Whitley: Sidelines are not supposed to be safe spaces

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun
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Florida Gators first true road test of the 2021 season is at Kentucky

Before we get to this week’s can’t-miss predictions, a few performances from last week deserve applause.

Arkansas beat Texas A&M. Miami did not lose to Central Connecticut State. Clemson scored a touchdown!

And a special shout-out goes to Oregon receiver Kris Hutson.

He made a nice catch as the Ducks were scrambling to score before halftime against Arizona. But then Hutson popped up, spun the ball, crossed his arms and stood there gloating.

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That drew an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and the attention of coach Mario Cristobal. By “attention,” I mean Cristobal threw down his headset and gave Hutson a royal chewing out.

Naturally, critics were aghast. Aren’t colleges supposed to be safe spaces from such intimidation?

The chorus was led by EPSN commentator Rod Gilmore, who said Cristobal overreacted and embarrassed Hutson on national TV. Gilmore later tweeted “the image of a 51 year old White man berating a young Black man so publicly rubs a lot of us the wrong way. Especially w/all the racial injustice. Bad optics.”

Cristobal is actually Cuban-American, not that it should matter. Optics can matter, but they are not necessarily reality. They are what the viewer wants to see.

The reality is Cristobal did not cross any coaching lines when he dressed down a player who’d just pulled a bonehead move that cost his team a chance to score. And coaches should not treat players differently based on race.

That wouldn’t just undermine team discipline, it would be insulting to the player. Hutson knew he deserved what he got.

He didn’t file a complaint with the university’s Department of Snowflake Sensitivity Department. He stood firmly, looked Cristobal in the eyes and said, “Yes, sir.”

“I respect Kris. He respects me,” Cristobal said. “We can’t hurt the team. I trust him – obviously we wanted to get him back in the game with a clear mind to attack the opportunity and go win the game.”

Huston made a mistake, he got chewed out and he owned it. He’ll be better off for the experience, and so will the Ducks. Believe it or not, that reality still matters more than optics.

But speaking of optics, I threw my headset down last week when Missouri gave up tackling against Boston College. That startled my cat, who was sitting nearby.

Then Mississippi State blew it against LSU. Those losses kept me from a 10-0 week and induction into the Guesser’s Hall of Fame.

Being a sensitive guy, however, I did not chew out my cat.

Florida at Kentucky: First real road test for the Gators and Emory Jones. The Wildcats haven’t been overly impressive considering the preseason hype. But even if they stop treating the ball like a greased watermelon (a minus-9 turnover margin so far), UF should be fine if it doesn’t develop its own case of turnover-itis. Florida, 24-13.

Ole Miss at Alabama: Nick Saban has never lost to one of his ex-assistant coaches, not even Jim McElwain. Lane Kiffin almost did the trick in 2020, and the Rebels look better this year. Alabama doesn’t. So for this week’s Upset Special… nah, I can’t go there yet. Alabama, 33-21.

Mississippi State at Texas A&M: Maybe it’s just coincidence, but I don’t think the Aggies have gotten a first down since Jimbo Fisher’s got that 10-year, $95-million contract extension. Luckily for him, Mike Leach’s contract prevents Mississippi State from ever calling a running play. The Aggies’ defense is good enough to handle the one-dimensional Bulldogs. Texas A&M, 19-17.

Syracuse at FSU: It’s Family Weekend in Tallahassee. All alumni and their family members are being encouraged to try out for the Seminoles’ secondary. As bad as things have been in Norvell Land lately, I've got a feeling this is The Week! FSU, 27-18.

Arkansas at Georgia: Sam Pittman’s Cinderella Hogs have beaten Texas, Texas A&M and probably would be 10-point favorites over the Houston Texans. Alas, I fear the clock is finally going to strike midnight in Athens. If it doesn’t, Pittman should immediately be given Jimbo Fisher’s contract. Georgia, 19-14.

Cincinnati at Notre Dame: When was the last time an undefeated Irish team was a 2.5-point underdog at home against a non-Power Five conference team? If the Bearcats win this, they’ll probably go 12-0, win the AAC championship game and be elbowed out of the playoffs by a two-loss SEC team. Cincinnati, 18-17.

Auburn at LSU: Both teams are 3-1 and should be nicknamed the Paper Tigers. Auburn barely beat Georgia State last week and hasn’t won in Baton Rouge since 1999. LSU has played like Georgia State since the 2019 season ended. Because it’s at home … LSU, 34-18.                 

Tennessee at Missouri: The Tigers (there really should be a One Tiger Rule in the SEC) have the worst defense this side of the Afghanistan National Guard. The Volunteers looked less terrible than predicted against Florida last week. Assuming Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker is healthy enough to play… Tennessee, 29-22.

UConn at Vanderbilt: If alien explorers arrived Saturday and saw human beings actually buying tickets to this game, they would immediately write us off as a lost cause, vaporize Earth and go search for intelligent life in a different galaxy. Vanderbilt, 3-2.

Upset Special — Troy at South Carolina: “We are 2-2, it’s still September, the sky is not falling,” Gamecocks’ coach Shane Beamer said. Those two wins are over East Carolina (barely) and Eastern Illinois. Because neither team can score a lick, this may be the weekend’s most unwatchable game. At least nobody will know if I get this wrong. Troy, 13-11.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley

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