“Some people try to find things in this game that don’t exist but football is only two things – blocking and tackling.” – Vince Lombardi.
And that’s what Saturday will be all about for the Florida Gators. Forget all the talk about how Jeff Driskel has to get rid of the ball quicker and how he has to read the blitz coming off the edge. Forget up tempo, slow tempo, no tempo. Forget all that bit about getting in Justin Worley’s face or who’s going to cover Marquez North or if Brian Poole is lined up at the nickel with true freshmen Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson sharing the corner opposite Vernon Hargreaves III.
There isn’t any doubt those things are important but the outcome of this game will be determined by the team that blocks better and tackles better. That’s it. Florida has done a decent job of blocking this year, at least better than what we saw last year. It’s obvious that Mike Summers has improved Florida’s offensive line but it could be better. The blocking on the edge has been less than stellar and the guys in the backfield protecting Jeff Driskel have been anything but consistent but the Gators haven’t been horrible in that area. Last year, no matter what position we were talking about, the blocking was horrible.
The greater concern has to do with tackling, which the Gators haven’t done very well. We’ve seen that in every game including the season opener with Eastern Michigan. The Gators went 11-2 in 2012 because they tackled better than any team in the country. This year’s team? We haven’t seen anything close to consistency and we’ve seen far too many missed tackles on critical plays. Do you remember the first play touchdown by Stanley Williams in overtime by Kentucky? Or the third down and 23 screen pass to Derrick Henry that turned into a 29-yard gain and a first and goal for Alabama? Those were far from the only plays where the Gators missed a slew of tackles but they stand out as reminders that this team has a ton of improving to do.
Block better. Tackle better.
If the Gators intend to win in Knoxville that is where it will start.
The outstanding Sporting News college football columnist had this observation about the Florida-Tennessee game:
“I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but three times in the last decade a coach has lost the Florida-Tennessee game and been fired during the season. To avoid joining Phil Fulmer, Ron Zook and Derek Dooley (I ask you, which one of those three is not like the other?), Muschamp might want to think about, you know, playing true freshman Treon Harris (this sound familiar?) instead of continuing through the land of misfit throws.”
The Tennessee beat writer for the Knoxville News-Sentinel notes that only seven Tennessee quarterbacks have beaten Florida since the Vols abandoned the single wing in 1964 and there hasn’t been a UT winner under center since Erik Ainge got a win in 2004. Even though current UT quarterback Justin Worley really hasn’t done anything outstanding in his career, a win over Florida would cement his legacy in the mind of Vol fans. Notes Strange:
“Going into Saturday’s game against Florida at Neyland Stadium, Worley is on a two-game losing streak. And his approval rating with UT fans has never been higher. Operating behind the least experienced offensive line in the solar system, Worley has won orange hearts and minds with a combination of adept passing and toughness. Just think what his approval rating would be if he actually beat the Gators.”
Les Miles will start true freshman quarterback Brandon Harris when #15 LSU travels to #5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0 SEC) Saturday, a game that could essentially eliminate the Tigers (4-1, 0-1 SEC) from the SEC West race if they lose or hand Auburn its first loss of the season. Addressing the hostile environment that has been predicted for Harris, Miles said:
“My first hostile environment that I remember was a baseball diamond in what would be southern Ohio, okay. That was a very hostile environment. I can tell you as a sophomore in wrestling we went to Mentor and they had to walk us out of the gym onto the buses. My point is, our guys have been through hostile environments before.”
The last time Ole Miss won an SEC title was 1963 when the Rebels went 7-1-2 under Johnny Vaught. Ole Miss did tie for the SEC West championship in 2003, Eli Manning’s senior season, but LSU won the head-to-head and went to the SEC Championship Game before going on to beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship. Success has been even more difficult for Mississippi State. Even though the school was the stepping stone to success for hall of fame coaches Bernie Bierman, Murray Warmath and Darrell Royal, there have been only two championships. Ever. The Bulldogs got their only SEC title in 1941 under Allyn McKeen, who posted an 8-1-1 mark, and they got to the SEC Championship Game in 1998 under Jackie Sherrill after tying Arkansas for the SEC West title.
It’s way too early to concede an SEC title to either Ole Miss or Mississippi State, but the fact they’re both unbeaten through September, both ranked in the top 12 (Ole Miss #11; Mississippi State #12) and both playing higher ranked teams at home (Ole Miss vs. #3 Alabama; Mississippi State vs. #6 Texas A&M) makes this the most significant football weekend in state history. If they both win, they’ll catapult to the top 5-6 teams in the country and will be mentioned in the college football playoff discussion.
This will be a significant accomplishment for a state whose entire population is less than Dade County. In the pre-integration days and before college football changed its rules to allow unlimited substitutions, Ole Miss could compete on the national stage. Johnny Vaught won six SEC titles and two national titles in the days when players went both ways. When football changed its rules, Ole Miss became less significant. It took awhile before the school was comfortable with integration and those two factors set Ole Miss back light years.
Now Ole Miss has a bright young coach in Hugh Freeze, whose name is going to pop up on a lot of big time lists once Countdown to Firing Day gets into full swing and Dan Mullen has taken Mississippi State to four straight bowl games, something no other coach has ever done in Starkville. There are no guarantees that either Freeze or Mullen will have their team in Atlanta in December, but there is no question they’ve made Ole Miss and Mississippi State relevant on the big stage. They need to enjoy the moment because it might not happen again for a long time.
The pool of unbeatens is half what it was two weeks ago and by the time this weekend is a done deal this week’s list of 16 unbeatens will be trimmed by at least four. If this season is typical, one or two teams will run the table and there will be a slew of teams with one loss. The unbeatens might have a clear path into the first college football playoff. Those other two spots could spark the biggest controversy we’ve had since 2006 when the BCS selected Florida over Michigan to play Ohio State for the national championship.
BIG TEN (1): Nebraska (5-0)
Weekend outlook: #19 Nebraska takes its unbeaten record to Lansing to face #10 Michigan State (3-1). This could be the first of two meetings as both teams could win their divisions and square off again in the Big Ten Championship Game. Michigan State is an 8-point favorite.
Weekend outlook: The league will be down to no more than two unbeatens by Sunday because #4 Oklahoma plays at #25 TCU. Oklahoma is favored by six. #7 Baylor is favored by15 when it travels to Texas. Oklahoma and Baylor are both favored to be unbeaten when they square off on November 8 in Norman.
INDEPENDENTS (2): BYU (4-0); Notre Dame (2-0)
Weekend forecast: The league will be down to two unbeatens after Thursday night when #2 Oregon and Arizona get the weekend started in Eugene where the Ducks are prohibitive 24-point favorites. #8 UCLA is at home Saturday against Utah, which suffered its first defeat of the season last week.
SEC (5): Texas A&M (5-0); Alabama (4-0); Auburn (4-0); Mississippi State (4-0); Ole Miss (4-0)
Weekend forecast: There will be no more than three unbeatens when the dust settles this weekend. #3 Alabama travels to #11 Ole Miss and #6 Texas A&M travels to Mississippi State. Alabama is a 7-point favorite and Mississippi State is a 3-point favorite to end Texas A&M’s unbeaten dreams. #5 Auburn faces its toughest challenge when once beaten and #15 LSU comes to town.
One Harbaugh (John) has already said not interested and it’s probably just a matter of time before the other one (Jim) says no, too. So, when – it’s not an if but a when – Brady Hoke goes to the Extinct Species List for coaches, there is growing speculation that the folks in Ann Arbor will look to the SEC for the next great coach in their never-ending search to find the next Bo Schembechler. Current speculation is target #1 will be LSU coach Les Miles, a Michigan alum who has a national championship under his belt and a nearly $5 million a year salary that he banks. If Les says no, the folks who spend their time trying to anticipate Michigan’s next move, say Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen is the man. Mullen makes $3.2 million and calls Starkville a “hidden gem” but what are the odds he could ever bring a national title to MSU? The odds of winning a national championship are far greater at Michigan even if it is in the Big Ten (Plus Four), a conference which hasn’t brought home the big trophy since Ohio State did it thanks to a phantom pass interference call against Miami in 2001.
How vulnerable are Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M this weekend?
The Irish band Thin Lizzy had a hit back in 1976 with “The Boys Are Back in Town.” It’s a song that bands like Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne, The Scorpions and Bon Jovi have played in concert, but the best version ever was the one done by The Bus Boys, who performed it live in the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte movie “48 Hours.” These guys really rip it when they go live. I couldn’t find decent sound on their live performances on video but I found this high quality audio. It’s a great song that Rolling Stone ranks in its top 500 rock and roll songs of all time.