The Back Nine comes at you after an interesting trip to Columbia in that it carried no drama. Except on the field, of course.
10. It would be easy to say to South Carolina fans and the head coach of the Gamecocks to get over it. Except that would be hypocritical, not only of Gator fans but of all fans. Pro, college, high school, Pop Warner. We all complain about officials and we have been since they outlawed the flying wedge (now THAT was a great column). Officials make mistakes, they are graded on their performances and the ones who grade out lowest are not given plum assignments and bowl games. We would all like a little more transparency, but we have seen what over-the-top fans can do in reaction to what they perceive as missed calls (see: Kentucky fans, John Higgins 2017). It’s not just an SEC problem, it’s everywhere. But it’s also part of the game. Would I have called Tyrie Cleveland for holding? Maybe. I also might have called the South Carolina player for grabbing his facemask on the play. The truth is that when Dameon Pierce broke his 75-yard run, I said to myself, “Well, this is coming back” because it seemed obvious right tackle Jean Delance moved early. What about the missed pass interference on the Gamecocks earlier in the game? You can go on forever. But it’s best to let it go (said the guy still upset over Kent Hrbek illegally lifting Ron Gant’s leg off the base in the 1991 World Series).
11. So I feel like the mood has changed around this place now that the weekend is over. I’m talking about the fanbase as a whole, not the ones who would see a glass of algae-filled water as half full. (Man, I went a long way for that bad metaphor). Most Gator fans seem to be saying to themselves (and out loud on occasion), “Why not us?” Why not Florida? Three SEC East games to go and nobody really scares you. It doesn’t mean you can’t lose to Georgia and Missouri, but those tasks seem less daunting now. Georgia is having all kinds of offensive problems (don’t laugh, that was you just a couple of years ago) and Missouri just lost to Vandy. Yes, THAT Vandy. The one that was smoked the week before by a bad UNLV team. (I know, every game is it’s own game). The three-game stretch that looked so tough was navigable. Most UF fans would have taken 2-1 heading into the Auburn, LSU and South Carolina troika. Now, a week of rest before Happy Hour in Jacksonville. It seems more possible than ever that Florida can make it to Atlanta. To quote the former HBC from the old days, “Not saying they will. Saying there’s a chance.”
12. And it seems more likely that if Florida does play for the SEC title, the Gators will get a rematch with LSU. Alabama lost quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to an ankle injury and they performed another “tight-rope” surgery on his right ankle. The quarterback had the same procedure last year but had 29 days before the College Football Playoff game. The surgery — in theory — decreases the time a player will be out and there is obviously that little matter of the showdown with LSU on Nov. 9. But it’s just a theory. Anyway, I don’t have to make that pick for awhile. Nor do I have to vote for the Heisman Trophy so let’s pump the brakes on Joe Burrow. Lot of ball left.
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13. Sometimes you get home from a game and you decide to look something up the next day because you are curious where Florida ranks. OK, so I am the only person that feels that tugging at my pants. But it seems like Florida has pretty much given up on returning kicks this season. Instead, UF’s returners fair catch most kickoffs and punts. So I looked it up (and it took much longer than I anticipated). In eight games, Florida has returned a total of 13 kicks (five kickoffs and eight punts). That’s 19 percent of the punts and kickoffs that have been launched Florida’s way. I know that some are not returnable, but Florida ranks 126th nationally in kickoff return yardage and 101st in punt return yardage. That’s not to say Florida is failing at special teams. Both kickers are giving UF what it wants and coverage has been good when necessary (Florida is tied for first in allowing no 20-yard plus punt returns this season). It’s just to say that Florida is content just to get the ball rather than trying to make something happen on special teams.
14. Meanwhile, in other parts of the state, we catch up on Florida State and Miami, with a combined 6-8 record. FSU is 0-3 on the road and Miami’s loss to Georgia Tech has to be considered one of the worst losses of the season (the Wreck scored two points against Temple and lost to The Citadel). Oh, and FSU scored 20 points against a team that gave up 62 points to Louisville the week before. And the Semis missed a possible game-winning field goal when Willie Taggart called a timeout that iced his kicker, who hadn’t tried a field goal in almost a month. And it was raining. OK, that’s enough.
15. And Louisville scored 10 points against Clemson on Saturday. But the big story wasn’t the Clemson defense or another uneven performance by Trevor Lawrence. It was the punishment handed out by Dabo Swinney after his player, Andrew Booth Jr., took a swing at a Louisville player. Swinney pulled him from the game and sent him to the locker room, then made him ride with the managers instead of getting on a plane. Not only is it a seven-hour drive, but managers have notoriously-tiny bladders that require stopping every 45 minutes. OK, I just made that up. The point is that I am not a big fan of Swinney and I think he has some phoniness in him (like all coaches), but it was nice to have a coach hold a player accountable. The worst part for Booth was that the managers took the car from the Seinfeld episode with the mutant body odor. OK, I made that part up, too.
16. Baseball was dead to me after the Braves were eliminated, but I have paid peripheral attention. I understand the World Series starts tonight. I have no choice to root for the Astros because they eliminated the Yankees (do I buy a Houston T-shirt?) and the Nationals are in our division and the reality is I don’t care enough to watch. I can’t think it’s going to be a ratings grabber for whatever network is carrying the games (seriously, once you have the “C” button with Cox Cable you never know what channel anything is on). You know how much the network dudes wanted Los Angeles vs. the Yankees.
17. The Tweet of the Week goes to Jake Olson, the blind former long snapper at Southern Cal. He tweeted this after FAU coach Lane Kiffin tweeted out a picture of officials walking on a football field with sunglasses and seeing-eye dogs and a hashtag of the Sun Belt Conference. (This seems like way too long of an explanation to get to the tweet). Anyway — “My man @Lane_Kiffin I’m for hire!! Although to be completely transparent I have aN interview with Larry Scott’s office on Monday… so hmu quick if you’re interested!” The punch line to the story is that Kiffin was fined $5,000 by the league for the tweet on Sunday.
18. We had a real strange deal trying to listen to playlists on my phone during this trip (we could only play the 2,000-plus songs alphabetically and because a lot of them are Kelsey’s the boys made fun of my vast Justin Bieber collection) and the Sirius didn’t work out, but I did take the time in the press box Saturday to work on your playlist:
• “I’ll Fly Away” by The Lower Lights.
• “Van Horn” by Saint Motel.
• “Blame” by Victoria Bigelow.
• “Homesick” by Declan J Donovan.
• And for a really old one (almost as old as I am), “Come a Little Bit Closer” by Jay and the Americans.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.