Saturdays in Athens
23rd October 2021
Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.
Well it all kicked off in the conference this week! Orgeron is fired, but stays; Fans go wild in Neyland for Kiffin, but not in a good way; UGA are still #1 in the land, and Saban has wise words and some banter this week.
So, here are this weeks headlines…Let’s get started y’all!
Baton Rouge, LA
Unsurprising news out of Baton Rouge this week that the LSU administration had lost patience with Tigers Head Coach, Ed Orgeron.
In a statement by Tigers AD, Scott Woodward the school said,
“I write to you to let you know that LSU Head Football Coach Ed Orgeron will not be returning for the 2022 season”.
Woodward’s statement went on, a little surprisingly to say,
“he still wants what is best for the Tigers, above all else. I have asked him – and he has agreed – to remain as Head Coach through the end of the 2021 season”
Which is a curious position for a team where its players seem to have lost confidence in its head coach.
Orgeron issued a statement in parallel to Woodward’s, in which he pledged his support to see out the season,
“I have always understood the expectations at LSU, and they are the same expectations I have for myself and our staff. I am disappointed that we have not met these expectations over the past two years. Thank you to the entire LSU family for the opportunity to coach one of the greatest college football teams of all-time. I will continue to fight, as will our team, throughout the rest of the season.”
Per Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellinger, Orgeron will be paid $16.9m in his buyout. Dellinger reports “Payments to be delivered in 18 instalments, starting this December & ending December 2025. [Orgeron’s] first payment, due in about two months, is for $5.68 million.”
And the future head coach of LSU? Well the last sentence of Scott Woodward’s statement tells us all we need to know,
“The search for LSU’s next Championship Head Coach begins now”
Watch, This. Space.
Nightmare In Neyland
The matchup between a resurgent Tennessee Vols and the enigmatic and offensively brilliant Ole Miss Rebels was rightly billed as must watch.
As it turned out it was a great game, however it was also a great shame that the game is more remembered for the way it ended and the reaction from the Vols fans towards ex-head coach, Lane Kiffin.
As Mississippi secured the win Kiffin was pelted with bottles, containers, pizza boxes, even a mustard bottle – and as shown above, a golf ball. It would be easy and flippant to talk about who has a mustard bottle to throw, but that is severely downplaying the severity of fans throwing objects on to the pitch.
With 54 seconds remaining, the game was stopped for 20mins to allow the fans to be brought under control – something we rarely if ever see in the college game.
So it is no great surprise that the SEC has come down heavy on the Vols, fining them $250,000 as well as reviewing the sale of alcohol within Neyland stadium. Alcohol sales within SEC stadiums is a relatively new concept which is already under scrutiny. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey had these harsh words to say about the behaviour of the Tennessee fans:
“The disruption of Saturday night’s game is unacceptable and cannot be repeated on any SEC campus.
Today’s actions are consistent with the oversight assigned by the membership to the SEC office, including the financial penalty and review of alcohol availability. We will use this opportunity to reemphasize to each SEC member the importance of providing a safe environment even with the intensity of competition that occurs every week. We will also re-engage our membership in further review of the alcohol availability policy to consider additional measures for the sale and management of alcohol while providing the appropriate environment for collegiate competition.”
While it appears that the SEC is not yet suspending alcohol sales at Neyland Stadium, they have undoubtedly reserved the right to do so.
Unfortunate timing for first year Vols head coach Josh Heupel, who was building an air of positivity around the program.
The Prodigal Son Might Not Return
The Georgia Bulldogs are the number one team in the land. Yes, we know this is not news, however it is fair to say that the Bulldogs faced their toughest test to date in Sanford Stadium last Saturday against Kentucky.
Leading 14-7 at the half UGA knew they were in a game. But their excellent defense remained resolute – allowing Stetson Bennett and the offense to slay the Wildcats, winning out 30-13. Bennett played well again in UGA’s victory, completing 14 of 20 passes for 250 yards with three touchdowns.
As we know UGA Kirby Smart has become increasingly tetchy when asked about the fitness of QB1 JT Daniels. But actually the question is fast becoming, will JT Daniels get back into the team once fit?
And this isn’t as far fetched as it might have seemed a couple of week ago. UGA is now 7-0 and Bennett is leading this team. So it no slam dunk that Daniels returns like the prodigal son.
On the return of Daniels, Smart would not be drawn, saying only that he was increasing the number of reps he was getting in practice to around “70 passes” and was “pain-free,”.
Smart went on to say,
“increasing distance, getting out further and further, I think he got around 35-40 yards. …We threw him, he got to throw, but we didn’t practice. We did a walk-trough, clean-up kind of deal. We’ll know more today. He’s hopefully going to get some quality reps and we’ll see what kind of velocity he’s got.”
However most interesting was what Smart said when talking in general about players returning from injury,
“Really it just boils down to practice. The guys that go out and practice and take the reps and perform on the practice field are the guys that go out in a game. You don’t ever just plug a guy in. You plug a guy in during the week, and you give him reps. Whoever gives us the best opportunity to win is whoever is out on the field, and that comes from practice.”
UGA is on a bye week ahead of their clash with Florida a week on Saturday. This allows the Dawgs to get injuries cleared up and to work on schemes. The biggest question is going to be at QB.
Fascinating for a 7-0 team.
The Frustration Of Agile Hall
All of pre-season, fall camp and from week one onwards, Alabama head coach Nick Saban has preached against complacency within his team’s four walls. Saban – who has literally been there, done it and wears the t-shirt – knows the danger of a National Championship winning side returning for a new season. Just ask Ed Orgeron how that can go wrong…
In Tuscaloosa, this bubbled over earlier in the season when Saban dropped star tight end Jahleel Billingsley for what appeared to be a poor attitude in practice and in and around the team. After missing out on game time, Billingsley since corrected his failings and is now back in the fold.
But of course the danger of having a wealth of high star recruits on the roster is that you can’t keep all of the people happy, all of the time.
While Saban continued to warn against falling standards, one player was starting to show his frustration. After Alabama’s defeat of Mississippi State, wide receiver Agile Hall took to social media to say,
“Yea nah, calling it quits,”
While cryptic, it was enough for the Alabama HC to be asked about his players mindset. Saban addressed this issue with the media saying,
“Well, it is what it is,”
“You know, look, it still comes down to players creating value for themselves by what they do. I’ve said this before, that there’s players that have talent but they have to learn how to use it, and they have to use it in an effective way in the way they practice. It’s up to the player to impress the coach that they can be trusted to go in the game and do what they’re supposed to do.”
Saban went on to talk about the frustrations that his players experience,
“If players are competitors, they probably will be frustrated that they’re not playing. But it’s how do you respond to that? What do you do to respond to that in a positive way that’s going to help you improve your circumstances in the future? And the way to do that is do the right things and go out and practice and play well so that not only you but your teammates and everybody in the organization can trust you to go do what you’re supposed to do.”
The message seemed to have landed by midweek when Hall dropped another post on social media, making reference to a phrase Saban often uses when talking about his player.
Hall quoted Saban saying,
“Wise man once said “Create value for yourself””
Drama over? Time will tell.
The Kids Are Alright
There has been too much negativity in this week’s news so lets finish on a positive note.
Much hilarity during Nick Saban’s midweek press conference when The Athletic’s Aaron Suttles asked Saban a question. Turns out Suttles was pulling dad duties as his wife had been called away at short notice.
You can see the full clip above, however turning the tables on Suttles, Saban had a question for his adversarial reporter,
“well I’ve got a question for you first of all…..did I finally get to meet the boss?”
“this is the best behaviour I have seen you on since I’ve been here”
A clearly delighted Saban laughed before continuing,
“no you don’t have to apologise – if this is the way it’s going to be, I’d like for him to be here all the time”.
Classic banter. Never change Coach.
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.