The Back Nine comes at you after back-to-back road trips, so pardon the grouchiness. I stepped in a hole on the sidewalk in Mississippi (can I sue?), wore headphones at the game because the P.A. was so loud and kept playing Imagine Dragons songs and needed a nap Monday. On a positive note, the Old Hickory is still the best dive steakhouse in the South.
10. So it may get loud in The Swamp on Saturday with a team on a three-game winning streak, the opponent not being well-liked and LSU kind of being the darlings of college football right now. But the loudest cheer may be when Tim Tebow is inducted into the Ring of Honor during the first quarter break. Gator fans have been waiting for this ever since his last game as a Florida player, Jan. 1, 2010. He was eligible to go in earlier, but Florida had to wait until it worked out with Tebow’s schedule. In fact, if not for Tebow suffering a broken hand to keep him from being called up by the Mets, we might have continued to wait. (It’s not being done for the LSU game because that was Tebow’s break-out game as a freshman. It’s because it’s the biggest home game of this season and easier to work out with SEC Nation to assure Tebow would be here). When he was in Gainesville three weeks ago, I asked Tebow about the honor and about being in the locker room when the first four players (Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, Jack Youngblood and Emmitt Smith) were honored in 2006. “Honestly, I never really thought about that,” Tebow said. “It’s definitely a huge honor and it really means a lot. I think it means even more to me because my mom and dad went here, my two siblings went here, my grandad had dreams of one day to see Florida win an SEC championship. He died before that happened. All those things make it more meaningful. That was his dream and one day maybe I’ll get to bring my grandkids to the stadium. But I think that’s more about the nostalgia of it than the moment.” Enjoy it Florida fans, because not only is it a deserving award but it may be many years before it will happen again because of the strict criteria.
11. I’m not ready to declare Florida’s defense as elite yet, but the performance Saturday night was elite. Especially when you consider the Gators lost their best cornerback in Week 2 and lost Trey Dean III for targeting in the first quarter. You know who they may have been missing in the first part of the season? Safety Shawn Davis. The sophomore got his feet wet last season and was supposed to battle for a starting role this season. But he missed the first four games with a knee injury. Finally healthy, Davis was a difference maker against Mississippi State. According the Pro Football Focus, he graded out at 75.1 percent, second on the team in the game only to linebacker Vosean Joseph. Stats of note — Florida is second in the nation in pass defense, ninth in points allowed per game and still leads the nation in takeaways despite not getting one in Starkville. The SEC as a whole may be going old school on us. Half the league’s 14 teams are ranked in the top 12 in points allowed. Only three finished in the top 12 last season.
12. My friend Cole Cubelic caught a lot of flak from Gator fans when he said this on TV Saturday — “Florida doesn’t know what is going to hit them when Mississippi State takes the field. This game is going to mean more to every State player and every State fan than it will ever mean to anyone putting on a Florida helmet.” The thing is that he wasn’t wrong about the atmosphere. That only goes to illustrate how impressive Florida’s win was Saturday night. It WAS that important to Mississippi State’s players and its fans. That stadium was electric from start to finish. But it was more important to Florida than I think anybody realized. These guys knew this was the make-it-or-break-it game of the season. And they played their tails off. Who knows if the outcome is different if Mississippi State doesn’t drop a touchdown pass and an interception? But you know every season comes down to a handful of plays in a handful of games.
13. It doesn’t seem fair Alabama now has an explosive offense to go with a suffocating defense and the schedule looks so easy. Really, who has Alabama beaten? And October is almost a joke with Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee before a bye week. Do you think any Tide fans are complaining? Certainly, November will be a little more interesting. But there almost seems to be no reason to watch Alabama football for a month unless you are a diehard fan. It feels like there is Alabama, then Georgia, then LSU, then three or four teams, then the rest in the SEC. It will certainly be interesting to see if this is the year the East can catch the West after getting off to a 2-0 start thanks to Mississippi State losing to Kentucky and Florida. This is a big week for the East with Florida facing LSU and Kentucky at Texas A&M. If the ’Cats win that game, watch out.
14. We like to say, “That’s why they get paid the big bucks,” when talking about coaches. In that case, there are some who may want to offer a rebate. Bobby Petrino? Yep. James Franklin? Definitely. Frank Reich. Yessir. The Petrino decision might have been the dumbest, throwing the ball when running the clock down would probably have clinched the game against FSU. Franklin’s fourth-down call with the game on the line against Ohio State was so bad his fans turned on him. And Reich going for a fourth down in OT to basically forfeit the game against Houston has its share of defenders, none of whom apparently understand math. What’s weird is that I was watching all three games, two on my laptop. I need a hobby. It’s also important to note that if all three of those decisions had worked, we’d be talking about how gutsy those calls were right up there with Todd Grantham’s decision to blitz three on fourth down Saturday night. That’s the game.
15. Here’s the thing that came up in the wee hours of the morning in Mississippi — is home field advantage that big a deal? Well, yes. But it still depends on the players you are putting on that field. Like Dan Mullen said after the game, “Loud is loud.” Most places are tough to play in. It was really loud Saturday night and it will be really loud (and sweaty) Saturday afternoon at The Swamp. But it still comes down to the players playing and the coaches coaching. There were two white-outs Saturday in Starkville and Happy Valley. Both teams lost. Being at home helps, but it is no panacea. You still have to go play the game.
16. So how much of the Euros’ blowout win over the Americans in the Ryder Cup was because of “togetherness” and how much was home course advantage? Or do we put the blame on captain Jim Furyk for the pairings and captain’s choices? Look, there is no doubt the European players have found the formula for playing as a team in an individual sport. And when Patrick Reed is on your team, you are going to have some issues. Playing in front of your fans helps, as we have already noted. And Phil Mickelson was a disaster, Tiger Woods looked like he was out of gas and the U.S. was outscored 16.5-7.5 after the Friday morning sessions. It was a combination of everything. I would think we saw the last of Mickelson — and maybe Tiger — in the Ryder Cup as players. But this was a collective collapse. The Euros know how to keep momentum going. Unfortunately, the Americans wilt like an unwatered flower when they are on the road.
17. The Tweet of the Week comes from Peter Burns of the SEC Network — “Worst decisions in all of football 1) Goal Line Fade Passes 2) Shotgun formation on 4th and inches.” I buy both of these arguments, especially the fade passes. Nothing irritates me more than a team throwing a fade on third down into the end zone. It’s at best a 50-50 play. I know it’s easy to question coaching decisions from the cheap seats (and nothing is cheaper than the press box), but there are a handful of strategies that seem so obviously dumb to me. One is the onside kick too early because your chance of recovering is about 20 percent. And then you have to defend a short field and will probably get miserable field position. Another is rushing three defenders. Another is not having that one special play when you have to have a two-point conversion or a fourth-and-goal from the three. I saw all these mistakes this weekend.
18. I know I’m jinxing us, but we have had four flights this season and all four have been on time and smooth. It has helped to have some great music on the flights. Here’s a new playlist for you:
• “Feeling Good Again” by Robert Earl Keen, a great suggestion from a reader.
• “Still Rainin” by Jonny Lang, who I will see Friday night at the Phillips. And there is a long history of me seeing great music the week of the LSU games. Which is interesting only to me.
• “Damaged One” by Big Head Todd & The Monsters.
• “Magic Man” by Paris.
• And for an old one, because Ken Block and Drew Copeland were on our plane ride home after playing at Woodstock (and both claimed they called the blitz), “Just Remember” by Sister Hazel.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.