Biggest mistake every new SEC coach made in his first month on job
Not even Nick Saban walked into Alabama and was mistake-free in his first year.
Every first-year coach makes mistakes. Shoot, the best coaches make mistakes. You just hope that they aren’t mistakes that cost you a big-time win (looking at you, James Franklin).
Every first-year SEC coach has made at least one significant mistake so far. All of them suffered at least one September loss. Dan Mullen was the only new SEC coach who has just one loss under his belt, though it was a historic one.
Here’s one key mistake that each first-year SEC coach made in September.
Chad Morris, Arkansas: Constant shuffling of quarterbacks
You know the old saying about if you have 2 quarterbacks, you don’t have any? Well, what if you’re so desperate to find a guy that you play 4 quarterbacks in the first 3 games of your first season? That’s probably not a good sign.
It was Cole Kelley. Then it was Ty Storey. Then it was Kelley again. Then it was Connor Noland’s turn. Then it was John Stephen Jones’ turn. Then it was Noland’s turn again. Then it was back to Storey.
And that was just in the first 3 games!
Morris, the offensive guru, looked unprepared and desperate. Granted, it’s not like his quarterbacks played well, but at some point, getting beat by 4 touchdowns against North Texas and using 3 quarterbacks comes back to the coaching staff. It’s nice to see that Morris finally stuck with Storey the past couple games. While Arkansas’ offense hasn’t been good (10 points per game in SEC play), I think he’s at least giving his team a chance to form an offensive identity.
And hey, this was a pretty nice throw from Storey late against a decent Texas A&M defense:
— Nikki Chavanelle (@NikkiChavanelle) September 29, 2018
Storey has earned the right to be the guy. While a smattering of boos from the home crowd following a horrific offensive performance is enough to make any coach question his most important position, Storey needs to get a chance to get a full day’s work against Alabama, too … no matter how ugly it is.
Dan Mullen, Florida: Not using the tailbacks more against Kentucky
I thought Florida’s game plan against Kentucky made no sense. It was like once Florida trailed, it felt it had to throw the ball constantly in order to move the chains. I thought the Gators could have gotten into a better offensive rhythm had they stuck with the running game.
Instead, Feleipe Franks threw the ball 38 times and no tailback had more than 7 carries. In fact, Florida tailbacks totaled just 15 carries. After Kentucky took a 21-10 lead with 4 minutes left in the third quarter, Florida threw on 5 of its first 6 plays the next possession. Franks only completed 1 pass.
While Florida’s offensive line wasn’t good that day, the tailbacks still finished with 4.9 yards per carry. Lamical Perine racked up 46 yards from scrimmage on Florida’s last scoring drive of the day, and probably made everyone wonder why he wasn’t more involved early.
Fortunately, Mullen increased the involvement of the tailbacks. Even with Malik Davis suffering a broken foot in Week 3 against Colorado State, look at the total usage from him, Perine, Jordan Scarlett and Dameon Pierce:
- Colorado State — 21 carries, 188 yards, 2 TDs
- Tennessee — 24 carries, 156 yards, 2 TDs
- Mississippi State — 24 carries, 106 yards
Unless it’s a game in which Florida really digs itself an early hole, the backfield should be getting at least 25-30 carries on a weekly basis. Perine, Scarlett and Pierce are too dynamic to be limited. It’s not surprising that as a result of Florida’s increased backfield involvement, Mullen is riding his first 3-game win streak in Gainesville.
Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State: Too much passing game reliance
The big question with Moorhead’s offense in Year 1 was how he was going to get Nick Fitzgerald, who was a 55 percent passer as a starter before this year, to become more accurate. Needless to say, that endeavor has not gone well so far. When Fitzgerald can’t consistently run, the MSU offense didn’t do anything. I mean, anything.
In the 2 games that Fitzgerald failed to reach 100 yards rushing (both against SEC defenses), MSU has 1 touchdown in 8 quarters. Fitzgerald has thrown an average of 29 times with the Bulldogs trailing in the second half the past 2 weeks … for an average of 4.2 yards per attempt.
Fitzgerald still hasn’t been accurate enough to stretch the field vertically, though drops from receivers certainly haven’t helped. Clearly, this passing game isn’t ready to be the driving force that Moorhead thought it could be, and it doesn’t help that the MSU line has struggled mightily in pass protection the last couple weeks. Fitzgerald has to recognize this, but this sort of embodied how dysfunctional the passing game is right now:
— Michael Dellinger (@MDCanesFan) October 1, 2018
In each of the past 2 games, Mississippi State’s tailbacks received a combined 12 carries. It might surprise some that Kylin Hill and Aeris Williams actually combined for 72 yards on just 12 carries (6 yards per carry) against Florida.
Moorhead is still trying to figure out the offensive identity of his team. In a perfect world, he has a quarterback who can make all the throws to a receiver group that’s reliable and capable of getting open when Fitzgerald is flushed out of the pocket. That’s not the case.
I’d be stunned if against Auburn’s talented front seven, MSU tried to come out throwing the ball all over the place. Moorhead probably sees now that it simply doesn’t have the personnel to do that.
Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee: No quarterbacks available to the media
Will making players available to the media help them win or lose a game? No. That’s probably why Pruitt doesn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. He’s obviously of the impression that only bad things can happen if Jarrett Guarantano is able to speak to the media.
By the way, he hasn’t been available since the Vanderbilt game. In 2017.
Pruitt’s policy of not allowing the starting quarterback (or really any quarterback) to be available to media shows that he questions their judgment. I don’t care either way if I get a soundbite from Guarantano, but I’m not big on the precedent that sets. Playing that position is all about making decisions under pressure. Shouldn’t your quarterback, the leader of your team, be able to handle how his team is represented?
I’m more of a believer in what Nebraska coach Scott Frost did with former Tennessee commit Adrian Martinez. Martinez was available to the media on National Signing Day and throughout spring camp … as an early enrollee. That’s almost unheard of. Frost did it to prep Martinez for the rigors that come with being a starting quarterback.
If Guarantano is tough enough to take hits, isn’t he tough enough to deal with the media? I don’t understand what Pruitt is afraid of, but I think it’s odd that he’s not willing to put Guarantano in front of a microphone to be a voice for the program.
Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M: The Tyrel Dodson helmet thing
In case you somehow missed it Saturday, Fisher got heated trying to get Dodson’s attention after he was involved in a scrum after a play:
So we just gonna let Jimbo Fisher get away with treating his player like a rag doll
— Emmanuel Acho (@thEMANacho) September 29, 2018
Is that a fireable offense? Contrary to what some suggested, I don’t think it is. Should Fisher ever do that again? Nope.
That was a heat-of-the-moment mistake that Fisher gets paid way too much money to make. Shoot, even if he were getting paid $30,000, he still should know better not to grab a player by the face mask as a way of disciplining him.
I hate to say it, but I do feel like a lesser coach would have gotten a different reaction to that. What if 2017 Jim McElwain did something similar? Can you imagine the field day the internet would have with that? Fisher’s national title ring and $75 million contract doesn’t give him immunity to lose his cool and use physical force to get a player’s attention.
I thought Dodson’s response to this was tremendous (and much better than Fisher’s). After he was embarrassed on national TV, his defense of Fisher probably quieted some of the backlash when he could have gone in a completely different direction.
Fisher didn’t strike a player, which would have caused an even bigger uproar, and understandably so.
Still, that’s not a mistake he wants to make again.