Nobody is coming right out and saying it – especially Florida head ball coach Jim McElwain – but this has to be a make or break year for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
In his two previous seasons, Nussmeier’s UF offenses have yet to average at least 25 points per game nor have they averaged as much as 350 yards. We can point to a lack of stability at the quarterback position and some serious growing pains on the offensive line among the culprits for the rather poor numbers the last two years, but this is year three. The time for excuses has come and gone. Nussmeier will have more overall speed at the skill positions, depth and talent at running back, a number of potential playmakers in the receiving game and the offensive line should be much improved. Although there is a genuine lack of experience at quarterback, there is more talent and depth than Nussmeier has had before.
If the Gators are to make it a threepeat as SEC East champions, then there is no doubt Nussmeier’s offense is going to have to produce at a much higher level than we’ve seen the last two seasons. If, with the increased talent, the offense remains jammed in neutral as we’ve seen the last two years, then the problem has to be the coordinator.
Even with the loss of seven starters to the National Football League Draft, there shouldn’t be a tremendous nosedive for the defense with Randy Shannon taking over as the coordinator for Geoff Collins, now the HBC at Temple. Shannon has a very solid resume both as the defensive coordinator and head ball coach at Miami. While the Gators likely won’t duplicate last year’s numbers when they gave up only 16.8 points, 128.33 rushing yards and 292.8 total yards per game, there shouldn’t be tremendous slippage. And, this will be a young unit that should get better every game.
So the assessment for Florida’s coordinators for 2017 is one who better produce and one who will get a mulligan.
Here is a look at the other coordinators in the SEC East:
Jim Chaney, Offense: These numbers tell you everything: 19 carries, 21 yards rushing. That was what Georgia did against Florida last year and that was with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel carrying the football. Jacob Eason’s quarterback rating was 120.26 for the whole season. Among SEC East starters, only Kyle Shurmur of Vanderbilt had a lower rating. So consider this a make or break year for Chaney. If Georgia can’t run the ball effectively with Chubb and Michel returning and Eason’s QBR isn’t vastly improved, the Bulldogs aren’t going to be very good. Last year they averaged 384.7 yards and 24.5 points per game. Opinion: Georgia’s offensive line was terrible last year and it looked even worse in the spring. If the line doesn’t block better, then the offense will under-perform and Chaney will be searching for a new sucker to hire him in 2018.
Mel Tucker, Defense: On paper, Georgia’s 2016 defense was pretty good, allowing only 327.5 yards and 24 points per game. But look closer at the numbers. The best defensive games were against D1AA Nicholls State, South Carolina before Jake Bentley became the QB, Vandy whose offense is virtually non-existent, Florida whose offense was really bad and Auburn, which was down to its 103rd string quarterback. Missouri gained 471 yards, Ole Miss 510 and Louisiana Lafayette 465. Those aren’t exactly light ‘em up offenses. Nearly everybody is back this year. That could be good news and it could also be bad news. Opinion: Watch the Notre Dame game in South Bend and Mississippi State game on September 23. If the Georgia defense performs really well in those two games, maybe they’ll be better this year. If Nick Fitzgerald (MSU QB) runs wild it might be a sign that a long year is in store.
Eddie Gran, Offense: Gran’s offense took off once QB Drew Barker was lost for the season and Stephen Johnson started running the show. The Wildcats produced two 1,000-yard rushers last year and with four O-linemen returning the running game should be good again. Improvement has to come in the passing game. Don’t be surprised if redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak, star of the spring game, takes over at QB because Johnson won’t wow anyone with his arm. Opinion: Gran isn’t chasing any head coaching jobs but he’s probably a short timer at UK. If the Cats improve this year, expect he’ll be calling plays at a school that takes its football more seriously than basketball.
Matt House, Defense: House takes over for DJ Eliot, who mercifully departed after a year in which the Wildcats gave up 31.3 points, 434.2 yards and 234.15 rushing yards per game. House can’t be any worse than Eliot, who shockingly was hired as the DC at Colorado. Opinion: Until the Wildcats can stop the other teams they face, they’re going to struggle to break even.
Josh Heupel, Offense: Missouri fans shouldn’t get too comfortable with Heupel calling plays because he will be somebody’s head ball coach next year. With a line that had the fewest starts of any in Division I last year, Heupel produced 31.4 points and 500.5 yards per game. Drew Lock went from a lost ball in the tall grass to a QB who is going to go early in the NFL Draft either in 2018 or 2019. Opinion: It wasn’t just the passing game for Mizzou last year but the running game produced a 1,000-yard rusher in Damarea Crockett and a 750-yarder in Ish Witter. Everybody is back this year. The Tigers will score a lot of points and Heupel will have a lot of schools asking for interviews.
DeMontie Cross, Defense: Missouri’s defense gave up 479.7 yards and 31.5 points per game last year. That’s the bad news. The even worse news is that the best players (DE Charles Harris, NT Josh Augusta, LB Michael Scherer, LB Donavan Newsome) have all graduated. Opinion: You would think there is only one way to go and that’s up, but Mizzou actually had a lot of talent and it’s all gone.
Kurt Roper, Offense: Considering he was building an offense from scratch and played the last seven games with a quarterback (Jake Bentley) who skipped his senior year in high school, Kurt Roper did a rather remarkable job last year. Bentley is going to be a stud and so are sophomore running backs Rico Dowdle and A.J. Turner. The Gamecocks expect the offense to be much better than last year’s 20.8 points and 345.5 yards per game. Opinion: Roper is highly underrated as a play caller. He’s got his quarterback, his running backs and potential stud receivers in Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards. If his line gets the job done, the Gamecocks are going to be dangerous.
Travaris Robinson, Defense: Let’s not fool ourselves. This is Will Muschamp’s defense. Travaris is the coordinator and he does a nifty job coaching up the secondary, but the overall defense is Muschamp’s baby. In the second half of last season, the only game the Gamecocks were overwhelmed was Clemson and a lot of people were overwhelmed by Clemson last year. Opinion: Muschamp will still be the dominant figure on the defensive side of the ball, but Robinson is a stud recruiter and a very good secondary coach. Expect decent improvement.
Larry Scott, Offense: Mike DeBord is gone and Scott was promoted, which was somewhat of a surprise. He coached tight ends last year at UT. The last time he called plays was in 2004 when he was the co-offensive coordinator at Sebring High School. Maybe Scott will shock us, but on paper this doesn’t seem like much of a solution. Opinion: Scott will team up with new quarterbacks coach Mike Canales, whose offenses have never overwhelmed anyone. Maybe these guys will pull rabbits out of the hat, but it seems more likely the UT offense is going to be a train wreck looking for a place to happen.
Bob Shoop, Defense: This may seem like beating a dead horse, but Bob Shoop brought it on himself. Nobody held a gun to his head last spring when he said nobody would run on the Vols in 2016. Three teams topped the 400-yard mark on the Vols and two of them were Missouri and Kentucky, not exactly mentioned in the same breath with some of your offensive juggernauts in college football. Now there were some injuries, but even with the injuries the Vols weren’t lacking for talent. Opinion: If the Shoop Troops don’t rise to the occasion and become one of the better units in the SEC, then Shoop (and head ball coach Butch Jones) will be looking for gainful employment in 2018.
Andy Ludwig, Offense: Believe it or not, the Commodores are actually improving under Ludwig. They averaged 288.3 yards per game in 2014, 326.5 in 2015 and 355.5 last year. The numbers aren’t going to improve substantially this year. The Commodores have the same problems they’ve had the last three years – the line doesn’t block all that well, the receivers aren’t very fast and the quarterback doesn’t always throw to the people wearing the same colored shirt as he’s wearing. Opinion: Ludwig might actually be a decent coordinator if he had good players to coach. Trying to win in the SEC with his offensive players is like trying to win the Kentucky Derby with an alpaca.
Derek Mason, Defense: Mason is the head coach and the defensive coordinator so if the Commodores are underwhelming he only has to look in the mirror to find the person responsible for the mess. The Commodores gave up 24 points and 408 yards per game last year and they’ve lost their best player in All-American linebacker Zach Cunningham. Things aren’t going to get that much better this year. Opinion: Mason has run through a lot of coaches in his three previous years. He needs to hire a coordinator and focus on recruiting. The Dores need some players.
#5 GATORS ON THE ROAD AT ALABAMA
Kevin O’Sullivan’s 5th-ranked Gators (35-14, 16-8 SEC) will be looking to hold on to their one-game lead in the SEC East and stay in the hunt for the regular season SEC championship this weekend when they travel to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama (19-29, 5-19 SEC). Bama might have the worst record in the SEC but last weekend pulled off a shocker by sweeping Auburn on the road. The Crimson Tide brings a 4-game winning streak into the weekend series with the Gators, who have won 11 of their last 13 SEC games.
GATORS FALL TO OLE MISS IN SEC SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT
Eighth-seeded Ole Miss scored two first inning runs and made them stand up to upset the nation’s top ranked Florida Gators (50-6) Thursday afternoon in the second round of the SEC Softball Tournament in Knoxville. The Ole Miss win was one of three upsets on the day as 5th-seeded Alabama knocked off 4-seed Texas A&M, and 6th-seeded LSU knocked off host and 3-seed Tennessee. Only Auburn (#2 seed) was able to knock off the lower seeded team.
Despite the loss the Gators will almost certainly be a top eight seed for the NCAA Tournament which means they will host a regional and super regional if they win the regional.
SEC BASKETBALL NEWS
Arkansas guards Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford have removed their names from the NBA Draft and will both return to school for their senior seasons. Macon averaged 13.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists while Barford averaged 12.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists.
With four days remaining until the spring signing period comes to an end, Kentucky awaits decisions from Pitt graduate transfer Cameron Johnson and prep center Mohamed Bamba (7-1, 210). Johnson is expected to sign with either Arizona or Kentucky. His decision could be swayed by draft decisions by Arizona’s Rawle Alkins and Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo, who are both performing at the NBA Combine in Chicago. After the first day of the combine it would seem that Alkins will elect to return to Arizona and Diallo will stay in the draft. As for Bamba, it’s going to come down to Kentucky, Duke, Michigan and Texas. He’s thought to be leaning more and more to Texas.
Although he hasn’t announced his intentions, Yante Maten is expected to return to Georgia. He wasn’t invited to the NBA Combine which is usually a sure sign you won’t be drafted.
On ESPN’s First Take on Thursday, reporter Jeremy Schaap said he has seen no evidence that quarterback Colin Kaepernick is being blackballed by the NFL because of his politics. While admitting that Kaepernick might cause a distraction, which Schaap says is something “NFL general managers don’t want in a backup quarterback,” Schaap said the biggest reason the quarterback is unsigned is because of money. Kaepernick made $19 million last year and isn’t going to sign for a small amount of money. Schaap said, “If we’re going to throw around accusations that he’s being blackballed because of his political beliefs, I believe there should be some evidence. And I haven’t seen it.”
Speaking of Kaepernick, Harry Edwards, the activist/sociologist who is an unofficial advisor, says three NFL teams have contacted him since he became a free agent in March.
Courtney Kupets-Carter, one of the greatest gymnasts in NCAA history, has been hired as Georgia’s new gymnastics coach. As a collegian, Kupets-Carter won nine individual NCAA titles and helped the Bulldogs win four straight national championships. Kupets-Carter has no head coaching experience but she has persuaded former UGa head coach Suzanne Yoculan to come out of retirement and serve as a volunteer coach. Yoculan led Georgia to 10 national championships including five straight before retiring.
Former Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly, the last player picked in the NFL Draft, signed a four-year deal with the Denver Broncos. Considering he’s got to beat out underwhelming Trevor Siemian and second-year man Paxton Lynch, Kelly has a very good chance to work his way up the depth chart and eventually start. He’s got more arm strength than Siemian and more big play ability and athleticism than Lynch will ever have.
Wide receiver Josh Gordon, who hasn’t played in the NFL since 2014 because of multiple suspensions for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy, had his application for reinstatement to the league denied.
Former Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs got his degree yesterday in aerospace engineering.
Kobe Bryant regularly advises and mentors some of the NBA’s stars such as Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. LaVar Ball (a day without LaVar is like a day without something stupid being said) says he won’t seek any advice from Kobe for his son Lonzo Ball. “I don’t need no advice from Kobe Bryant,” LaVar said on ESPN Radio 710 AM in Los Angeles.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Which offensive coordinator is on the hottest seat in the SEC East? Which defensive coordinator?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I was working in the Record Bar on University Avenue during my senior year at Gainesville High when Al Hospers, a talented local musician, fellow employee and my first real encounter with a hippie, introduced me to Wes Montgomery. Montgomery had died in the summer of 1968 and Al put on the “A Day in the Life” album that had risen to #1 on the Billboard jazz charts. I’ve been listening to his music ever since. What a great guitarist who died way too soon (age 45).