AP NEWS

Matter on the SEC: Shannon tries to salvage Gators’ spiraling season

November 3, 2017

COLUMBIA, MO. • Randy Shannon won’t attempt to reinvent Florida’s football team seven games into the season. Appointed to interim coach after Jim McElwain was ousted on Sunday, Shannon reshuffled some duties on the Gators’ defensive staff and opened the team’s quarterback competition.

Otherwise, Florida’s glaring problems are widespread, mostly on offense, and not the kind you solve in a four-week span.

The Gators allow the most sacks in the Southeastern Conference, 3.6 per game.

The Gators commit the most penalties in the SEC, 8.1 per game.

The passing game is among the least efficient in the Power Five, with a rating of 118.8.

Florida’s usually dominant defense is adequate but hardly elite in any category.

The Gators come into Saturday’s game at Missouri 3-4 but could just as easily be 1-6 were it not for some late heroics, a Hail Mary touchdown pass that beat Tennessee and a fourth-quarter rally against Kentucky. While the Tigers have won two straight, outscoring nonconference patsies Idaho and Connecticut 120-33, the Gators have trended the opposite direction, losing three straight. That, along with Florida’s midseason coaching change, helps explain why the Tigers are 3½-point favorites Saturday, the first time Mizzou has been favored to beat Florida since joining the SEC in 2012.

While Florida’s defense has controlled the last two meetings, Missouri’s experienced set of offensive skill players now faces a Gator secondary that surrounds one senior, cornerback Duke Dawson, with underclassmen. Five of the seven players on UF’s depth chart at nickelback and cornerback are true freshmen.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us to make sure we do things in the secondary, mix up coverages and do things I like to do,” said Shannon, who gave up his defensive coordinator role to defensive line coach Chris Rumph.

On Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock, Shannon said, “He’s making the throws and not turning the ball over. Like anything else, when you get a quarterback two years in a scheme and an offense they make a tremendous jump. He’s made that tremendous jump.”

Shannon’s plate is full with his quarterback situation this week. Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks has taken the bulk of the snaps this season, but one of Shannon’s first moves this week was opening the competition between Franks and graduate transfer Malik Zaire. As of Wednesday, Shannon hadn’t settled on a starter.

After watching last week’s 42-7 meltdown at Georgia, Shannon is just as concerned with the supporting cast around the quarterback, especially with Missouri playing better along the line of scrimmage the last few weeks.

“We’ve been working all week long on not giving up negative plays … from a mental standpoint,” Shannon said. “False starts, fumbled snaps. We had a lot of illegal procedures last week against Georgia. … Missouri has given up points but they play well up front. That’s always been Missouri’s deal. How can we handle the guys up front? We’ve got a big challenge for our offensive line against their defensive line.”

ANOTHER INTERIM COACH

Missouri’s Barry Odom has already been through a week of preparation for a team with an interim head coach. That happened last year when Ed Orgeron’s debut as LSU’s fill-in coach was a 42-7 victory over Odom’s Tigers. This week, Odom doesn’t want his team consumed by the news at Florida.

Shannon, a former Miami linebacker, won a national championship as his alma mater’s defensive coordinator in 2001 then took over as the program’s head coach six years later. The Hurricanes were just 28-22 in his four seasons in charge, and he’s since been an assistant at TCU, Arkansas and now Florida.

“Obviously I’ve got a great deal of respect for what he’s done over his career,” Odom said. “He’s been a head coach and been successful and a coordinator and been successful really everywhere he’s been. They’ve recruited extremely well at Florida. I know they’ve got tremendous coaches there. My suggestion for us and what we can handle as a team is to focus on us.”

JONES UNDER FIRE

As if things weren’t bad enough for Butch Jones. The embattled Tennessee coach, possibly coaching to keep his job the next four weeks, was asked Wednesday about a report that offensive lineman Brett Kendrick was put back into Saturday’s game against Kentucky after he’d shown concussion symptoms.

“We would never, ever knowingly put a student-athlete in harm’s way,” Jones said. “Our medical staff has full authority on removing players from competition but also in the return to play decision. I have absolutely no say in these decisions. On top of that, the SEC has done a great job of placing an independent medical observer in the press box at all games.”

Jones didn’t specifically address Kendrick’s status, only to tell local reporters in Knoxville, Tenn., that he won’t play Saturday against Southern Miss.

Angered over the Vols’ struggles under Jones, some Tennessee fans are planning to send a message to Tennessee athletics director John Currie by boycotting Saturday home game and started the Twitter hashtag #EmptyNeyland, as in Neyland Stadium, the Vols’ 102,000-seat stadium.

Tennessee is coming off consecutive nine-win seasons but is just 14-23 in SEC games under Jones and 0-5 this year.

Dave Matter @dave_matter on Twitter dmatter@post-dispatch.com

GAME OF THE WEEK

LSU at Alabama, 7 p.m., KMOV-4

Once the league’s premier matchups, Alabama-LSU has been all Crimson Tide with Nick Saban’s team winning the last six times. LSU is not out of the SEC West race and could shake up the division with an upset in Tuscaloosa.

SEC POWER POLL

1. Georgia

2. Alabama

3. Auburn

4. Mississippi State

5. LSU

6. Texas A&M

7. South Carolina

8. Kentucky

9. Florida

10. Arkansas

11. Ole Miss

12. Vanderbilt

13. Missouri

14. Tennessee

SEC SCHEDULE

UMass at Mississippi State, 11 a.m., SEC Network

Florida at Missouri, 11 a.m., ESPN2

Auburn at Texas A&M, 11 a.m., ESPN

Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 11 a.m., ESPNU

South Carolina at Georgia, 2:30 p.m., CBS

Coastal Carolina at Arkansas, 3 p.m., SEC Network Alternate

Ole Miss at Kentucky, 3 p.m., SEC Network

Southern Miss at Tennessee, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network

LSU at Alabama, 7 p.m., CBS