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Gators Make a Statement in Win vs. Ole Miss

Oct 05, 2015 -- 10:57am

Before you could say “Vernon Hargeaves” -- or even “Will Grier” -- the Gators are relevant again.

The victory against Tennessee was a game to remember. The bashing of Ole Miss was a statement.

Are the Gators already back among the elite? If not, how close are they? Road games the next two weeks will provide some of the answers.

What we do know is the defense is as strong as advertised; Coach Jim McElwain is making a huge difference; and Grier is closer to playing like a 5-star quarterback recruit than the skinny kid who showed up on the Gainesville campus 18 months ago.

Perhaps the biggest surprise – and the most obvious sign of improvement to come out of the Ole Miss game – is the offensive line. The fear was the offensive line would be dreadful. The reality is it thoroughly out played Ole Miss’ highly-touted defensive line.

You can excuse the Gators for being giddy. They have to go back six years to remember the last time they were taken seriously in championship talk. (I know they were 11-1 in 2012, but who thought that team was anywhere near being elite?)

When the Gators lifted the national championship trophy to conclude the ’09 they were on a 20-year run on being among the best programs in the country. Then Urban Meyer resigned, un-resigned and finally quit for real, all in about 12 months. That chaotic period was followed by the Will Muschamp Experiment.

McElwain inherited some talented individuals and a group of high-character young men, but there were gaping holes on the offensive side and apathy invading the fan base. And the hiring of McElwain from Colorado State didn’t inspire Gator Nation.

“Colorado State? Are you kidding me?” was the common response from many Gators.

Give McElwain credit for not most forcing his philosophy on his new team. The first-year coach sees Xs, not Os, when he dreams of football. But he knew defense was the strength of the team and he went with that, slowly working to improve the offense by putting players in better positions to win. Who knew Florida had any tight ends of their roster?

In the Ole Miss game everything came together.

The situation can change quickly, but for the here and now, as McElwain would say, it’s pretty cool to be a Gator -- again. 

Jaguars, Gators and Bulldogs all Skeptical

Oct 02, 2015 -- 9:22am

Jaguars fans are skeptical and ready to bail. Florida fans are skeptical and ready to celebrate. Georgia fans are skeptical, and there’s nothing new about that.

All three teams play games this weekend that could define their seasons.

The Jaguars are hoping to show some signs of life against the Colts after being embarrassed in New England. Another stinker in Indianapolis will be more than most Jaguars fans can take.

Few expect the Jaguars, a 9-point underdog, to win, but a respectable, competitive performance is a must if the Jaguars want to keep even their most loyal fans on board.

An offseason filled with promise has turned into the reality the Jaguars could be in for another miserable season. Year 3 of the David Caldwell-Gus Bradley regime looks a lot like the first two years. Where’s the improvement?

The 51-17 loss at Foxboro ranks with the worst in team history. Even though the Colts (1-2) have struggled out of the gate, QB Andrew Luck and Co. must be feeling good about their chances after watching film of the Jaguars against the Patriots.

The always upbeat Bradley says the Jaguars have had good practices and are ready for their next challenge. We’ve heard that before, many times in fact. Makes you wonder if Bradley knows what he’s talking about.

The Gators could prove this 4-0 start is meaningful if they defeat visiting Ole Miss, ranked third nationally after winning at Alabama.

Florida has started strong before only to see the team collapse. A 3-1 start last season turned into a 7-5 record. In 2013 the Gators were 4-1 and then lost their last seven games.

The big difference this year is first-year Coach Jim McElwain. He knows how to coach the offense and he isn’t afraid to call a downfield pass play. Now the questions are: Will QB Will Grier have time against Ole Miss’ fierce pass rush and, if he does, will he be accurate?

After Ole Miss the Gators play at Missouri, at LSU and Georgia. Florida needs to win two of those four to prove the program is headed in the right direction.

Georgia fans are convinced their Dawgs can’t win big games. A loss to visiting Alabama will only amp up that negative feeling.

No one can expect QB Greyson Lambert to be as outstanding as he was in the last two games, but if he’s anywhere near that effective this could be a special season for Georgia.

Of the three, I think UGA will be the only winner.

Kudos to McElwain and Papelbon

Sep 30, 2015 -- 9:17am

The No. 1 mantra in sports is publicly you always have your teammate’s back. Most coaches and players would rather take a stick in the eye than break the rule – no matter how egregious their teammate’s act is.

I agree you never publicly rip a teammate for a physical error or a mental lapse, but acts of selfish stupidity and showing up the game deserve no defense from anyone, including teammates.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to players say they had their teammates’ backs after those teammates had committed acts of violence or done something stupid and/or selfish to take themselves out of the lineup.

Nor can I remember many times when players have ever been called out for loafing or acting as if they were bigger than the game. I’m talking about such things as jogging to first base, not running hard on pass routes and making no effort on defense.

Well, as Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend. In my world the above examples are obvious exceptions to the rule, and I happily report we recently witnessed a couple of them that were called out.

Kudos go to Florida Coach Jim McElwain and Washington closer Jonathan Papelbon.

McElwain earned my praise for tearing into Kelvin Taylor on the sideline, with TV cameras rolling, after Taylor gave the slash sign after scoring a 4th quarter TD against East Carolina. If more coaches did what McElwain did we’d have fewer such displays.

That Taylor’s stunt came in a close game and cost his team 15 precious yards made McElwain’s sideline tirade all the more appropriate. (Taylor, by the way, has been a better teammate since the incident.)

As for Papelbon, I certainly don’t defend him for turning the matter with teammate Bryce Harper into a dugout fight seen by the TV audience. But chewing out Harper for not hustling to first on a fly ball was totally justified and refreshing.

If players, especially stars such as Harper, knew they’d be called out by their teammates for a lack of effort, then maybe we’d feel better about the big bucks we pay to watch these prima donnas perform.   

Clock Has Begun Ticking on Bradley and Caldwell

Sep 28, 2015 -- 10:32am

It’s time to put both General Manager David Caldwell and Coach Gus Bradley on the clock.

It’s now obvious – in the wake of Sunday’s embarrassing 51-17 beatdown in New England – the process of building the Jaguars into a competitive NFL is behind schedule. Way behind.

The Patriots are a better team than the Jaguars. No one can dispute that. But no NFL team should be THAT much better. And this doesn’t appear to be a great New England team. At least two rookies start on the offensive line. One running back didn’t even play football last year. The defense is okay.

No, Sunday’s game was more of a reflection on how bad the Jaguars are, not how great the Patriots are.

In Year 3 of the Caldwell-Bradley regime the Jaguars are short on talent, player development and game preparation.

Losing is one thing. What we saw Sunday in Foxboro is another. It’s reasonable to think Caldwell and Bradley are in way over their heads.

The talent level remains below par, and that’s on Caldwell.

The biggest mistake could prove to be quarterback Blake Bortles. While many people continue to cling to the notion that Bortles will develop into a franchise quarterback, there are signs he’ll become more of another Blaine Gabbert than the next Ben Roethlisberger. Absolutely Bortles can make all of the throws, but so can most quarterbacks signed by NFL teams.

The difference between great QBs, good QBs and bad QBs is how often they throw the successful pass. Bortles makes far too many bad throws and decisions,

The execution of the plays is below par, and that’s on Bradley.

So far this season the Jaguars have looked like an honest-to-goodness competitive NFL team for one half. That was the first half against the Dolphins. Otherwise, the Jaguars have not only looked overmatched but also unprepared for their opponents’ game plans and execution.

I’m not calling for either Caldwell or Bradley to be fired. I’m generally against firing GMs and coaches during the season. There’s still time for the Jaguars to turn this thing around.

But based on what we’ve seen for the last two seasons and three games that’s not likely to happen. And so it’s time to forget about what good guys Caldwell and Bradley are let them know it’s time to get better or they’ll be shown the door.

Can you hear it Mr. Khan? Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick.

Prediction for Patriots' Game

Sep 25, 2015 -- 11:10am

NFL snobs like to say there’s no such thing as a moral victory. Moral victories are for amateurs, they say. In the NFL it’s all about wins and losses.

I agree with them that there shouldn’t be moral victories in the NFL. The playing field is roughly the same for all 32 teams.

But, regrettably, there are exceptions. Franchises like Jacksonville, Oakland and Cleveland have been so bad for so long that occasionally there is light even in defeat.

Take Sunday’s game when the Jaguars visit the Patriots. Can the Jaguars defeat the Patriots? Yes, it’s possible. Will the Jaguars win the game? That’s highly unlikely.

Most observers are expecting a blowout. The Pats are 13½-point favorites. If the Jaguars follow up their victory against Miami with a competitive showing in New England it will be additional proof the team is headed in the right direction.

I’d call that a moral victory.

What would be a competitive showing?

  • Keeping it a one-score game well into the 4th quarter.
  • Consistently moving the ball against what appears to be an average defense.
  • QB Blake Bortles continuing to make good decisions and some accurate downfield throws.
  • Putting some pressure on QB Tom Brady. He has been sacked four times in the first two games.

There’s no doubt in my mind if the Jaguars go to New England and lose, say, 30-24, most Jaguars fans will feel good about the game. More importantly, they’ll be excited about the future.

For the record, I have the Patriots winning 35-17. 

No Faking in Sports

Sep 23, 2015 -- 9:21am

Heading: Better off keeping mouth shut . . .

Today’s topics are a football player talking too much and some great golf.

I absent-mindedly once accused my wife of doing something stupid.

“So you think I’m stupid, do you?” she barked, steam coming out of her ears and nose.

“No, no, no,” I quickly replied. “I didn’t say you were stupid. I said you did a stupid thing.”

There is a big difference.

I tell you that story because I want to make it perfectly clear I’m not calling Jaguars tight end Clay Harbor stupid. I don’t know him well enough to call him stupid.

But he did do a stupid thing by admitting he was faking when he drew an unnecessary roughness penalty against the Dolphins that was a major play in setting up the Jaguars’ game-winning field goal. Instead of 3rd-and-5 from the 35 with 1:06 to play the Jaguars had 1st-and-10 from the 19 with 59 seconds to play. Three plays, nine yards and 16 seconds later Jason Myers made the 28-yard kick.

“It was definitely a little acting job,” Harbor bragged.

Why admit such a thing? Won’t the NFL be on the lookout for Harbor to try such a stunt again? Worse, think any future opponent will be looking for a chance to deliver a cheap shot to Mr. Harbor?

I know football rules the American sports world. I understand that and I’m okay with that.

But there are other sports going on and they’re producing some remarkable stories. As a golf fanatic I simply have to step away from football – just for a moment – and give a shout-out (shoo, keep this quiet, please) to my favorite sport.

Jason Day is on a Tiger-like run. He won the third leg of the PGA Tour playoff by 6. It was his 5th victory of the year and his 2nd playoff victory. Since winning the PGA Championship he’s 101 under par in seven tournaments. Wrap your mind around that.

Of course he’s now the No. 1 golfer in the world, racing by Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth like they were weekend hackers.

Earlier Sunday the USA made a remarkable comeback to win the Solheim Cup, the women’s answer to the men’s Ryder Cup. The Americans had to win the last five singles matches to win by a point.

Sadly, most of America missed both stories. 

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