A couple of days before Tennessee hired Lane Kiffin as head football coach in November 2008, I got out the ginsu knives and wrote this in my previous journalistic stop for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis:
The rest of the SEC is hoping Tennessee hires the 33-year-old Kiffin, who happens to be just a year older than former Vols quarterback Peyton Manning. Sticking Kiffin in the SEC’s all-star lineup of coaches that includes four who have won national championships (Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Les Miles, Urban Meyer) and another with an unbeaten season (Tommy Tuberville) would be like tossing a goldfish into a pool of piranhas.
And that was the gentle part of the column.
I refer to old material to provide context for what I’m about to write in week 4 of SEC Rewind:
Lane Kiffin is a considerably better offensive coordinator now at Alabama than he ever was as a head coach at Tennessee, USC and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders – Maybe Kiffin, still a relatively young guy at age 39, will eventually get another head coaching job, and maybe he’ll be better equipped to handle it. But, there are also coaches who are just better as coordinators than the guy who sits in hottest coaching seat, and there’s no shame in that.
If you watched any of Alabama’s 42-21 victory over Florida on Saturday, you saw Kiffin’s superb playcalling, starting with the Crimson Tide scoring on their first offensive snap on an 87-yard Blake Sims to Kenyan Drake pass.
Kiffin has already taken Sims, a fifth-year senior quarterback who never started a game in his career until this year, and made him comfortable. Sims threw for 445 yards and four TDs against the Gators, the second most passing yards ever in a game in Alabama history.
Kiffin is also making sure that he’s taking advantage of enormously talented wide receiver Amari Cooper, who leads the FBS with 163.8 yards per game receiving (43 catches for 655 yards, 5 TDs). Yet he understands when it’s time to pound defenses, he has the running backs to do so (T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Drake).
Through four games, Alabama has rushed for 1,007 yards and passed for 1,343, averaging 587.5 yards and 42 points per game. That’s a balanced offense.
To put the gaudy averages in perspective, Alabama’s single season records for total offense and scoring are 480.7 yards by the Tide’s Wishbone option-heavy 1973 national championship team (366.1 ypg rushing) and 43 points per game by the undefeated and No. 2 nationally ranked 1945 squad.
If Alabama can come close to maintaining its offensive pace, it should compensate for some fixable defense woes and emerge as the SEC’s best chance to win the national championship.
One of the best Steve Spurrier postgames rant ever – The ‘Ol Ball Coach stammered, sputtered and repeated himself all through his 6:21 postgame press conference following South Carolina’s 48-34 victory at Vanderbilt.
Forget the fact the Gamecocks’ win made Spurrier the second winningest coach in SEC history behind Alabama’s Bear Bryant. He was beside himself, mainly because Vanderbilt’s Darrius Sims returned kickoffs 91 and 100 yards for touchdowns.
Here are some Spurrier excerpts:
“The way we play is embarrassing, and I’m the head coach of this group of embarrassing guys that allowed two kickoff returns.
“It’s embarrassing, but we are who we are. We’re not a very good team, but we’re 3-1, somehow we’ve got all the voters fooled thinking we’re pretty good because we beat Georgia. I don’t know exactly what all can help this time, I really don’t. We coached our butts off all week, we can look like a decent team and of course they run the opening kickoff back.
“I’m taking over the kickoff coverage. I told (South Carolina special teams) Coach JoeRob (former LSU special teams coach and LSU graduate Joe Robinson) that I’m not watching it anymore. I’m going to take it. It was sad. We kept running right by the kickoff return guy and he split us just about every time, I guess.
“We have to score a touchdown almost every time or we’re going to get our butts beat somehow or another. . .I’ll try to get smarter in the future, and hopefully we’ll get better.
“We’ve all seen good football teams. We ain’t one. Don’t say we’re one right now. . .maybe we can be. It’s no fun for me watching us play tonight. It’s one of the worst (wins) I’ve ever had. . .I should be nicer. . .but I’m frustrated.”
LSU isn’t the only SEC team with shaky quarterback play: LSU sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings has started just five college games, suffering his first loss Saturday night when he led the Tigers to only one touchdown in a 34-29 loss to Mississippi State. So if Jennings has his moments where he holds the ball too long and gets sacked rather than throwing the ball away, you can still write it off partly to inexperience.
But the same can’t be said for Florida redshirt junior Jeff Driskel, a former five-star recruit who hasn’t come close to living up to the hype. In his 17th start on Saturday, more than any current SEC quarterbacks except for Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace, Driskel turned in a dismal performance in the Gators’ 21-point loss to Alabama.
Though he ran for a 14-yard TD to tie game 21-21 early in the third quarter, Driskel’s passing stats of 9-of-28 for 93 yards, one TD and two interceptions were completely unacceptable for someone with his experience.
The one thing Florida coach Will Muschamp didn’t do that LSU coach Les Miles did was go to his bench and try a true freshman quarterback.
Miles went to Brandon Harris, who responded by throwing for 140 yards and two TDs in the game’s final 3:43. On the final play of the night, Harris had a game-winning Hail Mary throw intercepted at the goal line.
Muschamp couldn’t bring himself to yank Driskel and insert freshman backup Treon Harris.
“I considered it, but Jeff gives us the best chance to win right now,” Muschamp said. “For us to win a game like that, Jeff Driskel needs to play.”
Florida has an open date this week, so Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper have time to decide if Harris sees more action.
But LSU plays at home Saturday against New Mexico State, a 2-2 team improved over the previous three seasons when it allowed 40 or more points in 23 games, including more than 50 points in four games last season. It appears Miles and LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have some wiggle room if they want to seriously take a look at Harris as a starter.