A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning:
A year ago when faced with a deluxe scrambler in Bo Nix, Florida kept the Auburn quarterback bottled up, holding Nix to 18 yards on 10 carries. Florida only got to Nix for a pair of sacks but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s strategy was to make certain Nix didn’t break containment and beat the Gators with his legs. Mission accomplished and it had plenty to do with the Gators winning that game against the Tigers, 24-13.
A similar strategy might be in the works Saturday when the 4th-ranked Gators (2-0) face 21st-ranked Texas A&M (1-1). Aggie quarterback Kellen Mond, a four-year starter who has run for 1,352 yards and 18 touchdowns in his career, is fast and dangerous when he gets outside the pocket and has the option of throwing on the run or picking up yardage. Mond is at his best when he’s throwing on the move. A look at the Aggies’ 49-30 win over Mississippi State in 2019 is the perfect example of what Mond can do when he consistently gets outside the pocket. In that game he threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 76 yards (on nine carries) and two more. A few weeks later, LSU played the containment game and forced Mond to stay in the pocket. As a result he went 10-30 passing for 92 yards and finished with -8 yards rushing.
Saturday, the Gators have to find a way to keep Mond bottled up better than they did against Matt Corral of Ole Miss in game one (13-50 rushing). UF still has to get pressure on Mond but it has to be controlled and disciplined. Although the Gators have eight sacks in two games (for 63 yards in losses; tied for second in the SEC and tied for 8th nationally), the pass rush hasn’t been consistent nor has it been controlled and disciplined. Too often, players have departed their lanes and the stay home guys have been out of position. If they don’t do a better job Saturday, they’ll have to win in a shootout because Mond will eat them up if he can break containment.
As of Wednesday night, Florida has been established as a 6.5-point favorite.
RUMBLING, STUMBLING, BUMBLING IN THE SEC
This may come as a complete and total shock to you but Nick Saban says “nobody really listens to anything I have to say.” Nick said that during the SEC Coaches Teleconference on Wednesday when discussing the options available in the event Hurricane Delta forces the Southeastern Conference to reschedule Alabama’s Saturday night encounter with Ole Miss in Oxford. If the current models hold true, then what’s left of Delta might pass through Oxford Saturday morning. The SEC is considering the possibilities of playing the game either Friday night or Sunday but Saban prefers staying on schedule for Saturday night. “I think the worst of the weather will be through there by game time so I don’t think any players will be in danger,” Saban said. “It will be raining get a better feel for when this thing is going to move through so we’ve had discussions but I think everybody is going to try to make sure we get to play the game Saturday. Nobody is for sure what the best time to do that is.” Bet the farm on this: If Nick wants to play Saturday that’s when the game will be played barring Delta still packing hurricane winds some 250 miles beyond its Friday landfall.
Quote of the day from Nick Saban when asked about his former offensive coordinator and now Ole Miss HBC Lake Kiffin: “I always thought he’d be a really good head coach and I think he has been.”
Lane Kiffin’s reputation as a highly skilled snake oil salesman dates back to his days working for Pete Carroll at Southern Cal. He might need all his skills to deal with what could be a quarterback controversy that centers around John Rhys Plumlee, who has gone from a 1,000-yard rusher (1,023 to be exact) in 2019 to Matt Corrall’s seldom-used backup in 2020. Plumlee, who also threw for 910 yards (but only 6.1 per attempt) last year, has carried the ball nine times for 20 yards, attempted one pass (complete for three yards) and caught a pass for six yards this season. Meanwhile, Matt Corral is ripping and shredding through two games, hitting 46-60 passes for 715 yards (11.9 per attempt) and seven TDPs. He has also gained 101 yards rushing. Plumlee can’t be happy as a backup who rarely sees the field so will he be the good teammate who is content watching Corral start or does he voice his discontent? Since the 2020 season won’t count against anyone’s eligibility, Plumlee could transfer out after the season and still be a sophomore wherever he lands next year. Kiffin could convince Plumlee to stick it out because Corral (third-year sophomore) will be draft-eligible next spring. That might take a bit of snake oil on Kiffin’s part since there are no guarantees Corral will bolt. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Plumlee put his name in the NCAA transfer portal within a couple of weeks if he doesn’t see significantly more playing time.
Imagine the subplots Saturday when Arkansas (1-1) visits 13th-ranked Auburn (1-1). First year Arkansas coach Sam Pittman was maybe the fourth or fifth choice. The top choice was Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who was a high school coaching legend in Arkansas. Gus said no, preferring to stay at Auburn, where they pay him $7 million a year. Pittman replaced Chad Morris, fired after two seasons and is now Malzahn’s offensive coordinator at Auburn. Whereas Razorback fans everywhere will hoist a Mason jar of moonshine to toast Pittman, Auburn fans are about ready to tar and feather both Malzahn and Morris after last week’s disastrous loss to Georgia, so bad that it might have set offensive football in the SEC back 20 years. If Auburn somehow goes belly up to Arkansas Saturday, Malzahn’s butt will feel like it is blowtorch hot.
The Pirate has news for anyone who thinks Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom has found the key to shutting down his Air Raid offense. “You just have to go out and execute,” Mississippi State coach Mike Leach said Wednesday. “We have one misstep and everyone thinks it’s something new. It’s ridiculous.” In the Bulldogs’ 21-14 loss to Arkansas, they threw three interceptions, fumbled the ball away once, turned the ball over in the red zone two times in the fourth quarter and converted only 6-17 on third down.
Maybe the best way to defend the Air Raid is to get the running game going and keep pounding away. That’s probably the strategy Kentucky (0-3) will try Saturday. The Wildcats are averaging 276.5 yards per game (5thnationally) and 5.76 per carry, both figures tops in the SEC. Mississippi State ranks sixth nationally against the run, giving up just 71.5 yards per game and 1.91 per carry.
Georgia will be without stud safety Richard LeCounte in the first half of Saturday’s game with 14-th-ranked Tennessee (2-0). LeCounte was ejected in the second half of last Saturday’s game with Auburn for targeting.
Who wins Saturday’s SEC showdown between 14th-ranked Tennessee and 3rd-ranked Georgia (2-0) might be determined by who does the best job of stuffing the run. Georgia is averaging 161.5 yards per game on the ground (3.71 yards per carry) and giving up just 58 rushing yards (2.32 per carry). Tennessee is averaging 182.5 yards per game on the ground (4.35 per carry) and allowing 107.5 per game (2.99 per carry).
Vanderbilt (0-2) is at the bottom of three of the four important offensive categories in the SEC. The Gamecocks are averaging 9.5 points per game (dead last), 260.5 yards total offense (dead last) and 131.5 yards passing (dead last). The Commodores rank seventh in rushing (129 yards). The Commodores will be facing a South Carolina (0-2) defense Saturday that ranks fourth in the SEC in total defense (371 yards per game).
THEY PLAY FOOTBALL OTHER PLACES BESIDE THE SEC
North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, who went 17-0 as the starting quarterback in his career after Saturday’s one-game fall season for NDSU. In that game Lance threw for two TDs and ran for two against Central Arkansas last Saturday. NDSU will play a spring schedule but Lance won’t be a part. He has declared for the NFL.
The Mid-American Conference (MAC) will be playing a six-game schedule beginning on November 4. That’s the fewest games of any of the four conferences that didn’t elect to start the season in September. The Big Ten will play eight, the Mountain West eight and the Pac-12 seven.
Former Oklahoma nose tackle Tony Casillas on the Sooners’ 2020 defense: “Painful. It’s the only word I can think of.”
The Texas defense looked really good against Conference USA bottom feeder UTEP in game one. In the two Big 12 games since (63-56 win over Texas Tech; 33-31 loss to TCU), the Texas defense has given up 449.5 yards per game, 250 per game through the air and 199.5 on the ground. The Longhorns (2-1) face Oklahoma (1-2) in a survivor game in Dallas. A Texas win keeps the Longhorns in the Big 12 title race. An Oklahoma loss might mean the Sooners are headed for a .500 season.
Top-ranked Clemson (3-0) is a 14.5-point favorite to beat 7th-ranked Miami (3-0) Saturday night in Death Valley. Also in the Always Clemson Conference, Florida State (1-2) is a 21-point road dog at 5th-ranked Notre Dame (2-0).
FEELING PITHY ABOUT NON-FOOTBALL STUFF ON A THURSDAY
Former Georgia baseball player Adam Sasser was kicked off the team for using racial epithets at a Georgia football game in 2018. Justin Fields used Sasser’s words as his reason for transferring out of Georgia and on to Ohio State, where he made the Heisman podium last year. Sasser has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the University of Georgia, the state board of regents and several others for violating his freedom of speech and equal protection under the law. He seeks a jury trial, punitive damages and compensatory damages for keeping him from playing professional baseball … Tony Finau won’t be playing in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open this week after testing positive for Covid-19 … Home plate umpire Dan Bellino forgot the count in the Atlanta Braves-Miami Marlins game Tuesday night. Adam Duvall had a full count when he was served up what should have been ball three, but instead of a full count, Bellino changed the count back to 2-2. The next pitch was a ball so Duvall should have walked. On the next pitch, Duvall hit a fly ball out to right field. What’s amazing is none of the other umpires (five of them) bothered to correct Bellino.