After a week of distractions, perhaps the toughest task for Jim McElwain will be to get his 14th-ranked Florida Gators (4-1, 2-1 SEC) fully focused on a much-improved Missouri (2-3, 0-2 SEC). Missouri isn’t exactly a good football team, but the Tigers have enough weapons on the offensive side of the ball that any team that doesn’t take them seriously could be in for a rude awakening.
This isn’t the boring Missouri team of last season that had to battle the distractions of Maty Mauk’s suspension and on campus issues that nearly cost the school a forfeit. That team averaged 13.6 points per game and was so bad offensively that it almost made Vanderbilt seem explosive. Missouri gained 280.9 yards per game last year, about what the Tigers get in a half now that new coach Barry Odom has installed a wide open offense with former Oklahoma QB Josh Heupel in charge.
Last year, the Tigers did their best to avoid mistakes. The idea was to allow one of the nation’s best defensive units to keep the game close in the hope that something good would come Mizzou’s way. Heupel’s way of doing things is start throwing the moment the Tigers get off the bus and keep throwing until it’s time to get back on the bus and head to the airport.
What Heupel has done with sophomore QB Drew Lock is almost miraculous. He’s gone from a QB who hesitated or locked on to the first receiver he saw last year to one who has through five games already thrown for more yards (1,675 to 1,332 last year) and touchdowns (14 this year, 4 last) than he did in 12 games last year. Lock has a big arm and he’s capable of making all the throws.
Lock also has an offensive line that understands he is their meal ticket. That might have something to do with the fact Lock has only been sacked three times in five games.
Florida’s task will be to get Lock out of his comfort zone. LSU (42-7 winner over Missouri) made it clear from the first snap that there would be no 15-18-yard completions and that whatever Missouri earned through the air would be through nickel and diming. That kept Arden Key from racking up multiple sacks but forced Lock to throw 3 and 4-yard passes. You don’t beat LSU with those kind of throws.
If Florida is smart and focused, the Gators will make sure Lock has a similar task facing him Saturday afternoon in The Swamp.
THE BALL IS IN GREG SANKEY’S COURT
Nobody can blame SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey for taking his time to make a decision whether or not to play the Florida-LSU game last Saturday. It was a hurricane and even the smartest people in the world who study and research hurricanes for a living will tell you there isn’t a bright enough mind or sharp enough computer to give you anything better than a prediction when one of those big storms comes your way. That Sankey waited until the last minute to make his decision to X out the Saturday game is commendable even if conditions were playable. Had he decided to go ahead and the hurricane wobbled instead of staying out at sea and maybe LSU-Florida is played in a quagmire similar to that monstrosity that was Notre Dame at North Carolina in Raleigh.
So he made the right decision and again, that’s commendable.
What isn’t commendable is here it is there wasn’t a plan in place and a decision to move forward in place within an hour after the order to postpone went out. Here it is Tuesday and Sankey is still weighing options about when to play the game again. Meanwhile, every hour that goes by LSU AD Joe Alleva digs in his heels and defines a narrative that makes Sankey seem like an indecisive boob.
Translation: the tail is wagging the dog.
We’ve heard several different scenarios that could play out for the rescheduling of LSU-Florida and there isn’t a one of them that will make everybody happy. Isn’t that a shame?
Well, this isn’t about being happy. It’s about doing the right thing even if feelings get hurt and some folks are inconvenienced. That’s the price you pay of playing in the Southeastern Conference. It’s also the price you pay for playing football in a league with thousands of miles of seashore on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico during hurricane season.
Alleva defiantly said Monday that LSU WILL play a home game on November 19. Period.
Maybe but if the Commish decides to put his foot down and go with another plan, Joe Alleva’s options are two: forfeit the game or do as ordered. If forced to accept a decision that goes contrary to his November 19 line drawn in the sand, Alleva will whine and cry to anyone who will listen. Sankey, meanwhile, can FedEx Alleva a case of Kleenex to Baton Rouge with an attached note that explains, “Sorry, but sometimes that’s the way the weenie wiggles.”
In a perfect world the ADs from the 14 SEC institutions would get together, drink some herbal tea, hold hands while singing a few verses of “This Land Is Your Land” and then agree by unanimous consent to do the right thing and everyone in Gainesville and Baton Rouge would hug and exchange SnapChat invites. Only problem is, this isn’t a perfect world and in this imperfect circumstance it’s time for the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference to put his foot down and tell Florida, LSU and whoever else might be affected the way things are going to be.
That time is now. It’s Tuesday and this is a decision that can’t wait. Too many lives are affected and too much money is at stake. You can bet the farm nobody will be 100% happy with any decision that’s made, but that doesn’t alter the fact that being commissioner means sometimes you have to make hard choices.
Greg Sankey didn’t make them last week when he should have. He can’t afford to wait another day now. It’s time to act.
COACHES TOP 25 POLL
SEC teams in bold face
1. Alabama 6-0
2. Ohio State 5-0
3. Clemson 6-0
4. Michigan 6-0
5. Washington 6-0
6. Texas A&M 6-0
7. Louisville 4-1
8. Baylor 6-0
9. Nebraska 5-0
10. Wisconsin 4-1
11. Tennessee 5-1
12. Houston 5-1
13. Ole Miss 3-2
14. FLORIDA 4-1
15. Boise State 5-0
16. Florida State 4-2
17. Miami 4-1
18. West Virginia 4-0
19. Virginia Tech 4-1
20. Oklahoma 3-2
21. Utah 5-1
22. Arkansas 4-2
23. Western Michigan 6-0
24. Arizona State 5-1
25. LSU 3-2
Streaking across the sky
1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: After a week’s rest, you almost feel sorry for Duke, which has to figure out a way to stop Jackson this week. Jackson’s impressive numbers – 93-688 rushing (7.48 per attempt), 14 TDs; 101-170 passing for 1,625 yards (9.6 per), 14 TDs, 4 INTs. He is on pace for a 60-TD season.
2. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State: You have to wonder what might have been last year if Urban Meyer hadn’t wasted half a year trying to make a starting QB out of Cardale Jones. Barrett’s 5-game numbers are 79-123 passing for 981 yards (8.0 per attempt), 15 TDs, 3 INTs; 342 rushing yards (4.89 per) and 4 TDs.
3. Jake Browning, QB, Washington: The Huskies are 6-0, ranked #5, and looking like a playoff team largely due to Browning, who is 104-144 passing for 1,418 yards (9.8 yards per attempt), 23 TDs and 2 INTs; 3 rushing TDs. In his last two games against Stanford and Oregon, Browning is 37-49 for 514 yards, 9 TDs and 0 INTs.
In the hunt but need some work
1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: Each week his numbers get better as Clemson is starting to play up to the hype. So far, Watson has hit 125-206 passes for 1,572 yards (7.6 per attempt), 18 TDs, 7 INTs; 244 rushing yards. If Clemson runs the regular season table he’s going to be on the podium and it might be hard to deny him a Heisman.
2. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: The Seminoles aren’t going to win any championships so it’s highly unlikely he’ll win the Heisman, but he could make the podium with some big games in the second half of the season. Right now he’s third in the country in rushing (134-785, 5.86 per carry, 7 TDs; 20-345 receiving, 1 TD).
3. Jabril Peppers, S/RB/WR/KR, Michigan: He is Michigan’s Swiss Army Knife. On defense, he has 38 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks for -28 yards, 5 QB hurries and 1 forced fumble. He’s returned 14 punts for 249 yards (17.79 per) and 1 TD and 3 kickoffs for 95 yards. He has yet to catch a pass but has run the football 5-98 for 2 TDs. At this point he’s a longshot because of the offensive numbers but if he gets the ball in his hands and Michigan keeps winning his Heisman stock will rise.
Dropping like a rock
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: He hasn’t played healthy all season, has missed the last two games and really doesn’t have anything to prove to the pro scouts so there is no rush to rush him back to 100%, particularly with the way Derius Guice is playing.
2. Greg Ward, QB, Houston: As long as Houston was unbeaten, he had a Heisman shot, but the loss to Navy torpedoed unbeaten and Ward’s Heisman hopes. For the season he has 1,684 passing yards for 11 TDs, 272 rushing yards for 6 more.
3. Donnell Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State: It’s one thing to lose. It’s another thing altogether to lose to South Alabama. Pumphrey still has great stats (129-891 rushing for 9 TDs) but his team isn’t relevant.
4. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: McCaffrey is probably every bit as good as he was last year. The problem is the personnel around him isn’t. Two losses in a row in which he has combined for 84 rushing yards and 0 TDs have iced his Heisman chances.
TELL US HOW YOU REALLY FEEL PAUL
On ESPN Sunday, Paul Finebaum lit into Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who has piloted the Irish to a 2-4 record that includes a 10-3 loss to North Carolina State in a game played in hurricane conditions in Raleigh. Finebaum says he’s tired of Kelly pointing fingers at everyone but himself when Notre Dame loses.
“He blamed everyone on his team a couple of weeks ago and said he would be re-evaluating, then he blamed his defensive coordinator and fired him,” Finebaum said. “He’s blamed his quarterback who has had a really nice year and he called out his center saying he had been snapping atrociously in the middle of a hurricane. I’m beginning to wonder who’s next for Brian Kelly to blame: Donald Trump? I’ve always respected Notre Dame and I think it’s one of the great institutions for higher learning in this country, but why would anyone want to play for Brian Kelly? He’s a miserable human being and blames everyone but himself.”
But how do you really feel, Paul? We really want to know.
Simply by taking the time to listen to Florida’s offer to become the athletic director, Bubba Cunningham got a $53,000 a year raise from $642,000 to $705,000. It sounds good except that Scott Stricklin’s contract to replace Jeremy Foley will pay something in the neighborhood of $1.1 million. Maybe Bubba is independently wealthy.
Tiger Woods won’t be playing a PGA event this weekend after all. He bowed out of this week’s Safeway Open as well as the Turkish Open next month, citing issues with his game, not with his rehabilitation.
Some fans take their football a bit too seriously. University of Arkansas assistant professor of business and agriculture Lawton Nalley was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and public intoxication while screaming obscenities at Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema following the Razorbacks’ 49-30 loss to Alabama.
Hurricane Matthew is the bad gift that keeps on giving. Because of expected flooding later in the week in Greenville, NC, Thursday night’s game between Navy and East Carolina has been postponed until November 19 when both teams have an open date.
In the preseason, both Stanford and Oregon were ranked higher than Washington or Washington State. Stanford and Oregon are both 0-2 against the state of Washington. Stanford has been outscored 86-22 in its two games while Oregon has been outscored 121-54.
Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens has given HBC Mark Helfrich the dreaded vote of confidence. Helfrich was 24-4 with Marcus Mariota and the other players left behind by former coach Chip Kelly. He’s 11-8 since then and the natives are getting extremely restless. A GoFundMe page has been started for fans who wish to contribute to buying out Helfrich’s contract.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
If Greg Sankey allows a decision for LSU-Florida to drag on, will his position be compromised to the point he can no longer lead the SEC effectively?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Driving in my car today I heard the Jerry Butler classic “Only the Strong Survive” and that reminded me of the 1969 North-South All-Star Game at Florida Field. Jim Niblack of Gainesville High coached the North while Tommy Atwell of Kathleen coached the South. After a South practice I was interviewing Atwell when the entire team came running by, led by Rufus “The Roadrunner” Ferguson of Miami Killian. Rufus was a 5-4, 190-pound man with muscles where most people don’t have places. Rufus must have had a 50-inch chest and he was also the state sprint champion. He was singing “Only the Strong Survive” and the entire South team sang along. Rufus went to Wisconsin where he ran for more than 1,000 yards in his junior and senior seasons. Today’s music is from Jerry Butler.