On most pass plays, you can count one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi and the ball is already out of Jeff Driskel’s hands and cutting a path to a receiver. On most plays, whether pass or run, the splits in the offensive line are a bit wider than they’ve been at any time in the last three years. You look at how the offense is spread out and how the defense has to cover and it looks like a picket fence out there.
Hold those images for a moment because they have everything to do with why Florida’s offense should be much improved and why the offensive line should be much better. The combination of a faster tempo and spreading the field will make the job of the offensive line much easier. The linemen won’t have to hold their blocks as long because the ball is going to be on its way to a receiver a whole lot faster. Oh, there will still be some deep balls thrown into the mix where the O-linemen will have to sustain their blocks for a couple more seconds, but the constantly quicker tempo that allows for fewer substitutions will wear down the D-line. The wider splits in the line will take linebackers extra steps toward the sideline and give backs like Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones a little bit more of a crease.
Don’t think for a second that the spread, faster tempo and wider splits eliminates physicality because it doesn’t but that combination wears down a defensive front seven in a big way. Try watching the fourth quarter of an Auburn game from last year if you want a clinic in what a spread offense with a faster tempo can do to a defense. That’s exactly what Kurt Roper is trying to achieve here.
Probably the best segment of Thursday night’s launch of the SEC Network was the one in which famous alumni such as James Carville (LSU), Shepherd Smith (Fox News/Ole Miss), Amy Robach (Good Morning America/Georgia), Charles Barkley (TNT/Auburn), Ashley Judd (Kentucky), Melissa Joan Hart (Alabama) and Emmitt Smith (Florida) described the SEC experience. It is different here and they did a terrific job of capturing the single fiber that runs through all 14 schools in the Southeastern Conference and that is pride in the schools and the teams that represent the league. It has been said that the SEC is a league united by hatred and to some extent that’s true because on game day, your buddy who went to another SEC school is your sworn enemy, but when it’s the SEC against the rest of the world, it’s all about the SEC.
It used to be the SEC was all about the football except at Kentucky, which is one of the two or three truly iconic basketball programs in the country. But even that has changed as the league has evolved into the best all sports conference in all of collegiate athletics. Football may still be king and the cash cow that pays the bills, but the SEC wins championships in all sports and the championships have a lot to do with the greatest first day launch of any cable network in history.
The SEC Network debuted to more than 90 million subscribers Thursday, a number that is only going to grow. Football alone couldn’t have done that nor could basketball. The success of the launch has everything to do with the success the league has found in both men’s and women’s sports. Just last year the SEC brought home national championships in women’s gymnastics (Florida), women’s swimming (Georgia), men’s golf (Alabama), women’s track and field (Texas A&M), baseball (Vanderbilt), softball (Florida) and equestrian (Georgia). Auburn finished second in football and Kentucky finished second in basketball.
Football is still going to be king, but the new network is going to expand the footprint of the SEC by showing off the other sports and it’s going to be a cash bonanza that goes far beyond anything anyone expected. Instead of the $10-15 million per team from network revenues that was projected back in the spring, those numbers could easily double.
You knew her as Laura McKeeman when she worked for Fightin’ Gators. She’s married to Colorado Rockies infielder Josh Rutledge now and working for the SEC Network ... Former LSU All-America defensive lineman Booger McFarland says that Auburn’s fast tempo spread offense is the Kryptonite to the Alabama defense ... Nick Saban is not a big guy but he looked like a 12-year-old standing next to former LSU All-America defensive tackle Marcus Spears ... I know a lot of folks think Brent Musberger’s sell by date expired long ago, but there isn’t an announcer anywhere better at setting up a game or an important moment quite like he can ... Give Tim Tebow a little bit of time and he’ll do just fine. He’s still learning what to do and a bit stiff, but he had some moments when he showed that he’ll do just fine in his new gig.
ALABAMA: Defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson is expected to be back for Alabama’s scrimmage Saturday ... Nick Saban says one of the reasons he hasn’t offered any quarterback stats from last week’s scrimmage is the bad weather and the number of drops by receivers ... While Saban won’t say who’s taking charge in the battle between Blake Sims and Jacob Coker for the starting quarterback job, Saban told the SEC Network that Coker “is starting to show that he’s a talented guy that can make a great contribution to our team.”
Arkansas: The Razorbacks will scrimmage Saturday. They had a good practice Thursday in which there were no fumbles or dropped passes ... Quarterback Brandon Allen led the first team offense to a touchdown during the two-minute drill but said there’s still a lot of work to do in that aspect of the game. “We’re not fully confident in it yet, but it’s coming along,” Allen said.
AUBURN: Coordinator Ellis Johnson was disappointed in the defense at Auburn’s second scrimmage. “I was disappointed in our scrimmage overall,” Johnson said. “The scrimmage was mainly what we call Blues. It was some guys who are fighting, competing for starting jobs, some guys who are competing to get into that two-deep. I didn’t think we made a lot of progress in that area.”
GEORGIA: Saturday’s scrimmage could go a long way toward defining Georgia’s top five offensive linemen. “I think this next scrimmage will help us define that,” head coach Mark Richt said before the Bulldogs practiced Thursday. “We need to name a starting five here pretty soon and get them working together as long as we can. We have been mixing and matching a lot. There’s been a lot of open competition. It hasn’t been all bad. Some years you’re desperate to find give that can play at all and now there’s a possibility of having eight or nine guys, or maybe even ten.”
KENTUCKY: At Kentucky’s Wednesday scrimmage, the up tempo offense gave the defense real problems. Head coach Mark Stoops remarked, “We’re much further along than we were all year last year, but that’s the good thing, that’s what I told the offense, that’s what they can do when they put that kind of pressure on you. That’s what helps them put some pressure on defenses. You all watch college football and you see some great defenses struggle with tempo because it neutralizes you a little bit because of what you can call and what you can execute.”
LSU: LSU held its first scrimmage Wednesday behind closed doors. Head coach Les Miles liked his quarterbacks – freshman Brandon Harris and sophomore Anthony Jennings – but he won’t say who’s got the edge for the starter’s job. “They’re both really improving. Wouldn’t want to say there’s an edge” ... Dwayne Thomas is getting a lot of work as the blitzing defensive back in the Mustang defensive package.
Mississippi State: Quarterback Dak Prescott is one of 32 quarterbacks who made the watch list for the Manning Award. This is the only national quarterback award that includes the bowl performance in the balloting. Prescott ran for 829 yards and 13 touchdowns and threw for 1,940 yards and 10 touchdowns last season as a sophomore.
Missouri: Junior Taylor Chappell spent the first nine days of fall practice at right tackle. He was moved inside to right guard Thursday where he will battle with Mitch Hall for the starting job ... Connor McGovern is running #1 at right tackle with redshirt freshman and former defensive tackle Nate Crawford, is now the #2 behind McGovern ... Safety Braylon Webb (shoulder) returned to practice ... Senior wideout Gavin Otte, injured in Tuesday’s scrimmage, was seen in a boot Thursday.
OLE MISS: This was not a good day for the Ole Miss secondary. First, juco transfer Tee Shepard (torn tendon in his toe) was declared out for the seasons. Then, Carlos Davis, a 2-year letterman at corner, tore an ACL ... The first team offensive line will be settled with the battle between Ben Still and Robert Conyers at center, but O-line coach Matt Luke is still shuffling bodies around to find a second unit.
South Carolina: The big concerns in Columbia have been about the defense because of the loss of linemen Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles and corner Victor Hampton. Coordinator Lorenzo Ward said Thursday that the defense is showing improvement as the Gamecocks prep for their season opener with Texas A&M (August 28). “I think the defense is close,” Ward said. “I think we’ve gotten better. We had one of our better practices yesterday than we did this morning (Thursday), but that goes for the offense, too. I think they picked it up and we didn’t totally respond like I would like us to, but we didn’t do bad. We’re getting better.”
Tennessee: Head coach Butch Jones went ahead and named Justin Worley as his starting quarterback Thursday. Jones said, “Justin’s played in big-time games. He understands the environment. He one of the most experienced returning quarterbacks in the SEC, and we’re going to need that with a very, very young football team.”
TEXAS A&M: Brandon Williams, whose college football career began at Oklahoma, could wind up as the featured back in the Aggies offense. He gained 268 yards and scored a touchdown last year backing up Ben Malena ... Linebacker Darien Claiborne, who was dismissed from the team after being charged with aggravated robbery, has resurfaced at Texas Southern.
VANDERBILT: Turnovers were a problem for the offense Thursday at Vanderbilt’s scrimmage, which was dominated by the defense. “The front seven did a much better job just in terms of stopping the run and really creating a wave so that we can get our ‘backers through,” head coach Derek Mason said. “It was a good day up front. Secondary-wise, there were some plays made. We had a nice pick six by Emmanuel (Smith) down here in the red zone and he took it back to the house.”
At ESPN.com, the question is what if Pete Maravich had (a) been able to play as a freshman and (b) what if there had been a three-point shot in Pete’s days. Pete scored 3,667 points in three years so you can figure he would have scored at least another thousand if he had been allowed to play as a freshman. Pete scored 64 against Kentucky in 1970, a game in which Dan Issel scored 51 for the Wildcats, who won 121-105. Old friend Mike Pratt, who scored 27 for Kentucky in that game, told me back in March, “If there had been a 3-point shot that year, Pete would have scored 80 in that game and we probably would have lost.”
Did you watch any of the SEC Network’s launch and will it bring you back for more?
When Eric Clapton met Duane Allman, it was a match made in guitar heaven. They played together only a few times, but they collaborated on “Layla” on the only studio album ever produced by Clapton’s band, Derek and the Dominoes called “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.” Duane Allman’s performance on the slide guitar on “Layla” is brilliant and one of the chief reasons the song rates in just about everyone’s top 25 when they compile the all-time best rock and roll songs. Layla was inspired by Clapton’s undying love for Pattie Boyd, the wife of best friend George Harrison.