Chicken-Fried SEC Questions: Crabby Coaches and Quarterback Quandaries

Five Chicken-Fried SEC Questions:

1. Mizzou’s Barry Odom wasn’t the only coach to go on a bizarre rant recently. Thin-skinned Tennessee coach Butch Jones went off again. What’s up with these guys? 

First, Coach Odom …

He succumbed to the pressure that’s building because of Mizzou’s incompetence in all areas. And he knows  the fan base is turning hostile. His fire-and-brimstone speech after the Tigers got slaughtered by Auburn did nothing to convince the growing legion of doubters.

Personally, I thought Odom’s attempt to compare his situation to past rebuilding projects taken on by Larry Smith and Gary Pinkel was ridiculous. Smith took over a Mizzou program that had struggled through 10 consecutive losing seasons. Smith extended that to 13 consecutive losing seasons, led Mizzou to consecutive winning records (and bowl appearances) in 1996 and 1997, then 7-15 in his final two years. By the time Pinkel was hired to replaced the dismissed Smith in 2001, Missouri had crawled to only two winning seasons in 17 years.

After the 2015 season Pinkel retired. Odom, the defensive coordinator, was promoted to head coach. In 2016 Odom became the leader of a Pinkel-built program that won 118 games in 15 seasons … a program that played in 10 bowl games in 15 seasons … a program that from 2007 through 2014 ranked ninth in the nation with 76 wins … a program that was ranked No. 1 in the nation late in the 2007 season … a program that finished in the final Top 20 in the polls six times, including a No. 4 ranking in 2007, and the No. 5 ranking in 2013 … a program that won consecutive SEC East titles in 2013, 2014.

Yeah, the Tigers were 5-7 in Pinkel’s final season. But that 2015 Mizzou team was embroiled in major campus unrest, played for a coach (Pinkel) who had been diagnosed with cancer, and lost a veteran quarterback, Maty Mauk, who went off the deep end with personal problems.

That 2015 team also had one of the best defenses in the nation … a defense coordinated by Odom.

That defense returned many veteran players from 2015. But as a head coach Odom wrecked it by hiring DeMontie Cross as defensive coordinator … which led to a dramatic change in scheme … and the new scheme didn’t fit the talent. This made no sense; a defense that was an established strength immediately became a horrible weakness and got trashed by SEC offenses.

This year Mizzou brought back 10 starters on offense including a veteran quarterback who passed for more than 3,000 yards in 2016 … plus a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver … and many returning pieces from the squad that closed the ’16 season with consecutive wins over Vanderbilt and Arkansas. In three straight ugly losses to FBS teams South Carolina, Purdue and Auburn early this season, Mizzou was outscored 117 to 30.

This was not a Larry Smith rebuild.

This was not a Gary Pinkel rebuild.

This was an inexperienced head coach taking something over and making it worse.

A coach can’t tear something down, and then portray himself as a victim that has to rebuild the program.

1a. Now, onto Butch Jones …

Earlier this week when a reporter asked Jones about a purported locker room fight between a couple of his players, he went off on another tirade against the media and negativity.

The timing wasn’t great, because Tennessee is playing lousy football.

“I think all of us as human have to self-check ourselves. You may not like that answer, but I’m a father. I have three boys and I think we sometimes have to put ourselves in a role of a parent as well,” Jones said. “And I understand y’all have jobs to do. My expectations as the head football coach, I’m the caretaker of Tennessee football.

“I love our kids and I’m going to protect our players and I’m going to protect our programs,” Jones went on to say. “Sometimes the negativity is overwhelming.”

This did not go over well.

Dave Hooker of the SEC site GridironNow.com wrote: “Then quit. If Jones cares so much about Tennessee football and the negativity is so overwhelming, then step aside with no buyout and allow the Vols to rebuild with a full wallet. Again, Jones is so out of touch it’s startling. Instead, Jones proved he’s concerned about the wrong issues, likely can’t handle the position he holds and did absolutely nothing to help his cause publicly. No one should be surprised. Despite his best efforts otherwise, that’s been his consistent message from the moment he was introduced at UT’s coach: He’s in way over his head.”

Jones, in his 5th season, is 33-22 overall. But the Vols have lost five of their last seven conference games, and haven’t been able to win the SEC East at a down time for the division. When Jones has gone against ranked SEC opponents as Tennessee coach, his record is a pitiful 3 and 13.

Oh, and Tennessee doesn’t have a quarterback.

The Vols have to play No. 7 Georgia and the Dawgs’ tough defense on Saturday this Knoxville.

2. Speaking of quarterbacks, what’s going on Georgia? Returning starter Jacob Eason will soon be ready to play after spraining a knee in the opening game. Will coach Kirby Smart stick with true freshman QB Jake Fromm?

I don’t think many — if any — observers believe Smart will make a change and reinsert Eason.

Eason is a talented sophomore quarterback. But Fromm has done an exceptional job of running the Georgia offense. In his first career start, Fromm was remarkably poised in Georgia’s 20-19 win at Notre Dame. Last week, in the rout of Mississippi State, Fromm made some terrific plays. He makes smart decisions. The big stage doesn’t unnerve him. He’s efficient.

So far Fromm has completed 62 percent of his passes for 7 touchdowns and only 1 interception. Georgia has a chance to run away with the SEC East. Unless Fromm plays poorly at Tennessee, there’s no reason to mess with the success. And Smart has the comfort of knowing that he’ll have Eason in reserve should anything go wrong with Fromm.

3. Have we been too hard on Texas A&M?

I think so. Look, the season-opening loss at UCLA was awful, with the Aggies blowing a 34-10 lead to lose a 45-44 game that should have been sealed away. But A&M has won three in a row including a determined 50-43 overtime victory over Arkansas last Saturday. The Aggies recovered from an early 21-7 deficit, and won with true-freshman quarterback Kellen Mond.

Not that this will stop the haters from hollering about coach Kevin Sumlin, but some positive things are developing.

Junior wide receiver Christian Kirk is a game-changing talent. He had eight touches against Arkansas and scored touchdowns on three of ’em. And all three were sensational: an 81-yard touchdown reception, a 100-yard kickoff return, and a grab for the winning touchdown. Kirk finished with 246 all-purpose yards.

After Mond’s panicky debut in a relief role at UCLA — he completed just 3 of 17 passes — the 18-year-old QB is coming on. In the wild win over Arkansas, Mond led A&M with 109 yards rushing  including a 79-yard bolt that set up a TD and helped the Aggies get back in the game. He passed for 216 yards and two touchdowns. He accounted for 325 total yards offense, led the game-tying drive, and threw the winning touchdown pass in OT.

4. In search of an offense, and a quarterback, Florida coach Jim McElwain is turning to Luke Del Rio. Is this the right call?

This is the subject of a big debate among Gators fans. Del Rio had a 5-1 record as the starter for Florida last season but was knocked out by a shoulder injury. He was basically the forgotten man during the spring and summer, with redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire getting most of the attention.

There’s no question about Feleipe Franks’ talent and upside. He has a much higher ceiling than Del Rio. And Franks’ running ability adds another dimension to a bland offense. But Franks’ inexperience has contributed to the Florida’s offensive famine.

And when Del Rio came off the bench to pass for two fourth-quarter touchdown in a stunner of a comeback win in the hostile setting at Kentucky, Del Rio decided to stay with the more reliable, if limited, quarterback.

I think it’s a good call … or at least an understandable call. Del Rio will start Saturday’s home game against a Vanderbilt defense that will be super cranked after getting crushed by Alabama last week.

5. We know No. 1 Alabama is great, but is there hope for other SEC teams?

Simple answer: no. In a mighty program like Alabama, you wouldn’t expect to see many true freshmen on the field — let alone getting substantial playing time.

And other teams use this as a recruiting pitch.

Son, Alabama is loaded with talent, and freshmen don’t play. You’ll have to wait a long time to get on the field.

Wrong. So far 15 of Alabama’s 27-member true freshman class already are contributing. And several are taking on meaningful roles including running back Najee Harris, wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, and linebacker Dylan Moses. Safeties Daniel Wright and Xavier McKinney are making an impact on special teams. Wide receiver Henry Ruggs III has turned heads. Thomas Fletcher is the long snapper on punts. And quarterback Tua Tagovailola — the nation’s No. 1 rated duel-threat quarterback as a recruit — has completed 15 of 23 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns. “Tago” isn’t pushing sophomore Jalen Hurts for the starting QB job, but if ‘Bama coach Nick Saban needs a relief pitcher he’s got a good one.

If you want to hear something negative on Alabama, then I guess I can tell you about the pass rush. The Crimson Tide are averaging only 1.25 sacks per game this season. Last year that average was 3.6 sacks per game.

Thanks for reading…

–Bernie

More – Wheeler’s Friday Football Frenzy: Taking the Cowboys Over the Rams, Nebraska Wins at Illinois