Alabama-Birmingham Review / Florida $t. Preview

Florida finally ended it’s 5 game losing streak with a workmanlike 36-7 win over UAB.  The Gators surprisingly handled a decent Blazer team with a solid defensive effort and effective running game from start to finish.

There was (as usual) nothing fancy about the offensive game plan – lots of power running formations with 6- and 7-man lines, and a large dose of Lemical Perine, Mark Thompson, and the emergence of Adarious Lemons.  All three ran hard and had some long runs behind an O-Line that did well despite all of the juggling of the lineup necessitated by injury.  Martez Ivey and Jawaan Taylor played on both sides of center, and also moved between guard and tackle depending upon the down and distance.  The TEs shockingly blocked well on the edge, but I think that was more reflective of the level of competition then their abilities.  Feleipe Franks was his usual inconsistent self, mixing in excellent throws with some clunkers and poor reads.  He’s lucky he didn’t get himself seriously injured in the second quarter, taking an unnecessary sack and having his right knee twisted underneath him.  He was hurt by a handful of dropped balls by the WRs, who have been disappointing most of the season.  At least Dre Massey is finally being utilized more often, and shows flashes of his playmaking ability prior to a serious knee injury that cost him the 2016 season.  For some reason the staff played Kedarious Toney and Tyrie Cleveland at less than 100%.  Toney left early with a bruised knee, and Cleveland is still hobbled by the high-ankle sprain he sustained in the LSU game.  I wish both had been held out and saved for the F$U game.

The Florida defense was dominant, shutting down the UAB running game.  The Blazers never were able to establish the run, and did not do much other than their one touchdown on a blown coverage in the Gator secondary.  When UAB was forced to throw, the LBs did a decent job of covering the TEs and RBs over the middle.  David Reese has really come one the past month, and has developed into one of the leaders of the defense along with Taven Bryan and Duke Dawson.  The D-Line controlled the LOS all afternoon, and the secondary was solid overall.  The only bad news was the injury to safety Jaewon Taylor – it’s unclear if he’ll be available for F$U.

Mercifully, the 2017 season comes to a close with the annual rivalry game against Florida $t.  Both teams have had a miserable season, coming in with identical 4-6 records and nothing to play for other than pride.  The Seminoles will whine about their injury to starting QB Deondre Francois in their opener against Alabama, but still have no excuse for how poorly they’ve played overall.  I’d like to see any team play with a similar depth chart to Florida’s right now, missing over 30 scholarship players.

If the Gators hope to have any chance of winning, the offense has to limit mistakes (penalties, missed assignments) and somehow find ways to make some big scoring plays.  The biggest challenge is an injured and restructured Gator O-Line vs. the F$U front seven led by DL Josh Sweat, Brian Burns, and Derrick Nnadi, and LB Matthew Thomas.  The O-Line and WRs are simply not good enough to generate long scoring drives, and will have to make plays either through misdirection or simply individual effort.  I expect S Derwin James to play a majority of snaps close to the LOS as well, forcing the Florida blockers to also account for him while trying to give Franks and the running game a chance.  Franks will be under pressure all afternoon, and has to show better judgement than he has all season in getting the ball out quickly.  The Gators have run the ball well most of the season, and have to do so this week to have a realistic chance.  I expect to see a lot of 6-, 7-, or even 8-man lines, trying to get double-teams off tackle or on the edge and to break an occasional big play.  Florida has the RBs that can make those plays if given some room.  Perhaps the Gators can hit a long throw or jump ball to Cleveland, or a big screen play to one of the RBs.  I also expect both Massey and Toney to get some snaps in the wildcat formation, and to try and make something happen with their legs or perhaps a surprise pass.  Of course, all of this is predicated on Doug Noosemeier actually trying to do anything to win this last game, and not doing the same old crap – a big and perhaps foolish assumption on my part.

Florida’s defense can control the LOS.  I believe the D-Line has the advantage over a mediocre F$U O-Line that has struggled all season to consistently open running lanes or protect the QB.  James Blackmon is the latest QB to get punished playing behind that line, and I hope to see an aggressive, attacking scheme to get after him – another big and perhaps foolish assumption, knowing Randy Shannon’s history.  Cam Akers is a quality RB and can hurt the Gators if allowed too much room or if he’s overlooked in the passing game.  I’m not too concerned about WRs Nyqwan Murray or Auden Tate, although Tate is a big target in the red zone.  What concerns me is F$U exploiting the flats and middle zones with the RBs, TE Ryan Izzo, or the WRs on crossing routes.  The pass defense by the LBs and safeties has been horrid all year, and unfortunately I expect to see those areas exposed again this week unless there is a fundamental change in coverages.  I seriously doubt Florida has more than 2 LBs on the field at any time, and occasionally only one.  Bryan, Reese, Dawson, and the secondary all need to have huge games to keep the score close enough for the offense to have a chance.

While I’m hopeful for an inspired effort against F$U, even that likely won’t be enough unless the Gators decisively win the turnover battle and somehow generate some big plays.  The Gator offense is so dysfunctional and injured that it simply can’t sustain long drives and hasn’t shown any consistency all season.  Whether it’s through new formations of simply good fortune, Florida has to get an early lead or stay within one score throughout the afternoon in order to win for the first time in this series since 2012.  Normally, I’d expect a focused effort, but with the players and staff partially in limbo with a coaching regime change on the horizon, I’m not sure what to expect.  The effort from the players has improved dramatically the past 2 weeks, and hopefully this rivalry game has them playing with intensity and focus for 4 quarters.

Prediction: F$U 27          Florida 16

South Carolina Review / Alabama-Birmingham Preview

The Bataan death march continued through Columbia, as Florida took only 56 scholarship players  – 29 under the maximum allowed – on the road to yet another lackluster defeat.  At least the players showed more effort and fight than in the previous two games combined, staying close throughout the second half after falling behind early – again.

In keeping with the theme of this lost season, Malik Zaire sustained a knee injury after a 31-yard run into the red zone……even a positive play ends in disaster.  He gamely tried to come back a few plays later, but collapsed on the field after taking only a few steps and was done for the day – and perhaps the rest of the season.  Doug Noosemeier further solidified his case as the worst OC at Florida since Lynn Amedee, discarding the only consistent threat the Gators’ offense had shown all season – a solid running game – instead choosing to have Zaire and Feleipe Franks pass way too often.  Florida’s offense wound up with a large number of chunk plays both running and throwing, but again were undone by terrible red-zone play calling by Noose, leading to FGs instead of TDs.  Speaking of adding injury to insult – it appears starting center TJ McCoy may be lost the rest of the season as well with a knee injury, to go along with Brett Heggie being lost the previous week at Missouri.  I never thought I’d see anything approaching the depth chart disaster that was 2013, but here it is again, on top of the failed coaching.

The Gator defense again was gashed by the running game, consistently giving up long runs on simple off-tackle carries.  David Reese was the only LB to play hard the entire game and actually make some tackles in the hole.  Vosean Joseph embarrassed himself by whiffing on multiple plays all afternoon, and failing to prevent QB Jake Bentley from scoring – simply falling away on a weak arm tackle.  The DEs were again pushed around and looked very weak against the run, consistently overrunning their rush lanes and allowing simple off-tackle carries underneath them.  When Carolina was forced to throw, the D-Line was able to apply pressure……but not stopping the run killed any hope for a win.  The secondary again gave up some surprising big plays.  Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson seem to be wearing down late in the season.  Henderson had the opportunity to tie the game in the first quarter on an interception return, but sloppily fumbled the ball away as he was getting ready to score……typical of this entire year.  Even Chauncey Gardner, after making a huge goal-line interception, had a chance to score as well, but allowed a fingertip tackle to stop him at midfield with clear sailing ahead.

The worst thing of all was having to watch a mediocre team led by Won’t Misschump laugh their way to a victory.  While I understand some of the players Misschump recruited wanting to chat it up with him after the game, knowing how he ripped the school after he was deservedly fired and subsequently poisoning recruits against Florida, if was sickening to see.

With no bowl game in their future, the Gators return home for the last 2 games of 2017, starting with UAB.  The Blazers have made some noise against other SEC teams the past 2 seasons, and will be looking for an opportunity to get by an undermanned and uninspired Florida team.   UAB is led by RB Spencer Brown, who has already rushed for over 1,000 yards this season.  QB A.J. Erdely is a dual-threat player – his passing is average at best, but he does run the ball often to keep defense honest.  IF……if the Gators play as hard as they did against South Carolina, they should find a way to win – even with a depleted roster.  With Zaire injured, Franks will be the QB barring injury.  If he gets hurt, then it’s wildcat time with Dre Massey and Kedarious Toney running the show…….which may be an improvement at this point.

I’m hopeful there’s a decent turnout by the fans this week, but sadly I expect a lot of empty seats.  The only people that can rally and inspire the team at this point are the players themselves, as the coaches continue to not change anything and have checked out on these players – unforgivable.

Prediction:  Florida 24       UAB 17

Missouri Review / South Carolina Preview

Well, I got my answer – it looks like the team and staff have thrown in the towel for 2017.  What a pathetic effort against a bad Missouri team.  No fire, no leadership – just a bunch of guys going through the motions, embarrassing themselves and their fans in the process.  This is just another indictment against the current coaching staff, most of whom have done a terrible job and have lost the player’s trust.

The Gator offense actually showed some flashes with Malik Zaire at QB.  He was able to make some reads, make some accurate throws to all depths, and kept some plays alive with his legs.  In just one start he showed much more as a QB than Feleipe Franks has all season – another in a litany of errors by the offensive staff.  Lemical Perine was the workhorse at RB and ran hard and effectively.  Zaire was able to get more than 1-2 WRs involved, made some good throws in the flats to the RB and TEs, and actually completed some throws between the hash marks.  However, stupid penalties and poor blocking by the tackles and TEs doomed most of the scoring chances – just further proof that a lot of the players have mentally checked out.  Of course, there couldn’t be a game without another critical injury, this one a knee injury to Brett Heggie, who has been the best OL this season.  Finally, Doug Noosemeier did the offense no favors in critical situations, running into the short side of the field with inadequate blocking, and not keeping things simple in the red zone.  He has no clue on how to maximize the strengths of his players.  The hits just keep on coming.

The real disappointment in terms of player performance (or lack thereof) was watching a listless defense basically give up.  Other than Taven Bryan and David Reese, there was no energy or fight.  The D-Line was pushed around by a mediocre Tiger O-Line, while both CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson were burned for TDs.  At least they have the excuse of being true freshmen, but even their performance wasn’t up to their standards.  It was shocking to watch Missouri run the ball so effectively, as they have struggled in the SEC up to now – the Gators generated a lot of negative rushing plays against Georgia, a vastly stronger running team.  The pass rush was also lacking, allowing Drew Lock all day to pick his receivers out.  A total collapse due to zero effort.

Randy Shannon did the team no favors, coaching very conservatively, not overruling Noosemeier on bad play calls on either 3rd-and-short yardage or in the red zone, and not taking advantage of one real weapon he has in Eddy Pineiro.  He allowed Pineiro to not kick off into the end zone for touchbacks – instead letting a pathetic coverage team coached by Greg Nord to consistently allow big returns to help the Tigers start in great field position.  He also could have had Pineiro try a long FG in the 1st quarter, but chose to punt instead – why?  Well, at least I won’t have to worry about him being around in 2018.

It’s on to South Carolina, and Won’t Misschump has to be excited about watching the Gators implode and wishing to kick them when they are down.  Just another coach that Florida has allowed abuse it’s program while learning what not to do and damaging the brand.

The Gamecocks are led by QB Jake Bentley, RB Tyson Williams, and WR Bryan Edwards.  While none of those guys should scare the Gator defense, given the fact that most of the players have seemingly given up, it appears anyone is a threat at this point.  The Florida D-Line looked terrible the past 2 weeks, and now even the secondary is starting to break down.  On paper, the Gator defenders are better than anything the Gamecocks can throw at them.  The D-Line is much better than Carolina’s O-Line, and if any of the other guys can follow the lead of Bryan, who continues to play hard, they can make life miserable for Bentley and give the team a chance to win.  South Carolina’s offensive stats for the year are pretty offensive, despite their win-loss record.  Their success has come against a weak schedule, but perhaps the Gators are just another weak opponent right now due to the current circumstances.  If Florida can force Carolina to throw the ball, they will have a decided advantage.

If the Gator O-Line comes put and plays hard this week, they should continue to find success running the ball.  Perine, Mark Thompson, and Adarius Lemons should be able to move the chains.  As always, it’s up to the passing game to provide some balance and prevent the defense from loading the box.  Zaire was able to make some plays last week, and perhaps can build on that going forward.  Tyrie Cleveland is still limited by injury, but had success against Missouri and is the primary threat.  It would be nice to see Noose actually play to Zaire’s strengths, and allow him to run more read option plays and also call some QB runs.  Anything different at this point would shock the opponent, as Noose has done NOTHING different all season.  You can’t count on that, though……I’m tired of banging my head against that wall of stupidity.

It’s starting to look like the Gators won’t even be bowl-eligible, and that may be a blessing at this point.  No sense in giving this current staff any more time screwing these kids up any more with systems that don’t work and won’t even be used in the future.  Athletic Director Scott Stricklin has to get this hire right, or he’ll just continue the downward spiral of the football program.  I don’t see anything to allow me to pick the Gators to win this week……and maybe not again until 2018.  Perhaps the players rally together to prove they are better than they have shown the past 2 weeks, but I can’t count on that until I see it on the field.

Prediction: Carolina 35          Florida 14

Georgia Review / Missouri Preview

I’m not sure if that will be rock bottom for most Gator fans the 2017 season, but it certainly was for me and for Jim McElwain, as he so kindly gave a parting gift to Gator Nation with the worst loss to Georgia in 35 years.  He certainly used the week off wisely, hanging himself in front of the national media by lying to the Athletic Dept., while not doing one damn thing differently to help his team for this game.  He allowed the same crap that hasn’t worked all season to continue, and showed he doesn’t have the guts to do what’s right for his players, letting his cronies ruin this season while he collected paychecks.  Well, it’s a shame he’ll get even one more, as apparently he wised up and decided to negotiate a reduced buyout as opposed to getting fired with cause.

I could have sworn it was 1982 again with John Lastinger, er, Jake Fromm, throwing only 7 freaking passes all afternoon while the Gators gift-wrapped a blowout win with it’s usual garbage passing game and a defensive front seven that mailed it in for the first time in memory.  Florida easily won the time-of-possession battle, while losing the war.  The Gator O-Line again played admirably and ground out close to 200 yards rushing against another defense that had zero fear of Feleipe Franks doing any damage through the air.  Franks was never very good this season, but he bottomed out in the second half, looking absolutely awful while taking more unnecessary sacks and not protecting the football.  Even the 2 times Florida marched deep into Puppy territory before garbage time, Coach Noose failed to call anything creative when only a few yards were needed for a touchdown – no rollouts, no jet sweep, no wildcat, no……anything.  I can’t wait to see him gone form this program soon.

There is no need for any in-depth analysis of this game.  That performance alone was a fireable offense in my book, notwithstanding the laundry list of other reasons Mac got his ass walked out.  Unfortunately, the handful of coaches (Noose, Dixon, Nord) that have done nothing to develop the players get to stick around for 4 more games.  They should forfeit their paychecks back to UF and coach for free – that’s what their efforts have been worth.

Florida is on the road this week at Missouri, to face another struggling team.  The Tigers have been Jekyll-and-Hyde this year, beating up weak non-conference teams while looking horrible against SEC competition.  Maybe getting away from Gainesville will prove beneficial for the Gators, as the team can employ a “circle-the-wagons” mentality and focus solely on the game.

Missouri’s offense is led by QB Drew Lock.  The Tigers run a spread attack and are almost 50-50 run/pass.  Their passing game could prove troublesome if they can isolate the safeties or LBs in coverage – WRs J’Mon Moore, Johnathan Johnson, and Emanuel Hall are all quality players.  RBs Demarea Crockett and Ish Witter are solid, and can hurt a defense if the Florida D-Line doesn’t play it’s assignments. It’s doubtful more than 1-2 LBs will be on the field at any time, so the D-Line has to control the LOS and slow the running game.  On must-pass downs, the Gator DL should have a decided advantage and should be able to apply pressure on Lock.  I expect a lot of nickel and dime packages the entire game – the secondary is going to have it’s hands full and be under pressure.  The Tigers have run up a vast majority of their statistics against FCS teams, making their overall numbers look good, but they have been slowed considerably in conference play.

Missouri’s defense is wretched.  They have little SEC talent, and have been victimized by both the run and pass.  One major development is the announcement that Malik Zaire will start at QB for the Gators this week.  He has been unfairly criticized for his small sample size of playing time at UF, as he has been thrown into games late that are out of hand where he’s expected to play catch up by throwing more often.  I expect to see a heavy emphasis on the running game, which should have little trouble moving the ball – under normal circumstances.  This would prove beneficial as it would allow Florida’s defense some rest and to defend fewer possessions.  Florida has shown a solid running game in conference play, and if the O-Line is focused and playing hard, it could be a big day for Lemical Perine and Mark Thompson.  Adarius Lemons may also get a few carries, as Malik Davis incurred a knee injury last week that will require surgery.  Zaire is a very capable runner, and I’m hopeful that Kedarius Toney has recovered more from his recent injuries and can get touches both on jet sweeps and in the wildcat formation.  On the few passing plays that are called, the WRs have to take advantage of their matchups and make some big plays.  It won’t be a glamorous day for them – they will be blocking more often than running routes.

I have no clue as to what the mindset of the players will be this week.  The best case scenario is that they use the embarrassment of last week as fuel and show some fire, instead of the zombie-like effort against Georgia.  Maybe the coaching change provides some juice to the team.  Interim Head Coach Randy Shannon and the staff have to find a way to get the players focused on playing simple, effective, physical football on both sides of the LOS.  I can’t believe the Gators are a 3.5 point underdog to such a bad team, even on the road.  A team can go 2 ways when a head coach is fired midseason – pack it in and give up, or pull together and play hard.  We’re going to see really quickly which way this team is headed.

Prediction: Florida 24      Missouri 21

Georgia Preview

After a turbulent week off, it’s back to work for the Gators, as they face Georgia this Saturday with dim chances of winning the East.  The “noise in the system” regarding the coaching staff and the QB play is deafening, so the best thing other than getting some much-need rest for the injured players is the opportunity to focus on the playing field and the chance to ruin the season of your biggest rival.

Coach Mac gets another chance to show if he really means what he says about making changes to the offense to help them succeed – whether it’s tempo, ball distribution, or getting Feleipe Franks to play faster and make better decisions.  I hope to see more of the faster-tempo, no-huddle offense used in the 1st half of the Texas A&M game throughout this one, in order to lessen the opportunities for Georgia to substitute on defense and to allow Franks easier reads.  The O-Line will again have to establish a decent running game against a defense that will stack the box until Franks can prove he can move the ball through the air.  Perine, Davis, and Thompson all need to run hard, break some tackles, and rip off a big run whenever available.  The game plan really needs to include the RBs more in the passing game to get them in space and take some pressure off of Franks.  WR Tyrie Cleveland will come back for this game but is less than 100% healthy – hopefully the staff can get a handful of effective snaps from him in order to loosen the defense.  Kedarious Toney is still banged up but likely will get in for limited snaps in order to help spread the field and perhaps make a few big plays.  Georgia’s defense is heavily-laden with seniors.  LBs Roquan Smith, Davin Bellamy, and Lorenzo Carter lead a unit that has been one of the best in the country so far.  Their front seven has been stout against the run all season and applied pressure to opposing QBs consistently.  The Gator O-Line has improved each week, and has already fared well against some good fronts in LSU and Texas A&M.  If they can stand firm, Georgia’s secondary is nothing special and can be exposed – if Franks and his WRs can actually execute.  A lot of maybes, hopefullys, and perhaps……this is the 2017 Gator offense.

Here’s how the Gator defense can do their part to win the game.  QB Jake Fromm is getting a lot of run, but is still a true freshman.  Yes, he played in their game at Notre Dame and since, but his per-game passing statistics are not very impressive.  Georgia’s O-Line has some youth and inexperience in the 2-deep roster, and has shown some cracks against better pass-rushing teams.  The Florida D-Line has to get some pressure on him and get him off his spot – make him move in the pocket and not get comfortable.  Most of his success has come on play-action throws where the defense has to respect the running game.  Well, it’s time for the Gator front seven to play their best game of the season.  Stay in your lanes, focus on sound tackling, and not try too hard to strip the ball out – just get the RBs down fast.  The Puppies have a deep and talented RB corps led by seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and how well they perform influences everything else that Georgia does on both offense and defense.  Take your chances with your defensive scheme by focusing on stopping the running game and putting your DBs into one-on-one matchups, and let the chips fall where they may.  Get Georgia onto 3rd down and long, and force Fromm to make plays – it’s critical to slow down the running game to get him out of his comfort zone.  Make sure to cover TE Isaac Nauta tightly, even if that means having Duke Dawson move inside to do it.  Terry Godwin is the lone Puppy WR that is a deep threat – take your chances by focusing on the RBs and TE and let Marco Wilson cover him all day.  If Florida can get Georgia into must-pass plays, then the Gator D-Line will have a marked advantage.

This is my 38th straight Florida-Georgia game, and I have seen it all in this rivalry series.  Favorites – even large ones – have gone down before, and will again.  It’s difficult to tell at this point whether the staff still has the trust of the players, and how motivated the players will be given all of the drama that’s surrounded this season to date.  I give the Gators a 1 in 4 shot at winning, but will this be that 1?  Because of the very small margin for error given the struggles of the Gator offense to score, it will take an excellent performance in all 3 phases for 60 minutes to do it.  If this year’s team had more upperclassmen leading the way and a coaching staff that wasn’t underperforming, I’d feel much more confident.  But without those 2 key things, I don’t see it happening this Saturday.

Prediction:  Georgia 27      Florida 13

Texas A&M Review

They tell you when you’re investing in the stock market that, “past performance does not guarantee future performance”.  Well, in the case of the Florida Gator offense, it certainly does.

I could simply cut-and-paste the LSU review, and it would be pretty much spot on.

Another great crowd, another inept passing scheme, another poorly-played QB game, another mind-numbing series of play calls in the second half, and another soul-crushing defeat as the coaching staff pulled defeat out of the jaws of victory.

The offense again consisted of a strong running game, pitiful passing game, and blown opportunities by Feleipe Franks – missing wide-open WRs for 2-3 scores that would have made this a easy win.  Noosemeier outdid even himself in the 4th quarter on the last 2 Gator possessions, each time calling poorly designed runs on 3rd and 1 and setting the game up for losing.  That toss to the short side of the field with no additional blocking help from a TE was especially egregious……but that’s Noose.  The final play (again) was stunning – Deandre Goolsby was running free down the middle for an easy completion for 20+ yards, and Franks throws a line-drive to a LB not even expecting the ball.  Everyone can see that Franks ain’t the answer, and is a stopgap player until Matt Corral shows up on campus in January (and Gator Nation had better pray he does).  He did his usual Jekyll-and-Hyde performance when running the ball – taking unnecessary losses when pressured out of the pocket and giving up on making easy first downs, while looking great on a few designed runs and that spectacular 79-yard run at the end of the 3rd quarter that set up the Gators’ tiebreaking touchdown.

RBs Malik Davis and Lemical Perine had another solid game.  Each one ran very hard, broke a lot of tackles, and had a lot of YAC.  Once again, however, Noose refuses to incorporate them more into the passing game to help Franks out and maintain drives.  Brandon Powell is the only guy that Franks seems to trust to throw to and did a solid job of getting open on some short routes.  But there is still no threat of a deep playmaker until Tyrie Cleveland is healthy again.  He came in for a few plays, but it appeared mostly as a decoy.  Deandre Goolsby played his best game of the season at TE – he had some good blocks to spring the RBs for big gains, and was open on most of his routes, including the ill-fated last play.  The O-Line played very well against a good SEC D-Line.  They opened plenty of running lanes, while providing Franks a clean pocket and time for most of his pass attempts against an Aggie defense that is one of the leaders nationally in sacks.

The Gator defense played another excellent game, giving the offense more than enough chances to put the game away.  This despite the LBs being unable to defend the middle zone in the passing game and not accounting for QB Kellen Mond to run.  The handful of times it appeared that a LB was going to account for the QB, they took bad angles and were swallowed up in the wash at the LOS.  The D-Line was dominant almost the entire game – Taven Bryan was unblockable most of the night, and the DEs did a much better job of setting the edge and playing the run.  Tedarrell Slaton played very well and was immovable in the middle, but he is still out of shape and limited in the number of snaps he can play effectively.  Sadly, Florida’s best DE, Jordan Sherit, is lost for the season after a hip injury that will require surgery.  There goes one of the few leaders on this team.

The Gator secondary was again very impressive, holding Texas A&M to 180 yards in the air on 8-24 passing and allowing only one completion of real significance when Christian Kirk broke free on a go route to set up the tying TD in the 3rd quarter.  CB Marco Wilson continues to push for Freshman All-American honors.  Injuries to Nick Washington allowed Shawn Davis and Jaewon Taylor extended playing time at safety, and they did very well in a pressure situation.  The secondary is set through 2019 at least with this amount of quality talent.

To his credit, Randy Shannon had the defense ready to play, but failed (again) to make one crucial adjustment.  Mond predictably struggled passing all night and did most of his damage by running in the second half, keeping drives alive with QB draws and scrambles.  There was either no spy to contain him, or it was poorly executed with no adjustment.  Inexcusable, and incredibly frustrating to watch.

The special teams had some breakdowns as well, which were magnified by the close score.  Johnny Townsend did not punt to his usual standards, and made a huge mistake by punting right to Kirk on the return that set up the Aggies with a short field for their winning FG.  Eddy Pineiro made his only FG attempt, but also had another kickoff go out of bounds, giving Texas A&M starting position at the 35-yard line.  The coverage units did well except for the ill-fated final punt return, where they allowed Kirk to break outside containment and get down the sideline for a long gain.

Florida now stands at 3-3 overall, and (sadly) may struggle to become bowl-eligible.  Who knows where this team goes from here the rest of the season.  Coach Mac isn’t taking responsibility in the press for the offensive struggles, saying the game plan was “good” and the execution wasn’t.  Well, he’s gonna learn what execution really is if he doesn’t get it fixed by next season, as it will be his last if he doesn’t make major staff changes along with changing his in-game decisions.  Way too soft and passive, with an offense he knows lacks playmakers in the passing game and wears down his own defense.  If he goes for it on 4th down with only a few inches needed twice in the second half, the Gators likely run enough clock where Texas A&M never gets a chance to drive for a winning FG.  I am hearing that there are some serious discussions taking place during the off week that will have ramifications for the current staff.  I’m not expecting anything to be announced publicly until after the season, but internally there may be “changes” made as soon as the next game.  Something’s gotta give.

I’ll be back next week with my preview of the Georgia game.  Go Gators!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LSU Review / Texas A&M Preview

Florida’s good fortune ran out against LSU, with a bitter loss at the Swamp on Saturday.  What a disappointment for a jacked-up Homecoming crowd that did it’s part in cheering the Gators on.  This was the weakest LSU team since the 1990s, and yet this coaching staff failed the players by making in-game adjustments too slowly, and (again) becoming too conservative on offense once the Gators had seized momentum in the 3rd quarter.  Now, instead of continuing to build towards a SEC East showdown in Jacksonville, the staff has to try and prevent what could suddenly become a losing streak.

It was another slow start on offense, which again showed zero imagination by OC Doug Nussmeier and a staggering adversity to risk.  Once the Gators took control of the LOS with a power running game in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, those play calls dried up.  With a perfect opportunity to set up Feleipe Franks for a few deep throws against a defense worried about the run, ZERO were called.  It’s obvious at this point that Franks cannot read defenses or check off his primary receiver, so at least try to help by isolating a WR in man coverage and throw a 50/50 deep ball.  LSU’s passing game was just as anemic, but at least they took 2 deep shots to DJ Chark and both worked out for them – the (terrible) pass interference call on CJ Henderson in the 2nd quarter allowing LSU a FG for a 10-3 lead at halftime, and the 3rd quarter (supposedly) simultaneous catch between Chark and Duke Dawson setting up a 17-3 lead for the Tigers.  Why the throws to the RBs disappeared after the first play of the game until the last drive of the game is unconscionable, as both gained over 10 yards and a first down.  It’s hard to say this nicely – Nuss should be relieved of his OC duties immediately, as he is an abject failure in “coordinating” an offense.

Props to the Florida O-Line, which was able to establish a solid running game despite no threat of a competent passing game.  Brett Heggie and Martez Ivey were dominant on the left side.  Malik Davis and Lemical Perine again ran hard and effectively.  I was surprised at the lack of snaps for Mark Thompson…..but maybe shouldn’t be considering who is calling the offense.  Franks again was lost for much of the afternoon, with his only effective throws coming on rollouts that, while occasionally good for a first down, close off half the field and don’t allow for any real deep threat.  The last 2 plays of the final drive were especially galling.  With only 3 yards needed, all Franks had to do was throw a quick swing pass to Thompson to get an easy first down, but instead stared down Brandon Powell – a 5’9” WR surrounded by 3 defenders……ballgame.  All the fault doesn’t fall at Franks’ feet, as the WRs and TEs certainly didn’t get open.  Kerry Dixon and Greg Nord also need to be relieved of their coaching duties no later than the end of the F$U game – there is enough athletic talent at these positions to get some effective play.

The LSU offense did a lot as far as formations, shifts, and motion, which caused confusion and defensive struggles for the Gators most of the first half.  This exposed (again) the terrible play of the LB corps, as they rarely filled running lanes or contained the edge.  It was especially maddening to watch a simple jet sweep go undefended for the entire first half.  What is disheartening is that DC Randy Shannon refuses to at least change the look of the front seven or pre-snap sets, allowing offenses to play against a vanilla defense that they can dictate the action to, not vice versa.  Memo to Shannon – you need to help these kids, as the LBs aren’t good enough to sit back and make plays on their own.  The secondary played well, albeit against a nondescript QB.  Chauncey Gardner was improved in coverage and actually tackled well.  Shawn Davis and Brad Stewart filled in nicely for Nick Washington at safety.  Marco Wilson continues to shut down his half of the field, while Henderson played almost as well despite the terrible PI call on him.  It’s sickening that Danny Etling had only 125 yards passing…..and was the better QB on the field.  Finally, the defense has to improve it’s play on 3rd down – they simply can’t get off the field often enough, allowing opponents to win time-of-possession and limiting the snaps of an already-limited Gator offense.

Now it’s on to Texas A&M, with the Aggies making their first-ever visit to Gainesville.  The current state of the program for each team is very similar – both teams are coming off of tough losses, and their respective seasons are at a crossroad; both fan bases are becoming disenchanted; both head coaches are losing their popularity.  This game is critical for both – I can only hope the staff instils urgency into the players this week.

Texas A&M has true freshman Kellen Mond starting at QB.   He is very athletic, but raw as a QB.  He is showing improvement as a passer as the season has progressed, but is struggling with accuracy and decision-making right now……sound familiar?  However, he is a serious running threat, and must be accounted for……but by whom?  Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford are one of the better RB combos in the SEC, and will be leaned on.  The Aggies like to play fast and run spread concepts, so expect more of the jet sweep until the Gators show they can stop it.  The most dangerous Aggie playmaker is WR Christian Kirk, who is also a dynamite kick returner.  If the Gator safeties don’t stay over the top on him or the kick coverage teams have a breakdown, he’ll take it to the house.  I do think that the Florida D-Line matches up well and should cause problems for the Aggie O-Line, but they also have to maintain gap integrity and not allow Mond to escape containment for easy first downs.  I don’t see another WR giving the Gator secondary too much difficulty as long as they don’t allow Kirk to beat them deep.  Perhaps it’s time for a 5-2-4 defense that allows the DEs to help set the edge, keep the QB contained, and more easily defend the jet sweep.

The Aggie defense has recently shown improvement after a surprisingly rough 2016 and slow start to 2017.  The loss to the NFL of #1 draft pick DE Myles Garrett and DE Daeshon Hall were big losses, but it appears DC John Chavis has finally figured out how to get his guys to play better team defense.  He is a veteran SEC coach with previous experience at Tennessee and LSU, and knows the Gators well.  They are tough to run on, so (again) this will collide with Florida’s strength on offense.  They did a solid job against Alabama’s running game until they wore down, so Florida will have to find some success passing the ball on early downs and with more efficiency.  The Aggies have been poor against the pass, but there is no evidence that the Gators can take advantage of this.  Safety Armani Hall is a playmaker as a pass defender and also is allowed to blitz often – he has to be accounted for by the O-Line and QB.  There will be a ton of pressure on Franks to perform better this week, or else I expect to see Malik Zaire get a chance.  Actually, I’d like to see Zaire get some series in each half for a change of pace, but also to present another running threat in case the gator RBs find tough sledding.  He certainly can’t be worse at reading defense, and I can’t judge him as a Gator for the one crap situation he was thrown into late against Michigan.

The 2017 season is at a tipping point now.  Do the Gators respond to a crushing defeat with an inspired effort, or go into the tank and let the rest of the season unravel?  I really believe that despite the suspensions and injuries, there is enough talent for this team to win any remaining game on the schedule.  However, I am starting to have serious doubts about not just the assistant coaches I have already called out, but now for Coach Mac himself.  It starts at the top, and he has yet to prove he will make necessary decisions in a timely fashion.  Standing pat and not making serious changes to the offensive and defensive schemes will signal a blind loyalty to those who aren’t getting the job done, and affect the players even more than they already have been.  The heat is getting turned up, which is a shame because most of it is self-inflicted.  This is going to be a rough week in Gainesville for the entire staff, and I am not confident in their response until I see tangible proof on the field.  Texas A&M played hard for 60 minutes against Alabama, and despite losing may be able to build upon that effort going forward.  In my Season prediction I thought this game would be a loss because of coming off of a tough win – not because of coaching malfeasance.  I’m not changing the pick now, as much as I hope for a bounceback performance from the Gators.  A young team needs leadership, and it’s lacking right now from those who should be providing it.

Prediction:  Texas A&M 27            Florida 17

 

 

 

 

Vanderbilt Review / LSU Preview

Another week, another sloppy, inconsistent performance from the Gators……and another SEC win.  Nothing comes easy for this group, but they have proven resilient so far and showed resolve in the second half, physically dominating Vanderbilt and overcoming crucial injuries.

The offense continued to show signs of life with Luke Del Rio at QB, only to have him knocked out with a separated left shoulder that will require season-ending surgery.  The running game carried the day under both LDR and Feleipe Franks, as the O-Line manhandled the Vanderbilt D-Line all afternoon.  Once again the RB rotation of Malik Davis, Lemical Perine, and Mark Thompson led the way, helping to dominate time of possession and keeping the Gators 1-2 scores ahead in the second half while the defense once again struggled against the pass.  Franks did an excellent job of running the 2-minute offense at the end of the first half to get the tying FG.  In the second half he made some clutch throws, but also could have been easily picked off twice and continues to hesitate before throwing.  Why he continues to not take some good yardage when being forced to scramble is a mystery – unless the staff has told him not to take any chances of injury.  The RBs were utilized more in the passing game as well, and were effective.  The WRs were again very average other than Tyrie Cleveland.  Freddie Swain did make a great catch on a deflected ball that lead to a TD, but rest of the group was invisible.  Finally, it’s hard to believe that Moral Stephens is the most effective TE right now, but he had some clutch 3rd down catches and a big reception that led to a 3rd quarter TD.  Deandre Goolsby had one catch in the first half, while C’yontai Lewis’ picture is appearing on milk cartons.

The Gator D-Line had it’s way most of the game and helped to partially offset the continued struggles of the LBs and safeties in pass coverage.  For almost 3 quarters the back seven made Kyle Shurmur look like Dan Marino, leaving the middle of the field open and blowing assignments.  Once the lead became 14 points and the threat of the running game was negated, the D-Line harassed Shurmer the rest of the game and the pass coverage tightened up.  The return of Kylan Johnson to the LB corps was a boost, as he was able to get on roughly half of the defensive snaps and made his presence felt.  Jeremiah Moon and Vosean Joseph are still struggling, though, and there is simply no quality depth.  Duke Dawson moved between boundary and slot CB, and played well.  Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson were both victimized by some deep throws, but kept competing as good CBs need to do.  Chauncey Gardner came up to make some good tackles from the safety position, but Nick Washington still struggled in coverage.  There will be plenty of things to work on after watching the film.

Now it’s on to the newest grudge match on the schedule as the LSU comes to the Swamp for the first of 2 straight visits, the result of last year’s game being moved to Baton Rouge due to the whining of LSU AD Joe Alleva.  There was a lot of bad blood in last year’s game, as the Gators were especially motivated to win after all the disrespect afforded by Alleva and the entire LSU team.  Now the Tigers come to Gainesville really hurting after an upset loss at home to Troy in which they were physically beaten on both sides of the LOS.

With Franks now the de facto starter, there’s no more security blanket with LDR ready to come in.  It’s his show now, and he must perform with more consistency or get replaced by Malik Zaire.  Franks has so much to work on that the staff will have to try to manage his game while trying to continue the recent uptick of the offense in general.  He has to improve his cadence at the line, he needs to stop double- and triple-clutching some of his passes and let it go on the first read, and has to improve his accuracy and touch on intermediate throws.  No matter how well Franks plays, expect more of the wildcat formation with Toney at QB, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Zaire get some designated series during the game, both to get him experience with this offense and also for a change of pace.  No matter the QB or the amount of “special plays” that may be in the game plan, the run game is where the offense needs to continue to shine.  Despite the fact that LSU will likely crowd the box and dare the Gators to throw, the O-Line and RBs have to find ways to move the chains and not force Franks into many bad down-and-distance scenarios.  Hopefully Davis and Toney can have some success outside the tackles and around end, while Perine and Thompson will need to run tough inside.  I keep saying it – throw more to the RBs to get them in space and take pressure off of the QB and O-Line.  The passing game took a major hit with Cleveland’s ankle injury apparently keeping him out this week.  No one else has stood out or been a consistent contributor, and this could prove problematic.  Josh Hammond supposedly had an excellent fall camp, but has disappeared during the regular season.  Dre Massey has been on the milk carton photos Lewis hasn’t.  Brandon Powell is the senior and has made some plays, but it’s been solely with his legs, trying to make defenders miss after getting a short pass.  It’s not all on their shoulders, as Franks has struggled with his reads and progressions, but they have to start getting separation from DBs and getting open quickly.  Another steady diet of swing passes and short passes within a few yards of the LOS isn’t going to cut it this week.  This is not a vintage LSU front seven – Florida should be able to find some success running the ball if they stay patient, and Franks can make some plays downfield if he’ll just trust his WRs and make some throws on time and in rhythm.

The Gator defense knows it will be in a physical war this week.  LSU is still a run-dominant team, and has two terrific RBs in Derrius Guice and Darrell Williams.  Their O-Line is not as talented as in years past, but is no slouch.  The Florida LBs need to play their best game of the season – scraping off of blocks, making better reads and run fits in the gaps, and staying in their zones in coverage.  Will the light finally come on for these guys?  The D-Line needs to continue it’s strong play, getting penetration to disrupt blocking schemes and timing and forcing the Tiger RBs wide.  The DEs are a proven commodity, and should make QB Danny Etling’s life miserable if LSU is forced to throw regularly.  If the Gators can’t slow the running game, then big-play WR DJ Chark becomes even more dangerous – he is LSU’s playmaker, and the Gator secondary has to keep him contained all afternoon.

As usual, Florida has a huge advantage on special teams.  Eddy Pineiro and Johnny Townsend have been excellent all season and are far better than their counterparts in this game.  The punt coverage team showed improvement against Vanderbilt, and needs to continue to get better.  The Gator offense isn’t good enough to score a lot on it’s own, and needs some help with occasional field position wins.

This team has been maddening to watch so far, matching great plays with dumb mistakes and horrible tackling.  The current level of inconsistency will eventually catch up to them unless it is reduced dramatically.  LSU will have a ton of motivation after the Gators gutted out the big win in the Hurricane Matthew game at Baton Rouge last year, along with the embarrassment they suffered at home last week.  The Tigers still have enough quality talent to win most games they play.  Hopefully the Gators are smart enough to realize they cannot overlook anyone, and remember how hard they’ll need to play for 4 quarters.  Coach Mac certainly remembers all the crap that came from Alleva and the entire Tiger camp before last year’s game, and I know that he personally wants this game badly.  I’m thinking that there will be some new wrinkles from both the offense and defense this week that the staff has been holding back.  With such a flawed team, it’s imperative to minimize turnovers and penalties.  This game is usually a close affair into the 4th quarter, and I expect the same in this one.

Prediction:  Florida 23      LSU 20

 

 

 

 

Kentucky Review / Vanderbilt Preview

Florida’s winning streak reached 31 against Kentucky with another ugly performance that had a beautiful ending.  After being outplayed for most of the first 3 quarters, the Gators dominated the 4th quarter to overcome a 13-point deficit and steal a SEC road win.

After watching Feleipe Franks stumble through another rough outing, Coach Mac inserted Luke Del Rio late in the 3rd quarter to try and spark the offense.  It turned out to be the correct call, as the offense came to life and moved the ball effectively and scored 2 touchdowns.  Malik Davis had the hot hand at RB, and surprisingly led the way with 21 carries for 93 yards to help establish a consistent running threat.  Kedarious Toney again showed why he is already one of the best freshmen in the SEC with a 36-yard TD run out of the wildcat formation and a long pass to Tyrie Cleveland that set up the first TD of the 4th quarter.  Cleveland scored a TD of his own in the 2nd quarter on a 4th down play known as “jazz hands”, where the staff had noticed that Kentucky sometimes was slow to cover an outside receiver out of a bunch formation.  Fortunately Franks saw the opening and delivered the ball to Cleveland.  Unbelievably, the same play worked to perfection late in the game for the winning score on a pass from LDR to Freddie Swain.  The O-Line did a decent job of run blocking even with no real threat from Franks and the passing game.  However, you could immediately see a huge improvement in both run and pass blocking when LDR entered the game.  He knows the playbook better than any of the QBs, and also knows how to call blocking scheme changes that help the O-Line.  The pocket was basically clean the last 20 minutes of the game.

The playcalling of Doug Nussmeier remains numbingly poor and predictable.  The swing passes and pitches to the short side of the field.  Only one deep throw.  No slant routes.  Passes within 2 yards (or behind) the LOS when longer yardage is needed..  Any time there was a pass on first down, you could count on a run on 2nd down and a pass on third down.  The same crap for 3 seasons, and the opposing coaches actually get paid to see the same things.  Nuss must go.

Shockingly, Deandre Goolsby made 2 clutch catches to extend drives in the second half, the first real contribution out of the TE position all season.  Greg Nord must go.

The punt coverage was abysmal – no lane integrity, poor angles.  Greg Nord must go.

The WRs still cannot get open consistently, displaying poor technique getting off the LOS and sloppy route-running.  Kerry Dixon must go.

Overreaction?  Not after 2+ years of this mess.

The Gator defense did not help the cause by allowing the Mildcats to control the ball and clock for almost 3 quarters.  The same problems have not been corrected yet – poor run game fits by the LBs, poor coverage by the safeties, no one setting the edge on outside runs, and incredibly bad tackling.  The loss of LB Vosean Joseph for a targeting call in the first half hurt the defense, already missing LB Kylan Johnson due to injury.  Nick Washington looked bad in coverage, getting beaten for Kentucky’s first TD.  The D-Line struggled in the first half against the run, but settled down in the second half and finally found it’s footing.  The pass rush was terrific all night, ending a handful of Mildcat drives that could have put the game away before the QB change for Florida.  Finally, the CB play from the freshmen continues to excel – they have helped save the team from what could be an 0-3 start.

Vanderbilt comes to the Swamp off of a crushing 59-0 loss to Alabama at home.  After getting off to a 3-0 start and talking themselves up, they were reminded of their place.  It will be interesting to see how they react to the loss – come out deflated, or use the embarrassment as motivation.  At this point it may not matter to the Gators, as they have so many issues of their own that no opponent can be overlooked.

The Commodore’s quick start to the season was led by their defense, as their offense has looked even worse that Florida’s.  Head Coach Derek Mason has done a very good job of coordinating the defense since he fired his defensive coordinator in the middle of the 2016 season (see Coach Mac – it can be done).  The Vandy front seven had been solid against the run, led by a very good LB corps.  However, they were literally run over last week by Alabama, so perhaps the Florida coaching staff can find some things in the film to exploit.  Their secondary is suspect, but who knows if the Gators can take advantage of it until it’s proven?  If LDR is named the starter this week (and I don’t see any reason not to), that should lend itself to a more varied passing scheme and (hopefully) more consistent success and balance.  The WRs should be able to get open more often.  The RB rotation of Davis, Lemical Perine, and Mark Thompson has been effective the last 2 weeks, and will be relied upon again.  The O-Line will need to continue to mesh, and should have improved communication with LDR at QB.  Finally, Toney should continue to terrorize defenses with his speed and playmaking ability.

Randy Shannon and the entire defensive staff have so much to work on, it’s hard to decide where to start.  This is perhaps the worst tackling team I’ve seen since the 1970s.  The LB play has been especially poor, hampered by both injuries and suspensions, with no relief in sight.  The DEs are doing a great job rushing the QB, but still are allowing way to many easy runs to the outside on sweeps and on not maintaining lane integrity on draw plays.  The safeties have really struggled – Chauncey Gardner while (not) tackling, and Washington in coverage.  I expect to see more of Shawn Davis and Brad Stewart this week – might as well throw Stewart in like the freshmen playing well at CB – he has the raw ability to be very good.  Perhaps it’s time to consider a 5 man front to shore up the edges, and let the chips fall where they may for the LBs.  The return of Joseph from his targeting ejection last week will be a huge boost.  A 5-2-4 alignment may be just what’s needed to get the best 11 defensive players on the field for now.

It hasn’t been pretty, but the Gators don’t need to make any apologies for being 2-0 in SEC play.  The important things are continuing to correct mistakes, developing the young players as the team is essentially on probation with 9 suspended players and some injured ones, and focusing only on the next  game.  It’s the start of a critical 3-game home stand that could set Florida up for another run to Atlanta, or expose the team’s flaws and really ramp up the “noise in the system”.  The pressure continues unabated for Coach Mac to improve the offense, while Shannon and the defensive staff have to find ways to mask the poor LB play.  For now, it’s hard to imagine a performance by this team that leads to a comfortable win until it happens.

Finally, now that felony charges have been filed for the “Suspended 9”, I’m hearing some disturbing things about what’s happening both inside and outside of the locker room.  Coach Mac is going to need to change his “aw shucks” persona and get tough publicly, and he also needs to not let friendships with coaches preclude improvement.

Never a dull moment for Gator Nation.

Prediction:  Florida 20      Vanderbilt 17