Gus Bradley said his instincts told him it was time for a change. If Bradley’s instincts had spoken, then his bosses should have.
After perhaps the worst half of football in Jaguars history – and that’s a mouthful – Bradley inserted hope into the team’s future. The Blake Bortles Era began.
Did Bradley really have any other choice? Fans were fleeing from Everbank Field like rats leaping from a burning ship after the Colts took a 30-0 halftime lead in the team’s home opener.
The Jaguars were – are? – on the verge of hitting an all-time low both on the field and with its fan base.
As bad as it has been for the Jaguars in recent years – 6-29 since the start of the 2012 season – this season’s start was worse. Yes, even worse than last year when the Jaguars set NFL historical lows during the first half of the season.
What made this year even worse was the expectation of the fans. They’ve been told the Jaguars were headed in the right direction under this regime of the Young Dynamic Duo, GM David Caldwell and Coach Gus Bradley. The buzz was incredible. The fan support was booming.
Fans were also told that the future would be brighter if Bortles, the third overall pick in this year’s draft, sat on the sideline all season, learning his craft and improving his fundamentals as a quarterback. There was grumbling about playing Bortles, but no serious quarterback controversy.
Chad Henne could be the care keeper of the position for year as the rest of the team improved thanks to free agent signings and another draft class. Then Bortles would take over.
The plan might have looked good on paper, but it was a disaster on the field. Ironically, it wasn’t Henne’s play that was the problem. Henne played okay – about the same as he’s played throughout his mediocre career.
The offensive line has been a nightmare. The group of young wide receivers has struggled knowing the plays. The defense, which was supposed to be much improved and carry the team, has become the laughingstock of the NFL. It has given up 37 points a game. (The Colts, for example, scored on every offensive possession in the first half of their eventual 44-17 victory.) Bradley’s coaching has become suspect. Caldwell’s judge of talent is being questioned.
Something had to be done. Now!
Enter Bortles. He did, indeed, give the team a spark, albeit against a Colts team that simply wanted to get the game over and head home with its first victory of the season. He escaped pressure several times and made highlight-reel type plays. He also threw two interceptions, both totally his fault.
Whether Bortles actually makes a difference is unknown, but at least, for the moment hope has been renewed.
This is a week when our “home” teams could start to feel a lot better about themselves, but the reality is most will be singing the blues louder than ever when the weekend ends.
This week’s predictions:
Colts (0-2) at Jaguars (0-2), 1 p.m. –The Colts are a mad 0-2 team. They missed an opportunity for an eye-popping win in Denver and then blew a home victory against the Eagles with a late turnover. Meanwhile, the Jaguars are a 0-2 team that opens its home season confused and staring blankly into mirrors. The Jaguars’ already ganged young receiving unit will be without Marquis Lee and Marcedes Lewis and, understandably, that’s a problem, but I still don’t quite think that’s an excuse for what Coach Gus Bradley describes as double-digit mental mistakes. Sure, experience is preferable to inexperience, but, really, how difficult can knowing the plays be? We’ve been brainwashed into thinking football is more complicated than calculus. It’s not. The Colts, favored by 7, win 35-17.
Florida (2-0) at Alabama (3-0), 3:30 p.m. – Gators, remember those long-ago days when going to Tuscaloosa meant taking a whippin’? They’re back. Florida still looks like it’s a long way from regaining elite status. Kentucky shredded the Gators’ highly regarded defense. What’s Alabama’s powerful running game going to do to it? Offensively, the Gators went back into their conservative shell against the Wildcats. You’d better have some big plays against the Tide because grinding out 12-play, 80-yard drives against ‘Bama are rare. The Crimson Tide, favored by 15, wins 32-13.
Clemson (1-1) at FSU (2-0), 8 pm. – The Seminoles just don’t seem to be hitting on all cylinders and Jameis Winston has once again shown the maturity of a 6-year-old, but the Tigers usually bring out the best in FSU. Winston doesn’t need to be suspended for a half for his childish and vulgar display. He needs to be sent to his room with no video games, cell phone or TV. FSU, favored by 20, wins 45-21.
Miami (2-1) at Nebraska (3-0), 8 p.m. – Talk about two powerhouses that haven’t aged well. In spite of their current records, neither is regarded a contender in its own conference, much less a national title contender. Once a nation watched when these two giants play. Now it’s an afterthought, relegated to ESPN 2. Nebraska, favored by 7, wins 24-17.
In major college football, which has the most unlevel playing field in all of big-time sports, a win is NOT always a win. More than in any other sport, college football teams are often judged not only by the margins of victory, but how the games are played out.
“Can you believe Hayseed College stayed with the Elite Swamp Rats for a half?”
And that leads me to Florida’s triple-overtime victory over Kentucky last Saturday in The Swamp? Does the win make any Gator feel better about his team? Sure, it was better than a loss but it certainly didn’t feel like a victory.
Kentucky is the weakest of the SEC’s weak. The Gators have now beaten the Wildcats 28 straight times. Florida is supposed to beat Kentucky. The Gators are supposed to run in the scrubs in the 4th quarter when playing the Wildcats.
Do you think the Gators feel better or worse about going to Alabama this week after the Kentucky game? Don’t bother answering. It was a rhetorical question.
Actually, there is one Gator who savored the victory: Coach Will Muschamp.
Muschamp probably wouldn’t have been able to salvage his job had the Gators lost to Kentucky. Chances are he still gets the axe after the season, but a loss to Kentucky might have prompted his eventual in-season dismissal. Gator coaches simply survive with home losses to Kentucky, Georgia Southern and Vanderbilt on their resumes.
The Kentucky game clearly threw some water on some of the Gator fans’ preseason enthusiasm. After going to Alabama, which is a 15-point favorite, a trip to Tennessee looks more daunting. Ditto for back-to-back home games against LSU and Missouri.
Sure, the Gators could catch fire. The defense could suddenly play like some experts predicted it would. The offense could snap out of a three-year funk and become a juggernaut.
After defeating Kentucky, that seems possible, doesn’t it? Yeah, that’s another rhetorical question.
Déjà vu all over again.
Pathetic. Embarrassing. Gut wretching. Awful. Disheartening.
Feel free to throw in a word of your own to describe the Jaguars’ 41-10 loss to Washington.
Just when Jaguar fans were beginning to feel good about their team; just when the nightmare of the last three or four years seemed to be nearing an end . . . this happens. As tough as the season-opening loss at Philadelphia felt, there was a ray of hope. The Jaguars did take that 17-0 lead.
It did seem like something to build on; something to tell us GM David Caldwell and Coach Gus Bradley had the team aimed in the right direction.
Then the massacre at Washington happened. Washington? This is a mediocre team playing without three of its best offensive players – QB Robert Griffin, tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver LeSean Jackson --and yet it was able to do this to the Jaguars.
You’d have thought Washington was a Super Bowl contender the way it tossed aside Jaguar blockers, ran through and away from Jaguar defenders and, in the end, simply toyed with Bradley’s inept bunch of players.
Can this mess be fixed?
The truth is it probably isn’t quite as bad as it seems. The Jaguars are still short on talent but they do have more players who belong in the NFL than they’ve had in several years.
But it is now time to raise questions about the team’s leadership. Caldwell and Bradley won over the fan base with their outgoing personalities, their positive approach and their availability, but neither had ever been in his current position before coming to Jacksonville.
The fact is they have a 4-14 record in their new roles, and suddenly the arrow is pointing down when gazing into the crystal ball.
I said before the season fans should be satisfied, regardless of the team’s record, if the team was competitive week in and week out. Thus far in Year 2 of the Caldwell-Bradley regime they haven’t been competitive. In fact, they’ve actually taken a step backward. In their last six quarters they’ve been outscored 75-10. It wasn’t even that bad the first half of last season.
Good grief! Makes you want to cry and watch something else, anything else -- like QB Blake Bortles.
Coach Gus Bradley’s super positive approach to coaching is clearly being put to the test this week. In the wake of the season-opening loss at Philadelphia – losing 34-17 after leading 17-0 – it will interesting to see how the Jaguars respond in Washington.
There’s a cliché that a win is a win and a loss is a loss, but not all wins and losses are the same. How could the team that played so well in the first 1½ quarters against the Eagles lay such an egg in the second half?
This week’s predictions:
Jaguars (0-1) a Washington (0-1), 1 p.m. –Bradley has remained upbeat this week but it’s reasonable to think some of his players are still reliving the opening game. Pinning the loss on a few players isn’t fair or accurate. This was a team debacle, and that includes the coaching staff. Washington’s players, too, may be thinking bad thoughts about last week. Washington moved the ball up and down the field between the 20s but played dead in the red zone, losing 17-6 to Houston. The biggest question in Washington is whether or not Robert Griffin III is an elite quarterback. I say no, but he’ll be good enough this week. Washington, favored by 6, wins 24-21.
Kentucky (2-0) at Florida (1-0), 7:30 – Beating the Wildcats for the 28th straight time won’t be a cakewalk because Kentucky is improving under second-year Coach Mark Stoops and the Gators are still a middle-of-the-pack team, at best. Coach Will Muschamp apparently has decided to play a more aggressive style of offense, but that’s all that could be determined in Florida’s season-opening victory against a woeful opponent. The Gators, favored y 18, win 30-17.
Georgia (1-0) at South Carolina (1-1), 3:30 -- I’m still not ready to jump on the Georgia bandwagon. Maybe this week will change my mind. The Gamecocks haven’t looked anything like the team projected to win the SEC East and perhaps make the four-team playoff, but it’s difficult to imagine them not playing better. If the Bulldogs go into Columbia and win impressively it will be a giant statement. South Carolina, a 5½-point underdog, brings the Dawgs down to earth by winning 35-27.
The SEC is the best conference in college football. Period. End of story.
Pac-12 fans will argue their conference is equal to the SEC or, at worse, a close second. I’m not buying either argument. The SEC is a general; the Pac-12 is a lieutenant. (The other Power 5 conferences are sergeants.)
So why would SEC schools schedule the games they did last Saturday? It’s a rhetorical question, of course. Such games are sure victories, money-makers and, for the moment, acceptable to the fans. Besides, SEC coaches argue everyone else is playing such games.
But wouldn’t better competition be more beneficial to the SEC teams in the long run and be more appealing to the fans? Surely the fans can’t enjoy such games, can they?
Well, maybe they do. The first Gator fan I asked about his team’s 65-0 victory over Eastern Michigan replied, “Damn right I loved it.”
All told, the SEC outscored its 11 non-conference opponents 650-126. That’s an average score of 59-11. Florida didn’t even have the biggest victory margin. Texas A&M whipped Lamar 73-3 and Arkansas slapped Nichols 73-7. There also was LSU 56-0 vs. Sam Houston, Auburn 59-13 vs. San Jose State, Alabama 41-0 vs. Florida Atlantic and Missouri 49-24 vs. Toledo.
Ugly games. Uninteresting games. Embarrassing matchups.
The king of college football shouldn’t stoop so low.
I hope we’ll see fewer of these games in the future. College football’s new four-team playoff already has increased the number of high profile non-conference games because strength of schedule will be a bigger factor in determining the playoff teams.
There also are signs the fans are actually getting fed up with their teams playing such patsies. Empty seats in stadiums that have traditionally been sold out are proof a growing number of fans aren’t willing to spend the time and money to attend such games.
I would also argue the power conference teams do more harm than good to themselves in such games. Florida fans, for example, will say the Gators needed the Eastern Michigan game to build their confidence and boost their morale. I say playing such inferior competition builds false confidence and can lead to bad habits.
Running a poor route or making a weak throw, for example, can still result in a big gain against Eastern Michigan or Lamar, but against Alabama it’s an incompletion or maybe a pick-six.
Bottom line: These mismatches are bad for college football.