Alabama Review

The rollercoaster 2016 regular season ended at it’s lowest, as Florida was run off the field of the Georgia Dome in the second half in an ugly 54-16 loss. After a great start including a touchdown drive to open the game and an immediate 3-and-out by the Gator defense, things quickly spiraled out of control. Two terrible interceptions by Austin Appleby, one of which was returned for a TD, and then a blocked punt returned for a TD reversed the momentum and forced the Gators to play catch up the rest of the afternoon.

On offense, Appleby was in an early holiday season mood where he giveth, and giveth, and giveth away. 26 for 39 and 2 TDs was good against a very tough defense, but the 3 crushing interceptions completely changed the complexion of the game and allowed Alabama to stay in their comfort zone on offense and defense. This was a microcosm of his career at both Purdue and Florida – occasional big plays offset by too many interceptions and inaccuracy. Despite the interceptions, the offensive game plan was a good one. Coaches Mac and Nussmeier devised a passing game that took advantage of soft coverage in the flats and openings over the middle in the intermediate zones that allowed drives to continue. Quick throws were working, but Appleby’s lack of accuracy and one terrible panicked throw over the middle showed again why he wasn’t the starter until LDR was hurt. The performance of the O-Line was a mixed bag – while they couldn’t sustain any running game, the pass-blocking was very good, allowing Appleby more time than expected to keep plays alive and convert some 3rd downs. Antonio Callaway was hot early on the first TD drive, but was slowed down afterward. Brandon Powell did a nice job of working the flats and underneath zones to convert some 3rd downs, and TE Andre Goolsby was rediscovered and made some clutch receptions along with a TD. Against such a strong team, though, there was no room for error, and the lack of a run threat put Florida behind the chains too often and didn’t allow the Gators to play keep-away from the Bama offense and apply even more pressure on Jalen Hurts to make plays.

The Gator defense came out hot with two consecutive 3-and-outs, but the Appleby turnovers plus the blocked punt return for a TD put them on their heels. In addition, falling behind by double digits took the pressure off of freshman QB Hurts, after the Gators had him rattled early. The avalanche of Bama points that followed from the Gator turnovers removed any realistic chance at an upset win. What momentum the Gators had taken back after their 92-yard TD drive at the end of the first half was lost when they failed to punch it in after another excellent drive early in the 3rd quarter. You could see the team’s spirit visibly broken after being stopped and then allowing a 98-yard TD drive which included a 3rd-and-19 conversion. That was the ballgame, and two late TDs by Bama were inconsequential. All of the injury losses were magnified against a powerful Crimson Tide running game.

Unfortunately the 2016 regular season ended in similar fashion to 2015 with 2 bad losses, and now questions abound about Coach Mac’s leadership, the direction of the program, and recruiting being stuck in neutral. Mac needs to make some difficult decisions, including changes in the staff, to spark recruiting and regain interest from some key recruits still on the board.

The bowl game against Iowa in Tampa is very important for Florida. Something positive needs to happen for the program to get the fan base back in the fold and for the last month leading up to National Signing Day. Normally a game of this stature really wouldn’t carry much weight, but these aren’t normal times for Florida. 7 years of bad QB play and ineffective offense have really affected the fan base and eroded the Gator brand. There will be a lot of cries to play one of the redshirted freshmen QBs to get them ready for 2017, but there’s no way you burn a redshirt at this point. Appleby will get the final start to the season with LDR backing him up. I would hope that after the debacle of the Citrus Bowl loss to Michigan after last season, the returning players and the staff have all the motivation they need to prevent a recurrence of that performance.

I’ll be back with the bowl preview late in December. Happy Holidays – it’s still great to be a Florida Gator!

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

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