Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Mike Tyson
This weekend, more than a few top-25 teams were forced to counter after getting punched in the face with backups that may become permanent first options.
However, let’s start with Florida and Alabama. Florida came ready to box with gloves until Bama popped the Gators in the teeth with a steel chair on their first play from scrimmage.
Florida can’t play two halves of quality offensive football in SEC play. It’s an improvement over last season when they were headless chickens for 60 minutes.
Jeff Driskel still can’t throw the pigskin with accuracy, completing just 9 of 28 attempts and isn’t elusive or quick enough to spring into the secondary for long gains. Worst of all, he was absolutely outclassed by former Bama running back Blake Sims.
Jake Coker was believed to be Alabama's ticket to a national title and ESPN's Paul Finebaum and Danny Kanell didn't believe the Crimson Tide could reach the playoff in a treacherous SEC West with Sims under center. That changed after he flexed his deep ball, passing for 445 yards and four touchdowns.
Sims asserted himself as the permanent starter, but the wheels were set in motion for his unexpected rise when Lane Kiffin was hired in January. Four years ago, Sims de-committed from Bama and was set to visit Tennessee. Those plans went up in smoke after Kiffin took the USC Trojans job and snuck out of Knoxville, leaving the community enraged.
— DJ Meta Dunson (@CerebralSportex) September 20, 2014
Vernon Hargreaves III was expected to neutralize Crimson Tide receiver Amari Cooper. Right…
Instead, Cooper staged a master class in playing wide receiver against the closest thing to a shutdown corner in college football.
Last week’s second half comeback against Kentucky was a harbinger of what was to come as the defense surrendered the most yards in program history against an Alabama blitzkrieg.
It’s becoming blatantly obvious that remaining turnover free and executing power football won’t be enough for Muschamp to win enough games to keep his job.
The Gators need to dazzle by air and score points. While Sims' meteoric rise continued, Driskel didn't appear capable of matching Sims or any of the SEC's other gunslingers. It was a disappointing development after former Duke offensive coordinator Roper's implemented an offense that would suit Driskel's strengths. Memo to Muschamp: Follow the example of Clemson, LSU and even Arizona. Give the keys to a fresh quarterback.
Fix it Jesus!!! RT @SI_DougFarrar: Jeff Driskel is what happens when you make Jay Cutler throws with Jimmy Clausen's arm.
— Reeta, NFL Goddess (@theNFLchick) September 20, 2014
The duality of Sims and Driskel is a testament to the volatility of recruiting rankings. The Gators have now missed on John Brantley and Driskel while two quarterbacks that left the program have thrived. Tyler Murphy has already rushed for 500 yards after reuniting with the Florida offensive coordinator that recruited him to Gainesville and Jacoby Briskett is slinging’ bullets at his receivers for undefeated NC State, which has already won more games than it did all of last season.
Driskel’s tunnel vision when he drops back in the pocket is horrendous. It’s like watching a t-shirt cannon fire into a crowd of flailing hands. Down 14 early in the fourth quarter, Driskel threw a wobbly ball that parachuted into the arms of Landon Collins. Driskel either didn’t notice Collins drifting towards his targeted receiver or thought he could deliver the ball in time. Either way, it was a head scratching decision that has to have Muschamp’s scalp burning.
There is no definitive solution, but it’s time to scan the sidelines and look elsewhere for a quarterback.
Muschamp should start by designing a few packages for true freshman Treon Harris. Harris’ career began in flawless fashion with two touchdown passes in his first two attempts and he leads the nation in quarterback rating. There may be growing pains, but it can’t possibly be as frustrating as the developmental wall Driskel has careened into.
Driskel is more dried up than old Chinese takeout and Muschamp is quickly thawing out over the Gators hot seat. Michigan’s Brady Hoke’s got the message. This week, sophomore Shane Morris will compete with senior Devin Gardner, wearing Tom Harmon’s distinguished No. 96 jersey for the starting job after his lackluster start.
The Gators have two backups including Harris and redshirting freshman Will Grier who was considered the best prep quarterback in the Class of 2014 not named Brandon Harris or Deshaun Watson.
Besides, as we learned this weekend, backups are an instant elixir. It’s almost desperation time for Muschamp. Freshman receiver Demarcus Robinson is on board with the change as well.
Oh boy. pic.twitter.com/7O8efjdH4Z
— Jonathan Arnholz (@JArnholz) September 21, 2014
They promise hope and even if it’s only flashes, that an improvement over the enduring incompetence of a veteran starter.
Let’s start with the one backup who is not using up his first year of eligibility.
There’s no precedent in FSU’s history for what Sean Maguire did do Saturday. En route to the Seminoles winning their first national championship in school history back in 1993, Danny Kanell threw for 341 yards and five touchdowns against Maryland while Charlie Ward nursed a rib injury.
However, Clemson is a vastly superior threat than the ’93 Terps, who fielded the nation’s second-worst scoring defense. They got even better once they finally unleashed freshman Deshaun Watson.
On Thursday, we were under the impression that FSU would be shuffling quarterbacks like Vegas blackjack dealers. Instead, Jameis Winston’s suspension was extended to a full game and Clemson put Watson out there for the entire game.
Unlike last year, FSU didn’t have to worry about their inexperienced quarterback being intimidated by the Death Valley roars. Not only is Maguire playing in front of a home crowd, but if it weren’t for FSU fans inadvertently outing Winston’s indiscretion via Twitter, he wouldn’t even be in a starting position.
The tables turned as Stoudt came out with the effectiveness of a bug on a windshield. It only worsened as Watson entered during the first half for his occasional cameo and nearly orchestrated a Clemson touchdown drive.
The momentum shifted and that drive effectively ended Stoudt’s three-game stint as the starting quarterback for Clemson. While Stoudt’s benching was the most visible permanent demotion of the weekend, it wasn’t the only one. At the same time Watson was beginning to walk and then run against the Seminoles discombobulated defense, Les Miles was forced to insert the freshman quarterback, Brandon Harris who has seemingly outperformed incumbent Anthony Jennings at every step along the way.
Miles’ stubbornness sticking with Jennings has been perplexing and only confirmed this caricature of Miles as one of the most inept evaluators of quarterback talent in the Power 5 conferences.
Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott is proof that great quarterbacks flee the grasp of Miles. Miles identifies great quarterback play as well as Roger Goodell is at finding elevator tapes.
The Louisiana native wasn’t recruited by LSU until after his senior year of high school when he accounted for 56 total touchdowns.
While his numbers weren’t gaudy, the junior carved up LSU with his legs and arms for 268 yards by air carrier, 105 by ground service.
Against Mississippi State, Miles’ refusal to turn the offensive keys over to Harris may have cost him a win. The defense did its part by whiffing on tackles like a college baseball batter facing Clayton Kershaw heat.
It was partially a necessity after Jennings slumped to the sidelines after getting whacked on his blindside. The energy was palpable before Harris stepped out for what was supposed to be a “garbage time” appearance.
Brandon Harris is now stretching on the sidelines. Appears like we might see him. #LSU
— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) September 21, 2014
Jennings had completed just 51 percent of his wild man throws entering Saturday’s clash. He didn’t fare much better in his first SEC start, completing half of his 26 attempts for a paltry 126 yards. After watching Jennings drill LSU into a hole deep enough to send coal miners into. Two quick fourth quarter touchdown strikes put the Bulldogs on edge, but the final Hail Mary of Harris was picked off.
It took just one quarter for Harris to rack up 159 total yards and two touchdowns, yet Miles was still non-committal about starting the freshman despite Sunday’s outcome.
Prior to the season opener, Harris was believed to be the clubhouse leader after spring and summer practices. Harris has been eased into the offense, but his crust looked golden against Mississippi State.
Not only does he have more zip on his throws, but he proved to be more athletic and more accurate. Receiver Travin Dural is snagging every loose fly ball Jennings can toss up, a robust rushing attack and those factors should allow Harris to adapt quickly as a starting quarterback.
Miles announced that the competition would continue into their season opener against Wisconsin. Jennings was once again, throwing passes off-target and out of rhythm, but inexplicably Harris did not have a single pass play drawn up for him even after they went into the half trailing 17-7.
LSU’s running backs led a second half comeback against the Badgers, while Jennings went 9 of 21 for 239 yards. He was aided in some respects by Wisconsin's quarterback going 8 of 24 for 50 yards.
The fear is that Miles will find a way to flub this decision by turning this into another Jarrett Lee vs. Jordan Jefferson quarterback timeshare.
This wasn’t a hard choice three weeks ago and it definitely shouldn’t be one next weekend.
Meanwhile, Arizona freshman Anu Solomon completed the true freshman triumvirate on a climactic Hail Mary heave to Austin Hill in the back of the end zone.
HAIL MARY! http://t.co/bO3QKCQlCs
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) September 21, 2014
And the aftermath…
Search "despair" in Dictionary & find this photo of catatonic Cal CB Darius Allensworth as 'Zona celebrates Hail Mary pic.twitter.com/CFNgLMCLAH
— DJ Meta Dunson (@CerebralSportex) September 21, 2014
Solomon’s a redshirt freshman, who started opening night, but the message is the same. The freshman dual-threat quarterback is the best prospect Rodriguez has ever landed.
If Muschamp is listening, the game plan is obvious. Driskel is a glorified version of Anthony Jennings. Muschamp needs a fresh start for Roper’s up-tempo spread shotgun offense before he’s searching for a new job.
Quarterbacks weren’t the only ones whose backups were directing big-time wins. Depending on whether suspended true freshman Joe Mixon counts, Samaje Perine is the second or third running back on Oklahoma's depth chart.
No. 4 Oklahoma’s 45-33 win has been described as a shootout, but only the Mountaineers matriculated the ball by air extensively. In place of starter Keith Ford, the 243-pound freshman rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns. It was to be expected against a run defense that ranks 106th in yards per carry, allowing 5.26 yard gains every time he touches the rock. Those holes will tighten up in two weeks at TCU, which ranks fourth in the same stat, averaging yards per rush.
Todd Gurley had a light day in UGA’s 66-0 pounding of Troy, but his true freshman backup Sonny Michel gained 155 yards and three touchdowns in just 10 carries. We haven’t even discussed how Alabama’s Derrick Henry toted the rock alongside Yeldon like a young Eric Dickerson. The SEC is at a ridiculous surplus with running back talent, but outside the Southeast, two other Heisman contenders ran roughshod and turned opposing defenders into turf fertilizer.
— DJ Meta Dunson (@CerebralSportex) September 20, 2014
Melvin Gordon gained 253 yards on the ground against Bowling Green. There were no game-saving runs for Ameer Abdullah against the Miami Hurricanes as there was two weeks ago against McNeese State. Against a tougher opponent, Abdullah instead ran for 229 yards against Miami (Fl).
How did ECU score 70 on UNC? By doubling up on its home field advantage.
ECU raises Boise State's blue turf w/ the sublime home sky advantage. pic.twitter.com/Jfk1bQnpwD
— DJ Meta Dunson (@CerebralSportex) September 22, 2014