The Back Nine comes at you after a bye week that included watching a lot of football with my Dad, hitting a perfect dive bar in St. Augustine and mainly just decompressing. Let’s go, it’s Florida-Georgia week.
10. If you are looking for one of those hidden stats that might give you a clue about Saturday’s game, here’s a juicy one for you — if Florida is going to beat Georgia, the Gators most likely are going to have to grind it out. Georgia leads the nation in allowing the fewest plays of 20 or more yards. Florida has shown the ability to move the chains, but what the Gators can’t do is get into one of those games where they keep going three-and-out. Or is that too Captain Obvious for you? Here is something even more obvious — Florida can’t fall behind 21-0 in the first 7:28 of the game like it did last year. The game was literally over at that point even though the defense did not allow another score for 15-plus minutes of playing time as Georgia went into the deep freeze. If you remember, Jake Fromm only completed four passes in the game, only one to a receiver. But these are different teams this year. Georgia doesn’t run like it did in 2017 with Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, but has a not-so-secret weapon in backup quarterback Justin Fields. And, of course, everything about Florida is different.
11. You never know how a team will respond to an open week, but both teams had them so it really shouldn’t make much difference. I guess the biggest difference is Georgia is coming off a loss and Florida off five straight wins. While there are some who will tell you LSU gave the rest of Georgia’s opponents a blueprint for how to beat the Bulldogs, I’ve always believed that a loss like that also gives that team a blueprint on how it needs to improve. And that’s something we will see Saturday, which blueprint works. When you have it going like Florida has had it going, the bye week can be good or bad. “I get that question every year,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “Does a bye week help or hurt? I’ll tell you Saturday at about 7:15.” I don’t think there is any question that this team really needed a mental break, but the physical break didn’t hurt either. “It got our legs back,” said linebacker Rayshad Jackson. “It was a good time (to have a bye). We needed to get our bodies back.”
12. It feels like this football season has a little March Madness survive and advance feel to it. Sometimes being off on a weekend can be the best thing that can happen to you. Florida somehow leapfrogged UCF in the AP poll even though the Gators were eating cheeseburgers while UCF was winning with its backup quarterback. I can’t really explain it (I had Florida 11th on my ballot) except that I think there is a reluctance by a lot of voters to elevate UCF much higher than 10th because of who they play. I admire what the Knights have done over the last two seasons, but don’t give me the argument that they would be ranked higher if it said SEC on their shoulder patches. If they were undefeated with an SEC schedule, yes. It’s just different. And the UCF streak is, or should be irrelevant. What last year’s team did has nothing to do with this season.
13. Boy, did Twitter have a field day with Urban Meyer after that embarrassing performance against Purdue. The Boilermakers’ story was the highlight of an otherwise blase Saturday, especially Tyler Trent. He’s the Purdue superfan who made it to the game despite an ongoing battle with bone cancer. You take that story and the national dislike of Meyer and it felt like 99 percent of the nation was rooting against the Buckeyes. Twitter went to Cheap Shot City after the game, wondering if Meyer would remember the loss or whether he would delete it from his phone or whether he would end up in the hospital. Cruel. Meyer has brought some of it on himself, but I worry about the man’s health. The thing I can’t help but wonder is whether all of the drama — from Meyer’s faux suspension to Nick Bosa bailing — has had some of effect on the team. The Bucks may be missing some leadership from the top down. But they are not my problem.
14. Closer to home, it’s becoming as agonizing to watch Nick Fitzgerald play the quarterback position as it has been mesmerizing to watch Tua Tagovailoa play it. Look, Tua (I’m not going to try to spell it twice) is going to win the Heisman Trophy and he is a special talent. But I wonder what Feleipe Franks or even better Drew Lock could do with all the time he has to throw and all of those receivers. It’s a bit of a perfect storm offensively. On the other hand, I give you Fitzgerald, who was 8 of 24 for 59 yards with four interceptions against LSU. Now, LSU’s defense will get after you (Franks was 12 of 27 for 161 and a pick against Dave Aranda’s group) and I can’t wait to see what is going to happen in two weeks when that secondary goes head-to-head with the Alabama juggernaut. But I wonder how much Fitzgerald misses Mullen. The Bulldogs’ season is quickly slipping away with three losses in its last four games and Texas A&M and Alabama still to play.
15. By the way, here were the Vegas over/unders for the SEC before the year. If you bet, hopefully it was on LSU.
• Alabama 10.5 (looking good).
• Georgia 10.5 (still in doubt).
• Auburn 8.5 (doubtful).
• Mississippi State 8.5 (questionable).
• Florida 7.5 (good bet).
• Texas A&M 7.5 (ditto).
• South Carolina 7.5 (be very nervous).
• Tennessee 6.5 (six would be a stretch).
• LSU 6.5 (nobody saw this coming).
• Mississippi 6.5 (got a chance).
• Missouri 6.5 (shaky).
• Kentucky 5.5 (already cashed in).
• Arkansas 5.5 (not likely).
• Vanderbilt 4.5 (gonna be close).
16. Well, at least the Cleveland games are exciting. Then there is the fact that coach Hue Jackson is 2-10-1 in games decided by three points or less. “Hard Knocks” got my family into the Browns to the point we almost went to Tampa to watch Sunday’s game. We could have seen what may be the two dumbest teams in America play. Anyway, I’ve run out of holes so let me finish with these quick hitters:
• Dartmouth won again to go to 6-0. Why do you care? The coach is former Gator assistant and a good friend Buddy Teevens and the placekicker is Connor Davis, son of Gator legend Judd Davis. Harvard this week, then the big showdown with Princeton.
• Valdosta State overcame The Back Nine jinx to win 44-21 Saturday and Kerwin Bell’s team is 8-0 with a bye week this week.
• Some people believe you can’t have two favorite teams in one sport. I disagree. Go Sawx!
17. The Tweet of the Week comes from ESPN Insider Brad Edwards — “Ohio State’s last 4 losses have all been by more than 14 points. In 12 seasons at Alabama, Nick Saban has never lost a game by more than 14.” That says a lot about both programs.
18. It was a great few days getting away from it all and recharging the batteries to get ready for the stretch run. These next five weeks, you’re back on the treadmill. This playlist should help:
• “False Confidence: by Noah Kahan.
• “5 Dollars” by Christine and the Queens.
• “Fool” by the Villagers.
• “Keep Lying” by Donna Missal.
• And for an oldie, in celebration of this weekend’s celebration, “A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me)” by Thomas Earl Petty and his Heartbreakers.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.