Saturdays in Athens
George Somerville. Saturday
10th october 2020
Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.
While the conference is now well underway, this weekend’s games are being dominated by the news that Hurricane Delta is expected to make landfall across the Southern States, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico.
LSU has already confirmed that their game with Missouri will be moved away from Baton Rouge to Columbia. The timings of other games have been affected to either avoid the weather or to fit into the now altered TV schedules.
Sadly, a hazard of life in the South.
Alabama’s game in Oxford against Ole Miss has been pushed back by 90mins to 7.30pm. Southern Miss are watching the storms progress carefully and the Louisiana v Coastal Carolina game has been called off.
So, in this year of unpredictability and a need to be flexible, it would appear 2020 hasn’t finished causing chaos just yet.
However, there is still lots going on across the Conference! This week Saban is 20 not out against old assistants, Arkansas break their streak, why Lee Corso has never worn Aubie’s headgear, Georgia and Missouri appear to have found their QB1’s, and we have our second Saturday in Athens player of the week!
Here are this weeks headlines….
Saban 20 Not Out
Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban has been surprisingly absent from this column for a few weeks.
But with the Crimson Tide’s 52-24 victory over Jimbo Fisher’s Texas Aggies last weekend, Saban racked up his 20th victory over ex-assistants.
Now think about that for a second; this is quite the statistic and demonstrates the competitive level that Saban has been operating at over such a prolonged period.
And facing Jimbo Fisher was just the start of a run of Saban going up against his old assistants this season, with Alabama facing Ole Miss (Lane Kiffin), Georgia (Kirby Smart) and Tennessee (Jeremy Pruitt) in the next three fixtures.
When Georgia travel to Bryant Denny in two weeks time it will be the first time that Kirby Smart will have been in Tuscaloosa since he left as defensive co-ordinator in 2016 to take up the Bulldogs top job.
But first up for Saban is a trip to Oxford to face Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss. This week, unsurprisingly Kiffin was asked about facing his old boss. Kiffin said this about facing a man he worked four years with,
“Well all these people would say that it’s an advantage because I worked with him, I don’t really understand that. He’s 20-0 against coaches that worked for him. If you working for him gives you an advantage, you’re not a very good gambler, because 20-0 is a pretty strong record.”
“He knows them too. Everybody says, ‘They know him,’ well he knows the assistants. I think it goes both ways. Except for Ole Miss those two times and a few Iron Bowls, he’s 100 percent against everybody else really until you get to Clemson in the playoffs. He’s 100 percent against a lot of coaches and schools.”
And who didn’t think an all SEC conference schedule wouldn’t be any good?
Razorbacks Break The Streak
If a swashbuckling performance against the defending National Champions isn’t something to get excited about, I don’t know what is.
But the Mississippi State Bulldog fans were brought down to earth with a bump on Saturday at Davis Wade when the highly unfancied Arkansas Razorbacks swept to a 14-21 victory over Mike Leach’s new boys.
And when I say unfancied, I mean it; the Razorbacks ended a twenty game losing streak against the #HailState Bulldogs – a magnificent achievement for Razorback Head Coach Sam Pittman.
And Pittman was proud of his team. He said this in his post match press conference,
“To be honest with you I’m just really humbled. I’m just really proud of the team. I mean what I say, I’m proud for the state. I really am – I’m just one guy but am I proud that we beat Mississippi State? You’re dang right.”
Of his quarterback, Feleipe Franks, Pittman said,
“He’s tough. We only had one fumble, I believe. We got to do a better job there. But he’s a good leader. He’s a good quarterback, who will only get better in this system, I believe”.
And Franks was on a high. He too met the press post-game. This is what the Razorbacks QB had to say about the win,
“It’s just the start. It’s a great win and we’ll go out and celebrate but at the same time we need to prepare and go out there and get another one. That’s the best thing about SEC football. It’s week in, week out. It’s not a one week season. We’re going to enjoy it but at the same time, get back out there next week and get a win”.
Not So Fast My Friend!
College Game day is a college football institution and there is no better way to start your college football Saturday. And the finale of the show is always Coach Corso making his final pick by putting on the head of the mascot he picks in the game that Gameday is visiting.
Gameday and Corso have indulged with this iconic finish to the show for 24 years, having first picked Ohio State’s Brutus the Buckeye on 5th October 1996.
Gameday has visited countless college campuses meaning Coach has worn the headgear of countless mascots.
But on Saturday Corso let slip that there is one mascot’s headgear he has never worn, despite picking the team to win.
Corso told Kirk Herbstreit on Saturday
“Auburn is the only school that will not let me put their head gear on my head. The only school in America!”
Herbstreit went on to ask, why? Corso said,
“I don’t know, you ask them, they won’t let me wear it. It’s the only school. So I’ll never pick them any more, forget it – they’re done! Not any more they’re done!”
In a 2015 article on AL.Com, Gameday Producer, Lee Fitting said this of the “controversy”,
“It’s like the War Eagle Club tradition that no one puts on the mascot, except for the kid who’s the mascot. It’s one of those things we respect and find other means – don the old-school leather football helmet and move on. They stick true and true to their tradition. That’s the stuff that makes college football cool and unique are those traditions.
While it may seem crazy to others, it’s a big deal in that community and that program we abide by it.”
Stetson Bennett IV
In sports, probably more than any other way of life, we all love a good underdog story.
Which is what makes the remarkable rise of Stetson Bennett IV from walk-on to QB1 all the more remarkable.
Yes, its a path well traveled – not often but it does happen. Most recently with Baker Mayfield and the Sooners.
But given the hoopla in Athens this year with the arrival of not just one but two heralded transfer quarterbacks, Bennett was rarely mentioned in the context of playing at centre. In fact, Aaron Murray’s recent gushing about Carson Beck seemed to resign Bennett to QB5.
But stranger things were at play in Athens when Jamie Newman opted out, JT Daniels wasn’t declared fit and D’Wan Mathis looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
Suddenly Georgia were down against Arkansas and Kirby Smart knew he had to pull Mathis from the game. Bennett was introduced and turned the game around.
Bennett grew up a UGA fan and it was his single focus from when he was young to play for the Georgia Bulldogs. However, as so often is the case, his dreams were dashed when he wasn’t recruited as such by Georgia. That did not deter him and he decided to attend UGA and joined the football team as a walk on.
Interestingly Bennett’s father, Stetson III was also a walk on at UGA.
But it was more of a rags to riches story than first meets the eye, when in 2018 with Jake Fromm returning and Justin Fields still on the depth chart, Bennett decided he couldn’t make the breakthrough.
He decided to make the move to JuCo football and play with Jones County Junior College in Mississippi to get playing time. After a successful period there he committed to playing football at Louisiana-Lafayette.
However, the family had kept in touch with UGA and it was a phone call to then UGA defensive coordinator, now Arkansas Head Coach, Sam Pittman that got things moving. The lure of coming home proved too much and Bennett returned to Georgia.
As he moves into this weekend’s game against Tennessee, Bennett is 37 of 57 for 457 yards, 3 TD’s and no interceptions.
And he has the Bulldogs locker room behind him 100%. The team loves him, his play and his attitude. Running back Zamir White said this of Bennett,
“He’s just a natural baller and he loves the game. We love him, the crowd loves him”.
Its a great story, and for a fan base that took another underdog – kicker Rodrigo Blankenship – and made him their own, Bennett’s story has remarkable similarities.
Bazelak Is QB1
News broke this week that the predicted path of Hurricane Delta would result in Saturday’s game between LSU and Mizzou being moved from Baton Rouge to Columbia.
The game has also been moved from an 8pm kick off to a noon start.
Which is probably welcome news for Mizzou QB Conor Bazelak, who was this week named as the Tigers starting QB1.
With the Tigers struggling for the second successive week, Head Coach Eli Drinkwitz decided he had seen enough of starter Shawn Robinson, with Bazelak replacing him early in the second quarter.
Bazelak ended the game 13 for 21 with 218 yards.
Coach Drinkwitz said of his QB starting against the defending national champions, LSU
“I think he’s doing a really good job reading the defenses and being accurate with the football and he’s got to continue to do that. We’ve got a tough task this week. Obviously, they’ve got two elite corners and he’s got to play better. I mean, nobody played well enough for us to consider it a success on Saturday. So, he knows he has to play better. We all have to play better. I have to coach better but we felt like he showed some growth and it’s his opportunity.”
Sons Of Saban
On this week’s Paul Finebaum show, Ole Miss Head Coach Lane Kiffin let it slip that he is part of a group text with Kirby Smart (Georgia HC), Will Muschamp (USC HC) and Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee HC).
When pressed by his host to understand what the topics of conversation, Kiffin said,
“Sometimes it’s just hey how you guys dealing with Covid or a practice idea – just sharing with each other. Sometimes its personal funny stuff I guess. It’s an interesting group. Three good guys”.
Finebaum went on to say,
“There’s a commonality between all of you, I guess that’s pretty obvious. It’s Nick Saban..”
To which Kiffin responded,
“Yes, we all have the same father….”
With all credit to SEC Networl’s Alyssa Lang who has dubbed the group “Sons of Saban”, there is now a state-wide hunt for these texts….
SIA - SEC Player Of The Week
Again this week there were a number of stand out performances across the conference – Najee Harris showed he really can do everything, Alabama may have a new star at wide out in John Mitch,ie and Feleipe Franks went a long way to prove his doubters wrong.
But I’m afraid its hard to move beyond Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville for the second week in a row. It’s Kyle again – not QB Kyle but TE/WR Kyle. This week’s player of the week is Kyle Pitts
After a blistering start against Ole Miss, Pitts continued his remarkable run last week against South Carolina.
Which means in two games, Pitts has recorded 12 receptions, 227 yards, six touchdowns and averages 18.9 yards per catch. And I will remind you again that his position is shown as Tight End.
Find me a player with 6 TD’s in 6 quarters and I’ll show you a player who is a front runner for the Heisman. Hype, George – I hear you say?
Well, maybe, probably, definitely but the Gators are emerging as real contenders, and with the Kyle & Kyle show firing on all cylinders, who would bet against them?
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.