The Back Nine comes at you after an exhaustive week that required a low-key Sunday just to get the sweat out of your clothes and your voices back. At least that’s the way it was at my house.
10. So everyone had a blast Saturday, right? And the really optimistic of you believes Atlanta is back in the mix, don’t you? It’s funny how everything is different around here even though, well, it isn’t if you are only looking at the numbers. Florida brought in an offensive coach and the Gators are 10th in the league in total offense. Feleipe Franks has a quarterback whisperer now and he is ranked 10th in the league in passing efficiency. But it still feels different. And I think I can put my finger on why. Florida’s offense may still be pedestrian (for example, 12th in the conference in third-down conversions), but the Gators are taking advantage of their scoring opportunities. Their red zone offense is fourth in the conference. Wait, that’s not it. It’s because the coach of the team has brought you all under the tent and was the head cheerleader Saturday. OK, maybe that is part of it. Or there is this — you feel like you have a coaching advantage that hasn’t been there for a long time. Maybe I’m over-analyzing this, but I think there is just a different vibe around Florida football and a lot of it is because fans feel like things are going in the right direction. This team still has a long way to go, but to think about how far it has come since the Kentucky game is pretty darn impressive. Because that team that Florida had in the second week of the season doesn’t win that game Saturday.
11. Mullen still wasn’t big on praising his offensive line even after I threw this stat at him that a reader sent me — LSU had recorded a sack in 42 straight games going back to 2014. The Tigers had zero Saturday, but pressure on Feleipe Franks did cause the interception he threw and cost the Gators a couple of potential big plays. “They were solid,” Mullen said. He pointed out that the big stat was negative plays where LSU had 11 to Florida’s two. Still … “There were some results that could have been better. I have pretty high standards.” A year ago, Franks was sacked five times by LSU.
12. You can call it a trap game or a breather or whatever you want. But Dan Mullen knows this week at Vanderbilt is just as important as the last three the Gators won even if it’s not going to have anywhere near the same atmosphere. The last three games were extremely loud. This game will not be. Heck, if it’s like two years ago, Florida will have more fans in the stands. This Saturday is when you really find out about the mental toughness of this team. Certainly, this team has shown mental toughness this season. But it’s not something you can ever turn off and hope to win. This is the SEC, even if Vandy doesn’t always feel like an SEC environment. You have to bring it every game.
13. The classic part of this match-up is that Florida leads the league in pass defense and Vanderbilt has one of the league’s best passing attacks with Kyle Shurmur at the controls. You could say that Vandy is a balanced offense with 194 pass attempts and 200 rushes. But Vandy is 13th in rushing offense and seventh in passing offense. All of these numbers really don’t mean a whole lot. This one does mater — the high in Nashville on Saturday will be 66 degrees. That’s football weather.
14. Two numbers that jumped out at me this weekend — Tua Tagovailoa’s passing efficiency ranking and Jordan Cronkrite’s rushing yards. Tagovailoa, as Pat Forde of Yahoo points out, has a shot at breaking Baker Mayfield’s record set last year. Tua’s rating right now is 258.40, which is ridiculous. And he hasn’t thrown a fourth-quarter pass all season. Cronkrite ran for exactly as many yards Saturday against UMass (302) as he did in two seasons with the Gators before transferring. Cronkrite is now third in the nation in rushing yards per game. Sometimes, you just have to find the right place. And as we head into the meat of the season, it feels like the Heisman Trophy race isn’t much of a race. But strange things happen down the stretch. (One other former Gator doing well — Treon Harris is second on the Tennessee State team in receiving).
15. Maybe we shouldn’t question what the biggest rivalry game is anymore. I always thought it was the Iron Bowl, but for Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to get fired after his defense gave up 48 points in a loss to Texas puts a new twist on things. So there was that on Monday and then there was this — are we going to see the perfect storm this year that will eventually lead to an eight-team playoff? Because if Notre Dame gets in and two teams from one conference get in like they did last year and that means three of the Power Five conferences don’t have a dog in the biggest hunt of college football, well, that’s not going to sit well.
16. There have been weeks when I have struggled with my AP ballot, but I felt pretty good about this one. Then it came out and it turns out I nailed Florida’s spot in the poll at 14. But I wasn’t as SEC-centric at the bottom of the poll as some of my colleagues. Eight SEC teams seems like a little much. One thing I did struggle with was putting Florida ahead of Kentucky because Kentucky beat Florida in The Swamp. I decided Florida had the better win, beating No. 5, and also beating another ranked team in Mississippi State on the road. But you could argue either way. There are some teams that are difficult to figure because of the competition and USF is definitely one of those teams. Charlie Strong’s team has two Power Five wins, but they are over Georgia Tech and Illinois. I ranked them 24th and now I think that might have been a mistake. So I don’t feel that good about my ballot. By the way, with double podcasts, Facebook Live, blogs, multiple radio appearances and columns I tend to forget where and if I mentioned something I find interesting. So if you have heard or read this, ignore it. But I don’t see a win on UCLA’s upcoming schedule. Seriously, the Bruins could bagel the season.
17. The Tweet of the Week goes to the great Jay Bilas, who made me laugh with this one — “Tom Rinaldi, boarding a flight this morning, greeted the flight attendant with, “Good morning! What are your hopes and dreams?” She began weeping uncontrollably. Flight delayed.” Tom is the king of the tearjerkers, but he is a great journalist and a super guy.
18. Jonny Lang was great Friday night. The company was terrific. The back porch talk when I got home was strong. The tailgate was awesome. But by the time I got home Saturday night, everyone was ready for bed. It’s cool. You all wore yourself out. Here’s a playlist for you:
• “Rings” by Pinegrove.
• “New Birth in New England” by Phosphorescent.
• The Lumineers new version of Tom Petty’s “Walls”.
• “Woman” by Cat Power.
• And for an old one — “Color Him Father” by The Winstons.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.