For the Florida Gators, this is week of contrasts. At least from the standpoint of head coaches. When you look at the biggest games across the college football landscape, Florida’s game with Missouri features two head coaches who have made their fans as happy as clams…but the rest of the games feature a Who’s Who of dead men walking. So let’s call the priest take orders for last meals. Some coaches are going to get comfy on employment death row this week.
#9 Oklahoma Sooners vs. Texas Longhorns (12:00 pm, ABC)
Might as well start things off with the guy whose job is already on life support. TCU might have actually pulled the plug last week on Charlie Strong’s Texas tenure, but someone forgot to unplug the remote battery pack. The look on Charlie’s face on the sidelines as TCU rang up 50 points in the first half was so vacant that Hotels across the country are going to save electricity by turning off their vacancy signs and tacking up a picture of Coach Strong. The prudent pundits insist that the mess Charlie inherited will take at least three years to fix, and that he should get those three years to fix it. Then they just hope that everyone forgets what is going on in Gainesville and Ann Arbor this year. Charlie Strong will have as his last meal a rack of ribs from The Blind Pig, Louisville’s premier BBQ spot. It will remind him of better, gentler times, and the notion of ribs won’t make Texas fans any more mad at him. Until they find out they’re not Texas style. Bob Stoops – the other former national title-winning UF defensive coordinator coaching in this game – is just happy there is some other topic of conversation in the conference to distract from his abysmal record in BCS bowls. Charlie should last the season, but if this is another blowout, there is no telling when the axe might fall.
Sooner or Later: 20
#16 Georgia at Tennessee (3:30 pm, CBS)
Has there ever been two men fighting this hard for the chance to get fired faster than the other? In point of fact, Mark Richt is not on the hot seat, but that’s only if you ignore every Jawja fan on the face of the Earth, every one of whom want Richt’s contract to be burned at the stake. When even Dawg legend Fran Tarkenton calls up local sports radio to bellow insults at the head coach and even belittle specific players, you know the wheels have come off the fan and alumni base. In point of fact while Tennessee Head Coach Butch Jones, is on the hottest seat in the country, Tennessee may not be able to fire him yet. They have strung up so many head coaches in the last few years, the state of Tennessee is all out of rope. This is the game where resistible force meets movable object. What will be stronger, Georgia’s urge to wet the bed in big games, or Tennessee’s steadfast refusal to hold onto double-digit leads?
Any Gator fans wondering who they should root for, ponder no more. You root for Tennessee. Richt will survive a bad year. No matter how many times he gets strapped into the chair, the Georgia governor always calls. Jones may not survive if the season completely falls apart. Also, for the SEC East race, we need Georgia to lose. Florida already owns a 3-game lead of Tennessee. If we are worried about them, we are not going to be winning anything this year. However, Georgia is another story. If we lose to them later in the season, we will need them to have that second loss coming from somewhere to avoid a head-to-head tie-breaker with them to win the division. Assuming all else keeps pace between the two schools. And Florida has a much tougher SEC slate that Georgia. Again. And if Jones has not completely lost the team yet, I have a good idea that they will pull off the upset in Knoxvegas.
Warden, Helen Hunt will just have a salad. He knows he is going to be pardoned again. Sergeant Carter will take some Michigan road kill. Then he will be tried again as a cannibal.
Fourth Quarter Weak Butch: 30
Four Quarters Weak Mark: 28
#5 LSU at South Carolina (Baton Rouge) (3:30 pm, ESPN)
This is a sad death march for Gator fans. The greatest Gator is on his way out, and he is not going out the way he deserves. This is not an execution, however. This is more like in The Godfather: Part II, when Frankie Pentangeli is in jail (not unlike living in South Carolina) and Tom Hagen tries to convince him to do the right thing and take his own life. You know it’s the right thing to do, Steve. For the family. Put us all out of our misery. We don’t know yet what you’ll ask for your last meal, Steve, but we know to have a six-pack of Banquet Beer chilled and ready.
Crescent Moon to Crescent Beach: 13
Miami at #8 Florida State (8:00 pm, ABC)
This is a unique situation. Miami head coach Al “The Tie” Golden has been convicted of so many coaching crimes, the court stenographers are all on injured reserve with carpal tunnel syndrome. But they can’t execute his tenure in Coral Gables because the prison can’t afford the electric bill to juice the chair. They can’t afford the needle for a lethal injection. The only hope Miami fans have is that Golden becomes so stir crazy in the solitary confinement of the ACC cellar that he hangs himself in his cell with his tie. The die-hard Miami fans may not be able to wait that long. Neither of them. FSU is an average team this year at best, but average is Godzilla in this game because Miami is Godzooky. Golden’s last meal request of Florida spiny lobster has been denied because Miami cannot afford it. Bread and water will have to do. As long as he buys it himself.
Jimbo’s Jailbirds: 27
Al’s Anemia: 24
#12 Florida at Missouri (7:30 pm, SEC Network)
Missouri has a beating coming to them. They deserve the kind of merciless pummeling rarely experienced outside of a Don Rickles show. We are talking about a sadistic crushing that leaves them with a lump in their throat that they used use to go to the bathroom. They’ve earned it for what they’ve done.
And that’s just for pronouncing their state’s name with an “uh” sound at the end. Then of course there is the two-straight years of tearing through the Gators like a hot knife through gooey butter cake. That’s a staple of Missouri cuisine. I recommend you stick to the ribs. But those two thrashings Florida took from these Tigers go toward countering the mythology that has been created around this game.
Mythology #1 is that this is a trap game. That Florida will overlook them. That they will take them lightly because of their incredibly unimpressive 2015 resume. However, Missouri was a terrible team last year too and still buried Florida in the Swamp without benefit of even having a serviceable offense. Most of the players on this Florida team were here for one or both of those games. They remember. This is not Kentucky. As Coach Mac has been saying all week, these are the two-time defending East champs. No Gators are going to look past this team.
Mythology #2. Sort of. Everyone is concerned about Florida’s running game, and there is obviously validity there, given the scary youth and inexperience of the offensive line. And the Gator backs have struggled to find running room. The impression of a steadily declining running game has been created by the fact that after starting the season with 222 yards against cupcake New Mexico State, the Gators’ rushing yards decreased every single week. However, that’s partially a function of game flow and number of running plays, because against Tennessee the yards per carry actually spiked to 3.9, after dipping to 3.2 against Kentucky. However, after managing a respectable 4.3 yards per carry over their first four games, Gator backs only managed 2.5 yards per tote against Mississippi. So the talking points coming out of the college sports talking heads are stressing that now that defenses have film on Will Grier, they will scheme to shut down our passing attack and then the Gators will be in a pickle because they already can’t run the ball. This is very true, they will have to scheme to stop our passing attack now…however part of the reason defenses have stuffed the run against us is that they knew we had unproven receivers and a freshman quarterback. They have loaded the box and sent a lot of run blitzes (Ole Miss blitzed the most of any opponent we have faced). And if defenses are going to adjust to slow down our passing game, they can’t bring extra people onto the field to do it. That means they’ll have to run more nickel and dime sets, drop more men into coverage and do less blitzing. That will open up more and bigger holes for our running backs to cruise through.
Am I right?
Something to consider when weighing the prospects of Florida’s offensive surge. Entering the Ole Miss game, Florida was averaging two-and-a-half 4th down conversions per game, with a 100% success rate: 10 for 10. Given what a difficult game it was expected to be for Florida, the smart money was on the Gators having to rely on a lot more of those against Mississippi just to stay in the game. As it turns out, it was the first game all year that they did not attempt a 4th down conversion. And here is why: after averaging just a paltry 23% success rate in converting 3rd downs in all games this year not played against patsy New Mexico State, the Gators converted HALF of their 3rd down attempts against the Bears (8-of-16). That’s after just 18% against Kentucky and 20% against the Vols. Another telling sign: in their first two games against real competition, the Gators averaged 11 penalties for 83 yards. Against their last two SEC opponents, that average plummeted to 5 penalties for 38 yards. They cut their average penalties and penalty yards by more than half against the two best teams they have played thus far.
Mythology #3. This one requires some faith in the future over the standards of the past. The cliché of the historical trends is that a team with this much youth and inexperience will not have the team maturity to bring their A-game every week. However, we won’t know if this is the case until weeks from now. In November we may very well look back on that fourth quarter against Tennessee and recognize that as the moment in battle where our ragtag group of players gelled into a team. Matured as a team. Arrived as a team. Because the Ole Miss win was as much a full team win as the Gators have had since 2008. And it was the worst beating any Rebels team has endured since Gettysburg.
Mythology #4. Another big hit being rolled out this week is that these young Gators are going on the road. Hostile environment. Being away from the Swamp may lower Florida’s ceiling a little, but the Gator defense dominated when it went to Lexington and registered the only game this year where they did not surrender a touchdown. And the offense played about the same in Lexington as it did at home against ECU and Tennessee. The last five quarters have seen the UF offense has come alive…but did it come of age?
We will find out a lot about that answer this Saturday.
Romping Road Reptiles: 31
Misery Tigers: 13