Kan Li / Scout

Franz Beard's Thoughts of the Day; Oct. 7

A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning...

Here is a stat that tells you why Will Grier is Florida’s starting quarterback and why the future looks bright for UF football. Per ESPN Stats, Grier is 26-27 for 302 yards and 4 touchdowns when opponents elect to bring the heat with the blitz. The Gators have given up 10 sacks through five games, but Grier has only been brought down by the blitz three times.

Here are a few things to read into those two stats:

1. Grier’s ability to read his pre-snap keys is improving rapidly with each game. One of the chief concerns when the season began was Grier’s lack of experience seeing sophisticated defenses since he (a) took a redshirt last year and (b) played in a private school high school league in North Carolina against so-so competition.

2. Grier has a quick enough release to get the ball off in the teeth of a big rush and get it to the right people, which is evident by the high completion percentage and the fact he hasn’t thrown an interception against the blitz.

3. Grier has shown a growing ability to maintain pocket presence. He’s moving well in the pocket to find lanes to throw the ball instead of tucking and running at the first sign of trouble.

4. Florida’s very young offensive line is extremely well coached and that’s enabling Grier to go through his progressions each time he drops back to throw. These guys may not have a lot of experience prior to this year but they’re increasingly effective picking up the blitz. The communication on the O-line is really outstanding.

AND SPEAKING OF BLITZING …

When he was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, it was thought Geoff Collins never met a blitz he didn’t like and wouldn’t dial up on a moment’s notice. Now that he’s at Florida, Collins isn’t averse to the blitz, but he’s using it more as a surprise element than anything else. The proof is in the stats. Of Florida’s 18 sacks through five games (for -147 yards in losses), 14.5 have come from the front four. Linebackers Antonio Morrison (1.5) and Jarrad Davis (1) and safety Keanu Neal account for the other three.

What makes Florida’s sack totals (tied for seventh nationally) even more impressive is that the bulk of the sacks (9) have come from interior linemen (Jonathan Bullard has 4.5 and Joey Ivey has 3.0) and only 5.5 from off the edge by rush ends (Alex McCalister has 4.0). When you get pass rush from straight up the gut, it forces opponents to bring on a second back and hold the tight end, therefore limiting the number of receivers running routes.

When he was Florida’s co-defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison (now at Michigan) said that the best pass rush originates from the inside. That theory was proven true in the national championship game against Ohio State. Florida’s tackle threesome of Ray McDonald, Steven Harris and Joe Cohen were so relentless that the Buckeyes couldn’t send the tailback or the fullback into the pass patterns. That freed up Derrick Harvey (3 sacks) and Jarvis Moss (2 sacks) on the outside. Forced to keep the fullback, tailback and tight end in pass protection, the Buckeyes rarely ran anything more than a 2-man route after the first quarter.

For comparison’s sake, of Florida’s 30 sacks in 2014, only 5.5 came from interior linemen.

NEAL WALK WAS A TRUE GATOR GREAT

Neal Walk died Sunday night. I waited until today to write about this great Gator basketball player because it’s been a very emotional couple of days for me. Neal spent the last 27 years of his life in a wheelchair because of a benign tumor that enveloped his spine. At a reunion in Gainesville a couple of years ago, Neal joked that “I spent much of the first 30 years of my life seeing the world as a very tall person (he grew to be 6-10) and the last 25 years looking at people’s belly buttons and butts. I gained a lot of personal perspective from both positions.”

He was playing the trombone in the Miami Beach High School band when his mother and a couple of coaches thought he should trade in the instrument for basketball.

“My mother found out that a very tall person like me could get a basketball scholarship and go to college for free so she was highly motivated,” Neal told me.

It was a smart move. Recruited by Norm Sloan, he started as a sophomore (freshmen were not eligible in those days) and averaged 11.5 points and 8.2 rebounds for a Florida team that went 21-4 in 1966-67, the best record in school history. In those days only conference champions went to the NCAA Tournament and the field was only 24 teams. That Florida team could have made the Elite Eight and possibly the Final Four if todays’ rules had been in place. As a junior Neal averaged 26.5 points and 19.8 rebounds per game and as a senior he was good for 24 points and 17.8 rebounds per game.

Drafted second overall in the 1969 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns, he spent seven years in the NBA, played a year in Italy and then three in Israel. All this time he embarked on a spiritual journey that never ended and only intensified after he became wheelchair bound.

He devoted the last 27 years of his life working community relations with the Phoenix Suns and to his artwork, which, like the spiritual identity he adopted, was strongly influenced by the Native American cultures of the desert southwest.

Somewhere along the line he found peace with his restless soul.

He once told me, “I spent a lot of my life trying to please everybody and it took a long time for me to look inside and let go of a lot of things that more or less demonized me. I’m good with who I am now.”

When I spent time with him in Scottsdale prior to Florida’s 41-14 whipping of Ohio State for the 2006 national championship, Neal wore his Florida letterman’s jacket proudly. He always identified as a Gator through and through although he always told me, “Heaven must be a pretty cool place … I know about hell, I played for Norm Sloan.”

At the 2013 reunion, Neal was almost embarrassed by the attention he got from former teammates like Gary Keller, Andy Owens and Boyd Welsh. They were so happy to have that time with an old friend and years melted away that night. When dinner was over, there was an hour or so of swapping stories about Norm Sloan, Tommy Bartlett and Gator basketball. Neal absorbed it all and spent the night smiling and relaxed.

When the night was over and we said good-byes, he held onto my hand for what seemed like a minute and said, “This is like a refresher for my inner peace. I needed this. I’m really happy tonight.”

That’s how I want to remember him – at peace with himself and happy.

SEC NEWSWORTHY

Alabama (4-1, 1-1 SEC): Now that Bo Scarbrough is healthy and off suspension, watch Alabama use Kenyan Drake more as a slot receiver than Derrick Henry’s backup tailback. Drake has great hands, runs great routes and can be a factor in the slot, but he can still be a factor in the slot.

Arkansas (2-3, 1-1 SEC): Since starting the season struggling to get the ground game going, the Hogs have put together three straight games with 200 or more yards. Against Texas A&M the Hogs ran for 232 yards and they followed that up with 275 against Tennessee. Helping to get Arkansas back to its offensive roots has been Alex Collins, who has turned in three consecutive games of 150 or more yards.

Auburn (3-2, 0-2 SEC): Duke Williams is history. Gus Malzahn announced Monday night that the senior wide receiver has been dismissed from the team, ending a contemptuous relationship. Williams, last year’s leading receiver with 45 catches for 730 yards, was suspended for the bowl game with Wisconsin and was suspended from the team during the preseason as well.

Georgia (4-1, 2-1 SEC): Georgia coaches are reminding the Bulldogs that the loss to Alabama doesn’t change their goals of winning the SEC East title. “I think the good news is that it only counted as one loss,” Richt said. “I mean, that was enough of a game where it could have counted as two, but it was one loss, so that’s good. And when you get beat that way, it certainly gets everybody’s attention.”

Kentucky (4-1, 1-1 SEC): The Wildcats are off this week which gives Kentucky a few extra days to get placekicker Austin MacGinnis healthy. MacGinnins suffered a groin injury against Eastern Kentucky, but the Cats are hopeful he will be ready to go for Auburn on October 15.

LSU (4-0, 2-2 SEC): A decision will be made no later than noon today about where to play Saturday’s game with South Carolina. Intense flooding in Columbia could change the venue to Atlanta, Charlotte, Jacksonville or even Tiger Stadium in Baton rouge.  

Mississippi State (3-2, 1-2 SEC): A week ago Dan Mullen was saying offensive balance can be a bit overrated. Monday, Mullen was spinning a different story. “We want to keep progressing,” Mullen said. “I want to be balanced.” Against Texas A&M the Bulldogs ran an equal number of snaps (34 each) running and passing but the yardage was only 36 rushing and 210 passing. 

Missouri (4-1, 1-1 SEC): Of Drew Lock’s 28 passes (completed 21) against South Carolina, only three traveled 10 yards or more downfield. Lock’s completions gained 136 yards, an average of only 4.9 per pass attempt. The emphasis this week in practice is getting Lock comfortable enough to stretch defenses downfield.

Ole Miss (4-1, 2-1 SEC): The injury bug continues to wreak havoc against the Rebels. The latest to go down is linebacker C.J. Johnson, who had surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He’s expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Corner Tony Conner (meniscus) is trying to get back on the field, but he will miss at least two more games.

South Carolina (2-3, 0-3 SEC): Steve Spurrier asked the SEC to review a call from the Missouri game in which quarterback Drew Lock was ruled down at the 1-yard line. Replays showed Lock was tackled in the end zone. Spurrier said, “Their quarterback was clearly in the end zone. Everybody could see that. I just wish that the head referee would have come to talk to me. He would not come talk to me. I don’t know how they explained it. We may never know how he explained it.”

Tennessee (2-3, 0-2 SEC): Butch Jones calls allegations that he and offensive lineman Mack Crowder were involved in an altercation “absolutely ridiculous” but Gridironnow.com is reporting that sources have indicated the alleged incident was caught on film. Striking a player during practice happens and probably wouldn’t be enough to cause Jones anything more than embarrassment. If he’s caught in a lie about the incident, then that could have far more serious ramifications.

Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-2 SEC): The good news during a week when the Commodores get a bye before facing South Carolina on the road October 17 is the commitment of 2018 quarterback Alontae Taylor from Coffee County High School in Manchester, Tennessee. 

RANDOM THOUGHTS

Assault charges have been dropped against Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo after the woman who received injuries to her hip, hand, elbows and head in an incident investigated by police declined to testify against Carroo.

UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, out for the season with a knee injury, announced that he has withdrawn from school so he can prepare for the NFL combines and draft in 2016.

It’s Miami-Florida State week. Remember when Miami-FSU and Florida-FSU were the two most important college football games in the country? If Miami loses this one, Al Golden will be 0-6 against FSU.

Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks doesn’t like Detroit Lions QB Matt Stafford. The reason might amaze you. Bennett said – and I’m not making this up – “I don’t like Matt Stafford much. He’s from Dallas. They killed President (JFK) … I hold it against him.”

QUESTION OF THE DAY

If Al Golden loses to FSU Saturday, do you (a) think he will be coaching at The U next year and (b) if not, then who will Miami target as his replacement?

MUSIC FOR TODAY

A good many music critics think The Beatles 1966 album “Revolver” is one of the two or three best albums of all time. “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine” got most of the play on the radio but I always thought the best song was  “Here, There and Everywhere” followed by “For No One” and “Got to Get You Into My Life.” I still listen to this album at least once every two or three weeks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLuKmEpbtDU


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