Monday, October 19, 2015

LSU 35, Gators 28 - My Two Bits

I did not think UF would leave LSU with a win, but I wanted it to be at least close, because there was a little nagging voice in my head that kept telling me the Gators were not a legit No. 8 team (Ole Miss losing to Memphis was not quieting that little nagging voice). I really, really did not want them to get blown out. The way the first half ended, knowing LSU was going to get the ball to start the second...I thought my fears would be realized. But then, something remarkable happened. The No. 8-ranked team in the nation showed up. These Gators are legit. That was a heckuva game against a heckuva team, and I hope we get another crack at them, say on Dec. 5 in Atlanta.

MY TWO BITS
Fool Me Once...
Since Les Miles became the coach of LSU and earned the nickname The Mad Hatter, anytime I see the Tigers line up for a kick against [insert team here], I say to my TV "watch out for the fake!" Apparently, my words are not reaching the coaches of [insert team here], because it seems that LSU is successful on those fakes EVERY DARN TIME. If you know someone has a reputation for faking field goals and kicks, and they are lined up for a field goal or kick, wouldn't you have a defense in place prepared for a fake? Yes, the Gators' offense had multiple opportunities to tie the game after the yet again successful fake field goal, but the point remains that there is no reason at all teams shouldn't be prepared for Les Miles to call a fake.

C'mon, Ref
All in all, I thought the officiating crew did a decent job. But there was one play in particular that made me scratch my head scream at my TV: Leonard Fournette's fumble that the Gators may or may not have recovered. Replay review takes at least five minutes, Referee Matt Loeffler finally comes and says "Call has been confirmed" and that's it. I'm sorry, but that's not enough. If you have to take a ridiculous amount of time to review a call, and you determine unequivocally that the call on the field was correct, I need more explanation as to why. Now, perhaps Loeffler meant to say "Call stands as called"; later in the game, after penalties on both teams, Loeffler said the penalties had been declined rather than offset. I wouldn't have agreed with "call stands" but I would have understood that they couldn't determine one way or the other so the call stood. No, that call wasn't the reason the Gators lost, nor was the successful fake field goal, but both were reasons my voice was a little raspy Sunday morning.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Glass Half Full

With Will Grier suspended for the/a year, many Gators fans I'm sure are bemoaning that this season is now over, that our (faint) national championship chances went from slim to nil, that we probably won't even get to the SEC Championship and we should probably start booking our trip to Louisiana for the Camping World Independence Bowl (it's an actual thing).

I, however, choose to focus on the positives. It's the eternal optimist in me.

REPLACING GRIER
Entering the season, and even through part of the second game, Will Grier and Treon Harris were neck-and-neck for the starting quarterback job. Yes, Grier won it outright, but this could be a "1" and "1a) situation. Moreover, we never got to see what Harris could do if he played all 60 minutes in a McElwain-Nussmeier offense. Harris played well in relief last season, so we know we have a capable quarterback, and he now has a chance to prove that he should have been the starter beyond game 1.

D-FENCE
The Gators' defense is (knock on wood) playing really, really well. They rank 16th in the country in yards allowed per game (296), 12th in rushing yards allowed per game (99.2) and 11th in points allowed per game (14.3). They limited Kentucky (averaging 26.0 ppg, at least before tonight's game) to nine points, Ole Miss (46.8 ppg) to 10 and Missouri (18.3 ppg) to three. If the defense continues to play this way, Harris could go the Trent Dilfer route and "manage the game," doing just enough on offense to allow the D to do the rest.

STEP UP: ALL IN
“In a game like this, I think everybody needs to step up,’’ said tight end Jake McGee. Besides the one qualification that everybody needs to step up not just for the game, but for the whole season, his point is valid - besides the obvious person who needs to step up in Harris, the rest of the team should use Grier's suspension as motivation to play harder than they have all season. Theoretically, since Grier was the starter and Harris the backup, talent-wise the Gators are not as strong now at the QB position, which means everyone else needs to play even harder. Receivers running crisper routes, catching everything that comes into their area code; running backs hitting the hole with a vengeance; offensive lineman blocking like they were named Pouncey; the defense playing, well like it's been playing.

NO PRESSURE
The Gators, although they are ranked No. 8, are playing at LSU, sixth-ranked team in the nation, without their starting QB. No one is expecting them to win this game. Which means they can go out, have fun, and see what happens. I, for one, am excited to see how this team responds.

Minor Worry
The only worry I have, well one worry I have, is the backup situation and how that might affect the offense the Gators will run with Treon Harris. Vanderbilt transfer and back up wide receiver Josh Grady is now the backup quarterback. By my research, the last time Grady attempted a pass was 2013, at Vanderbilt. Since then he has served primarily as a receiver. My guess is the drop-off between Harris and Grady is much more significant to that of Grier and Harris. By all accounts, Harris is a better runner than Grier, while Grier is the better passer (although both have shown they are quite skilled at the other's supposed strength). But how much do you risk running Harris around the field, bootlegs, quarterback keepers, etc., when an injury to him puts the team in the hands of a complete unknown? Just a small, tiny, minor worry. Thinking positive thoughts, thinking positive thoughts...

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Thoughts on Gators-Missouri

Not so much thoughts as worries, the first of which is this is an obvious trap game. Huge win last week, LSU looming next week, Missouri not having a great season. Plus you add in all the accolades and talk the Gators are getting about being a good-to-great team, yada yada yada, and I could easily see the players taking the Tigers lightly. It'll be an interesting smell test to not only this Gators team, but also the coaching staff, to see how they play today.

Second worry, not so much a worry as a memory, is this weekend last year was one of the more heartbreaking losses of the Muschamp era (although there were quite a few of them). On Oct. 11, 2014, over the final six+ minutes against LSU, the Gators led 24-20, trailed 27-24, dropped a pass in the endzone and had to kick a field goal to tie the game 27-27, had the ball back with a chance to win it, threw an interception, lost 30-27. Two years ago on this weekend the Gators lost to LSU, 17-6. I'm just saying this weekend has not been kind to the Gators in recent years. Hopefully this team changes that trend around.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

In sports, as in life, sometimes there are decisions you disagree with, and sometimes there are decisions that are just plain wrong. Biggest difference is that in sports, it's fun to tear those decisions apart.

Decision I Disagree With
Starting the fourth quarter of its game at Clemson, Notre Dame was trailing, 21-3. The Irish's offense had done very little up to that point, but an interception in the endzone gave them life, and they capitalized with their first touchdown of the game to bring the score to 21-9. Brian Kelly decided to go for two.

I subscribe to the theory that you only go for two when you absolutely have to. In this situation, whether Notre Dame converted the two-point conversion or kicked the extra point, they would need a touchdown and a field goal to tie. But fail to convert the two-point conversion and ND would need two touchdowns. Since Notre Dame's offense hadn't done a whole heckuva lot up to that point, I would rather take the guarantee of needing a touchdown and a field goal to tie rather than needing two touchdowns to win.

As it happens, a Clemson field goal and a Notre Dame touchdown brought the Fighting Irish to within eight, 24-16, where if they had that extra point it would have been 24-17. ND scored again (24-22), went for two, didn't get it, ball game. I feel confident in saying that if the game had gone to overtime, Notre Dame would have won. Their offense seemed to be clicking better over those final 15 minutes.

But ok, that was a decision Brian (Don't Call Me Chip) Kelly made, and while I understand why he made it, I disagree with the call.

Decision That is Just Plain Wrong
Ladies and Gentlemen, the New York Football Giants.

I tweeted this at the time, and I'm still waiting for an answer: can someone PLEASE explain to me the Giants' offensive playcalling in the final minutes of their win over Buffalo?!

Let's review. 

Giants are up 24-10, with a first-and-goal at the Buffalo seven-yard line, 4:02 remaining. Seems simple, right? Two running plays right up the gut, if you haven't scored by then you have Eli take the snap on third down, get to the middle of the field and drop, kick the field goal, ice the game. Bing Bang Boom. But no - the Giants apparently have not learned from their mistakes from Game 1, or those same mistakes from Game 2, or those pesky mistakes again from Game 3. First down, they run Rashad Jennings out wide, and to his credit he realizes he needs to get down to keep the clock rolling but he can't because he's right at the sideline, surrounded by defenders who are pushing him out of bounds, so out of bounds he goes. Clock stops. Then Eli attempts a fade pass to Odell Beckham, Jr., incomplete. Clock stops. Then Eli throws an interception, because of course he does.

There is no defending that play calling, because it was awful. Just like it was late in the fourth quarter of games 1, 2 and 3 of the season. At least they're consistent.

Monday Morning Quarterbacking is fun, as is Saturday Night Quarterbacking. I might have disagreed with Brian Kelly's decision but at least I understand where he was coming from. The Giants...there are no words. Hopefully they've (finally) learned from their mistakes.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Gators 38, Ole Miss 10 - My Two Bits

I said before the game that for the Gators to have a chance at beating Ole Miss, they would need to play the full 60 minutes the way they played the final 10 against Tennessee. Little did I know that Ole Miss would be the team that wouldn't have a chance against the Gators.

My Two Bits on the Game
Wait What?
I'm still in a state of disbelief at what happened. Not about the fact that the Gators won - lest we forget, Indiana came thisclose to beating our friends from Ohio, because, you know, any given Saturday - but that the Gators so thoroughly dismantled Ole Miss. We always knew the Gators had a good defense; that was their saving grace many sometimes under Muschamp. But I don't recall seeing a defensive beat-down like the one I watched on Saturday, ESPECIALLY against a ranked team, let alone the third-best team in the nation. The Gators played the first half against Ole Miss the way they played the final 10 minutes against Tennessee, and then kept up that pressure on the defensive side in the second half, while taking their foot off the gas pedal on offense. This was as complete a win as I can remember, and it was so so so so so so much fun to watch.

That Said...
That said, what does that mean for this Gators team? At the end of the game the fans were chanting "Ov-er-rated bum bum bumbumbum" but was Ole Miss overrated? Did the Gators put a hurting on the No. 3 team in the nation or a team that just happened to be ranked No. 3? Ole Miss was No. 3 because it beat Alabama, 43-37, which was at the time No. 2 because it was Alabama, and is now back in the top-10 because of its 38-10 win over Georgia. Are the Gators really 34 points better than the Crimson Tide and 62 points better than the Bulldogs? I think it's safe to say the SEC is slightly overrated this year. The Gators' wins over Kentucky and Tennessee probably aren't as"good wins" as they were when they happened thanks to the Wildcats' near loss to Eastern Kentucky and the Volunteers' actual loss to Arkansas, but UF did beat an East Carolina team that beat Virginia Tech but lost to Navy...which means I have no idea what any of this means. It means the Gators beat Ole Miss and did so convincingly and that's what matters. Certainly Florida controls its own destiny to reach the SEC Championship for the first time since Tebow's senior year, but it won't be easy getting there. Good thing Gators fans tend to keep things in perspective when thinking about where their team stands in the national landscape.

Packed House
Gators fans not only filled The Swamp on Saturday, they made life miserable for the Ole Miss offense AND they stayed long after the game had been decided, and that is fantastic. Great job by everyone there. Good news: The Swamp is The Swamp again. Bad news: the Gators play away from The Swamp for four of their next five games, including the next three-straight, at Missouri and LSU and against Georgia in Jacksonville. I feel like I've heard this before this season, but now we can see what kind of team we have on our hands. The Gators are playing with a lot of confidence, which is good, because winning at Missouri, at LSU and against Georgia won't be easy. It would not surprise me to see the first loss of the McElwain era somewhere during this stretch. It would bum me out, but it would not surprise me.

Maintaining Focus
The coaching staff and the team did a great job of not allowing the emotional win over Tennessee affect their preparation and focus for Ole Miss. But now they have to make sure to ignore a) the incredible win they just had and 2) all the pundits saying nice things about them, and get ready to play a Missouri team that will be jacked to get back into the SEC East race. So far McElwain has been pushing all the right buttons; let's hope that continues.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

SEC QBs and the NFL: I did NOT see that coming

A few days ago, SI.com's Andrew Adams posted this story about the college football landscape. His basic argument is that the SEC is no longer the dominant conference it once was because, while the other conferences have caught up to the SEC in terms of talent at the skill positions, offensive and defensive lines, the SEC trails the other conferences in terms of talent at quarterback. I don't argue the point - I think it's fair to say the SEC has never been thought of as a "quarterback's conference." But it got me thinking about SEC QBs and the NFL.

A short amount of research led me to a startling revelation. Would it surprise you to know that the SEC has more current starting NFL quarterbacks than any other conference? It surprised me, but it's true. Of the 32 current starting quarterbacks in the NFL, six are from the SEC (will be seven once the Browns come to their senses and re-instate Johnny Manziel as starter), five from the Pac-12, and three each from the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC.

The six quarterbacks from SEC schools starting in the NFL are Auburn's Cam Newton (Carolina), Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler (Chicago, although he's "day-to-day"), Georgia's Matthew Stafford (Detroit), Arkansas' Ryan Mallett (Houston), Tennessee's Peyton Manning (Denver) and Mississippi's Eli Manning (NY Giants).

Yes, the Mannings probably would be starters in the NFL even if they had gone to [insert school here] and [insert other school here], but they chose the SEC, so there.

What's fascinating about the SEC quarterbacks currently starting for NFL teams is that only one came from a team that either won a national championship or was in the mix for a national championship, and that's Cam. In fact, since the start of the BCS era, of the 10 quarterbacks that led an SEC team to either a national championship, an appearance in the national championship game or an appearance in the playoffs, only three are currently on an NFL roster, and only two are quarterbacks. Cam is a starter, Alabama's AJ McCarron is a backup with the Bengals and Auburn's Nick Marshall is a cornerback with the Jaguars.

So what I've learned here today is that the SEC actually IS a quarterbacks conference; unfortunately, those quarterbacks aren't coming from the national championship contenders.

In the end, Adams is right, and also wrong, but unfortunately the aspect he's right about is what is probably going to keep the SEC from winning a national championship this season.

SEC Quarterbacks now Starting in the NFL
Cam Newton (Auburn), Carolina
Jay Cutler (Vanderbilt)*, Chicago
Matthew Stafford (Georgia), Detroit
Ryan Mallett (Arkansas), Houston
Peyton Manning (Tennessee), Denver
Eli Manning (Ole Miss), NY Giants
Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M)^, Cleveland

*-injured
^-coming soon

Quarterbacks that led SEC Teams to the National Championship Game/Playoffs
1998, Tennessee, Tee Martin
2003, LSU, Matt Mauck
2006, Florida, Chris Leak (sigh)
2007, LSU, Matt Flynn
2008, Florida, Tim Tebow (double sigh)
2009, Alabama, Greg McElroy
2010, Auburn, Cam Newton
2011, Alabama, AJ McCarron*
2012, Alabama, AJ McCarron
2013, Auburn (nat'l runners-up), Nick Marshal
2014, Alabama (playoff), Blake Sims