Can Georgia replace ‘The Human Joystick’?

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The Human Joystick. The guy that moved through opposition players like they were nothing, with the screams of joy emanating from the fans behind him. The human highlight reel. The one-of-a-kind for that season.

And now, Georgia fans, Isaiah McKenzie is gone. And with him will be his numbers.

Georgia fans will talk about reloading after McKenzie’s decision to opt for NFL riches after his junior year, but it’s going to be really, really difficult.

McKenzie not only brought a receiving threat to the table (663 yards, 7 TDs on 44 receptions, going for an average of 14.4 yards/ reception), but also brought a running threat too (134 yards, 2 TDs on just 19 carries, averaging 7.1 yards/play). He also returned 23 punts (for 245 yards and a touchdown).

If you want to take this as total, the hole that McKenzie will leave will be even bigger. He accounted for 26% of all total receiving yards, 20% of all receptions, and – this is the most galling – 43% of all total throwing touchdowns. Thanks to Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, his loss won’t be felt hugely in the Georgia backfield, but still.

For a moment, take away the fact that the Dawgs have a young offensive line, and this could be yet another season where red-clad fans see opposition linemen run through their line, and let’s just look at the talent coming back to Sanford….

WHO FROM THE RETURNERS REPLACES HIM?

  • Sony Michel (RB): We liked how he was used out of the backfield over the last couple of years. He’s a definite game-changer. Had 149 yards receiving on 22 receptions. The problem for Georgia will be whether they can keep Michel healthy. He’s had injury problems for the last two years. Which is unfortunate, for a man of his talent.
  • Terry Godwin (WR): Underimpressed in just about every game last year. He had 38 receptions for just 397 yards and no touchdowns. That’s hardly a massive return for the five-star recruit. His averages from 2015 to 2016 barely improved. But Godwin’s going to be the No.1 receiver in Athens next year – and will have to prove it.
  • Riley Ridley (WR): Ridley’s freshman season in Athens was a pretty productive one. He had 238 yards on just 12 receptions – although we’re a little worried that he was actually targetted 22 times. He’s also injured his foot, so he’ll definitely not play the Spring Game and probably be out until mid-summer.
  •  Jeb Blazevich/ Isaac Nauta (TE): Smart’s use of the TE is very Saban-like, and the increasing use of them continues bring a new dimension to the attacking game.
  • Javon Wims (WR): The former JUCO transfer started only 3 games but still had 190 yards on 17 receptions. And no fumbles.

WHAT ABOUT THE FRESHMEN?

There are things to be excited about for the Bulldogs. 6ft 2 incoming freshman (and four-star recruits) Jeremiah Holloman and redshirt freshman Mark Webb ought to bring in some size out wide for QB Jacob Eason, and both Matt Landers and Trey Blount are both considered to be a little raw.

SO IN OTHER WORDS….

McKenzie will be pretty much irreplacable in 2017 with what he brought to the offense. There aren’t a lot of players that were a three-headed hydra of offense like he was. We expect UGA to go more towards the run this year – despite having Eason’s cannon. The reason? The offensive line. We’re not sure if he’ll be as lucky in his second year to survive as he was in his first.

 

 

Jake Bentley was the starter as South Carolina’s quarterback in 2016, and after an excellent performance on Saturday at the Spring Football Game, he certainly cemented his spot for the year.

Bentley threw for 301 yards and 3 TDs, going 19 for 31 in the Garnet & Black Game in front of 12,000 people at Williams-Brice Stadium. The stadium crowd may seem slightly paltry for a SEC Spring Game, but if you consider that the team was playing in a Men’s Final Four Game and drinking time had to be cut by two hours so fans could make the game and tip-off for the basketball, 12,000 was pretty good.

Anyway, also playing well were running backs Ty’Son Williams, who had 83 yards on 11 carries and de facto starter Rico Dowdle,  who had 30 yards on 3 rushes.

Alabama’s Calvin Ridley: A rebound after 2016?

We know one thing about Alabama’s depth chart: It’s going to be deep. Real. Freaking. Deep.

Everywhere on an offensive line will be players who can catch a ball, run it quicker in pads than most people without a ball, helmet and pads on, and they will weigh about the 250-300lb mark. Running backs will be lightning bolts. Tight ends will be wide receivers.

2016 was meant to be a breakout year for Calvin Ridley – particularly after a freshman year when he had 89 receptions, 1,045 yards and 7 TDs, averaging a tidy 11.7 yards per reception. That was good for 33rd in the Nation, and not bad at all for a freshman start.

For 2015, we thought that this would be another monster year for Ridley. Sure, his quarterback, Jalen Hurts, was new, but the fall in stats was staggering. Ridley went from ‘trusted receiver’ to ‘not particularly trusted receiver’, falling to the 94th receiver overall in NCAA rankings in terms of receiving yards, with ‘just’ 769. His receptions fell to 72, and his average yards per reception dropped to 10.7. The only thing that stayed the same was touchdowns (7).

He also had five attempts as a rusher in 2016, and even scored a touchdown. He had one in 2015.

BIG FACTOR?

For 2015, Ridley was a factor in almost all of his games, getting thrown to at least 6 times in the last four games of the season, and grabbing two touchdowns in the play-off win over Michigan State. While he wasn’t a big factor in the National Championship Game, he put defensive co-ordinators at Clemson off enough that they seemed to forget about OJ Howard as the big tight end had the game of his life as the Crimson Tide battled their way to a National Championship.

In 2016, Ridley had no touchdowns in his last 4 games and was thrown to an average of a smidgeon under 4 times a game (Bearing in mind that he averaged over 6 yards per reception, you could argue that if Lane Kiffin/Steve Sarkasian/Nick Saban had used him more, he would have had even more of an effect on the game).

THIS SEASON

This year, it’ll be interesting to see how new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll uses Ridley. Ridley’s got an immensely smooth running action, can blow the doors off defensive backs, and bearing in mind his 6-1, 188lb frame, he’ll probably go to the pros after this year and continue a line of very good NFL receivers. Oh, and you would be surprised to see him in the backfield either, if Daboll’s looking to spice things up!

And what we do know is this: If Ridley’s used like he was in 2015, the SEC defenses in 2017 are going to be very worried indeed!

 

Mississippi State gives Mullen monster extension

Mississippi State deserves a round of applause: They showed loyalty to a man who has shown absolutely no loyalty to them over the last few years….their head coach, Dan Mullen.

In the new deal, Mullen will receive $4.5 million per season for the next four years, starting this season.

Listen, we GET there are good things about Mullen. He started in 2009 and hasn’t left. During his tenure, his record has been nothing short of phenomenal – especially for a poor team, where he’s been bowl eligible for the last seven straight years and gone 5-2 in bowls. He has a 5-3 record in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss, and took the Cowbellers to phenomenal heights in the 2014 season.

He’s proved to be a bit of a ‘quarterback whisperer’ at the highest level, with Dak Prescott and now Nick Fitzgerald doing great things. Prescott himself has gone on to drop jaws at NFL level, which can’t have done Mullen’s credibility any damage. And his response to press questions about Fitzgerald in the aftermath of the last Ole Miss win was hilarious.

But I’ve got a problem. Where there seems to be a big job on the loose,  Dan Mullen seems to have no loyalty to the Land of Cowbell in the least. He’s been continually rumored for other jobs since taking over in Starkville, and he actually interviewed for the Miami (FL) job in 2015 before it was given to Mark Richt. Florida (2013) and Oregon (2017) were also thoughts. And although Mullen’s said that he’s happy where he is, the hiring of Jimmy Sexton – who is also the agent of a certain Nick Saban, who hasn’t shown any loyalty of his own in the least to programs – in October – doesn’t seem to indicate that.

I just can’t help thinking that the cowbell will toll for Mississippi State in this relationship. Then again, I might be wrong.

Tennessee star sees drug charge dropped

Tennessee star wideout Jauan Jennings got an early Easter present after Knoxville police dropped marijuana charges against him.

Jennings had been arrested on National Signing Day for driving down a road the wrong way, and could not give his social security number when asked….and did not have an ID. He arrested on pot charges.

Interestingly, the Knoxville police must have been feeling incredibly lenient – Jennings actually admitted possession of pot in his car, and there was a bag of weed in the back of his car, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Last season Jennings had quite the season, grabbing 40 catches for 580 yards and seven touchdowns.

Should Hugh Freeze lose his job?

The biggest question coming out of Oxford, MS at the moment is this: Will Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze be out of a job by the time the NCAA has finished with its investigations.

According to the NCAA’s filings, the school lacked insitutional control – which basically means that it turned a blind eye as boosters paid players, gave recruits thousands of dollars worth of money off from stores, paid electric bills, and let them hunt on property (which isn’t a big one). And even if Freeze himself didn’t know directly about what was going on under his nose, he darned well should have done.

Freeze has protected himself, saying: “Contrary to the allegations, I have demonstrated throughout this entire process that I have a strong record of promoting compliance and monitoring my staff, and I look forward to presenting that evidence to the Committee on Infractions.

In other words, the first thing Freeze is doing? Deny all charges and say: “Boss, it wasn’t my fault”. Why? It means that if the school DOES decide to fire him, he will still walk out with a great part of the $4.3 million he’s paid by the school – especially if this includes a severance package if he decides to appeal.

For pure butt-covering, Ole Miss may well fire Freeze because it makes them look good. Ole Miss’ AD Ross Bjork may throw him under the bus so it saves the school even worse punishment than is already given.

But although there are rumors that Freeze actually set up meetings between recruits and boosters, no-one really knows if this is true. What we do know is that any meeting between Freeze and his recruits really didn’t go that well: They were 30th in the 24-7 rankings, and 12th in the SEC.

And if they fire Freeze on something that they don’t know whether it’s true or not, then Ole Miss doesn’t look very bright in the least.

 

Ole Miss gives itself 1-year postseason ban

Ole Miss has given itself a postseason ban for the 2017 season after the NCAA found that it had violated 21 different rules.

The NCAA has charged the SEC school with a lack of institutional control, which includes various payments to players – including paying recruits between $13,000 and $16,000 in cash payments.

Ross Bjork, the school’s AD said: “The additional allegations announced today are serious,” Bjork said in a video statement released by the university. “But we will vigorously defend the university against the allegations that we believe are not appropriately supported, including that we lacked institutional control and that our head coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance or monitor staff in the football program.”

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss’ head coach said in a statement: “I am extremely disappointed to learn that any member of my staff violated any SEC or NCAA rules, and as the head coach, I regret those actions. Any behavior by my staff that is inconsistent with that commitment to do things the right way simply does not reflect the emphasis I personally place on NCAA compliance. As the record will show, I am constantly communicating to our compliance office, the SEC office, and industry leaders to make sure we are using best practices when it comes to doing things the right way.”

However, what was interesting was how quickly Freeze went to cover his own behind, after allegations that he had helepd to cover up the whole process. “Contrary to the allegations, I have demonstrated throughout this entire process that I have a strong record of promoting compliance and monitoring my staff, and I look forward to presenting that evidence to the Committee on Infractions.

Ole Miss had previously reduced their own scholarships, which includes 1 in 2015, 2 from 2016, and four from the 2017 and 2018 classes.

Worries to the possible future of the Rebels’ program hit Ole Miss hard in 2017: They were 30th in the 24-7 sports rankings.

Should Alabama fans be pleased with their new OC?

What a few months it’s been for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

After coasting (most of the way) during the regular season, the Crimson Tide destroy Florida to win the SEC Championship. Then offensive coordinator/genius Lane Kiffin leaves for the bright lights of a head coaching job at Florida Atlantic University. The Crimson Tide win their Play-Off semi-final against Washington convincingly to set up a monster clash with Clemson, who had hammered Ohio State 31-0 in its own semi-final. Lane Kiffin is told not to come to the National Championship Game. Steve Sarkasian is given the OC job for the National Championship Game. Clemson beats Alabama in the last second. Steve Sarkasian gets the OC job. Steve Sarkasian bolts for the Super Bowl-blowing Atlanta Falcons to be OC there, much to the annoyance to Bama Nation.

Nick Saban seemed to ignore all of that and still dominate the 2017 National Signing Day. We heard stories of kids that were offered scholarships by Alabama, but didn’t receive actual letters from the school, so went elsewhere. Such is the power of what’s happening down in Tuscaloosa.

Anyway, back to the offensive coordinator. There were rumors that he would join forces with offensive guru Chip Kelly, who did genius things at Oregon but not in the NFL. Instead, Saban went to his old friend Bill Belichick, and asked: “Who have you got on your coaching staff I can have?” So Belichick said to current tight ends coach Brian Daboll that he might want to go and have an interview down in the Southland. Daboll did, and now he’s the new offensive coordinator for the most demanding college football coach in the history of mankind (and that’s probably an understatement).

Daboll’s had 17 seasons in the NFL, which is fantastic longevity, and should be an excellent recruiting tool for Saban. Now he can bring someone to the party who can say to NFL players: “I know what NFL scouts are looking for! I spent 17 years in the NFL! If you come play for me, I can get you to the next level!”

For us, we can’t wait to see Daboll getting yelling at on the sideline.

 

Arkansas fans HATE the idea of a Thursday Night Kick-Off

Arkansas fans HATE the fact that the school has decided to move the 2017 season kick-off against mighty Florida A&M to a Thursday night in Little Rock, ARK to please the SEC Network.

Remarks from the school’s Twitter feed weren’t nice:

“This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

“So no students will be able to attend because they have class the next day in Fayetteville”. 

“When money is more important than the fans and tradition….this happens”

Some went for Jeff Long, the Arkansas Razorbacks’ AD: “Can Frank Broyles come out of retirement as AD please?” as well as: “Further proof that Jeff Long only cares about NWA [Editor’s Note: We should think that’s not the rap band, but Northwest Arkansas] and not the entire Razorback fanbase.”

Tailgaters weren’t happy. “How do they expect to sell tailgate spots that people are required to be in by 10.30am on a workday? Horrible!”

The good thing for Arkansas fans is at least the Razorbacks – who have a small history of struggling with ‘below-par’ teams shouldn’t struggle with Florida A&M. The Rattlers went 4-7 last year, losing 70-3 to Miami (FL) in its season opener.

One thing they may struggle with? Attendance.

 

 

 

 

Brandon Harris is leaving LSU

Brandon Harris announced today that after LSU released him of his full scholarship, he’s going to leave LSU as a grad transfer – as one of the most disappointing recruits LSU has had in recent years.

He came into Baton Rouge as a four-star, dual-threat QB, after being recruited by the Tigers, Ohio State, Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Baylor amongst others. He was the top QB in Lousiana and the seventh overall player in the state. Ahead of him were Leonard Fournette (LSU), Cam Robinson (Alabama), Malachi Dupre (LSU), Speedy Noil (Texas A&M), Gerald Willis III (Florida) and Hootie Jones (Alabama).  Only Willis III could not have been described as an outright success.

Harris wasn’t a bad guy – he was never arrested (unlike QB Anthony Jennings) – but he was a terrible QB.

In his first year in 2014, he went 25-45 for 452 yards for 6 INTs, 2 INTs, throwing for an average of a smidgeon over 56 yards per game. He also ran for 159 yards on 26 attempts with three TDs.

There was hope in LSU Nation. 

In his second year in 2015, he had a completion rating of 53.6% (148 for 256) for 13 TDs and 6 INTs, with a QB rating of 130, throwing for 179.8 yards per game. He also ran for 226 yards and 4 TDs.

The problem for Harris is that he was incredibly inconsistent. His electric arm seemed better – when he missed his wide receivers – at overthrowing them by miles or missing them when the chances were easier. It was excruciatingly bad at times, and laughable at others. 

In his third – and final year in 2016 – he was dropped after a dreadful performance against Wisconsin on the first game of the season, and was replaced by Purdue transfer Danny Etling. He played in a total of 4 games, with a 52% QB rating (13-25) for 1 TD and 2 INTs.

dAnd then Brandon Harris departed, stage left. LSU fans can either blame Harris’ lack of development squarely on now-departed offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, or Harris himself. Frankly, we believe that it’s a lot of both.

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