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  • Kevin Scarbinsky

Talkin' ball with Coach Bill Clark: I'm going to try to score a touchdown

What is Bill Clark doing on the weekends now that he's recuperating from back surgery and not coaching football for the first time since his freshman year in college? He's watching games like a coach. Every week, he shares his insight and observations on what caught his trained eye.


Week 4: Praise for Tennessee and its special quarterback, Hendon Hooker, memorable comps for Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, the one thing #collegekickers can't practice and what Coach Clark would've done on a decision that backfired last weekend.


Tennessee got the Florida bugaboo off its back, beating the Gators for the first time since 2016 and for just the second time in the last 18 years. How much does such a long negative streak weigh on a team, and how good are the 4-0 No. 8 Vols?


BC: The one thing I like about Tennessee from watching them is they look complete. I knew that they had made some strides offensively, but I was really impressed with them defensively. We'll see as they play other people, but just top to bottom, they look like a really good team. To be a great team, you have to have that one guy that really sets you apart, and that's their quarterback.


As far as the Florida deal, it's amazing how that can pile up on you and become such a mental thing to your fans, to your players. We always say it's year to year, but that can play a factor, so to get that behind them obviously is a big deal.


How impressed are you with Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker? Should he be in the early Heisman Trophy conversation?


BC: Anytime you put experience with talent at that position … He can make the throws. He's got the legs. I like how they use him.You're going to get a quarterback draw down on the goal line. You're going to get him making athletic plays. He's really strong, but they don't have to run him all the time. They can use all their other weapons, and that's what happens defensively. You know this guy's athletic, but you can't sit there every second worrying about that because he can really throw it. And you see his maturity level. Sometimes, when it all gels together, it comes back to that quarterback with experience.


Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson bounced back with a big game against Tennessee, especially throwing the ball, after struggling in his previous two games. How important was it for his confidence to show what he could do in a hostile environment in a big rivalry game?


BC: It's huge. If you've never played at Tennessee, you don't really understand. When you look at those speakers on the sideline, they're there for a reason. It's already loud. They're playing music from the band, and everybody else is hollering at you. To go in there and to show improvement, that's all that we as coaches can ask for is that a guy gets better, just a little better every week. You can have talent, but that's not enough. He has to be able to put it together, and that performance from him, even in a loss, he brought them back and made it close, it'll make him better down the road.


It was an interesting weekend for kickers. Most weekends are. The Arkansas kicker bounced a late kick to take the lead off the top of an upright and it ricocheted back. Texas A&M hung on to win. The Missouri kicker missed a chip shot to beat Auburn in regulation. The hashtag #collegekickers has been a thing for years. Is it hard to find a consistent kicker? What's going on there?


BC: How you train that guy is critical. I talk so much about makeable field goals, spending a lot of time on that in practice. That was something we wanted to do every day, especially 40 yards and in. Now, you've also got the fact of the pressure. We're trying to put them in every pressure situation we can, but let's be honest. How do you simulate 80-90,000 people in the stadium with millions of people watching on television knowing your whole team depends on you? It's hard to do that. We all want that kicker with that flat pulse where he just stays calm and cool. It almost seems sometimes like the more they care, the worse they are.


The only thing you can do as a coach is put them in those situations at practice, work on them. The ones that drive you crazy are the makeable ones, 40 and in. That's the ones you expect them to make. Maybe even 45 and in. The Missouri one, that's really inexcusable because that's an extra point. It's a big deal. Those guys are as important as anyone else on the team.


Missouri got down to first-and-goal at the 3 late in regulation in a tie game and didn't try to run it in. Eli Drinkwitz had his quarterback take a knee twice to put the ball in the center of the field to set up what would've been the winning field goal on the final play. The kicker pushed it right, and Auburn won in overtime. What goes into that decision to take a shot or two at scoring the touchdown before kicking or to play it safe to set up the field goal?


BC: The devil's advocate is you can turn it over. You score, you give them one more chance to go down the field. Where if you wait till the last three seconds (to kick), it's an extra point, and you walk off the field. Me personally, I'm going to try to score a touchdown in that situation because we've seen bad snaps. We've seen kicks blocked. I'm going to try to score. It's just a matter of how you're feeling. How do you feel about your kicker, especially that day?


Is there a better college football player in the country than Georgia tight end Brock Bowers? Offensive coordinator Todd Monken keeps finding creative ways to get him the ball, putting him in the backfield, running speed sweeps, and Bowers keeps taking the ball to the house.


BC: Oh, my gosh. It's freakish. He runs like a running back. He catches like a wide receiver. He's got unbelievable hands. You're talking about a guy that, if he stays healthy, has a chance to become one of the best to play. You're talking about Rob Gronkowski. Tony Gonzalez. He's just that good. He's such a mismatch. When you get a truly special tight end, they're so hard to defend. He's unbelievable.