The Jaguars embark on a three-game journey this weekend that should tell us a lot about how this franchise in progressing.
At Cincinnati . . . playing the Cowboys in London . . . at Indianapolis after a bye week.
Is there a Jaguars victory somewhere in there? Probably not. All three opponents will be double-digit favorites.
Will the Jaguars be competitive in any of the games? Two of them? All of them?
Defensively the Jaguars are playing well enough to win but will the defense hold up in the face of mounting injuries to a thin, inexperienced and mentally battered unit?
Will rookie quarterback Blake Bortles suddenly see the light – or, more importantly, the defensive back breaking on the ball?
The three games are difficult tests and the end result could be 1-10 record for the Jaguars.
But not all 1-10 records taste the same.
This week’s predictions:
Jaguars (1-7) at Bengals (4-2-1), 1 p.m. – Can the Jaguars beat the Bengals? Sure they can. That’s the beauty of the NFL . . . on any given day blah blah blah. Just think back to last Monday and Washington going to Dallas and beating the Cowboys in Jerry’s World Stadium. The Bengals are an unusual team. They’re not great at anything but they have no glaring weaknesses. The secondary is their best unit and that’s bad news for Bortles. The Jaguars are going to have a breakout game, but it’s doubtful it comes on the road against a playoff-caliber team. Cincinnati, favored by 11, wins 24-14.
Georgia (6-1) vs. Florida (3-3) at Jacksonville, 3:30 p.m. – The Gators are going with a new quarterback, freshman Treon Harris, and some think that beleaguered coach Will Muschamp will, out of desperation, try to sling the ball down field a bunch. Not me because doing that simply isn’t in Muschamp’s DNA. This game could be an old fashion game of trading punches in the mouth. That would play right in the Bulldogs’ strength and hasten Muschamp’s dismissal. The Bulldogs, favored by 13, win 35-14.
The Georgia-Florida game is a great event. If it isn’t the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party, name one bigger.
It’s also a great rivalry because when it comes to football Georgians don’t like Floridians and Floridians don’t like Georgians and both sides revere football alongside religion and family.
But enough of this garage about throwing out the record book because anything can happen. To the contrary, the favorite usually wins and blowouts are more common than nail-biters. In the long history of this rivalry nearly three-fourths of the games have been relatively easy victories.
That’s why it’s reasonable to assume the Bulldogs, a 6-1 team with realistic championships dreams, will beat the living hell out of the Gators, a 3-3 team sinking with a lameduck coach.
Strangely, if you lined up the players side by side the talent level would be relatively close based on recruiting. That means one or two things: Coach Mark Richt and his Georgia staff have a better job of evaluating high school talent and/or they’ve better developed that talent once it reached the college level – or Coach Will Muschamp and his Gator staff have done a lousy job of one or both.
Either way you look at it makes it clear Muschamp’s days on the Gator sideline are numbered. In fact, popular thinking is this Saturday at Everbank Field will be Muschamp’s UF swan song.
It’s difficult to argue that fact. Losing to Georgia will make it four in a row. That hasn’t happened since 1983 when Georgia made it six straight victories against the Gators. Keep in mind Muschamp inherited a program that had won 18 of 21 against Georgia under three coaches.
Simply put, the Gators are a mess right now. Gator Nation has seldom, if ever, been more unified in wanting its coach fired. Empty seats are numerous in The Swamp. Don’t expect Everbank Field’s seats to be a 50-50 split between Dawgs and Gators for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff. While Georgia fans are scrambling for tickets, Florida fans can’t get rid of theirs. (One source told me UF students were told they could each buy as many as 10 tickets.)
The bottom line is all of the angst in Gator Nation will be more obvious than ever this weekend.
Can Florida upset Georgia? Sure, there’s a chance of that happening. There’s also a chance it will snow in Miami.
Blake, we love you man, but, damn, you’re making it hard.
You’ve given Jaguar fans hope, something they desperately need, but you’ve become a tease. You make a great play, showing things the elite quarterbacks do, and then you remind us of Blaine Gabbert.
I understand you’re a rookie and making mistakes is part of the growing process. But do your mistakes have to be so glaring, so “what-in-the-hell” he was thinking and doing?
You’re starting to make the same mistakes. That’s a bad sign.
The two pick-six interceptions against the Dolphins were . . . well, they were horrible. Somebody from the stands could have made the plays the Dolphins did. They were that easy. Yeah, they turned a potential victory into a 27-13 loss. You know that better than anyone.
“I’m killing us,” you said afterwards. It was the most honest statement made from the Jaguars locker room after the game.
My advice is to pay no attention to the fans who are on your case; the ones who are actually calling for the return of Chad Henne. Whether or not the fans like it the Jaguars have hitched their wagon to you. Either you’ll prove to be the quarterback they thought you’d be when they made you the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft or you’ll go down as one of the major draft busts.
If you prove to be a good or better NFL quarterback, the Jaguars will be a playoff contender in the near future, maybe even next season. If not . . . well, the Jaguars will remain awful for years to come, continuing one of the worst runs in NFL history. Bottom line is there’s no going back now for the foreseeable future. You’re it.
Is that a lot of pressure? Absolutely but it’s also part of the job as an NFL quarterback. There’s great reward and fame or there’s simply a lot of money and humiliation.
No one wants you do go into a shell and start playing it safe with a bunch of dump-off passes. Lord knows, we’ve seen enough of that.
But rookie or not, you’re a pro and much is expected from you. More importantly, you, Blake Bortles, are the Jaguars future.
For the time being, a little less gunslinger, a little more patience, please.
The SEC West and FSU are getting all of the love. The Oregon Ducks still have plenty of folks carrying a torch for them. And, of course, there are Notre Dame believers everywhere.
But no team, other than FSU, has a better chance of being invited to college football’s first “Final Four” playoff than the Georgia Bulldogs, currently ranked No. 9.
The Dawgs’ second half isn’t easy but it’s easier than any of the other top contenders. While Georgia has several “soft” games, it also has two marquee games – Auburn and the SEC Championship Game -- to seal the deal and separate itself from other one-loss teams if it comes to that.
Meanwhile, Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State beat up on each other; Oregon doesn’t have a game-of-the-year left on the schedule; and Notre Dame has land mines to avoid and no conference championship to impressive the selection committee.
Indeed, don’t count out the Dawgs.
With FSU and Florida both taking the weekend off, this week’s prediction:
Dolphins (3-3) at Jaguars (1-6), 1 p.m. – The Jaguars are improving and with Blake Bortles at quarterback there’s a growing feeling that he can make enough plays to beat any team or any given day. Ah, hope is a great feeling. But the Jaguars still have a long way to go to be a consistent winner. Offensively, no one has stepped up as a big play receiver; the line remains a work in progress; and the running game is still suspect. And Bortles throws way too many INTs. Defensively, the loss of middle linebacker Paul Posluszney is huge. He quarterbacked the defense and his leadership will be sorely missed – not to mention his 10-plus tackles per game. A weak linebacking group is now weaker. As for the Dolphins, they have been the epitome of inconsistency on offense because of QB Ryan Tannehill. Which Tannehill shows up Sunday at Everbank? Defensively, what the Dolphins do best is rush the QB and that usually makes for a tough day for the opposing quarterback, particularly young QBs. The Dolphins, favored by 6, win 24-17.
I offer a tip of the hat -- a big fat “attaboy” -- to Gus Bradley for how the Jaguars’ coach handled the team’s first victory of the season.
He was excited, even a bit giddy. He didn’t try to play the “coaches’ cool card” by acting stoic and going straight to coachspeak: “We’ll put this one behind us and get on to the business of the next game.”
There was also a bit of relief in Bradley’s voice and body language. That’s understandable. The Jaguars’ abysmal record has to have created some degree of self doubt among those responsible.
Beating Cleveland 24-6 was a welcomed change.
Just how happy was Bradley? How did this season’s first victory in game seven compared to last season’s first victory in game nine?
Bradley said he couldn’t answer that question. In the locker room, however, defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks said he thought this one rated higher for Bradley, quickly noting both were off the level-of-joy charts.
That makes sense. Even though last year’s victory at Tennessee was Bradley’s first as an NFL head coach and it ended the worst first eight games of a season in NFL history, expectations were so low a year ago. This year was supposed to show vast improvement, but the 0-6 start had people questioning Bradley’s head coaching credentials. And this victory came in front of the home fans.
One victory doesn’t stop questions about Bradley’s coaching chops, but another loss would have amped up the criticism.
But I digress. This rant isn’t about Bradley’s future as a head coach; it’s about how coaches think they should act following victories.
Coaches should enjoy victory and not hide that fact, but way too often they seem to think it’s a sign of weakness to act happy. I’m not suggesting a three-day party, but the 24-hour rule to bask in the joy of winning seems reasonable.
That’s especially true for a team like the Jaguars and a coach such as Bradley. Let’s be honest: this isn’t a good team. It won’t have many opportunities to revel in victory. Such moments should be cherished by all. None should be wasted.
The University of Florida should fire Coach Will Muschamp now. Not tomorrow, not next week or the week after but right now. In fact, it should have done it yesterday or sooner.
The university should do it not for the fans or the media but for Muschamp and his players -- and for the overall health of the program.
Why let Muschamp (and his family) dangle in the wind and continue to catch the harsh and incredible amount criticism fired at him? Why let the players finish the season in such a negative atmosphere? Why should the program endure six weeks of being a punching bag?
Fire Muchamp now and get on with moving to the next chapter of Gator football.
My suggestion is make offensive coordinator Kurt Roper the interim head coach. Let’s find out if his offense can work away from Muschamp’s shadow. I doubt it will. I’m not sure the Gators have the personnel and probably not the time to give Roper’s offense a fair shot. But the season is lost and what do the Gators have to lose?
Let the fans and media turn their attention to who the next coach will be. I don’t know who the Gators will go after but I do know few coaches, pro and college, will say no to Florida without listening first. The Florida job is one of the best, maybe top 10, in all of football. Florida offers absolutely everything needed to win big and writes paychecks with the best them.
Muschamp was a bad hire. He deservedly earned a reputation as a top defensive coordinator; as a motivator and recruiter. But he’d never been a head coach and quickly proved (to me, at least) that he was in over his head as the big boss.
Dragging out this mess any longer makes no sense. Call it a mercy firing.