If you are thinking the Florida Gators are going to get off the bus and start chunking the ball all over The Swamp Saturday night when New Mexico State stops by to pick up a paycheck before jetting back to scenic Las Cruces, New Mexico and the white sands where our nation exploded the first atomic bomb in 1945, you might want to adjust your expectations a teensy bit. Even with so many young and inexperienced guys on Florida’s O-line, this should be a ground and pound game. Yes, Florida will throw the ball and hopefully, it will go vertical reasonably often, but there shouldn’t be much need to heave it and the O-line certainly does need to start developing some chemistry.
The visiting Aggies have 10 defensive starters returning. In most cases, that would be considered good news, but these are almost all the same guys that gave up 308.8 yards per game on the ground last year, which ranked dead last in the NCAA. Opponents averaged 6.25 yards per carry and found the end zone 40 times.
Now, opponents found success throwing the ball against the Aggies but they only let it fly 299 times in 12 games. That’s about 25 passes a game, which seems like a reasonable number for the Gators to attempt Saturday night. That should be enough work on pass protection and enough opportunities for Will Grier and Treon Harris to hook up with the receivers. Given that Jim McElwain has complained more than one that there are days when it seems his receivers would find it hard to catch a cold in February, figure he’ll give them just enough chances to run their routes properly and hold onto the ball.
But the real work will probably go to the offensive line. New Mexico State would probably love to stack the box, but McElwain will have the Gators in and out of a couple dozen formations, most of which use a tight end or two and at least three receivers lined up like a picket fence horizontally across the field. The advantage will go to the Gators, whose offensive line won’t lack for size going against an Aggie D-line that averages about 265 across the front four and spent much of 2014 showing up on opponents’ dead roach counts.
The Gators are going to throw the football this season and probably throw it a lot, but the immediate and pressing need is to develop cohesive play and chemistry on the offensive line and nothing creates that better than opportunities to run block. It would be quite a surprise if the Gators have less than a 60-40 run/pass ratio in game one.
Florida 20, Georgia 13; November 2, 2002
Georgia came into this game ranked fifth nationally and believing it could run the table and play for a national championship. But a couple of funny things happened on the way to the expected destiny date: (1) Florida’s defense showed up in a big way and (2) Florida succeeded offensively with passes that rarely traveled more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Georgia went 0-13 on third down against the Florida defense, which held the Bulldogs to 294 yards and 14-36 passing. Guss Scott ran an interception of a David Green pass back 47 yards for a second quarter TD, both Bam Hardmon and Bobby McCray recovered Georgia fumbles and the Gators sacked the QBs four times. Offensively, Grossman dinked and dunked his way to 36-46 passing for 339 yards with Kelvin Kight catching 9 for 115 yards and Carlos Perez 12 for 76. The game-clinching touchdown was a 10-yard Grossman to Ben Troupe pass that finished off a 10-play, 89-yard scoring drive with 11:32 left in the game. What made this win even more remarkable is the Gators turned the ball over four times (two picks, two fumbles), missed a point blank 27-yard field goal and an extra point. Georgia’s Billy Bennett, one of the top three placekickers in the country, made two field goals but he missed two in the third quarter that would have stretched Georgia’s lead to 19-12. Florida went on to go 8-5 in Ron Zook’s first year on the job. This was Georgia’s only loss of the year and it eliminated the Bulldogs from national championship consideration.
Alabama: No, it really isn’t who’s going to start at quarterback. People wondered if Greg McElroy could do it back in 2009 and if A.J. McCarron could in 2011 or if Blake Sims could do it last year. All of them did. QB will be fine. The real question is can Nick Saban adjust his defense to stop spread teams? Bama was exposed by both Auburn (630 yards, 44 points) and Ohio State (537 yards, 42 points). Those 260-pound linebackers can’t run with fast guys in the spread.
Arkansas: Ground Hog will do what it does best on offense, which is pound it over and over again. The big question is can the Razorbacks duplicate over a full season what they did defensively in their last four games last year when they posted two shutouts, gave up only 28 total points and held LSU and Texas to a COMBINED 182 yards?
AUBURN: The offense will adjust just fine to more of a passing game with Jeremy Johnson at quarterback. The big question is can the Tigers stop the run? The Tigers lost five games last year and in each of the five opponents ran the ball for 176 or more yards. Auburn gave up more than 200 yards rushing to Mississippi State (223), Georgia (289), Alabama (227) and Wisconsin (400).
GEORGIA: Georgia lost three games it had no business losing last year because it couldn’t stop the run. South Carolina (176), Florida (418) and Georgia Tech (399) ran the same play over and over again and the Georgia defense never adjusted. Can Georgia make defensive adjustments this year and avoid losing games it should win and needs to win to take the SEC East?
Kentucky: The Wildcats believe they have found the offensive formula and assembled the kind of athletes it takes to score points against SEC defenses. The big question is can they actually hold opponents on third down and get the defense off the field? Last year, the Wildcats allowed a whopping 43.9% conversion rate, which was 104th in the nation.
LSU: LSU averaged more than 35 points and 453.3 yards per game in 2013. Then came the dropoff to 387.5 yards and 27.6 points last year. The same two quarterbacks whose inconsistency accounts for much of the step backward offensively are back this year. The big question is does a year older make Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris a year better?
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Dan Mullen has elevated Mississippi State from SEC doormat to serious contender in the last three years. At home, the Bulldogs are one of the toughest teams in the league (18-3 in Starkvegas). The big question is can Mississippi State start winning big games on the road?
Missouri: Based on what we’ve seen the last two years, we have to figure Gary Pinkel will field a stout defense that pressures the passer and that the offense will score enough points. The big question is can the Tigers stop shooting themselves in the foot? Last year the Tigers were the most penalty prone team in the SEC. Their 102 penalties, which consistently killed momentum when the offense was driving, ranked 107th in the nation last year.
SOUTH CAROLINA: You figure whoever Steve Spurrier starts at quarterback will do a decent job and the Gamecocks will score points. The Gamecocks lost six games last year and in five of the six, they couldn’t get the other team off the field on third down (opponents were 37-65 in those five games). The big question is can the Gamecocks get the defense off the field this year and give Steve Spurrier a chance to score some points?
Tennessee: Expectations are through the roof in Knoxville this season where fans are predicting an SEC East title. On the schedule are five teams ranked in the preseason top 25 and eight teams that went to a bowl game last year. The Vols have only one win over a team ranked in the top 25 since 2009. The big question is can they overcome their tendency to lay an egg big in games against highly regarded opponents?
Texas A&M: Even with the potential of a quarterback controversy looming, you figure Kevin Sumlin’s offense will be productive and put points on the board. Everybody is counting on John Chavis to make a difference with the defense. He’s got a potentially outstanding front seven led by Myles Garrett. The big question is in a secondary that picked off only five passes all last year. Can the Aggies find some ball hawks who can keep opposing receivers out of the end zone and lower last year’s points per game (28.1) by a touchdown or so?
Vanderbilt: Vandy fans got accustomed to winning games and going to a bowl when James Franklin was the head coach. The Dores went 0-8 in the SEC last year and prospects for 2015 aren’t much better. The big question is can second year coach Derek Mason make enough progress that the fans will give him a chance to build a winner?
The clock is ticking for Judge Richard Berman’s decision about Tom Brady. Berman expects a decision before Friday, which many legal analysts say favors Brady, who is represented by NFL Players Association lawyers. Michael McCann, a legal analyst for Sports Illustrated whose day job is director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire, predicts Brady will play in the New England Patriots’ season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers. McCann says the judge’s decision might not have to do with evidence as much as procedure. Judge Berman can vacate Brady’s 4-game suspension if he finds the NFL’s procedure in gathering the evidence and suspending Brady was unfair. McCann notes that if Berman vacates the suspension on those grounds, the NFL could order a new investigation and eventually issue a new suspension.
Remember when Trent Richardson was a can’t miss pro? Well can’t miss just missed. The Oakland Raiders are willing to eat the $600,000 of guaranteed money and jettisoning Richardson from their roster. Richardson gained 2,032 yards in four NFL seasons and averaged an abysmal 3.3 yards per carry.
Watching the melodrama that is the quarterback situation with the Washington Redskins, where Kirk Cousins will start and Robert Griffin III will sit, raises this question: Is there a more dysfunctional professional sports franchise on the planet than the Redskins and is there a more inept owner than Dan Snyder?
Coastal Carolina will join the Sun Belt Conference in 2016 and begin playing a Division I football schedule in 2017. The Sun Belt is considering the addition of Eastern Kentucky and one other plus the possibility of jettisoning New Mexico State and Idaho because of the travel complications/expenses those two schools represent.
Remember the brawl at the end of the Miami Beach Bowl between Memphis and BYU? Memphis handed out suspensions. One player will miss a game and a half, another will miss a full game and four others will miss half of the season opener. One other player took his punishment by fulfilling some other obligations and there were 4-5 other players who have graduated and cannot be punished.
Southern Cal AD Pat Haden says his no discipline approach to head football coach Steve Sarkisian was “in the best interests of USC and Steve Sarkisian and maybe just as important, or more importantly, our players.” You can translate that to mean, “I’m not about to discipline or suspend my coach when we have a real chance to win the Pac-12 this year and maybe make the college football playoffs.”
Michigan State announced its team captains for 2015 and one of them isn’t quarterback Connor Cook. Cook, apparently, took the vote by his teammates as a personal slight. “Obviously, it stinks not to be a captain,” Cook said Tuesday afternoon.
Nebraska fired its PA announcer because he was critical of the university’s decision to fire Bo Pelini last November.
Is there a more inept owner in all of professional sports than Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins?
When he was 12 years old, Joe Bonamassa opened for B.B. King. By the time he was 18 he formed a band called Bloodline with the sons of Miles Davis, Berry Oakley and Robby Krieger. In the years since, 11 Bonamassa albums have hit #1 on the Billboard blues charts. Some guitar experts consider Bonamassa one of the truly great guitarists in history. If you’re new to Joe Bonamassa listen to his 2012 album “Driving Towards the Daylight.” He will be playing the Fox Theatre in Atlanta November 20-21 and Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater January 4-5. Today’s music is a live Bonamassa performance at the 2014 Pinkpop festival.