Saturdays in Athens

George Somerville. Saturday 

5th September 2020

Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.

With college ball having been played this week, there has been a real sense of excitement across the conference, with scrimmages and padded practice taking place instead of walkthroughs. We are now only 21 days away from SEC football!

Here are this weeks headlines….


Flashback Friday

As we wait on the SEC season starting, a quick flashback to 10 years ago to this very day when a young Cam Newton made his debut against Arkansas.

And what a debut it was; In this game Newton racked up 186 passing yards, 171 rushing yards and five touchdowns for Auburn. Newton would finish the season as the first SEC player to ever throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season, recording 30 passing touchdowns, 20 rushing touchdowns, and one receiving touchdown for a total of 51 in the season.

A lot has happened in 10 years but with that flashback firmly in our sight,  let’s get started y’all!


Chasing The Dream

Jamie Newman
Photo Credit: DAVID GRUNFELD, The Advocate

Baton Rouge, LA.

Ja’Marr Chase announced this week that he will forego his Junior year with the Bayou Bengals to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

While CBS Sports broke the news, Chase confirmed the decision via his Instagram account.

This is not a huge surprise, the only question being  why it took him so long to make his mind up: Chase needs no additional film to convince draft scouts that he is WR1 going into the 2021 NFL Draft. But lets not shy away from how big a blow this will be to the Tigers’ ability to defend its National Championship.

Last season Chase led the FBS in both receiving yards (1,780) and Touchdowns (20) as a receiver, culminating in the National Championship as well as receiving the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver.

Chase will be the Tigers’ 10th veteran player not to return for the 2021 season, making the mountain that Coach O and his staff have to climb that much higher.


Leading From The Front

Jamie Newman
Photo Credit:Butch Dill/Associated Press


Tuscaloosa, AL.

I wrote last week about teams pausing practice to reflect, discuss and protest the recent cases of social injustice, in particular the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. At the time of writing that story, student athletes at Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State had taken to express support for the protests which have been widespread across the US.

On Monday the student athletes at the University of Alabama took to the streets in protest.

Alabama Head Coach, Nick Saban led his players as they marched from the UoA campus to the Town Hall in Tuscaloosa.

The video clip below of the Alabama head coach needs little explanation, except this: every day Nick Saban teaches his student athletes of the need to take responsibility for their actions and to be be accountable. This is a leader doing exactly what he teaches.

And let’s not easily dismiss the importance of Saban’s action. It was at the schoolhouse doors of the University of Alabama that on June 11th 1963 Alabama governor George Wallace blocked the entry of two black students from entering. So it would not be overstating the situation to say that a piece of history was made on Monday. 


Newman Opts Out

Jamie Newman
Image Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports


Athens, GA.

One week ago most football coaches were eyeing the Georgia QB room with varying degrees of envy.

It is fair to say that many including me were relishing the fight as to who would win the job outright and be under center come Sept 26th.

The smart money seemed to be on Jamie Newman despite the predigious talent of JT Daniels, as well as the upcoming group of D’wan Mathis, Carson Beck and Stetson Bennett all napping at the heels of the two incoming transfers. It was a get the popcorn and sit back moment.

Except Jamie Newman was thinking otherwise. 

I think it’s fair to say in the biggest shock that college football has had this year, we were greeted this week by the news that Jamie Newman had decided to opt out of this season to prepare for the 202 NFL Draft.

As intense as this debate has been, both Daniels and Newman were transfers into Athens and there was a much anticipated battle for QB1.

Of course both Newman and Daniels came with glittering CV’s, making this a mouth watering contest. Newman transferred in first out of the two, so reading between some blurry lines there may be a suggestion that Newman didn’t fancy the battle. But saying this, most experts thought that Newman had the keys to the offense in his hand – especially given that Daniels is returning from a season ending injury. Nevertheless, the job is now firmly Daniels’ to lose as Newman prepares for the NFL.

This one was a little surprising if I’m honest.


Gurley Comes Home

Jamie Newman
Image Credit: UGA Athletics

Athens, GA.

Some positive news for Dawgs fans was the news that ex-UGA star running back and current Atlanta Falcon Todd Gurley is once again teaming up with his alma mater. Gurley returns to Athens to work across the athletics department on education, social justice and community relations though his M.A.D.E foundation – Make A Difference Everyday.

From a statement issued via UGA, Gurley said of the partnership and his return to Athens,

“Athens is my second home, and playing for the Falcons will allow me to spend more time there.

UGA fans embraced me as a young man, and that support has stayed with me throughout my time in the NFL. I am looking forward to getting to know the students and alumni, and making a difference in the community that has meant so much to me.”

Through the partnership, TG3 will work in the community as a mentor and featured speaker for student-athletes on topics such as social justice, creating value beyond sport, financial literacy and entrepreneurship.

It is a sign of the program and the mark that it left on him that Gurley has decided to give something back to the community he called home.  


It Just Means More

Jackson, MS.

It’s no secret that the South Eastern Conference holds itself in high esteem. If it was chocolate it would likely eat itself.  But there remains a rivalry between it and the BIG10, which despite the recent success of the ACC, remains the largest competitor certainly in size, money and power.

So the hokey cokey that the BIG10 has been performing about their season go/no go status has caused a certain amount of hilarity down south.

And so this freeway sign appeared in Jackson, Mississippi through the week, mocking the football conference in the North. 

Depending on your outlook and, dare I say it, your conference allegiance, this is very humorous. 


A Time For Cool Heads

Jamie Newman
Image Credit: LSU Athletic Training


Baton Rouge, LA.

I think we are all in agreement, or we should be in agreement, that the safety and wellbeing of student athletes and coaching staff should be paramount in the current climate.

But still, I didn’t think I would be writing a story about the LSU Office of Innovation & Technology Commercialisation at any time. And certainly not just a few weeks before the start of the SEC season.

But yet this department of the university filed a patent for a new helmet technology this week.

You may recall that the Tigers unleashed a new helmet a few weeks ago, incorporating a face shield that would help prevent the spread of moisture droplets – a key driver of the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

However, the common complaint from Tiger players was the ability to breath effectively and efficiently whilst playing, especially in heat.

So this week the LSU Office of Innovation filed a patent for cooling and circulation technologies, which amongst other uses has been installed in football helmets.

One of the key benefits is the circulation of cool air flow which means not only can the athlete breath more easily, but also that the face shields do not mist or fog up, something which was a key issue with LSU helmet MK I.

Coach O said of the technology,

“Player health and safety is a top priority at LSU. Our staff makes sure our players have the best equipment and technology so we can have them on the field as safe as possible.”

As we know in top level sports, wins are often achieved through marginal gains. So teams will seek an advantage in any way. Will this make the difference for the Tigers? Hard to tell but there will be no excuse for hotheads on the LSU sidelines.


Coaches Face The Media

Nick Saban Is Nice
Image Credit: SEC Media

Fayetteville, AR

Arkansas Head Coach, Sam Pittman faced the press on Monday after practice. Coach Pittman was asked about inheriting a team short on confidence following a heavy loss season, and what mental state the team was currently in. This was Sam Pittman’s response,

“The only way I know you build confidence is that you put a guy in the right position, (A) for him to have success and then (B) he has to see it. You can’t just tell a guy “hey man you’re doing great” when he’s not – because even he won’t believe that. So what we’re trying to do is find some good reps and say, ‘look you’ve done it once, you can do it four, five, six, eight times”. We are trying to have success with each kid, clip that tape out and show them what they are capable of doing and build confidence that way”.


Gainesville, Fl

Florida head coach Dan Mullen’s press conferences are always entertaining and full of energy. This week’s conference was no exception, and he spent quite a bit of time with the college football media. Mullen was asked about the impact of not having road fans, however he elected to pivot away from this to express his disappointment about some key changes which he thought the NCAA should have looked to address. Coach Mullen had this to say about the size of travelling parties for road games,

“In a normal year the visiting team has seventy players and the home team has eighty. This is a year that this should be corrected – that both teams should at least be equal because you might be having to sit guys out for games. And then all of a sudden these guys haven’t travelled for games and you have a different roster for away games than you have for home games. And then the next week of the seventy that got to travel, we may have ten we have had to quarantine so now we’re home and we have twenty new guys who don’t know what’s going on. So there’s a competitive advantage to having more guys than less guys that can play. So I really wish they would have addressed that”.

Athens, GA

As I write this, we are still waiting for Kirby Smart to talk to the press about the transfer of Jamie Newman, but in his press conference earlier in the week he talked about the fitness of JT Daniels, who will now be considered QB1 post Newman’s opt out. Here is what Coach Smart had to say about JT Daniels,

“JT is not cleared still. I know y’all think he’s cleared or what you think is cleared. But cleared to me is that he can go out and play a whole game of tackle football. So yes he gets to scrimmage but he wouldn’t be cleared to play a game of contact yet”.

Which is kind of an interesting position to be in with three weeks to go until the season opener against Arkansas.

On the topic of injuries, Smart talked about the season ending injury to wide receiver Dominic Blaylock, which happened a few weeks ago,

“It was very unfortunate. Dom worked as hard as anyone I have seen. He did so much work, prepared so hard. 

He was on a rep count and he was on his third or fourth rep. There was no-one even around him. He just caught the ball, planted and turned. It was a non contact ACL. It was very unfortunate.

But you know that’s waist so special about Dom. I reached out to hum right away and he said “Coach, I’ll be back – I’m gonna be fine, I’m going to get through this. I’m going to use through this”. He’s such a fiery competitor. I’m excited to see him get back”.