Saturdays in Athens
6th November 2021
Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.
Wait! We’re double digit games into the season! How did that happen? How can we slow this down? But yet the SEC continues to deliver mayhem and magic week in, week out.
This week, Dan Mullen throws his toys out of the pram, Coach O loses (another) quarterback, Mike Leach and his Bulldogs win, are ranked but he is still not happy – and Hugh Freeze returns to Oxford for the first time.
Here are this weeks headlines…Let’s get started y’all!
We Talkin' Bout Recruitment. Recruitment, Man....
Dan Mullen has not cut a happy figure in recent weeks. And with good reason. October has not been kind to the Gators.
Florida exited September 3-1, their only defeat coming by 2 points at the hands of a then #1 Alabama team – a game most thought Florida should have won.
Hopes were high in Gainesville.
But then came Black October, with defeats from Kentucky, LSU and latterly a 34-7 routing by the undisputed #1 team in the land – and the Gators fiercest rivals – Georgia. Only a victory over what is a very young and winless Vanderbilt team spared Mullen’s blushes from an 0-4 record in October.
From 3-1 to 4-4, Dan Mullen finds himself quickly and surprisingly under pressure. And it is a familiar and recurring issue which is raised when the Gators struggle: “Dan Mullen is not a good recruiter”.
So, this week in the fallout from the Georgia game, this topic raised its head. Again.
Early in the week, Dan Mullen was not in the mood. During his Monday press conference, Mullen was asked if a different approach was needed to recruitment. The Florida Head Coach wasn’t tolerating this line of questioning, cutting the question off before it was finished. Mullen said,
“we’re in the season right now. We’ll do recruiting after the season. When it get’s to recruiting time, we can talk about recruiting. Ok, next question…”
And that was that – until UF cancelled all other media appearances this week for Mullen and players, except for the SEC Coaches mid week press conference. In addition, the UF Sports Information Team also made it clear Mullen will not be answering any more questions on recruitment until the end of the season.
So that was that. Until Kirby Smart was asked a question on the importance of recruiting.
Now bear in mind, Kirby Smart is the Head Coach of Dan Mullen’s greatest rivals. A team that just beat the Gators 34-7. So probably not helpful that this is how important Kirby Smart thinks recruiting is.
“Guys, if you don’t recruit, there’s no coach out there that can out coach recruiting. I don’t care who you are. The best coach to ever play the game better be a good recruiter”
Smart went on,
“because no coaching is going to out coach players. Anyone will tell you our defense is good but we’ve got good players. So spending time on the phone, spending time with people at your house, spending time with people that come to your campus. I’m not with my family when I am doing that. My family sacrifices so that I can go and spend other time with people’s families so that we can have good players.
So it’s 25% evaluation, it’s 50% recruiting and another 25% is going to be coaching. But if you don’t recruit guys, you’ve got no chance. Look at the best teams out there – they got good football players. That’s the reason I believe in recruiting and why I believe you should always be recruiting. Always. Be. Recruiting.
And then the telling statement which should send shudders around the rest of the SEC,
“Because if you’re not, someone else is”.
Mullen did attend the SEC Head Coaches mid-week teleconference and opened his segment with a statement in which he said said,
“First I would like to touch on something for all the Gator Nation and all our great fans that was taken out of context on Monday’s press conference.
As pertains to recruiting – our staff recruits non stop, we grind at recruiting every day and we are always recruiting. We work to get the best players who fit the Gator standard and bring them here to our program. And as I said on Monday. we’re just not going to get into the specifics of everything we do in recruiting and how we do all of that until after this season”.
Another One Bites The Dust
Baton Rouge, LA
Soon to be ex-LSU Head Coach Ed Orgeron confirmed this week that quarterback Myles Brennan had decided to enter the transfer portal.
During his Monday press conference, Orgeron said,
“He (Brennan) just came in and met with me. He was teary eyed. It was a tough decision for him. He thought that he just needed to find a place that he could go play for one year and start”.
Coach O went on,
“I got to give it to Myles and his family, he remained patient. He waited his turn and I thought he played very good last year at the beginning of the year…. I thought he was going to end up having a great year. Unfortunately he got hurt and then unfortunately he got hurt again this year.
Things happened that way to where he thought that he had to move on to go and take a shot at another place. Joe Burrow did the same thing and it worked out for him. I hope the same thing works out for Myles. He wants to play pro ball. I hope he gets that shot”.
The tough news keeps on coming for LSU. Next up; Alabama.
Stop The Count
Ranked at #17 in the first College Football Play Off rankings, the Mississippi State Bulldogs are fast becoming the hot hand in the SEC West.
The Bulldogs are currently 5-3 on the season, with impressive wins over NC State, Texas A&M, and most recently Kentucky.
This was not lost on the College Football Play-off committee, who were sufficiently impressed to rank the Bulldogs in the Top 20. Chair of the CFP Committee, Gary Barta discussed the rationale for this immediately after the rankings were released on Tuesday night.
“Certainly we don’t ignore those three losses. They’re real and we consider those. But in Mississippi State’s case they have wins against North Carolina State, who the Committee thinks highly of.
Texas A&M, same there. Texas A&M obviously has a big win against Alabama and then this past week winning impressively over Kentucky. Really in Mississippi State’s case specifically, I’ll just tell you the Committee really focused on – those three wins impressed the Committee enough to put them at 17″.
But if that wasn’t enough controversy for us all, Bulldogs Head Coach Mike Leach had some critical words to say about the Kentucky defense during and after Saturday’s win. Leach was adamant that the Wildcats defense was simulating the Bulldogs snap count and had this to say,
“they’re simulating our snap count… you know if folks can get away with that, then we’re going to have to start coaching it”.
Mississippi State had four false starts in the first half alone prompting Leach to make a comment to ESPN’s sideline reporter Cole Cubelic at half time. So perhaps he had a point.
To be clear, simulation of the snap count should draw a penalty flag – but didn’t seem to in this game. Four times.
Born And Raised
One of the more intriguing matchups this weekend is the return of Hugh Freeze to Oxford when Liberty take on Ole Miss.
Of course Hugh Freeze was Head Coach in Oxford with the Rebels from 2012 to 2016. Freeze left Oxford in 2017 following a high profile scandal.
There is no doubt that Hugh Freeze has ingratiated himself back into the football fraternity with the rise of his Liberty Flames.
After a hugely successful, almost fairytale 2020 season, the Flames rode into this season on a high. Liberty is 7-2 this season and not quite the show stopping story they were last year, but there is no denying the great job Hugh Freeze is doing in Lynchburg.
Which brings us back to Hugh’s return to Oxford. Given the offenses of both teams and the whole Kiffin v Freeze dynamic, this game has box office written all over it. Sadly it’s a noon kick off in Oxford, but we still should all be glued to our TV’s for this on Saturday.
On the SEC Head Coaches mid week conference call, Mississippi Head Coach Lane Kiffin was asked about the offensive impact that he and Hugh Freeze had on the SEC. Kiffin had this response,
“I think he did a lot more than me. I mean they were very unique back then. There was more of that in the Big XII, not really in the SEC and he brought that here.
Ironically he’s not the same any more which surprised me a lot this week, watching him and researching how many seconds they take between plays. For whatever reason he has changed so I would not have expected that because he has been so successful over the years going really fast”.
It is clear that Hugh Freeze is relishing his return to Vaught Hemingway this weekend. Freeze had this to say about coming back to the Grove,
“Probably the strangest thing will be being in the visitors locker room and on the visitors sideline but truthfully I told our kids this morning, the class I teach today – man, I’m really excited to go back and see people”.
Freeze went on to talk about his association with Oxford,
“You know I choose to remember that I have great memories there.
Listen I was born there, I was raised there, I will probably be buried there. It’s still home, it’s where my family still lives and I have so many friends there. So many have reached out and I look forward to visiting with them if I can find the time.
Certainly it will be different but there’s no other group I would rather walk in with, than with this group of staff, coaches, administrators and my family.
So yes, it will be different, it will certainly be odd but man there’s a lot of great wins in that stadium that I have great memories of. I appreciate the people there, they are good people and I’m happy that they are winning and competing again. But there will be some different feelings for sure”.
It’s hard not to root for Hugh Freeze.
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.