It’s decision week for the Florida coaching staff. By this time next Monday, the Gators will be in their game week preparation mode so nearly all of the position battles will be settled and there will be an official two-deep chart. It’s the same story at 13 other SEC schools as fall camps enter their final week and the focus shifts to the season opener.
While every Florida fan wants to know if Will Grier will earn the starting quarterback over Treon Harris, an equally pressing need is cleaning up issues with on the field discipline. In 20 of the last 21 years, the Gators have led the SEC in penalties and for Jim McElwain, that’s unacceptable. McElwain understands what on the field discipline will do for you. In his four years at Alabama as the offensive coordinator (2008-11), the Crimson Tide averaged 57.8 penalties for 494.3 yards per season or 4.1 penalties for 37.1 yards per game. During that same four-year span, Florida averaged 99.5 penalties for 773 yards per season or 7.4 penalties for 57.3 yards per game. During his three years as the head coach at Colorado State, the Rams averaged fewer penalty yards per game each year (5.5 for 54.8 yards per game in 2014).
“What are we [Florida]: the most penalized team in the last five years, six years, whatever it is?” McElwain asked after Friday’s practice. I don’t know where we sit. It’s ridiculous.”
During August practices, McElwain has taken to sitting players who commit penalties, particularly those of the 15-yard variety. He’s gone so far as to call perps in practice “selfish” and has sat them for all or part of the remainder of practice. He’s going to make certain this team learns hard lessons about on the field discipline.
This is a Florida football team that seriously lacks experience and can’t afford to shoot itself in the foot. A serious reduction in penalties is a good place to start. In this first year on the job, McElwain is going to have to impose his will on this football team and turning the Gators into a disciplined team is a very good place to start.
2005: 102-783 yards (8.5 for 65.2 yards per game)
2006: 116-888 yards (8.2 for 63.4 yards per game)
2007: 107-805 yards (8.3 for 61.9 yards per game)
2008: 102-839 yards (7.3 for 59.9 yards per game)
2009: 95-735 yards (6.8 for 52.5 yards per game)
2010: 101-745 yards (7.8 for 57.3 yards per game)
2011: 100-773 yards (7.7 for 59.5 yards per game)
2012: 105-895 yards (8.1 for 68.8 yards per game)
2013: 89-711 yards (7.4 for 59.3 yards per game)
2014: 80-710 yards (6.7 for 59.2 yards per game)
National champion Ohio State took all 61 first place votes as the Associated Press released its Top 25 preseason poll Sunday. Alabama (#3) is the top ranked team from the Southeastern Conference, which placed eight teams in the top 25. The Pac-12 placed six teams in the top 25 led by Oregon at #7.
The top ten
1. Ohio State
5. Michigan State
8. Southern Cal
10. Florida State
The next 15
11. Notre Dame; 12. Clemson; 13. UCLA; 14. LSU; 15. Arizona State; 16. Georgia Tech; 17. Ole Miss; 18. Arkansas; 19. Oklahoma; 20. Wisconsin; 21. Stanford; 22. Arizona; 23. Boise State; 24. Missouri; 25. Tennessee
Florida 44, LSU 15; October 6, 2001
The last time the Gators traveled to Baton Rouge ranked among the top three teams in the nation, they took a serious hit. That was 1997 when UF was ranked #1 nationally and LSU pulled off a 28-21 Saturday night special. Although the Tigers had dropped a 26-18 decision to Tennessee in Knoxville the week before, Tiger Stadium was a zoo and fans predicted Nick Saban would get the best of Steve Spurrier and the #2 ranked Gators. This was over before the clock struck zero to end the first quarter. Rex Grossman threw touchdown passes of 13 (to Taylor Jacobs), 34 (to Reche Caldwell) and 63 yards (to Jabar Gaffney) as Florida bolted to a 21-3 lead. Grossman went on to hit 22-32 passes for 464 yards and five touchdowns (the other two were 7 yards to Gaffney and 5 to Aaron Walker) as part of 628 yards of total offense. “I thought he was a serious candidate for the Heisman Trophy before we played them,” Saban said. “Now I’m convinced of it.” Florida’s defense bent plenty but didn’t break, giving up 423 yards but only one touchdown when it mattered (the Tigers scored with 42 seconds left against UF’s second unit defenders). The Gators got to Matt Mauck and Rohan Davey for five sacks good for -45 yards and three interceptions (by Travis Carroll, Keiwan Ratliff and Todd Johnson). The win propelled Florida to #1 in the national polls, a position the Gators would hold for one week.
Alabama: At the Crimson Tide’s final scrimmage of fall camp, Cooper Bateman threw 27 passes while Jacob Coker threw 26. Alec Morris had 21 attempts and freshman Blake Barnett had 11. Nick Saban said Coker “did a decent job” and Morris, who entered fall camp as the least likely to earn the starting job, drew the highest praise from the head coach. Saban probably knows exactly who is going to start but isn’t ready to tip his hand.
Arkansas: Quarterback Brandon Allen threw for four touchdowns in the Hogs’ final scrimmage of the fall. That’s the good news. The bad news is he threw two interceptions. Allen’s was 17-22 for 245 yards … Tailback Alex Collins was held out for precautionary reasons. In his place, Kody Walker carried 10 times for 71 yards and freshman Rawleigh Williams III was good for 45 yards on six carries.
Auburn: Because Roc Thomas, Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson are all looking good in full contact drills, it’s likely Auburn will begin the season with a running back by committee approach and let productivity determine the pecking order ... Duke Williams, who was suspended for six practices, continues to make plays at wide receiver and work his way back into Gus Malzahn’s good graces.
Florida: While the quarterback battle between Will Grier and Treon Harris will continue to wage at least until the end of the week, Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio awaits word from the NCAA that his petition for a waiver that will allow immediate eligibility has been accepted. Although odds are Del Rio’s petition will be denied since he got an eligibility waiver when he transferred from Alabama to Oregon State, stranger things have happened.
Georgia: The quarterback race between Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Grayson Lambert continues to be a dead heat … Nick Chubb got 13 carries in Georgia’s Saturday scrimmage … Wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley was seen running around at practice Saturday but head coach Mark Richt still says the wide receiver will be back anytime soon or “at all.”
Kentucky: To say head ball coach Mark Stoops was less than pleased with Saturday’s scrimmage would be the understatement of August. Stoops commented, “Not a good scrimmage. Took a step back. I’ve got to re-evaluate what we’re doing. It was going to be the last big scrimmage but we may have to look at it and do it again because that wasn’t good enough.”
LSU: LSU ran for 270 yards and passed for 250 in Saturday’s scrimmage. Leonard Fournette turned his 10 carries into 100 yards … Although Brandon Harris went 12-17 passing the football, head ball coach Les Miles isn’t ready to name him the #1 quarterback even though he’s been taking most of the snaps with the #1 offensive unit.
Mississippi State: Chris Jones, whose 2014 season underwhelmed, dismisses chatter that he’s trying to avoid injury in preparation for early entry into the NFL. “The NFL Draft is not an important thing for me this year,” Jones said. “I just want to play hard and reach my potential.” Jones had 26 tackles, three sacks and eight quarterback hurries last year.
Missouri: The forgotten guy in the quarterback competition showed up big in the Tigers’ second scrimmage. Redshirt freshman Marvin Zanders went 4-8 passing for 64 yards and added 62 on the ground including a dazzling 26-yard scramble ... Freshman wide receiver Emanuel Hall caught four passes for 75 yards against the #1 defensive unit.
Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze does not expect to name a starting quarterback before a few days prior to the season opener. DeVante Kincaid, Ryan Buchanan and Chad Kelly are locked in a too close to call battle for the #1 job.
South Carolina: While all eyes are on the quarterback battle between Connor Mitch, Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia, tailback Brandon Wilds is making waves. He scored on a 70-yard run Saturday … In the scrimmage, Mitch was 5-10 for 71 yards with two interceptions while Orth was 5-10 for 56 yards and Scarnecchia was 6-10 for 58 yards. Steve Spurrier is designing a package of plays for freshman Lorenzo Nunez, who was 3-3 for 44 yards.
Tennessee: Nickel back Rashaan Gaulder broke his foot during a punt return drill and will miss the entire 2015 season. Gaulder is the third player (guards Marcus Jackson and Austin Sanders are the others) who will be out the entire season ... Missing Saturday’s scrimmage were defensive tackle Kahil McKenzie, running back John Kelly, safety LaDarrell McNeil and wide receiver Adrian Gamble.
Texas A&M: The good news out of the Aggie camp is the improvement in the secondary, which is a priority after a 2014 season in which the Aggies gave up 234 passing yards per game and 19 touchdown passes. Heading into the last week of fall camp, the Aggies will probably start De’Vante Harris and Priest Willis at the corners and Armani Watts and juco transfer Justin Evans at the safeties.
Vanderbilt: With less than two weeks until the season opener, Johnny McCrary seems to be moving ahead of Wade Freebeck in the battle for the starting quarterback job. McCrary seems more decisive and has been making the right checkdowns at the line of scrimmage.
Trust me when I tell you 51 is not old. Not by any stretch of the imagination, but when you’re talking the PGA Tour, it’s ancient, which is why that -17 to win the Wyndham Championship that 51-year-old Davis Love III posted is quite remarkable. DLIII became the third oldest player to ever win an event on the regular tour. Prior to the win in Greensboro, Love’s best finish this year was a 44th place finish at the Texas Open. The 500 FedEx Cup points and $972,000 in prize money made Love an unlikely participant in the FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin next week at The Barclay’s in New Jersey.
Former Gator All-America and 2009 Rimington Trophy winner Maurkice Pouncey will miss a major portion of the 2015 NFL season after suffering a broken ankle in the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-19 exhibition win over the Green Bay Packers.
Tiger Woods had a brief meltdown during the final round of the Wyndham Championship but he rammed in four birdies in the final six holes to finish -13, his best finish in more than two years. His presence and good play in Greensboro resulted in an increase of 50,000 in ticket sales from last year. While his game still needs plenty of work to regain a measure of consistency, there is no denying that Tiger’s fan base still remains large and formidable.
Ricky Town has transferred to Arkansas after a brief flirtation with the Florida Gators. On paper, it’s a good fit for Arkansas, whose run first approach is conducive to play action and taking shots downfield, which are Town’s strengths. Per a couple of well-placed sources, UF passed on Town. At least three QBs currently committed to other schools are in constant contact with UF and the Florida staff has very good reason to believe one of the three will flip to the Gators between now and national signing day.
And here athletic director Pat Haden thought he had problems with Lane Kiffin. Saturday night at a Salute to Troy event attended by prominent alumni and donors, Southern Cal coach Steve Sarkisian appeared to be drunk as he slurred his words while insulting a number of Pac-12 rival schools. At some point during the meeting, Haden had to intervene and was seen getting in Sarkisian’s face backstage. Sarkisian’s comment: “Pat Haden talked to me after the event about my actions and I assured him this will not happen again.” Apparently, Haden isn’t going to fire Sarkisian.
Has your confidence in the Gators increased or decreased during the first 16 days of August camp?
We’ll call this “Simply Southern Week” and start with Alabama Shakes, whose “Sound and Color” album, which was released back in April, reached #1 on the Billboard album charts and reached #4 in the United Kingdom. Fronted by Brittany Howard, the band has a growing following. The music is original, part rock, part blues and part soul. This is a terrific live band that will go live on Austin City Limits on October 3 before kicking off its European tour. Today’s music is Alabama Shakes live performance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2014.