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.

Offense

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.

Defense

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.

Predictions:
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

Alabama Review

Florida made it’s return to Atlanta for the first time since 2009, hoping to shock the college football world with an upset of Alabama.  Despite another great performance by the defense, the Gators came up short in a performance painfully familiar for the last month of the season.

The offense was offensive once again, generating only a paltry 15 yards on 21 carries, and gaining only 3 net yards in the 2nd and 3rd quarters combined – another dreadful exhibition that hopefully will be changed starting next season with improved play at the QB and O-Line positions.  Treon Harris did not improve, missing lots of open receivers all afternoon and missing on scoring chances in the first half that definitely could have changed the outcome.  The O-Line knew going in that running the ball would be difficult against a strong Bama D-Line, and unfortunately that scenario played out.  Kelvin Taylor never had a chance to find some open space, and Harris only had a few scrambles for decent yardage.  Coach Nussmeier schemed up some potentially big plays in the passing game, but again Harris failed to deliver the ball on time and accurately, killing any real chance at victory.  The pass blocking actually was decent again, but poor QB play doomed the offense.  If asked about the execution of the offense, I’m sure Coach Mac could easily respond with the old John McKay line, “I’m all for it”.

The Gator defense again played hard for almost 60 minutes until it ran out of gas.  The D-Line and LBs laid the wood to Derrick Henry all afternoon, made him earn each of his 189 rushing yards on 44 attempts, and caused a fumble for a turnover.  Jon Bullard led an inspired effort by the entire D-Line, while Jarrad Davis was all over the field, disrupting the run and pass.  Sadly, the secondary gave up 2 TDs and another long pass that could have been prevented by better ball-awareness by the safeties, especially Marcus Maye.  Maye has struggled all season with locating the ball and making a play on it going back to the LSU game, and was victimized again in the second half.  The cornerbacks had decent coverage most of the day, but allowed some completions where the ball should have been knocked down, including one TD.  Even Vernon Hargreaves had a few opportunities to make some big plays in coverage on some key throws and didn’t do it.

The special teams were right where they’ve been all season.  Great kick coverage, another punt return TD by Antonio Callaway, terrific punting by Johnny Townsend, and terrible FG kicking by Austin Hardin.  Florida allowed it’s only blocked punt of the season which gave Bama momentum and an early 2-0 lead, and Hardin had another FG blocked – both in the 1st quarter……not the best way to inspire confidence from the rest of the team.

The script didn’t change from the past month, but hopefully recruits see that this staff can put the players in position to win, even with limited depth and talent.  Overall it was a great season – much better than most expected, and the opportunity to play for a championship can never be discounted.  The coaching staff will be working especially hard on recruiting between now and National Signing Day – there are plenty of holes to fill on the roster, especially at WR, OL, LB, and QB.  There will be some early entries into the NFL – VH3 for sure, with Keanu Neal a likely candidate as well, and the loss of key seniors like Bullard and Antonio Morrison will be felt on the field and in the locker room.   There is sufficient underclass depth to absorb these losses without a huge dropoff in performance, but those are big shoes to fill.

Florida has been rewarded with a trip to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl against Michigan.  This will be a matchup of 2 similar teams – both were lightly regarded going into the season, had new head coaches, and were led by very tough defenses.  I’ll be back in a few weeks with the bowl matchup analysis – it should be a good game.

Go Gators!

 

 

 

 

Florida $tate Review / Alabama Preview

Another soul-crushing “offensive” performance, another loss to F$U, and the late-season regression continues.  A great crowd, great defensive effort, good running game, and decent play from the O-Line weren’t enough to make up for a terrible passing game and lack of performance by QB Treon Harris, to go with more missed FGs from Austin Hardin.  I really feel bad for Harris, as he’s doing his best after being thrown into a bad situation, and his play is so limited that it’s easy for defenses to stop the few things he’s capable of.  He again missed wide open receivers that could have led to scores, could not check down quickly, and had multiple passes batted down.  He continues to be excoriated by the fans and media, but has been a great Gator in the face of a difficult situation.

The O-Line actually held up and played well, considering they played with no passing threat and a QB that will be at WR or possibly at another school next year.  There were occasional holes opened for Kelvin Taylor, and he ran hard through some nagging injuries.  He has really developed and improved as the season has progressed, and has shown toughness while going through a ton of punishment.  Taylor needs 23 yards this week to get to 1,000 for the season, and has already tied his dad’s record for rushing TDs by a RB at Florida with 13.  The pass protection broke down a few times, but, again, they had no help from the QB and WRs.  Trip Thurman had to play at center due to an injury to Cam Dillard, and he made quite a few bad snaps, some of which really killed some decent drives.  Freshman Tyler Jordan had to fill in at guard, while Martez Ivey and David Sharpe continued to play through nagging injuries.  There’s no questioning that this group (including Mason Halter) played hard and played close to their maximum capability.

The suspension of Demarcus Robinson really hurt, and the WRs that were left struggled.  Even when they did break open, Harris was (again) painfully slow in delivering the ball and often inaccurate.  Antonio Callaway had at least two opportunities to score if the ball was delivered accurately and on time.  Chris Thompson did his best to fill in for Robinson, but his lack of playing time and experience was obvious.  Brandon Powell’s output has fallen off dramatically this month – he is battling through a painful foot injury, but his limitations are apparent.  I hoped Ahmad Fulwood would contribute, but he was hardly targeted all night.  This is a group that desperately needs an upgrade next season.

The Gator defense made another heroic effort, an dominated for 50 minutes before finally showing some cracks after tiring.  They allowed no consistent passing game, and completely shut down Dalvin Crook until the middle of the 4th quarter.  It has to be hard for those guys not to flash back to the past 2 seasons, as the offense dies on the vine.  Jon Bullard and Joey Ivie played well even through injuries, and the entire D-Line was disruptive most of the evening.  Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison flew around the field to make tackles.  Morrison really earned his nickname of Tank playing through a lot of injuries, but what a season after coming back from ACL surgery in less than 8 months to play in every game – a real inspiration and show of toughness.  VH3 and the secondary were tough all evening, allowing only a few decent completions despite knowing they were fighting an uphill battle.  Props to Keanu Neal for playing the flats so well on swing passes to Crook.

Finally, the special teams did what they’ve done all season.  Great punting form Johnny Townsend, solid kick coverage, and……lousy FG kicking.  Hardin may keep his scholarship next season, but it will be only for kickoffs.  His confidence is completely gone, and those missed FGs directly contributed to this loss.  Yeah, it’s a team game, but sometimes a lack of performance is so apparent it can’t be glossed over.

It’s on to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.  Despite the depressing “offensive” effort against F$U, what a great reward for this team, especially looking back just 4 months to most of the preseason projections from the media and most of the fans expecting 6-8 wins.  I hope the staff and the seniors can lift the spirits of the team and try to coax one more total effort, because it will be needed to have any chance of winning or even keeping the game close against an excellent Alabama team.

It’s usually about matchups, and this one is especially bad on paper for the Gators.  Bama’s strength is on the D-Line, led by DTs A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed who head one of the best rush defenses in the nation.  LB Reggie Ragland leads a solid group.  The weakest unit is the secondary, but Florida is showing no real threat in the passing game.  This is house money for the Gators, and Coach Mac and Coach Nuss should take some chances with long throws, jump balls, and fade routes to the WRs to try and generate a few big plays.  There’s nothing to lose, as Treon Harris is struggling so badly right now to complete any passes let alone get them past the LOS without being batted down.  If that means going to low-percentage throws that aren’t as risk-adverse, so be it.  Robinson has been reinstated, and could be a huge boost to the WR corps.  Callaway and Powell need some help……I hope Fulwood can shock Bama and make a few plays.  The Florida O-Line actually played pretty well against F$U, considering the passing game was of such little consequence and they had to block so many opponents in the box.  I’m not sure they can open the same holes for Taylor again against a better D-Line, but they have to try and open some cracks at least occasionally.  One thing that seemed to work against F$U was when the offense went up-tempo on occasion – perhaps that helps Harris by keeping the defense simple, and allows his to use his legs more.

I’m not sure how much gas is left in the tank for the Gator defense.  They were fantastic against the Criminoles before cracking, and it is starting to become eerily similar to what Gator fans have witnessed the previous 2 seasons.  Hopefully the staff can pump the guys up for 60 more minutes, as the bowl game isn’t for another 3 1/2 weeks – plenty of time to rest and recoup their physical and mental energy.  Alabama is led by Heisman candidate Derrick Henry at RB, who is a unique player with size, power, and deceptive speed, as well as a decent receiver in the screen game.  I expect a heavy dose all afternoon, even if the Gators can slow him down early.  I’m sure Lane Kitten will take some long shots to WR Calvin Ridley in specific situations to try and fool Florida’s secondary, but VH3, Jalen Tabor, or Quincy Wilson will have to be relied upon to play solid man coverage while the front seven (or eight) try and contain Bama’s running game.  Davis and Morrison are beaten up at LB, but have to go to the well one more time to try and slow Henry.  If Florida does slow down the Tide’s running game, I would not be surprised to see underutilized TE O.J. Howard get some targets – he’s a real threat and can be a dangerous weapon.  QB Jake Coker has managed their offense well this season.  He isn’t the most accurate passer, but does a nice job of keeping plays alive with his legs and is a better runner than many realize.  Hopefully the Gator secondary remembers their performance at Alabama last season – and atones for it.

Going off of recent performances, this game likely won’t be close at the end.  If Bama follows the defensive script that teams have employed against Harris and the Gator offense the past month, Florida will again struggle to move the ball consistently, let alone score many points.  I really think that other than the Gators having a +3 or better turnover margin, the only scenario to play out that gives Florida a chance to win is for Bama to sleep-walk through the first half which keeps the score close, then they start to tighten up in the second half as they realize what’s as stake and perhaps start to press.  I fully expect an early onslaught from the Crimson Tide to try and get a double-digit lead and force Florida out of any balance on offense, and into that “here we go again” mentality on the Gator defense.

No matter the outcome, congratulation to the Gators for a great season.  They have accomplished so much more than expected, and (hopefully) have laid a foundation for the new coaching staff to build upon to reclaim dominance in the SEC East on a regular basis and to eventually have the talent level in “reload” vs. “rebuild” mode.

 

Prediction:  Alabama 31      Florida 10

 

Florida Atlantic Review / Florida $tate Preview

Florida tempted fate again against an outmanned FAU team, and was fortunate to survive overtime with a desultory effort.  As bad as it was going into halftime tied at 0-0, blowing a 14-0 lead in the 4th quarter was worse.  It’s easy to just go ahead and bash the players for a lack of effort and focus – especially on offense, but perhaps the smoke-and-mirrors it’s taken the staff to hold the offense together through 11 games is finally taking it’s toll on the emotional level of the entire team.  Even the defense has started to show cracks in concentration and execution the past 2 weeks.  It also didn’t help that the FAU was playing dirty by cut-blocking the Gator DL all afternoon, leading to a few injuries, including Jon Bullard.

The Gator offense regressed (again) from last week, with another Misschump-era performance.  The O-Line was brutal, never allowing the running game any consistency, and having Treon Harris run for his life for most of the day.  The starting lineup was back in place, but their play was a painful reminder of what many believed would be the case at the start of the season.  It’s hard to say if this unit just mentally checked out for this game, or if deeper problems have developed behind the scenes.  Harris was pressured all afternoon, but occasionally was his own enemy as well, missing open receivers.  Kelvin Taylor and Jordan Scarlett had little room to run all day.  It’s hard to believe the WRs couldn’t work free more often, but to be fair, Harris didn’t have much time to throw.

Florida’s defense allowed only 1 TD, but certainly didn’t distinguish themselves.  They allowed too many sustained drives, and the secondary played way to softly in coverage, giving up a lot of easy throws in the second half.  Even the run defense was gashed.  The lack of depth on the D-Line due to injuries really showed itself in the 4th quarter.  To their credit, they generated the first Gator TD with a QB sack and fumble returned to the FAU 1-yard line, and the oft-maligned Brian Poole made the play on the ball on the last 2 plays in OT.

At this point I don’t know what to say or even think about Austin Hardin’s placekicking.  He hit the upright on one FG attempt and them overcorrected on the other, both from under 40 yards, and had another XP blocked due to a low kick.  Somehow the staff has to find a more reliable option next season, as Hardin’s mental makeup is simply not getting the job done.  Florida will have to live and die with him the rest of this season, though.

The final regular-season game is at the Swamp this week, as Florida $t. comes to Gainesville to try and continue their recent run of success against the Gators.  Dalvin Crook and the Criminoles would love nothing better than to take advantage of Florida’s recent struggles and sneak out with a win.

F$U sadly has figured out that Sean Maguire is the better of their 2 QBs, as I was hoping that Everett Golson would be the starter and ready to turn the ball over multiple times.  Maguire is not the running threat that Golson is, which should help the Gator front seven contain him in the pocket and force him to find open receivers.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see them break tendencies and take some deep shots early to try and loosen up the Florida secondary so they can work their short passing game.  Travis Rudolph and Kermit Whitfield are the main receiving threats, but neither is a burner and true deep threat.  If the Gator cornerbacks are on their game, there’s no real strategy F$U can expect continued success with – their WRs and TEs are simply not as good as the Gator secondary.  Most of the Criminoles’ success on offense is predicated on their strong running game with Crook, which sets up play-action passes.  The Gator defensive front seven has to refocus itself and play hard for 60 minutes.  Many of the linemen are dinged up, so expect a heavy rotation all along the line to try and maximize their performance and keep them fresh.  Bullard, Jordan Sherit, Taven Bryan, and Alex Macalister all may be limited in the number of snaps they get.  The long season is also starting to catch up to Tank Morrison and Jarrad Davis at LB.  They continue to soldier on valiantly, but neither of them is close to 100% at this point, with little relief in sight form the backups, who simply aren’t good enough yet.  The defense can’t afford to crack against the running game and allow long, time-consuming drives.  The Gator offense is going to need as many chances as they can get to try and generate points, which leads me to……

……the Gator offense.  The pressure lies squarely on the shoulders of the entire unit this week, and every man has to raise his level of play from recent weeks.  The O-Line has been a sieve lately due to injuries and lack of focus, and that has to change.  Only 8 OL will likely play barring injuries, and the communication and effort have to be on point to give the RBs and Harris any chance of sustaining a few drives and scoring some points.  David Sharpe and Martez Ivey have to play through injuries, while Trip Thurman, Can Dillard, Tyler Jordan, and Mason Halter need to step up their performance.  The staff will hopefully have some new formations and schemes in order to break free the TEs and WRs.  The middle of the field between the numbers has to be utilized – Harris needs to make quick reads and simply cut it loose.  Hopefully Jake McGee and Deondre Goolsby can hit some seam routes or wheel routes.  Demarcus Robinson needs to break out of his recent funk and show 100% effort every play.  He has great physical skills, but his mental game continues to hold him back.  Antonio Callaway continues to impress as a true freshman, but still lacks polish at route-running.  Somehow he needs to generate 1 or 2 of the big plays he’s contributed throughout the season.  The recent play of the offense will almost surely guarantee a loss unless they show massive improvement.

The Criminole defense is lead by DL Derrick Nnadi, DeMarcus Walker, and Josh Sweat, LBs Reggie Northrup and Lamarcus Brutus, and DBs Derwin James and Jaylen Ramsey.  This is a solid unit overall, but lacks the big-time playmakers.  They have not allowed many long plays, but have been gashed more often than recent years by both the run and pass.  Of course, given the current struggles of Florida’s offense, almost any defense can look formidable.  I expect the same look from the F$U defense as Florida has seen against most of it’s better opponents – 8 or 9 men in the box, and single coverage on the WRs.  There will be opportunities for some big plays, but can the Gators rise to the challenge?  It’s all about effort, determination, and competing hard every play.

The national media has savaged the Gator offense all week, and belittled the team’s accomplishments to date.  Florida has fallen to #12 in the Playoff standings, behind even some 2-loss teams.  Talk about a slap in the face – the collective pride of the team has to be hurt, and this should serve as more than enough motivation to play their best game of the season.  I believe the defense will play well enough to win, but the offense has been so horrid recently that it is difficult to look past that and predict success against a quality opponent.  I am worried that their recent struggles are affecting their confidence, and that they can’t simply relax and play loose.  It pains me to make this pick, as a healthy Gator team with Will Grier at QB would likely win this game.

Prediction:  F$U 20        Florida 17

 

S. Carolina Review / Florida Atlantic Preview

Florida took care of it’s business in Columbia with a workmanlike 24-14 win over South Carolina.  The defense was dominant for 55 minutes with just one lapse that gave the Lamecocks false hope, while the offense improved over it’s dreadful performance against Vanderbilt with an improved passing game and some timely runs to keep a comfortable lead until the brief tension late in the game.

On offense, Treon Harris improved his passing from the past few weeks, making some nice downfield throws and some clutch 3rd down plays to keep some long drives alive.  The TEs were rediscovered, which really helped Harris in some tight spots and made the Carolina defense stay honest and not load the box every snap.  Jake McGee and Deondre Goolsby made some nice catches in traffic and Goolsby in particular some runs after the catch for big plays.  The WRs got some more opportunities as well – Brandon Powell converted some 3rd downs out of the slot, Antonio Callaway made a few grabs over the middle, and Demarcus Robinson made a great catch of a low throw late in the 4th quarter that continued the drive that iced the game.  Harris made a few mistakes that have to be corrected – his interception at the goal line at the end of the first half was inexcusable when the Gators could have put the game away, he took a few sacks where he could have thrown the ball away, and he continues to miss open receivers due to slow progressions.  He has 2 weeks to get better before the competition ramps up dramatically.  The running game was a tough go most of the afternoon, as Carolina did a lot of run blitzing while daring Florida to throw.  Kelvin Taylor earned a lot of tough yards, and his clutch run on the last possession on 3rd and 8 from midfield essentially ended the game.  Jordan Scarlett did not get many touches, and that is disappointing.  Jordan Cronkrite, however, showed some nice receiving skills, including coming back for the ball on the long TD that made it 14-0.  That could be a skill utilized in the coming weeks.  The O-line performed better with David Sharpe and Martez Ivey back in the starting lineup, but at this point it is what it is as far as overall ability – just an average unit at best.  It’s all about being opportunistic and efficient – this unit simply is not good enough to dominate games against stronger opponents.

The Gator defense completely shut down Carolina for the first 50 minutes, holding them to under 60 yards of offense.  Then they seemed to lose focus, allowing a throwback pass to the QB for a TD, then letting Carolina drive the field for their second TD, mainly through the air.  That was really the only disappointing moment for the defense.  It was good to see Jon Bullard play so much despite being less than 100%, and he again wreaked havoc along the LOS.  Caleb Brantley stepped up to the task of getting more reps than usual by stuffing the running lanes.  Jarrad Davis and Tank Morrison did their usual damage from the LB position, and the secondary had their way with 3 interceptions, offsetting the one breakdown late in the game.  The entire defense seemed to relish the opportunity to pick the offense up after last week and lead the way – another example that great defense travels for road games.

This week Florida Atlantic comes to the Swamp for a big paycheck and (hopefully) a big beatdown.  Any time a smaller Florida school plays a larger state school, those players are hyped for the occasion and want to pull off the major upset.  The Gators will be down 3 D-Linemen – Alex McCalister, Joey Ivie, and Jordan Sherit.  This will be a great opportunity for Ce Ce Jefferson, Khairi Clark, and Taven Bryan to get extended playing time and develop more depth along the line.  The mantra for this type of game is always for the offense to get a comfortable lead early, allowing the staff to liberally substitute in the backups on both sides of the ball to rest the starters and lessen the chance of injuries.  This will be a difficult challenge for the staff to get the players focused on this game, with 2 huge games to come.   We’ll see if the sluggish effort from the offense against Vanderbilt is repeated at home again, or if the O-Line can build on it’s performance against South Carolina and the entire offense can play with an edge.  I expect a vanilla game plan on both sides of the ball in order to save up special formations, plays, and coverages for F$U and Alabama.  Florida needs to put this game away early and then set it’s sight on bigger prizes.

Prediction: Florida 34      FAU 13