By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – There weren’t enough DVR’s in the world this past Saturday night. Even though the Southeastern Conference football schedule has shrunk in the past few weeks, the pressure involved in these contests has skyrocketed. Every game means that much more.
The schedule itself was a nightmare for me. After an appetizer of games in the morning session, the prime time slots seem poised for big time action.
Three of the day’s biggest games all kicked off at the same time, leaving yours truly scrambling to try and watch it all unfold. After a strategy session in the moments before kickoff, I decided on this path for the night.
1. I chose to record the Auburn-Arkansas game. From a poll perspective, this was the SEC “Game of the Week”. Also, with the amount of offense likely to occur, the replay value would be tremendous.
2. I went back and forth between recording a second game (likely Georgia-Tennessee) or trying to switch between them live. In the end, I went with flipping channels, since recording one game guaranteed that I couldn’t watch the other (Vanderbilt-Alabama). I know what you are thinking. I do have more than one TV, but 50-inch high definition is tough to pass up.
Fair to say it was a busy night. What did I see? Let’s begin the “Three and Out” in Baton Rouge.
First Down: Getting Thrown To The Wolves, Or Worse…The Tigers
WATCH LSU-FLORIDA HIGHLIGHTS
How would you like to be Florida’s Jacoby Brissett?
After an accomplished high school career, you sign with the University of Florida, coming into Gainesville as the third-best quarterback prospect in the country. But, unfortunately for you, the Gators also signed Jeff Driskell, the nation’s number one signal caller in the class. Returning starter John Brantley also returned, meaning you enter the fall closer to red-shirting than actually getting on the field. But, a series of events happen that change the outlook of your entire career.
Brantley, off to a good start, goes down with an ugly leg injury in game five against Alabama. Florida head coach Will Muschamp hands the ball over to Driskell, who proceeded to struggle against one of the nation’s best defenses. Having moved up a peg, you now find yourself with clipboard in hand, the backup quarterback for a top 25 team.
After surviving a tough Alabama loss, Florida goes back to the practice field knowing Brantley will not be available to play. Driskell is anointed as the team’s starter, and you get reps in as the second-string man. But, those series of events continue.
Driskell, working in practice a few days later, sprains his ankle. After a few days of doubt, the word comes in. Muschamp confirms that Driskell is out for the following game, and now Florida is down to the third quarterback on the season. Enter Brissett.
Imagine the roller coaster. You are six months removed from a legendary high school career. Knowing what was ahead of you, you didn’t expect to play at all in your first season. Instead of worrying about the playbook or having to contribute immediately, you spent your time getting acclimated to college life in Gainesville.
However, due to a weird set of circumstances, everything changed. You go from being under center at William T. Dwyer High School to becoming the starting quarterback for the Florida Gators in less than a calendar year, making your first collegiate start six games into your freshman season.
Fantastic for him right? Just one problem….that start is against LSU…in Baton Rouge.
I’ve said this for weeks, and it looks even more obvious by the game, LSU is the best team in the country right now. Considering their schedule, and the willingness to play anyone anywhere, the Bayou Bengals sit atop the college football mountain in my mind. They have a defense littered with future first round NFL draft picks, and an offense that can even put up 47 points on you should they have too. They are the complete package.
That is what Driskell was facing on Saturday afternoon. As he jogged into the huddle for the first play of his Florida career, across the line was a defensive unit with a collection of talent unrivaled in college football. Over 95,000 fans screamed from the stands, cheering on the number one team in the country. Two thoughts came to mind as I watched it.
First off, welcome to the SEC Mr. Brissett.
Secondly, good luck young man.
As you can expect, Brissett struggled, as LSU picked up a dominating 41-11 win
. It isn’t hard to see why scouting services were so excited about the freshman’s skill set, starting with his size (6-3, 239), his arm and ability to move in the pocket. The 65-yard throw he made for a touchdown late in the third quarter was right on the money, a spiral that culminated in the Gators first end zone score of the day.
If you could create a quarterback in a lab, Brissett’s frame and attributes are exactly what you’d choose.
However, those talents still need to mature. Saturday was the first step in what hopes to be a long career for the West Palm Beach product. Florida itself has decisions to make going forward, with Brantley returning at some point, while Driskell and Brissett both hope to be a part of the future.
But the future was not now for the Gators on Saturday against LSU.
For the Tigers, the National Championship game countdown continues. LSU versus Alabama is 28 days away.
Second Down: The Toughest Flag Football Game You’ll Ever See
As a child growing up, my favorite football team was the Bill Parcells coached New York Giants. Led by quarterback Phil Simms and linebacker Lawrence Taylor, that squad personified smash mouth football. In addition to being my home town team, their specialties were what I enjoyed watching.
The Giants were an I-formation, two tight-end type of attack. Sure they threw that ball when they needed to, but they were perfectly content with lining up and pounding the ball with backs like Otis Anderson and Rodney Hampton (Georgia).
Man, those days feel like a long time ago.
Today’s game of football has changed. Instead of the two-back set, you have the pistol formation. Instead of the “Lombardi Sweep” you have the spread offense.
During my years prior to working with the SEC, I watched Division II football and saw the spread take over. I coined it “physical flag football”, since it felt like teams abandoned the off tackle in favor of the bubble screen. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I’m not saying I’m against these types of offenses, just that they are different. There are still some teams that line up under center, but a majority of snaps today take place in the shotgun. That’s just the way it is.
Saturday’s Auburn and Arkansas matchup illustrates this phenomenon perfectly. Mad scientists/head coaches Bobby Petrino (Arkansas) and Gus Malzahn (Auburn) prefer their quarterback off the line of scrimmage, and run their offenses at a pace that keeps defenses on their heels all game long.
Petrino got the best of it Saturday night, surging past Auburn for a 38-14 win
. Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson was in rare form, completing 19 straight passes at one point in the second quarter. Joe Adams continues to score in unconventional ways, and the Razorback reminded the nation not to count them out.
WATCH ARKANSAS-AUBURN HIGHLIGHTS HERE
After losing to Alabama two weekends ago, many talking heads removed Arkansas from the elite team conversation. Perhaps that loss speaks more about Alabama’s talent than anything Arkansas did wrong. The Hogs are 5-1, and look like the clear second best team in the West. Considering what many were saying about that division before the season, that is quite the accomplishment.
I’d like to circle back to my point earlier, because it emphasizes the need to watch games and not assume because of appearance. Again, I mentioned both squads were spread happy, wide open offenses that perhaps don’t run the ball enough.
Not the case at all.
Both teams had balance, with Auburn almost relying exclusively on the run to try and move the chains. The Tigers ran the ball 52 times Saturday night, as opposed to just 25 passes. Arkansas, even with a big night from Wilson, only threw the ball five more times than they handed it off.
So the point is, don’t let appearances fool you. Just because it doesn’t look like a traditional offense, it doesn’t mean they aren’t using strategies that have stood the test of time.
Same food, just different packaging. I’ll have to learn not to be so quick to judge next time.
Third Down: Alabama Football Is Life, Even In Death
I wasn’t born in this part of the country, nor did I attend an SEC school in college. The most exciting part of this job for me is learning about our fans passion, the deep connection they have with the schools they cheer for. Nowhere in the country is this more prevalent than the SEC, where generations of families bleed their college color, using their team’s successes as a timeline that marks their lives.
For the Golson’s, this belief is no different. Having chronicled them in this space before
, they are the epitome of this type of SEC family. Deep rooted in Alabama tradition, they approach life with a love for the Crimson Tide that has spanned 50 years. Saturdays aren’t just gameday for them, they are trips to the chapel of football, where they come together in hopes that Alabama prevails once again.
This week that family is hurting, as their patriarch and grandfather passed away. Harry Henderson Ellis, known as “Papa” to those that loved him, finally succumbed to illness after a lengthy battle. An Alabama fan at heart, Ellis served as the backbone for a family that grew up cheering the Crimson Tide.
A man born from humble beginnings, “Papa” strived for better, working at and then owning a feed store in Evergreen, Alabama. He only became an Alabama fan out of spite, choosing the Tide since many of his friends already rooted for Auburn.
That simple decision changed a generation. The pride of Alabama grew from father to daughter, and then from daughter to children, a cycle seen in many SEC families. Papa’s daughter Rachel rooted for Alabama, and her son Adam attended college there. Rachel’s youngest daughter Amber needed less time, making her college choice at 10 years old. Alabama was their home.
The Golson’s now root for the Capstone as part of their daily lives, not knowing Papa’s defiance 50 years ago decided that very path.
Late in his life, Papa often reflected on the “good ole days” at Alabama, when Bear Bryant roamed the sidelines. His crowning moment as a fan happened in 1979, when he watched a “goal line stand” at the Sugar Bowl, as Alabama defeated Penn State to capture a National Championship. His timing was legendary, with Adam claiming his Papa had never seen the Tide lose in person.
Alabama was and still is the center of this family’s universe, a way to share special moments together. No one was more important than the team, evidenced by a story Amber told me about his 80th birthday party.
“Alabama was playing Georgia that day,” Amber told me. “I remember being specifically told not to come to his party,” she added, “Instead I went to ESPN’s College Gameday set and held up a “Happy Birthday” sign so he could see it.”
Papa’s daughter Rachel is like a second mother to me. I can’t tell you how many times Mrs. Golson (Rachel) fed me, gave me encouragement and reminded me that my dreams were in fact reachable. I think the world of her.
Until this day, whenever I’m in town, I have to stop in and check on her. When I heard the news, I was overcome with emotion. I couldn't imagine the pain they were going through, and I felt helpless knowing there was little I could do to console them. What can you really say?
During Papa’s final moments, the Tide helped eased the struggle. Just weeks before his life would end, he sat watching Alabama play with his daughter, the last of many moments they’d spent together doing that very task. One last time, the Crimson Tide would succeed. Behind the strength of a defense that reminded him of that 1979 squad, Alabama defeated Arkansas for a key conference win.
Many fans say that SEC football is “life and death”. Most times they don’t mean it. For Harry Ellis, Alabama football marked his life, and allows us to celebrate his death even more. Here’s hoping Saturday’s win over Vanderbilt makes you smile one more time sir.
We will miss you Papa.
Plays Under Review
--- Connor Shaw, not bad. Not bad at all. In his second start of the year, and first since the opener of the season, Shaw torched Kentucky en route to a 54-3 win
. Shaw ignited what had been a struggling South Carolina offense, throwing for a career-high four touchdowns (WATCH VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS HERE)
. Watching them play, it just seemed as if the Gamecocks had extra energy, and came out with a fire we haven’t seen in a while. Perhaps Shaw being elevated has changed USC’s mental state. I know it surely changed their physical play on the field.
--- I said it last week, but don’t sleep on Georgia. In a bruising SEC battle, the Bulldogs defeated Tennessee 20-12
. Again, you can make a strong case that Georgia is in the driver’s seat of the Eastern Division, considering the schedule ahead. Another Florida loss appears to have made this a two-team race. South Carolina owns the tiebreaker, but with plenty of games to go, Richt’s squad is right in the mix. Great job turning around what many thought was a start that might cost him his career. Sean Cartell broke this down further here
Thanks for reading. Hope to see you back here next week.