Remember the 2009 SEC Championship Game against Alabama? Sure you do, but you probably remember it because (a) Florida’s unbeaten season and hopes for a repeat national championship went down the drain; (b) Carlos Dunlap was arrested for a DUI the Monday before the game which probably had something to do with the way the Gators played and (c) Urban Meyer went to the hospital in the early hours of the morning after with symptoms that bore a strong resemblance to a heart attack.
What you might have missed is that wacky Alabama offensive coordinator did so many funky things when the Crimson Tide had the football that Charlie Strong employed the Florida defense – ranked #1 nationally going into the game – in a 3-3-5 throughout the game. The 3-3-5 had nothing to do with Dunlap’s suspension but had everything to do with the way Jim McElwain shifted the Bama offense on the fly. It left the Gators vulnerable against the run, but Strong felt it gave UF a better chance to counter McElwain going from power formations with short splits in the O-line to wide splits and 4-wide, 1-back sets without ever changing personnel. That forced Florida to play at a disadvantage the entire night.
Alabama used its entire playbook that night, running for 251 yards and throwing for 239. This was a Florida defense that sent 15 players on to the NFL and gave up an average of 100 rushing yards and 151 passing yards per game – only 3.14 yards per rushing attempt and 5.4 per pass attempt. Yes, that Alabama team didn’t lack for outstanding personnel and Florida was indeed distracted by the Dunlap incident, but it was astonishing how McElwain’s offense was always one step ahead. During the five years that Charlie Strong was Urban’s defensive coordinator, there were only two times he was totally mismatched and this was one of them. The other was the Michigan game in the Citrus Bowl in 2007 when the Gators threw a bunch of freshmen and sophomores to the wolves.
We tend to think of Nick Saban-era Alabama as this plodding, line up and blow somebody off the ball offense, but if you look at the offenses coached up by McElwain and his successor, Doug Nussmeier, you see maximum use of the available talent enhanced by creative play calling and formations. Fast forward the three years that McElwain was at Colorado State, where he didn’t have the same level of talent, and McElwain forced opponents to go funky with their defenses to keep up with his shift on the fly offense.
If you read Bob Redman’s Midday Matinee from Tuesday, then you should have gotten a strong hint that we’re going to see more of same from McElwain, Nussmeier and their very creative minds. Expect wide splits in the line, creative use of the personnel and shifting on the fly so that opposing defensive coordinators either have to call time out or stick with the people they’ve got on the field … even if it means a mismatch.
2005: 226.7 yards per game (7.0 yards per attempt; 20 TDs; 6 INTs)
2006: 236.1 yards per game (8.3 yards per attempt; 29 TDs; 14 INTs)
2007: 257.0 yards per game (9.3 yards per attempt; 32 TDs; 6 INTs)
2008: 213.9 yards per game (9.1 yards per attempt; 33 TDs; 5 INTs)
2009: 236.1 yards per game (9.1 yards per attempt; 28 TDs; 5 INTs)
2010: 184.3 yards per game (6.3 yards per attempt; 12 TDs; 12 INTs)
2011: 185.7 yards per game (7.5 yards per attempt; 13 TDs; 13 INTs)
2012: 146.3 yards per game (6.6 yards per attempt; 13 TDs; 5 INTs)
2013: 170.9 yards per game (6.6 yards per attempt; 11 TDs; 9 INTs)
2014: 179.9 yards per game (6.7 yards per attempt; 18 TDs; 14 INTs)
5 best seasons by a passer since 2005
1. Tim Tebow, 2007 (234-350; 3,286 yards; 32 TDs; 6 INTs)
2. Tim Tebow, 2008 (192-298; 2,746 yards; 30 TDs; 4 INTs)
3. Chris Leak, 2006 (232-365; 2,942 yards; 23 TDs; 13 INTs)
4. Tim Tebow, 2009 (213-314, 2,895 yards; 21 TDs; 5 INTs)
5. Chris Leak, 2005 (235-374; 2,639 yards; 20 TDs; 6 INTs)
5 best seasons by a receiver since 2005
1. Dallas Baker, 2006 (60 catches, 920 yards, 10 TDs)
2. Chad Jackson, 2005 (88 catches, 900 yards, 9 TDs)
3. Riley Cooper, 2009 (51 catches, 961 yards, 9 TDs)
4. Percy Harvin, 2007 (59 catches, 858 yards, 4 TDs)
5. Aaron Hernandez, 2009 (68 catches, 850 yards, 5 TDs)
Florida 27, Tennessee 23; September 16, 2000
Tennessee folks swear Jabar Gaffney never had control of the 3-yard touchdown pass from Jesse Palmer with 14 seconds to go in the game. The zebras, however, ruled it a catch and it went down as the game-winner. What the Vols tend to forget is that it was only second down, so the 6th-ranked Gators had one more shot at the end zone and in a worst case scenario, Jeff Chandler would have had a chance for a point blank field goal to tie the game and sent it to overtime. And the Gaffney TD wasn’t the only controversial call. Florida had a 5-yard Palmer to Reche Caldwell TD pass called back with 28 seconds to go on a dubious ineligible man downfield penalty. Leading up to the deciding touchdown(s), Jesse Palmer had his finest moment as a Gator, directing Florida 91 yards in 10 plays, completing six passes for 77 yards including a clutch 21-yard strike to Caldwell on a critical third down. Florida fell behind 9-0 and trailed 12-7 at the half as the Gators played bend but don’t break defense to hold the Vols to four field goals including three in the red zone. Florida got a 24-yard Chandler field goal and an 80-yard interception return for a TD by Lito Sheppard to take a 17-12 lead in the third quarter but the Vols countered with a field goal and a Travis Henry touchdown to take a 23-17 lead. Florida cut the lead to 23-20 on Chandler’s second field goal with 7:35 to go in the game. Todd Johnson came through with the clutch defensive play of the fourth quarter when he stopped Henry for a 1-yard loss on third and one from the UF 47 with 2:25 to go. Florida took over on its own nine with 2:00 left in the game and Palmer came through with his greatest drive as a Gator QB. Palmer finished the day with 290 passing yards but he was victimized by at least five dropped passes by UF receivers. The win over the 11th-ranked Vols moved the Gators up to #3 nationally in the next week’s polls.
1. Georgia: Averaged 257.85 yards per game last year.
Experienced backs: TB Nick Chubb (1,547 yards, 14 TDs as a freshman); TB Sony Michel (410 yards, 5 TDs as a freshman); TB Keith Marshall (1,029 career yards, 9 TDs)
Future star: TB Tae Crowder
O-line: Returns 4 starters including potential All-America RG Greg Pyke.
Analysis: On paper this is as good a running attack as there is in the nation because of the combination of Chubb, quality depth and an experienced O-line.
2. Arkansas: Averaged 218 yards per game last year.
Experienced backs: TB Alex Collins (1,100 yards, 11 TDs as a sophomore; 2,126 yards, 14 TDs career); FB Kody Walker (250 yards, 7 TDs career)
Future star: TB Rawleigh Williams III
O-line: Returns 4 starters including potential All-America candidates LG Sebastian Tretola and LT Denver Kirkland.
Analysis: Collins is a stud and freshman Rawleigh Williams III might make people forget injured Jonathan Williams.
3. LSU: Averaged 224.54 yards per game last year.
Experienced backs: TB Leonard Fournette (1,034 yards, 10 TDS as a freshman); TB Darrel Williams (302 yards, 3 TDs as a freshman); QB Brandon Harris (159 yards, 3 TDs as a freshman); QB Anthony Jennings (292 yards as a sophomore).
Future stars: TB Derrius Guice; FB David Ducre
O-line: Returns 2 starters including potential All-American RT Vadal Alexander.
Analysis: If Fournette gets the carries and LSU contends, he could put up Heisman numbers.
4. Alabama: Averaged 206.64 per game last year.
Experienced backs: TB Derrick Henry (990 yards, 11 TDs as a sophomore; 1,372 yards 14 TDs career); TB Kenyan Drake (1,087 yards, 17 TDs career)
Future star: Damien Harris
O-line: Returns 2 starters including All-America candidates C Ryan Kelly and LT Cam Robinson.
Analysis: Henry is a freak athlete who finally gets the #1 reps. Bama always has a great O-line.
5. Mississippi State: Averaged 233.08 yards per game last year.
Experienced backs: QB Dak Prescott (986 yards, 11 TDs as a junior; 1,933 yards, 31 touchdowns career); RB Ashton Shumpert (274 yards, 2 TDs as a sophomore); RB Brandon Holloway (294 yards, 1 TD as a sophomore)
Future star: RB Aeris Williams
O-line: Returns 2 starters including All-SEC RG candidate Justin Malone.
Analysis: Prescott will become only the second QB in SEC history (Tim Tebow was the other) to score 40 TDs on the ground.
6. Missouri: Averaged 177.86 yards per game last year.
Experienced backs: RB Russell Hansbrough (1,084 yards, 10 TDs as a junior); QB Maty Mauk (373 yards; 2 TDs as a sophomore)
Future star: RB Chase Abbington
Analysis: There isn’t much depth but Hansbrough is a stud and Abbington was a monster in juco.
O-line: Returns 3 starters including All-SEC C candidate Evan Boehm.
7. Auburn: Averaged 255.46 yards per game last year.
Experienced backs: RB Roc Thomas (214 yards, 2 TDs as a freshman)
Future stars: RB Peyton Barber; RB Jovon Robinson
O-line: Returns both tackles from last year
Analysis: Cameron Artis-Payne and Nick Marshall are gone along with 3 O-line starters but nobody worries because this is Gus Malzahn’s offense.
8. Tennessee: Averaged 146.4 yards per game last year.
Experienced backs: RB Jalen Hurd (899 yards, 5 TDs as a freshman); QB Joshua Dobbs (469 yards, 8 TDs as a sophomore)
Future star: RB Alvin Kamara
O-line: Returns three starters from a line that couldn’t help the backs average more than 4 yards per carry last year.
Analysis: The Vols have the backs in Hurd and Kamara and Dobbs is dynamic but can anyone block?
9. Ole Miss: 155.5 yards per game last year.
Experienced backs: Jaylen Walton (586 yards, 5 TDs as a junior; 1,227 yards, 12 TDs career); Jordan Wilkins 361 yards, 1 TD as a freshman)
Future star: RB Akeem Judd
O-line: Returns all 5 starters including potential All-America LT Laremy Tunsil.
Analysis: If juco transfer Judd can give the Rebels a running presence between the tackles, Ole Miss will have a dynamic running attack.
10. Texas A&M: Averaged 149.92 yards per game last year.
Experienced backs: RB Tra Carson (581 yards, 5 TDs as a junior; 1,164 yards, 13 TDs career); RB Brandon Williams (379 yards, 3 TDs as a junior)
Future stars: RB Jay Bradford; QB Kyler Murray
O-line: Returns 3 starters including All-SEC C candidate Mike Mathews.Analysis: There is a new O-line coach (Dave Christensen) and more emphasis on running the ball to take the pressure off the passing game.
11. Florida: Averaged 187.87 yards last year.
Experienced backs:RB Kelvin Taylor 565 yards, 6 touchdowns as a sophomore; 1,073 yards, 10 TDs career); QB Treon Harris (332 yards, 3 TDs as a freshman)
Future stars: RB Jordan Scarlett; RB Jordan CronkriteO-line: Returns only LG Trip Thurman with starting experience.
Analysis: Even with a young O-line, the UF offense is conducive to moving the ball on the ground. Taylor will be steady. Scarlett will be a star.
12. Kentucky: Averaged 153.17 yards per game last year.
Experienced backs: Stanley Williams (486 yards, 5 TDs as a freshman); RB JoJo Kemp (323 yards, 4 TDs as a sophomore); QB Patrick Towles (303 yards, 6 TD as a sophomore); RB Mikel Horton (306 yards, 2 TDs as a freshman)
Future star: RB Sihiem King
O-line: Returns four starters including 2-year starter at C Jon Toth.
Analysis: Williams has to stay healthy and the Wildcats have to get the ball in Kemp’s hands more often.
13. South Carolina: Averaged 161 yards per game last year.
Experienced backs: RB Brandon Wilds (570 yards, 4 TDs as a junior; 1,277 yards, 10 TDs career); David Williams (256 yards, 2 TDs as a freshman); WR Pharoh Cooper (200 yards, 2 TDs as a sophomore); Shon Carson (406 yards, 3 TDs career)
Future star: RB Mon Denson; QB Lorenzo Nunez
O-line: Returns three starters from last year including 3-year RT starter Brandon Shell.
Analysis: Wilds can pound it between the tackles and Williams has breakaway speed, but the running game is at its best when Cooper runs the wildcat.
14. Vanderbilt: Averaged 109.25 yards per game last year.
Experienced backs: RB Ralph Webb (907 yards, 4 TDs as a freshman); RB Jerron Seymour (1,107 yards, 19 TDs career); Dallas Rivers (218 yards, 2 TDs as a freshman)
Future star: RB Josh Crawford
O-line: Four starters return for a line that opened holes for 3.4 yards per carry last year.
Analysis: Webb and Seymour can grind out some yards if someone will block. The O-line is the real problem.
Vin Scully will decide after the season if he will return for a 67th season in the Los Angeles Dodgers radio/television booth. If you’ve ever listened to Scully call a game, then you’ve heard baseball broadcasting turned into an art form. Here is Scully’s call of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run in Atlanta in 1974.
If they could have played one-on-one in their prime, Shaquille O’Neal says Michael Jordan would have taken out LeBron James. O’Neal believes Julius Erving would have taken out both MJ and LeBron, however.
After missing Tuesday’s practice to attend a court-ordered attempt at a pre-trial settlement, New England Patriots QB Tom Brady plans to miss Wednesday’s hearing in New York before Judge Richard Berman. The NFL insists Brady must accept the findings of the Wells Report for there to be a settlement. Brady won’t do that and probably has the upper hand if this goes to a full blown trial.
The NFL will experiment with 8-man zebra crews for its exhibition games this weekend. It’s about time. The game continues to get faster and the extra set of eyes and legs is a necessity to get the calls right the first time.
Florida’s strength is on defense. If McElwain can squeeze three touchdowns and a couple of field goals a game out of this offense, what kind of record is possible for the Gators?