So the Labor Day question of questions is did Jim McElwain sandbag it and do just enough to beat UMass Saturday, or was that what we should brace ourselves to expect the rest of the way for the Gators?
The answer might be somewhere in between. With Kentucky coming to Gainesville next weekend to open the SEC portion of the schedule, there was no need for McElwain to show everything in the Florida playbook unless it was absolutely necessary. While the Gators made enough mistakes to give all 88,000 people in The Swamp clammy skin heading into the fourth quarter, the game really wasn’t in doubt.
There are doubts, however, especially about the offensive line. Getting stuffed on fourth-and-1 at the UMass 5 was telling. That shouldn’t have happened no matter the opponent but especially UMass. The Gators averaged only 3.69 per rushing attempt, which you could understand if there were a ton of sacks, but Luke Del Rio went down only one time. So take away that 6-yard loss and the Gators ran the ball 28 times for 101 yards. And that was against UMass, which is a Division I bottom feeder and not an SEC defense.
The good news is the Gators play Kentucky this week and if they can’t run the ball against the Wildcats, we might be in for a long, long year. The 262 rushing yards the Wildcats gave up against Southern Miss are obscured by the fact USM ran the ball 68 times and had two runners with more than 100 yards.
So consider the Kentucky game a gut check. Will the Gators show more of the playbook than they showed against UMass? They will have to. If all they do is through those bubble screens and drag routes even a bad defense like Kentucky’s will figure it out. And, will the offensive line get the job done against a Kentucky front seven that gave up 262 rushing yards and was so ineffective rushing the passer that another 258 passing yards were tacked on? The Gators won’t face an SEC defensive front seven this bad the rest of the way so if they can’t torch Kentucky it will say plenty about where this program is in terms of offensive development.
THE SAYER SAYS SOOTH!
So far: 7-5 (58.3%)
#4 Florida State 27, #11 Ole Miss 24: It’s tempting to pick the Rebels, particularly since they’re not going to be the least bit intimidated. They’ve won in Tuscaloosa and beaten Alabama two straight years. How many teams can say that? To beat a Florida State team that might have as much talent as anyone in the country, the Rebels are going to have to give Chad Kelly extraordinary protection and they’re going to have to run the football. They may be able to protect, but run it? Doubtful. FSU will start a redshirt freshman QB in Deondre Francis. As long as he understands his main job is to hand the ball to Dalvin Cook, he’ll be all right. If this were Oxford, I’d go with the Rebels. It’s Orlando so the pick is FSU.
AROUND THE SEC
#1 Alabama (1-0, 0-0 SEC): Alabama has its quarterback. Jalen Hurts ran for two touchdowns and passed for two touchdowns after relieving starter Blake Barnett. Adding another runner to the Alabama offensive arsenal seems rather unfair but get used to it because Hurts is the straw that stirs the Alabama drink. As for the defense, just another ho-hum day at the office. The Crimson Tide gave up three points, 64 rushing yards and 130 passing yards while making what will turn out to be a very good USC offense look extremely ordinary.
Next Saturday: Western Kentucky (1-0)
Arkansas (1-0, 0-0 SEC): The Razorbacks are notorious the last three years for slow starts in September. Well, they’re at it again. They should have blown the doors off Louisiana Tech, but instead played like they would have rather been someplace else much of the game. The defense actually played quite well, holding LaTech to 79 rushing yards and less than 300 total yards, but the offense had trouble getting untracked because the line had trouble holding its blocks and that led to 14 LaTech points off turnovers. Austin Allen was sacked four times for -26 yards in losses and overall, the Hogs ran for only 106 yards on 40 attempts.
Auburn (0-1, 0-0 SEC): What we’ve known all along about the Gus Malzahn offense was played out Saturday night against Clemson. If the QB can’t run, the offense is not very good. Sean White can’t run. Can’t throw all that well either. Jeremy Johnson can throw but he’s so indecisive that it neutralizes any running ability he might have. John Franklin III? He can run all day long but since only one pass play (complete, -3 yards) was dialed up for him, we have to assume he couldn’t hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddle from point blank range. Auburn’s defense is vastly improved from last year, but the offense has struggle written all over it. At least until Malzahn can find a QB who can run AND throw.
Next Saturday: Arkansas State (0-1)
#17 Georgia (1-0, 0-0 SEC): Nick Chubb is back in a big way – 222 yards and 2 TDs – and he’s going to make it possible for freshman QB Jacob Eason to find his comfort level. It’s amazing how wide open receivers can get when you play action off Nick Chubb. Eason was 8-12 for 131 yards and a TD in his college debut. The Bulldogs will have to rely heavily on play action because the O-line (gave up four sacks) has problems with speed off the edge. Georgia’s pass defense looked very good but the run defense gave up 8.4 yards per carry.
Next Saturday: Nicholls State (0-0)
Kentucky (0-1, 0-0 SEC): At one point, Kentucky led, 35-10. It was 35-17 at the half. And the Wildcats found a way to lose, 44-35. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the guy calling the plays for Southern Miss, which passed for 258 yards and ran for 262 through a Swiss cheese Kentucky defense, was last year’s UK offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, who HBC Mark Stoops fired. Maybe Stoops ought to take a good long look in the mirror to see exactly what’s wrong with Kentucky football.
Next Saturday: at Florida (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
#5 LSU (0-1, 0-0 SEC): Cam Cameron is paid $1.3 million to be the offensive coordinator at LSU, which is apparently $1.29 million too much. Memo to Cam: You have Leonard Fournette who gets stronger with more carries. Run him. Second memo to Cam: You have Leonard Fournette who everyone in the ball yard including the opposing defense is deathly afraid of. Try play action. Third memo to Cam: You’ve spent three years trying to turn Brandon Harris into a functional QB. You haven’t succeeded yet. Find someone new. In a hurry before you cost HBC Les Miles his job.
Next Saturday: Jacksonville State (1-0)
Mississippi State (0-1, 0-0 SEC): Damian Williams isn’t Dak Prescott but Damian isn’t the problem. He led the Bulldogs with 93 rushing yards and was 20-28 passing for 148 yards and a TD. The problem is the lack of a decent tailback so that the defense can’t load up on Williams and a real defense stretcher of a wide receiver. Fred Ross can move chains but he won’t scare safeties to move back an extra 5-10 yards. Oh, and there is that teensy problem of a placekicker. When your PK boinks a 28-yarder off the upright that costs your team a win, your team is potentially in a world of hurt.
Next Saturday: South Carolina (1-0, 1-0 SEC)
Missouri (0-1, 0-0 SEC): The yardage totals – 282 passing yards and 180 rushing yards – are an improvement but the Tigers couldn’t put points on the board and they struggled to convert on third down and in the red zone (only 2-5 there). Drew Lock threw for 280 yards but he had to launch 51 passes and completed only 23 to get there. The way Marvin Zanders ran the ball effectively, you have to wonder when Mizzou will give him a real chance to play QB. A real concern is the Missouri defense. It’s supposed to be the heart and soul of the team but the Tigers couldn’t stop West Virginia on the ground (241 yards) or in the air (253) and they didn’t register a single sack or quarterback hurry.
Next Saturday: Eastern Michigan (1-0)
South Carolina (1-0, 1-0 SEC): Nothing is going to come easy for the Gamecocks but they started out with an SEC win on the road and they’ll have a chance to extend that to 2 games against a Mississippi State team that lost to a team from the Sun Belt Conference. The defense is certainly better than last year. Yes, it was Vanderbilt the Gamecocks were shutting down, but fundamentally they were very sound, something they haven’t been on that side of the ball in a couple of years. For South Carolina to win games it will entail getting the other team to play down to their level and that’s something Will Muschamp can do with the best of them.
Next Saturday: at Mississippi State (0-1)
#9 Tennessee (1-0, 0-0 SEC): Although the Vols pulled out an overtime win over Appalachian State, the big concern has to be the play up front on both sides of the ball. There were times when the Appys pushed the Tennessee front all over the place and they showed an ability to get to the UT edge when they went wide. Tennessee’s O-line struggled (43-127) to make a dent in an Appalachian State D-line that was outweighed 40 pounds per man on the average. The only reason UT won this game is because the Appys don’t have a decent kicker. Either the Vols grow up in a hurry or it’s going to be a season of disappointment.
Next Saturday: Virginia Tech (1-0) at Bristol Motor Speedway
Texas A&M (1-0, 0-0 SEC): Although the Aggies gave up 468 yards and 24 points, they played a really good defensive game with 5 sacks for 39 yards in losses, 7 quarterback hurries, 3 interceptions and constant pressure that forced Josh Rosen into bad reads and poor throws. Aggie QB Trevor Knight was adequate (22-42, 239 yards, 1 TD) throwing the ball and opportunistic (31 yards, 2 TDs) running it but that was enough for a win. The Aggies did show good balance with 239 passing yards and 203 rushing yards.
Next Saturday: Prairie View A&M (0-0)
Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-1 SEC): The new look Vandy offense looked a lot like the old look Vandy offense, which is to say it stunk to high heavens against South Carolina. QB Kyle Shurmur is a year older, but after watching him struggle to make even very average throws in the opener, you have to wonder if he’s improved at all after his shaky freshman season. Middle Tennessee comes to Vandy next Saturday and that’s a game the Commodores can very well lose. It is also a game that could signal the beginning of the end for HBC Derek Mason, whose job security is looking questionable.
Next Saturday: Middle Tennessee (1-0)
1. Nick Chubb, Georgia: Enjoy it while you can. He’s not going to risk injury by returning for his senior season. To start his junior year he ran for 222 yards and 2 TDs in the season opener against North Carolina including a 55-yard TD run that put the 33-24 win on ice.
2. Greg Ward Jr., Houston: Oklahoma’s game plan was to make sure Ward didn’t win the game with his feet. That was a success. What the Sooners didn’t game plan for was Ward making all the plays with his arm (321 yards, 2 TDs) and it would have been worse except his receivers had at least five drops. A win over the #3 team in the country on week one puts Ward at the heart of the Heisman discussion.
3. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: After throwing a pick six on the first possession, Barrett went on a rampage against Bowling Green, throwing for 349 yards and 6 TDs while running for 30 more yards and 1 TD as the Buckeyes racked up 77 points and 756 yards of offense against Bowling Green.
4. Lamar Jackson, Louisville: He passed for 286 yards and 6 touchdowns and ran for 119 more and 1 TD against Charlotte. That was in the first half. Yes, it was against Charlotte, probably the worst team in Division I, but those kind of numbers are impressive no matter the foe. This kid is scary good.
1. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford: The week one totals against K-State were 126 rushing yards and 2 TDs, 7 receptions for 40, a kickoff return for 28 yards and two punt returns for 16. So 210 total yards and 2 TDs. Not great but not bad enough to move him down the list.
2. Deshaun Watson, Clemson: The first week numbers weren’t all that impressive – 248 passing yards, 1 TD; 21 rushing yards – but it was on the road against an Auburn team that could win 9 games if it figures things out at QB.
3. Leonard Fournette, LSU: It’s not his fault that his offensive coordinator is a total moron. He carried the ball 23 times for 138 yards and caught 3 passes for another 38. LSU was in trouble throughout the game and didn’t ride the big horse. That’s not his fault.
1. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma: Houston shut him down completely until the last couple of minutes of the second half. He was 24-33 for 323 yards and two TDs, but what voters will see is that the QB of the #3 team in the country couldn’t put points on the board when he had to.
2. Josh Rosen, UCLA: When he wasn’t getting sacked, he was throwing off his back foot because of the pressure. Late in the game against Texas A&M, however, he had no pressure at all and threw a pick that was right in the hands of the defender and there wasn’t a UCLA receiver around. Then in overtime, he couldn’t tie the game.
The SEC coaching heat index should go (1) Les Miles, LSU; (2) Derek Mason, Vanderbilt; (3) Mark Stoops, Kentucky; (4) Butch Jones, Tennessee. Miles and Stoops are feeling plenty of heat but their buyouts are so large they might be saved by the lawyer. As for Mason, if he loses this week to Middle Tennessee, it will take a miracle of Moses parting the Red Sea proportions for Vandy to have a decent enough record that he’s still the HBC next year. Jones’ situation will be determined by games against Florida, Georgia and Alabama. If he’s not at least 2-1 in those three games he might be a goner.
Consider Houston’s 33-17 win over Oklahoma a winning audition for an invitation to join the Big 12. The Houston AD says that HBC Tom Herman’s salary will elevate to $5 million if and when the Cougars get their ticket punched to the power five.
Alabama may hire former Washington and Southern Cal coach Steve Sarkisian as an offensive consultant. Sarkisian. He might spend the year helping out then step into the OC role next year because you can bet the ranch Lane Kiffin is going to be somebody’s HBC.
Former Gator QB Jeff Driskel was claimed off the waiver wire by the Cincinnati Bengals. Driskel will be the Bengals practice squad QB. Former Gators Mack Brown and Lynden Trail got practice squad contracts with the Washington Redskins.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Two-part question: (1) What impressed you the most about the Gators and (2) what was your biggest disappointment?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Arguably the best and most consistent jazz band of the last 25 years has been FourPlay, the collaboration of Bob James (keyboards), Nathan East (bass), Harvey Mason (drums) and a rotating star at guitar. Lee Ritenour was the guitarist the first 10 years followed by Larry Carlton for another 10. Now it’s Chuck Loeb. Today’s music is a performance at the Tokyo Blue Note when Ritenour was on guitar.