Saturdays in Athens
Saturday 14th november 2020
Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.
Well, this is my third shot at writing this week’s column and I’m not sure it will be my last. Covid-19, which has been lurking in the SEC background, has risen it’s ugly head across the conference and has attacked with all it’s might.
As I write this, four SEC conference scheduled games have been postponed this week with no certainty that the others will still go ahead.
So in this week’s waltz around the conference we talk about the fallout from Bama’s postponed game with LSU, how is the SEC going to tackle all of these postponements, we take a look back to the Gators win over the Dawgs, Muschamp is on the hotseat – AGAIN, Trey Sanders is out for the season, Mike Leach is pretty unhappy – AGAIN and yes we have a returning SIA SEC Player of the Week!
It’s all happening in the SEC! Here are this weeks headlines….
Let’s get started y’all!
On Tuesday we found out that this week’s headline game between Alabama and LSU had been postponed.
Alabama Head Coach, Nick Saban started his week off giving an update on how his players had been advised/tutored/ drilled to act during the bye week. Saban said this,
“…look our players have been here for a long time and have been working here for a long time and I didn’t really want them to go anywhere and leave their bubble. But I didn’t have the heart to tell them that they couldn’t go home and see their family. So the one place that players were allowed to go was home. And that was it. If you weren’t going home you had to stay here and be in your bubble.
And the protocol we took was that we had a meeting with every player that was leaving, (we) re-enforced social distancing and all that they needed to do. We gave them a packet of sanitary things that would help them to be able to do that , whether its a mask, hand sanitiser, whatever it might be. And then we set up video conferences with each family that they were going to visit. We wanted them to really understand the importance of being able to control the bubble that the players would be in when they were at home. Because players feel comfortable around their family but you also don’t know where the family members are going. so we really tried to educate the players and their families on what needed to be done and tried to give them all the things that we could in terms of apparatus so the they would have the things that they needed to be able to stay safe.”
By Wednesday, Coach Saban was being asked just how effective his detailed plan had been and how the players had taken it onboard. The Crimson Tide Head Coach confirmed that the team had one positive test upon return to Campus before elaborating on the challenges that the players had faced,
“You know everybody trusts their family. I trust my family. But nobody knows where Uncle Tommy has been either. So you still have to be careful. That’s why we tried to do the best possible educational program. I mean the options were, don’t let the players go anyplace, which was really a kind of a punishment. Most of the guys wanted to go see their family. I can’t verify that we don’t have somebody go somewhere they weren’t meant to go. But if they did, we will certainly confront them about why they didn’t do what we asked them to do. Because if a player did that he actually doesn’t just put himself at risk. He’s putting his teammates at risk when he comes back. And thats the one thing our players have been pretty good at this year”.
Across in Baton Rouge, LSU Head Coach Ed Orgeron had this to say during his midweek press conference on the challenges his team had faced during the week,
“Our team has handled this week very well. At the beginning of the week we were moving on to Arkansas (as we) didn’t think Alabama would happen. And then maybe it could happen so we moved back to Alabama. And then we found out for sure that we weren’t playing.
But I want to compliment the SEC for doing the right thing for the safety of our players.
We always knew this season would be unlike any other and we look forward to the rescheduling of the game against Alabama.
We want to play Alabama. It’s a great rivalry for us. They re a great football team. We want to accept that challenge”.
When asked about rumours that the outbreak in the locker room had originated at an on campus Halloween party, Orgeron said,
“I told them yesterday that if this is going on I don’t want them at any parties. We have a rule of no bars during the season. I think guys are going to want to go to parties but they’re going to have to be careful.”
what Happens Next
With the widespread postponements across the Conference this week there is concern that the schedule can’t be completed. And with that, the chance of not two but not even one SEC team making the College Football Play Off becomes a possibility.
So it’s no surprise that the postponement of the majority of Saturday’s SEC slate and specifically the Alabama LSU game has brought criticism from all parts of the conference.
In response, the Conference members moved to add some additional space this week, if it is required. And it looks likely it will be.
Texas A&M’s Athletic Director, Ross Bjork confirmed Wednesday that the schools in the conference had voted to play games on December 19th – which is currently scheduled to be the Conference Championship date – to allow teams an extra week to play out postponed games. Bjork was quoted as saying this via CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd,
“We added December 19th as a playing date — we decided on that yesterday at our AD meeting. So we now have six Saturdays to work with.”
With the criticism coming the SEC’s way, it was unsurprising that the Conference’s Commissioner, Greg Sankey weighed into the debate this week defending the office’s position,
“There are plenty of scheduling suggestions on Twitter,”
Sankey said via Alex Scarborough of ESPN,
“I don’t run the league based on Twitter.”
“I’m certainly shaken, but not deterred. It’s a difficult circumstance – no way to paint it otherwise, but we knew that challenges would emerge for college sports”.
“Candidly, the numbers around contact tracing … have emerged as one of our biggest challenges to playing, We don’t control those policies. We don’t dictate those policies. Those policies exist in the public health domain.”
Gators Chomp Dawgs
Georgia 28 Florida 44
In many ways this game followed expectations in so far that it was the tale of two Quarterback’s.
Florida’s Kyle Trask had a game to boost his Heisman hopes and Stetson Bennett had a game to forget, eventually being replaced in the third quarter by D’wan Mathis. As it later transpired Bennett had suffered an AC sprain to his throwing shoulder early in the game but had elected to play on.
In many ways this summed up the position of the Georgia Bulldogs. They were banged up before the game and were even more banged up after the game. This included a horrible injury to UGA wide receiver, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint who dislocated his ankle in the first quarter and is now out for the remainder of the season. Throw in an MCL sprain for running back, Kendall Milton and concussion protocol for defensive back, Lewis Cine (who was ejected for a targeting foul on Kyle Pitts) and the injury woes just keep on piling up for the Bulldawgs. Kirby Smart confirmed as much on Monday after practice saying,
“We have a dinged up football team. We have some injuries in tough positions, but our kids are fighters and I know they’ll handle that the right way”.
But as I said this was a tale of two QB’s and Kyle Trask had a season defining performance and rightly or wrongly Kyle Trask is being compared to LSU’s Joe Burrow.
Is this just hype and a fixation to find the next Burrow?
Well not quite. Kyle Trask who has had a sensational start to the season continued this form becoming the first player in SEC history to throw for four or more scores in five consecutive games.
And lets not forget that a Zamir White 75 yard run to score and a 32 yard touchdown by Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (in the play he got injured on) gave the Dawgs a 14-0 lead. But it wasn’t to last and the Gators tied the game by the end of the first quarter.
With Florida now 4-1 and the Dawgs 4-2 for the season, this effectively decides – barring a Gator collapse – that it will be Florida who represents the SEC East in the Conference Championship game.
And then we will see how far the Gators have come this season.
Muschamp On The Hotseat
During his time in Columbia, Will Muschamp has rarely been a stranger to the hotseat. But after Saturday’s 48-3 humiliation to those Texas Aggies in Columbia, in front of a limited yet irate bunch of fans, it felt like the end of his tenure was getting near.
Following on from the 52-24 defeat to LSU, the 48-3 humbling by the Aggies left the Gamecock fans angry and confused.
Because this was a team which only three weeks before had shocked Auburn to give the Gamecocks faithful some hope that a winning season wasn’t just a pipe dream.
But being outscored by 100-27 in the next two games has brought the Gamecocks back to earth with a bump and has increased the calls for Muschamp to go.
In fact, rumours were rife on Saturday night/ Sunday morning that the South Carolina Head Coach was on the cusp of being sacked with Offensive Coordinator Mike Bobo rumoured to be taking over as interim HC.
But the Gamecock’s AD held his nerve and Muschamp remains in place. But by a thread you would expect.
The Gamecocks travel to Oxford this weekend, a game which continues to be scheduled as I write this. But simply, put it is a must win game for Muschamp.
Yet, I doubt the Gamecocks Head Coach would pick the Ole Miss Rebels to come up against. Yes, the Rebs have been inconsistent but this is a team which puts points on the board easily and quickly and as I said at the outset the Gamecocks defense is leaking points like a sieve.
So the pressure is on.
However, Muschamp received support this week from a powerful, if unexpected source.
Per Saturday Down South quoting David Cloniger and Andy Shain of the Post and Courier, Gamecocks Booster, Joe Rice (whose name the Athletics Centre has been renamed after) came out in defence of the Head Coach this week. Rice said of Muschamp’s position,
“these blowouts are disappointing but can you judge his tenure on these last few games in a COVID situation when you got one of the toughest schedules in the country? I’m certainly not ready to give up on Coach Muschamp. I think he deserves the benefit of the rest of the season. But we have to make improvement”.
Other Boosters have not been quite so supportive and Gamecocks Athletic Director, Ray Tanner finds himself under increasing pressure as results go against the Garnet and Black.
Another poor defensive performance against the Rebs on Saturday will only increase the volume of dissent.
Trey Sanders Out For Season
One week after Kirby Smart confirmed that Richard LeCounte had been injured in a motorbike accident, Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban released the news that redshirt-freshman running back Trey Sanders had been injured in a car accident in Florida visiting family during Alabama’s off week.
Saban said this of his young running back,
“Just to give you an update on Trey Sanders, he underwent successful surgery,” Saban said. “Our doctors and medical staff, we’ve got him at UAB, have been on top of this. We expect him to have a full recovery but I do think that he is probably out indefinitely. There’s no real timetable. He’s going to be ok, but pretty serious stuff.”
Too Many Cooks
Across The SEC
It’s fair to say that the Covid-19 virus has ravaged through the conference this week.
First up was the news that Arkansas Head Coach, Sam Pittman had tested positive for the virus and will not be in charge of his team against Florida in Ben Hill Griffin stadium on Saturday. Pittman who is not experiencing any symptoms will hand over the reigns to Defensive Coordinator, Barry Odom until he returns to action.
Next we had the news that Auburn’s game against Mississippi State had been postponed due to a number of positive tests and the subsequent quarantining of players at Mississippi State. However it should be noted that Auburn paused their practice through this week, albeit they appeared able to field a team, something State couldn’t.
Mike Leach’s patience is definitely being tested this year. On his weekly teleconference with SEC media, Leach was showing his frustration and said,
“we’ll practice when we’re allowed to reconvene in the building. They sterilised the building and all that stuff.
We’re out the building. They let us back in tomorrow from what I understand. There’s more Covid cooks in the kitchen than you can shake a stick at. I let those guys arrive at a consensus and do whatever they ask”,
The game has been rescheduled for December 12th.
Missouri’s postponement of the game against Georgia, due to positive tests on the Tiger’s roster serves some scheduling complexities and frankly gives the SEC a headache.
Mizzou’s postponed game against Vandy has already been rescheduled for December 12th meaning that this slot is already taken. While Florida’s victory over Georgia points us to the Gators being the East’s representatives in the SEC Championship game, any change in this in UGA’s favour would mean that the catch up game would be played on the same day as the SEC Championship game. Which isn’t possible. So hat then?
And finally as I write this the Aggies game against Tennessee has also been postponed to December 12th.
Texas A&M University has suffered badly with virus outbreaks resulting in the University putting restrictions on students off campus events and visitors to dorms.
Of the three positive cases on the team, two players travelled with the team to South Carolina on the previous weekend, meaning contact tracing restricts the movements of those people who have come into contact with those who test positive.
Texas A&M Athletic Director, Ross Bjork said this of the team’s situation,
“The nature of away game travel (flights, meals, lodging, locker room, etc.) naturally leads to an increase in the number of student-athletes, coaches and staff who meet the criteria for mandatory quarantine based on contact tracing guidelines. We are asking everyone around our university community to stay vigilant and follow all of the safety protocols and best practices as we approach the end of the fall sports seasons.”
It has been a testing week around the Conference….
SIA: SEC Player Of The Week
Hopefully you haven’t scrolled past all of the above to get to see who is this week’s SEC player of the week.
But if you did you missed the bit where I waxed lyrical about Kyle Trask’s performance against Georgia.
A performance, which anyone who wins the Heisman has in his winning year. Now whether Trask wins the Heisman or not is a debate for another time. But Trask had one of those performances on Saturday.
So let’s recap, against Georgia Trask completed 30 of 43, passed for 474 yards and four touchdowns. By doing so, making him the first player in SEC history to throw for 4 TD’s or more in 5 consecutive games.
All of this would be impressive under ordinary circumstances, but this is in a year where Florida plays only SEC conference games and this game in particular was against a team built on Defense. Yes, we can argue that Georgia is beat up. But that is being disingenuous to the Florida performance and victory and Trask’s outstanding performance.
So not for the first time on these pages, Kyle Trask is the best player in SEC football.
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.