Forget talk about the Gators doing the unthinkable and knocking off mighty Alabama in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on December 3. There will be plenty of time to think about Alabama but not this week. Right now, the focus has to be on beating Florida State (8-3) in Tallahassee Saturday night. Florida (8-2) is a 7-point underdog on the road, but if the Gators can knock off the Seminoles and break a 3-game losing streak to their archrival, you can all but pencil them in to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on New Years Day.
Beat FSU Saturday night and then the Gators can start thinking about the long range implications of a win over Alabama. But first things first and that means finding a way to put the clamps on Dalvin Cook. As a freshman in 2014, Cook took over the game in the fourth quarter and finished with 144 rushing yards as FSU slipped past Florida 24-19. Last year, Cook went off for 183 yards and 2 touchdowns in Gainesville as the Seminoles shredded the Gators, 27-2.
“This Dalvin Cook guy is the most explosive player in all of college football,” McElwain said. It’s hard to argue with Cook’s stats – 1,467 yards and 17 TDs this year, 4,166 career yards and 44 TDs on the ground.
The Gators might try a similar strategy against Cook and FSU as they used last week when they slowed down LSU’s explosive running game, holding Leonard Fournette to 40 yards on 12 carries and Derrius Guice (averaging 8.03 per carry) to 83 on 19 attempts. That meant stacking the box and leaving the corners and DBs in one-on-one coverage. It worked against LSU but Florida State has a far more sophisticated passing game which means UF will have to find a way to keep the FSU receivers from gaining any yards after the catch if they want to keep the Gators in the game.
In addition to Cook, Florida’s game plan has to focus on keeping FSU QB Deondre Francois in the pocket and finding a way to neutralize the Seminoles pass rush, which is led by DeMarcus Walker with 13 sacks on the season.
Francois has thrown for 2,990 yards and 17 TDs (5 INTs) this season, but in his last three games (all FSU wins) he has completed 56-91 passes for 728 yards and 6 TDs with only 1 INT. Francois is very good in the pocket but he’s extremely dangerous when he breaks containment and has the option to run or pass. He turned around the Ole Miss game with his scrambling and was particularly effective at neutralizing the USF defense when he got outside the pocket. Florida has to get pressure on Francois while keeping all the escape avenues sealed. If Francois has to stay pocket-bound, it helps Florida’s secondary blanket the Seminoles receivers.
Walker gets double and triple-teamed on every play but still gets to the passer with regularity. It must be noted, however, that in FSU’s three losses, Walker was held to one sack for -7 yards. The Gators will have to find a way to handle Walker without ignoring the rest of the D-line. Against Clemson, for example, Walker was shut out but still FSU got to Deshaun Watson for 4 sacks.
If the Gators can take care of business with Cook, Francois and Walker, they could roll into Atlanta with Sugar Bowl assurances and that would certainly provide a confidence booster when going against Alabama.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF POLL: WEEK FOUR
SEC teams in bold face
1. Alabama 11-0
2. Ohio State 10-1
3. Michigan 10-1
4. Clemson 10-1
5. Washington 10-1
6. Wisconsin 9-2
7. Penn State 9-2
8. Oklahoma 9-2
9. Colorado 9-2
10. Oklahoma State 9-2
11. Louisville 9-2
12. Southern Cal 8-3
13. Auburn 8-3
14. Florida State 8-3
15. FLORIDA 8-2
16. Nebraska 9-2
17. Tennessee 8-3
18. West Virginia 8-2
19. Boise State 10-1
20. Houston 9-2
21. Western Michigan 11-0
22. Utah 8-3
23. Washington State 8-3
24. Stanford 8-3
25. Navy 8-3
MIDWEEK AROUND THE SEC
Alabama (11-0, 7-0 SEC): Radio/TV mouthpiece Skip Bayless isn’t impressed with Alabama’s defense, which has allowed only 6 points in the last three games and is giving up just 252 yards per game. Speaking of Alabama and, in particular, Bama HBC Nick Saban, Bayless said on Fox Sports 1, “His (Saban’s) calling card is defense? Baloney it is.” It makes you wonder if perhaps Skip was dropped on his head more than once as an infant.
Arkansas (7-4, 3-4 SEC): The Arkansas defense has given up more than 500 yards in each of the last two games and five times altogether this season. Plus there was that game against Auburn when the Hogs allowed 632. Figure Arkansas will need to win a shootout this weekend against Missouri, which comes into the game averaging 509 yards and 31.7 points per game. In the four losses this year, the Razorbacks have given up 188 points, a mere 47 per game.
Auburn (8-3, 5-2 SEC): Auburn RB Kamryn Pettway will play against Alabama in the Iron Bowl Saturday but still no word on QB Sean White, who continues to be listed day-to-day. White has practiced the last two days but he’s been quite limited.
Georgia (7-4, 4-4 SEC): Georgia has only had a few practice days to get ready for Georgia Tech’s funky triple option offense. The Yellow Jackets average 260 rushing yards per game and they lit up the Vandy defense for 289 yards earlier in the season. Georgia managed only 75 yards against that same Vandy defense.
Kentucky (6-5, 4-4 SEC): How will the Wildcats handle Louisville’s electric dual threat QB Lamar Jackson? If the Tennessee game is any indicator, Kentucky is in trouble. In that game, Joshua Dobbs ran for 147 yards and 2 TDs and passed for 223 and 3 more TDs. Jackson comes into the game with 47 TDs (28 passing and 19 rushing). He’s averaging 282.6 passing yards per game and 124.27 rushing yards.
LSU (6-4, 4-3 SEC): The Advocate lists these 8 candidates for the LSU HBC job – Jimbo Fisher, Florida State; Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State; Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech; Tom Herman, Houston; Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia; Larry Fedora, North Carolina; Mike MacIntyre, Colorado; and Ed Orgeron, LSU Interim HBC.
Mississippi State (4-7, 2-5 SEC): The Bulldogs won’t go bowling this year but they’ve found their quarterback for the next two years in sophomore Nick Fitzgerald, who has thrown for 2,178 yards and 18 TDs plus run for 985 yards and another 12. Fitzgerald’s numbers are actually superior to those posted by Dak Prescott when he was a sophomore – 1,940 passing yards and 10 TDs; 829 rushing yards and 13 TDs. Prescott got better as the talent surrounding him improved. Dan Mullen has to find some defensive studs, an every down running back and a couple of receivers who can stretch the field.
Missouri (3-8, 1-6 SEC): A bad season for Missouri just got worse. Freshman running back Damarea Crockett, who has 1,062 rushing yards this season and is coming off a 225-yard game against Tennessee, was arrested for marijuana and has been suspended for Saturday’s game against Arkansas. Missouri averages 509.7 yards and 31.7 points per game but the Tigers give up 32.2 points and 477.5 yards.
Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5 SEC): Ole Miss needs a win against Mississippi State in Saturday’s Egg Bowl to go bowling in the postseason for the fifth straight year. Because the Rebels burned the redshirt on freshman QB Shea Patterson, they really need to win this game so Patterson can get those extra 15 practices and one more game under his belt. In two games Patterson is 45-84 for 560 yards with 4 TDs and only 1 pick. He has also run the ball for 96 yards.
South Carolina (6-5, 3-5 SEC): While South Carolina’s offense is certainly improving on a weekly basis now that freshman Jake Bentley is taking the snaps at QB, the Gamecocks will have their hands full Saturday against a Clemson defense that ranks #23 nationally in rushing defense, #15 in pass defense, #10 in scoring defense and #3 in sacks.
Tennessee (8-3, 4-3 SEC): The Vols have given up 73 points and 1,375 yards in their last two games. Says DC Bob Shoop, “You can’t stomach it. It’s not acceptable. I’m responsible for this side of the football, and we’re very, very fortunate to have a great offense that’s carried the load.” When Shoop looks across the field Saturday against Vanderbilt, he will see a lot of seniors who he recruited when he was the Vandy DC just four years ago.
Texas A&M (8-3, 4-3 SEC): The Aggies beleaguered run defense (gave up 236 yards to Auburn, 282 to Tennessee, 287 to Alabama and 365 to Mississippi State) catches somewhat of a break Saturday because LSU will be playing without Leonard Fournette. Even without Fournette, however, LSU is a 6.5-point favorite. Should Texas A&M win the game, there is a really good chance the Aggies would play in the Sugar Bowl if Florida were to lose to both FSU and Alabama in the next two weeks.
Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-5 SEC): If he Commodores spring the upset Saturday when Tennessee comes to town, not only will they be bowl eligible but they will eliminate any dreams the Vols have of making it to the Sugar Bowl. Current conventional wisdom is if Florida loses to FSU and then Alabama and the Vols finish their season 9-3, they could be selected for the Sugar Bowl.
The NCAA says Notre Dame must forfeit all their wins (21) from 2012 and 2013 due to a student trainer providing two football players impermissible academic benefits during a 3-year period. This seems a bit excessive in that the NCAA has shown no inclination to punish North Carolina for massive academic fraud in its basketball and other sports programs over an 18-year span. Notre Dame, which lost to Alabama in the 2012 national championship game, will appeal the NCAA decision.
Expect Purdue to hire former LSU coach Les Miles after the Boilermakers finish up their regular season Saturday on the road against Indiana. If Miles somehow doesn’t come to terms with Purdue, expect the school to turn to Illinois State HBC Brock Spack, a former player and assistant at Purdue.
Apparently, Baylor has zeroed in on SMU HBC Chad Morris to fill its vacancy. Morris can make SMU bowl eligible Saturday with a win over Navy. There was a report that Morris has already accepted the job but Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reports that isn’t true.
Two women who reported they were gang raped by numerous football players in 2012 have reached a financial settlement with Baylor University. Terms of the settlement have not been disclosed. Neither of the women filed a lawsuit against the school.
What are the odds University of Texas president Greg Fenves changes his mind and keeps Charlie Strong as the HBC? Per Kirk Bohls of he Austin American-Statesman, “Zero. Maybe 1/10th of one percent.”
Western Michigan boosters are prepared to increase HBC P.J. Fleck’s salary to as much as $2 million to keep him coaching in Kalamazoo. Fleck currently makes $1 million and is the highest paid coach in the MAC. WMU is 11-0 and working on a 13-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s game with Toledo.
If early RPI is any indicator of things to come, then SEC basketball is in for another lean year. Ole Miss (24), Kentucky (25) and Florida (27) are the only teams in the top 50 and there are only two more (Georgia 51 and Arkansas 56) in the top 100. Currently Missouri (213), Auburn (255), Texas A&M (275), Vanderbilt (293) and Tennessee (329) all have RPI rankings higher than #200.
Dennis Rodman has been charged with hit-and-run in a collision in which his SUV was traveling north in a southbound carpool only lane in Santa Ana, California. Rodman has also been charged with driving without a license and giving police false information. He could face two years in jail if he is convicted.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Considering the slap on the wrist the NCAA gave North Carolina for a massive, prolonged academic fraud, is the penalty against Notre Dame excessive?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
One of my favorite Van Morrison albums is his 2003 release “What’s Wrong with this Picture?” The album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album and it rose to #32 on the Billboard 200 album chart.