Week. Punter Max Duffy, who averaged 52.4 yards per punt and who had an impromptu 26-yard run on a fake punt, was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week. Defensive lineman Calvin Taylor Jr., who had two sacks and forced a fumble, was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week. Saturday: Open
#1 LSU (8-0, 4-0 SEC): Based on what the Tigers have done so far – three wins over top ten teams in eight games – Paul Finebaum of the SEC Network says Coach O is the national coach of the year. Saturday: Open
Mississippi State (3-5, 1-4 SEC): A year ago Mississippi State's defense gave up only 171 points in 13 games (13.2 per game). Through eight games the Bulldogs have given up 248, an average of 31 per game, which ranks 12th in the SEC. Saturday: at Arkansas (2-6, 0-5 SEC)
Missouri (5-3, 2-2 SEC): In addition to saying Mizzou looked completely unprepared Saturday night in Lexington where the Tigers were dominated by Kentucky, 29-7, Adam Spencer of Saturday Down South says “[HBC Barry] Odom and OC Derek Dooley were simply overmatched by the Kentucky coaching staff.” Saturday: Open
Ole Miss (3-5, 2-3 SEC): Through eight games, the Rebels have already matched their sack total for all of 2018. Led by linebacker Sam Williams (4-1/2 sacks) the Rebels have gotten to opposing quarterbacks 22 times. Saturday: at #11 Auburn (6-2, 3-2 SEC)
South Carolina (3-5, 2-4 SEC): Running back Rico Dowdle (knee), offensive tackle Dylan Wonnum and linebacker Damani Staley have already been declared out for the upcoming game with Vandy. Listed as doubtful is running back A.J. Turner (hamstring). Saturday: vs. Vanderbilt (2-5, 1-3 SEC)
Tennessee (3-5, 2-3 SEC): Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, the goat of the loss to Alabama and the hero of the win over South Carolina, has undergone surgery to repair a broken bone in his wrist. Saturday: vs. UAB (6-1)
Texas A&M (5-3, 3-2 SEC): The Aggies won the turnover and third down conversion battles in their win over Mississippi State. The Aggies won the turnover battled 3-0, converted 8-11 on third downs and held Mississippi State to 4-11 on its third downs. Saturday: vs. Texas-San Antonio (3-4)
Vanderbilt (2-5, 1-3 SEC): Mo Hasan, who has been in concussion protocol, will be the starting quarterback against South Carolina Saturday if cleared by the doctors. Hasan was 7-11 passing for 120 yards and a touchdown in Vandy's win over Missouri a couple of weeks ago before he left the game with a concussion. Saturday: at South Carolina (3-5, 2-4 SEC)
GOOD QUOTES FOR TUESDAY
From Adam Rittenberg of ESPN on the potential for Florida State to pink slip Willie Taggart: “FSU desperately wants to get Taggart to Year 3, given the school's financial constraints. Taggart would be owed about $17 million if fired after the season. But he might not leave Florida State with much choice, if the team misses the postseason in back-to-back years after snapping a nation-leading streak of 36 bowl appearances in 2018. FSU sits at 4-4 after thumping Syracuse on Saturday.”
Paul Finebaum of the SEC Network on WJOX-FM in Birmingham on Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead, who is rumored to be a strong candidate for the HBC job at Rutgers: “If you’re sitting up at Rutgers right now and you’re watching this unfold and you’re going, do we really want this guy? I’ve had some Rutgers fans when I’m in New York in the middle of the week ask me more about Greg Schiano as someone who has a better feel or grasp of that program than Moorhead. I’ve watched Moorhead pretty closely as you guys have, and I just don’t feel like he’s moved the needle very much. He took over a program last year that should have won nine or 10 games, and he was bragging about eight. Fit is important and it’s always a phrase that we use quite often to describe things, but he just doesn’t seem like a good fit. All you have to do is be around him in Starkville, Mississippi which I have several times to come to that conclusion.”
From John Walters of The Athletic on Urban Meyer's “Urban's Playbook” segment each Saturday on Fox Sports Big Noon Kickoff show: “Meyer, as one may easily glean from these weekly tutorials, is an outstanding teacher. Why? Because he keeps the lesson simple, because he enumerates his points while demonstrating techniques with repetitions, and because he reviews his list of points as a summary. He holds his students/players/viewers’ attention, and while he may not garnish the lessons with humor, his earnestness and acumen is self-evident.”
From Steve Hummer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ohio State QB Justin Fields' high school coach, Matt Dickman, on why Fields transferred from Georgia: “Who says he never beat out Fromm? [Fromm's] a great quarterback but I don't think Justin was ever given the opportunity to do that. I think he's showing everybody that if he had gotten more opportunities that he would have excelled.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The NCAA has denied a transfer waiver to shooting guard Jahvon Quinerly, who transferred to Alabama from Villanova … Leonard Williams was traded by the New York Jets Monday. He won't have to change cities or even stadiums since it was to the New York Giants … Former Gator Chris Chiozza has started the NBA season on the Washington Wizards roster where he's averaging 3.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists … The Los Angeles Chargers, who are averaging just 19.6 points per game, fired offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt Monday … The two women who were flashing Houston Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole during game five of the World Series at Nationals Park have been banned from Major League Baseball stadiums. Game six of the World Series will be played tonight in Houston without the two women flashing anyone, at least in a baseball stadium.