In 2008, his first year as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator, Jim McElwain called the plays for an Alabama team that finished the season 12-2. After going 12-0 in the regular season, Alabama lost to Florida in the SEC Championship game then took it on the chin against Utah in the Sugar Bowl.
This was not an offensive juggernaut. Alabama averaged only 30.1 points per game and just 355.8 yards (5.52 per play) per game. The strength of the offense was a running game featuring Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram that produced 184.64 yards per game and averaged 4.55 yards per carry. The passing game had a stud receiver in Julio Jones but was limited by quarterback John Parker Wilson, a game manager type who threw 10 touchdown passes and 8 interceptions. Alabama averaged only 171.1 yards per game and 7.2 per pass attempt.
Those numbers won’t dazzle you, but they are a reflection of a well-conceived offense that overcame its limitations and played to its strengths. The job of the offense was to win the field position battle, score in the red zone and don’t do anything that would put a great defense (opponents averaged 14.3 points and 263.5 yards per game) in bad situations.
Alabama 2008 bears a lot of similarities to what McElwain is doing in 2015 as Florida’s head ball coach.
The Gators are 9-1 and could very well take an 11-1 record into the SEC Championship Game with Alabama in three weekends. No one would consider this Florida team an offensive juggernaut. It is limited by the play of the quarterback and an offensive line that only had 12 collective Division I starts coming into the season but the Gators do a very good job of scoring in the red zone and grinding out enough first downs to give punter Johnny Townsend a chance to flip the field so the defense is rarely at a disadvantage.
Through 10 games, Florida’s numbers are 28.1 points per game 232.3 passing yards per (16 TDs, 6 INTs), 138.6 rushing yards (18 TDs) and total offense of 370.9 yards per and 5.47 yards per play. Kelvin Taylor (736 yards and 12 TDs through 10 games) isn’t putting up the kind of numbers that Coffee and Ingram did in 2008, but that Bama team ran the ball while Florida, with more than one good receiver, spreads the ball around in its passing game better than that Bama team.
It could be argued that Treon Harris is certainly the equal to John Parker Wilson. His job is to make plays when he can, get enough points to win close games and avoid making mistakes that put Florida’s superb defense in a bad situation. The Gators are giving up only 280 yards per game, 4.44 yards per play and only 14.5 points per game, eerily close to Bama’s 2008 defense.
You could say that Florida’s offense is well conceived to overcome its limitations and it plays to its strengths just like that 2008 Bama team. It must be noted that Bama’s offense improved dramatically the next year and Alabama won a national championship.
If you simply compare the numbers, you might think Jim McElwain is following a blueprint he designed seven years ago and setting the Gators up for something far bigger in the future.
WEEK 3: COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF RANKINGS
The latest College Football Playoff Rankings were released last night and there was no change among the top four teams, but there was a lot of movement below with Florida moving up two places to #10.
1. Clemson 10-0
2. Alabama 9-1
3. Ohio State 10-0
4. Notre Dame 9-1
5. Iowa 10-0
6. Oklahoma State 10-0
7. Oklahoma 9-1
8. FLORIDA 9-1
9. Michigan State 9-1
10. Baylor 8-1
The rest of the top 25: (11) Stanford 8-2; (12) Michigan 8-2; (13) Utah 8-2; (14) Florida State 8-2; (15) LSU 7-2; (16) Navy 8-1; (17) North Carolina 9-1; (18) TCU 9-1; (19) Houston 10-0; (20) Northwestern 8-2; (21) Memphis 8-2; (22) Ole Miss 7-3; (23) Oregon 7-3; (24) Southern Cal 7-3; (25) Wisconsin 8-2
COMMENTARY: Clemson didn’t lose last week so it stayed at #1, but are the Tigers really that good? The Tigers have home wins #4 Notre Dame and #14 Florida State, but those are the only ranked teams on the schedule. But, if the Tigers run the table, finishing with a win over #17 North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game, they’ll be in the Final Four but it’s doubtful they’ll be the top seed.
Alabama’s only wins over ranked teams are #17 LSU and #25 Wisconsin, but 5 of the Tide’s 9 wins are over teams with 7 or more wins and there are two other wins over teams with 6 wins that are bowl bound. Based on that kind of schedule strength, Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss (7-3 record) is easily overlooked.
Ohio State’s current ranking has plenty to do with the Buckeyes owning the nation’s longest winning streak at 23 games. The first 10 games of 2015 are against woefully weak opponents but if Ohio State goes 3-0 the rest of the way with wins over #9 Michigan State, #12 Michigan and then #5 Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Buckeyes will likely go into the final four as the #1 overall seed.
Both #6 Oklahoma State and #7 Oklahoma are better than either #4 Notre Dame and #5 Iowa. If Oklahoma State runs the table it will own wins over Oklahoma, #10 Baylor and #18 TCU in the last month of the regular season. There’s no way a 1-loss Notre Dame would get in while an unbeaten Okie State would be on the outside looking in. If Oklahoma wins out it will have wins over #6 Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU plus a road win over a bowl bound SEC team (Tennessee) that should help the committee overlook the loss to Texas.
Notre Dame caught a break when Stanford somehow dropped only to #11 with its second loss of the season to Oregon. Notre Dame and Stanford will play on the last weekend of the regular season and if Notre Dame wins that game, it will help inflate the Irish resume because Stanford really isn’t that good.
Iowa and #8 Florida have the same predicament. The only chance they have to make the Final Four is to win the next two regular season games then win their respective conference championships.
Baylor (#10) and TCU (#18) need help to win the Big 12 so they are long shots to get into the final four although they still have a chance.
If 1-loss North Carolina (#17 with a 9-1 record) wins the last two regular season games then knocks off Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, the Tar Heels will be in the hunt, but a first-game loss to South Carolina and wins over two D1AA teams will probably keep the Tar Heels out.
Will Grier’s appeal has been heard by the NCAA, which never comments on active cases. It is very much in Grier’s favor that he makes good grades, has never had any conduct issues and has never failed any drug tests. These things will factor into the decision but really, it will all come down to whether the NCAA believes Grier made a stupid, one-time mistake or thinks he’s just saying whatever is convenient to get a reduced sentence.
There is precedent that the suspension could be reduced so while the NCAA can and will do anything it wants, quite often contrary to logic and common sense, there is reason to believe Grier will have his punishment cut in half.
#3 ALABAMA (9-1, 6-1 SEC): Derrick Henry – 1,457 yards, 6.08 per carry, 19 touchdowns – has exceeded the rushing production of Alabama’s 10 opponents so far. Opponents have run for 771 yards (77.1 per game), 2.49 per carry and 5 touchdowns against the Bama defense.
ARKANSAS (6-4, 4-2 SEC): Since the Hogs lost to Alabama in October, they have averaged 50.25 points and 523.25 yards per game. During those four games, QB Brandon Allen has hit 75-111 passes (67.5%) for 1,081 yards, 12 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. For the season he’s thrown for 2,617 yards (9.2 per attempt), 22 TDs and only 6 picks.
AUBURN (5-5, 2-5 SEC): In the last two games against Texas A&M and Georgia, Auburn’s much maligned defense has played at a very high level. In the first eight games, the Tigers allowed 446.5 yards per game (5.78 per play). In their last two, they’ve allowed 546 yards (273 per game) and just 4.04 per play.
#8 FLORIDA (9-1, 7-1 SEC): Since giving up 221 rushing yards to LSU, the Florida defense has held the last three opponents to 235 yards on 93 carries. That’s just 2.52 yards per carry. Through 10 games the Gators have allowed only 7 rushing touchdowns.
GEORGIA (7-3, 5-3 SEC): There is no big mystery what Georgia Southern will try to do offensively against Georgia. The Eagles average 378.89 yards per game rushing and average 34:06 time of possession. Georgia gives up only 139.6 yards per game and has allowed only 10 rushing touchdowns this season.
KENTUCKY (4-6, 2-6 SEC): There’s a good reason why Patrick Towles has lost his starting QB job to redshirt freshman Drew Barker. Since throwing for 359 yards against Auburn, Towles is a combined 57-122 (46.7%) for 565 yards (4.63 yards per attempt), only 1 touchdown and 6 interceptions.
#17 LSU (7-2, 4-2 SEC): Two straight losses have put LSU into crisis mode. HBC Les Miles said, “It’s a time where as a coach, you just bury your head and you go to work and you coach like there’s no tomorrow and it’s time to step up. I think our guys understand that. They understand crisis.”
MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-3, 3-3 SEC): Wide receiver De’Runnya Wilson, who was carted off the field with head and neck injuries suffered in the Alabama game is “going to be fine” according to Dan Mullen, who says the injuries aren’t threatening. It’s unclear if Wilson (40 catches, 664 yards, 8 TDs) will be available for this week’s game at Arkansas.
MISSOURI (5-5, 1-5 SEC): When Tennessee comes to Columbia Saturday it will be Senior Day and Gary Pinkel’s final home game as Missouri’s coach. A college teammate of Nick Saban’s at Kent State, Pinkel has a career coaching record of 191-108-3. He’s 118-71 at Mizzou, where he is the winningest coach in school history.
#25 OLE MISS (7-3, 4-2 SEC): The big question for the Rebels Saturday is can they stop Leonard Fournette? Although he’s managed only 122 yards in his last two games, Fournette has rushed for 1,478 yards in nine games. The Rebels allow 125.7 yards per game on the ground and just 3.19 per carry. In their last two games, the Rebels have allowed a combined 288 yards on 80 carries (3.6 per carry).
SOUTH CAROLINA (3-7, 1-7 SEC): Of South Carolina’s seven losses, five were by 14 or fewer points. Of those five losses, the Gamecocks had a legitimate shot to win four of those games. Would Steve Spurrier still be coaching South Carolina if the Gamecocks were 7-3 right now? Would he be thinking about coaching next season?
TENNESSEE (6-4, 3-3 SEC): The grounds crew at Neyland Stadium is working overtime to try to make the field playable for the Vandy game on November 28. There have been complaints about the field condition after both the South Carolina and North Texas games. UT has spent more than $400,000 on field upkeep in the last year but it’s still in rotten condition.
TEXAS A&M (7-3, 3-3 SEC): For Texas A&M to avoid the upset against Vanderbilt in Nashville Saturday, the Aggies have to get their pass rush going again. After racking up 19 sacks in their first five games, the Aggies have only gotten to the QB nine times in the five games since and five of those came against South Carolina.
VANDERBILT (4-6, 2-4 SEC): The Commodores give up yards (319.7 per game/4.82 per play) and points (17.4) grudgingly. The problem has been turnovers. They’ve given the ball up 23 times this season, 15 in the six losses.
UCF has hired Danny White from the University of Buffalo as its new athletic director. Based on where White has worked, expect Buffalo HBC Lance Leipold and Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey (30-9) to get long looks to fill the vacant football job.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State control their own destiny in the Big 12. If they win this weekend the winner of their showdown in Stillwater next week will decide the conference championship. Baylor (8-1) still has three games to play and TCU has two. Both will need help to win the championship since Baylor owns a loss to Oklahoma and TCU has a loss to Okie State.
TCU’s chances to knock off Oklahoma could hinge on the health of QB Trevone Boykin (ankle) and WR Josh Doctson (wrist). Boykin has thrown for 29 touchdowns and run for 8 this season while Doctson has 79 catches for 1,327 yards and 14 TDs.
Ohio State (10-0) is a -13 point favorite at home against Michigan State (9-1) this weekend
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Now that the CFB Playoff Rankings are out, did the committee get the first four right but if not, who should be in and who should be out?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
A good many critics consider “Aja” the best Steely Dan album of all time and one of the top 150 or so albums of all time. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were backed up by Larry Carlton, Joe Sample, Michael McDonald and Tom Scott so there was a lot of jazz influence. The album made it to #3 on the US charts, won a Grammy and sold more than 6,000,000 copies.