Thoughts of the Day: October 7, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning:

“It’s never been this bad,” my friend told me. He was talking about Florida’s defense through the first two games of the season in which the Gators have allowed 59 points (29.5 per game) and 942 yards (471 per game). The defensive numbers stink, but the Gators did score 89 points and win those two games by a combined 30 points.

But has the defense been this bad for any two-game stretch since 2011? A search of the records, which includes Florida’s only two losing seasons (4-8 in 2013; 4-7 in 2017) since the 0-10-1 debacle of 1979 shows there have been worse efforts just not this bad to start a season.

In 2013, the Gators were torched for 500 yards in a 36-17 loss to Missouri and 414 the following week when they lost to Georgia 23-20. In 2014, the Gators gave up 1,172 yards in games two and three, a 36-30 win over Kentucky and a 42-21 loss to Alabama. In the Kentucky game, the Gators gave up 450 yards. Alabama threw for 449 yards as part of a 672-yard onslaught in Tuscaloosa the following week.

The Gators lost consecutive games to Missouri (45-16) and South Carolina (28-20) in which they gave up a combined 924 yards (455 to Missouri and 469 to the Gamecocks). Missouri ran for 227 yards while South Carolina ran for 220 the next week as part of the worst three-week span of rush defense since 2011. The week before the Missouri game Georgia ran for 292 yards in a 42-7 walloping of UF.

Prior to the first two games of this season, the worst consecutive defensive games for the Gators in the Dan Mullen era were the two straight losses in 2018 to Georgia (36-17) and Missouri (38-17) in which the Gators allowed a combined 900 yards including 490 and six touchdowns through the air. The 2019 defense gave up 42 points and 511 yards to eventual national champ LSU and 407 in game two against Kentucky. Those were the only two games UF allowed as many as 400 yards.

Some of Florida’s issues have to do with personnel. Nose tackle Kyree Campbell and STAR Brad Stewart have yet to play due to non-virus issues. Stewart will be back Saturday when the 4th-ranked Gators play 21st-ranked Texas A&M (1-1) in College Station. Campbell should be suited up but may not play even a single snap. Jeremiah Moon missed game one due to Covid-19 protocols. He played game two but was physically worn out by the fourth quarter. James Houston IV also missed the first game but played sparingly in game two. Moon and Houston should be back close to full strength Saturday.

The issues with missed tackles and blown assignments, which have been a plague through games one and two, may have something to do with the virus and a lack of hitting and tackling in practice. Because the virus can wipe out a substantial amount of depth at any position, it’s risky to allow too much hitting and tackling in practice so it’s a matter of on-the-job training so far. That’s only a theory but it’s plausible.

USA TODAY FIRST HEISMAN TROPHY POLLING RESULTS

Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who has been on every Heisman radar since he led the Tigers to the national championship in 2018, is the leader in the USA Today network’s first polling of 21 Heisman voters who work for network. Second and third place, however, belong to Florida quarterback Kyle Trask and UF tight end Kyle Pitts.

Through three games, Lawrence is 55-75 passing (73.3%) for 848 yards (11.3 per attempt) and seven touchdowns without an interception. He has run for 14 yards (1.0 per attempt) and three TDs for the top-ranked Tigers. One of Lawrence’s games was against D1AA Citadel.

In two games, Trask is 51-71 passing (71.8%) for 684 yards (9.6 per attempt) and 10 touchdowns with one interception. Trask is 9-24 rushing. Pitts, meanwhile, has established himself as the nation’s premier tight end with 12 catches for 227 yards (18.92 per catch) and six touchdowns.

Here are the 12 players who received either first, second or third place votes in the polling followed by total votes: (1) Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson 54; (2) KYLE TRASK, QB, FLORIDA 20; (3) KYLE PITTS, TE, FLORIDA, 19; (4) Mac Jones, QB, Alabama 8; (5, TIE) D’Eriq King, QB, Miami, and Zach Wilson, QB, Brigham Young 6; (7) Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama 4; (8) Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson 3; (9, TIE) Shane Buchele, QB, SMU, and Khlalil Herbert, RB, Virginia Tech 2; (11, TIE) Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas, and Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State, 1.

RUMBLING, STUMBLING, BUMBLING THROUGH THE SEC

Officially, this is #2 Alabama (2-0) traveling to Ole Miss (1-1), but since Alabama is a prohibitive (-24 points) favorite the game is being obscured, replaced by all the recollections of the three years when Lane Kiffin was Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator. In his three years at Bama, Kiffin transformed Blake Sims from a nobody into record-setting QB who got the Tide to the playoff semifinals, won the national championship (2015) with FSU castoff Jake Coker at QB and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry at running back, and got the Tide to the CFP championship game (2017) with true freshman Jalen Hurts at QB. Saban dismissed Kiffin for being late to some team meetings prior to the championship game, won by Clemson, 35-31. I’m of the opinion that Alabama would have won that game with Kiffin calling the plays. I wonder if Nick looks back, wonders the same thing and has regrets?

When Gus Malzahn got a win over Kentucky in game one, the Auburn fan base loved him. Love is in short supply in Auburn this week after Georgia put the kibosh on the Tigers and made the Malzahn offense look downright antiquated. Those same fans who loved Gus after Kentucky want him gone now but barring something totally disastrous such as a 3-7 or 2-8, he will be the coach in 2021. Count on it because the buyout on his contract is in the neighborhood of $14 million and Auburn’s athletic department is going to bleed $60 million of red ink. There are a lot of coaches who are going to be saved by the athletic department’s bottom line. This is the Covid-19 world we live in.

Leave it to Paul Finebaum to put Kentucky’s 0-2 start in proper perspective. On Birmingham’s WJOX, Finebaum said, “After Saturday there’s no more cases to be made for Kentucky. It’s time to start thinking about John Calipari’s basketball team.” Kentucky is a basketball school. Football is what they do in the fall while waiting for basketball season to begin. Go 7-5 at Alabama or Florida you get fired. Go 7-5 at Kentucky and they’re perfectly content because it was, is and always will be a basketball school. Remember, this is the school that ran Bear Bryant off. Bear, by the way, is still the winningest coach in Kentucky football history some 66 years after he put Lexington in his rearview mirror.

It will be homecoming for Mike Leach Saturday when Mississippi State (1-1) visits Kentucky (0-2). Leach came to Kentucky with Hal Mumme from Valdosta State and was the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator in 1997-98. With Leach calling the plays, Tim Couch threw 73 touchdown passes in those two seasons, made All-America in 1998 and became the top pick in the NFL Draft.

Due to Hurricane Delta, currently a category four that seems headed for the Louisiana Gulf Coast, the Southeastern Conference will decide Thursday whether to keep Saturday’s Missouri-LSU game in Baton Rouge, move it somewhere else or reschedule it for later in the season. If the game is rescheduled, it will have to be either November 7, when both teams have an open date, or December 12, which is the SEC’s league-wide open date for games that have to be rescheduled. The current weather forecast for Baton Rouge on Saturday calls for an 80% chance of rain with winds gusting to 29 miles per hour.

Tennessee comes into Saturday’s game at 3rd-ranked Georgia with an eight-game winning streak – tied with Notre Dame for the longest current streak in all of Division I – but none of those wins is against a ranked team. That makes what happens in Athens doubly important for the 14th-ranked Volunteers, who are 7-33 against ranked teams since 2010. UT quarterback Jarrett Guarantano has only one win against a ranked team in his career, 2018 against then 12th-ranked Kentucky.

THEY PLAY FOOTBALL OTHER PLACES THAN THE SEC

The Athletic reports that the NCAA Division I Council is expected to vote to introduce a one-time transfer proposal for all sports to the full membership for a vote in January. If approved, any football player who is a first-time transfer in January would be eligible to play in the fall. The one-time transfer rule will likely have a dramatic effect on the early and regular national signing dates for recruiting. Rather than sign the full complement of scholarships, coaches will probably save a few slots for transfers.

The sacks allowed stat is a fairly good indicator of how 7th-ranked Miami’s offensive line play has improved since last year. The Himmicanes have allowed only three sacks in three games, which ranks 15th nationally. A year ago the Himmicanes allowed 51 sacks, which ranked 128th out of 130 Division I teams. This is important since Miami faces top-ranked Climpson Saturday evening and the Tigers are tied for second nationally with 13 sacks in three games.

In the latest version of the football hokey pokey (you put your left foot in, you put your left foot out, you put your left foot in and you shake it all about …) Oregon corner Deommodore Lenoir is opting back in to play. Lenoir opted out back on September 9 but now that the Ducks are planning to play, he’s planning to play, too. How sweet.

Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence has attempted 314 consecutive passes and gone 11 games without throwing an interception. His last pick came in game seven last season when he threw two in a 45-10 win over Louisville. He has 73 touchdown passes and just 12 interceptions in his 33-game career.

In Oklahoma’s first game of the season – a 48-0 win over D1AA Missouri State – the Sooner defense held Bobby Petrino and the visiting Bears to 135 total yards and 2.93 yards per play. In the two losses to Kansas State (38-35) and Iowa State (37-30), the Oklahoma defense has given up 817 yards, an average of 7.63 yards per play.

The Houston Cougars will play their season opener against Tulane Thursday night. Maybe. This should be the Cougars fourth game of the season but the previous three were postponed due to Covid-19. So far so good on the virus front for the Cougars, but there is that teensy matter of Hurricane Delta. Currently it’s projected to hit the Louisiana Gulf Coast as a category four as early as Friday night, but hurricanes have been known to confound the computer models and projections.

NON-FOOTBALL PITHINESS ON A WEDNESDAY: SME Steel Contractors in Utah will not renew its suite at Vivint SmartHome Arena as its way of protesting the protestors. The NBA and its players have used the re-start of the season to turn the sport into what SME considers a political protest so the company is giving up the suite it has had for 28 years as its response. NBA TV ratings are in the tank. How much of the bad ratings are because the virus has totally disrupted things and how much are in response to the politicization of the sport? If there are more suite owners opting out, plus a significant drop in attendance and a continued drop in ratings when the league gets back to normal, will the NBA re-think its image or continue along the same path? … In case you missed it – I sure did – Sergio Garcia won a golf tournament, his first win on the PGA Tour since the 2017 Masters. My over-under on Sergio’s four day re-grip total is 2,614 … It’s October and the Masters is in a little more than a month. How weird is that? … Giancarlo Stanton’s second home run against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday night traveled 458 feet and left the bat an astounding 118.3 miles per hour. I think Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow got whiplash as he watched the ball launched.

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