Perhaps the most overlooked stat of Florida’s 21-3 win over Missouri last Saturday was time of possession. Although the 8th-ranked Gators (6-0, 4-0 SEC) weren’t explosive offensively, they controlled the ball for 37:53 against Missouri’s stingy defense and that kept the Florida defense fresh throughout the game. Obviously, if the Gators can duplicate that result against 6th-ranked LSU (5-0, 3-0 SEC) in Baton Rouge Saturday night, the chances of winning a game that will go a long way toward deciding the SEC East championship will be greatly enhanced.
To win in Baton Rouge, it is important for the Gators to control the football to keep the defense fresh and to avoid costly turnovers that could tilt the field position battle in LSU’s favor. Florida will have to play defense with its offense against LSU, which grinds out 364.4 rushing yards per game and controls the ball an average of 33 minutes per game. If the Gators can keep the chains and the clock moving, it will keep Florida’s defense fresh against LSU’s powerful ground attack (364.4 yards per game), led by Leonard Fournette, who has 1,022 rushing yard and 12 touchdowns already this season while averaging 8.59 yards per carry. Fournette gained 1,034 in 13 games last year as a freshman.
The best way to stop Fournette is to keep the LSU offense off the field, a difficult task against a defense that gives up only 99.6 yards per game and just 3.36 per carry. In Florida’s last three games, the Gators have managed only 322 rushing yards and have gained a mere 3.03 per attempt. Opponents have had better success through the air against the Tigers, averaging 191.8 yards per game but their 5.8 per attempt average tells you LSU’s secondary hasn’t given up much in the way of yards after catch.
Controlling the ball will mean Treon Harris has to be able to get the ball to receivers quickly and accurately. If he can’t, then LSU will stack the box, crowd the line of scrimmage and make it difficult to run the football.
The other critical factor is ball protection. Florida has only turned the ball over five times all season (2 fumbles, 3 interceptions) and as the games have gotten tougher, ball security has improved. Florida hasn’t turned the ball over since Will Grier threw a second quarter interception in the 28-27 win over Tennessee three weeks ago, a span of 10 consecutive quarters. When the Gators protect the football, in a worst case scenario, they give punter Johnny Townsend a chance to flip the field and keep the field position game in Florida’s favor.
#10 Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC): One of the major concerns for Alabama in practice this week is getting ready for Texas A&M’s dynamic pass rush duo of Myles Garrett and Daeshown Hall, who have combined for 12.5 sacks in five games. “If we don’t block the edges well, we’ll have some issues,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I think the challenge is to our protect and the protection scheme that we present, to help our players have a chance to limit these guys being disruptive.”
Arkansas (2-4, 1-2 SEC): Bret Bielema denies that he tried to instigate an on the field incident with Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson last Saturday. Video shows Bielema apparently flopping in a close encounter with Robinson, then celebrating when a personal foul penalty was called against Robinson. Bielema claims he was shoved and was only trying to protect his own player.
Auburn (3-2, 0-2 SEC): In an attempt to bolster the run defense (worst in the SEC, allowing 209.6 yards per game) for Thursday night’s game at Kentucky, Auburn plans to get 323-pound freshman Jauntavius Johnson in the mix at nose tackle. Also set to play in the D-line rotation is redshirt freshman Andrew Williams (6-4, 275).
Georgia (4-2, 2-2 SEC): With Nick Chubb done for the season, Georgia might go with tailback by committee although neither Sony Michel or Keith Marshall are anywhere as physical as Chubb. Enter fullback Quayvon Hicks, a 6-2, 260-pound senior. Hicks hasn’t carried the ball this year but he’s carried 19 times for 157 yards and 3 touchdowns in his career. Hicks could become the Bulldogs’ between the tackles runner in a 3-man rotation at tailback.
Kentucky (4-1, 2-1 SEC): Stanley “Boom” Williams, who missed the Eastern Kentucky game because of “personal” reasons, has been elevated to the #1 tailback job for Thursday’s game with Auburn. Williams leads the Wildcats with 343 yards and averages 7.3 per carry.
#6 LSU (5-0, 3-0 SEC): Fullback JD Moore, who is the critical blocker when LSU goes I-formation, is uncertain for Saturday’s game with Florida. He suffered a thigh injury in last week’s win over South Carolina and is scheduled for an MRI. It’s possible that free safety Jalen Mills will be back for the Florida game.
Mississippi State (4-2, 1-2 SEC): Tight end Gus Walley and left tackle Rufus Warren are expected to be back for Saturday’s game with Louisiana Tech. Walley, who has 15 catches this year, has missed the last two gameswith a wrist injury, while Warren missed last week’s game with a sprained ankle. Wide receivers Joe Morrow and Gabe Myles are listed as questionable.
Missouri (4-2, 1-2 SEC): To win at Georgia Saturday, Missouri knows it has to win the turnover battle. Against Florida the Tigers didn’t force a turnover and were intercepted two times. Since he’s been head coach at Mizzou, Gary Pinkel is 101-33 when the Tigers win the turnover battle and they are 46-4 when they are plus two in turnovers.
#13 Ole Miss (5-1, 2-1 SEC): Chris Low of ESPN reports that Laremy Tunsil’s suspension was due to use of three rental cars, a 4-month interest free promissory note for a down payment to purchase a used car and an airline ticket among other things.
South Carolina (2-4, 0-4 SEC): Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott took over as the interim head coach Tuesday after Steve Spurrier made it official that he’s stepping down as the head ball coach. Injured quarterbacks Connor Mitch and Lorenzo Nunez practiced although their status for Saturday’s game with Vanderbilt won’t be known until later in the week.
Tennessee (3-3, 1-2 SEC): Freshman defensive tackle Shy Tuttle broke a leg and tore ankle ligaments against Georgia so he’s gone for the season. Backup running back John Kelly was released from the hospital after suffering an injury during Tuesday’s practice.
#9 Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0 SEC): John Chavis, who has faced Nick Saban and Alabama at both Tennessee and LSU, has a fairly good idea what to expect when Bama comes to Texas A&M Saturday so he’s not making any special plans. “We’re not going to change our scheme Chavis said Tuesday. “It’s been tested at times and I need to help our players more at times with calls, but we’re not going to change what we do. We’re not going to do what somebody else does. We’re not copy cats. And they’re going to know what we’re going to do too because we won’t change.”
Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-2 SEC): Much of the credit for Vanderbilt’s improved offense has to do with quarterback Johnny McCrary eliminating mistakes but there is room for improvement. “He’s doing the things he’s supposed to do,” head coach Derek Mason said. “We’ve just got to alleviate the small mistakes and mental errors that can cost you ball games. Games in this conference are usually decided by a possession or two so when you give away possessions and you give away opportunities, you put yourself behind the 8-ball.”
WHO REPLACES STEVE SPURRIER?
The first name everyone is going to mention is Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, who played college ball at South Carolina, but he is in reload mode every year at MSU. At South Carolina, he would have to reinvent the wheel. There is far less stress on his heart condition at Michigan State than he would have at South Carolina and the SEC.
Everybody is putting out a list of likely Spurrier successors. Here’s mine:
1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma: Stoops and Spurrier are still close buddies. Stoops is an ace recruiter. He’s ready to leave Oklahoma. Spurrier built a foundation at South Carolina. Stoops could come in and finish it off.
2. Justin Fuente, Memphis: He’s 39 and he’s going to be the head coach at a big time program next year. South Carolina would be a good fit, especially with his offense.
3. Tom Herman, Houston: He was the offensive guru for Urban Meyer at Ohio State and has Houston unbeaten and scoring at will. Would he leave for the SEC when it’s possible Houston could be a Big 12 expansion target?
4. Kirby Smart, Alabama: If Ray Tanner decides to go after a coordinator, a lot of folks think Smart is the guy. He’s been the DC for three national titles for Nick Saban at Alabama and he’s 39. Time to fly from the nest.
5. Will Muschamp, Auburn: Shocked? You don’t know how close he came to taking the DC job at South Carolina last year where he would have been groomed to succeed Spurrier. Ray Tanner really likes him.
6. Dino Babers, Bowling Green: He’s from the Art Briles school of offense so that’s a plus. He’s also the top target for Maryland.
7. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona: He would love to move east. At Zona he will always be the country cousin to USC, UCLA and Arizona State.
8. Larry Fedora, North Carolina: What he’s done at North Carolina with the NCAA scholarship restrictions is actually very impressive. He only makes $2 million so he’d be a bargain hire.
9. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: He would have a much greater chance to win the SEC at South Carolina that he has winning the SEC West in Starkvegas. It’s in his favor that he’s proven you can play with the big boys in the SEC West with less than 5-star talent.
10. Bryan Harsin, Boise State: He’s only 39 and 17-3 in two seasons at Boise. Florida has done really well with a coach with big sky country roots in Jim McElwain.
SOUTHERN CAL NEEDS A HOME RUN HIRE, BUT WHO?
Pat Haden, who has had two midseason firings in three years, desperately needs a home run hire but the question is who? As attractive as the Southern Cal job might be, there aren’t a lot of home run hires out there.
The two big names you’ll hear immediately are Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles and Nick Saban of Alabama. Kelly has had Pac-12 success and has west coast ties from his days at Oregon but he also was under an NCAA show cause order that only expired last December. Would Southern Cal be smart to go for anyone who isn’t squeaky clean? With the Eagles are only a game out of the NFC East division lead, odds are he stays in the league. Saban? He has a history of doing just the opposite of what he says. He says he’ll finish his career at Alabama. If he doesn’t win a national championship this year, it’s three years without one and the Bama faithful will be really antsy. Does he really want to deal with that?
So with the two biggest names pretty much longshots, here’s a checklist of 10 home run hire coaches and probability of availability:
1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State: Two chances – no way and no how
2. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma: Probably a good time to be leaving Oklahoma but he’s not exactly a home run anymore.
3. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State: He’s got heart problems and a job he probably can’t get fired from.
4. Gary Patterson, TCU: He doesn’t have to go anywhere overnight to recruit players that fit his system. He’s not going anywhere.
5. Art Briles, Baylor: There is no way he leaves the state of Texas.
6. Les Miles, LSU: He would be nuts to leave with all that young talent and a chance to coach Leonard Fournette another year.
7. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame: There are folks who think he would leave Notre Dame if the right job came along.
8. Jimbo Fisher, FSU: He’s got a messy divorce on his hands and it’s probably a good time to be looking elsewhere, but would he be willing to live 2,000 miles from his kids?
9. Mark Richt, Georgia: He probably feels snakebitten at Georgia. The way he recruits, he might win a national championship at a place like USC in spite of himself.
10. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: His offense would be a big time attraction for all the talent in Los Angeles and the surrounding area, but supposedly he’s got an ironclad buyout.
Billy Donovan is off to a perfect start with the NBA Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder improved to 3-0 in the preseason Tuesday night with a 100-88 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
Former NBA star Lamar Odom was rushed to a Las Vegas hospital Tuesday after he was found unconscious in a Nevada brothel.
Some of the early speculation for who replaces fired Randy Edsall at Maryland centers around Dino Babers of Bowling Green, Matt Campbell of Toledo and former Rutgers/Tampa Bay Bucs coach Greg Schiano. Another name that might get some traction is TCU offensive coordinator Doug Meachan.
Syracuse QB AJ Long will retire from football because of multiple concussions.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
What are your three keys for Florida scoring a win over LSU in Baton Rouge Saturday?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Probably the music that speaks to me the most is Van Morrison. The older I get the better he sounds to me. He turned 70 back in August and shows no signs of slowing down. Todays’ music is his 70th birthday concert “Up On Cyprus Avenue” which includes some terrific sax solos.