A TIME FOR TOUGHNESS
“If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with BS” – W.C. Fields
When he was Nick Saban's defensive coordinator back in 2016-17, Jeremy Pruitt wasn't required to rely on exotic schemes and blitz packages to get the job done. When you have an entire stable of future first rounders at your disposal, you pretty much just give your guys a basic assignment, line them up and cut them loose.
That was then. This is now and now as Tennessee's head coach, Pruitt doesn't have a slew of 4- and 5-star athletes at his disposal, all of them drooling at the mere thought of overwhelming whoever is playing quarterback on the other team. The Crimson Tide combined for 94 sacks, 35 interceptions and 13 turnover returned for touchdowns in those two years. Last year in his first season at Tennessee, the Vols had a fairly average 25 sacks, only nine interceptions and three turnovers returned for touchdowns. Through three games this year, Tennessee has six sacks, four interceptions and hasn't registered a defensive touchdown.
When you have athletes, you turn them loose and let them make plays. When you have the athletes Pruitt is working with at Tennessee, you probably have to scheme and disguise every step of the way. Considering Tennesseee (1-2, 0-0 SEC) will be facing a Florida (3-0, 1-0 SEC) team led by a quarterback who hasn't started a game since he led the freshman A team at Manvel High in Texas a few years back, you can almost expect the baffle them with BS approach in an attempt to daze and confuse Kyle Trask.
Whether it's bringing the heat from new angles to pressure Trask into bad reads and errant throws or showing blitz then dropping eight into coverage, Pruitt will try to exploit Trask's inexperience. It sounds good on paper, but the guy who Trask backed up three years on the Manvel High varsity would probably tell you such an approach would be a mistake. D'Eriq King, who threw for 36 touchdowns and ran for 14 last season as the starting QB at the University of Houston, remains close with Trask and he will tell you his old buddy isn't going to be rattled no matter what Pruitt elects to throw at him.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, King said, “Kyle is probably the most mentally strong guy I know.”
If there is one thing the Gators need to notch their second SEC win in as many weeks, it's for Pruitt to show his mental toughness Saturday afternoon. We saw in the Kentucky game that Trask had a bit of unexpected moxie about him when he led the Gators from 11 down to a 29-21 win after Feleipe Franks went down with a dislocated/fractured ankle.
But that was off the bench in a nothing to lose situation. Had Trask failed to lead the Gators to 19 straight points to win the game, it would have been dismissed as an inexperienced guy thrust into an untenable situation in a very hostile road environment except that he delivered. He made the smart decisions, the tough throws and the big plays. He had the confidence and swag to stick his head in the defense's sideline huddle after the Kentucky lead was cut to 21-16 to tell his teammates to get the ball back because the Gators were going to score again.
Not we'll try to score. Not we hope we'll score. Trask told them “we're going to score.” And they did. Twice more, in fact.
Trask passed that first test against a Kentucky defense that has far better personnel than what Jeremy Pruitt will send out Saturday afternoon. Pruitt knows he can't match Florida's speed and athleticism at the skill positions so he's going to have to try to neutralize them with schemes that get into and stay in Kyle Trask's head. If Trask's confidence is shaken early on, the Vols will have a shot.
If Trask is the same tough guy that handled Kentucky las week in Lexington, then Florida might just win this in a rout.
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF
#2 Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC):Nick Saban says freshman D-lineman Antonio Alfano “basically quit … quit going to class, quit coming here [to practice].” Alfano has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal … Defensive end LaBryan Ray (ankle/foot) will miss at least six weeks. Saturday: vs. Southern Miss (2-1)
Arkansas (2-1, 0-1 SEC):Colorado State quarterback Collin Hill is lost for the season with an ACL tear, the third he's suffered in the same knee. That is significant because he was injured by a deliberate low hit by Arkansas safety last Saturday. Foucha got a roughing the passer penalty but stayed in the game. Saturday: vs. San Jose State (1-1)
#8 Auburn (3-0, 0-0 SEC): Offensive lineman Prince Tega Wanogho and wide receiver Seth Williams are expected to go against Texas A&M Saturday night but neither one is at 100%. Saturday: at #17 Texas A&M (2-1, 0-0 SEC)
#3 Georgia (3-0, 1-0 SEC): Kirby Smart might not know until Saturday if wide receiver Demetris Robertson (6-44 receiving for two touchdowns) is able to go. Robertson has been trying to play through a couple of nagging injuries. Saturday: vs. #7 Notre Dame (1-1)
Kentucky (2-1, 0-1 SEC):Linebacker Kash Daniel denies that he was trying to twist Florida quarterback Kyle Trask's ankle with intent to hurt. Daniel said, “I’ve kept my mouth shut about it and I’ve been biting my tongue as long as I can, because that’s something I actually hold close to me. I was the victim of a dirty play, and if you don’t believe me, I have a plate of screws in my right ankle to prove that. I’ve got a scar halfway down my right leg. I’m not out there to hurt anybody.” Saturday: at Mississippi State (2-1, 0-0 SEC)
#4 LSU (3-0, 0-0 SEC):Defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence won't play Saturday against Vandy while outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson is listed as doubtful. Saturday: at Vanderbilt (0-2, 0-1 SEC)
Mississippi State (2-1, 0-0 SEC):Quarterback Tommy Stevens is still in doubt for Saturday's matchup with Kentucky, but says he's feeling okay. Stevens said, “Feeling good, just taking it day-by-day and continuing to do the things that I can to give myself a chance to play.” Saturday: vs. Kentucky (2-1, 0-1 SEC)
Missouri (2-1, 0-0 SEC): Corner Richaud Floyd says when Mizzou and South Carolina meet up, “You better have your chinstrap buckled. It's going to be a grown man's game.” Saturday: vs. South Carolina (1-2, 0-1 SEC)
Ole Miss (2-1, 1-0 SEC): Through three games the Rebels have shown significant improvement on defense. They're allowing just 20.3 points (36.2 last year) and 366.7 yards per game (483.4 last year). Saturday: vs. #23 California (3-0)
South Carolina (1-2, 0-1 SEC): HBC Will Muschamp is familiar with Mizzou grad transfer QB Kelly Bryant, who he faced when Bryant was the QB at Clemson. “He's a winner,” Muschamp said. “That's the one thing that stands out to you. He eludes and evades more to throw the ball than run the ball. I have tremendous respect for him.” Saturday: at Missouri (2-1, 0-0 SEC)
Tennessee (1-2, 0-0 SEC): Cornerback Bryce Thompson will make the trip to Gainesville but HBC Jeremy Pruitt says he hasn't guaranteed any playing time against the Gators. “He's got to earn his way back out there,” Pruitt said. Thompson was only recently reinstated to the team after getting suspended for threatening to shoot up the school during an altercation with his girlfriend. Saturday: at #9 FLORIDA (3-0, 1-0 SEC)
#17 Texas A&M (2-1, 0-0 SEC): Jimbo Fisher expects defensive lineman Jayden Peevy and corner Elijah Blades to be healthy enough to play Saturday when Auburn comes to Kyle Field. Saturday: vs. #8 Auburn (3-0, 0-0 SEC)
Vanderbilt (0-2, 0-1 SEC):Injured and out for the season are running back Jamauri Wakefield (leg), wide receiver Amir Abdur-Rahman (knee) and linebacker Colin Anderson (knee).
Saturday: vs. #4 LSU (3-0, 0-0 SEC)
GOOD QUOTES FOR THURSDAY
From Chris Low of ESPN, Lane Kiffin talks about his year as Tennessee's head coach and who he tried to emulate with his brash words and predictions:
“A lot of the things I was saying, that's straight out of Steve Spurrier 101, and people loved Coach Spurrier, taking a shot at someone else and making a joke. That's who I grew up idolizing, Steve Spurrier. That's why I wear a visor and why I run a wide-open offense. I grew up wanting to be Steve Spurrier. And that's why it was so cool to beat him that season.”
From Laken Litman on UCF's chances to crash the College Football Playoff even if the Knights run the regular season for a third straight season:
“The unfortunate reality is that even if the Knights win every game, they’re not going to make the Playoff. Strength of schedule matters and has been the primary reason UCF has never seriously been considered one of the four best teams—despite those consecutive perfect regular seasons. The selection committee has made that clear. It’s especially unfortunate this year that Stanford, ranked No. 25 in preseason polls, was fresh off a 45-20 loss to USC. In order to beef up their credentials, UCF needed Stanford to be one of (if not the) top teams in the Pac 12, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case. The Cardinal have their own problems this season, and even them winning out might not help the Knights’ resume enough. UCF is at the mercy of top dogs Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, etc. having underwhelming seasons, which seems unlikely.”
From ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay on Florida corner CJ Henderson, who he rates as the #11 prospect for the 2020 draft:
“Primarily an outside corner who is at his best in man-to-man coverage, Henderson possesses smooth hips and easy speed -- he doesn't stress to stay in stride with receivers going vertical. Henderson locates the ball well and displays good ball skills, breaking up two passes this season. Run support and physicality at the line of scrimmage are his weaknesses, but those will improve as he gets stronger.”
From Ian O'Connor of ESPN, Hall of Fame running back and Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown on Browns' second year quarterback Baker Mayfield:
“He's going to be a superstar. He's the real deal. He has the physical skills, but more than the physical skills he has a great attitude toward his position, toward his responsibility ... He's the firstquarterback I've seen the Browns come up with that I really believe can truly do the job."
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Towson State, whom the Gators will play on September 27 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, has lost its best player for the season. Senior running back Shane Simpson suffered an ACL tear in the Tigers win over Maine last Saturday. Simpson has 4,751 all-purpose yards in his Towson career, 337 this season … Former West Virginia running back Justin Crawford has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for having sex with a 12-year-old girl … With Drew Brees out for at least six weeks after undergoing surgery on his thumb, the New Orleans Saints plan to use both Teddy Bridgewater and dual threat Taysom Hill … Former Gator Pete Alonso is within three of tying Aaron Judge's all-time rookie record for home runs in a season. Alonso hit his 49thWednesday afternoon when the New York Mets rallied for four runs in the top of the ninth for a 7-4 win over the Colorado Rockies. Alonso leads the majors in homers and is seventh in RBI with 113.