First and 10, Week 6: Their seats already are scorching hot, and here comes Nick Saban
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
It has been shoved down our throats for the last three seasons: Alabama has been so good for so long under coach Nick Saban, it has watered down the once mighty SEC.
Now get ready for the next phase of all things Death Star: Time to begin thinning the SEC coaching herd, Alabama style.
“Don’t let them breathe,” Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “That’s what we’re focused on. Every game, every team. Don’t give them any moment to relax.”
These, ladies and gentlemen, are the ramifications of winning according to Nick. Next up to feel the pain: Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU – four programs with four coaches who aren’t getting it done, all staring at a date with Alabama over the next month. You can see where this is headed.
This rising Tide hasn’t lifted all SEC boats. It has forced the rest of the overwhelmed conference into a sea of knee-jerk criticism and fans clamoring for change — and coaches desperate to explain to anyone who will listen that, really, it’s not their fault.
It’s only going to get worse over the next month. Potentially, much worse.
In the world of keeping up with the Sabans, there is no reprieve — only reality for Kevin Sumlin, Bret Bielema, Butch Jones and Ed Orgeron. Those four coaches with the most to lose over the next two months of the season are coming to grips with Alabama winning its first two SEC games by a combined 125-3.
And they’re next.
A bigger problem for those four coaches: Their respective programs all believe, without hesitation, they can – and should – be like Alabama. Tennessee and LSU have won national championships in the last two decades, and think they can (and should) again.
Arkansas was a second half of football away from playing for the SEC title in 2011 — and playing in the BCS national championship game – before Bobby Petrino ran the program and his Harley into a ditch.
Texas A&M isn’t spending $500 million on facilities just to make it look all nice and pretty and better than what Texas has. The Aggies surely aren’t paying their coach $5 million a year to win eight games, either.
All four programs – and more important, their university presidents and deep-pocket boosters – will get a slap in the face look over the next month at how far they must still go when the schedule turns to Alabama. In a brutal business where you’re only as good as your next game, the last thing you want to see when the engine is sputtering is the Ferrari that is Alabama zooming by in the passing lane.
Texas A&M: The Aggies aren’t feeling any better about Sumlin after a blown 34-point lead to UCLA to begin the season. Take a look at Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp last week backing away from Sumlin when asked about his job security.
“I’m not the athletic director,” Sharp told the Texas Tribune.
Since the magical 2012 season and Texas A&M’s win at Alabama, the Aggies have given up 49, 59, 41 and 33 points in four losses to the Tide. Another emasculation this weekend – this time in College Station – and the chancellor and athletic director will start having conversations.
Tennessee: One of two things happens when a coach blames the media for his shortcomings: It galvanizes a team, or leads to its self-destruction.
Five days after Jones blamed the mean media for “negativity” around the program, the Vols sustained their worst home loss in 112 years in a 41-0 loss to Georgia. His record in five seasons is 33-23, and he’s 3-11 vs. rivals Alabama, Florida and Georgia.
The Vols are off this week before returning against South Carolina. Big picture they have two-plus weeks to prepare for an Alabama team that has no weakness. Lose big there, and Jones might be gone the following Monday.
Arkansas: The excuse of Bielema taking over a cesspool can hold weight only so long. He knows it, and you better believe his bosses have made it clear.
Bielema has won 10 of 33 career SEC games, has lost to Alabama four straight seasons and has a 3-14 record against Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M – the four teams the Hogs are chasing in the SEC West.
Arkansas plays at South Carolina on Saturday, a must-win if Bielema is to stave off detractors heading into what surely will be a lopsided loss to Alabama. Lose to South Carolina and Alabama, and the nattering nabobs of negativism will be in full force.
LSU: The idea of firing Orgeron in his first season is laughable (we’ll get into that later), but the more damaging impact of the Alabama beast on the horizon is how far LSU will have fallen behind from last season.
The Tigers played a terrific game last year against Alabama, a 10-0 loss that, as much as anything, significantly contributed to Orgeron getting the job (that and Texas outbidding LSU for Tom Herman).
Lose big to the Tide this time around, and the difference between the 2016 and 2017 games will be glaring red flag. Check that, a Crimson flag.
It might as well be a warning this month for four coaches in win or walk situations.
2. Lunatic fringe
Is it wrong that I have a special column open on TweetDeck showing any Tweet containing the word “Orgeron?”
The passion is real and impressive, LSU fans. But for the love of all things pigskin, you’re five games into the season.
3. You can’t really do that, can you?
Those words, those sane, measured and meaningful words, hold zero weight in the collective minds of some LSU fans.
The lunatic fringe want first-year coach Ed Orgeron gone, and want him gone now. They’re having panic attacks at the very thought of Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo and slipping back into the role of great underachiever in the SEC.
All of which, of course, is nonsense, but that doesn’t satisfy Joe Sixpack. Nor does the idea of fiscal responsibility.
To fire Orgeron, it’s going to take someone (or someones) to fork over a $12 million buyout. The criticism to pay a coach to not coach will not only be aimed directly at football, but also at university brass – the president ultimately signs off on any coaching hire; never forget that – while it has signed off on significant fiscal cutbacks of late.
Nothing will make those in academia at LSU feel any worse. Nothing will underscore the aura of football above all else in the SEC.
In other words, Orgeron isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
4. The big decision
The Jake Fromm vs. Jacob Eason argument at Georgia is not as simple as you think, and must be addressed soon.
Not because the quarterback battle can disrupt chemistry in the locker room (it won’t), but because the road gets significantly harder for Georgia in the second half of the season – and Fromm, despite his strong play, has made mistakes that the Bulldogs have covered with outstanding play around him.
Georgia is last in the SEC in passing (150 yards per game).
“It’s not something we have to announce,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Monday at his weekly press conference. “We are going to announce it based on how they practice.”
That’s all well and good, and a great way to force both to compete harder this week. But no matter the feel goods from Fromm’s play since replacing an injured Eason in Week 1, Eason is the best option right now. Why, you ask?
Two reasons: Eason has seen more defensive looks than Fromm, and has more repetitions against those schemes. And he can make every throw in the route tree with accuracy, something Fromm can’t yet do with consistent accuracy.
Twice in last week’s shutout of Tennessee, Fromm threw balls that should’ve been intercepted and given the Vols short fields on offense. Both were dropped. Those turnovers and quick-change scores that usually follow can completely change the dynamics of a game against, say, Florida. Or Auburn. Or Georgia Tech. Or Alabama.
Fromm has done a fantastic job of helping Georgia stay on schedule, winning games it should and even winning a game it probably shouldn’t have (Notre Dame). This team has College Football Playoff ability, and when Eason is completely healthy (Smart says he’s close), there is no debate.
Eason gives Georgia the best chance to win big games down the road.
5. The Weekly Five
Five picks against the spread:
- LSU at Florida (-3.5)
- Arkansas at South Carolina (+2.5)
- Alabama (-26.5) at Texas A&M
- Georgia (-17.5) at Vanderbilt
- Ole Miss at Auburn (-21.5)
Last week: 2-3.
Season: 12-13 (.480)
6. To rest or not to rest
It had to come to this. Ole Miss is taking a beating on the field – and that means star quarterback Shea Patterson is, too.
The issue for interim coach Matt Luke: How long is too long to keep Patterson in the game when assessing his future? So far, Patterson has missed one snap this season.
He played the entire game in last week’s 66-3 loss to Alabama, was sacked five times and hit and pressured countless other times. As the losses pile up (and there’s no doubt they will), Patterson’s potential to take a beating increases.
But for how long? The harsh truth is Patterson still has another year to play at Ole Miss (he’ll be draft eligible after the 2018 season), a season that likely will be much more difficult than this year because of additional NCAA sanctions.
At some point the idea of protecting him – and his future to earn in the NFL — has to be addressed.
“(Patterson) was coming up to me, wanting to stay in the game and wanting to compete,” Luke said of the Alabama game. “Getting him as much experience as possible is important.”
Patterson already has been sacked 13 times, and is on pace for 40 over 12 games – with seven SEC defenses still ahead. Auburn is up next this weekend, and the Tigers are as good on the defensive front as Alabama, and have 14 sacks this season.
In other words, it might be time to get backup Jordan Ta’amu – who has taken one snap (a handoff) all season – some playing time if the game gets out of hand.
7. Playing without your best
Go ahead and tell Auburn that it can’t play with its two best offensive players, and its best defensive player.
Tell Ohio State and Oklahoma and Washington and anyone else not named Alabama or Clemson, and see what happens to their season.
Maybe now understand where Florida coach Jim McElwain sits, and frankly, how utterly impressive it is that his team is 3-0 in the SEC after September.
“We’re excited about the guys we have,” McElwain says, and you just know that coachspeak rings hollow.
Especially considering what could have been with the three critical players who aren’t there: WR Antonio Callaway, TB Jordan Scarlett, S Marcell Harris. Callaway and Scarlett are not playing by their own doing (charged with credit card fraud); Harris blew out his Achilles in fall camp.
Callaway and Scarlett would’ve made things much easier for redshirt freshman QB Feleipe Franks, and given the Gators two of the SEC’s best offensive threats. Harris would’ve provided stability in a young Florida secondary that routinely can’t locate the ball or tackle.
McElwain began fall camp by proclaiming this was his best team, and that he liked the Gators’ position in the SEC race. Then Harris gets hurt, then players – including Callaway – are suspended indefinitely for charges of credit card fraud.
Then Michigan throttles a team that, up until Tuesday of game week, thought it had Scarlett – who had his best offseason at Florida and was primed to be a 25-carry tailback — available for the season. Then the news hits that he, too, was part of the mess before the season kicked off.
Makes those Tennessee and Kentucky wins all the more improbable. Makes you appreciate how impressive another SEC East Division title would be.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Hey Matt: What do you make of Kurt Roper at South Carolina? It just looks like our offense hasn’t improved from last year. Is it time for (Will) Muschamp to make a change?
Cheryl Simmons, Charlotte, N.C.
Cheryl: Eventually we’d get to this point. It’s not enough for coaching to be hired and fired weekly. We’ve now moved on to assistant coaches in the barrel every week.
Ah, the joy of fandom.
South Carolina’s offense looked pretty darn good in Week 1 against a strong N.C. State defense. Since then, the Gamecocks have lost their best playmaker (WR Deebo Samuel) and numerous injuries on the line have forced the team to play with an inexperienced group that isn’t ready for the SEC grind.
The problems up front are not only bad for quarterback Jake Bentley, they also limit what Roper can call on game day. His No.1 priority to protect Bentley, and when the Gamecocks can’t run because the offensive line can’t create space, that becomes twice as difficult.
Roper can’t use max protection and ask two receivers to win on the outside, because there is no Samuel on the outside. So it’s risk/reward with play calls, and trying to put Bentley in position to make the throws that can win games behind an offensive line that has problems protecting.
That’s why the last series last week against Texas A&M looked so ugly, as will other against teams that can rush the passer. South Caorlina has to get healthy on the line of scrimmage, or has to get better with the players they’ve got. It’s that simple.
9. The Numbers Game
.323: The Kentucky winning percentage under Mark Stoops in the months of October and November. The Wildcats are 10-21 under Stoops in the final two months of the season, and that’s after an impressive 5-2 run last season.
Another 5-2 run this fall would give Kentucky nine wins for the first time since 1984.
10. Quote to Note
Orgeron on LSU fans calling for his job: “I hadn’t heard that. Thanks for telling me.”