Thoughts of the Day: September 17, 2021

A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:

CAN THE GATORS SHOCK THE WORLD SATURDAY? Shane Matthews knows just how much an advantage the Florida Gators have when The Swamp is a rocking place. Never was it more evident than in 1991 when the Gators won their first SEC championship that counted.

In their march to the SEC title, the Gators beat 17th-ranked Alabama, 35-0, 4th-ranked Tennessee, 35-19, and 3rd-ranked Florida State, 14-9, at home in front of crowds so loud that fans claimed that even with their hands held tight over their ears, the noise still hurt their ear drums. The win over Alabama was a precursor of things to come.

“We beat them in Tuscaloosa (17-13) the year before,” Matthews recalls. “I look back on that as the most important game of the Steve Spurrier years at Florida because it was our first SEC game and it was on the road but 1991 was important too because we had never won the SEC. They (Alabama) thought they should have beaten us the year before and they really believed they would beat us.”

There was good reason why Alabama thought it had the team to win in Gainesville. Gene Stallings had just about the entire defense back from a 1990 team that allowed only 13.4 points and 229.3 yards per game. They had stifled the Florida offense the year before but the Gators won on a blocked punt and a defense led by Will White (three interceptions).

What they didn’t count on was the Florida offense was significantly better in year two of Spurrier’s Fun ‘n Gun and a Florida crowd that was as loud as it had ever been. Matthews threw for 251 yards that day with three touchdown passes, two to Willie Jackson, and 173 rushing yards by Errict Rhett. Matthews operated behind solid protection, helped enormously by play action fakes to Rhett. Any time the Gators had third-and-two or third-and-three, Rhett got whatever was necessary and then some. Florida had an excellent defensive team in 1991, but the Gators got plenty of help from the crowd, which rendered Alabama snap counts useless.

“We dominated them,” Matthews said. “Any time you can beat a team with the tradition and talent of Alabama, 35-0, it’s total domination. The Swamp was rocking. You could feed off the energy of the crowd that night.

“And this was a really great Alabama, team, too. This was the only game they lost that year and they didn’t lose again until whoever knows when (31 games later). They beat us in the first SEC Championship Game in 1992 when they won the national championship.”

Florida played in the next four SEC Championship Games, winning all four, three against Alabama (1993-94, 1996). During that 1991 season and the subsequent championship run, The Swamp became the single most feared venue for opposing teams, something that it needs to become again, starting with Saturday’s game against No. 1 Alabama.

Alabama is on an unprecedented roll, the likes of which have never been seen in college football. Since Nick Saban took over as the head coach in 2007, Alabama has won six national championships including last year when the Crimson Tide beat Florida in the SEC title game on its way to an unbeaten season.

When Alabama comes to The Swamp Saturday, it will be as a prohibitive favorite. Las Vegas has the Crimson Tide favored to win by 14.5 points, which seems a bit high considering The Swamp is going to be rocking again with decibel levels that are equal or greater than a 747 at takeoff.

Can the Florida crowd energize the Gators? Can they make it next to impossible for Alabama redshirt freshman quarterback Bryce Young to think straight much less check a play at the line of scrimmage. Can those newbies on Alabama’s offensive line avoid critical false starts when the crowd noise is peaking?

And will that energy from the crowd give Florida’s offense a boost as well? Can they get behind embattled Emory Jones and make him feel like he’s King Kong by roaring approval every time he makes a solid play? Can they add a jolt of electricity in the stadium when Anthony Richardson takes the field the first time?

Although the odds are stacked against the Gators, this is a game UF can win but only if critical mistakes are avoided on both sides of the ball. The Gators have to stuff the Alabama running game and make the Crimson Tide one-dimensional. If Young can’t rely on his running game and has to throw every down, the crowd is going to be a huge factor. Over on offense, the Gators can’t turn the ball over and both Jones and Young have to be able to get outside the tackles. That’s the key to attacking this Alabama defense. A running quarterback who can get outside the tackles and remember to complete passes to his guys, not the defense, can turn this into a white knuckles game.

Just as that 1991 game ushered in an era when Florida football became beastly, beating Alabama Saturday can be just what Dan Mullen needs to get the Gators back into the championship groove they once enjoyed.

THE SAYER SAYS SOOTH: My instincts tell me the Gators are capable of winning this game, but I’m hesitant to pick UF for two reasons. I’m not sure how well Richardson has recovered from his hamstring and no Ventrell Miller in the middle of the defense. I think it’s close to the bitter end, however. Alabama 30, Florida 27

THE SEC SOOTHSAYER South Carolina (2-0) at No. 2 Georgia (2-0): Luke Doty could be South Carolina’s starting quarterback. It wouldn’t matter if Aaron Rodgers was the South Carolina starter because the players at the other 21 positions aren’t as good as the ones Georgia will put on the field. And, speaking of quarterbacks, Georgia isn’t really sure who will get the start. Stetson Bennett IV has some issues with his back and JT Daniels is feeling better but probably won’t play. So does that mean Carson Beck finally gets to start a game? Really, does it matter? The Sayer says sooth: Georgia 38, South Carolina 10

New Mexico (2-0) at No. 7 Texas A&M (2-0): New Mexico is probably the worst 2-0 team in the country. The Aggies might not be as good as their 2-0 record might indicate but even if they started their entire second unit on both side of the ball, they would still blow the doors off Los Lobos de Nuevo Mexico are going to take a beating. The Sayer says sooth: Texas A&M 35, New Mexico 7

Tulane (1-1) at No. 17 Ole Miss (2-0): People are still talking about the way Tulane had Oklahoma on the ropes in the season opener, which is why some people have put Ole Miss on upset alert. The alert will last about 20 minutes after which Matt Corral will have padded his Heisman candidate stats. Ole Miss is going to score plenty of points. The only question is can the Ole Miss defense continue to improve or will it revert back to the errors of seasons past? The Sayer says sooth: Ole Miss 45, Tulane 27

Georgia Southern (1-1) at No. 20 Arkansas (2-0): It’s been a long time since Arkansas has been ranked, but here the Hogs are, unbeaten and ranked 20th after stomping Texas last week. If Sam Pittman got the Hogs feet back on the ground then they’ll be 3-0 after this weekend. If they’re still basking in the glow of the