Thoughts of the Day: September 15, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:

Sometimes the stats fudge things just a bit. In 2018, the Florida Gators averaged 213.5 yards per game rushing and averaged 5.27 yards per carry. In 2019, the Gators averaged 129.77 yards per game and 4.24 yards per carry, a significant drop off. The Gators ranked 27th nationally in 2018, just 107th in 2019.

In 2018, quarterback Feleipe Franks ran for 350 positive yards on 110 carries to complement the 1-2 punch of Lamical Perine (826 yards, 6.16 per carry) and Jordan Scarlett (776 yards, 5.92 per carry). Franks went down with a season-ending injury in game three in 2019 after running for 68 yards on 21 carries. In his place, Kyle Trask netted 8 yards on 63 carries. Perine ran for 676 yards (5.12 per carry) and Dameon Pierce ran for 305 (5.65 per carry). Take Trask’s totals out of the equation and the Gators averaged 5.11 yards per carry, which is certainly more respectable.

Some of the blame for the downturn in rushing could be placed at the feet of an inexperienced offensive line. Florida had four new starters and the unit came into the season with a collective 24 career starts. Trask certainly wasn’t as mobile as Franks but he was a more productive passer (Franks averaged 7.4 per pass attempt for 2,457 yards in 2018; Trask 8.3 for 2,941 in 2019).

Since Trask wasn’t as mobile as Franks, Dan Mullen compensated by throwing more often. The Gators averaged more yards per game (430.5) than they did in 2018 (426.7), but they went about gaining the yardage differently.

Fast forward to 2020 when Mullen actually has six returning starters on the O-line if you count Mississippi State grad transfer Stewart Reese, who actually started for Mullen at Mississippi State in 2017. Trask is back having gone 9-2 as a starter and while four receivers graduated, three of whom are active on NFL rosters, there should be no drop off in productivity in the passing game.

The running game should be much improved. Perine is gone, but the Florida running back room is as deep as it has been in years. This is Pierce’s chance to take over as the number one guy, but Mullen has four other backs (Malik Davis, Lorenzo Lingard, Nay’Quan Wright and Iverson Clement), that will enable him to keep fresh legs in the game while taking advantage of their different skillsets.

The name that intrigues is Lingard, a 6-0, 200-pounder who transferred in from Miami and got an NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility. Lingard might be the best combination of sprinter speed and power the Gators have had in years. He’s endeared himself to Mullen with his work ethic so far.

I think the one thing that I've been most impressed with him is his attitude and his work ethic,” Mullen said Monday. “I know he is a guy that was really a highly rated recruit out of high school, decided to transfer and transferred here. He is a guy that shows up and he works his tail off every day. He shows up on special teams. He plays hard and you see that he loves to play the game.”

The quickest way to Mullen’s heart is a consistent level of effort and hard work. Lingard has proven himself already in those departments.

“The thing that I have been the most impressed with is really his effort level and his attitude and approach to how hard he works every day,” Mullen said. “And he has worked on picking it up. He is very conscientious on picking the offense, even though, mentally he is a little behind some of the other guys that have more experience in the system.”

Pierce may have shortcomings as a receiver but he’s a power runner who can accelerate and break away if he gets to the second level. Pair him with Lingard and Florida should have a 1-2 punch that is at least the rival of Perine and Scarlett in 2018. If Davis is healthy and has regained the lost step from three years of injuries, he adds a make-you-miss dimension. Wright has been impressive so far in camp and while we haven’t heard anything about Clement he looked good in his limited carries last year.

It is a deep, impressive group of backs. In their preseason magazine, Lindy’s ranked Florida’s running backs ninth in the SEC while Athlon ranked them 11th. This group might not finish 2020 as the top-ranked unit in the SEC but they will finish much higher than ninth. Count on it.

A FEW SEC NOTABLES: Neil Farrell, the LSU defensive lineman who opted out in August, is opting back in again … Alabama D-lineman Christian Barmore suffered a knee injury Saturday that is not considered serious. He should miss some time but will be back …Mike Griffith of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that D’Wan Mathis took most of the first team snaps at quarterback when Georgia scrimmaged Saturday … Still no decision by Will Muschamp on who will be South Carolina’s starting QB for the season opener. Incumbent starter Ryan Hilinski and Colorado State grad transfer Collin Hill are battling for the starting job … Texas A&M quarterback James Foster, who put his name in the NCAA transfer portal only to take it out, has put his name back in the portal. Also senior starter wide receiver and team captain Jhamon Ausbon has opted out for 2020 … Tae Daly, a two-year starter at safety for Vanderbilt, has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal … It is thought that Auburn transfer QB Joey Gatewood has been given a waiver by the NCAA. Gatewood has to have a waiver from the SEC and that might come down to Kentucky agreeing that Gatewood won’t play against Auburn on September 26.

STILL NO DECISION BY THE BIG TEN: “I say we’re all going to move together in the Big Ten. We’re all going to play or not if we possibly can. This isn’t going to be a school-by-school thing.” – University of Wisconsin chancellor Rebecca Blank

Of course, for the Big Ten to play football and other fall sports, they actually have to take a vote. They could have done that Sunday. They didn’t. They could have done it Monday. Again, they didn’t. And who knows if they get around to voting anytime this week even though every day they delay makes playing football this fall next to impossible. Not only do coaches have to get their teams practicing and in football shape, but they have to figure out how many on their rosters are opting out or opting in. These are decisions that could have been made much easier back in August if the Big Ten had done the smart thing and set a target date for late September for a football start with the option of cancelling closer to the opening weekend.

The decision to opt out is a case of Big Ten arrogance and Pac-12 stupidity. The league and its ignorant rookie commissioner Kevin Warren believed that nobody would play if the mighty Big Ten, supported by the Pac-12 said no go. When the Mountain West and Mid-American Conference also made the decision to cancel the Big Ten thought it was on its way to a mandate but that notion was crushed when the SEC, ACC, Big 12, American, Conference-USA and Sun Belt chose to play.

The pressure to play won’t go away and only continues to mount now that we’ve had a couple of football weekends. The league has backed itself into a corner. If they decide to play, they’re admitting they were wrong. If they decide to continue to sit things out, their arrogance shows through. Either way it’s a can’t win situation that the Big Ten never envisioned.

The Big Ten’s buddies over in the Pac-12 are thinking of playing but apparently they won’t even think about playing until the middle of November. A mid-November start would likely mean a split season with half played in 2020, the second half in March and April. That sounds like a recipe for total disaster. Since the two conferences are basically joined at the hip, it would only stand to reason the Pac-12’s announcement will have an impact on whatever decision is made by the Big Ten.

Prediction: Even with most of the league’s 14 members likely to lose $100 million or more if football isn’t played this fall, the Big Ten will elect to stick with its decision to sit it out.

HOW LOW WILL THINGS GO IN TALLAHASSEE?: These aren’t the glory days when it was St. Bob’s Home for Wayward Boys and Convicted Felons. The Seminoles are back to being plain old FSU and they’re looking a lot like the FSU that was before Bobby Bowden busted his butt when he slipped trying to pick up the newspaper on his snow-covered driveway in West Virginia back in 1975. Bobby decided that day to take the FSU job and he transformed the entire program into one that could win national titles. Mike Norvell is a very good football coach, good enough to turn things around but it won’t happen anytime soon and certainly not this year. The Seminoles are off this week before they go down to Miami on September 26. They have a winnable game against D1AA Jacksonville State and then it’s entirely possible they could lose every other game on a schedule that includes (at) Notre Dame, North Carolina, (at) Louisville, Pittsburgh, (at) North Carolina State, Clemson, Virginia and (at) Duke. If the Seminoles are lucky, a whole bunch of ACC teams will come down with the virus and they can opt out. Don’t be surprised with a 2-9 or 3-8 season.

COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY UPDATE: Jay Hopson, formerly of Southern Miss, remains the only member of the Extinct Species List but it is still rather early and the financial impact of the virus-impeded season might make it difficult to fire coaches and pay their buyouts. Here are three coaches I expect to get a Covid-19 reprieve and hold onto their jobs no matter how badly things go south:

(1) Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: The chardonnay and brie tailgate set thinks that because James Franklin went to three bowl games and actually won nine games that Vandy should do that every year. But firing is such a distasteful thing! So Mason can go 0-10 this year and he’ll still have a job.

(2) Phil Montgomery, Tulsa: He’s still coaching because they couldn’t afford the buyout last year. He will be coaching next year because they still can’t afford it.

(3) Dave Doeren, North Carolina State: Okay, he’s in the same division as Clemson but still, the folks who write the checks have expected more than 47-42 in eight years.

AND A PITHY TUESDAY MORNING TO YOU, TOO: I tried to watch College Game Day on ESPN Saturday. They’re into giggles, pushing the BLM agenda and a teensy bit of actual football. Then I switched over to Fox Big Noon Saturday. What I wanted was football and that’s exactly what I got. ESPN doesn’t have anyone who can compete with Urban Meyer or the rest of the Fox guys when it comes to talking serious football. There is only so much giggling I can take … And while on the subject of game day, did you catch Rece Davis proclaiming Iowa State QB Brock Purdy as the best quarterback in the Big 12? He wasn’t even the best QB on the field Saturday when I-State got poleaxed by Louisiana-Lafayette. From what I saw of the Fun Belt Saturday, Purdy might not be top five in that conference. And I guess Rece hasn’t paid attention to Sam Ehlinger at Texas, who is pretty good. Just more reason to watch Big Noon Saturday … I’ve tried. I’ve really tried but no matter how much effort I put into it, there is only so much Todd McShay I can take. About three or four seconds on a good day.

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