GRADING THE TIGHT ENDS
We continue to analyze the 2016 Gators position by position. Today a look at the tight ends.
DeAndre Goolsby: The way he runs once he has the football in his hands, you wonder why is it that Goolsby isn’t targeted on seam routes when he’s mismatched on a linebacker. Goolsby has size (6-4, 244), speed and athleticism to be one of the top tight ends in the SEC but he’s rarely thrown to on routes that show off his skills. Perhaps he could benefit most from a QB who sees the field better or play calling that allows him to run a route more than 5-8 yards past the line of scrimmage. Regular season stats: 36-315 (8.65 per catch), 2 TDs.
C’yontai Lewis: Lewis is the smallest of Florida’s tight ends (6-4, 231) but he has good speed and is a legitimate threat in the downfield passing game. Despite his size, he’s actually the best blocker of the bunch. He’s got the skills to be much more of a threat. Consider him under-utilized in the slot where he’s too big for safeties and too fast for linebackers. Regular season stats: 18-184 (10.22 per catch), 2 TDs.
Moral Stephens: Stephens has grown into the position (6-3, 249) after arriving at Florida as a skinny 218-pounder. He has the good speed and athletic ability that makes him a motion or slot type of TE but really isn’t physical enough to be an end of the line blocker. Next year will be his fourth year in the system. Regular season stats: 1-14 (14.0 per catch), 0 TDs.
Camrin Knight: Knight played in 8 games in 2015 but only played in 2 games in 2016 and didn’t accumulate any statistics. He is considered a better blocker than route runner or receiver.
Grade B: As far as pass catchers go, the Gators have a couple of tight ends in Goolsby and Lewis who should fare much better statistically. Whether it’s a case of under-use of their skills in the play calls or quarterbacks who aren’t looking for the tight ends more in the vertical game, the Gators aren’t getting near enough production. When Goolsby and Lewis get the ball, they do something with it. A real problem at the position is the Gators don’t have a prototypical tight end who can serve as a de facto tackle on the end of the line in short yardage situations or block and then release in the passing game.
ROAD WEARY GATORS DROP SEOND STRAIGHT GAME
There was good news and bad news for Mike White’s Gators Sunday afternoon. First the bad news. The 21st-ranked Gators (7-3) lost their second straight game to Florida State, 83-78, and it will likely cost them their place in the top 25 when the polls come out.
The good news is there is only one more game on this extended road trip before Florida will play its first home game in the renovated O-Dome. The Gators will play at Charlotte next Saturday and then open up the O-Dome on December 21 against Arkansas-Little Rock.
Against FSU, the Gators trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half before rallying to within 3 but they couldn’t get over the hump even though they had several wide open shots that would have either tied the game or closed to within one.
FSU outrebounded the Gators, 42-33, and held Florida’s front line of Devin Robinson, Justin Leon and John Egbunu to a combined 23 points and 11 rebounds. Additionally, the Gators had their share of wide open 3-balls but couldn’t put the ball in the basket (4-16, 25%). The Gators were only 16-25 from the foul line.
Kasey Hill played his best game of the season with 21 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals, while KeVaughn Allen, whose minutes were limited (20) by foul trouble, chipped in with 16.
THE OREGON JOB
Willie Taggart, who has rebuilt programs at Western Kentucky and South Florida, is the new head ball coach at Oregon, but he was not the first choice … or even the second. Per Lindsey Schnell of Sports Illustrated, the first choice was Tom Herman, who chose Texas over Oregon and a couple other jobs. The second choice was Florida coach Jim McElwain and the third choice was Matt Rhule, who left Temple for the vacancy at Baylor.
At both Western Kentucky and USF, Taggart built from the ground up and turned losers into winners. It took a couple of lean years to get his system in place, but once playing with his own players, Taggart put a winner on the field. Will Oregon show the same kind of patience with Taggart as both Western Kentucky and USF showed? This is a program that just fired a coach who was in the national championship game in 2014.
STRONG TO SOUTH FLORIDA
Now that he’s had a taste of life in the fishbowl that is Texas, Charlie Strong will find life a bit more pleasant in Tampa where he will have a chance to resuscitate his coaching career at South Florida. Strong signed a 5-year deal to coach the Bulls, who will return 8 of 11 offensive starters and 19 of the top 22 on the depth chart on that side of the ball, plus 8 starters and 18 of the top 22 on defense. The 10-2 Bulls averaged 43.6 points per game, led by QB Quinton Flowers (2,551 passing yards for 22 TDs; 1,425 rushing yards for 15 TDs).
As Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator, Strong was the lead recruiter for the Tampa-Lakeland area so he’s got the local connections to build upon the foundation that Willie Taggart left behind. Critical for Strong in this second chance coaching assignment will be hiring an exceptional staff. A number of the folks who followed him closely at Texas believe a major portion of his problems in Austin had everything to do with unreliable assistants.
THE DILEMMA FOR LANE KIFFIN
No matter what they’re spinning in Houston, Lane Kiffin was the top guy and a deal fell through. Kiffin was also the guy South Florida would have gone after if Charlie Strong had not taken the job in Tampa. The flirtation with Florida Atlantic was just that – flirtation. FAU doesn’t have $1.4 million a year to spend on a HBC much less the money needed to hire something other than a novice staff of assistants. The reports that talks broke down were all about money.
So what’s next for Kiffin? He is in the final year of a 3-year contract that hasn’t been renewed but don’t read too much into that. It was expected Kiffin would get a head coaching job but not every job is the right fit, whether for money reasons or the ability to win in the long haul. If he wants to return to Alabama, Nick Saban will gladly offer him a raise and bring him back to craft a Heisman run for Jalen Hurts in 2017. Next year will be the first time that Kiffin has had an incumbent QB to work with at Alabama and with eight starters expected back on offense including Hurts, a stable of running backs, Calvin Ridley and four O-linemen, the Crimson Tide could be scary good.
Coach O will offer Kiffin a raise of a half million or so to join him at LSU but if Kiffin says no, Coach O’s feelings won’t be hurt and they’ll still be buddies. My guess is it’s probably 65-35 that Kiffin stays at Alabama and Coach O decides between former Washington and Southern Cal HBC Steve Sarkisian or Matt Canada, the offensive coordinator at Pitt.
MORE COACH STUFF
Hugh Freeze is looking long and hard at TCU co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie and Memphis OC Chip Long to fill the vacancy left by Dan Werner, whose contract was not renewed.
The Temple job remains open and there doesn’t seem to be a clearcut favorite although the players have indicated their preference for defensive coordinator Phil Snow. Matt Rhule won 10 games at Temple in back-to-back seasons, which is pretty amazing when you consider this is primarily a commuter school with zero in the way of campus life, horrendous facilities and no on-campus stadium. Well, now we know why a line isn’t forming with hot candidates ready to take this job.
The Western Kentucky job remains open. Idaho coach Paul Petrino, WKU offensive coordinator Tony Levine (former HBC at Houston) and Southern Cal QB coach Tyson Helton (WKU assistant in 2014-15) are the likely top candidates.
Now that the Lane Kiffin bromance is over, Florida Atlantic has turned its sights to Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno.
For all practical purposes, Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy based on two games – Louisville’s 63-20 obliteration of Florida State on September 17 and a 42-36 loss to Clemson two weeks later. Against FSU, Jackson threw for 216 yards and 1 TD and ran for 146 and 4 more. At the time Florida State was ranked #2 nationally. A couple of weeks later when Louisville was ranked #3 and Clemson was ranked #5, Jackson went into Death Valley and outperformed Deshaun Watson, who finished second in the Heisman balloting. Jackson hrew for 295 yards and 1 TD and ran for 162 yards and 2 more TDs. Watson threw for 306 yards and 5 TDs, including the game-winner with 3:14 left in the game, but he was picked off 3 times. Watson did run for 91 yards in that game.
Jackson will be a junior next year so he will enter the 2017 season the favorite to win a second straight Heisman, but that has only been done once before (1974-75). If Jackson can’t duplicate a 2016 sophomore year in which he accounted for 51 touchdowns (30 passing, 21 rushing) and 4,928 total yards (3,390 passing and 1,538 rushing), will the voters consider the season a step backward? They did in 2008. After a Heisman season in 2007 in which he accounted for 55 touchdowns (32 passing, 23 rushing) and 4,181 total yards (3,286 passing and 895 rushing), Tebow came back to lead the Gators to the national championship in 2008. Although his stats weren’t nearly as good – 30 TDPs, 12 rushing TDs and 3,420 total yards (2,747 passing and 673 rushing) – Tebow actually had a better year and proved he was the nation’s best when he outdueled Heisman winner Sam Bradford in the national championship game.
An all-too early 2017 Heisman Trophy preseason top 10: 1. Jackson; 2. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma; 3. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State; 4. Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama; 5. Jake Browning, QB, Washington; 6. Sam Darnold, QB, Southern Cal; 7. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU; 8. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State; 9. Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida; 10. Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn
Colin Kaepernick had the San Francisco 49ers on the verge of victory, but the Niners snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and lost to the New York Jets, 23-17, in overtime. Kaepernick led the 49ers to a 17-3 first half lead but Bryce Petty led the Jets to 11 fourth quarter points and the game-winning TD in overtime.
After the Cincinnati Bengals blew the doors off the Cleveland Browns, 23-0, Sunday, Bengals corner Adam “Pacman” Jones used a garbage can to show his disdain for Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick held Pryor to 1 catch for 3 yards Sunday. In his post game rant which included several “Pryor suck” answers to questions, Jones grabbed a trash can, shook it and yelled into the can, “Hey, you in there?”
Florida State’s basketball team is 10-1 and oozing size and talent but does anyone believe for a second that Leonard Hamilton will have the Seminoles playing at a high level in March? Nobody squanders more talent than Hamilton and yet he continues to lure outstanding players to FSU. Consider this one of life’s great mysteries.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Do you think Charlie Strong will regain the coaching magic at South Florida? Or do you think he would have been better off to sit a year and living off his $5 million a year buyout money before looking for a new job?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Rolling Stone Magazine rates Bonnie Raitt #50 in its list of “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” and #89 on their list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” She achieved commercial success with Capitol Records in 1989, a few years after Warner Brothers dropped her from their label. Her breakthrough album was the 1989 release “Nick of Time.” Today’s music is a New Year’s Eve concert from 1989 in Oakland.