JEREMY FOLEY’S BEST HIRE EVER
You could say that Billy Donovan is coaching against himself because Florida’s winningest basketball coach ever has taken the Gators to 20 or more wins in 15 consecutive seasons. Prior to Donovan, Florida had five 20-win seasons in school history. There is no one to chase because every win just adds to Donovan’s legacy – 415-166 in 17 seasons at UF; 450-186 in 19 seasons overall; two NCAA titles and one NCAA runner-up; three straight Elite Eight appearances and five SEC championships. Without a doubt, Donovan is the best hire Jeremy Foley ever made. He wins. He graduates his players. He does things the right way. There is never a hint of scandal, something you can’t say for another certain high profile SEC program 800 or so miles north.
DEALING WITH ELEVATED EXPECTATIONS
The Gators are going to be in everyone’s top 7-8 picks when all the preseason basketball magazines are on the racks and for good reason. When Donovan has his full arsenal, this is going to be a team capable of making it to the Final Four and even winning the national title. When Scottie Wilbekin comes off suspension in December and McDonald’s All-American Chris Walker joins the team after the semester break, the Gators will be as deep and as talented as any team in the country. Given the length, quickness and the number of versatile multi-position players, it’s going to be a team that can run with anyone, press teams into submission and play the halfcourt game. Donovan’s biggest concerns are going to be leadership because this is a team that is going to have to deal with elevated expectations throughout the year. If they can handle the hype, they’re going to win and win big.
RULE #1: SURVIVE THE FIRST QUARTER
Gene Ellenson once told me, “You can’t win a football game in the first quarter but you sure can lose one.” When the Gators take the field at Tiger Stadium Saturday, they have to remember that even though it’s a four-quarter game, you can’t let LSU get the momentum and the crowd going early on. The fans will be shoehorned into Tiger Stadium and they will be ready to seize upon any mistake the Gators make to elevate the decibel level a few more notches. Will Muschamp has to impart on his team that the best way to take the crowd out and frustrate LSU’s high powered offense is to play mistake-free football in the quarter especially. If the Gators can survive the first quarter this should be a down to the wire game. If the Gators make critical mistakes early on, it could get ugly early.
MATCHING UP WITH LANDRY AND BECKHAM
The best way to defend the Tigers is to play them straight up. That means the front seven has to handle the running game while the corners are out on an island one-on-one with Jarvis Landry (42 catches for 626 yards and seven touchdowns) and Odell Beckham (35 catches for 686 yards and six TDs). Marcus Roberson returns after a three-game absence to bolster Loucheiz Purifoy and Vernon Hargreaves III. As good as Roberson, Purifoy and Hargreaves are, however, they can’t cover these guys forever. The Gators are going to have to get pass rush from the front four so the linebackers can take away the short zones and get in the way of those crossing patterns the Tigers like to run. If Dante Fowler and Ronald Powell can provide the pressure off the edge, the Gators will have a chance to shut down LSU’s dynamic duo. Without pressure, however, these guys will have their hands full.
FLORIDA-LSU FLASHBACK: 2005
After this game, Mike Freeman, then of the Florida Times-Union dubbed Urban Meyer “Urban Crier.” Freeman never seemed to understand that Meyer didn’t cry because he lost. Meyer broke into tears because his heart ached that some of his players gave everything they had — Dallas Baker had played with a high ankle sprain and broken ribs – while others were still fighting him every step of the way. The Gators were so beat up and battered that LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini consistently sent eight on the rush leaving three to cover Florida’s five receivers. The result? Five sacks of Chris Leak for -50 yards. LSU won the game, 21-17, and outgained the Gators, 361-206, but even with the yardage discrepancy, it’s a game that Florida could have very well won.
FLORIDA-LSU FLASHBACK: 2005, PART II
Probably the one play that got to Meyer was a third and nine from the Florida 43 early in the fourth quarter. JaMarcus Russell launched a pass that Dwayne Bowe leapt and caught downfield for a 31-yard gain. Kyle Jackson, who shouldn’t have been one-on-one with Bowe in the first place, offered little resistance and there was no help to be found even though the Tigers ran a three-man route. This play emphasized to Meyer that he still didn’t have the entire team buying into the program. That wouldn’t happen for a month when after a devastating, 30-22, loss to South Carolina in Columbia, Vernell Brown, Jarvis Herring and Jeremy Mincey had a two hour come to Jesus with the team while the plane was still on the tarmac at the Gainesville Airport upon arriving home.
COULD THIS BE MACK BROWN’S LAST STAND?
Texas plays Oklahoma this weekend in the annual Red River Shootout in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl in what could be the game that ushers Mack Brown out at Texas. Brown is on the shakiest of ground and if Texas gets its doors blown off again – the last two games have gone 55-17 and 63-21 to Oklahoma – the only thing that will keep Brown on the job until season’s end is the benevolence of athletic director DeLoss Dodds, who is retiring next summer. Win or lose, Brown needs to announce that he and Dodds are going to ride off into the sunset together. It might be the only way to leave with any kind of dignity.
DIAL-A-SCORE IN DENVER SUNDAY
The Jacksonville Jaguars are 27-point underdogs to the Denver Broncos Sunday at Mile High Stadium. I’m shocked that the spread isn’t higher. The Jags are 32nd in the NFL (out of 32 teams) against the run. While their #10 ranking against the pass might seem like the secondary is a team strength, remember this: the Jags are so bad on defense that nobody really feels it’s necessary to throw the ball all that much. Denver will run the ball, but the Broncos are not going to tell the hottest quarterback in the NFL (Peyton Manning) to keep turning around and handing the ball off. They will cut Peyton loose and let him build on those gaudy stats (20 touchdowns, only one pick through five games). He torched the Cowboys for 51 points last week. Against the Jags, I wouldn’t doubt that 60 is possible.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
FourPlay is a legitimate jazz super group headed up by pianist Bob James with founding members Harvey Mason (drums) and Nathan East (bass). When the band began back in 1991, Lee (Captain Fingers) Ritenour was the guitarist. He left the band in 1997, replaced by Larry Carlton. Currently Chuck Loeb mans guitar for the band. No matter who is on guitar, the song “Bali Run” has to be played or no concert is complete. This is a version that features the original band with some serious guitar work by Ritenour and a wicked bass by East.