The very last thing the Gators needed this week was distractions. As if losing starting quarterback Will Grier most probably until next year wasn’t distraction enough on Monday, backup corner Deiondre Porter was arrested Wednesday morning for an incident that occurred back on September 29 when he allegedly fired a gun in the direction of his girlfriend. Not exactly the way you want to start the week when the Saturday task is to face 6th-ranked LSU (5-0, 3-0 SEC) and Superman clone Leonard Fournette under the lights at Tiger Stadium.
It has been no secret since the season began back in September that this is a Florida (6-0, 4-0 SEC) team that has to have a lot of things go right to win. There is no such thing as a flawless team, but given the Gators inexperience in so many areas only a bare minimum of mistakes can be tolerated. When your margin for error is as razor thin as Florida’s, the last thing you can afford is to be broadsided with distractions.
We’ve seen what the Gators can do when they aren’t focused (See ECU) and also when they are zeroed in. The fourth quarter against Tennessee and those last two four quarter efforts against Ole Miss and Missouri are a testament of what happens when the Gators show up with everybody on the same page and executing at a high level.
Even without Fournette, the LSU roster is loaded with athletes. Few teams in the country can match the Tigers’ combination of size, speed and experience at most positions. LSU’s first 22 is equal to or superior to nearly every team in the country, but the second teamers are nearly as good. For example, running backs Derrius Guice (266 yards, 9.07 per carry) and Darrel Williams (244 yards, 5.67) would start for at least nine SEC teams and they’re simply the backups. When you throw Fournette (1,022 yards, 12 touchdowns, 8.59 per carry) into that mix, the Tigers have a rather mantra. Just a sophomore, Fournette is drawing favorable comparisons to all-time greats Herschel Walker and Adrian Peterson. Over on the defensive side of the ball, it’s a typical LSU team – big, fast and with an arrive at the ball nasty type of attitude.
This is not the kind of team you can afford to give in even an inch.
This is not say LSU can’t be beaten. The Gators certainly have the ability to spring the upset, even without Grier taking the snaps at quarterback. Treon Harris has winning experience as a starter (5-2 record), a championship pedigree (led his high school team to back-to-back unbeaten state title seasons) and perhaps the kind of edge you get when you’ve had to sit and watch someone steal the thunder you reserved for yourself when you were working your tail off in the dog days of summer leading up to the season.
As much of a distraction as the Grier suspension has been, it has also been the unexpected open door for Harris. If his attitude is “finally, a chance to show that I could have been doing this all along” then the Gators might not miss a beat. And, since Porter was only a backup, one of the other secondary guys waiting a chance to play will have the opportunity to fill in the gap.
From a physical standpoint, the Gators can cover the losses of Grier and Porter. The question is what do they have between their ears? If they’ve been able to tune out the distractions, then scoring a win in Baton Rouge isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
FEARLESSLY FORECASTING (THURSDAY EDITION)
Last week: 5-1
Auburn 27, Kentucky 21: This is another one of those seize the moment games for Kentucky, which came up short earlier in the year against Florida in Lexington. Tonight it’s Auburn (3-2, 0-2 SEC), which has struggled on both sides of the football through five games after starting the season one of the favorites to make the College Football Playoff. Although Auburn isn’t nearly as formidable as expected, it’s still a signature moment for the Wildcats (4-1, 2-1 SEC), who have to win to keep pace with Florida in the SEC East race but more importantly need a win over a team like Auburn for self-esteem moving forward. On the other side of the ball, Auburn needs an SEC win to start righting a ship that has been listing since game one. The thought is that Auburn’s offense has made improvements and the defense has improved just enough that an offensively challenged Kentucky team won’t be able to score enough points to win.
#10 Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC): Alabama corner Cyrus Jones says Alabama’s secondary is going to have to play at its highest level to slow down the Texas A&M receivers Saturday. “They’ve got weapons at every position so everybody’s going to have to come out there and do their jobs,” Jones said. “It’s one of those games where you have to shut your man down and dominate your box like coach says.”
Arkansas (2-4, 1-2 SEC): It’s an off week for the Razorbacks but quarterback Brandon Allen says the Hogs have to use the time to get better before the final six games of the season. “We really need to step it up this week, we really need to dive into our game plan and into our preparation this week as well as next week,” Allen said.
Georgia (4-2, 2-2 SEC): Although it’s doom and gloom among the fan base, Georgia’s players see the suspension of Florida QB Will Grier as a positive sign for the rest of the season. “The season is far from over,” tight end Jay Rome said after a players only meeting … Linebacker Jordan Jenkins (groin) and defensive tackle John Atkins (turf toe) are practicing with the team this week, but their status is questionable for Saturday’s game with Missouri.
#6 LSU (5-0, 3-0 SEC): With J.D. Moore out for the Florida game, LSU will rely on freshmen Bry’Keithon Mouton and Dave Ducre’ to handle the fullback position when the Tigers run from the I-formation against Florida ... Safety Jalen Mills, who missed the first five games of the season with a fractured fibula, is expected to play Saturday. Starters Dillon Gordon (TE) and Tashawn Bower (DE) are also expected to return to the lineup.
Mississippi State (4-2, 1-2 SEC): There is an air of familiarity with Saturday opponent Louisiana Tech. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was the DC at Louisiana Tech last year, so while it helps MSU understand what LaTech is doing, LaTech understands what Diaz does as well. “I think the familiarity that both offenses will have is from practicing stylistically against the same defense,” Diaz said Tuesday.
Missouri (4-2, 1-2 SEC): The indefinite suspension of Maty Mauk will continue through Saturday’s game at Georgia, meaning freshman quarterback Drew Lock will earn his third consecutive start. The Tigers changed their D-line, sliding Josh Augusta over, inserting Rickey Hatley as the nose tackle and dropping Terry Beckner Jr. to the second unit.
#13 Ole Miss (5-1, 2-1 SEC): Although Saturday’s game with 22nd-ranked Memphis will have no bearing on the SEC race, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is aware of the importance. “Do we have more to lose than to gain?” Freeze asked rhetorically Monday. “Absolutely, so that would be the negative.”
South Carolina (2-4, 0-4 SEC): With Shawn Elliot taking over as the interim head coach, quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus takes over as the offensive coordinator and play caller for the Gamecocks. “I’m going to be on the sidelines and call it [the plays],” Mangus said, adding that he prefers the sidelines where he can “look the quarterback in the eye.”
Tennessee (3-3, 1-2 SEC): The Vols have forced eight opponent turnovers in six games, but improvement in that area will be a focus in practice during this bye week. “We have to be a better tackling team on defense,” head coach Butch Jones said. “We have to start taking the ball away more on defense … we need more ball disruptions.”
#9 Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0 SEC): When 10th-ranked Alabama comes to Kyle Field Saturday, Kevin Sumlin knows the Aggies are going to have to move the chains. Bama’s defense has forced 29 3-and-outs the last three games and has forced a 3-and-out on 41 of 92 opponent drives so far. It’s impressive enough that Sumlin says, “The first thing you better do is get a first down.”
Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-2 SEC): Even though Steve Spurrier resigned as South Carolina’s head coach, the Commodores find themselves -2.5-point underdogs heading into Saturday’s game in Columbia.
RISING COACHING STARS
These 5 coordinators will have a shot at landing a job as someone’s HBC at a power 5 program:
1. Brent Venables, Clemson DC: He’s transformed the Clemson defense into one of the nation’s nastiest and spent more than 10 years working for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma so he’s got pedigree.
2. Kirby Smart, Alabama DC: He’s got the Tide defense playing at its highest level in more than three years. If he intends to succeed Nick Saban someday, he needs to take an HBC job sooner and not later.
3. Will Muschamp, Auburn, DC: He’s probably kicking himself now for not taking the DC job at South Carolina. Auburn’s not playing well on defense right now, but Muschamp is still well thought of and can get an HBC job this year if he wants.
4. D.J. Durkin, Michigan DC: He’s got three straight shutouts under his belt and a reputation as a lights out recruiter.
5. Doug Meacham, OC, TCU: He learned his trade working for Mike Gundy at Okie State. His TCU offense is off the charts.
For the 13th year, ESPN has ranked every pro sports franchise (122 of them) in the major sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL). Here is where the Florida-based franchises ranked: (3) Tampa Bay Lightning; (21) Miami Heat; (45) Tampa Bay Rays; (48) Florida Panthers; (64) Jacksonville Jaguars; (70) Orlando Magic; (91) Tampa Bay Bucs; (92) Miami Dolphins. The top 10 franchises overall were: (1) San Antonio Spurs; (2) Memphis Grizzlies; (3) Tampa Bay Lightning; (4) Anaheim Ducks; (5) Seattle Seahawks; (6) Green Bay Packers; (7) Oklahoma City Thunder; (8) Pittsburgh Pirates; (9) Arizona Diamondbacks; (10) Dallas Stars.
The New England Patriots will travel to Indianapolis Sunday night. The Patriots aren’t talking Deflate-Gate but you have to know that they’ll have an edge to them because the Colts are the team that turned them in. I wonder how many TDPs Tom Brady will throw? My guess is at least four.
The more I think about it the more convinced I am that all this Chip Kelly to Southern Cal talk is just the product of a few over-active imaginations. Why would USC – after all it’s gone through with NCAA probation and the loss of so many scholarships – hire a coach who had an NCAA show cause order until last December? Not even Pat Haden is that dumb.
If you had to rate your two most over-rated college football players in the country at the halfway point of the season, Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson would be the hands down #1 but who’s #2 on the most overrated list? My vote would go to Cardale Jones at Ohio State. I think the Buckeyes would be far better off with J.T. Barrett at QB.
There is no question that Shawn Elliott is a fine football coach and he might be the nicest guy in this hemisphere, but South Carolina faithful are going to be disappointed when the lights go on and the mikes are live. After Steve Spurrier, anyone would look bad but Elliott? I’m not saying he’s dull but I think I’d rather watch paint peel.
It’s a little late in the game for apologies, but that’s what former Auburn wide receiver Duke Williams has done. Amazing how remorseful an NFL talent can become when he realizes that by his own stupidity he’s cost himself millions of dollars. He’ll get a free agent chance for sure, but anyone who would draft The Duke is absolutely out of his mind. Okay, I forgot about Jerry Jones. Let me rephrase things – anyone OTHER THAN JERRY JONES who would draft The Duke is absolutely out of his mind.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Does Auburn start righting the ship tonight with a win at Kentucky or does the nosedive to mediocrity continue?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
They used to call James Brown “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” Now that he’s dead, that mantle might be assumed by Warren Haynes, who splits time with his own Warren Haynes Band, Gov’t Mule and The Allman Brothers. He’ll be in St. Petersburg October 23 and in Orlando October 24. Today’s music is a full show of the Warren Haynes Band at The Moody Theater in Austin, Texas.