Missouri Review

After a strange 2 week break caused by Hurricane Matthew and the subsequent wailing and hand-wringing about how the LSU game was rescheduled, Florida managed to get back on track with a solid thumping of Missouri in the Swamp. This was certainly a better result for Homecoming than 2 years ago, when the Gators were embarrassed by the Tigers and played so badly that it was the death knell for Will Muschamp. Then again, it may have been just what the program needed.

The much-discussed Gator offense will continue to be discussed, despite accumulating over 500 yards from a balanced attack against the Tigers. 7 false-start penalties killed a lot of potential scoring drives, LDR really struggled and played a poor game overall, and the play-calling by Coach Nussmeier had some questionable moments. The penalties are especially frustrating, although Coach Mac attributed some of them to LDR’s cadence and hesitation before calling for the snap – this is something that should be easily corrected. LDR, though, made a lot of poor throws into coverage, was late on others, and more inaccurate than at any time this season. His lack of experience showed, and I also believe his knee injury is still a bigger problem than is being let on. I’m not sure if Nuss wanted to get LDR a lot of passing reps in live action, but there were times when the O-Line was getting into a rhythm running the ball, and then a clunker pass play would be called that ended the drive. His insistence on running sweeps to the short side of the field isn’t helping, either.

The running game was solid all afternoon, with Scarlett and Perine looking the best of the RBs – they may have separated themselves from Thompson and Cronkrite going forward. It’s good to see the RBs included in the passing game as well, providing the QB an easy throw while getting them out into space. Cleveland seems to be developing weekly as a separate threat at WR to Callaway, and has SEC-level size and speed. The O-Line played fairly well discounting the penalties, opening running lanes most of the day. Pass protection was good for the most part, but the old bugaboo of allowing some blitzers a free run into the backfield still hasn’t been solved. There are still a lot of areas across the entire unit that need to be cleaned up, but there are also signs that this unit could improve in time for a challenging second half of the schedule. They will have to in order for Florida to have any chance at returning to Atlanta.

The defense was spectacular for almost the entire game, with the only TDs allowed courtesy of a terrible LDR interception giving Missouri a short field, and a late TD drive against 2nd and 3rd string defenders. Missouri didn’t get it’s first 1st down until there were less than 3 minutes to go in the first half. The Tiger passing game was completely shut down, totaling 98 yards. Drew Lock was pounded all afternoon, and the 2 pick sixes by Tabor and Wilson late in the first half essentially ended the game – Florida’s defense was dominant. The D-Line didn’t miss a beat with Ivie, Sherit, and Cox all sitting out with injuries – the remaining guys just did their job and took it to the Tiger O-Line. The only bad thing to happen was the ankle injury to Jarrad Davis in the 3rd quarter. Hopefully it’s not serious and he can come back in a few weeks – he’s the leader of the defense and one of the best LBs in the country. He’s also from Georgia, and I know he really wants to play in Jacksonville in 2 weeks.

Overall it was a good, not great, performance, but given the circumstances in the preceding weeks, the team took care of it’s business. Florida gets another week off to work on the self-inflicted mistakes, shake off some more rust, and really start to focus on the next game. And lost in all of the recent drama is the fact that, at least for now, the Gators are in 1st place in the SEC East. I’ll be back next week with my Georgia preview.

Go Gators!

Missouri Preview

After all the angst of the postponement of the LSU game due to Hurricane Matthew, and the drama and complaining from the Corndogs in Baton Rouge and Inbreds in Knoxville, Florida moves on to it’s Homecoming game, hosting the Missouri Tigers at the Swamp.

The Gators admittedly needed the unexpected week off due to a myriad of injuries along the defensive line, and also to allow Luke Del Rio another week to rehab his knee and get in more practice reps. The originally scheduled off-week comes after this game, before a critical stretch against Georgia and Arkansas – Florida has to take advantage of this good fortune if it wants to have a say in who represents the East in Atlanta.

Missouri comes in after an off-week of their own and coming off of a beatdown loss at LSU, where they were physically manhandled on dominated along the LOS. On offense, they have changed from their run-heavy philosophy of last year to depending on sophomore QB Drew Lock to throw early and often to a solid corps of WRs led by J’Mon Moore and Emanuel Hall. The Tigers aren’t afraid to throw downfield early and often, sacrificing efficiency for big plays. They have had some success with this against weaker secondaries, but LSU shut them down, and Florida’s secondary matches up well. The Gator secondary will be busy all afternoon and it’s depth tested – it’s time for Duke Dawson in the slot and the safeties behind Marcus Maye to step up. Tiger RBs Ish Witter and Damarea Crockett has been a good change-of-pace and occasionally do some damage – it will be interesting to see if Missouri uses the off week to change things up to try and confuse the Gator defense and keep them off-balance with more runs. Hopefully there are enough healthy bodies along the D-Line to keep players fresh and allow them to be effective through the end of the game – Jordan Sherit and Joey Ivie won’t be back until the Georgia game.

Florida gets LDR back at QB, but no one knows how sharp he’ll be after not playing for a month. Austin Appleby did an adequate job in relief, but the offense really struggled the past 6 quarters, and needs a jolt of energy and more effective passing to get back on schedule. Everyone is still waiting to see if another WR can become a consistent threat other than Callaway. Another thing to watch will be the RBs – has Jordan Scarlett shown enough the past 2 games to get the majority of carries, or will the Gators continue with the 4-headed rotation depending upon a run or pass call and who may have the hot hand? Finally, the O-Line performance has regressed lately, and it may be time for some changes. Tyler Jordan is back to start again at guard, but will Martez Ivey get the chance to play tackle ahead of David Sharpe, who has struggled recently? This home game may be the time to find out what the best combination is for the rest of the season.

This is a big game for the Gators, and they must take advantage of the good fortune from an extra week of rest and begin this part of the schedule with a win at home. After all the talk about a game that wasn’t played, it’s time for the staff and players to focus on the one that will. There is still a lot on the table for Florida to potentially achieve, so we’ll see if the team is ready to elevate it’s coaching and play, or stay in their recent funk.

Here’s to a Happy Homecoming!

Prediction: Florida 27 Missouri 17

Vanderbilt Review / LSU Preview

You would think after watching Gator football for over 40 years some things would change, but talk about (bad) tradition……

Another visit to Nashville, another desultory effort, another closer-than-it-should-have-been finish. Talk about a hangover after the second-half collapse at Tennessee. Lethargic offense, painfully conservative play-calling, and injuries to the defensive line let Vanderbilt hang around until the very end. Not the bounce back performance Coach Mac wanted to see from the offense. The O-Line continues it’s recent struggles, especially on the left side, and it may be time for some radical changes. Sharpe again struggled with pass-blocking against speed rushers, and Ivey just doesn’t look comfortable at guard. Appleby pretty much checked everything down to the flats and short routes except for 2 long attempts that fell incomplete. This allowed the Commodores to crowd the LOS and really slow down the running game, except for a few good runs by Scarlett, who seems to have separated himself from the pack at RB based on recent performance. The defense saved the day, playing hard through the injuries and getting some key turnovers. The run defense showed some serious cracks as the linemen dropped like flies, and it only gets tougher in the next game.

It’s back to the Swamp for 2 critical games, starting with the Miles-Les LSU Tigers. Unfortunately for Florida, LSU pulled the plug on Les Miles last week, and the Tigers now are playing with renewed energy and pride under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, who never met a controversy or underhanded way of doing things he didn’t like. Simply based on the fundamental makeup of the LSU offense, this looks to be a bad matchup for the current Gator D-Line trying to stop the Tiger power running game. Even if Leonard Fournette doesn’t play or is limited by his ankle injury, Derrius Guice and the other RBs are all still talented and tough. With Ivie out for a few more weeks, Brantley playing through a wrist injury, Sherit and Cox playing through their own injuries, and an undersized Jefferson trying to help out, these guys (plus Clark and Bryan) and the LBs have perhaps their toughest test of the season coming up. The front seven cannot allow long-time-consuming drives that eat the clock and wear them down. Coach Collins and the defensive staff will need to gamble with stunts and run blitzes, knowing that few big plays could be allowed, just to try and get the Tiger offense of the field and the maximum number of possessions to a struggling Gator offense, which needs all the help it can get right now. Tabor and Wilson will have their hands full in man coverage with WRs Travon Dural and Malachi Dupre, 2 excellent athletes that just don’t get the number of opportunities to show off how good they really are. Marcus Maye will have a lot on his plate, coming down into the box for run support occasionally as well as making sure the secondary doesn’t allow the back-breaking long jump-ball passes it did last year that cost the Gators a victory. He’ll have to come up big this game, as the other safeties are struggling right now. Current Tiger QB Danny Etling is not going to carry an offense by himself, with only average mobility and arm strength. If the Gator defense can force him into making plays, that will be a best case scenario for a win.

Florida’s offense has to shoulder it’s share of the load after 6 bad quarters of play, putting some points up early and forcing LSU to not stay run-heavy. It’s unknown if Appleby will get his 3rd consecutive start at QB or if LDR will be ready, but no matter who is playing, Nussmeier has to do a much better job of play-calling and getting guys into space in order to make plays. I don’t see the Gators being able to control the LOS consistently by running, so it’s incumbent to mix up calls, keep LSU off-balance, and not miss on the chances for any big plays. This offense just isn’t good enough right now to have any room for error, and has to elevate it’s level of play. The Tigers have an excellent secondary led by CB Tre’Davious White and safety Jamal Adams, and will be jacked up in their ongoing feud with Florida as to which school is the real DBU. Mac and Nuss have their work cut out for them in finding open spaces for the Gator receivers who, other than Callaway, haven’t distinguished themselves yet. The Gator O-Line will have it’s toughest challenge yet, as the Tigers are loaded as usual along the D-line with quality and depth led by DT Davon Godchaux and DE Arden Key. If the Gators can’t keep Key out of the backfield, it will be a long and painful afternoon for whomever the QB is. LB Kendell Beckwith could be all-SEC this season and leads the Tigers in tackles.

Even with Miles gone, the Florida staff would be remiss not to be prepared for the trick plays that have directly cost them 2 games recently in this series. Orgeron likely isn’t going to be the head coach next year, and has nothing to lose right now – a dangerous scenario for the Gators. This is going to be a really difficult game for Florida to win, and the early start time (if it holds, based on developments with Hurricane Matthew) won’t help – many times the crowd simply is late arriving and/or just not as loud and into the flow of the game from the start as it usually is. The Gator coaching staff needs to earn it’s money this week and help the players out. It’s all hands on deck as far as covering up for the myriad injuries on the D-Line, finding a way to protect the QB and getting back on schedule on offense, and shaking off the mental funk of the last 1 1/2 games. I think the Swamp can be the difference in what could be another Florida-LSU game coming down to the wire.

Florida 23 LSU 20

Upon further review……

Hurricane Matthew has caused the game to be cancelled by the SEC office, with no firm plans for rescheduling. LSU has already started grandstanding about being so willing to host the game……no s**t. Their AD is blaming UF for not being willing to negotiate another date, which is a complete joke. Here’s a suggestion – have both teams buy out the cupcakes they have on their schedule on Nov. 19th and play. I’m sure LSU would be fine with playing at UF and then 5 days later on Thanksgiving at Texas A&M.

We’ll see how it all plays out, and if this game actually has a direct impact on the participants in the SEC Championship Game. If it does, something tells me the conference will make proper arrangements.

Tennessee Review / Vanderbilt Preview

There’s not much to say about the historic second-half collapse, other than no one saw it coming. The coaching staff inexplicably went into a shell on both sides of the ball, allowing the momentum for Tennessee to continue. DBU talked a lot of smack all week, and wound up getting trucked by a bunch of ducks in stunning fashion, somehow making Josh Dobbs look like Tom Brady. After a stellar first half of mixing up the run and pass and playing aggressively, the offense became woefully predictable and stagnant for most of the second half, causing the Gator defense to continue to tire.

There’s a lot of blame to go around, and quite a bit of it is on the coaching staff. It’s hard to believe how conservative the calls were on both sides of the ball until late in the game, with no significant adjustments made to try and regain momentum and give the players a chance to win. Doug Nussmeier and Geoff Collins get an ‘F’ for allowing the collapse, and have a lot of work to do to build up the confidence of the players. Even Coach McIlwain stated after the game that the offense should have continued to throw the ball deep to keep Tennessee from crowding the LOS and give the defense some rest.

The left side of the O-Line became a sieve in the 2nd half. Sharpe was simply too slow to stop quick edge rushes, while Ivey whiffed on some pass blocks and simply looks uncomfortable playing guard. Perhaps it’s time to seriously consider switching their positions. Appleby missed some audibles out of bad plays and had an interception, but given the little amount of experience and practice in this offense, that’s more on Nussmeier to call a better game. Appleby performed admirably, executing the game plan (in the 1st half) flawlessly. He made some great deep throws and used his legs to stay out of trouble. I’m still at a loss as to the painfully conservative play-calling by Nussmeier, which allowed the Vols to stack the box the entire second half, shut down the running game, and put too much pressure on 3rd down on the passing game. The TEs made little contribution other than the TD catch by Goolsby, and no other WR has stepped up into a consistent role opposite Callaway. At least freshman Tyrie Cleveland announced himself on one long reception, and Freddie Swain caught the late TD.

The defense was not all that even in the first half, allowing the Vol receivers too much room over the middle and getting bailed out by a lot of dropped throws. The D-Line did control the LOS and pressure Dobbs, and Wilson had a clutch interception in the end zone to kill a Vol drive. The secondary made some big 3rd down plays, but too many Vol receivers were alarmingly open. After doing enough to get away with a 21-3 halftime lead, the coverage completely collapsed the entire 2nd half. Dawson was singled out by Tennessee all game, and it became obvious why – poor coverage and technique. The lack of depth behind Tabor and Wilson became apparent as they tired in the second half. Maye had some good individual plays near the LOS, including knocking down the 4th down pass early in the game to cap off an excellent goal line stand. However, the overall safety play in coverage was awful. The entire middle of the field was available most of the day due to a combination of blown coverages and bad technique. Washington and Harris simply aren’t quality SEC safeties, and this was the first game where an opponent really exposed them.

Coach McIlwain stated when he was hired that he would “apply the pressure, not feel it”. Well, he and the entire coaching staff failed miserably, gifting a win to Tennessee and possibly handing them the East title. I can only hope to never see that kind of display again.

This was truly a team loss.

The staff has a huge task this week trying to get the Gators refocused for the second part of their Tennessee two-step road trip. Vanderbilt presents little threat on offense, and will be hoping for a hangover coming in for the Gators, and rely on a tough defense to keep it close. Head Coach Derek Mason has done a very nice job of building the Commodore defense and getting his team to play hard for 60 minutes. Ralph Webb, a Gainesville native, is always motivated to stick it to the Gators, and is one of the better RBs in the SEC. However, Vandy has not developed a complimentary passing game, and the Florida defense should have all the motivation it needs to bounce back. The Gator offense has it’s own issues to work on, namely shoring up the left side of the OL and continuing to try and develop consistent WRs to take the emphasis off of Callaway. I expect Appleby to get the start again this week, even with LDR returning to practice on a limited basis during the week. Hopefully Nussmeier learned a tough lesson last week and won’t go into a shell with play-calling no matter how the game develops. I expect all 4 Gator RBs to continue to rotate in, providing their individual attributes in the both the run and pass game. I think the freshmen WRs – Hammond, Cleveland, and Swain – will start to see an expanded role. There’s no sense in not giving them their chance to contribute any longer.

I don’t believe anyone can really know what to expect, as the players, coaches, fans, and media across the country are still scratching their heads over last week’s complete second half fail. DBU wrote a lot of checks with it’s mouths that it couldn’t cash, and now has to start the long process of erasing that embarrassing effort against Tennessee and moving forward. The Florida coaching staff did not do the players any favors last week either – it’s time to coach ‘em up, build ‘em back up, simplify things, and turn loose a bunch of angry Gators to kick some ass this week.

Prediction: Florida 27 Vanderbilt 16

North Texas Review / Elevenessee Preview

Well, the QB curse at Florida continues. The Gators paid for a luckluster offensive display with Luke Del Rio still in the game late in the 3rd quarter, long enough for a defender to roll into his left knee and likely sidelining him for a few weeks, going into the biggest game of the season to date. The only concern I voiced prior to this game came to pass – an injury to a key player – perhaps the most important one.

The lack of intensity and focus by the entire offense, LDR included, was disappointing. The team knew it would control the game and win, but not coming out of the gate fast against an outmanned opponent usually leads to bad things. The running game was solid, but didn’t punch it in for a TD late in the first half which indirectly led to the problems that followed. The RBs all looked good, but the O-Line simply didn’t fire off of the ball like it should consistently. LDR seemed a little off and actually got a little sloppy with his mechanics, throwing off his back foot instead of stepping into some throws he normally completes. It’s still disturbing that when Callaway is out of the game at WR that no one can step up into the role as a consistent downfield threat. Other than the long pass to Hammond early and a few throws to the TEs, Powell is still the only go-to WR, and that’s not going to be good enough against better competition.

The defense was lights out as usual, holding UNT to only 53 net yards – a Florida school record. The D-Line dominated all night and made things miserable for the Mean Green. Other than a few questionable pass-interference calls on Tabor and Wilson, the secondary shut down any passing game. Again, a lot of the younger guys received extensive action and performed well. The offense should take a close look at how hard the defense stayed after it, even against an outmatched opponent. Simply a terrific performance.

“It’s football time in Elevenessee!”

The Gators go to Knoxville for a game with massive implications for the entire SEC and regular season. The Inbreds (again) have not lived up to their preseason hype, escaping Appalachian St., pulling away from Virginia Tech courtesy of 5 turnovers, and scoring late to beat Ohio by 9 points. Supposed all-world QB Josh Dobbs looks the same as always – good runner, poor decision-maker, inaccurate passer. Jalen Hurd is one of the best RBs in the country and the real leader of that team. Josh Malone is their only playmaker at WR. Their O-Line, which was to be much-improved, still looks inconsistent, and may have one of their OTs playing hurt. The Gator defense simply is better than Elevenessee, and really should not have to resort to anything fancy. Play straight up schemes, set the edge to prevent scrambles by Dobbs, and contain the Inbred running game enough to force obvious passing situations. The DBU secondary is much better than the Inbred WR corps – Malone is the only real deep threat. All the defensive staff has to do is show the defense the tape of last year’s game to remind them of the horrendous tackling display that allowed Elevenessee to almost win, and all of the trick plays that that were used that hurt the defense and led directly to scores. I would normally say that the Inbreds have not shown much on film as far as an intricate game plan, but they have had to show a lot of their hand already in defeating 3 weaker opponents. Last year in Gainesville they threw the trailer sink at Florida, including a WR pass back to the QB and a jump pass – I expect more trickeration Saturday.

On defense, the Inbreds are dealing with injuries of their own, the biggest to CB Cam Sutton. They will also be missing a starting LB, and are playing hurt on the D-Line. New Coordinator Bob Shoop will likely crowd the LOS and bring a lot of pressure, especially against a backup QB and average O-Line until the Gators can prove they can consistently hurt them. The entire Gator offense needs to rally around Austin Appleby and play smart and hard for 60 minutes. I don’t expect a significant change in the overall scheme, but Appleby is a better athlete and has a stronger arm then LDR – perhaps a few more deep throws, rollouts, and QB run options will be sprinkled in the keep the pressure away and allow Appleby to do what he does best. He will have all week to practice with the 1s, and Coaches Mac and Nuss can design some things to play to his strengths. Just execute the game plan – not your own team. This is not a game or QB situation to try and overcome penalties and turnovers. I do think the Gators can rip off some nice runs with it’s excellent stable of backs, but perhaps not consistently if an effective passing game can’t be shown. It’s time for O-Line to play it’s best game of the season to date and grow up. Tyler Jordan appears to be out again this week with his eye injury, but there’s good news in that Martez Ivey will be allowed to play after his incorrectly-called ejection. The interior guys had better be ready for an onslaught of blitzes – it’s time to stand up physically and also to communicate properly. Finally, Callaway returns from a quad injury and will be a huge boost to the entire team.

There are so many subplots going into this game. How much will the past 2 Florida games (for the current players) and the past 11 games for the coaching staff and fan base be in Elevenessee’s heads? The Inbreds have been pointing to this game and talking trash all offseason about how the streak ends this week, and have another built-in advantage with the Gators likely playing a new starting QB. How much help do these clowns need? Talk about do-or-die……the streak will end sometime and that will suck for Gator fans, but will Tennessee be too hyped for this game and make mistakes? How many more chances will Sgt. Carter get as head coach to win a big game? The Inbreds have not played like the great team they are supposed to be, and there’s enough evidence on film that they aren’t. Florida will circle the wagons and close ranks for this one, and the defense will have be to be leaned upon like it was most of last season. Those guys can certainly lead the way for a few weeks, even against quality teams. I do feel that Florida is the better team overall, and if this game was at a neutral location or in the Swamp, the Gators would win even if LDR didn’t play. Florida needs to achieve at least a stalemate at the LOS on offense, while the defense needs to impose it’s will. Can they do those things without trying to do too much? Again, I think a straight-up game plan without a rash of turnovers could be enough. I think the Gator special teams have a decided advantage going in to this game – Callaway is a dangerous return man, Townsend is one of the best punters in the nation, and Pineiro gives the Gators hope again for FGs.

The Gators will certainly have enough motivation in supporting a new QB and shutting up the mouths of the Elevenessee players. I’ll let Quincy Wilson sum up the mindset of the Gators going up to Rocky Top:

“We have a message from DBU to Tennessee. Have you ever seen a duck pull a truck? Ducks don’t pull trucks. Nobody has ever seen a duck pull a truck. Florida Gators are going to win, simple as that.”

Against my preseason judgement, I’m going with Q:

Trucks 20 Ducks 17

Kentucky Review / North Texas Preview

Florida put together it’s most complete game since 2012 in declawing the Mildcats for the 30th straight time. The Gators dominated all 3 phases of the game, and certainly played with much more intensity and focus after it’s lackluster effort in the opener.

The offense set the tone with it’s initial drive, an efficient, clock-consuming possession that, even thought it ended with a missed FG, showed that the O-Line was ready to prove it could win the LOS and establish a consistent running game. After that, the offense didn’t let up, wearing down Kentucky with a solid running game, and keeping their defense on the field all afternoon due to converting 10 of 14 3rd downs. Luke Del Rio improved from game one, spreading the ball around to many receivers, and displaying nice touch both on his deep strike to Antonio Callaway in the 1st quarter and then on his swing pass to LaMichael Perine in the 4th quarter. The stable of quality RBs contributed with over 200 yards rushing including Perine’s 105 yards, and some better pass blocking. Brandon Powell was able to exploit openings in the underneath zones including his own TD reception, but more guys have to contribute at WR to balance the attack. It was good to see so many backup OL in the game in the second half, gaining experience for what will be a much tougher schedule to come.

The Gator defense completely shut down Kentucky, allowing only 3 completions to one of the better WR units in the SEC, and never allowing the Mildcat QBs to establish any rhythm. Jalen Tabor announced he was back from suspension, making a great read and interception on a WR screen, but was upstaged by Quincy Wilson’s acrobatic, one-handed pick. The D-Line was in the backfield the entire game, disrupting the pocket, and made a solid adjustment when Kentucky changed QBs to more of a read-option look. The DT rotation of Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie, Ce Ce Jefferson, and Khairi Clark controlled the LOS all day, allowing the LBs and secondary to shine. If Alex Anzalone can stay healthy all season at LB, that will allow Jarrad Davis that much more opportunity to make big plays of his own. Many of the young secondary guys received extended snaps as well, and held their own.

Special teams were solid (when needed) – good kick coverage, and a 54 yard FG by Eddy Pineiro to excite the crowd and players. The only negative were two missed FGs, one simply pulled a little left, and the other a rushed attempt when a time out could have been called. He will improve with experience, but already has the backing of his teammates and really makes a huge difference in how the coaches can call the offense.

Next up is the Mean Green of North Texas coming into the Swamp. They will go home with some memories of a big-time SEC visit, a big paycheck, and a beatdown. This team is very young, including a true freshman starting at QB, and that’s a disaster waiting to happen in this environment. Mean Joe Greene ain’t coming through the door to help the current UNT team out. This should be a chance for the Gators to come out fast, then let the young guys have some more fun while protecting the health of the starters for a huge game the following week.

It will be interesting to see how the team responds to all of the positive talk this week, and if they can play with an edge (at least early on) and focus on a clean game. Hopefully the coaches can keep their attention in practice – this team hasn’t proven anything yet, but will have it’s chance in the next 6 weeks to show if it can stack up nationally. Again……no injuries!

Prediction: Florida 41 UNT 7

UMass Review / Kentucky Preview

That was an ugly, disappointing performance in the 2016 opener, especially by the offense. The rainy weather in the first half was no excuse for being in a 3-point game in the 4th quarter against an out-manned opponent. The O-Line did a horrific imitation of the second half of 2015, with blown assignments, shaky pass-blocking, and weak run blocking. Fred Johnson looked terrible at RT, and it appears Jawaan Taylor, despite being a true freshman, will inherit the job – at least he played a physical game and was aggressive. The interior of the line remains unimpressive as well. I was surprised at the large discrepancy in run/pass ratio, but I think Coach Mac wanted Luke Del Rio to get as many reps as needed going into the SEC opener the very next game. All the RBs played, but Jordan Scarlett made the best impression, running hard between the tackles. The WR corps wasn’t impactful, less short hitches and crosses to Brandon Powell and Antonio Callaway. The entire offense has to take a major step forward in the next game, or it could be a long season. A dispiriting effort all around, and nothing to get future recruits excited about unless they can see the immediate playing time available at many positions.

The defense was excellent, holding UMass under 200 yards in total, of which more than half came on just 3 plays. There was some surprisingly poor tackling by some of the starters, especially on the only UMass scoring drive, but hopefully that is attributed to a lack of focus given the opponent. It was good to see so many young players get snaps in this game, because they will need to improve and provide depth as the season progresses.

The Gator special teams were very solid, continually pinning UMass inside the 20. Eddy Pineiro looked comfortable going 3-3 on long FGs, while Johnny Townsend was his usual consistent self on punts. The coverage teams were very good as well, with WR Ahmad Fulwood looking surprisingly good in getting downfield and making tackles.

It’s on the the SEC season, and the opener against Kentucky at the Swamp. The Wildcats are coming off of an ugly home loss to Southern Miss, giving up 44 points and over 500 yards on defense. Their offense was impressive, though. QB Drew Barker hit long passes all evening, going over 300 yards with 4 TDs. The UK WRs, led by Garrett Johnson, are touting themselves as the best group in the league, and will provide a solid test for DBU. Stanley Williams is a good back both running and receiving, but there is no depth behind him. The Gator defense needs to be on it’s game and focused from the opening snap, as the offense still seems to be a work in progress and could struggle. It will be good to have Jalen Tabor back at CB to help slow down the Wildcat passing attack. It’s incumbent on the front 7 to control the LOS and get pressure on Barker, or it could be a long afternoon. The defense needs to be focused and ready to live up to it’s expectations right from the start, as Kentucky will attack downfield the entire game.

It will be interesting to see how Coach Mac and Doug Nussmeier decide to attack on offense. The Wildcats gave up 262 rushing yards last week, and I know The Gator staff would like to establish some balance, take some pressure off of Del Rio, and also allow the defense some rest. But unless the O-Line steps up it’s performance significantly, this could be another (unfortunately) close SEC game deep into the second half. The return from suspension of C’yontai Lewis at TE and WR Tyrie Cleveland hopefully will give Del Rio more targets and make the UK defense defend the entire field instead of crowding the box. The loss of Dre Massey to a knee injury is a huge disappointment, and really hurts the slot position, putting a lot of pressure on Powell.

It’s time to see if the Gators can bring come excitement back to the Swamp on offense and get the crowd energized, and in turn get recruits’ attention. After an off-season with so much talk about how the offense would be improved and be ready to share more of the load and help the defense, it’s time to start putting up or shutting up. The O-Line again has to prove it can play consistently at an SEC level, or this could be an embarrassing day. I think the Florida special teams need to come up big as well to keep control of the game.

Prediction: Florida 27 Kentucky 17

UMass Preview

The 2016 season kicks off with Massachusetts traveling to the Swamp for a large paycheck and a beatdown.

Most of the attention of Gator Nation will be given to the performance of the offense – again – with new QB Luke Del Rio taking the reins.  After the debacle of the second half of last season with the Will Grier drama and under Treon Harris, everyone has to be excited with seeing functional, consistent QB play.  It’s hard to believe that this will be the first time in 4 seasons that the same OC and scheme are in place, which alone holds promise for improvement.

Lots of new faces will be on display on offense along with Del Rio.  Austin Appleby should and Kyle Trask possibly will take snaps at QB.  JUCO transfer Mark Thompson gets his first chance at RB to show the staff what he can do, while true freshman Lamical Perine will get some carries, sharing the rotation with Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett.  Freshmen Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain should join JUCO transfer Dre Massey to bolster the WR corps, featuring the return of Antonio Callaway and Brandon Powell.

This will be the first chance to see the revamped OL, although not the best test for them until next week.  The starting five of David Sharpe, Martez Ivey, Cam Dillard, Tyler Jordan, and Fred Johnson should be good, but depth needs to be developed quickly both at tackle and the interior.  Redshirt freshmen Brandon Sandifer, Richard Desir-Jones, and T.J. McCoy, and true freshmen Jawaan Taylor, Brett Heggie and Stone Forsythe will all get plenty of snaps.

The Gator defense should have little trouble dominating the game, despite lots of new faces as well.  The D-Line could develop into one of the best in the SEC this season.  CeCe Jefferson, Caleb Brantley, Taven Bryan, and Khairi Clark should form a fine rotation at tackle.  Bryan Cox, Jr., Jordan Sherit, and Keivonnis Davis lead the way at DE, with redshirt freshman Jabari Zuniga and true freshmen Jachai Polite and Antonneous Clayton coming in with high expectations.

At LB, redshirt freshmen Vosean Joseph, Rayshad Jackson, and Kylan Johnson, and true freshmen David Reese and Jeremiah Moon, will join starters Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone.  The secondary features great starting CBs in Jalen (Teez) Tabor and Quincy Wilson, but JUCO transfer Joseph Putu and freshman C. J. McWilliams will get plenty of snaps to gain much-needed experience.  At safety, Marcus Maye leads a solid group that includes experienced depth in Duke Dawson, Nick Washington, and Marcell Harris, along with freshmen Chauncey Gardner and Jeawon Taylor.

Special teams will also hold the interest of the fans, as Eddy Pineiro finally gets his first chance in live action to see if he can begin to fulfill his promise at placekicker.  Last season’s wretched FG kicking directly contributed to some late season losses.  Johnny Townsend should be of the best punters in the country.

UMass should pose little challenge, as they are overmatched physically and in skill level.  Hopefully the Florida offense is provides an early and expanding lead, allowing the staff to rest starters on both sides of the ball as early as the second quarter and to get a lot of guys on the field to gain experience and develop depth.  Plenty of young guys will get their chance to prove they belong in the rotation at various positions, especially on the OL, in the LB corps, and in the secondary.

This should be a glorified scrimmage before the SEC season begins.  As always, the mantra for these games is, “no injuries!”

Prediction:  Florida 51      UMass 13



2016 Season Preview

It’s Year 2 under Jim McElwain, and he has undoubtedly put his mark on the program in all areas – coaching, recruiting, dealing with the media, and player discipline (unfortunately given more chances than expected).  Despite having a season under his belt at Florida, it almost feels like starting over, given the roller-coaster second half of 2015.  A strong 6-0 start was followed by the Will Grier saga, then struggling on offense with Treon Harris while losing the last 3 games, including the embarrassing loss to Michigan.  Hopefully the defense will benefit from a consistent offense and kicking game through the entire 2016 season, and not wear down and finally crack as it did last year.  Coach Mac will also have a new Athletic Director to work with going forward, as Jeremy Foley has announced his retirement this fall.  There is positive momentum regarding facilities improvements (plans for additional football-specific operations, updated dorms, etc.) that the new AD and President Kent Fuchs should continue to champion.  Finally, the addition of “ambassador” Steve Spurrier should pay dividends in regards to fundraising and re-energizing the older part of the fan base.


Finally, Florida’s offense has some continuity with the same Offensive Coordinator and staff in place.  Unfortunately, many new faces will again make this unit an uncertain group until the games begin.

It all starts at quarterback, with Luke Del Rio being named the starter during fall camp and inheriting huge expectations.  He has been coached previously by Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier at Alabama, and has an advantage in being a coach’s son.  He certainly showed command of the playbook in the spring game, delivering the ball accurately and making good decisions reading the defense.  He isn’t a top physical specimen, but doesn’t have to be for the Gators to have success this fall.  He simply needs to make quick decisions, protect the football, and play efficiently.  Austin Appleby transferred in from Purdue as a senior with plenty of experience against quality teams, and is truly a qualified backup.  If he is forced into service, there won’t be the staggering dropoff in output that was seen under Treon Harris last season.  He is physically ready for SEC play as well.  Freshmen Kyle Trask and Felipe Franks have a lot of raw ability, but hopefully won’t be needed this year.

The running back position is in good shape under coach Tim Skipper, and the graduation of Kelvin Taylor should not be felt.  JUCO transfer Mark Thompson is a beast physically and also a surprisingly good pass catcher.  He will get plenty of opportunities to become the main ball carrier – as long as he protects the ball.  Jordan Cronkrite has emerged as the other lead RB during fall camp, showing toughness and also receiving ability.  Jordan Scarlett surprisingly has fallen behind on the depth chart for now, but injuries or fumbling problems by Thompson will get him back into the lineup in a hurry.  He has all of the physical attributes, but mentally has been lacking focus, to go with offseason behavior issues.  It would be a shame to see him waste his talent, but sadly this is a common theme in sports.  Finally, true freshman Lamical Perine comes out of Alabama with a maturity beyond his years, along with enough talent and effort to get into the rotation without a redshirt season.

The wide receiver group is an even larger mystery than at QB.  Other than Antonio Callaway (who is coming back from his own offseason troubles), there is no proven player.  Brandon Powell was average at best in the slot while struggling with a foot injury, Ahmad Fulwood simply plays too soft despite terrific physical size and skills, and C.J. Worton had attitude and injury issues.  JUCO transfer Dre Massey has turned heads since the spring and seems to be the starter in the slot, showing playmaking ability sorely lacking last season.  True freshmen Tyrie Cleveland, Freddie Swain, Josh Hammond(brother of former Gator Frankie), and Rick Wells all come in with great credentials and have shown enough flashes in practice that possibly all see the field in some capacity this fall.  I expect the freshmen to make a significant contribution this season.  There are a lot of “ifs” with this unit – if Powell can stay healthy, if Fulwood can at least become an adequate threat, if Worton has finally turned his attitude around, and if the freshmen can deliver on their promise, this group could blossom into a functional, SEC-level unit.  They should benefit from consistent QB play as well.

The tight end position will again be more of a receiving threat vs. being involved in the running game.  The loss to graduation of Jake McGee is a large hole to fill.  C’yontai Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby return as proven threats on seam and wheel routes, which should help keep opponent LBs honest.  Camrin Knight and Moral Stephens provide depth, but are unproven as reliable backups.  Coach Mac is still looking for true two-way players at this position that can stay on the field for any down-and-distance situation.  In the meantime, he and Nuss will continue to flex out the TEs and scheme around their in-line blocking deficiencies.

Finally, while the offensive line wasn’t the most scrutinized unit in the offseason, there are still plenty of concerns.  Poor recruiting by the previous staff continues to hamper the development of a quality performing group with capable depth and proper roster numbers.  Coach Mike Summers was able to cobble together a decent group last season from, quite frankly, little talent and depth.  However, after Grier was suspended, Harris wasn’t able to mask their deficiencies with either quick decisions or his legs.  At least in 2016 the returning starters have more experience, more players are available after redshirting, and even a few freshmen are good enough to provide depth and occasionally get in to the rotation.  At tackle, David Sharpe has emerged as the leader on the unit at LT, Fred Johnson has earned the RT spot, while redshirt freshman Nick Buchanan and true freshman Jawaan Taylor will be in the rotation.  Taylor has been impressive in fall camp and could be a future star.  Martez Ivey should be the starter at RT, but is needed inside.  The interior of the line is where the main concerns lie.  At guard, Ivey again will slide inside from his natural tackle positon to fortify the position at LG, and Tyler Jordan looks to be solid as the starter at RG.  After those two, it’s unknown who can play, and play effectively.  Redshirt freshmen Brandon Sandifer, Richard Desir-Jones, and T.J McCoy, and true freshmen Brett Heggie and Stone Forsythe will all likely play.  The center position is led by Cam Dillard, but that is nothing to be comfortable with.  He is not the physical presence needed against SEC competition, and his shotgun snaps are still inconsistent.  Jordan is actually the better prospect, but is needed at guard.  McCoy is the likely backup.  The loss of Antonio Riles in fall practice to a knee injury really hurts this group.  Once again, Summers has a large task ahead of him.  The development and health of this group as the season progresses will influence the effectiveness of the entire offense, especially if they struggle.  At least he has much more to work with this season, but as a whole, this group is still not a typical SEC-level unit top to bottom.


Once again, this unit will be counted on to lead the team, and will have to carry their weight plus some until the offense can find it’s way.  Despite the loss of key talent to the NFL (Jonathan Bullard, Antonio Morrison, Vernon Hargreaves III, Keanu Neal), there is a lot of returning quality talent to compete against anyone in the country.  There may be a little drop off in terms of elite talent, but as long as the newer players can eventually find their way and the unit is consistent and minimizes big-play breakdowns, this is a defense good enough to get back to Atlanta.  Hopefully, the offense and special teams actually carry some of their own weight as the year progresses so the defense doesn’t wear down late in games.

The defensive line again appears to be solid despite the loss of Bullard, and has plenty of experience and quality players to establish itself as one of the best units in the SEC.  CeCe Jefferson and Caleb Brantley will be the leaders at the tackle position, with Taven Bryan, Joey Ivie, and Khairi Clark in the rotation providing quality depth.  At end, there is a wealth of both experienced and young players ready to wear out opponents, led by Bryan Cox, Jr. and Jordan Sherit, with Keivonnis Davis and Jabari Zuniga ready for increased playing time.  True freshmen Jachai Polite and Antonneous Clayton come in with high expectations, and likely will not redshirt and see some playing time.

The Linebacker corps is thin in terms of experience and proven depth, but Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone will be one of the best duos in the SEC.  Coach Randy Shannon has to develop a mix of underperforming upperclassmen and redshirt/true freshmen as the season progresses to keep the main guys fresh and healthy, while not suffering a significant dropoff in performance by the unit.  Daniel McMillian, Rayshad Jackson, and Kylan Johnson are likely first up as backups, with early-entry freshman David Reese seeing significant snaps based on a fine spring.  There are a lot of question marks behind the 2 main guys, and Shannon will have his hands full developing some depth.  Injuries at this position could be devastating.  The only saving grace is that Defensive Coordinator Geoff Collins likes to play a lot of 4-2-5 schemes, so it’s infrequent to see more than 2 LBs on the field for most plays.

The secondary will again be a strong unit which will be one of the best in the SEC and country, barring injuries.  Leading the way is All-American candidate Jalen (Teez) Tabor at cornerback, who is excellent in coverage, shows toughness in supporting the run game, and also has good ball skills.  Opposite will be Quincy Wilson, who has been overshadowed by previous talent at DBU, but gets his chance to shine this season.  He’s another CB with good size and cover skills.  At safety, Marcus Maye is the leader and should be an all-SEC candidate.  Duke Dawson, Marcell Harris, and Nick Washington are experienced players, and are solid, if unspectacular.  The difference from last season is that the rotation at all positions will be filled by less-experienced players.  JUCO transfer Joseph Putu has looked good in fall camp, and will see snaps at both CB and safety.  True freshmen Chauncey Gardner, Jeawon Taylor, and C.J. McWilliams will play out of necessity.  There may be some growing pains from this group, but they have the athletic ability to play in the SEC, and the experience gained this season will pay dividends in the future.

Special Teams

This unit was boom-or-bust in 2015, both in kicking and the return game.

Johnny Townsend was a revelation as the punter, becoming one of the best in the country in terms of distance and hang time, while also showing a knack for placing kicks inside the opponent’s 20 yard line.  He is a weapon in the field position game, in which those hidden yards are so valuable, especially against tougher opponents.  The punt coverage team benefited from his performance, finishing as one of the best statistically in the nation.

The placekicking was a disaster.  Austin Hardin had one shining moment with his game-winner against Vanderbilt, but completely imploded otherwise, with accuracy and height issues leading to a horrific performance.  Jorge Powell was barely adequate in relief until his season-ending knee injury.  In comes Eddy Pineiro, one of the most-hyped recruits in the country.  He’s already become an internet legend with his long-distance FG kicks and tremendous hang time.  Now it’s all about translating that to the field in live situations.  He certainly looked good in the spring game, and already has the players and coaching staff excited about his impact on the overall team’s performance.  Last year’s debacle directly affected the possible outcome of a few games and also the mentality of both the offense and defense.  If Pineiro is simply good in 2016, Coach Mac will have that added advantage in managing the game.

Punt returns will again be handled by Antonio Callaway.  As a true freshman, the Miami native stepped right in and became a terror for opponents.  He is simply one of those players that shows a knack for reading his blocking, avoiding the initial gunners, and then turning the ball upfield quickly and decisively to become a scoring threat.  His 2 TDs came in critical times at LSU and against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game – you can’t get more clutch than that.  Kickoff returns, on the other hand, were underwhelming.  Brandon Powell was surprisingly ineffective avoiding tackles and staying upright even with minimal contact.  As of now he appears to be the first and most experienced option, but JUCO newcomer Dre Massey, Chris Thompson, or perhaps a true freshman will get their chance.  At Florida, it should be a given that there is someone capable of being a home run threat, as this is just another way to impact a game.

Schedule and Outlook

Gator fans approach 2016 with some trepidation – again.  Despite the obvious ability of Coach Mac to lead a program and also game plan on offense, another unproven QB and questions about the OL are still legitimate concerns.  The stench of horrific offensive recruiting by Won’t Misschump lingers, and it may take another season before the overall talent and depth is SEC-level.  The defense will again be relied upon to lead this team until the offense (hopefully) develops consistency and rhythm.  At least it appears that the new QBs have the mental maturity and physical ability to provide hope of that.

Massachusetts – Win

A chance to break in many new players – especially on offense, and use this as an advanced scrimmage.  Stay healthy – please!

Kentucky – Win

The last 2 games have been close, and the Mildcats still believe they are on the rise.  However, Florida now has a year in the new offensive system, and is more talented.  This one may be close at halftime, but the Gators should pull away for a comfortable win.

North Texas – Win

Another glorified scrimmage, but a chance to clean up any mistakes from the Kentucky game, and an opportunity to get extra game-planning in for the big SEC East showdown the following week.  Stay healthy – please!

@Tennessee – Loss

It’s déjà vu all over again, as Florida visits the annual preseason SEC East champs.  The hype for the Volunteers has been in full effect all offseason, and now it’s time (again) to see if they back it up.  This could be the single make-or-break game for the entire 2016 season for the Vols, and they are feeling the pressure.  They have had no reason to lose the last 2 games to the Gators, and yet have not taken advantage of all the struggles and distractions Florida has been dealing with coming into this game.  I do feel that Elevenessee has a talent advantage on offense and enough overall experience that this is finally the year they end the streak.  However, the Gators are so deep into their heads that I would not be surprised to see another dramatic win at Rocky Top.  I’ll hate it if the Gators lose, but it’s going to happen sometime.

@Vanderbilt – Win

A second consecutive road trip to Tennessee.  The Commodores almost pulled off a shocker in Gainesville last season, but no such scenario this time.  Vandy will have a stingy defense, but their offense lacks quality talent, and that’s a bad matchup against a tough Gator defense.  The only way this stays relatively close is if Florida comes in with a post-Tennessee hangover.

LSU – Win

Back home in the Swamp to welcome the Tigers, who may have enough talent to win the SEC this season.  Florida has lost 5 out of 6 in the series.  This game is usually close and often has some strange things happen, usually in LSU’s favor.  The Gators played tough at Death Valley last year, and are a match physically.  Will RB Leonard Fournette continue to be the difference?  It’s incumbent of Florida’s offense to control the clock and score early to prevent the Tigers from playing in their comfort zone and grinding out another win.  Barring a rash of turnovers by either side, this should be another classic.  Special Teams and trickeration could be the difference……are you listening, Coach Mac and Coach Nord?

Missouri (Homecoming) – Win

Missouri came back to earth last season, and had an offseason from hell on and off the field.  The Tigers still have some talent on defense, but their offense has many new faces.  A new coaching staff is in place.  Not the recipe for success on the road in the SEC.  The rest of the league still has some payback to return, and the Tigers are going to learn their place……their first 2 years in the SEC were an aberration that won’t be repeated.

Bye Week

vs. Georgia (Jacksonville) – Win

This is a difficult game to predict.  Georgia has a new Head Coach in Kirby Smart, who comes into this season riding the hype of Alabama’s success.  We’ll see if he was riding Nick Saban’s coattails or not as a defensive coordinator, and if he can develop an offense, unlike Misschump.  He will have a new QB, lack of playmakers at WR, and plenty of turnover on defense.  Georgia will likely rely on an excellent running game with an experienced OL and quality RBs in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.  Despite all of the offseason excitement, the Puppies found a way to lose the past 2 seasons to Treon Harris.  Smart also has to overcome the mindset of the Gators winning 20 of the last 26 Cocktail Parties.

@Arkansas – Loss

Trap game between 2 emotional East Division games.  The Razorbacks lost a lot on offense after last season, but will still have a solid running game and be coming off of a bye week.  Florida has not lost to Arkansas since the Hogs joined the SEC in 1992, but I have a feeling they could be tripped up in this one.  This is only the 3rd trip to Fayetteville for the Gators – not a venue they are familiar with.

South Carolina – Win

The Big Payback.  The gloves are off after Won’t Misschump petulantly trashed Florida when his ass was deservedly kicked out.  Then he negatively recruited against Florida while at Auburn in 2015, many kids of which he had also attempted to recruit for the Gators.  His poor coaching, egregious offensive recruiting, and terrible roster management created a hot mess for Jim McElwain to clean up.  No prisoners – no mercy.

Presbyterian – Win

A relaxing scrimmage to rest up after another brutal SEC season.  This should give the staff the opportunity to empty the roster and extra preparation time for the road trip the following week to Taliban City.  Stay healthy – please!

@Florida State – Loss

Florida has lost 5 out of 6 to the Criminoles, and the Gator fan base is getting restless.  Sadly, F$U has been able to take advantage of the bumbling Misschump era on the field and in recruiting.  They have the edge in quality depth, and home-field advantage at Ron Zook Field.  The Gators are capable of winning this game, but I’m not confident that the offense or defense by the end of the SEC grind will have enough left in the tank to pull it off.  The health of each team coming into this game could be a major factor.

Overall Record          9-3
SEC Record              6-2

It seems I can copy and paste a majority of the 2015 Season Preview.  The perception of the Gator program is one of skepticism – again, especially on the offensive side of the ball – again, from knowledgeable observers and recruits.  Everyone outside of the players and coaches is in wait-and-see mode – again.  I saw enough from the first half of last season on offense to be confident that Coach Mac can build a sustainable and effective offense.  Sadly, he has to prove it again starting with another new QB, plenty of new faces at the skill positions, and a still-developing OL.  The defense will again be capable of winning a championship with support from the offense and special teams.  The 2016 edition of the Florida Gators could very well end the season as a better overall team than in 2015, despite a lesser win/loss record.  The signs are there that Coach Mac is rebuilding the program the right way, and I’m excited about the future.

It’s time for good things to happen to Florida Football – again.

It’s that time - again……Heeeeeeeeeeeere come the Gators!

Michigan Preview

The Gators were rewarded for their surprisingly good 2015 season with an invitation to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando to face Michigan. The Wolverines staged their own surprising turnaround season under first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, going 9-3 in the Big 10/11/12/whatever Eastern division. They opened the year at a very good Utah team and lost by 3 points, then gave away a bitter home loss late in the season to Michigan St. on a last-play fumble by their punter that was returned for a touchdown – one of the memorable plays of 2015 that directly affected the playoffs. Finally, they were blown out at home by their main rival, Ohio $t. Eerily similar the Florida’s season. These teams are also very similar in that they are led by very good defenses, while the offenses are steady but unspectacular. Of course, Florida’s offense the last month of the regular season was a miserable display of QB play that prevented possible victories in their last 2 games that could have led to an even bigger prize.

Michigan’s offense is usually a balanced attack led by QB Jake Rudock, RB De’Veon Smith, TE Jake Butt (one of the best in the country), and 2 big WRs – Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. The running game led the way the first 7-8 games, but faded in November. The passing game took over more of the load the last 4 games, but I think coach Harbaugh has seen enough of the tape of Florida’s secondary to know that this isn’t as viable an option as a consistent attack. I would expect more emphasis on the running game early, with a wait-and see approach to see if Florida’s offense can pose any consistent threat to score. The additional wild card is Jabrill Peppers, a starting CB and an explosive athlete who will occasionally be brought in for wildcat plays or the occasional pass play. However, he is questionable for the game with a hand injury, and if he is less than 100% that is a big help to Florida on both sides of the ball.

The Gator defense will be challenged by the TE, big WRs, and excellent play-calling of Harbaugh. VH3, Jalen Tabor, and Quincy Wilson all need to be on their game and expect a physical afternoon. Geoff Collins needs to determine how he will cover Butt – either with another CB or safety, in order to force Rudock into some bad throws or sacks. The D-Line should be healthy and be able to slow down the running game, and should be able to get pressure on the QB, as Michigan’s OL is solid but not great. If Jon Bullard, Caleb Brantley, Bryan Cox, and co. are playing at the level they did during the regular season, they should be able to control the LOS more often than not. I hope to see LBs Antonio Morrison and Jarrad Davis play the same way they did all season – flying all over the field to the ball, with the occasional blitz to disrupt the run or pass.

The formula for the Gators’ opponents has been to stay conservative while the offense implodes, and to wear down the defense with the running game in the 4th quarter to pull away. This has been especially frustrating to the defensive players, and Coach McElwain has to be sick of it as well. Michigan’s defense is solid and led by many upperclassmen, and usually doesn’t beat itself. Their Defensive Coordinator, former Florida position coach DJ Durkin, has left to become head coach at Maryland, but D-Line coach (and also former Florida position coach) Greg Mattison is one of the best in football, and will have a solid game plan ready. Sadly, unless Treon Harris magically rediscovers his form against LSU or is allowed to throw care aside and be allowed to run more often, I don’t see much hope. There really isn’t much to lose at this point, and Harris will not play another snap at QB after this game, so perhaps Coach McElwain and Coach Nuss have some surprises in store. Kelvin Taylor’s last game at Florida will hopefully be a good one, as he will need to establish some sort of run threat to allow Harris any chance of throwing the ball with effectiveness. Jordan Scarlett is suspended for this game, so Jordan Cronkrite will spell Taylor. I hope the staff throws the ball to the RBs more in the flats on quick swing passes to help Harris out and loosen up the Michigan defense somewhat. There were WRs open against both F$U and Alabama, but Harris simply held the ball too long or was inaccurate.

Both teams have solid special teams play. Florida has an edge with Antonio Callaway returning punts and with punter Johnny Townsend, but has perhaps the worst FG kicker in the country right now in Austin Hardin, who has completely imploded and has zero confidence. Michigan has a good kick returner in Peppers (if he plays), and a very good PK in Kenny Allen.

The weather could play a role, as it has been unseasonably warm and humid, and if Florida can somehow win time-of-possession, the Wolverine defense could wear down in the second half. The Gator defense, I believe, will have to generate some turnovers to give the Gator offense the extra opportunities it needs to scrape together enough points to win. Florida also has the advantage of not having to travel far, and is acclimated to the weather. The Gators should also have a distinct advantage in the number of their fans in the stands.

All that being said, I have a ton of respect for Coach Harbaugh and Coach Mattison, and would be very surprised if they didn’t have the Wolverines ready to play a smart, effective game. Again, if Florida has a functional offense with balance in the passing game, I feel they can win, but there is no evidence to this point that shows Harris can be effective enough as a passer to give the offense that opportunity. At the end of the day, I see another painful rerun of the same script – a close, hard-fought defensive struggle most of the game, with the Gator opponent being able to pull away late to get the win.

Prediction: Michigan 20 Florida 17