Saturdays in Athens


Saturday 19th November 2022

It’s kinda sad that we are getting to the end of the regular season, with the penultimate weekend of SEC Conference football upon us.

But the conference news never lets up, and again there is more news around the SEC to talk about than we have time for. And we haven’t even got into the rumours about Lane Kiffin going to Auburn, which just will not go away.

But we want to focus on the positives, and there was great news for Clark Lea and Vandy this week. Quinshon Judkins is as good a running back as there is in college football, and Pete Golding is up for an award. It wouldn’t be a Saturday in Athens without a Kiffin/Leach double act performance and we get it again. So here are this weeks headlines… let’s get started y’all!

Judkins 4 Heisman!

Photo Credit: That SEC Podcast Twitter

Oxford, MS

The SEC is renowned for the quality of running backs it produces, including a number of Heisman winners.

So it’s no great surprise that ahead of any new season we fixate on those players we believe will dominate the run game. This year all eyes were on Jahmyr Gibbs transferring from Georgia Tech to Alabama, Zach Evans coming into Oxford, Chris Rodriguez continuing his dominance in Lexington and most of all Tank Bigsby again being the best runner with a ball in the SEC, if not all college football.

However, no-one, and I mean no-one had eyes on  a young freshman who had been recruited by Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss. But one look at the graphic above shows just how impactful Quinshon Judkins‘ first season in the SEC has been. It is fair to say that the young running back from Alabama has taken the SEC by storm.

In fact, Judkins’ debut season in the SEC has been record breaking. On Saturday against Alabama, Judkins scored a further two touchdowns, bringing his total for the season to 15. In Oxford this betters the 14 rushing touchdowns scored by Rebels legends Kayo Dottley, Archie Manning, Deuce McAllister and Brandon Bolden. No surprise then that Judkins has caught the eye of Alabama Head coach Nick Saban – especially given Judkins’ Alabama heritage:

“He’s relentless in the way he carries the ball, he’s tough, he can run behind his pads. He can make you miss, he’s got pretty good speed. We looked at him coming out last year. In hindsight, it would be great if he was on our team.”

Quite the indictment of Alabama’s recruiting. 

With two games still remaining on the Ole Miss schedule, Judkins has already rushed for 1,171 yards this season. If no-one was watching Judkins at the start of the season, all eyes are on the freshman now. Could Judkins be a late contender for the Heisman? He certainly could be.


Vandy Wins!

Nashville, TN

Last Saturday, the Vanderbilt Commodores won an SEC game for the first time since October 2019 – and it was also the first time that Vandy had beaten a ranked opponent since 2007. So there was cause for a lot of celebration on the field in Kentucky after the Commodores’ 24-21 victory.

You can see from the video above just how emotional head coach Clark Lea was immediately post game.

I had the opportunity to ask Coach Lea this week about his reaction immediately after beating Kentucky.

“my emotion had nothing to do with a sense of being validated”

Said Lea on the SEC coaches teleconference, Wednesday.

“My emotions had everything to do with the love and care I have for what we are building….we know we have a long road ahead of us but last Saturday was an opportunity for us to stop and celebrate progress”

The Commodores head coach continued,

“It meant a lot to me because I have seen a group of young people who have shown a resilience and have shown a belief and a commitment to what we are building and to have them rewarded for that was emotional”.

Coach Lea and his staff are invested in the journey that they have set out on, and it is clear that this roster believes in this also:

“We put so much into this, so those celebrations after wins become cherished moments – that’s what Saturday was for us – we knew it was inevitable that we would get that first SEC win, to have it happen on the road against a top 25 team was something that we are proud of. We have to understand that part of building a program that sustains winning you deal with success as well as you deal with adversity”.

I have to say that the more you hear from Clark Lea, the more you buy into the fact that he is starting to build something in Vanderbilt. 

The Commodores face Florida on Saturday, and then Tennessee in the last game of the season, which is a tough finish for the year. 

It will be interesting to see how Vanderbilt plays out the rest of this season, but more importantly next year should be an exciting one for Vandy fans.


golding shortlisted for broyles award

Image Credit: AP Photo/Vasha Hunt

Tuscaloosa, AL.

It’s got to that time of the season where shortlists are drawn up for the various end of season awards.

This week we saw the shortlist for the Broyles Award, which is presented to the best assistant coach in college football.

Amongst those nominated from SEC schools were Georgia’s Todd Monken, Alex Golesh from Tennessee, Matt House at LSU and well, um….Pete Golding from Alabama.

Now, I stuttered at Golding because it is fair to say he is not a fan favourite. If you have perused Bama twitter at any point this season you will know that offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and defense coordinator Golding are up there with the most despised people in the country. So Golding’s nomination will not have gone down well amongst the Crimson Tide faithful.

But is Pete Golding as bad a defensive coordinator as the fans think? Well of course not. Fans are typically results driven so are not inclined to understand the challenges a coach experiences.

“I think Pete has done a really, really good job,”

said Golding’s boss, Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

“He’s very bright, he articulates well with the players. He’s a good teacher. I think he’s a good motivator. I think players respond well to him. He’s added some things that has helped us get better”.

Saban continued,

“I think he’s done a very good job with the personnel that we have, I just really appreciate the really good job that he’s done. I think he’s made really positive steps every year since he’s been here – I love hiring younger guys like that and letting them grow and develop in the organization. He’s certainly done a fantastic job of that.”

In fact, as much maligned as the Alabama defense has been it is still only ranked behind the Georgia defense this year in terms of yards and points per game given up. So yes, #2 in the SEC.

Bill O’Brien seems to be taking most of the flack for this season’s shortcomings in Tuscaloosa, so it will be interesting to see if one, both or none of the Crimson Tide’s co-ordinators are still there come January. My money is on Golding still being in town. As the Broyles award suggests, the coaching fraternity thinks highly of Golding.


Mississippi blues

Photo credit:Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press)

The Magnolia State

You can’t have sports without controversy over officiating being far behind.

As we inch closer to the climax of the regular season, the outcome of games becomes increasingly important with seasons won or lost on a single whistle. Worse still, coaches can find themselves out of work. But yet again last weekend’s games uncovered even more controversy.

Of course football coaches are encouraged not to critique the performance of officials. This encouragement comes in the form of a hit to their wallet, with fines being imposed by the SEC for outspoken head coaches.

On this week’s SEC coaches teleconference, Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach was asked about the state of SEC officiating. But Mike Leach is more wily than that. His response was of course, pure Leach:

“That’s obviously a ridiculous question and you know it, unless I plan to spend some money. You mail me a check, I think $30K will cover it. I’ll have to check the market first. You mail me the check and I’ll give you a heck of an answer”.

I assume the check won’t be forthcoming, but we live in hope.

But let’s stay in Mississippi to continue our talk about officiating. In Ole Miss’ defeat to Alabama there were a number of questionable calls. Or let me put that another way, there were a number of no calls. Especially on some pretty heavy treatment of the Rebels quarterback, Jaxson Dart.

Again, like Mike Leach, the Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin was too savvy to call out the officiating crews. But it is Lane Kiffin after all, so he is going to find a way to get around any fines. On this occasion, Kiffin “quoted” Jaxson Dart’s mother of all people. As you can see from the video clip below, Kiffin makes a point of making sure that it is Dart’s mother who is quoted and not the Ole Miss head coach.

“you can’t fine me for what someone else says”..

Said Kiffin. He’s clever, isn’t he.

#HailState #HottyToddy