A Florida reaction to a bloody Week 1 in the SEC: LOL
Florida received plenty of attention during Week 0, ahead and in the aftermath of its game against Miami that helped usher in the 150th season of college football.
For the Gators, that attention has come with benefits and drawbacks.
The benefits are obvious.
As the only national game, Florida (and Miami) shared the national spotlight, giving Dan Mullen’s program a chance to flash its brand to America without the eyeballs of recruits and fans elsewhere. That’s certainly a unique opportunity, and given the game’s 4.1 viewing share (the best for any regular season college football game in 3 seasons), the Gators at a minimum had a whole had a lot of eyeballs on their program coming off a big 2018 season.
Of course, with the spotlight comes scrutiny.
Florida defeated the Hurricanes, but the 24-20 slopfest of a victory hardly impressed media and fans nationally. Paul Finebaum joked that the game may have celebrated 150 years of college football, but the quality of play (or lack of it) set the game back 50 years alone. Greg McElroy said Feleipe Franks’ up and down performance was a sign the junior had regressed since the end of the 2018 season; Kirk Herbstreit was still criticizing Franks on College GameDay this Saturday. And many viewers and media figures, including Pat Forde at Yahoo and longtime Florida scribe David Hyde at the Sun-Sentinel said the Hurricanes may have lost, but they looked the more promising program coming out of Orlando.
In other words, Florida spent a week being picked apart by media and rival fan bases alike despite, you know, winning — which I’m told is why you play the game.
That healthy dose of skepticism and shade made what was a Bloody Opening Saturday in the SEC cathartic for Gators fans.
As a host of SEC teams narrowly escaped or saw their preseason hype collapse under the weight of mind-numbing defeats, Gators fans pulled up a seat at the bar or on the sofa and soaked it all in, nodding their heads and saying: “Not so easy, is it?”
Here’s a Florida reaction to Week 1 in the SEC, which saw Tennessee suffer a historically bad loss to lowly Georgia State, Memphis corral Ole Miss (see what we did there?), North Carolina upset South Carolina, preseason darling Mizzou implode and lose at Wyoming and Auburn somehow, someway, finding 4th-quarter magic to escape Oregon in Dallas.
Games in Florida schedule order:
Kentucky 38, Toledo 24
Gators fans already felt like it would be tough for Kentucky to replace Benny Snell Jr. and Josh Allen and replicate last year’s magical 10-win season, and for the most part, Saturday’s Kentucky win over a better-than-you-think Toledo team confirmed that suspicion.
This was a 1-score game entering the 4th quarter, and a Kentucky defense that was stifling against the run a year prior surrendered nearly 200 yards and 4.7 yards per carry to Toledo on the ground. Those numbers won’t please Mark Stoops, but what will is the play of Terry Wilson, who threw for 246 yards and 2 TD to help the Wildcats pull away late.
A trip to Kroger Field is always tough, but Kentucky didn’t do anything on the field Saturday that should frighten the Gators too much. Plus, after being outplayed by Kentucky the past 2 seasons, the Cats already have the Gators attention.
Georgia State 38, Tennessee 24
(Get it together, man)
Tennessee actually paid Georgia State $950,000 to come into Neyland Stadium and bully the Vols around.
The best thing about this from a Florida fan’s perspective was that it wasn’t even close to a fluke. A Georgia State team that won 2 games last season was more physical than Tennessee at the point of attack and wore out the Vols to separate themselves late.
This is a game Florida fans had fun with well into the night Saturday.
If you’re a Tennessee fan, at least Rick Barnes landed the nation’s best grad transfer when Kerry Blackshear Jr. picked Tennessee, amirite? pic.twitter.com/ZAINo6x0Fi
— Florida Basketball Hour (@FloridaBBHour) August 31, 2019
If Tenneessee was still the Champions of Life after Butch Jones’s departure, Georgia State probably took that from them too, along with $950,000 and Jeremy Pruitt’s soul.
There are probably Merle Haggard songs sadder than what happened on Rocky Top Saturday afternoon, but they are deep cuts.
Auburn 27, Oregon 21
If college football fandom in the SEC has taught any of y’all anything this decade, it’s never count out Auburn. They’re the horror movie villain you have to kill twice. At least.
Oregon obviously wasn’t paying attention. How else to explain the Ducks leaving at least 14 points on the field in the first half, allowing Auburn and its young QB to stay within their gameplan in the second half, trailing only 14-6 at the break.
In the end, not even Gus Malzahn’s bizarre decision not to go for 2 to tie the score in the 4th quarter cost the Tigers. Instead, the legend of Bo Nix began, as the first true freshman to start at Auburn since 1946 led an epic game winning drive in the final minute to lift the Tigers to another cardiac Cats win.
Somewhere, Rod and Paula Bramblett smiled.
Lost in the hysteria was the fact Nix was 13-for-31 with 2 interceptions to go with his 2 TDs. Nix has plenty to improve upon, however, and it’s one thing to do that on a neutral field; it will be quite another challenge in Gainesville in early October.
LSU 55, Georgia Southern 3
No honest Gator will ever be dismissive of a big win over Georgia Southern. Respect.
Did the LSU band play “Neck?” I hope so.
North Carolina 24, South Carolina 20
Gamecocks fans had a bunch of fun with Feleipe Franks’ performance vs. Miami, so let’s start with the quarterback:
Jake Bentley managed to fumble on a Hail Mary, minutes after throwing 2 costly, unthinkable interceptions and missing a wide open receiver for what would have been the winning touchdown.
If that doesn’t sum up Gamecocks football under Will Muschamp right now, I don’t know what does.
Based on one of America’s most brutal schedules, the last thing Coach Boom’s team could do was blow a lead and lose to a UNC program that has won only 5 games in the past 2 seasons and is in year one of their second era under Mack Brown.
But that’s exactly what the Cocks did, and before I bury Bentley too deep, keep in mind Boom’s vaunted defense gave up 2 90-yard touchdown drives in the 4th quarter.
And on offense, Muschamp’s staff still seems averse to giving their best player the football.
Bryan Edwards for SC had one touch. Their best player on offense… one touch.
— David Waters – Gators Breakdown (@GatorDave_SEC) August 31, 2019
Those are good ways to lose your job.
Georgia 30, Vanderbilt 6
Georgia is terrific at playing “road games” that look like home games at Vanderbilt. Saturday night was no different, as the Dawgs painted Nashville red and black and hardly ever looked challenged, even if Kirby Smart’s reaction to every one of Georgia’s sloppy, mostly preventable 10 penalties for over 100 yards told a different story.
What impressed most was the Bulldogs’ running game, which tallied 323 yards at 8 yards per carry against a Vanderbilt front that stacked the box most of the night.
If you can run the ball like that, you don’t have to worry as much about the fact receivers weren’t open too often downfield, even with Jake Fromm dropping dimes in tight coverage slots.
As for Vanderbilt, well — the QB play just wasn’t ever enough to keep them competitive. It shouldn’t be in the Swamp either.
Wyoming 37, Missouri 31
Obviously this game sets up the UCF fan’s dream: Missouri beats Florida and therefore, Wyoming > Florida, which means UCF = state champs? I think that’s how it works.
On a more serious note, Barry Odom’s teams have been notoriously slow out of the gate and this loss is the exclamation point on that trend, an embarrassing face plant for a program many felt would be 8-0 heading into the Georgia game in November.
Transfer Kelly Bryant was terrific at times, throwing for 423 yards; but his 2 red zone turnovers changed the game, and were a big reason the Cowboys secured the victory. Mizzou fans might want to wait for another Franks implosion at Faurot Field before they talk too much trash about Franks again. Just a thought.
And as a bonus …
Boise State 36, FSU 31
FSU fans were all aboard the Taggart train after the first half…
FSU beats Clemson in Death Valley. You heard it here first.
— tom morris (@RyWoodyMorrison) August 31, 2019
Then the second half happened.
The Noles imploded, blowing an 18-point lead and surrendering over 600 yards of offense to a Boise State team playing a true freshman QB. The Broncos went a staggeringly efficient 10-of-19 on 3rd down as well, and Boise RB Robert Mahone looked like Frank Gore, torching FSU for 142 yards.
Meanwhile, after a brilliant first half that saw FSU pile up 31 points, here’s what new offensive coordinator Kendall Briles and the offense did against a Mountain West defense in the second half: punt, punt, punt, fumble, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs.
The only way to truly explain the implosion is culture and coaching: 1 program knows how to win and play physical, fundamental football. The other is Florida State.