FOWLER STARTING TO DOMINATE
Through four games this season, Dante Fowler already has more sacks (3.0) than all of last year (2.5) and he’s closing in on last year’s total tackles for loss (6.0 for 33 yards in losses so far; 8.5 for 29 yards in losses last year). Fowler is becoming the disruptive force off the edge that was expected of him when the Gators pulled a National Signing Day shocker by snatching him from the Seminoles. It couldn’t have happened at a better time, either. With Dominique Easley going down and teams more focused than ever on keeping Ronald Powell out of their backfields, Fowler has emerged as a force that will have to be reckoned with. He had the explosive first step last year, but this season he’s shown the ability to get the leverage it takes to slip past left tackles and he’s become adept at splitting the double teams. Best of all, he’s playing with a non-stop motor, something the Gators sorely need now that Easley is sidelined for the season. He ranks third in the SEC in sacks, tied for second in tackles for loss and is #1 in forced fumbles (2).
THE OFFENSE IS IMPROVING
It’s far too easy to rag on Florida’s offense. Fans see those box scores from Oregon, Baylor and Texas A&M every week and that only causes them to remember the good old days when it seemed the Gators were hanging 50-60 points on nearly everybody. Will Muschamp doesn’t have that kind of mindset. He believes that games are won with defense, a great kicking game and an offense that doesn’t screw up. So far this season the defense has done its part and other than all those turnovers against Miami, the offense hasn’t been that bad. No, the Gators aren’t scoring a lot of points, but they’re averaging 403 yards per game. Compare that to 2011 (328.7 ) and 2012 (334). Florida passed the ball for 185.7 yards per game in 2011, 146.3 in 2012. This year, that number is 191.8. Opponents, meanwhile, are settling for 53.5 rushing yards and 202 total yards per game against the UF defense. The defense is improving, but so is the offense.
The Gators are ranked #2 nationally in total defense (202 yards per game), #1 in rushing defense (53.5 yards per game), #6 in pass efficiency defense (86.15 pass efficiency rating by opponents); #8 in scoring defense (12.8 per game), #1 in third down defense (8-45, 17.8% conversions), #2 in fewest first downs allowed (46 in four games), and #1 in time of possession (39 minutes per game).
THREE IN A ROW
When Arkansas comes to town Saturday to face the Gators (7 p.m., ESPN2), it will mark the third straight game Florida has gone against a first year SEC coach. The Gators gave Butch Jones a fine SEC welcome two weeks ago when Tennessee came to town and they initiated Mark Stoops into the club Saturday night when they whipped Kentucky in Lexington. Arkansas coach Brett Bielma was the head coach at Wisconsin, taking the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowls before he jumped ship to Arkansas in what can only be described as a rather strange move. Bielma complained that Urban Meyer was bringing an SEC recruiting mentality to the Big Ten two years ago only to leave the Big Ten for the SEC one year later. What he’s going to learn is there is no such thing as a day off in the SEC, whether that’s on game day or on the recruiting trail. A lot of folks think he’s got what it takes to be a great success at Arkansas. I’m not one of those optimists.
REALITY FOR THE NEWBIES
As Stoops, Jones and Bielma are about to discover, the SEC is very unforgiving when you don’t have the talent and depth to line up with the big boys week in and week out. The only game Kentucky is likely to win the rest of the year is the Homecoming game with Alabama State from the SWAC. Tennessee struggled with a first year Division I team Saturday and the next three games are Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. The next three games for Arkansas are Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. At some point, you have to believe that Stoops, Jones and Bielma are going to look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves, “What the hell were you thinking when you took this job?”
LANE KIFFIN JOINS THE EXTINCT SPECIES LIST
After Saturday night’s 62-41 loss to Arizona State, Southern Cal athletic director Pat Haden fired head coach Lane Kiffin and put Coach O in charge of the team for the duration of the season. A lot of folks who still remember the jerk that Kiffin was when he was at Tennessee will feel no sympathy but Kiffin was indeed asked to produce a winner under some pretty rotten circumstances. Due to injuries and NCAA sanctions that he inherited, Kiffin went into Saturday night’s game with 58 scholarship players and that number was reduced by one when Marqise Lee went down with an knee injury. To put it in perspective, Georgia Southern plays with 63 scholarships in Division IAA. And for those of you who don’t remember Coach O, here is a tribute to him from his Ole Miss days.
USC BOOSTERS WILL DEMAND THE FIRST CALL GOES TO NICK SABAN
As much as I don’t believe Saban is in any mood to leave Alabama, I do believe that Southern Cal could make an interesting proposal and their very arrogant (and rich) boosters will demand that Saban gets the first call. The school has a championship tradition, almost unlimited resources that could double Nick’s current salary of $5.6 million without breaking a sweat, and the ability to recruit nearly all the players he would need within a 200-mile radius of the campus. As an added caveat, there is no pro football team in Los Angeles, so Nick would indeed be the king of LA if he turned Southern Cal into a juggernaut again. But, it isn’t going to happen.
REALISTICALLY, WHO DO THEY GET?
You can forget these ten guys: Nick Saban, Alabama; Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M; Urban Meyer, Ohio State; Mark Richt, Georgia; Charlie Strong, Louisville; Art Briles, Baylor; Will Muschamp, Florida; Mark Helfrich, Oregon; Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern; Brady Hoke, Michigan. And these guys will probably have some support but either they won’t want it or won’t get called: Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams HBC; Jack Del Rio, Denver Broncos DC; Steve Sarkisian, Washington HBC. My best guess is that Haden will seriously go after these two guys: Chris Peterson of Boise State and James Franklin of Vanderbilt. Both would be a great fit at Southern Cal. My long shot would be Bobby Stoops at Oklahoma. I think he’s ready to pack and go from Norman and USC could make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. If I were the Southern Cal AD, my first pick would be Franklin and my second would be Greg Roman, the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers. Franklin checks all the boxes for character and coaching. Roman was Jim Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator at Stanford before leaving with Harbaugh for the 49ers.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I’ve always been a fan of Malcom John “Mac” Rebennack Jr. You probably know him better by his stage name, Dr. John. A Dr. John performance is about as much fun as you’ll have at a concert not put on by Jimmy Buffett. I got hooked on his music in 1973 when he came out with “Right Place, Wrong Time” and since then he’s gone on to make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and won six Grammy Awards including one this year for his latest album “Locked Down” (highly recommend it!). This is a terrific version of my favorite Dr. John song of all time, “Such a Night” which features the Johnny Holland Rhythm and Blues Orchestra with Eric Clapton playing guitar. This is New Orleans style R&B at its best.