SEC Report: Luck with virus takes a turn, league leads way in salaries

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, October 15, 2020
In this Dec. 5, 2014, file photo, SEC logo is displayed on the field ahead of the Southeastern Conference championship football game between Alabama and Missouri in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
In this Dec. 5, 2014, file photo, SEC logo is displayed on the field ahead of the Southeastern Conference championship football game between Alabama and Missouri in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

For three weeks, the SEC played all 21 of its scheduled games while postponements or cancellations occurred around the country because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This week, the SEC schedule has been interrupted, too, with two games set for Saturday being moved to December.

LSU’s game at No. 10 Florida has been postponed to Dec. 12, the SEC announced Wednesday afternoon, because of a surge in positive tests for covid-19 among the Gators early this week.

The SEC announced on Monday that Vanderbilt’s game at Missouri was being postponed to Dec. 12 because the Commodores don’t have enough players available due to positive tests and contact tracing combined with injuries.

Bob Holt's SEC Rankings

1 Alabama

2 Georgia

3 Texas A&M

4 Florida

5 Tennessee

6 Auburn

7 Arkansas

8 Ole Miss

9 Kentucky

10 Missouri

11 South Carolina

12 Mississippi State

13 LSU

14 Vanderbilt

“We all know what we’re dealing with here,” Vanderbilt Coach Derek Mason said. “We’re dealing with times that nobody’s ever seen before. We’re doing the best we can to serve our student-athletes. That’s all about making sure we talk about the health, safety and welfare of the student-athletes first.

“Whether it’s injuries, whether it’s covid-related in response to where rosters sit, we are playing football in a pandemic. I don’t think anybody owes anybody any apologies [for not playing].”

Also Wednesday, it was revealed Alabama Coach Nick Saban has tested positive for covid-19, and Ole Miss Coach Lane Kiffin said his team is dealing with an outbreak as well.

The Alligator, Florida’s school newspaper, broke the story that 19 players had tested positive, resulting in the cancelation of Tuesday’s practice.

Florida Coach Dan Mullen said on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference that two assistant coaches had tested positive as well as several players.

The Gators have 18 scholarship players who tested positive and three walk-ons, Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin told ESPN. He said the players and staff members who tested positive are showing no symptoms or mild ones.

Stricklin told ESPN he wasn’t sure of the exact number of Gators who are quarantined because of contact tracing, but he said there would have been fewer than 50 scholarship players available for Saturday’s game.

SEC recommendations call for at least 53 scholarship players to be available for a team to play.

“It can sneak up on you in a hurry,” Stricklin told ESPN. “The key thing is you’ve got to have the ability to push the brake when things start to occur like what we’re seeing right now.

“You’ve got to be willing to hit pause occasionally. The SEC schedule was set up with an event like this in mind.”

The SEC set up two open dates for it 10-game, conference-only schedule with Dec. 12 — the week before the SEC Championship Game — for all schools, and each one also having a midseason open date on either Oct. 24, Oct. 31 or Nov. 7

“What we’re trying to do is just make sure we can get our teams out there so our kids can play, our fan bases can see football,” Mason said. “When we can’t do that, we’re disappointed. But it still comes back to the health, safety and welfare of the student-athletes.”

LSU Coach Ed Orgeron said Wednesday — prior to the SEC announcement — he wouldn’t be surprised if the game at Florida was postponed.

“Obviously, in 2020 this is what we’re dealing with,” Orgeron said. “I really think that the safety of the kids is the primary focus this week. So if it’s safe for us to play, we’re going to play. If the best thing for us is not to play, we shouldn’t play.”

SEC salaries

USA Today on Wednesday released its annual report on college football coaches salaries, with the SEC having six of the top 10.

Alabama’s Nick Saban tops the list at $9.3 million, with LSU’s Ed Orgeron second at $8,682,500.

Other SEC coaches in the top 10 are Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher No. 5 at $7.5 million; Georgia’s Kirby Smart No. 6 at $6,933,600; Auburn’s Gus Malzahn No. 7 at $6.9 million; and Florida’s Dan Mullen No. 10 at $6,070,000.

University of Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman is 14th among SEC coaches and No. 53 nationally at $2.9 million.

Among other SEC coaches, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops is No. 15 at $5,013,600; Mississippi State’s Mike Leach No. 16 at $5 million; South Carolina’s Will Muschamp No. 22 at $4,370,000; Missouri’s Eliah Drinkwitz No. 29 at $3,925,000; Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt No. 30 at $3,846,000; Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin No. 34 at $3,534,250; and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason No. 38 at $3,534,497.

Gator slayer

It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise that Jimbo Fisher’s first victory as Texas A&M coach over a top-five team came against Florida.

The Aggies’ 41-38 victory over then-No. 4 Florida on Saturday improved Fisher to 8-1 against the Gators.

Fisher was 7-1 against Florida when he was Florida’s State’s coach from 2010-17, including a five-game winning streak before he left for Texas A&M.

The Gators’ lone victory over Fisher was in 2012 when No. 4 Florida beat No. 10 FSU 37-26.

Since Fisher left, Florida has won both of its matchups against the Seminoles.

‘Dorky’ Drinkwitz

Missouri Coach Eliah Drinkwitz used some self-deprecating humor when asked on the “Paul Finebaum Show” whether he really believed his Tigers could beat LSU, which they did 45-41 last week.

“You live up or down to your expectations, period,” Drinkwitz, an Alma native, told Finebaum. “No offense, I’m a 5-foot-10 dorky white dude that has no business being a college football coach.

“The reality of it is, we have high expectations and high goals, and you meet them. That’s really what you have to do, especially when you’re trying to change a culture and establish a championship mindset.”

Drinkwitz told Finebaum coaches and players can’t simply hope for a desired result and expect it to happen.

“You can’t hope for anything,” Drinkwitz said. “When you hope for something, you hope somebody else screws it up. You’re hoping that they mess up.

“When you set a standard and expectation, you work towards it every single day. For us, it’s about working towards that goal. Set your standard of performance.”

Runs like a Tank

Auburn freshman Tank Bigsby has come on strong for the Tigers with the team having other running backs injured.

Bigsby, 6-0 and 205 pounds, is averaging 161.3 all-purpose yards to lead the SEC. He has 192 rushing yards, 84 receiving and 208 on kickoff returns.

In Auburn’s 30-28 victory over Arkansas last week, Bigsby had 20 carries for 146 yards; 4 receptions for 16 yards; and 4 kickoff returns for 106 yards.

“He loves playing football,” Tigers Coach Gus Malzahn said. “He’s got confidence. He’s got a great positive spirit about him, and he has that edge.

“You see him running it, and he’s got the potential to really keep going. That’s what is exciting for me.”

Malzahn said what’s impressed him the most about Bigsby is his physical play and determination.

“He’s still learning the plays. He is still learning the schemes and the steps and everything that goes with it,” Malzahn said. “But one thing he’s doing is he’s bringing the wood. He’s running angry with great physicality and with great effort.

“I really think you’ll see, after the game slows down a little bit and he actually can read things and slow himself down, that the sky is the limit.”

Aggies lose WR

Texas A&M sophomore receiver Caleb Chapman, who had 9 catches for 151 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Aggies’ 41-38 victory over Florida, is out for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament

Six picks for UK

Six different Kentucky players intercepted a pass in the Wildcats’ 24-2 victory over Mississippi State, including an 8-yard return for a touchdown by Jordan Wright.

Also getting interceptions were Jamin Davis, Josh Paschal, Kelvin Joseph, D’Eryk Jackson and Boogie Watson.

The interception total fell one short of a school record.

Kentucky set the record with seven interceptions against Florida and coach Steve Spurrier in 1993, but the Gators won 24-20.

MSU ‘malcontents’

Mississippi State’s offense has been in a decline since the Bulldogs shocked the college football world by opening the season with a 44-34 victory at defending national champion LSU.

Arkansas ended a 20-game SEC losing streak by beating Mississippi State 21-14, then Kentucky kept the Bulldogs’ offense scoreless in a 24-2 victory.

“We’re going to have to check some of our group and figure out who really wants to play here,” Mississippi State Coach Mike Leach said after the game. “Because any malcontents, we’re going to have to purge a couple of those.”

Leach said in his weekly news conference Monday that having some players not buy into a new coaching staff is common.

“I think this happens every time you take over a new program,” said Leach, who previously was the head coach at Texas Tech and Washington State. “We do have a few fence-riders that are trying to decide if they’re going to commit or not to what everybody’s doing here.

“I’ve been through a number of these transitions, [and you see] who are going to do the wait-and-see thing — ‘Well, I’ll see if I like what I see.’ Well, that’s too bad. The train rolls on. They need to jump on board pretty quickly or the train’s going to roll on without them.”

Player to Watch: Alabama RB Najee Harris

Harris was the SEC offensive player of the week after having 23 carries for 206 yards and 5 touchdowns at Ole Miss. He’ll find the yards much tougher to pick up against Georgia’s No. 1-ranked rushing defense in the nation. The Bulldogs are holding opponents to 38.3 rushing yards per game.

Game of the Week: No. 3 Georgia at No. 2 Alabama

WHERE Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

RECORDS Georgia 3-0, Alabama 3-0

RANKINGS Alabama is ranked No. 2 and Georgia is ranked No. 3.

LINE Alabama is favored by 4 1/2 points.

Georgia plays at Alabama for the first time since 2007 — when the Bulldogs won 26-23 — in what could be a preview of the SEC Championship Game.

Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban is 2-0 against Bulldogs Coach Kirby Smart, his former defensive coordinator, with narrow victories in the 2017 College Football Playoff title game (26-23 in overtime) and 2018 SEC Championship Game (35-28). But it’s unlikely Saban will be on the sidelines after the announcement Wednesday he has tested positive for covid-19.

Alabama has a five-game winning streak in the series.

By the Numbers

1984 – Last time Kentucky won at Tennessee

11 — Interceptions thrown by Mississippi State quarterbacks

0 of 10 – Third-down conversions by LSU in a 45-41 loss at Missouri

Quotable

“This offense is prepared to strike fear in opponents. To know that, ‘Hey, if you give these guys the ball, expect that it isn’t going to just be one player, it’s going to be multiple players getting the ball, multiple players making plays.’ ”

— Alabama running back Najee Harris

“Offensively, we’re not coaching very well right now. We have to coach better. If you look at this game, nearly every problem that we have was self-inflicted. With a lot of respect to Kentucky, but one self-inflicted wound after the next.”

— Mississippi State Coach Mike Leach on the Bulldogs’ 24-2 loss at Kentucky.

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