What I think about some things I saw over the weekend . . .
Judging by the Twitter discourse, which may or may not reflect real life, Georgia fans were frustrated that the Bulldogs didn’t try many long passes in the win against Notre Dame. Some blamed offensive coordinator James Coley and others faulted quarterback Jake Fromm. The griping ended after Fromm made two big-time throws to Lawrence Cager during the fourth-quarter drive that finally put Notre Dame away.
Cager, a graduate transfer from Miami, may be the big-play wide receiver the Bulldogs are seeking. We didn’t see it until Fromm threw the ball up for him to go get it. It took a while, whether by Coley’s design or via Fromm’s decisions. Fromm may not throw deep dimes like Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa but it’s not as if he isn’t a capable thrower.
Fromm didn’t throw deep much during Georgia’s first three games. The Bulldogs never really needed to do it. But as the Bulldogs kept dinking and dunking against Notre Dame, I thought back to something coach Kirby Smart said after the opener at Vanderbilt.
“We know what kind of (defensive) fronts we are going to see,” Smart said then. “We’ve got to expand and do more things and throw the ball down the field, stretch the field get some wideouts involved. I think Jake can do that. We’ve got to protect him.”
The Bulldogs did it Saturday after Notre Dame forced the issue. I was surprised by how many people seemed to think Georgia would steamroll the Irish. I watched Notre Dame play Louisville in the season opener and, as noted in my Weekend Predictions, they “can take away the short passing routes the Bulldogs favor.” That’s what happened for most of the game as Notre Dame closed quickly on UGA’s pass catchers and tackled crisply.
Georgia usually can depend on its power running game, but Notre Dame’ made that difficult, too. Georgia is likely to face a similar challenge later in the season. After the weekend, the defenses for Florida, Auburn, Missouri and Texas A&M all rank within the top 15 in Bill Connelly’s SP+ adjusted efficiency metric. Chances are Coley/Fromm will have to take some shots downfield in one or more of those games.
Freddie Freeman’s elbow flared up
This should be a relaxing time for the Braves. They clinched the NL East over the weekend and are getting ready for the postseason. That’s why it was a but unsettling to see Freddie Freeman leave Sunday’s game because of a bothersome right elbow. The same issue caused him to leave a game at Washington a couple weeks ago.
AJC Braves beat writer Gabriel Burns reports that Freeman doesn’t plan on playing again until Friday. He didn’t travel with the Braves for a two-game trip to Kansas City that begins Tuesday. Freeman said the elbow has bothered him over the last few days.
“Hopefully these next four days will make it all go away and I can clear my head and have a nice series to end it before getting ready for the playoffs,” Freeman said.
That’s . . . not ideal. Freeman famously doesn’t like to sit out so he must be genuinely concerned about the elbow. If resting it doesn’t help, then it obviously would be a major downer for the Braves to go into the NLDS with Freeman not at full strength.
Ronald Acuna Jr. is a great young hitter, but Freeman still is the team’s best. He’s been The Guy for the Braves since Chipper Jones retired. After a strong run to another East title the Braves deserve to have Freeman healthy so they can take their best shot at winning the pennant.
Falcons flopped while Saints and Panthers rose up
The Falcons lost at Indy on Sunday after falling behind 23-0. Meanwhile, the Saints won as a four-point underdog at Seattle without Drew Brees and the Panthers beat the Cardinals on the road as 2-1/2-point ’dogs without Cam Newton.
The loss to the Colts was dispiriting for the Falcons under the circumstances. They were fortunate to beat the Eagles in Week 2 and the injuries to Newton and especially Brees seemingly opened up the division. But the Falcons fell flat with an uninspired effort while their division rivals went on the road and raised their level of play under dire circumstances.
At least the Falcons still can count on the Buccaneers to be bad. Jameis Winston set up a game-winning field-goal attempt with a 44-yard completion to Mike Evans to the nine-yard line against the Giants. Bucs coach Bruce Arians deliberately took a delay-of-game penalty because, he said, the kick was easier for Matt Gay from five yards farther.
Gay’s kick went just wide right. Oops.
Earlier in the fourth quarter Arians had the Buccaneers run the ball seven times in a row with the Bucs leading by a field goal and 10:27 left. That drive started at New York’s 42-yard line after a fumble recovery and ended with a field goal. Maybe Arians just doesn’t trust Winston to pass, but that can’t be it because I was told Arians is a genius who would develop Winston into a good NFL quarterback.
Georgia State lost a weird game
The Panthers lost their Sun Belt opener to Texas State in triple overtime. It was a strange game in a lot of ways, including the ESPN+ stream. The main camera angle was so sharp it was giving me vertigo. The announcers sounded like they were at another location. It was like one of those high school football broadcasts produced by the A.V. club on the public access channel.
Anyway, the game looked like it was over in regulation when Georgia State spiked the ball at the three-yard line as the clock expired. But a second was added back after a replay review and the Panthers kicked a field goal to tie the game. Georgia State scored a TD first in overtime, Texas State matched than and then both teams missed field-goal attempts in the second OT.
The Panthers missed another field goal in the third OT before Texas State made one to win. Tough break for the Panthers. They’ll always have that W over Tennessee.
Tennessee lost ugly at Florida
Speaking of the Vols, they are 0-3 against FBS opponents after losing 34-3 at Florida. Florida’s offense, which hadn’t been anything special, totaled 441 yards. Gators quarterback Kyle Trask made his first start since he was a freshman in high school and passed for 293 yards with two TDs and two picks. Defense is supposed to be coach Jeremy Pruitt’s specialty.
Year 2 for Pruitt has been bad enough that Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports is speculating that AD Phil Fulmer is angling to can Pruitt and become head coach again. Thamel writes that “coaches and administrators around the league are taking bets on when (Fulmer) coronates himself hero to return to the sideline.” He adds that “the running joke . . . is that they expect him to wait until Tennessee clears the difficult portion of its schedule before he coronates himself.”
By the way, the Gators are 4-0 for the first time since 2015. Florida’s defense looks legit, which can only mean it’s setting up for a third-and-Grantham for the Bulldogs in Jacksonville.
Texas A&M didn’t get value with Jimbo Fisher again
After Texas A&M lost at home to Auburn as a four-point favorite Saturday, the Aggies are 11-6 under coach Jimbo Fisher. That comes out to about $7 million per victory so far. Fisher was 27-1 with Winston as his quarterback and is 67-28 without him. Add that to the pile of evidence showing that great players are more valuable than (allegedly) great coaches.
Fisher still is early in his tenure at Texas A&M. But the perception was that the Aggies had underachieved under predecessor Kevin Sumlin and Fisher would immediately make them contenders. Instead, he’s already generating headlines like this one in the San Antonio-Express News: “More than anything, Jimbo Fisher’s money buys him time.”
About that contract: Texas A&M owes Fisher $75 million guaranteed. When Fisher was hired criticism of the deal centered on the lack of a buyout owed to the school if Fisher decides to leave. Maybe the real risk is the Aggies will end up stuck with Fisher for a while.
My Weekend Predictions were great
I was 7-0-1 against the spread on college games. I had a chance for perfect day when they put that second back on the clock in the Georgia State game, but ended up settling for the push anyway. I avoided going crazy on underdogs and picked the right ones: Notre Dame, Auburn and USC. The Tigers and Trojans won outright.
I faded to a 2-4 mark on NFL Sunday. The only thing worse than trusting the Falcons was giving points with the Cardinals. And it seems as if I’m always on the wrong side with the Saints.
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