Since Alabama plays Bye this week — a team with a more dangerous offense than Mississippi State — we’re handing out our Superlatives on the season and grading the position units. We’ve previously covered the offense and defense. Today we’ll hit the rest of the team, take step back and look at the bigger picture, both in the SEC and national play. And we’ll pass out some less illustrious awards.
The Black Fly In Your Chardonnay Award
No, no that’s not irony. However, a black fly in an overpriced glass of unoaked chard at happy hour is not a recipe for a happy ‘Bammer. So too is it an unpleasant surprise to see an Alabama team that is not able to punt a football. As we have often remarked, Alabama special teams are simply incapably of doing all phases of the game well at the same time. Great kick return games usually means the Tide can’t hit an extra point. Outstanding punt returners almost certainly means that Alabama will miss field goals with alacrity. And that is true this year as well. Alabama is dead last in punting in the SEC — and by a full 5 yards per attempt, at 35.94 YPA. The Crimson Tide, in fact, are 105th nationally in net punting average. The saving grace is that the Tide do it so rarely — UA is 108th in attempts, at just 2.7 per game. Thank you, Steve Sarkisian.
The Goat, Not GOAT Award
Awarded to a player that gets picked on the most by the fan base. Ordinarily reserved for kickers, this year it goes to a certain member of the secondary whose propensity to gamble and dislike of tackling have taken two years off my life (though that player shall remain nameless wink, wink). That said, there are some dishonorable mentions to be had: DJ Dale’s arm tackles, any and all attempts at blocking by Miller Forristall, and Christian Harris in pass coverage (seriously, go watch the tape — you’ll see the back of No. 8’s jersey an obscene amount of time). You can’t win ‘em all. But, don’t look at this as criticism in a vacuum; rather view this as an opportunity for self-improvement.
The Big Dick Energy Award:
Will Reichard (PK) — After a decade of being scarred by missed field goals, all we wanted in life was to die having seen another competent kicker in Crimson; one who could reliably hit manageable field goals, not miss extra points, and give the offense a fighting chance to put three on the board if drives bog down. What we got was Will Reichard. A true weapon.
At quarterback, wide out, and even defensive back, we expect cocksure attitudes from those convinced that he swings the biggest schlong in the bar. But Reichard takes a back seat to no one. He is perfect on the year in kicks: He leads the nation at 37-of-37 on PAT, leads the nation in PAT attempts per game (6.2), is tied for first in FGA accuracy (100% 8-of-8 — long 52), and is 4th in the nation in scoring. And with the way he carries himself, you legitimately think he may never miss again.
Swing it freely, Will. You have won the Big Dick Energy Award.
Worst Single Play Call of the Year
Pete, buddy, you knew this was going to fall in your lap. Despite my age and decrepitude, I think this may be one of the top 10 dumbest ideas I’ve seen in decades of watching football.
Let’s set the scene. It’s the fourth game of the season, Alabama is in a dogfight against one of the most dangerous teams it will face this year, a game with playoff implications...and a game that is tied. Alabama has had a godawful month, especially trying to cover backs out of the backfield.
Nevertheless, Golding dials up this play for a young, inexperienced defense: He has No. 8 showing blitz before splitting Christian Harris out wide to cover James Cook in one-on-one coverage — Alabama’s worst pass-defending linebacker against the fastest player on the Bulldogs roster. It is a cover-one look that has Hellams cheating the field-side of the play to bracket George Pickens (despite an overload on the boundary side of the play, and despite PSII being on Pickens) — this effectively leaves cover-zero against four eligible receivers on the boundary side...and two of those Alabama defenders are linebackers.
And then when spotting this mismatch, Golding didn’t signal for an audible or timeout.
In a vacuum, it’s a bad play. But under the circumstances, against the opponent, and with that Tide defense, it was coaching malpractice.
Dishonorable mention — Punting on 4th and short from inside Georgia territory, with UGA having all the momentum in the game. The ‘Dawgs immediately and predictably scored thereafter. Or all those analytically-despised running plays on 2nd and long. It is the most wasted play for the down and distance in football at any level of play. And Alabama is addicted to them.
Put Some Respeck On It — Best Single Play of the Year:
Sorry, he’s not Coach Sarkisian, or even Coach Sark. He’s Steve MF’in Sarkisian. The man is a genius.
Absolute genius design by Sark there.— Roll ‘Bama Roll (@rollbamaroll) October 18, 2020
He splits Najee out wide, with 17 in the backfield. Najee and Waddle as the two backs at the snap.
Then Waddle goes out on the swing, Najee stays in to block, but the pass is a wheel in the slot to DeVonta.
The fake curl from Smitty before going on the wheel sells this too. There is simply no way to defend this play.
Alabama Newcomer of the Year
Yes, yes. We know. You want Malachi Moore here. No, you’re not getting him. Instead, you’re getting John Metchie III — the smooth-as-butter Canadian with serious wheels. On an offense with Waddle and Smitty, he is having every bit as productive a season as either of them.
He’s 19th in the nation in yards (517), is third in the nation in yards per catch among players with more than two games play (21.54), behind Waddle and K State’s Deuce Vaughn. And he has 80.52 yards per game — on only 4.0 catches-per, to go with his three scores. With Waddle out for the season, Metch has become a critical part of this offense and is poised for an explosive second-half stretch.
SEC Coach of the Half-Season:
Sam Pittman. With a bullet.
Is there any question who this would be? While the Piggies are just 2-3, the Arkansas Razorbacks have now won more conference games in 6 weeks than they did in the preceding three years. Even when they’ve not won, Arkansas has been competitive in every game this season. They were cheesed out of a win in Auburn. They held Ole Miss to their lowest total of the season — just 21 points, while also forcing six turnovers. They dominated Georgia for a half. And aside from Alabama, no one has played A&M to a closer game.
They’re doing this all with some old chewing gum, baling wire and coaching. This team has no talent. They have a bad rushing defense, a bad-to-mediocre offense, and a bad-to-mediocre kicking game. But they force turnovers, leading the SEC in both TOs forced and in TO margin. The Hogs lead the conference in passing YPA (6.1, ahead of even Georgia). They are second in interceptions forced (10, behind only Kentucky’s 11). And they’re super smart — they are first in the SEC in forcing opponent penalties and just third in being flagged themselves.
The Razorbacks have no business being competitive in games, much should they be 3-2 (forever, SEC). But, with Auburn, Georgia and A&M out of the way, the Hogs lighter back-end could set them up for postseason play. What a remarkable turnaround.
National Coach of the Half-Season:
Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina
Before Coastal became the darling of the Sun Beast, Chadwell was a two-time finalist for FCS National Coach of the Year at Charleston Southern (yes, the Charleston Southern that Alabama beat but that fought and scrapped against the Tide for 60 minutes). He’s on just his third season as an FBS Coach, and I have a very hard time believing he’ll be in the midmajors for long. Coastal Carolina presently sits at 7-0 on the season, and is ranked 15th in the country.
Theirs is not a pity ranking either. The Chanticleers rank 13th nationally in offense; 17th in defense; 12th in turnover margin, 6th in sacks; 18th in TFL; 6th in 3rd down conversions; and on and on and on. There is not a thing this team doesn’t do well. They handed the Ragin’ Cajuns their only loss of the season, and did it on the road (30-27). They handed Georgia State their worst loss to a fellow SBC team in history (51-0). They doubled up 4-2 Georgia Southern on the road, holding the Eagles to their lowest output in yards and points. They handed Arkansas State their worst loss of the season. And Arkansas State beat Kansas State on the road.
What a remarkable job by Chadwell. If I’m South Carolina, I’m calling his agent now.
Runner-Up: Kalani Sitake, BYU — This was a deep, veteran team entering the 2020 season. But what Coach Sitake has done with them has been breathtaking, especially in a year with so many distractions. Aside from one hangover half of football, there has not been a moment this year when the Cougars have not been in the moment. At No. 9 nationally, this is the highest ranked BYU has been in 17 seasons, and there is talk about whether it can compete for a playoff berth. Let’s tap the brakes on that for now, and see if BYU can pass its first real test of sorts, beating Boise State on the road this weekend.
Mac Jones (QB, Alabama)
Among players with more than 2 games played, Jones leads all quarterbacks in:
- Yards per attempt (12.4)
- Completions over 30 yards (17)
- Completion percentage over 30 yards (57.8%)
- Completion Percent (78.5%)
- QB Rating (210.32)
Mac has thrown 16 TDs to just two interceptions. He is 8th in completions-made, despite only throwing 29 times per game (49th). And is 3rd in yards per game, with a ridiculous 336.0 YPG...again, on just 29.4 attempts per contest.
Overall, Jones has keyed an offense that leads in the nation in scoring at 47.4 points per game.
How impressive has all of this been? Look at the competition — he has done this against three of the nation’s top 25 defenses, including two that were then in the Top 5. And he’s on pace to shatter Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa’s efficiency output.
There’s not a better player against better competition. Give him the dang thing.
Midseason Bronco Nagurski Award (Defensive Heisman)
Grant Morgan (LB, Arkansas)
What a great story. The three-star former walk-on from Greenwood (AR) is having himself a whale of a year on an overachieving Hogs defense. He’s 8th nationally in tackles per game (11.6), second in assisted tackles despite playing just 5 games, and 9th overall in total tackles.
To those totals add his 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, a critical pick-six against Ole Miss, and his 4.0 PBUs at middle linebacker.
There are players with gaudier stats, and certainly far more talented ones. But I don’t think I’ve seen one this productive, who runs on 100% heart and such limited talent. If there were a mascot for 2020 Arkansas football, it’s Morgan.
Midseason Joe Moore Award
The best offensive line resides again in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. There are some quality ones at places like Cincinnati, for sure. And Georgia has rounded into their typical dominant form. But, if the award is to mean anything, it has to go to the Tide...for all the reasons outlined yesterday.
Midseason Thorpe Award
Patrick Surtain II (CB, Alabama)
There are a few ways to evaluate corners. Do you take the jaw-dropping stats of guys like Ahmad Gardner (Cincinnati)? The raw athleticism of players like Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech)? Or the feast-and-famine explosiveness and production that NFL teams will adore in Derek Stingley, Jr. (LSU)?
Or, do you take a player that almost gets bored simply because offenses won’t even throw his direction? We’re going with the latter, since the point of a cornerback is to cover the wide receiver, make a play on the ball, and then make the tackle if a reception is made. But you can eliminate 2/3rds of that equation if teams are too scared to even throw your direction. Such is the case with PSII.
Last year, Surtain was second in nation in coverage rate. This season he leads the nation in coverage rate. He is also the highest-graded defensive back in the country. How good has he been? The average defensive back in college football yields 1.1 yard per coverage snap — PSII is almost half of that — .69 yards per coverage snap. There is not a close second in the country, either. And, when he has been targeted, well...
Patrick Surtain with a Interception pic.twitter.com/0Ce5JaR74J— Alabama DieHards (@AlabamaDieHards) November 1, 2020
Defensive backs generate those stats we love because opposing offenses think they can make a play throwing their direction. But you can’t break up passes not thrown at you; you can’t intercept balls on the other side of the field. PSII negates half of an opposing passing game before the first snap, and that’s about as good of a job as a corner can do.
Runner-Up: Any of those guys up there (aside from Stingley...There’s a lot of Josh Norman in him. Mouthy, erratic, kind of skinny, not very physical, prone to giving up busts). But I guess give me Cincinnati’s Gardner. He’s faced some unreal passing offenses and shut them down. And, when he’s not negating some of the most explosive offenses in the country, he’s generating big plays for his Bearcats. Not too bad for a 3-star freshman, eh?
Midseason Biletnikoff Award
DeVonta Smith (WR, Alabama)
Smitty is just a beast. DeVonta averages 13.55 yards per catch and already well on his way to a 1000 yard season (759 yards). He is 3rd in nationally in receptions per game (9.2), 3rd in scoring, and 8th in YPG (126.5). He is a homerun threat with the fearlessness to go over the middle, and there is no one that runs better routes in the country. And to have put up such eye-popping numbers in an offense that has Metchie, Bolden, Baker, and Najee and had Jaylen Waddle is absurd.
And again, look at the team defenses he’s done it against too.
Runner-Up: There are quite a few good ones out there. Terrace Marshall at LSU looks to be the real deal. Marlon Williams at UCF is a load. But probably the second best non-Bama wideout I’ve seen this year resides just a short jaunt away in Oxford — Elijah Moore is a stud. He narrowly leads the SEC in total receiving yards and yards per game.
Midseason Mackey Award
Kyle Pitts (TE, Florida)
There’s not a better hybrid TE/H-Back in the game. He is a mismatch nightmare, capable of running the seams, with the power to blast linebackers, the route-running to fare well against nicklebacks, and the speed to separate from safeties.
Pitts averages 16.44 yards per catch...as a tight end. He has 89 yards per game, and has already hauled in 7 scores on the season. He also doesn’t drop passes. Ever. He has caught 33 straight balls thrown his way. He also is a physical player who loves to drop down on the line and block.
Pat Freiermuth at Penn State is a beast, and so too is A&M’s Jalen Wydermyer. But have you actually seen Kyle Pitts play? Speed, power, hands, route-running. It doesn’t get better than this. He’s the first TE taken next April for a reason.
Florida's Kyle Pitts (6-foot-6, 240), an early favorite for TE1 in the 2021 NFL Draft, is a freak — rare athlete for his size.pic.twitter.com/DfFlmnROBT— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) May 31, 2020
Big Disgrace — Individual Honors
Dan Mullen, Clown Town
We’ve said it all already. This bozo should be watching from home this weekend, not coaching a game.
Big Disgrace — Group Honors
It is a poorly officiated conference; it always has been. But what they’ve done this year is directly gift Auburn at least two wins, and perhaps a third. They double down on their incompetence by bullshitting their way through replays with unbelievable explanations. Then they issue a clarifying statement or new rule or new interpretation a few days later, and almost weekly, to hide the fact that they botched it the first time around.
Worse? When broached with even mild criticism, they publicly rebuked Lane Kiffin and fined him $25,000 — the same punishment they doled out to Dan Mullen for attacking an official, going after two Mizzou coaches, shrieking at opposing players, hyping up Florida Field after his players swings fists and helmets, and after he damn near instigated a riot on the field.
Good job, guys.
The level of play in this conference deserves better officiating, and Greg Sankey damn well knows it.