Saturdays in Athens
Saturday 26th September 2020
Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.
About a year ago I was making preparations to travel to SEC country to go watch football. As I chronicled at the time, it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime – meeting the greatest people, eating and drinking in the greatest of tailgates and watching some of the best players to ever play college football – some of which will play football on Sundays for years to come.
But I did not know that the world would shutdown after that with no expectation that football (or any sport for that matter) would return this year.
Well here we go. The point we did not think we would get to.
IT’S GAMEDAY PEOPLE!
SEC Football is here AT LAST.
And it’s good to start off the season with some SEC craziness, so Mike Leach tells us about his fear of Tigers and those bonkers LSU fans, Coach O and Coach Nick pick their QB1’s, Jezza gets paid loads of money and Kirby is keeping his cards close to his chest.
Here are this weeks headlines….
Let’s get started y’all!
Baton Rouge, LA; Tuscaloosa, AL.
It is no great surprise that with less than a day to go (as I write this), team’s are firming up their ideas on starting line up’s.
However it is never quite as simple as that in the SEC, and history tells us that SEC coaches don’t always show their hand ahead of the season opener.
But in this year of great uncertainty, head coaches have decided to make a call on the QB’s early and set their stall out.
Last week we got a surprise in Columbus, SC when the Gamecocks announced graduate transfer Collin Hill over the incumbent starter from last year, Ryan Hilinski.
But no such surprises this week, with Alabama head coach Nick Saban announcing Mac Jones as his starter and coach Ed Orgeron anointing Myles Brennan as the starter over in Baton Rouge for the LSU Tigers.
For Mac Jones this endorses the view that the guy who stood in for the injured Tua Tagovailoa on four occasions last year would get the nod. The next Crimson Tide wunderkind, Bryce Young, had impressed in limited practices and there was a growing feeling Young might have a chance of starting.
But Saban put this talk to bed by naming his starter at the start of the week.
Saban told reporters during his weekly press conference,
“I think obviously the more knowledge and experience you get from playing, the mistakes that you make and the good plays that you make all help you develop confidence and increase your chances of playing with consistency by making better choices and decisions. I think that shows in Mac’s play and we’re very confident that he can do a good job for us”.
Over in Baton Rouge, the decision for Coach O was even easier. The decision to name last year’s back up to Joe Burrow – Myles Brennan – was a relatively straightforward one.
Whilst Brennan did not feature much on the field last season – mostly due to Burrow’s brilliance – he is familiar with the Tigers system. And in a year of uncertainty, familiarity is a welcome bonus.
Sadly, Brennan doesn’t have the same incredible tools to work with that Burrow had. Gone are Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Justin Jefferson and Thaddeus Moss. and if that wasn’t bad enough, Ja’Marr Chase has elected to opt out of the season to get ready for the NFL Draft. So a tricky season could be in store for the new QB at LSU.
However, Coach O thinks Brennan is more than up to the job. Orgeron told reporters,
“I’ve always believed in Myles Brennan. The only thing we don’t know – and we do believe he’ll do very well – is how he’ll do under fire”.
Tigers v Dawgs
I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again. Mike Leach is box office. And just what the SEC needs.
So looking forward to his opening weekend game in the SEC against the LSU Tigers, Head Coach Leach had a lot to say about… well, tigers.
Coach Leach has been a visiting coach at Tiger Stadium before, when he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Kentucky Wildcats. It turned out it wasn’t the Tigers defense that Leach was worried about. It was the Tiger. Mike the Tiger.
The Bulldogs head coach told the media during his press conference this week,
“Looking at that tiger and making sure there’s somebody closer to him so if the tiger escapes he eats them instead of me,”
Leach went on to say about the Death Valley experience and those crazy Tiger fans,
“There were little old ladies with their grandchildren flipping off our bus. You get closer and they start rocking our bus.”
On the progress of implementing his air raid offence in Stark-Vegas with limited face timed practice with his team, he admitted he was quite happy. Talking to SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum, Leach said,
“No, but I never am, I’m as pleased as I usually am, I guess, under the circumstances.
We’ve got a new group, so we’re learning a lot fast and growing and developing quickly.
That’s always fun because you do have more sudden growth as people become familiar with stuff they don’t know. You never get to that destination. It’s always a series of corrections in order to keep progressing and getting better … I do think we’re getting better. I do think we’re excited to go out and play. I do think we’re improving.
We’ve just got to keep doing that. We’ve got to keep doing all the same stuff we’re doing except do it faster and more precisely.”
Jezza Gets Paid
Jeremy Pruitt is on the brink of his third season as Head Coach of the Tennessee Volunteers.
His recruitment over the summer made many sit up and take notice, so much so that expectations within Vols Nation have increased greatly.
So it made sense for The Vols to lock down Pruitt for an extended period, and this happened midweek when Tennessee tied their head coach to a two year extension worth an additional $400,000 per year, taking his salary to $4.2m per year. Pruitt’s contract will now see him coach in Knoxville through 2025.
Pruitt decided to forego the incremental salary this year to assist with the cutting of the Athletics Department’s costs during the pandemic.
In a statement issued by the University, Pruitt said of his extension,
“My family and I are grateful for the unwavering commitment the University of Tennessee has made to us. We have worked hard to build our program the right way in a short amount of time, and there is still much work to be done.”
Kirby Keeps His Cards Close
There is no doubt that THE story in the lead up to this SEC season, save for the Covid crisis, has been the quarterback situation in Athens.
Well documented in this column as well as every other SEC sports page, we wait with baited breath to see who starts under center on Saturday against the Arkansas Razorbacks.
So did Georgia head coach Kirby Smart give any hint as to who his starter at QB would be this week during his weekly press conference? Well, simply put, no. No he did not. He played those cards very close to his chest.
First up, on the subject of JT Daniels’ fitness clearance, Coach Smart had this to say,
“We hope JT will be cleared to play by Saturday, officially.
I’m excited about the ways the guys (the QB’s) have competed and gone about the job. They’ve all taken reps – Stetson, Carson, JT and D’Wan have all done a good job. I’m excited to see those guys go out and play”.
Pressed to talk about the work that D’Wan had done pre season and if he had done enough to get the starting job, Smart had this to say,
“D’Wan has done a great job. He has embraced every opportunity. He’s competed, he’s got better, he’s very talented with his feet, he understands what we want him to do. I think he’s done a great job preparing, but so has Carson, Stetson and JT. They have really done a great job preparing for this moment and I feel confident with all those guys.”
Asked what it is about Mathis’ personality that allows him to come back from such a serious condition, the Georgia head coach had nothing but praise for his young QB. Smart said this,
“I think he’s got great composure. He’s never really been an emotionally up or down guy, which I think is a pretty good trait at quarterback. When you look across the four guys that we’ve got, they’re very similar in that none of them get really high or real low. They’ve had good days and they’ve had bad days out on the practice field where they’ve thrown bonehead interceptions or took sacks that they shouldn’t take. But none of them have handled it the wrong way. D’Wan is the same way. Going back to his surgery and his craniotomy, he’s been so resilient and earned the respect of so many people with the way he managed it, the way he came back from it and they way he worked last year. He’s been the model of consistency in terms of staying the course and continuing to work. And a lot of the stuff has been outwit his control. He hasn’t been able to control what the Doctor’s said he could and couldn’t do”.
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.