Thoughts of the day: January 15, 2014

A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning.


The Gators set a new school record Tuesday night when they knocked off Georgia, 72-50. It was their 25th consecutive home victory, which is the longest current streak in the Southeastern Conference and one of the longest in the nation. Some streak numbers for you: The Gators have won the 25 games by an average score of 74.2-52.2. Eight of the wins have been by 30 or more points and 20 of the opponents have been held below 60. Not one opponent during the streak has scored 70 points. There have been five wins over ranked opponents and 11 wins over SEC foes. Michael Frazier and Patric Young have played in all 25 wins and Young has started 24 of the 25 games.


One game at a time, the Gators are transforming into one of the nation’s elite defensive teams. Billy Donovan says the Gators aren’t at the level of last year’s team, which finished third nationally in scoring defense and second in fewest points per possession, but this is a new team with three new starters and it hasn’t exactly been blessed with good health. The Gators have been playing with a short bench all season long but that hasn’t stopped them from developing a bit of a pit bull mentality when it comes to playing defense. When Donovan unleashed his full court press in the first half, Georgia had problems advancing the ball beyond midcourt and this was with the Gators playing without Casey Prather, who is one of their best press defenders. We’re starting to see this team create its own identity as the kind of team nobody wants to play because of the stifling, smothering defense. Here’s one stat for you from Tuesday night: Georgia only shot nine 3-pointers. The reason so few? The Gators were rotating so well that they were closing out on the perimeter shooters before they could get their feet set. This is going to be a very fun team to watch down the stretch. 


Midway through the second half Tuesday night, Billy Donovan was chewing out Michael Frazier. Frazier was 1-8 shooting 3-pointers but this isn’t what you think. Donovan wasn’t mad because Frazier’s shot wasn’t falling. He was made because Frazier isn’t shooting the ball enough. In his post game remarks, Donovan said that Frazier has a responsibility to both himself and his teammates to shoot the ball. So Frazier obeyed orders and the next four shots found the bottom of the net, sparking a 21-7 run that sent the O-Dome crowd into a frenzy. Frazier said he’s worried about what teammates might think. Dorian Finney-Smith said teammates want him to shoot the basketball. “You see how much work he puts in on his 3-ball,” Finney-Smith said. “It’s crazy. It seems like he never leaves the gym. We get mad at him sometimes when he turns down threes because we all have confidence in him and we want him to have confidence in himself.” Frazier has the ability to be an elite scorer and if he can hit consistently from the outside it will open up the inside for Patric Young, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather to operate.


Tyler Murphy and Ian Silberman have enrolled at Boston College where they both have one year of eligibility remaining. Murphy will be the only experienced quarterback at BC, which lost three-year starter Chase Rettig to graduation. When Steve Addazio recruited Murphy to Florida it was to run a spread option offense. Addazio’s offense at BC is more power oriented but it functions best with a dual threat quarterback. Addazio also recruited Silberman, who was thought to be one of the best linemen in the state out of Fleming Island at the time he signed. Injuries and playing under three different offensive line coaches probably curtailed his development some, but if Addazio can re-start Silberman’s career the way he did Matt Patchan’s last year, then this will be a good fit. Both Murphy and Silberman figured to be backups at Florida so perhaps they will fine a niche and start at BC. 


Bear Bryant did it at least three times during his fabled Alabama career and that’s  what ESPN radio talking head Colin Cowherd says Nick Saban is doing right now. Cowherd thinks that the two losses at the end of the season have Saban taking a long look at what Gus Malzahn did at Auburn and what Chip Kelly did with the Philadelphia Eagles this year. If so, then he’s looking to make some serious changes to the Alabama offense, which has been pretty much the same thing for the last six or seven years – pound it between the tackles and throw it over the top when the safeties start creeping in for run support. How Lane Kiffin fits into all of this remains to be seen since Kiffin has run more of a west coast type of offense in the past, but perhaps that’s changing too. Cowherd says that Saban is the only coach in the country who could have hired Kiffin without much of an uproar.


Almost as quickly as Georgia lost defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to Louisville, Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt departed Tallahassee for Athens to join Mark Richt’s staff. I’m not sure when a national championship defensive coordinator has ever left so soon in what can be termed as a lateral move, at best. Now, money certainly had something to do with it. Pruitt was making $540,000 at FSU and he will make $850,000 at Georgia, but there was already a move going on at FSU to raise the assistant’s salaries across the board. With FSU’s defense returning so many of its two-deep next year, this seems rather strange. Jimbo Fisher replaced six of his nine assistants last season and won a national championship so obviously he’s used to turmoil. Will he try to find another outstanding coordinator from someone else’s staff or will he promote from within? If he promotes from within I would expect Sal Sunseri to get the job.


How will the shuffle of coordinators at both Alabama and Florida State play out on the recruiting trail? On paper it would seem that Alabama gets a bump in Lane Kiffin and that Florida State has suffered a setback. Kiffin has always been a strong recruiter and apparently Saban has cut him loose in Florida with orders to bring in some seriously fast athletes. By virtue of winning four national championships in the last 11 years including three in the last five years at Alabama, Saban can get away with staff transition that nobody else can. Fisher got away with it last year, but can he do it a second time? It would seem that the timing of the Pruitt departure and the fact that even with the money being offered by Georgia it is a lateral move would be a real setback for FSU. We’ll know for sure in three weeks.


Gil Brandt, who for most of the Tom Landry era with the Dallas Cowboys was considered one of the two or three best talent evaluators in the NFL, surprisingly has Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as his #1 player available when the NFL Drafts in May. That’s a bit of a surprise since Manziel doesn’t have prototypical NFL size or arm strength, but he is an electrifying playmaker. Or at least he was in the college game. I don’t question that he knows how to make plays and think he can at any level, but I do question how long he will last. Manziel spent 2013 banged up. The hits will be a lot harder in the NFL.



Down to the Bone is more of a project than it is a full-time band, which explains why it’s actually two bands that play the same music – one based in London and the other based in the US. What they play is a fusion of jazz, soul, funk and what the Brits call acid jazz. I started listening to them in 1998 when they came out with a song called “From Manhattan to Staten.” Whatever they want to call their brand of music, it’s really good listening and excellent road trip music if you’re not into sing-along. This is a cut off their “The Main Ingredients” CD called “Uptown Hustle.”


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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.