Florida $t. Review / Alabama Preview

In another frustrating and painful road loss, the Gator offense once again failed miserably to do it’s part to win the game. After a great opening drive that featured a quick pace and spreading the ball around the entire field, it was back to the same predictable, ineffective play calling and execution that that has been all too common in 2016. That initial promising drive ended with the very questionable (in my opinion dead wrong) decision to try and score a TD on 4th down instead of taking the points and buoying the confidence of the offense. After that, it was hit or (mostly) miss, with a beaten up O-Line and inaccurate passes killing any legitimate chance to keep the game within reach. Why the offensive scheme didn’t remain the same the entire night is something that Coach Mac needs to address immediately – continued bad offense will be his undoing and he’ll not even make it to his 5th year, and perhaps 4th. Once again the lack of a quality SEC QB was obvious, as just a few accurate deep throws to open WRs completely changes the complexion of the game. Appleby missed Antonio Callaway on a corner route near the goal line after the interception by Chauncey Gardner, and later in the 3rd quarter missed Tyrie Cleveland on a post-corner route for a gain deep into F$U territory. The Criminole defense played to stop the running game and make the Gators prove they could do damage through the air, and that strategy ultimately worked. Martez Ivey was playing hurt from the start, and it showed. David Sharpe again struggled with speed rushing off the edge, while Jawaan Taylor simply wasn’t good enough as a true freshman to control Demarcus Walker. The RBs didn’t help out in pass protection either, consistently missing assignments and making life difficult for Appleby. The O-Line could not consistently provide the same holes for Jordan Scarlett and Lemical Perine that they did against LSU. Finally, the offense was 0-13 on 3rd down – that is embarrassing, and another indictment against Doug Nussmeier.

The Gator defense played valiantly with limited resources and inexperience at key positions at LB and in the secondary, and kept the game within reach until the middle of the 3rd quarter, when they repeatedly allowed 3rd down conversions that eventually wore them down and allowed 2 big plays that lost the game. The long pass and run by Travis Rudolph wasn’t helped by the bad angle Chauncey Gardner took attempting the tackle, and the fullback counter play early in the 4th quarter came against a tired defense that almost always easily makes that play – as they did repeatedly against LSU when rested. All that being said, the defense in general did not do a good job of controlling Dalvin Crook, allowing him to control the game with over 100 rushing yards and not setting the edge at the LOS, allowing him to get outside. Lots of missed tackles and bad angles as well. I think the struggles of the offense again have taken their toll physically and mentally – DE Jordan Sherit left with a season-ending knee injury, backup S Jaewon Taylor incurred a shoulder injury that took him out of the game, and others like CBs Duke Dawson and Quincey Wilson started to cramp up and were noticeably limping in the second half. It’s amazing that this unit held together this long, especially losing the heart of the defense in Jarad Davis, Alex Anzalone, and Marcus Maye to injury the past month. But……again……they did crack, and it’s déjà vu all over again, with flashbacks to the horrid end of the 2015 season.

The Gator special teams did what they could by blocking a FG at the end of the first half, controlling the F$U return game, and scoring a TD in the 4th quarter on a fumble recovery. Johnny Townsend and Eddy Pineiro have been outstanding this season, and did their part. The only glaring mistakes were 2 shanked kickoffs by Pineiro that allowed F$U to start form their 35-yard line, but neither of those possessions wound up in points.

That makes 6 out of 7 losses to F$U, and another hit to recruiting. Zero offensive TDs in the last 2 games against your in-state rival – unacceptable. Some very basic changes are necessary, and hopefully Coach Mac is strong enough to do what is necessary – now.

Florida now moves on to a return trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. This is a rematch of the 2015 game against Alabama, and once again Florida is a huge underdog, and deservedly so. Bama has top talent and depth throughout it’s roster, and has had little trouble imposing it’s will on opponents all season. Despite good production on offense led by true freshman QB Jalen Hurts, the Crimson Tide defense again is the backbone of the team. The front seven is heavy with future NFL players led by DTs Jonathan Allen and Da’Shawn Hand. Their D-Line is stout against the run, but also consistently gets pressure with pass rush specialist Tim Williams. The Bama LB corps is led by Rueben Foster and Ryan Anderson, 2 more all-SEC caliber players that are smart and physical. Florida’s depleted O-Line will have trouble moving the ball with any regularity – it’s up to Coach Mac and Coach Nuss to realize this, try and spread the field with quick throws in space, and accept the fact that it will take success with low-percentage deep pass plays to make this a game. While CB Minkah Fitzpatrick is a playmaker and ball hawk, the loss of Eddie Jackson needs to be exploited, as the Tide secondary can be beaten occasionally. There really is nothing to lose, and there is no proof that the Gators can sustain a running game against this level of competition. Yes, the run game was effective in the second half at LSU, but this Bama front seven is better.

Florida’s defense is depleted further this week with more key injuries. DE Jordan Sherit is done with a knee injury, S Jaewon Taylor is out with a bad shoulder, and the key pair of LB Alex Anzalone and S Marcus Maye remain out. It does look like LB Jarrad Davis will give it a go after missing the past 3 games with ankle injuries – his leadership could prove valuable. There is still enough talent and depth along the D-Line led by Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie, and Taven Bryan to get a stalemate at the LOS, but will these guys (again) become worn down by another putrid performance by the Gator offense? The Bama running game is still strong led by a veteran O-Line and RBs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, but a few guys have been dinged up recently and they haven’t been gashing teams as often the past month. Hurts is threat to run as well as pass, but if the front seven can keep containment and force him to throw, he has shown he will turn the ball over. Calvin Ridley is an excellent WR and ArDarius Srewart is a deep threat, but the narrative is essentially the same as the previous 2 weeks – try to hold things in check up front, and lean on Tabor and Wilson to control the intermediate and deep passing game. Hopefully, TE OJ Howard will continue to be underutilized, as he is a tough matchup for slower LBs and smaller DBs – he could be a real threat in this game. Ultimately, the defense can’t afford to allow any easy scores, and must make Hurts prove he can move the Tide offense through the air.

Special Teams have to be just that this week – they somehow have to lead directly to a score or provide short fields for the offense at least twice. Townsend and Pineiro have answered the bell all season for the most part, and have to once again. It’s incumbent on the return game to find a way and break Callaway loose.

As much as I had hoped the end to 2016 would be different, it’s starting to feel like 2015 again. A bad loss to F$U, a difficult matchup with a strong Alabama team, and recruiting momentum stopped. I’m not sure how this game ultimately plays out, but unless Appleby is allowed to run occasionally and to take more deep shots, and the offense finds a way to give the defense a fighting chance, this will be another blow to Florida on the national stage and could cripple the 2017 recruiting class. Coach Mac is starting to hear the questions and feel the pressure that comes with being the head coach at Florida. He will need to make some difficult but necessary decisions as soon as this game is over in regards to his current staff and also hold together what was until last week a good recruiting lass. A solid showing against Alabama is the first, difficult step……he has a lot of things working against him right now.

Prediction: Alabama 37 Florida 13

LSU Review / Florida $t. Preview

Finally, some good fortune for the Gators! Despite tough odds playing with 8 missing starters and having to play a second straight year on the road at Baton Rouge, Florida gutted out a memorable 16-10 win that books a trip back to Atlanta as SEC East champions. That was a remarkable effort from the entire team and coaching staff. It wasn’t pretty at times, but timely playmaking and strong red-zone defense were enough to earn a much-deserved victory and shut up all of those corn dog fans and assclown AD Joe Alleva.

On a day defined by big plays such as the 98-yard TD pass from Austin Appleby to Tyrie Cleveland and great individual efforts such as Jordan Scarlett’s 102 yards rushing, everyone will remember the goal-line stand by the defense. That group forced 2 turnovers and allowed only 10 points on 5 trips by LSU into the red zone. The young LBs led by David Reese played very well, and the D-Line made enough individual big plays led by Caleb Brantley to turn back a physical Tiger rushing offense. How poetic that Derrius Guice, who ran his mouth all week about how Florida was scared to play LSU, fumbled in the first half at the Gator 2-yard line and was stuffed on the last play of the game. Watching the replay showed that every defender did a great job of holding their ground and not allowing any room to run. While the Gators were hurt by throws to the TEs, they weren’t going to have a repeat of 2015, when they allowed 2 long pass TDs to the WRs by simply failing to locate the ball on what should have been easy breakups or interceptions. Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson were in man coverage almost all afternoon, and held up well. Tabor also made a game-saving tackle on the last LSU drive by tackling D.J. Chark after Wilson had fallen down in coverage. LSU did move the ball well between the 20s, but the defense rose up when it counted most to save the day.

The Florida O-Line found it’s rhythm in the second half, churning out 2 long, time consuming drives by running right at LSU’s front seven and dominating the LOS. T.J. McCoy did a great job at center in his first-ever start, getting the line calls made and holding the point of attack. The guards were able to get to the second level and break Scarlett free for some big runs, but he also earned a lot of yards with very tough running and second effort. The passing game was not going to be relied upon unless absolutely necessary, and the defense made sure that Appleby didn’t have to win the game by throwing every down. The WRs did a great job of blocking for the running game and not getting down about the limited pass plays. Appleby was overly cautious at times when he had open field to run, but perhaps the staff had told him to protect himself at (almost) any cost. He was able to make critical completions in the second half to extend drives and the big TD to Cleveland (the second-longest pass TD in Gator football history) that completely changed the momentum of the game.

There was so much going against Florida coming in to this game, and it was gratifying to see them team respond with such a great performance. The entire LSU athletic dept. and team disrespected the Gators……and now get no respect after losing and being ridiculed across the country for their behavior. I hope they are looking forward to 2 straight trips to the Swamp!

There’s no time to rest on it’s laurels, as Florida now travels to Taliban City to face the Criminoles. The Gators certainly should come into this game with a lot of confidence from winning at LSU, and are trying to end a 3-game losing streak in the series.

This will be the 4th straight year that Florida comes into this game with a backup QB. At least Applebly has made some big plays at both Tennessee and LSU, and won’t be fazed by the night-game atmosphere. The game plan for the offense may look similar to LSU – try and win time of possession with the running game, and occasionally go for the big play with the pass. Given all of the recent turnover on the O-Line, pass protection is usually the hardest thing to solidify. I expect McCoy to start again at center, but David Sharpe has been a turnstile at LT in pass protection. Unfortuntely, Martez Ivey has an undisclosed leg injury and may not start. Kevaris Harkless may have to start at his 4th OL position this week. F$U’s strength on defense is it’s pass rush led by DeMarcus Walker, and that’s not a good matchup for Florida. If Appleby does get time to throw, the Criminole secondary has been vulnerable all season. It’s imperative to get the ball to Callaway and Cleveland in space for the opportunity of a big play. I look for a little better mix of passes on early downs, but still a heavy dose of Scarlett and Lemical Perine to try and keep the offense on schedule. I know the staff would like to let Appleby run more often on zone reads or scramble plays, but with zero experience backing him up those plays will have to come judiciously.

The Gator defense will be tested, as F$U mixes the run and pass well. They are led on offense by RB Dalvin Crook, and must make it a priority to slow him down first to force freshman QB Deondre Francois into passing downs. The Criminole O-Line has been a sieve in pass protection – Francois has taken a beating all season and can’t be anywhere near 100% health. He has played well given his inexperience and can be an elusive runner. However, he is susceptible to turnovers and his passing accuracy is only average. If the Gator D-Line can apply pressure and get hits on him, there will be opportunities for takeaways. They should be able to physically overmatch the F$U O-Line occasionally, but have to remain disciplined in their gaps because of Crook’s cutback ability and quickness. Once again Tabor and Wilson will be relied on heavily in man coverage against Travis Rudolph and the Criminole WRs. I expect F$U to be able to move the ball well at times – the Gator defense will need to limit explosive plays and stiffen in the red zone. Dumbo Fisher will try to expose the young LBs in pass coverage with screens and swing passes to the RBs, and that could be a real problem for the defense.

Florida’s special teams were certainly that against LSU, and have to repeat that performance. Johnny Townsend needs to continue his excellent punting, including pinning the opponent inside the 20. Eddy Pineiro has been a real weapon on kickoffs by not allowing many returns, and has found a groove on FGs that hopefully continues – he will be relied on this Saturday. The coverage teams will face some good return men and need to break down and contain. Callaway can hopefully break loose on a punt return, while Tabor has stepped in to help Chris Thompson on kickoff returns. Anything that can help flip field position will be welcomed.

As always, a lot rides on this game for Florida. Can the Gators finally put 2 quality efforts together? Of course it would be great to end the losing streak, but also to continue to gain momentum on the recruiting trail as there are several big-time targets both schools are fighting for. A lot of recruits are paying close attention to how Florida ends this season and whether they look consistently competitive against the best teams. The coaching staff has done an excellent job in keeping the team together despite so many injuries and off-the-field noise. Once again the Gators have to close ranks, find the right available personnel to match up with a talented opponent, and find a way to rise up emotionally to the challenge. I’m not sure if so many younger players are ready to perform again at a high level after so much effort went into the victory at LSU. At full strength, Florida has a good chance to win. With so many starters out……not so much

Prediction: Florida $t. 27 Florida 16

S. Carolina Review / LSU Preview

So much for the doomsayers and sky-is-falling crowd. South Carolina was no match for Florida in the Swamp, in a game where the score didn’t reflect the Gators’ domination. Florida should have been up at least 30 in the 3rd quarter if not for 2 terrible fumbles in the red zone. Not surprisingly, the Gator defense completely shut down the Lamecock offense and their supposed freshman sensation QB, only allowing a garbage time TD and some late yards with the backups playing. The D-Line controlled the LOS all afternoon, while David Reese, Kylan Johnson, and Vosean Joseph played well at LB despite their inexperience. Austin Appleby played to his strengths, and made enough plays with his arm and legs to spark the offense and provide some hope. Jordan Scarlett rumbled to over 100 yards, and Ahmad Fulwood (!) came straight off the missing person’s sticker on the milk carton to make some big catches and score a TD. It was good to see Coach Nuss force the ball to Antonio Callaway and let him make plays in space. Even though Appleby can’t read defense at LDR’s level, he can make athletic plays and make the long throw.

It was a solid showing overall, and always good to see Won’t Misschump get sent packing with another loss. Its just a shame the Gators didn’t roll up a bigger score to embarrass that clown. They did put on a good show for what was a huge recruiting weekend, with an excellent list of recruits in attendance. Coach Mac and the staff have to lock some of these kids down to restock the roster for 2017 while injecting some more juice into the offense.

The dark cloud that is injuries is getting bigger. Tyler Jordan left after the first play after getting rolled up by a teammate, David Sharpe had the same thing happen to him later in the 1st quarter, and Marcus Maye, the only real leader left on the defense, was injured in the 3rd quarter and had to be carted off with a broken arm. Talk about gutted like a fish – that’s 3 starting OL from a unit that was only average at best, and the strength of the defense up the middle in Jarrad Davis, Alex Anzalone, and Marcus Maye (Anzalone and Maye are out for the season – Davis is likely out for this week). Maybe some day good luck will return to this program, because it’s been in short supply for 7 years running.

It’s do-or-die time for Florida this week, having to travel to LSU to play the Tigers after Hurricane Matthew screwed up the scheduling. LSU AD Joe Alleva became a whiny bitch and got his way (for this season), making the Gators play in Baton Rouge for a second straight year. Win, and the Gators are SEC East champions and book a trip back to Atlanta. Lose, and it’s depend on the unlikely scenario that Tennessee loses at home to Missouri or at Vanderbilt, in which the Vols will have more fans at that game than the Commodores – pathetic.

For Florida to win on the road, it’s going to take big plays from all 3 phases. The defense will have to at least slow the rugged Tiger rushing game led by Leonard Fournette and Darius Guice, while generating a score of their own. The offense will play the fastest and toughest defense it will see in the regular season, and have to put a least 10 points together. And special teams will need to break Callaway loose on a punt return to either score or set up a short field for the offense. The O-Line is a M*A*S*H unit at this point, but perhaps for 1 game they can rise to the occasion. Martez Ivey looked good at his natural LT spot, while TJ McCoy filled in adequately at center. Jordan should be back this week, which helps the interior. Appleby’s mobility will be critical in this game, as the LSU D-Line will be after him all afternoon. Coach Nuss will have to continue to design rollouts for him, and also allow him to keep the ball on the read option – that worked very well against Carolina and can at least slow the pursuit of LSU’s front seven.

LSU’s offense is all predicated on establishing it’s power run game, as QB Danny Etling is nothing special as a passer, despite having quality weapons at WR in Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre, and D.J. Chark. The secondary will be on it’s own in man coverage all day, as the front seven will have it’s hands full with LSU’s running game. It all starts with RBs Fournette and Guice, possibly the best 1-2 punch in the country. They will pound the rock all afternoon, and the Gators front seven will have to play it’s best game of the season to just slow them down – I don’t see them being able to completely stop the Tiger running game. It’s imperative that the Florida DL play sound football, holding their gaps and not allowing cutback lanes. The LBs will have to play the game of their young lives – they need to tackle well and not overpursue. The Tiger defense is led by LB Kendall Beckwith, CB Tre’Davious White, and safety Jamal Adams. All are all-SEC caliber players. Florida will have to find a way to get some modicum of a running game going with Scarlett and Lemical Perine, and those 2 will also need to help in pass blocking and in the passing game to take pressure off of Appleby and sustain some drives. If the offense can’t give the defense some rest, there’s no way they will hold up with all of the critical losses they have suffered. Hopefully CeCe Jefferson can play some this week at DE, and I think Davis will give it a go at LB. His presence would be a huge boost to the entire team, even in limited action.

I hope the Gator coaching staff throw everything they can at LSU and can keep them off-balance enough to keep the game close into the 4th quarter. If the offense sputters again, it will another bad loss on the road, and likely a bitter end to the SEC season with no trip to Atlanta. As much as is riding on the outcome, the Gators can’t get too jacked up and make early mistakes – just do your job, and play hard and physical. Florida has a lot of pride to play for after embarrassing themselves on the road this season, and this would be a monumental win. Unfortunately, I don’t see Appleby and the offense making enough happen on their own, and the defense cracking due to the inexperience it brings in at LB and getting worn down as the game progresses.

Prediction: LSU 30 Florida 13

Arkansas Review / South Carolina Preview

Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth. After Tennessee lost at S. Carolina last week to open the door for Florida to win the SEC East by winning 2 out it’s last 3 conference games, the Gators were barbecued in the Ozarks, embarrassing themselves in a 31-10 defeat that was not as close as the score. Another brutal performance by the offense from the first snap to the last completely took away any incentive for the defense to soldier on. The game plan by Doug Nussmeier is grounds for immediate dismissal – coming out throwing against a team that just yielded over 500 yards rushing by Auburn with a QB that simply isn’t a SEC-caliber player was unconscionable. 5 carries by Jordan Scarlett, and 2 crippling interceptions by LDR, one a pick 6 on the first offensive play. Unacceptable.

To add injury to insult, Alex Anzalone is out for the year with a broken arm, Jarrad Davis had to leave with his recurring ankle injury, Cam Dillard has a knee injury that could keep him out until the bowl game, CeCe Jefferson has a foot injury that will limit him at least the coming week, and finally LDR is gone with a shoulder injury suffered late in the first half. Coach Mac stated he should have sat him down, but respected his toughness. Well, the performance didn’t merit that respect, and now it’s Austin Appleby’s chance to save the season.

The best thing to happen for Arkansas was a week off to regroup, get angry, and take it to Florida. I predicted a Razorback win, and was pessimistic all week about the game. But the (lack of) performance was disheartening to the defense and fans. This crap has to stop.

It’s back to the Swamp for the final home game of 2016 against South Carolina, with Will Misschump coming back to the place he tore down to try and pile on to the current negative momentum for the Gators. No one thought this game would even be competitive, but with all of the injuries and roster turnover on Florida’s side, this suddenly becomes a very important game for the Gators current SEC hopes, how the entire season is remembered, and also for recruiting. After the horrid performance at Arkansas, the coaching staff has to swing for the fences with the players filling in.

On offense, most of the attention will be on Appleby, but the O-Line will have to be revamped. Tyler Jordan will move from guard to center, Fred Johnson will start at Jordan’s spot, but expect to see an 8-man rotation with Kevaris Harkless, Richard Desir-Jones, and Brandon Sandifer getting snaps. It’s time to force the ball the Antonio Callaway, no matter if the defense is keying on him. You can put him in motion, use him on sweeps, and make sure he gets at least 8-10 targets in the passing game. No other WR seems to have the confidence of the staff, so go with your horse. To help Appleby out, make sure to feed the ball to Scarlett and Perine in the running game, and use the swing passes to the RBs more often. Appleby doesn’t have to try and do too much, but he has a much better arm than LDR and is a better runner – coach and game plan to his strengths. It also appears that Coach Mac is ready to pull the redshirt off of one of the freshmen QBs as the backup, and right now Felipe Franks has the edge over Kyle Trask. Franks is an elite athlete who could be effective in limited action with a specific script of plays. The Carolina defense is middling at best, but right now Florida’s offense makes any defense look good. Coach Nuss has to shake things up this week to inject some excitement into the players and generate points.

The defense will still have to be leaned upon, despite the myriad injuries. With both starting LBs out, freshmen Kylan Johnson, David Reese, Vosean Joseph, and Jeremiah Moon have to step into the void and perform. Jarrad Davis will likely dress out, but hopefully doesn’t need to take the field – his ankle injury needs the rest. The D-Line is still playing a lot of guys with injuries, but there’s too much on the line now to rest guys. The Gator secondary should have little problem with the Gamecock WRs – there are no game-breakers in that group. Carolina is starting true freshman Jake Bentley at QB. He has put up decent stats so far against mediocre competition, but is taking a major step up in competition. I know a lot of fans are down on the Gators right now, but I can’t wait to see Florida’s defense get after this kid – he has no idea what he’s up against Saturday, and I hope he gets punished. I expect Brandon McIlwain to get some snaps at QB as a change up because of his running ability, but he poses little threat as a passer.

It’s all hands on deck, literally, to get back some positive momentum, get the win this week, and set up a win-and-in scenario the following week at LSU. Unfortunately, this game will be another noon start, so expect far from a sellout crowd to help cheer the Gators on. With all of the strangeness that has been the 2016 season to date, now the drama of Misschump returning to Gainesville gets added to the mix. He and Trevaris Robinson have done nothing but bad-mouth Florida since they were let go (while still getting paid by UF), and need to get their asses kicked and punched in the mouth. I know Coach Mac wants this game badly, on top of it’s importance to the Gators’ SEC chances. I think the embarrassment of last week will motivate the players, and the entire coaching staff has something to prove as well. It could be another offensive grind for Florida, but I think Appleby can do enough on offense, and the home field will certainly help. Losing to MIsschump simply can’t be allowed to happen.

Prediction: Florida 23 S. Carolina 13

Georgia Review / Arkansas Preview

It wasn’t pretty, but Florida defeated Georgia……again……24-10. That makes it 21 out of 27 for the Gators, who happily traveled back to Gainesville with bigger games ahead, while the Puppies limped home to Athens in another Bataan Death March along that all-to-familiar Trail of Tears, I-75, wondering if they are in their own Misschump world now.

Once again the defense carried the day, totally shutting down Georgia except for a FG on a short field after LDR’s horrendous interception, and then allowing 2 pass plays on scrambles by Jacob Eason. Other than that,”You’ll get nothing and like it, Kirby!”. The entire defense played well – the D-Line was in the backfield all afternoon while punishing Eason, the DL and LBs shut down the run and also limited catches by the TEs, and the secondary toyed with an outmatched Puppy WR corps except for the 2 broken plays. None of Georgia’s playmakers had an impact – Nick Chubb never had any room to run and looked like a shell of his former self, Isaiah McKenzie had no explosive plays, and Isaac Nauta had…….nada. Really a tremendous all-around effort by the players and defensive coaching staff. It was especially enjoyable to watch so many D-Linemen rotate in throughout the game, at times bringing in an entire new line for the start of a new series. Let’s sum it up again – 164 total yards, 21 yards rushing on 19 carries, and only 47 yards after halftime……wow.

On offense, however…..it’s still an ugly show being put on by LDR, who had the bad interception to go with continued late throws, late reads on open receivers, and some inaccurate throws where his receivers bailed him out. Enough talk about rust and a gimpy knee – it’s time to play better and help this team win. Jordan Scarlett ran for 93 tough yards and a TD (for the 6th straight game), while Lemical Perine also gained some tough yards along with contributing in the passing game – something LDR needs to do more of starting this week. The O-Line played hard and open enough space to control the clock for 37 minutes, and actually looked like a servicable SEC line. Antonio Callaway was stil the on;ly contributor at WR, but at least C’yontai Lewis is showing signs at TE. Another dull performance overal, but I can only hope that Coach Mac told Coach Nussmeier to shut it down and let the defense dominate. I’m not sure if that’s a recipe for success the rest of this season, though.

It’s on to Fayetteville for a huge game against Arkansas. Florida now has a 1 1/2 game over Tennessee and Kentucky(!) after the Vols imploded at South Carolina as Sgt. Carter fell to 0-5 against Misschump-coached teams……simply unforgivable. The Razorbacks are coming off of an off week, after getting hammered at Auburn 56-3. I’m not sure if having an off week after an embarrassment like that will be good or bad for them, but I expect an emotionally-charged team facing the Gators.

Many pundits are really down on the Hogs now, but I’m not convinced. They have plenty of playmakers on offense, including QB Austin Allen, RB Rawleigh Williams (who leads the SEC in rushing), and 2 huge targets in TE Jeremy Sprinkle and WR Keon Hatcher. This will be the best offense the Gators have faced all season, and based on their meltdown at Tennessee, nothing can be taken for granted on the road against a good SEC opponent. The Florida defense will have to play it’s best 60 minutes of the entire season to date. The D-Line has to find ways to get penetration to disrupt Allen and get some hits on him early – he has been taking a beating this season, and is still not 100% dealing with a bad knee. Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone will have their hands full defending both the run and their large TEs, The secondary will be tested deep, and can’t allow the breakdowns that have yielded long pass plays while the QB is leaving the pocket – they have to maintain discipline. Duke Dawson is starting to finally play better in the slot, but Quincy Wilson did not have his best game against Georgia and needs a bounce-back performance.

It’s time for the offense to carry it’s share of the load and help this elite defense. LDR has to improve NOW – it’s time to make an opposing defense defend the entire field. The skill players need to accept the challenge and step to make some big plays – this offense and QB aren’t good enough to grind out close games on the road against better opponents. And Coach Nuss has to become more creative and figure out ways to get the skill players in space – the playcalling the last 2 games has been painfully predictable. It looks like the O-Line and RBs can do enough to control the clock and make plays as long as there’s balance with an effective passing game to complement them. Perhaps there are a lot of plays that have been held back due to the defensive dominance – if so, it’s time to start opening up the playbook with some new looks.

This is a huge game for Florida as far as the SEC East standings are concerned. A loss still leaves the Gators in 1st place but with no more margin for error, while escaping with a win sets up the opportunity to clinch a return trip to Atlanta at home next week. Florida failed spectacularly in it’s first big test at Knoxville, and now the stakes are even higher. Coach Mac and the staff need to keep the team calm and focused for all 60 minutes.

As exciting as the possibilities are, though, I’m not convinced the offense can do enough to carry it’s share of the load yet, especially on the road. I have the feeling that the defense could be on the field way too long this Saturday, and finally crack enough times to allow Arkansas to win. I simply don’t see enough playmaking ability out of LDR to lead the offense to a tough road win. I’d be glad to be wrong, though.

Prediction: Arkansas 24 Florida 20

Georgia Preview

After another off week (this one actually on the schedule), it’s time to get back to work for the Gators, starting with the annual trip to Jacksonville to play Georgia. The second half of the season should prove to be very difficult, and a strong start is needed beginning this Saturday.

While most of the attention has been on the Florida offense (and it’s recent struggles), this is the time of year for the defense to take the lead to see how good this season can be. There should be some good news with the return of Jordan Sherit, Joey Ivie, and Bryan Cox, Jr., even in limited capacity. All have been missed along the defensive front and will only add to the depth of the strongest unit on the team. These guys must continue to be disruptive at the LOS and slow down Georgia’s running game, led by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The Puppies are starting true freshman Jacob Eason at QB – while he has shown flashes of promise and has a strong arm, he’s not ready to beat a defense as good as Florida’s with an ineffective running game to take pressure off of him. Georgia’s O-Line is not as strong as in the past few years and has experienced some serious struggles recently, but this is still the strength of their team. If the Gators can limit their effectiveness, it will be a long day for Eason and his receivers to try and win. The Puppies lack any serious threat at WR – their most dangerous playmakers are Isaiah McKenzie as a slot WR/hybrid RB and Isaac Nauta at TE. The Gator LBs will be busy focusing on slowing the running game – here’s hoping Jarrad Davis has recovered sufficiently from the ankle injury to contribute and help Alex Anzalone out. If Florida can take Nauta out of the game with solid coverage from either one of the LBs or with a nickel CB, DBU should be able to prevent or at least limit any explosive plays from McKenzie, and give the offense it’s best chance at winning this game.

Speaking of which……once again the Gator offense in under the microscope. Despite rolling up impressive stats against a poor Missouri defense, there are still many questions that require answers, starting now. Luke Del Rio played poorly 2 weeks ago – he was late on the timing of his throws, made some very bad throws into double coverage, and wasn’t as quick and decisive in his decision-making as early in the season. Perhaps he is still favoring his knee after the injury, but it’s time to raise the level of his play and lead. The O-Line improved it’s run blocking, but still is allowing a free rusher or blitzer too often – the communication has to improve. The RB corps has been very good all season – Jordan Scarlett and Lemical Perine have separated themselves from Mark Thompson and Jordan Cronkrite in the rotation, and will be relied on keep the offense on schedule and allow LDR to manage the game. Georgia is led on defense by LBs Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy, and Natrez Patrick, and DL Trenton Thompson. How well the Florida OL and running game does in controlling that group will determine the success of the offense. LDR is not ready yet to consistently lead the offense down the field relying solely on throwing the ball. Other WRs must become consistent contributors along with Antonio Callaway, and the TEs more of a threat in the passing game. Despite the inconsistency in the Gator passing game, Georgia’s secondary has really struggled this season and should be exploited in some capacity.

Florida’s special teams have played well to date, but they can certainly help the team in the big games coming up. McKenzie is a dangerous return man and must be contained. Johnny Townsend will need to continue his effective punting in regards to both hang time and placement, and the coverage units must break down and tackle well. Eddy Pineiro has been solid with his FGs so far, but the pressure will be ratcheted up going forward – we will see how he handles it. The Florida return game has been woeful this season, and perhaps the off week will yield some changes to help. Brandon Powell simply doesn’t break tackles on KO returns and should be replaced, and for some reason Callaway has really struggled with punt returns – both in his field judgement and also in breaking any big runbacks. A big play by this unit would really help.

It’s put up or shut up time starting now for Florida. Have they simply benefitted from a soft schedule to date, or are they really a very good team that could be elite by season’s end? A convincing win this Saturday could be the start of some real momentum pointing toward a successful year, while a close call or upset could derail the confidence and mental makeup of the team, starting a spiral down to a middling finish. Time to be aggressive and reach out and take something, not shrink away from the challenge.

Prediction: Florida 27 Georgia 17

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