The Back Nine comes at you after another great weekend of sleeping in my own bed and watching so much football because I know the end of the season is coming soon. By the way, Happy Birthday to Robbie Andreu, who turns 39 again today.
10. I know I should start with something positive because Florida won Saturday and no matter what you want to say about this year’s team no UF team has ever rallied from 18 and 17 points behind to win in the same season. But I open on a somewhat negative note because I’m sure all of you are wondering the same thing — what has happened to the Florida defense? More specifically, what has happened to the Florida defense in the first half recently? This is a stat I’m sure most of you suspected if you have watched the Gators play this season. In the first half of the season (five games), the Gators gave up only 19 points in the first half. In the second five games of the season, Florida has allowed 96 points in the first half. In three of the last four games, the Gators have given up 21 points in the first half and fallen way behind. Amazingly, Florida won two of those games. So what has happened?
• Dan Mullen said Monday he thinks his team has struggled to go from the upgrade in the speed of the games from the speed of practices. But that should be the case for every team in every game, right?
• The opponents have been better. Two of the first five games were against Charleston Southern and Colorado State. Not to mention Tennessee (110th in the nation in scoring), Kentucky (109th) and Mississippi State (89th).
• With a lot of video to see what Todd Grantham is doing with these players, teams have been able to scheme up an attack better. Florida has somewhat adjusted, allowing 10 or fewer points in three of the five games.
• The Gators are getting worn down. A lack of depth has been a problem in the back seven. And teams have come at the Gators with up-tempo offenses to keep UF from subbing a lot.
Perhaps the defensive issues are why the students don’t show up at the start of the game. I kid, of course.
11. Well, at least one Petrino is coaching college football and Paul Petrino will be in Gainesville on Saturday as the head coach at Idaho (actually, two Petrinos will be here as his son, Mason, is the starting quarterback). The elder Petrino has his Vandals with a 4-6 record, which was way better than his bro, Bobby, was doing at Louisville. Idaho was in Gainesville in 2014 for one of the most bizarre nights of my career. We waited out a three-hour lightning delay only to have the opening kickoff returned 64 yards by Valdez Showers and then another lightning delay before the game was finally canceled. This is not a true make-up game because Idaho was paid then and it will be paid for this trip. But Florida only has to cough up a little more than $900K because Idaho had to drop down to FCS prior to this season. The Vandals gave up 79 points earlier this season to Fresno State. They lost to Montana last week 46-27. So, yes, despite all of your objections, I probably will pick Florida this week. One issue — this is the last game of the year for the Vandals so they will hold nothing back.
12. The bowl situation still remains fluid because so much depends on whether or not the Gators win out and sneak into the Top 12 of the final College Football Playoff. Some of the projections are not based on reality because you have to understand that the commissioner is making a lot of these decisions on where to slot teams not in the playoffs or New Year’s Six bowl games. Keep an eye on the rankings tonight to see if the Gators are ahead of Kentucky because if that holds up and Florida beats FSU next week, we could see that Florida-UCF game in the Peach Bowl that a lot of people want and a lot of other people dread. But anybody who thinks a win over FSU is an automatic because the Seminoles are dreadful this year season needs to be reminded that the last time Florida beat the Semis was 2012.
13. Oh, did I mention that Bobby Petrino was fired Sunday? All of the media boys and girls who thought it was a terrible idea to bring him back to Louisville are wearing “told ya so” smiles today. When you are a terrible person, losing is not going to be tolerated. Apparently, he had lost the locker room and there were going to be mass transfers. This quote from Louisville AD Vince Tyra tells you everything you need to know — “If you want to say culture equals effort, something screwy was going on.” Obviously, once Tom Jurich was let go as AD at Louisville during the Rick Pitino purge, Petrino had lost the protection that allowed him to have his son and two son-in-laws on staff. One question — can we go back and give Lamar Jackson the 2016 Heisman Trophy because he had the Cardinals up to fifth in the CFP and it has been a disaster since he left? Asking for a friend.
14. Is it just me or has the Heisman race suddenly become interesting? I always caution people not to get carried away early and then I did, declaring Tua Tagovailoa the lock a couple of weeks ago. But as the opposition has gotten better and he has struggled with his bad knee, it doesn’t look like a no-brainer anymore. I believe Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray has a shot and West Virginia’s Will Grier is a darkhorse. If those two have a shootout next Friday with the post-Thanksgiving crowd watching and Tua doesn’t do anything extraordinary the rest of the way it could get tight. And don’t forget that it’s possible West Virginia and Oklahoma could play again the following week in the Big 12 Championship Game. Of course, if Alabama rolls into the College Football Playoff 13-0 and Tagovailoa plays well against Georgia in Atlanta, he’s going to be difficult to beat.
15. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was upset after his team’s latest basketball game because there were so many stoppages of plays for officials to look at the monitors. There is no question games are being delayed too much because of reviews in football and basketball, but there are fans clamoring for more reviews in baseball and softball. It’s a fine line between getting the calls right and dragging games out, especially when there are attendance issues. It’s one thing to be watching the game on TV and using the review breaks as bathroom breaks or a chance to reload. But when you are sitting out there on a metal bleacher or thinking about beating the basketball traffic home, it can be irritating. I’m not sure what the answer is and I darn sure don’t know what targeting is anymore.
16. We all know the NFL is fickle, but the truth is eight of the 12 playoff teams are still in position to be in the playoffs this year with winning records. The other four, not so much. The biggest disappointments from last year’s playoffs in order:
• Jacksonville (3-6) — remember when the Jags beat the Patriots and looked like they were going to roll into the Super Bowl? Not so fast.
• Buffalo (3-7) — it’s been a genuinely weird season for the Bills that started with the mistake of trading Tyrod Taylor.
• Philadelphia (4-5) — the Eagles are in trouble after their Sunday night loss.
• Atlanta (4-5) — injuries have ravaged Dan Quinn’s team.
17. The Tweet of the Week — and it was a wild one for current and former Gator quarterbacks — comes from someone who played the position at UF, Austin Appleby — “The SEC is built to bring a QB to his knees. It’s tough & isn’t for everyone. It takes a special guy to lead a program like UF. Good comes with more bad. But, is the most rewarding and fulfilling job in the world if you are able to handle all that comes with playing the position.” What he said.
18. It means a lot to me that so many people enjoy The Back Nine. Even my urologist walked into my latest appointment and said, “The Back Nine.” At least I think he was talking about my column. Anyway, I get a lot of suggestions for my playlists and mostly befuddlement at the songs I choose. But we plow ahead with the latest:
• “99” by Barns Courtney.
• “No Going Back” by Yuno.
• “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” by Against Me! from right here in Gainesville.
• “Good On You Son” by Mark Knopfler.
• And for an old one from the Hall of Famers “Do Ya” by Electric Light Orchestra.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.