By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Gary Danielson, a 13-year National Football League veteran and former Purdue University quarterback, is in his eighth season as the broadcast analyst of the SEC on CBS. He will call this week’s game between Alabama and Texas A&M at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
On Monday afternoon, Danielson participated in an SEC on CBS teleconference, offering his thoughts and insights into the 2013 SEC football season. Here are some of the highlights of his question and answer session with reporters from Monday’s teleconference.
Q: What are your thoughts on Florida and the SEC East race in general?
Gary Danielson: “I thought there were some good parts of Florida’s game. They played a competitive team on the road. They showed that their defense is going to be at a very high level. I was very impressed with the speed of their entire defense. They shut down Miami pretty well. I said going into the season that the biggest unknown factor in this conference, in my opinion, would be the play of Jeff Driskel. He is tremendously talented physically, but I felt that he would have to step forward for Florida to reach the goals that they have as a program. They did it a bit last year with a bit of a smoke-and-mirrors run game and they relied on that, and I thought they would have to take a step forward. I don’t put it all in Jeff’s lap. They seem to still be a little step below having a go-to receiver that scares defenses, but I thought that Florida showed that it has the potential with athletes on defense to compete in any game. I thought Georgia lost a tough game that made sense. They caught a very good Clemson team on the road in Death Valley. That’s a very tough game to play there for anybody. Tajh Boyd was great and I thought they played a great, competitive game. I thought the way Georgia came back in that next game [South Carolina], I believe that, right now, Georgia is the team to beat in the East.”
Q: Nick Saban has been very successful in winning re-match games, defeating teams that he has lost to in the previous meeting. Does that reflect his sense of preparation and ability to learn from the past, or does it just reflect the fact that generally the team that lost the first game has a better chance of winning the second time?
Gary Danielson: “I think it’s a little bit of everything, to tell you the truth. I think it would be illogical to think that as good of a job as Nick does at getting his team ready, looking at game tape and looking for tendencies, that during the actual first game, he doesn’t notice something in that game that helps him in the second game. It doesn’t mean it guarantees a win, but if you look at Nick’s record, he doesn’t lose a lot of games anyway. If you give him another advantage of actually being on the sideline and getting a look at a team for the second time, I would have to assume it would give him one more opportunity to prepare his team. If the teams are evenly matched, if you lose the first one, you pretty much know that your team is going to be ready to play the second one.”
Q: What are your thoughts on LSU and quarterback Zach Mettenberger?
Gary Danielson: “I was very high on what Zach was going to eventually be last year. I thought he broke out in the Alabama game last year when he was so courageous and effective on third down. You’re not going to beat Nick Saban if you don’t at least compete on third down. Zach was starting to break out of his shadow and I think Les [Miles] was very bright to bring in another tutor [LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron] to take Zach to the next step, and to realize that he had one of those special players at quarterback that he couldn’t afford to just make him a hand-off, play-action quarterback. They don’t come around that often in college football where you have an NFL-potential guy playing quarterback for you. If he’s a senior, I think you’d be not doing the team a service to not use his skills. I thought it was really good to bring in an NFL guy [Cameron] to tap into that. One of the things that happens when you do that, you practice it a little bit more than last year, you emphasize it and everyone gets into it. You can even see the receivers starting to get better at what they’re doing. It just looks like a whole new atmosphere and attitude over there for LSU.”
Q: When you look back on the Alabama vs. Texas A&M game last year, how many things were in Texas A&M’s favor that maybe aren’t this year?
Gary Danielson: “I think all of those things in every game and every contest is a factor. When you play against Alabama, you have to have a very efficient quarterback. If you don’t have a quarterback that can stress Nick Saban’s defensive back seven, he’ll just overrun you. The placement of the game, coming after an emotional game and not having the opportunity to see Manziel – the first game against a player with a different style like Manziel [can be factors].I thought Mark Snyder, the defensive coordinator for Texas A&M, had a brilliant game plan. In all honesty, I thought Kirby Smart and Nick Saban did not have a very effective first-half game plan. They were too soft. They gave Johnny [Manziel] too much credit trying to pin him in the pocket and didn’t put enough pressure on him. I thought AJ McCarron started very slowly in the game. To beat Alabama when they’re on their game, you have to play at a very high level and get some breaks.”
Q: What is one thing that intrigues you about this game as far as Alabama and Texas A&M are concerned?
Gary Danielson: “My eyes are initially going to go to Kirby Smart and Nick Saban. I thought they were very frantic in the first half of the game [last year] against Texas A&M. They tried to make too many changes, they were too excited and they over-substituted. I think they got it cleaned up in te second half and came out with a much better game plan about how to handle the no-huddle for A&M. My second phase is going to be AJ McCarron. In the loss to LSU in the first ‘Game of the Century’ he did not have a great game; I thought he was off all night. He came back in the national championship and was almost perfect in that football game. Even though LSU’s coverage was pretty solid, he put the ball in spots that LSU had no answer for. I thought he played maybe the best game of his career. I thought he had the worst regular-season game of his career last year against Texas A&M. I expect him to come back with his ‘A’ game. For A&M, I look to the loss of [Ryan] Swope and also [Mike] Evans, who is their outside receiver and is a first-down machine. He is emerging and getting better as a football player. I thought Swope and Evans were answers for Manziel last year. Will Evans be the answer this year and who will replace Swope?”