Archive for November 2017

Driver tries to cut into Trump’s motorcade in Florida

An angry motorist tried to cut his van into President Trump’s motorcade in Florida Saturday afternoon and made obscene gestures as he was pulled over by police.

A White House pool report said the red van "attempted to cut into the motorcade. Local law enforcement pulled over the vehicle, where the driver made obscene gestures and screamed several expletives."

The incident happened as the president was returning to Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach after a round of golf at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. The Associated Press reported that the president was spotted playing a round with 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus and Nicklaus’ son Gerry.

Saturday marked the fourth day in a row in which Trump visited one of his golf courses. On Friday, Trump played with Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Brad Faxon at another of his courses, in nearby Jupiter.

The president is spending the Thanksgiving holiday in Florida and is due to return to Washington Sunday evening.

The incident with the van driver was not the first time Trump’s motorcade has drawn obscene gestures from passers-by. Last month, a Virginia woman flipped off the motorcade as it drove by her. The woman was later fired from her job at a government contractor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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With Florida and Tennessee jobs open, who will end up where?

The news that Tennessee parted ways with coach Butch Jones on Sunday afternoon pushed the college football carousel into overdrive. But the fundamental problem with the Tennessee job – and a strong reason why athletic director John Currie was queasy about firing Jones until it became obvious he had to – is that Florida is set to dictate the market. The rest of the SEC – Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Ole Miss – can line up behind the Gators in their upcoming searches.

Tennessee has been a second-tier program essentially since the decline of Phil Fulmer in the mid-2000s. The emergence of Alabama as the SEC’s alpha dog, the SEC West’s push to dominance and losing 12 of 13 to Florida on the field have solidified Tennessee into SEC also-ran status.
To figure out who Tennessee will hire, it’s necessary to start by peeking at how Scott Stricklin’s first major search as Florida’s athletic director is going. Since firing Jim McElwain on Oct. 29, Florida has started to research candidates behind the scenes.

We wrote the day after the firing that the three prime candidates for that position will be UCF’s Scott Frost, Chip Kelly and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen. That trio still remains in focus, with sources indicating that a thorough vetting of Kelly has begun. That includes calls to NFL executives to do general background on Kelly and exploration of his NCAA issues at Oregon.

The timeline of the search may offer the most clues as to how Stricklin will play his hand. Don’t expect Florida to formally reach out or attempt to interview Frost until after the American Athletic Conference title game on Dec. 2. Central Florida (9-0) is blitzing through an undefeated season, and neither side has any interest breaking the sanctity of that run.

Frost, who became a father last week, is locked in on finishing this UCF season. He and his family are genuinely happy in Orlando and like everything about UCF.

When UCF’s season ends, he’ll evaluate his options through the prism of where he’s most likely be able to win a national title. The answer to that would still leave Florida as the most likely option, as the soon-to-be open job at Nebraska, his alma mater, simply doesn’t have the same recruiting base as Florida. Frost has developed a good reputation among high school coaches in the state in a short period, which could lead to a smooth transition to Gainesville.

Will Chip Kelly end up at Florida? Tennessee? The next few weeks will be telling. (AP)

But who is the first choice? The timeline will likely tell us sooner than later. That’s because Kelly doesn’t have obligations to anyone other than his weekly appearances on ESPN. With sources saying Stricklin is doing his due diligence, the timeline could well unfold this way. If UF has zeroed in on Kelly as its top choice, and he’s reciprocated interest, it’s likely that a deal would come before the AAC title game.

Kelly is a proven commodity, as going 46-7 in four seasons at Oregon established him as one of college football’s most innovative minds of this generation. He’s the surest bet on the board to rejuvenate a program.

There are some quirks to Kelly, many of which revolve around his stated preference of being locked in on coaching his team. Kelly isn’t keen on the booster glad-handing, rubber-chicken banquet speeches and general day-to-day hysteria that come with high-profile coaching jobs. Kelly has a low-key personality off the field, and he’s reiterated to friends that “fit and people” will be the ultimate determinations of where he coaches next.

Kelly wasn’t thought to be intrigued by SEC jobs, but Florida presents a different dynamic as it has more of Kelly’s preferred East Coast vibe. For now, it’s not known if each party is completely sold on each other. But the mutual exploration process is underway.

There’s the sticky matter of a new SEC rule that basically states that any coach with significant NCAA issues in their past stop will require a phone call from the university president to the SEC commissioner to make the hire. In other words, there’d be another layer in the hiring process. Hypothetically speaking, this may give a university pause and perhaps prevent serial cheaters from being hired and running another program that has wound up in the crosshairs of an FBI investigation.

The early read on how administrators at Florida and the SEC perceive the recruiting transgressions during Kelly’s tenure at Oregon is positive for the coach. A safe way to view Kelly’s NCAA issues is that not all show causes are created equally, and his issues at Oregon don’t appear to be a significant hindrance to his potential hiring at Florida. If there were a pattern of misbehavior, it would likely be a bigger issue.

What’s unknown here is where Kelly’s head is. He’s famously reclusive, even to those close to him. He’s been speculatively linked to UCLA, a place where he could potentially hide in plain sight amid the din of Los Angeles. But for now, Jim Mora’s job appears safe, as UCLA is 5-5 with games against USC and California left to qualify for a bowl. There’s little institutional momentum to fire Mora, as he’d be owed nearly $12 million. That’s a lot of money for a cash-strapped school that just hit up its major donors for its recently opened $65 million football facility.

Then there’s the Mullen conundrum. Stricklin is a Mississippi State graduate and just left the school to become Florida’s athletic director a few months ago. He and Mullen had a good working relationship that’s proven mutually beneficial for both. Mullen is one of the country’s top-paid coaches at $4.5 million per year, golden handcuffs that have perhaps kept him in Starkville longer than a coach of his caliber would normally stay. It’s a difficult place to win, as no coach has left MSU without being dismissed since Darrell Royal in 1956.

Mississippi State played Alabama toe-to-toe on Saturday night, losing 31-24 after Alabama scored the winning touchdown with 25 seconds left. State will likely return 18 starters next year and could compete for the league title, which means Mullen will be judicious. (Why go to Tennessee or Texas A&M if he can win the SEC where he is at?) There’s a general feeling among the senior Florida staff that they’ve bungled the past two hires (Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain), which includes regret of not engaging with Mullen. Stricklin and Mullen had a solid working relationship in Starkville, but Mullen-to-Florida still seems an unlikely marriage because of all the complicated relationships and cross-pollination involved.

Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen will likely be courted by several schools, but he may stand the best chance of winning by staying pat at MSU. (Getty)

So that brings us to Tennessee, and the early read on the Vols’ search is that they’re not going to be able to lure a big name. Cross off the above three names as candidates, as they can all do better or have better situations. (Playing Alabama in a crossover game every year hurts the perception of this job nationally).

So who is realistic at Tennessee? Anyone who mentions Jon Gruden in any capacity should be charged with journalistic negligence. The best window into how Currie thinks may be to study his last major search at Kansas State. Currie hired Bruce Weber, a generally successful and solid X’s-and-O’s coach who’d been fired at Illinois.

Weber wasn’t a splashy hire, but Currie wanted a coach who wouldn’t be overmatched or intimidated looking down the sideline at veteran coaches like Bob Huggins, Bill Self or Rick Barnes. Who fits the category of not being afraid to stare down Nick Saban? Well, it’s a short list. Let’s start by crossing off Iowa State’s Matt Campbell ($9 million) and Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente ($6 million) because of the size of their buyouts. Neither appear eager to leave, either.

The first grouping that should be considered are veteran, successful coaches that fit the mold of Weber. TCU’s Gary Patterson, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano all have enough experience. All would need a detailed offensive plan, as none bring expertise on that side of the ball. Washington State’s Mike Leach falls into this category as well, but would the straight-laced Currie welcome the relentless quirkiness of Leach? That feels like an unlikely pairing.

As for sound younger coaches, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and Memphis’ Mike Norvell would be the best fits. Brohm’s buyout is $4 million after Dec. 5 and he has the offensive acumen that’s been desperately missing in Knoxville for the past decade. Norvell has Memphis on track for the AAC title game, and his wide-open offense would be a salve to the dreary units Tennessee has trotted out in recent years.

As has been proven on the field for the past decade, Florida is well ahead of Tennessee. And in their searches, that’s going to remain the case.

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Is Florida State’s biggest issue actually on defense?

Florida State’s struggles on offense are well-documented and come with a good explanation: the quarterback.

As Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said earlier this week, the Seminoles lost a potential Heisman Trophy candidate when Deondre Francois got hurt — just a bit of Swinney’s rhetorical praise for FSU — and the result has been a unit that has failed to top 28 points in any game this season.

But what about the other side of the ball? That’s the real head-scratcher.

It has not been an outright disaster on defense, of course. Florida State ranks 28th nationally in yards per play (just behind Notre Dame) and allows 24.3 points per game, better than a year ago.

Look a little deeper, though, and there are red flags that help explain the 3-5 record FSU currently sports. The Noles rank 96th in sacks, despite a blue-chip defensive front that was among the nation’s best a year ago. Opponents are converting more than 37 percent of their third downs, 60th nationally, including nine conversions on third-and-5 or longer by Syracuse last week. And perhaps most befuddling, the Noles have just six takeaways, the fewest by any Power 5 team and 128th overall.

The explanation, Florida State safety Derwin James said, is in the game plan, which has played it safe in a long series of close games, knowing the offense might not be able to put many points on the board.

"That’s the mindset," James said. "Everybody wants to do their job. We do a great job of preparing, knowing situations. We play a lot of man. Sometimes, you have to just get the guy on the ground or knock the ball down. We know the scheme we’re playing and we want to follow our identity."

SeasonPressure percentageTurnovers per drive201225.2 percent10.8 percent201325.0 percent18.6 percent201424.3 percent14.0 percent201527.6 percent9.1 percent201632.5 percent13.2 percent201719.6 percent5.7 percent

This argument does seem reasonable. FSU ranks in the middle of the pack among Power 5 defenses in percentage of dropbacks disrupted (sacks, interceptions and pass breakups) but 60th among Power 5 teams in interception rate.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, however, chalks it up less to scheme than to execution. The problem, he said, is finishing plays.

"You’ve got to make turnovers, you’ve got to create pressure, you’ve got to hit your quarterback and when you get opportunities to catch a ball or strip a ball or get on a fumble," Fisher said. "We’ve had a couple opportunities, which we haven’t [taken advantage of], and we’ve got to create some more situations where we pressure them, where guys make bad decisions."

This too is a legitimate concern. Florida State’s highly regarded front ranks 59th among Power 5 teams in pressure rate, down nearly 40 percent from last year, despite returning the bulk of its starting lineup.

Fisher also suggested the quarterbacks that Florida State has faced play a part in the low rate of takeaways, and here he also has a point. Four opposing QBs rank among the best in the nation in interception rate, but others — Miami’s Malik Rosier, Duke’s Daniel Jones, Boston College’s Anthony Brown — have been turnover-prone at times. Just not against Florida State.

All of that adds up to a defense that has been … well, fine. Not great, not awful and certainly not enough to overcome the offensive woes.

"We haven’t been playing Florida State football, but we still have more to play for," James said.

So for James, this Saturday’s showdown with Clemson (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN and the ESPN App) isn’t so much a chance to play spoiler against the No. 4 team in the country, but rather an opportunity to showcase what the defense really can be.

"You get that chip on your shoulder being an underdog," he said. "We’ll come out and play hard. It should be a good game."

Fighting Irish eyeing big runs

Miami’s defense is tough, that much is clear. But that doesn’t mean Notre Dame doesn’t have an opportunity to make a few big plays on the ground when the two top-10 teams meet Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

The Hurricanes’ D allows 4.8 yards per carry (not counting sacks), which ranks just 54th nationally, but even that number is a bit deceptive. The Canes are 20th nationally in stopping nearly 24 percent of run plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. The flip side, however, is that they’ve also surrendered 52 runs of 10 yards or more, 16.3 percent of runs faced — good for 102nd nationally. Meanwhile, the Irish have had 20.2 percent of their runs go for 10 yards or more, fourth best nationally.

So while this might not be a typically big day for the Irish ground game, expect a few big plays to prove critical for running back Josh Adams & Co.

Fitzgerald for the win?

Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald has racked up 817 yards on the ground this year — not counting sacks — which puts him among the most productive mobile QBs in the country. That could be critical against No. 2 Alabama this week.

Since 2008, Alabama has dominated everyone, but the defense has been just a bit less dominant against mobile quarterbacks.

Of the Crimson Tide’s 105 Power 5 opponents since 2008, just 25 have had QBs rush 10 times or more against them (again, not counting sacks). Those 25 teams are a relatively impressive 7-18 against Alabama in that span. Comparatively, teams whose QBs run less than 10 times in a game are a woeful 5-75.

The funny thing is, it doesn’t much matter how successful those QBs are running the ball. Just the attempts make a difference. When the QB runs at least 10 times, the Tide surrender 20.6 points per game and 5.13 yards per play — both big increases as compared to when the QB runs less (12.9 points per game, 4.18 yards per play).

Four downs

There’s an interesting debate between UCF and Wisconsin when it comes to the playoff committee’s rankings. The Knights and Badgers are both undefeated, but committee chairman Kirby Hocutt noted that Wisconsin has the worst strength of schedule of any team the committee ranked this week. UCF, meanwhile, has a larger margin of victory, higher opponent win percentage and a roughly equivalent strength of record (per ESPN). And yet, the Knights are ranked 18th and Wisconsin is eighth.

Kenny Hill’s accuracy is key for TCU. In games in which he has completed at least 70 percent of his attempts, the Frogs average 37.3 points per game and 6.2 yards per play. When he doesn’t, those numbers drop to 27.5 points and 5.5 yards.

Georgia’s defense has faced, on average, 60 plays per game this season, the seventh fewest in the country. Auburn, on the other hand, averages 73 plays per game. Notre Dame is the only Georgia opponent this season to run that many in a game.

The only Power 5 QBs to rack up at least 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns while coughing up five or fewer turnovers this season are Heisman favorite Baker Mayfield and Wake Forest’s John Wolford.

Coach speak

All week Adam Rittenberg has been chatting with head and assistant coaches around the country. Here is the best of those conversations.

Before the season, Washington’s secondary looked like a major stumbling block to its quest to repeat as Pac-12 champions. The Huskies had three defensive backs — safety Budda Baker and cornerbacks Kevin King and Sidney Jones — all selected in the second round of the NFL draft. While safety Taylor Rapp, the Pac-12’s top freshman defender in 2016, and veteran safety JoJo McIntosh returned, there were questions elsewhere. No more. Entering the stretch run, Washington leads the Pac-12 and ranks third nationally in pass yards allowed (149.8 ypg). The Huskies lead the nation in net yards per pass attempt (4.33) and percentage of pass attempts resulting in a touchdown (1.9). Co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach Jimmy Lake attributes the sustained success to leadership from safeties Rapp, McIntosh and senior Ezekiel Turner. Younger players like sophomore cornerback Myles Bryant (six pass breakups, four tackles for loss, an interception and a fumble recovery) have blossomed. "It’s a desire to uphold the standard that was built by the ones before them," Lake said.

When Missouri had several young players beat out veterans for starting spots in preseason camp, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel grew optimistic about a strong start. It didn’t come, but the Tigers are poised to finish strong after averaging 45.4 points in their last five games, with three winnable contests (Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Arkansas) remaining. Heupel has a better grasp of how to use personnel, especially some of Missouri’s young offensive linemen, three of whom are only 19. "It’s really subtle things," Heupel said, "what position you might put this left guard in in the run game. How will you handle protections against the personnel you see?" Heupel also can rely more on junior quarterback Drew Lock, who has 23 touchdown passes and only five interception the past five games. "He’s got a lot more on his plate than he did a year ago," Heupel said. "He may check from pass to run or run to pass based on the box, or based on numbers and techniques and schemes. As much tempo as we play, he’s still got a fair amount of command of the offense."

Michigan State had a leadership problem last season. Everyone could see it. Any chance for a Spartans turnaround would require a better locker room. MSU coaches credit sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke for helping to foster a better atmosphere. It doesn’t hurt that Lewerke is playing his best football lately, recording back-to-back 400-yard passing performances with six touchdowns and two interceptions. "The quarterback becomes the leader as he’s productive as a player," Spartans quarterbacks coach Brad Salem said. "He was put in that position, and his personality, he captures the people around him. People have played very well and responded to him." Salem also has seen growth in Lewerke’s schematic knowledge by the questions he asks in meetings. "He’ll ask more, ‘Should we do this or could we do that?" he said. "He’s more intrigued by the design of what the defense is giving and some opportunities we can take as an offense."

Despite an offensive-minded coach in Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia has relied more on its defense in recent years. It happened again last week against Iowa State after the offense provided a 20-0 lead but didn’t score for the final two and a half quarters. The Mountaineers defense, down four starters, allowed only one touchdown and forced two short field goals to hold off Iowa State’s comeback. Led by cornerback Hakeem Bailey (3), seven WVU defenders recorded a pass breakup. "We challenged them and whoever was going to play needed to get in there and play with relentless effort and as much physicality as we possibly can," Holgorsen told me, Ivan Maisel and Chris Low on Tuesday’s Campus Conversation podcast. "We basically shut them down in the first half and knew those guys are going to come back. … But we did a great job of holding those guys to field goals, which is what we’ve been doing defensively around here for the last couple of years. I’m really proud of the whole unit."

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Hooper: Tampa Pig Jig expands its recipe for success


Start with various forms of barbecue, add some heaping helpings of spirited competition, toss in a few cups of trash talking and mix vigorously with college football, live music, friendship and a good cause.

It’s a recipe that’s yielded some tremendous results for the Tampa Pig Jig, so much so that organizers have decided not to limit the fun to one day in October.

Of course, they had me at barbecue.

But maybe truffles are another ingredient because the annual Tampa Pig Jig has mushroomed from a humble beginning to an amazing event since it launched in the back yard of Vince Chillura in 2011.

In an effort to help friend Will Wellman, Chillura, Wellman and some of their other childhood friends brought the list of fun together. The aim was to help Wellman, who had been diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS, a debilitating kidney disease.

The turnout proved substantial. The love proved palpable. I’d say the food proved terrific, but I didn’t get an invite to the inaugural Pig Jig. No worries. You’re forgiven.

"People had such a good time, we thought we were on to something," Chillura said. "A lot of folks wanted to know if they could compete in the competition the next year. We could tell we had a good idea. We just needed to tweak it and hone it."

So they added more cooks, more sponsors and shifted to a bigger event space — the old Tampa Armature Works field now being converted into a food hall. It eventually outgrew that area and found itself in need of Tampa’s top outdoor venue, where it’s been since 2014.

All the success of the recipe was on display last week at Curtis Hixon Park. Even under overcast skies that eventually gave way to a fall storm, more than 8,000 people strolled the pit, sampling all forms of barbecue — the bacon-wrapped, stuffed chicken was a surprising favorite — while bands performed on a stage and people under tents tuned in to football on big-screen televisions.

But again, why stop at one day?

Chillura said local Realtor and CPA Jamie Whitney, wife of co-founder Chris Whitney, teamed with EventFest senior vice president Maiken Stefany and hit upon an idea that would bring together individual supporters of the Pig Jig on a more regular basis. Now the Smoke Show Social Club.

"We were trying to make it a year-long event and bring in a membership component so we could get more individuals involved as sponsors," Jamie Whitney said.

For $500 for individuals or $1,000 for a couple, people can reap the event benefits that typically go to corporate sponsors — all-you-can-eat access at the Pig Jig — and attend related events during the year.

I know what I want for Christmas.

"We have several events planned to, ‘Get the band back together,’ and get people excited for the next Pig Jig," Chris Whitney explained.

Yet it’s more than a social club, because the mission of supporting NephCure Kidney International and raising awareness of FSGS is never far away. One event earlier this year brought together members for a "summer supper" not only to break bread but to learn more about FSGS research advancements from an expert.

"It’s a fine line between too much information and too little information," Jamie Whitney said, "But we had an entertaining speaker who could get across the key points during that time frame and still leave room for members to socialize.

"It’s a good formula."

Maybe the best aspect of the formula is it’s not only raising awareness, but it’s bringing together families impacted by FSGS. It’s fairly rare disease so families can sense they’re all alone. HIPAA laws prevent doctors from connecting patients, but the Pig Jig cooks up a support network where the medical community couldn’t.

More than 20 families met at this year’s event and enjoyed good food while comparing notes, sharing contact information and leaning on each other.

"I think getting together 20-plus families was a huge win for us," Chillura said. "We’re looking to continue and expand that and hopefully double the amount."

Chillura and Whitney and really everyone involved agree it’s amazing how far the Pig Jig has come since its simple inception. The results are more often found in smaller cities, but the success of these dedicated community leaders is one of the reasons I call Tampa the biggest small town in America.

That’s all I’m saying.

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