Jerome Miron/ USA TODAY Sports

Franz Beard's Thoughts of the Day; Jan. 6

A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning...

When it came time to announce the decision everybody knew was coming, that he was foregoing his senior season at the University of Florida to enter the NFL Draft, Jalen “Teez” Tabor made it all about what being a Gator has meant to him. His letter to the Gator Nation (http://www.theplayerstribune.com/jalen-teez-tabor-florida-nfl-decision/) was straight from the heart and it told the story of a love affair between Tabor and Florida football.

Coming from the inner city of Washington, D.C., Tabor found a home in Gainesville and turned the secondary into his personal playground. Yet it was never just about him. He loved the university, loved his teammates, loved his coaches (called them “the vest coaching staff in college football”) and loved the Gator Nation. He thanked Jeremy Foley and thanked his academic advisors and professors. He made All-America twice along the way and played so well that he’s a lock to hear his name called the first round when the NFL drafts in May.

He’s earned his chance to play for pay and to take care of his family but before he signed off, he made sure he let it be perfectly clear the University of Florida will always have a piece of his heart nobody else can have.

Tabor said, “Even though I’m leaving for the NFL, I’m a Gator through and through. Wherever I end up next, I know that I’ll find myself back in the Swamp at some point next season to cheer with y’all. I’ll always come back and show some love. It’s the least I can do for a place that has given me so much.”

Folks, that’s pure class. See ya’ at the next level Teez. You’ve earned your shot.

FIVE KEY POINTS ABOUT ALABAMA-CLEMSON GAME

1. Either Nick Saban has screwed up royally by firing Lane Kiffin or it’s a stroke of genius. There is no in between.

If Jalen Hurts and the offense doesn’t adjust to the play calling of Steve Sarkisian and the Alabama offense goes flat just when it needs to be fluffy, then Saban and the Crimson Tide could go down in flames. Saban and Kiffin have had their differences but then again, most everybody has differences with Lane and let’s face it, Nick isn’t exactly as warm and playful as a two-month old puppy. You knew from the beginning there were going to be clashes and there were. But could Saban have set aside the differences for another week? Could he have let Lane be Lane and trusted that his OC would come through just as he has for the last three years when he consistently got the job done against the best defenses in the country in the Southeastern Conference?

If Bama loses, people will blame Lane, but an equal number of fingers need to point at Saban. It’s either Nick’s way or the highway at Alabama but sometimes the HBC needs to be a little flexible. And, sometimes Lane Kiffin needs to act like an adult. There was very little flexibility and Lane and adulthood had one of those ships that pass in the night moments that got him canned.

But, the flip side of this bromance divorce is Sarkisian has different tendencies than Kiffin. He’s been immersed in the offense since he arrived in Tuscaloosa and everyone who knows him says he is one of the brightest and most creative offensive minds out there. Clemson has an entire season of tape on the Alabama offense to figure out what Kiffin likes and dislikes and you can bet the ranch they’ve been preparing for this moment since last January. Now, the Clemson staff will also have tape on Sark from his days as Pete Carroll’s OC and his days as the head coach at Washington and Southern Cal. What Brent Venables doesn’t have is any tape on what Sark will do with this personnel and Sark has always adapted what he does best to what his personnel can deliver. Sark likes wider splits in the line than Kiffin and his tendency in the past is more of a vertical game while Kiffin likes to spread the field and take away the defense’s ability to load up the box. But what he does Monday is anyone’s guess, especially Clemson’s.

If Sarkisian calls a brilliant game and the Alabama offense lights up Clemson’s dfense, then Nick Saban will show that he’s truly college football’s version of Norman Einstein (how many of you remember when Joe Theismann said, “Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein?”).

2. Clemson’s game plan against Ohio State was basically the defense we’ll be seeing against Alabama. Clemson didn’t believe J.T. Barrett could make the deep throws and trusted its corners on an island, believing they could go step for step with the Ohio State wide receivers. Now, there is no question that Jalen Hurts can run the ball, but when it comes to passing, most of his completions are either behind the line of scrimmage or no further than 7-10 yards downfield.

That’s almost an invitation for Clemson to stack the box like it did against Ohio State and force Hurts to win the game with his arm. Ohio State came into its game against Clemson with 200 or more yards rushing in 10 of 12 games. Against Clemson, the Buckeyes managed only 88. Barrett couldn’t win the game with his arm and he never got untracked running the ball against that stacked defense.

Alabama has run for at least 200 yards in 11 of 14 games so far including more than 200 against defenses like LSU, Auburn, Washington and Florida, all formidable against the run. Those teams stacked the box, too, and Alabama still ran the ball, but the so-called experts are saying Alabama hasn’t faced a run defense like the one Clemson showed against Ohio State.

Maybe.

If Clemson does stuff the run, however, Alabama will need Hurts to win the game and he really hasn’t had to do that all year.

3. Deshaun Watson confidently says he’s the best quarterback in the country. He’s thrown for 4,173 yards and 38 touchdowns which is more yards and more TDs than he threw for last year (4,104 yards, 35 TDs) when Clemson went 14-1, losing only to Alabama in the national title game. He’s run for a little more than half the yards (586 this year) than last (1,105) and only 8 TDs (12 last year). It must be noted he ran a lot more last year (207 attempts in 2015, 144 this season) when Clemson called a lot of designed runs. For the most part, the running has been of the scramble variety this year until the last couple of games when his number has been called more frequently.

Clemson folks believe that Watson will be the difference Monday night and certainly he’s got the talent to be the dominant player in the game, but take into consideration this number: 17.

As in 17 interceptions.

He will be throwing against an Alabama defense that has picked off 16 passes and run 6 of them back for touchdowns. He will also be standing in the pocket against an Alabama defense that has sacked the quarterback 50 times and has scored 5 touchdowns on fumble returns.

So there are three important questions for Monday night: (1) Can Deshaun Watson protect the football; (2) can the Clemson O-line protect Watson from being dismembered by that fierce Alabama pass rush and (3) can the Clemson skill people avoid fumbling the football?

Oh, and on special teams, Alabama has scored four other TDs in the punting game.

4. It is almost as if Alabama has been saving Bo Scarbrough’s legs for the games that matter most. In the first 11 games (Scarbrough played in nine of them), the big bopper carried 62 times for 358 yards and 5 touchdowns, but against Auburn (Iron Bowl), Florida (SEC Championship Game) and Washington (semifinal) Scarbrough carried 47 times for 361 yards and 4 touchdowns. That’s 7.6 yards per carry. What Scarbrough did against a stout Washington defense was absolutely ridiculous (19 carries, 180 yards and 2 TDs).

This seems like a carbon copy of what Alabama did in its four most important games when Heisman winner Derrick Henry was cut loose for 146 carries, 693 yards and 7 touchdowns in the wins over Auburn, Florida, Michigan State (semifinal) and Clemson (championship game). Now Henry got a lot of carries in the first 11 gams, but he took on a heavier workload in the last four big games.

Here’s why that matters. This will be the 15th game of the season for Clemson’s defenders. They may have plenty of adrenaline going Monday night but their legs are heavier at this time of the year and now they’ll have to stop a 245-pound battering ram who has afterburners for when he finds open space. Derrick Henry was 242 pounds and he not only pummeled that Clemson front seven but once he found space, the last line of defense was chasing him.

Alabama has Damien Harris, Hurts and Josh Jacobs, who are fast enough to get to the edge, but the hammer is Scabrough. Will Monday night be Hammer Time for Bama?

5. Even though Clemson played in the national championship game last year, this is still new stuff for the Tigers. For Alabama, it’s been there and done that – four times since 2009.

I’m reminded of a college basketball game I watched on television back when Tim Duncan was playing at Wake Forest. There were two minutes remaining in the game, Wake Forest was leading Dean Smith and North Carolina and there was time out on the floor.

Dickie V (I’m paraphrasing here) made this statement: “Two minutes to go, Wake Forest is ahead by 10 and they think they might win. Two minutes to go, North Carolina is down 10 and Dean Smith and the Tar Heels KNOW they’re going to win.” North Carolina did win the game.

Clemson has a great team, great players and one of college football’s most underrated coaches in Dabo Swinney. The Tigers do think they can win this game Monday night and maybe they will.

Alabama, however, has Nick Saban and a bunch of guys who came to Alabama expecting to play for a national championship every single year.

Alabama KNOWS it is going to win.

GATORS NEED TO PLAY BETTER AGAINST TENNESSEE

The 24th ranked Florida basketball team (11-3, 2-0 SEC) played well enough to beat Ole Miss Tuesday night but it was actually one of the worst games the Gators have played all season long. They had defensive lapses. They missed free throws. They had times when they couldn’t miss but that led to lazy possessions on the offensive end and lazy offensive possessions led to mindless defensive stands.

Still, the Gators won and that was the important thing. Tennessee comes to Gainesville Saturday afternoon and while the Vols (8-6, 1-1 SEC) are seriously challenged vertically (they rarely have anyone taller than 6-7 on the court and only two of their top seven in minutes per game are 6-5), they have this habit of playing their best against ranked teams. They are 0-4 against Wisconsin, Oregon, North Carolina and Gonzaga (all ranked in the top 16 nationally) but they scared the bejabbers out of all four of them before losing. North Carolina had to rally from 15 down and it took a blocked shot on the last play for the Tar Heels to win that one.

So, the Gators are going to have to do a better job on both ends of the court Saturday because Tennessee will play hard and with tempo. The Vols are averaging 79 points per game and they believe they’ve got a chance to win against any team that wants to run with them.

These next eight games are critical for the Gators – Tennessee, at Alabama, Georgia, at South Carolina, Vanderbilt, at LSU, at Oklahoma (Big 12-SEC Challenge) and Missouri. Win those eight and UF will be 19-3 when Kentucky comes to town on February 4.

Once we hit the February stretch, the games get tougher, legs get weary and losses become more frequent. The closer the Gators get to 20 wins prior to February solidifies their chances to get a decent seed in the NCAA Tournament.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

Les Miles flew to Minneapolis Thursday per a local radio station. I can’t imagine Les taking that job even though he could contend for the Big Ten West. I think he will let LSU pay him for at least one year, do some TV work and then get a job in a place where he can recruit. I have one word for Minnesota: cold. And that is precisely why stud recruits don’t go there. 

Oklahoma is losing three of its top four offensive players to the NFL Draft. Gone are 1,000-yard running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine and the best wide receiver in the country, DeDe Westbrook.

This is not exactly what the Dallas Cowboys need with the NFL playoffs starting this weekend. Defensive end Randy Gregory has been suspended for the next calendar year for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Gregory could appeal to Federal Court and perhaps delay the suspension but there are no guarantees. It’s a distraction the Cowboys don’t need.

After serving a 1-game suspension for three tripping incidents, Grayson Allen returned to the Duke lineup Wednesday night to score 15 points in a 110-57 win over Georgia Tech. Maybe Allen has learned his lesson. Maybe. But you have to question the timing of getting back an All-American on the game before Coach K undergoes back surgery that will keep him away for one month. Interim coach Jeff Capel will need all the weapons at his disposal while Coach K rehabs. It’s also interesting that the Atlantic Coast Conference didn’t slap Allen with a suspension and allowed Coach K to suspend “indefinitely” only to have indefinitely last just one game.

QUESTION OF THE DAY

Will the switch in play callers prove to be Nick Saban’s worst nightmare or will it prove to be a stroke of genius?

MUSIC FOR TODAY

From 1968-77 The Band was one of the best acts in all of rock and roll. If you’ve never watched Martin Scorcese’s 1978 documentary “The Last Waltz” then you’ve missed out one of the legendary performances in rock and roll. Led by the late Rick Danko and the late Levon Helm, the band had a sound nobody could duplicate. Today’s music is a 1976 concert from Casino Arena that includes “The Weight” and my favorite “Up on Cripple Creek.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZeboTzerHQ

 


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