Joe Delaney

Three Amigos

By: Joe Delaney

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Man, fall is in the air! Football is all over the place. Whether it’s our local high schools, college, or the pros.

But, let’s give it up for the Atlanta Braves. The World Series Wonders are fighting for the NL East title with the Metropolitans and win or lose will be back into playoffs.

The kicker on this is that the Braves have been built the same way Kirby has built the Dawgs. And that’s for the long haul.

The Braves have a guy running the show who has been pulling all the right strings since he came to Atlanta. Alex Anthopoulos came to the Braves in 2017 and was promoted to president of baseball operations in February of 2020.

He is the mastermind behind what is happening to the Braves. Anthopoulos was the guy who reworked the Braves lineup late last season to bring in Adam Duvall, Joc Peterson and Eddie Rosario. I don’t think the Bravos win it all without those moves.

Duvall was steady as a rock. Joc Peterson had half of Truist Park wearing pearl necklaces and ole Eddie was the NLCS MVP. Yeah, Anthopoulos pulled all the right strings last year.

But what about that deal for the long haul? What have you done for us lately, Alex? Well, he has worked on the Braves from the ground up and man this dude doesn’t play around.

The Braves have three of the top overall prospects in the majors now on their roster.

How good are they? Two of them will probably finish 1 and 2 in the rookie of the year voting and the third is a consensus top 10.

We’re talking about Spencer Strider, Michael Harris II, and Vaughn Grissom.  These guys all have greatness written all over them.

Spencer Strider has struck out 200 batters in 132 innings. He carries an 11-5 record as of today. He consistently hits 97-100 on the gun. One of his teammates was asked how he ranked Strider and his reply was “just under deGrom”. Jacob deGrom is a future Hall of Famer.

Spencer Strider is 23 years old. Get used to seeing ladies with black fake moustaches at Truist Park! The guy is becoming his own little cult!

Vaughn Grissom is 21 years old and was brought up by the Braves when Ozzie Albies went down with a fractured foot over the summer.

He skipped AAA ball and came up from AA. With the Braves, he has played sterling defense and is batting .302 with 5 HR and 16 RBI in 34 games. Now with Ozzie out again with a fractured pinky, Grissom will finish out the season at 2B. This guy has a chance to be a great one.

Last but not least of these three amigos is Michael Harris II. He is the odds-on favorite for NL Rookie of the Year.

The amazing thing about that is he only came up to the Braves at the end of May. Harris has solidified center field for the Braves and should be there for the foreseeable future.

He is currently hitting .305 with 18 HR and 59 RBI and 17 SB. He is 21 years old.

Anthopoulos knows his stuff and just signed the rookie Harris to an 8 year 72 million contract.

So, this is how Alex Anthopoulos is building the Braves for the future. And what a future it’s going be. These guys are loaded and now have a lineup that is as good as any in baseball. I think ole Alex is gonna keep it that way. GO BRAVES!

 

Eagles Shuck Huskers

By: Joe Delaney

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

WOW………. Almost a million and half is how much The University of Nebraska paid Georgia Southern University to come be a sacrificial lamb of a football team in Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Nebraska.

Well, I don’t know if they have Eagles in Nebraska but I can tell you the Cornhuskers don’t want to see the birds from Statesboro again, ANY time soon.

Georgia Southern football took a giant step forward by handing the Cornhuskers a shocking home loss 45-42 earlier in the month.

How shocking? After the game Cornhusker Coach Scott Frost said “we can’t let this divide us” ………. The next morning, he was no longer the coach.  And the school paid him 15 million to leave!

While this Nebraska team might not be feared in college football the way they were in the past. They were prohibitive three touchdown favorites.

I guess everyone wants to know how many yards the Southern option attack rolled up right?  Uhhhhhhh, those days are long gone sports fans. Behind the revamped offense of Clay Helton and the play of QB Kyle Vantrease the Eagles rolled up SIX HUNRED and FORTY TWO yards against the BIG 10 school.

Vantrease, who I wrote about in the season preview was spectacular. He was 37 of 56 for 409 yards and scored the winning touchdown on an 8-yard run with 36 seconds left.

Southern had a great all-around effort on offense with Gerald Green running for 132 yards on only 10 carries and 2 scores and Jalen White added another 85 yards and 2 TDs.

Derwin Burgess led the potent Eagle receiving corp with 12 catches for 119 yards. While the Eagle defense had to fight the bigger Cornhuskers all day and gave up a lot of yards and points, they held at the end and forced a 52-yard field goal attempt that went wide left. The party was on in Statesboro and the visitor’s locker room at Memorial Stadium.

Kudos have to go out to the job Clay Helton has done in a very short period of time at Georgia Southern. That’s a BIG 10 school that the Eagles just took down ON THE ROAD.

First is not the fact that they beat Nebraska……. The deal is they were just better. Nebraska had no answer for the Eagles offense. GSU, actually led most of the game in Lincoln.

It seems that the Eagles have gotten themselves a very good head coach. Clay Helton has coached at the highest level of college football.  Many wondered how he would adjust to the smaller school, smaller budgets and small-town atmosphere of Statesboro, as opposed to the glam of Los Angeles.

Well to see him on the sidelines at the end of the game Saturday you woulda thought that this guy is all in. I did.

It’s a long season and there will be ups and downs for this Eagle team for sure. They face a tough schedule ahead. In my preview of the Eagles last month, I said that after last year’s debacle the Eagle nation needed to have some patience with this squad. I think that still holds true………. but WOW! Just WOW!

High Tide

By: Joe Delaney

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Why the heck would anyone rank these guys the preseason #1? Let’s see….

They have the consensus #1 collegiate football coach of all time.

They have the returning Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback.

They have the #1 pro prospect on defense who had SEVENTEEN and ONE HALF sacks last year.

They have 4 of the top transfers in the nation in Jahmyr Gibbs [Georgia Tech], Jermaine Burton [Georgia], Eli Ricks [LSU], and Tyler Steen [Vanderbilt].

They have 4 starters back on the O-line and the TE

They have 8 starters back on defense plus the punter and PK.

They have had a “rebuilding” year according to Saban and went 13-2 and lost in the Natty to a once in a lifetime Georgia team.

That’s a lot of ‘they haves’ and I can’t think of any ‘they don’t haves’!

They are the consensus #1 for now and should be next January. Boys and girls this team is built to run the table!

Offensively the Tide will be loaded with the only questions being the tackle spots.

Look for Tyler Steen, the Vandy transfer, to step in at left tackle. He will be a key protecting Bryce Youngs blind spot.

J C Latham has the experience and size, 6’6 325, to excel at right tackle. TE Cameron Latu is back to give defenses fits and the wide receivers will be good. Look for Jermaine Burton to have a big year. And Ja’Corey Brooks won’t be far behind.

At running back, Trey Sanders has waited his turn and will be another load for defenses both running the ball and out of the backfield. This offense averaged 488 years and 40pts per game last year. It will be better with the maturity in the O-line protecting Bryce Young and opening holes for Sanders.

Defensively the Tide has experience and speed! They return 4 of the front 7, including “the man” Will Anderson.  You could write a whole column just on Will.  The 6’4 245 LB is probably the best collegiate player for 2022.  With 4.5 speed and a head hunter’s mentality, Anderson will wreak havoc this year.

Look for DC Pete Golding to find ways to turn Anderson and sophomore phenom Dallas Turner loose. D J Dale anchors a solid defensive line and Henry To’oTo’o is an all-SEC type backer.

This defense ranked 7th overall in the country in total yards given up last year.  They will be better.

The DBs should be bolstered by Eli Ricks and will be solid with Kool-Aid McKinstry, Jordan Battle, and Demarcco Hellams all back.

PK is in good hands with returning SR Will Reichard and punter James Burnip is back also.

One more item for the Tide will be Jahmyr Gibbs returning punts and kickoffs.  He should be outstanding and have a big year.

Schedule wise, the Tide opens with an 11-3 Utah State team and then travels to Texas and former OC Steve Sarkasian.

Those games will show what’s coming to an SEC slate that includes the usual culprits.

There are a couple of tough ones with a revamped LSU, a rising Arkansas, and A&M at home. The only trip up game that I can see, would be at Tennessee.  I Would love to see that one.

Oct 15 at Neyland stadium. A hundred thousand orangenecks! The pomp, the pageantry and SEC football at its best! If the Vols can stay up for 4 quarters, they might make it a game.

Both Bill O’Brien and Pete Golding return as coordinators, which is rare for Bama. That’s a real plus for a team that has just about everything going its way.

Nick Saban said last year was a “rebuilding” year and caught some flack for that. Guess what? Nick don’t lie………I look for the Elephants to stomp everything in their path this coming year.

Maybe Georgia can play with them, maybe Ohio State.  But probably not, I look for the Tide to HAVE IT ALL in 2022.

Ascending Eagles

By: Joe Delaney

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

So many question marks as the Georgia Southern Eagles begin the 2022 season.

With a new coach, a new staff and a revamped offense and defense, these guys may take some time to learn their true identity.

Take into account a very tough schedule that is not going to be conducive to a learning curve and the word in Statesboro may be PATIENCE in 2022.

This team will look like the 21 outfit in uniforms only as Clay Helton will bring a more balanced attack to the Eagles. Coming from the west coast and USC [yeah, THAT USC], Helton will look to mix it up with offensive coordinator Bryan Ellis calling the shots.

It looks like the Eagles will turn to a transfer with experience and RPO ability in Kyle Vantrease at QB. He brings a wealth of experience after transferring from Buffalo. A 6th year graduate transfer, Vantrease started 26 games and threw for 4400 yards and 23 touchdowns with a 61% passing percentage and also rushed for 13 touchdowns. Keeping him healthy will be crucial to success.

The Eagles are well stocked at running back with Gerald Green and Jalen White leading the way. Between the two, they rushed for 9 touchdowns last year. There is depth also at RB.

Receivers are untested and will need to step up to take the strain off teams loading the box on them. One answer to this will be returning tight end Beau Johnson. The 6’ 1” 225lb returning starter should get a lot of looks from Vantrease.

Southern does return 4 of 5 on the o-line and as I type this, they are probably working on pass protection! This should be a good group led by tackle Brian Miller. If they can make the transition from an option attack to a balanced offense, this could be a much more explosive offense moving forward. And that is Clay Helton’s plan.

Kicking and punting should be in capable hands with Alex Raynor back for PATs and FGs and Anthony Beck back at punter. Beck is a good one, averaging 45yds per punt. He punted 64 times last year. Helton and company will hope to reduce that number this year

Defensively, the Eagles have got a lot of work to do. They gave up 31.4 points and 289.5 yards thru the air last year and return only 4 starters off that outfit.

Look for them to improve on this as much of the secondary returns and will be led by safety Anthony Wilson.  He led the team in tackles.

Other returners include stud Justin Ellis at DE, Dillon Springer at DE and Justin Birdsong at DB. Most of the new starters have seen a lot of action and this will be a veteran defense with 7 seniors and 4 juniors. They just have got to step up.  New defensive coordinator Will Harris has a lot to work with.

The schedule is not going to do the Eagles any favors. A September date with the Nebraska Cornhuskers followed by a trip to UAB, then Ball State and at Coastal Carolina………. that’s gonna be tough.

Throw in Georgia State, Louisiana, Marshall, and App State and a break-even scenario starts looking plausible.

Georgia Southern is a great school with a great football tradition. It is moving in the right direction with Clay Helton. It just may take a little while to get there.

Look for the Eagles to be competitive and definitely improve on the 3-9 debacle of last year. If the defense can come on and Vantrease has a great year, the Eagles could surprise a lot of people.

Look for the Eagles to take a big step back to respectability this year and start laying a foundation for the future.

Clawing Back

By: Joe Delaney

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Well, it looks like these Tigers are going to have to rebound this year and we ain’t talkin’ basketball.

After a lackluster 2021 season that saw these Tigers slide out of the national picture and into ACC oblivion, these guys definitely have something to prove.

After an opening game loss to the eventual National Champion Georgia Bulldogs, the Tigers let two games slip away in the ACC and finished with 10-3 record.

While most programs would be happy with double digit wins. Most programs ain’t Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers.

Injuries and poor production at quarterback were the main reasons for the letdown. You can have 5 stars next to your name but if you throw more INTERCEPTIONS than TDs over the season with a schedule that includes South Carolina State and Connecticut then you’re not cutting it at Clemson.

DJ Uiagalelei came to Clemson as one of the most heralded QBs in the country. Last year his QB rating was in the toilet and he passed for an average of 172.8 yards per game with a 55.6% completion rate. Add in 9 touchdown passes for the whole year and well, you get the idea.

So, what do you do when your 5-star struggles? Well, Dabo just went and got another 5 star in Cade Klubnik out of Texas.

Klubnik is one of the top players in the country, Cade may be playing a little earlier than expected if DJ doesn’t cut the mustard starting against the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta in game one. Klubnik competed in the spring and may give DJ a run for his money. QB play will again determine how the Tigers finish nationally.

If the QB play can step up the offense could be very good. Running back Will Shipley leads a talented backfield that has speed and depth. Expect to see Shipley on Sundays in a couple of years.

The receivers are solid with Joseph Ngata and EJ Williams, although depth could be an issue there.

The offensive line should be much improved with four returning starters. Once again this should be a fine offensive team but the key is going to be the QB play.

On the defensive side of the ball then Tigers will be flat loaded again. Wanna know who Clemson’s defensive line reminds me of this year? Georgia’s from last year!

The trio of Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee, and Xavier Thomas are all studs and will be playing on Sunday.

KJ Henry and Tyler Davis aren’t far behind. This is one of the top front fours in all of college football.

The LB’s will be young and very talented with Trenton Simpson leading the way.

The DB’s will be steady at FS and SS while both corners will have to be replaced. This defense could be one of Clemson’s best and that’s saying a lot.

The defensive front should give the new LB’s and Corners some time to grow and by the time the Tigers roll into Touchdown Jesus territory in early November, these guys could be scary.

On special teams BT Potter returns at PK and should also handle kickoffs and punts. He will be a busy man.

The Tigers and Dabo Swinney have built a juggernaut and just aren’t used to losing three games in a season.

Now, the defensive and offensive coordinators have to be replaced and there are some questions about how that will affect the team.  Still this team is loaded with talent.

The schedule is tough with the usual ACC teams and a trip to Notre Dame and a resurgent South Carolina in Death Valley.

If the tigers can roll into South Bend undefeated, we will know that the QB issue is A-OK and these big bad cats have clawed their way back.

Should be a very entertaining year for the Tigers, one way or the other!