Saturdays in Athens


Saturday, 28th October 2023

With the week 9 SEC football schedule being lighter than other weeks you could be forgiven for thinking this week’s football is less appealing. Whoa!

It’s SEC football folks. So, ‘It Just Means More’ and in amongst the madness is the no small matter of the ‘World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party’!

But, before the Strawberry Daiquiris ‘s & Mint Juleps are poured lets see what has been happening in and around the conference.

Here are this weeks SEC football headlines….let’s get started y’all!

Sam makes changes

Photo Credit: Arkansas Athletics

fayetteville, Ar

It’s been a tough season for Razorback fans. The team’s 2-6 record is a woeful underperformance compared to preseason expectations. Factor in the 0-5 record in conference play and you get a sense of how disastrous this season has been in Fayetteville.

A bye week followed by Florida (in the Swamp), Auburn, FIU and Missouri (all at home), it’s tricky to see how the Razorbacks can turn their season around.

However, head coach Sam Pittman took the first steps to try and get the season moving in a positive direction. He fired offensive co-ordinator Dan Enos after defeat to Mississippi State. A game which saw the Razorbacks offense, led by KJ Jefferson, score just 3 points over 60 minutes. This was the final straw for anyone who follows the Razorbacks and especially Sam Pittman.

Pittman was asked this week about what had changed under Enos. The verdict was- Enos had lost the locker room.

“Everything was very difficult. Three yards was difficult. I don’t know exactly why because Dan’s a fine coach” said Pittman during the SEC head coaches midweek teleconference.

“I can’t really put my finger on it, but I do know that we lost our spirit. How we did that I really can’t put a finger on that, but we’ve got to get it back.”

Pittman expanded a little more on some of the problems the offense had, saying

“I can’t really put my finger on it, because he’s a hell of a coach, a good man and has had great success in his career. I really don’t know. Maybe we aren’t a pocket protection team. We ran it, I don’t know, probably averaged eight to 10 dropbacks per game in the previous three years, maybe a little bit more when Feleipe (Franks) was here.

“It’s just our quarterback (KJ Jefferson) wasn’t great at just sitting in the pocket. Our wideouts weren’t getting open. We couldn’t protect. A lot of things.”

Enos had previously been at Arkansas as offensive co-ordinator from 2015 to 2017. Returning to the Razorbacks from Maryland where he was O.C. for Mike Locksley during the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

Receivers coach, Kenny Guiton has been appointed interim O.C. He will have the bye week to make changes that will hopefully allow the offense to find some form.

During the call Pittman confirmed the playbook had been significantly streamlined to allow for focus on plays which will be suitable for the Florida game.

Truth is, this has to work out for Arkansas. A Razorbacks team without Sam Pittman in charge would have been unthinkable at the start of the season. It’s now far more likely.


cocktail party fever

Photo Credit: University of Georgia Athletics

TIAA Bank stadium, Jacksonville, FL

No question, the weekend’s biggest game, not just in the SEC, is the Florida v Georgia rivalry game. Or, if you hail from Athens, the Georgia v Florida game. Let’s not play favourites here.

Regardless, this game holds the moniker of the ‘World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party’. Mainly due to the monumental tailgating experience that both sets of fans experience at the neutral venue.

Georgia go into this game as heavy favourites with Vegas favouring the Bulldogs by between 2 or 3 touchdowns in the game.  A massive chasm for a rivalry game played at a neutral venue.

This is a game that the fans particularly look forward to. Travelling en masse to Jacksonville to fill the Jaguars stadium with Red and Orange. As it turns out Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who has played and coached in the game, talked this week about his experiences watching as a fan.

“It was different, I’ll just say that,” Smart said Thursday night on the “Bulldogs Live” radio show. “I realised a lot of the people around me didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. I swore I’d never go back.”

It wasn’t all bad for Smart who went on to talk about the experience.

“I had never been to a Georgia-Florida game in my life,” Smart said. “I had been as a player, I had been as a coach and I wanted to go as a fan. I flew from Miami to Jacksonville, went to the game and I had recruited a lot of the players that had been playing for Georgia. I enjoyed it a lot. It was a really, really great atmosphere. Just be careful because there’s a lot of Gators walking around, OK.”

Down in Gainesville, things have been a lot less smooth for Florida head coach, Billy Napier. Even so, Napier has a quiet confidence about him that gives the impression that he knows his team is on the right track. On Wednesday Napier talked about changing the culture:

“I think it’s important as you approach a game like this, you’ve got to have a belief and a system in how you prepare,”

He continued:

“We believe in preparation. I think it allows the players to play with poise and have confidence. I think if you’re intentional and you’re detailed in everything you do as you approach a game like this, it gives you the opportunity to be that kind of player.”

Of course playing Georgia is the biggest test that he faces in his schedule. Napier talked about a confidence that he sees in his players,

“I think we’ve grown a lot,” he said. “In particular, I think this group, we have a leadership element that I respect. I think we have leadership at lots of different levels of our team. We have some veteran players that are doing a really good job setting an example. Within each class, I think there’s a very good voice there.”

Whether you buy into the Vegas spread or not, this is a huge game for both teams. Georgia can’t afford for this game to get close and Florida desperately need to avoid humiliation. The nature of the rivalry and the neutral venue should allow for this to be competitive. In the first half at least. What happens after this is anybody’s guess. But it will be fun watching it unfold, with a cocktail in each hand!

#GoDawgs #GoGators

Stealing signals

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine/USA Today.

Athens, GA

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll be aware of the sign stealing scandal which is rocking the Michigan football program this week.

The story took an SEC twist with allegations that the Michigan staffer also spied upon prospective playoff matchups. With TCU being tipped off prior to their playoff game, that Michigan were up to no good.

Michigan had also allegedly sent staffers to watch Georgia, so it was no surprise that Kirby Smart was asked about the spying incidents.

“I had never heard of anybody going to the games to watch and film and do all that stuff that that’s going on that people are talking about,”  


“I don’t know anybody that’s ever done it. Or I’ve never been asked to do that as a young coach or known anybody to do that. I’ve never even heard of that.”


“No I didn’t notice anything or know anything; nobody we talked to warned us or anything like that,” Smart said. 


But what they’re referencing (at Michigan) is different than stealing them. They’re talking about people to come and film on us. But we’ve tried to hide the signals, hold the calls, put signs up, do all that. But there’s nothing I remember about the Michigan game that makes me think that.”

On the Pat McAfee show, Alabama head coach Nick Saban offered up a solution. Do what the NFL does and have microphones in helmets.

“If you look historically, you’ll know that there were reasons that they (the NFL) changed the rules so you couldn’t do that (steal signs),” Saban said on the show.


“Then they come with the microphone in the helmet, whatever they call it, and there was no sign stealing. There was no signs because it was just communication. Which I think we would solve a lot of those problems if we would do the same thing in college football.”


“There’s no reason not to do that. There’s no reason that you just can’t tell the quarterback what the play is rather than having signs and signals and three people signaling and all this stuff to try to get the play, which is more difficult for the players, incidentally, because they’ve all got to get the sign because everybody’s gone ‘no huddle,’” he said.

#GoDawgs #RollTide

Saban supports Kool-Aid

Image Credit: University of Alabama Athletics

Tuscaloosa, AL

The usually dependable and reliable Kool-Aid McKinstry finds himself under a little pressure following his punt returns. Or as it turns out, his lack of punt returns in recent games, but specifically the Tennessee game.

Alabama fans were left scratching their heads on a couple of plays that McKinstry decided to not catch, when the ball seemed catchable. Worse still, on one of these plays, the ball bounced in the Vols favour leaving the Crimson Tide playing from their 10- yard line. When the ball bounced somewhere between the 40 and 50 yard line. That decision almost cost Alabama dearly.

So it was no great surprise that Nick Saban was asked about the plays on the SEC Head coaches midweek teleconference. 

We know from watching the game that Saban was livid on the sidelines. However, by the time Wednesday came around, Saban was in more subdued form.

“I got a lot of confidence in him,” Saban told the SEC Media. “I think he has confidence in doing it. I don’t think he has an issue. He wants to be back there, he wants to be aggressive, he wants to do what he has to do to be able to return punts and we’ve got total confidence in him.”

Saban went into detail about what he thought was happening,

“I think that a lot of people are kicking the ball away from him because we had a lot of success on punt return last year,” Saban said. “So he’s had a lot of difficult balls to field, in other words they’re not just kicking the ball to him most of the time.”

Saban also went into detail about what happened in the Tennessee game and why McKinstry was left exposed,

“There were two balls in the game, one he could have caught, probably would have been a tough catch,” Saban said. “And the last one, which went to the one-yard line, which was significant, he really misjudged the ball. These guys that are rugby punters, the ball doesn’t travel exactly like a normal punt, so this ball flew on him a little bit”.

“You can see on the film when you watch it that the ball was going to go over his head and he was going to have to catch it outside his body and make a touch catch and rather than take a chance on doing that, he let the ball go and unfortunately for us, it rolled to the one-yard line.”

Next up for McKinstry and Alabama are the LSU Tigers who visit Bryant Denny on 4th November where this theory will be tested. To the max!


Vandy's half term report card

Photo credit:Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Nashville, tn

It’s fair to say that there is renewed optimism these days at Vanderbilt with head coach, Clark Lea in charge. Lea has given the Commodores a real sense tha they are building something long-term. As he proclaimed at SEC Media days back in 2022, Lea wants Vandy to be the best team in college football.

The sentiment is laudable. However, this remains a results driven business and with Vanderbilt rooted firmly to the bottom of the SEC East, this seemed a good time to ask Lea how his team is performing versus his expectations?

I had the opportunity to speak with Vanderbilt head coach, Clark Lea this week.

“we’re frustrated with the lack of results” said Coach Lea.

“there’s emotion that we would be further along with our results by now than we are. I think you have to take a look at what your expectations were and see what the explanatory variables were as to why you’re falling short”

Having started the season 2-0, they have now lost 6 games in a row. 

“What are the things that show flashes and signals and progress. There are some underlying numbers that are incremental of progress on all three phases. In special teams we have outpaced the last couple of years performance dramatically – but that’s because we’re playing better people. We’ve always had good scheme there, we’re covering better, we’re kicking better and those are signals and signs of a program developing”.

It’s on the defensive side of the ball that Vandy’s problems really originate from. Currently the Commodores rank 116 of 130 FBS teams on total defence. 

Talking about his defense, Clark didn’t flinch in his assessment

“that’s where we need to get better” he told me.


“this is a game of execution – defending against these offences, you need to have eleven guys seeing the formation, seeing the plays in the same way and that’s the only way you’re able to take space early in the downs.


I feel where we have taken on water, tackling has been shown up as an issue, our process hasn’t been right pre and post snap and its allowed for too much space. We’re giving up less explosive pass touchdowns but the completion percentage against us is really, really high. Again there are certain things that have improved but we have to put together a better performance on defence in these last four games”.

As a mid term report card, Leas’s response was honest and full. He clearly knows what needs to get fixed. But, he’s only got a few more games to work with this current crop of talent.

Next up is Ole Miss followed by Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee. Not an easy finish to the season.