Missouri Review / South Carolina Preview

In what could only be described as a Misschumpian or SwampDonkian performance, the Gators embarrassed themselves in a 38-17 blowout loss on Homecoming at the Swamp to a mediocre Missouri team.  A lot of the positives that developed up until this game were wiped away with a horrific effort that reopened a lot of fresh wounds for Gator Nation.  Mullen and the staff will say publicly that the loss is on them, but that’s just PR spin.  The players regressed and fell back into the bad habits from the previous 2 regimes.  No enthusiasm, no energy, and a lazy performance that will reopen a lot of position battles in practice this week – starting at QB.

All 3 phases of the team were bad, but the abysmal performance by the entire offense bled into the attitude and effort of the defense and special teams.  As it almost always does, the play at QB dictates how well the offense plays, and Franks was simply terrible.  He missed multiple wide-open WRs, checked into bad plays, and sulked on the sideline when Mullen laid into him.  *News Flash* – This is the SEC, and it’s big-boy football.  Produce or sit.  Mullen finally had enough and inserted Trask, and he played well under the circumstances, even leading the offense to a TD in his first possession.  Even in that small sample size he exhibited the ability to read the defense and go through his progressions more than Franks has most of the season.  While it’s (sadly) likely that Franks gets the start this week, I expect Trask to get snaps no matter what.  The O-Line played it’s worst game of the season.  There was no push in the running game, and they broke down in pass pro too often.  I feel bad for the RBs and WRs, who simply can’t show their skills consistently enough with such poor QB play.  There are indications that at least some of the locker room is starting to turn on Franks, and Mullen has to rein in and address the discord before it resembles the end of 2017.

The Gator defense was only minimally better.  There was no consistent pass rush from the DEs, while the interior of the line was gashed all afternoon.  The poor LB pass coverage was exposed, and even the CBs broke down on two long TD passes, but it’s hard to cover for 5+ seconds when the D-Line is getting stoned at the LOS.  Again, it appears there are parts of the team that are reacting to the struggles of the offense and QB, and the team lacks the leadership and maturity to push through it.  There is no push from the interior of the D-Line, and they were manhandled all afternoon in their worst performance of the season – even worse than Kentucky.

Evan McPherson hit his only FG attempt, the highlight of special teams.  Tommy Townsend inexplicably became a loose cannon on the field, garnering 2 personal-foul penalties along with a targeting call.  I can appreciate him wanting to not just be a spectator in punt coverage, but he has to control his emotions.  Punters may be people too, but antics like these really hurt the defense and gave Missouri great field position for two scoring drives.  If he doesn’t calm down, his ass will be on the bench.  It’s something I have never seen in my lifetime of watching college football.

South Carolina is next up and Florida has to get it’s house in order right away, or suffer another home loss, this time to Won’t Misschump.  There is some blood in the water in the Swamp right now, and you can count on the petulant Misschump wanting to do anything to beat the Gators.

The Gamecocks are led on offense by QB Jake Bentley.  He has been a little inconsistent this season, especially as their running game has really tailed off from prior seasons.  He does have a strong arm and isn’t afraid to run when needed, so the Gator DES and LBs will have to keep him contained in the pocket.  WR Bryan Edwards is a downfield threat, while Deebo Samuel will get lots of short passes and jet sweeps so he can use his speed and elusiveness in space to make plays.  Leading rusher Rico Dowdle is questionable with an ankle injury, so Tyson Williams may have to be the lead ball carrier.  Carolina has had difficulty sustaining drives, so look for them to try to hit big plays for chunks of yardage in order to set up scoring opportunities.  The Gator defense – if it decides to show up and actually play with some energy – matches up well and should be able to control the LOS.  The LBs have a lot to atone for after last week’s disaster – it’s back to basics, starting with playing your run gaps and actually accounting for the TE in the passing game.  The secondary has to focus on keeping Edwards in check, and force other WRs to beat them.  CGJ has not practiced this week with an undisclosed injury, and that would be a big loss.  The defense has to win on 1st down.

As for the Gator offense……what a difference a week makes.  If Franks gets the start, will the players just be waiting for him to make a few bad plays and get pulled?  I was hopeful Trask would either start or get significant reps, but he is now out for the season with a broken foot, the same injury that derailed his 2017 season.  Now Mullen has to SERIOUSLY consider burning Jones’ redshirt and getting him ready to play in every game the rest of this season.  No matter the QB, the O-Line has to rediscover it’s run-blocking ability and provide the balance necessary for success.  The WRs have to fight harder for balls, but how much of that is the inaccuracy of Franks and their growing frustration?  I would hope that after watching the tape from the Missouri game, every player would look himself in the mirror and demand better.  Mullen will have even more on his plate than usual, essentially having to prepare 2 full game plans that complement each QB the best.  I expect the running game to be featured early and leaned on as long as it is working.

I don’t like what I’m hearing out of practice and from sources right now.  There is some locker room sniping going on between the offense and defense, growing frustration with Franks from the WRs, and talk that some draft-eligible players are starting to mentally or physically check out.  Mullen still has some key players that are holdovers from the Swamp Donkey, and it appears those guys aren’t providing the effort that he expects.  As far as this week’s game is concerned, I think the sum of these issues is enough to lead to another home loss.

Prediction: Carolina 27   Florida 23



Georgia Review / Missouri Preview

It was a bitter defeat for the Gators in Jacksonville, as critical mistakes and injuries at key positions were too much to overcome in a 36-17 loss.  The game plan on both offense and defense was sound and the effort was there, but this team is not talented enough to defeat quality teams when not playing error-free football.

Dan Mullen called one of the best offensive games I can recall.  The running game was solid, the run/pass mix was effective, and a handful of special plays were there for the taking.  Unfortunately, Franks didn’t execute those plays in key moments – he just executed Florida’s chance to win.  After allowing Georgia a FG on the first series of the game, the very first Florida offensive play was a harbinger of things to come.  He badly overthrew a wide-open Jefferson for a TD on a flea-flicker, which would have sent a shock through the Georgia defense that this would be a vastly different game than last season.  The second possession started nicely, but an uncharacteristic Scarlett fumble gave the Puppies a short field.  They took advantage of that and the early exit of CJH due to a back injury to pick on McWilliams for key completions and a TD pass for a 10-0 lead.  Even after digging an early hole, the Gators didn’t panic.  They finally scored in the 2nd quarter with an excellent drive mostly led by Perine and the running game.  Unfortunately, right before the half ended the Puppies took advantage or poor pass coverage by the Gator LBs (especially Joseph) with 4 consecutive completions to TE Isaac Nauta to get a FG for a 13-7 halftime lead.

The second half started out perfectly.  After Toney returned the kickoff to the Georgia 48-yard line, it took the Gators only 3 plays to take the lead on Franks’ best pass of the day, a laser to Swain down the middle.  Sadly, the defense had a major letdown, allowing Georgia to march right down the field mostly through the air for a TD to retake the lead, as McWilliams was toasted – again.  Then came the 2nd critical mistake by Franks.  After a Georgia punt was downed at the Gator 1-yard line, he fumbled on the next play.  What could have easily then been a TD and perhaps the dagger was replaced by “The Stand” – 7 plays inside the 2-yard line that were stuffed by the Gator defense – holding Georgia to only a FG.  It’s unfortunate that the offense could not fully build on that inspirational effort, only getting a FG early in the 4th quarter to cut the lead to 23-17, but never really threatening again.  The defense finally cracked, not being able to get off the field on 3rd down and not getting the key play in pass defense to force the Puppies to punt.  Two late TDs made the final score 36-17, which didn’t reflect the closeness of the game until the last 8 minutes.  Watching 3 out of 4 starters in the secondary sit on the sideline due to injury or suspension while Georgia was actually moving the ball through the air was sickening.

It’s back to the Swamp for the first time since the LSU game 4 weeks ago, this time to face Missouri.  It’s the start of a crucial 3 game home stand that will determine how good the 2018 season can be and the quality of bowl game the Gators are invited to.  There are a lot of positives to take from the Georgia game, but also a lot to clean up.

Missouri reminds me of a bad matchup in the NCAA basketball tournament.  The strength of their offense is based on QB Drew Lock, WRs Emanuel Hall and Jalen Knox, and a quality TE in Albert Okwuegbuna.  This group will cause headaches for the Gator LB corps and secondary – especially if CJH is not 100% and if Stewart is rusty after his suspension for the Georgia game.  The D-Line has to rediscover it’s pass rush and make life miserable for Lock, or else this could turn into a high-scoring affair that Franks and the Gator offense are not built for.  The Tigers also have two good RBs in Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett, who really hurt the Gators last year in Columbia.   The entire defense has to play a solid and smart game against a very good offense.  It all starts with winning first down to make the Tigers one-dimensional.  After that, if the defense continues it’s struggles getting off the field on 3rd down, it will be a long day and a probable loss.  Kentucky did a very good job holding Missouri to only 14 points last week, and the Gators should be able to see a lot of things on film they can apply this week.

Florida has to continue to find success in the running game, which will lessen the number of possessions by the Tigers and also allow the defense some rest.  The Gator O-Line has to first stop DT Terry Beckner – he is a load and an all-SEC candidate.  Perine and Scarlett are in a groove right now running the ball, but I continue to hope they are used more in the passing game.  Mullen has gone away from that the past month for some reason, but I hope he reintroduces it into the game plan.  Both Franks and all of the WRs need to improve – Franks his accuracy, and the WRs getting consistent separation from DBs and fighting harder through contact to go after the ball.  All of Gator Nation continues to impatiently wait for Toney to get more touches, even if it’s only on jet sweeps.

The Gator special teams have been excellent, and again can have a big impact on the outcome.  Townsend has to continue to flip the field with his punts, while McPherson has been nails with his FGs.  Toney had a big kickoff return against Georgia, and hopefully builds on that to perhaps set up an easy score.

Coach Mullen and the entire staff have to find a way to build on the positives from the Georgia game and get the players to continue to compete on every snap.  Despite the tough loss, Florida can prove it has emotionally matured by moving on to the next game and taking care of it’s business.  I have a nagging feeling this game will not go smoothly and will be in doubt late.  If the Gators can simply eliminate unforced turnovers they have a good chance of winning.  There is still a lot to play for, starting with protecting the Swamp.  Finally, the next few games will go a long way for the perception of the program in the minds of recruits.  The Gators are gaining the attention of a lot of big names, and if they can finish the season well, should be able to bring in a class that is more representative of the Florida program standard of the past 30 years.  It’s time to have the talent and depth to compete for championships again.

Prediction: Florida 27          Missouri 24

Georgia Preview

It’s rivalry week.  A huge game looms in Jacksonville with the winner likely representing the SEC East in Atlanta, and potentially bigger things to play for down the road.

I expect the Gator offense to have some struggles, so it’s on the defense to try and control the game and keep the score manageable.  Georgia will rely on it’s running game led by RBs Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift and a strong O-Line.  Even in their loss at LSU they ran the ball effectively, only having to abandon it due to turnovers by QB Jake Fromm and falling behind by double-digits in the 4th quarter.  The Florida front seven will have it’s toughest challenge of the season in controlling the LOS – if the Puppies win first down they will control the clock and it will be a long afternoon.  If by some combination of run defense, turnovers, and effective offense the Gators can get a lead in the second half, once again it will fall on Fromm to have to make things happen with his arm, which is where he struggles.  Playing with a big lead and handing off most of the game is what he was able to do all of 2017, but he has not handled the pressure of being forced to throw very well.  On passing downs, the Gator DEs need to find ways to continue their excellent play and get pressure on the QB.  Georgia’s pass blocking has had some struggles this year, so perhaps there are some big plays and drive-killers available.  The Gator secondary will be have to play a lot of man defense, and will be challenged by WRs Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman and TE Isaac Nauta.  They will have to stay disciplined and not peek into the backfield on run fakes.  The entire defense will have trust each individual to do their job – no freelancing or over-aggressiveness leading to a bust and big play.  Finally, I expect Justin Fields to see action at QB as well.  He is a dangerous runner, but hasn’t been relied upon much in the passing game to date.  I suspect there are a few pass plays in the game plan for him this week to try and surprise the Gator defense.

Florida’s offense has to find a way to put some extended drives together in order to allow the defense to get some rest and to shorten the game.  Georgia will likely stack the box and dare Franks to throw to beat them, which is a good strategy until he proves he is accurate enough to make throws into tight windows.  The O-Line was able to open enough running room to balance the attack against LSU and has to do the same in this game, as relying on the passing game for consistent production isn’t a viable option yet.  Scarlett and Perine once again will have to get tough yards after contact, but I hope Mullen continues to incorporate them into the passing game to slow the rush and spread the field.  The WRs have to block well, and get separation occasionally to make some big plays.  CB Deandre Baker is an all-SEC candidate, so anyone not matched up with him has to make something happen.  The Puppy defense has shown some cracks this year, so Florida must capitalize when some opportunities present themselves – whether with individual effort of by scheme.  Georgia’s pass rush is nowhere near as formidable as last season.  D’Andre Walker leads the Puppies with 5 sacks, but they only have 9 total as a team.  The Gator O-Line needs to play their assignments and communicate – they stood up pretty well to Kentucky and LSU, and have to give Franks time and some clear passing lanes.  I’m hoping that Mullen isn’t so stubborn that he forces the running game if it is not working, throws more on 1st down, and isn’t afraid to take shots with lower-percentage 50/50 balls downfield to the WRs.  It’s not as if Franks completes 70% of his passes as it is, so it’s time to roll the dice and see if the WRs can win some one-on-one battles.  I expect to see some of Toney on jet sweeps and wildcat snaps – he is due for a few big plays.  If the Gators can get into the red zone, Mullen has demonstrated creativity and acumen with his play calls, and I’ll bet there are some new wrinkles we haven’t seen yet.

Both teams have excellent special teams.  Georgia PK Roberto Blankenship has done a great job since last season and has made some clutch kicks under pressure.  Hardman is a dangerous KO and punt returner with breakaway speed, so the Gator coverage units have to stay in their lanes and tackle well.  Florida PK Evan McPherson continues to impress, and Tommy Townsend will be relied upon to punt well and flip the field.  If the game is close into the second half, special teams could be the difference.

This year’s game has high stakes for the first time in a while, which will make the atmosphere even more intense.  Both teams are coming off of a bye week, so it will be interesting to see which one took the most advantage of it for the stretch run.  Florida has the bitter memory of last year’s debacle to try and make up for, quitting under the Swamp Donkey and embarrassing the program.  Hopefully the staff has the players at a high emotional pitch while not being too hyped and making stupid mistakes.  There are still a lot of guys on the roster that won the East in 2015 and 2016 and have experience in big games, so Mullen has that to build on.  Kirby Smart is feeling some heat for Georgia’s performance at LSU, and I expect a better effort.  I hope the discussions of how much Fields should play at QB becomes a distraction within the team, but my guess is that Fromm is still the guy and plays almost exclusively unless the Puppies fall behind by more than a TD in the second half.

As much as I want the Gators to win, I’m just not convinced that Franks can play efficiently enough and take advantage of big play opportunities to lead the offense to enough points.  My worry is that even if the defense plays well initially, they start to wear down in the second half, especially if they can’t stop the running game.  Additionally, the secondary is already thin, and can’t afford any significant injuries.  After last year’s embarrassment, there’s plenty of motivation for the Gators to play their best.

Prediction: Georgia 31        Florida 20



Vanderbilt Review

Straight out of the Theater of the Bizarre, it was an all-to-typical Florida-Vanderbilt game.  A way-too-early start (11:00 am local time), a bad Vandy team, and Florida coming off of 3 straight big SEC games……all leading to a somnambulant first 25 minutes of play until the Gators awoke, with the help of some really childish actions by the Vandy coaching staff that fired up the entire team……and coaching staff.

As much as Dan Mullen preached all week about coming out focused and playing hard, the team only got it half right.  Stupid penalties, undisciplined play by the defense, and two terrible turnovers by Franks allowed the Commodores to race out to a 21-3 lead.  From there on out the Gators dominated and won, but it wasn’t comfortable until the last score to ice the game.

The offense came out sharply, following up a 3-and-out by the defense with an efficient drive all the way to the Vandy 5-yard line, whereupon Mullen made a huge mistake in not simply running the ball on 2nd and 1 and calling for a slant pass that was tipped and intercepted.  Maybe that stunned the defense enough for them to subsequently allow Vandy their longest scoring drive in 15 years.  The offense responded with another good drive, but some inaccurate passes led to a punt.  Then, the defense simply played undisciplined football, allowing an easy screen pass to go for a 75-yard TD.  Not to be outdone, Franks led the offense back down the field, only to not protect the football on a designed run and fumbling, giving Vandy possession in the Gator 40-yard line.  The defense continued their lackadaisical play, letting the ‘Dores march to a 3rd TD.  Then it became all too real for Florida – they were in serious trouble, and it was either throw away all the good that was accomplished the previous 3 weeks, or toughen up and go to work.  In a testament to the staff and the buy-in of this year’s players, the Gators did just that.  The offense came back with an important TD drive, the defense got a quick 3-and-out, and then the real run began.  On the punt return James Houston was ejected for a peelback block on a defenseless player (questionable – but OK), but then the Vandy coaching staff, while out on the field to check on the injured player, got into a shouting match with the Gator staff, which caused both benches to clear and for both teams to get an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.  This activated an obscure rule that if any player on either team already had a similar penalty earlier in the game, this would count as their second offense and cause an automatic ejection – goodbye Vosean Joseph (who really did it to himself with an egregious roughing penalty that helped Vandy score their second TD).  After losing good field position due to the penalties, Franks hit Perine with a screen pass that he almost took to the house.  This gave Florida a FG at the end of the half that made it a one score game, and provided all the emotional momentum the team needed to roll in the second half.

As soon as the teams returned to the field for the 3rd quarter, it was obvious that the Gators were ready to play.  The offense continued to run the ball effectively with Perine and Scarlett, the quick WR screens were getting chunks of yards, and Franks settled down and didn’t turn the ball over, allowing the skill players to do work.  After cutting the lead to 21-20 and forcing Vandy to punt, the offense landed the big body blow with Scarlett’s TD run to take the lead, which the Gators would not relinquish.  The only real scare was when Pierce fumbled in Gator territory, but the defense held the Commodores to a FG to keep the lead.  The Gators then drove for another TD to effectively close out the game.  The offense wound up with close to 600 yards and two 100-yard rushers.  The downfield passing game is still not clicking, as the only pass TD more than 5 yards beyond the LOS was the slant to Jefferson that he housed.  Franks has to improve his accuracy on throws more than 10 yards downfield, and actually allow his receivers the chance to make some 50/50 catches.  The defense tightened up the run gaps, but had chances for interceptions that they didn’t capitalize on that enabled Vandy to extend drives and get 2 FGs in the second half to keep the game close.

In retrospect this game could be a valuable teaching moment for Mullen and the staff, but also a confidence boost for the players.  They now see that they can’t slip into their early-season bad habits, which actually cost them the Kentucky game.  But they also see that the staff is actually coaching them up to be a good team, and that they can do some great things IF they are focused and disciplined.  The bye week comes at a good time, to allow the team to rest up both physically and emotionally for a critical 3-week stretch that will determine how good or average the season eventually becomes.

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

Florida 100        Bye Week 0


LSU Review / Vanderbilt Preview

Florida reawakened the Swamp with it’s most important win in 3 years, outlasting LSU in what has become a typical close battle between the Gators and Tigers.  This was no cheap victory – this came against a tough and well-coached team that came in with a solid resume and playing with confidence.  Hopefully this win resonates with not just the fan base, but with recruits as well – showing that the foundation is being laid for a bright future after the darkness of the Misschump and Swamp Donkey eras.

To win a game like this all 3 phases of the team have to play well (and they did), but I have to give the edge to the defense.  After giving up a quick and shockingly easy TD drive to open the game, the defense dug in and ramped up it’s intensity for the rest of the afternoon.  Other than that first drive and then the two big runs allowed on LSU’s last scoring drive in the 4th quarter, Florida controlled the action for most of the game.  Tackling was the best it’s been all season, with defenders making plays in space all over the field.  The D-line did get gashed for some long runs, but held it’s own against a quality O-line while proving it is one of the elite pass-rushing units in the country.  Polite, Zuniga, and Jefferson harassed Joe Burrow all game long and came up with 5 sacks and some key holding calls on the Tigers.  The tackle rotation still has some issues with more physical teams, and will have to find ways to counter that with slants and simply tougher play.  The LB corps had by far it’s best day under the new staff.  Joseph had his best game as a Gator with 14 tackles, 3.5 for loss, while Reese was filling gaps inside against a tough LSU running game.  The run fits continue to improve, and there were better pursuit angles on the edges.  The secondary had a good day overall, highlighted by Stewart’s pick-6 that iced the win.  LSU rarely challenged CJH, preferring to pick on McWilliams whenever he was in the game, and also going after Dean.  These guys have to pick up their game going forward, as opponents will continue to attack them until they prove they can cover.  Finally, CGJ had a career day, directing the secondary while flying around and making plays in the backfield, against screens, and even in coverage.  When the secondary looks at the film, they will see some areas for improvement.  The Tigers had some open WRs on their last two possessions, even against nickel and dime looks, but fortunately there were some key drops that thwarted those drives.  Improvement, but still work to do.

Florida’s offense was a mixed bag – either very good or very bad.  4 scoring drives, including the go-ahead TD after LSU took the lead, mixed in with 7 drives of 6 plays or less, including 5 3-and-outs.  While Franks and the O-line had their struggles and ugly moments, at least they were opportunistic.  These guys would have folded under the previous staff, but are developing the mental toughness to push through difficult circumstances.  The run blocking is noticeably improved when Heggie is in the game at guard, and it’s becoming obvious that when the Gators need important yards they run to the right behind him and Taylor.  The running game came through to provide balance, and gained 2 critical first downs after being pinned down at the 3-yard line late in the game.  This allowed the punt team flip the field and make LSU put a long drive together to try and get in position for a winning FG.  Perine scored 2 TDs and had some big runs off of the speed option, while Scarlett got the tough yards in close quarters in the 4th quarter.  The WRs made some contested catches, battling against an excellent LSU secondary.  There wasn’t much separation, so coming down with some 50/50 balls was key.  I was disappointed that the RBs weren’t included in the passing game.  Franks cannot afford to repeat his terrible decision-making in throwing the end zone interception early in the 3rd quarter that changed the complexion of the game.  Overall, the offense continues to make incremental progress, which is a good sign.  Finally, Mullen has shown an excellent touch in play-calling in the red zone, coming up with plays that are resulting in TDs instead of FGs.

The special teams were again solid.  Townsend was able to pin down the Tigers with some great punts, but struggled when the tried the rugby-style kicks – he needs to shelve that and simply kick in rhythm.  McPherson had no FG opportunities, but only had one kickoff returned – after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Stewart’s pick-6 – but even then his kick was deep enough to force LSU to have to convert on a long drive.

Next up is Vanderbilt.  The Gators travel to Music City on a roll, and hopefully continue to show improvement and not rest on their recent success.

The Commodores are struggling right now, and coming off of a beatdown at Georgia.  Their offense has been mostly one-dimensional this year, relying on the passing of Kyle Shurmur to WR Kilija Lipscomb.  As long as the Gator defense doesn’t slip back into bad habits against the run, they should be able to force Vandy to throw and continue their sack barrage.  Shurmur is a big QB and hard to bring down, but if the defense can get some hits on him early, his accuracy will fall dramatically and give the Gator offense more possessions.  Florida’s D-line should have a decided advantage.

Vandy’s defense has been weak against the run, so I’m expecting a lot of carries for Scarlett and Perine.  Pierce should get some as well, as Mullen went with his experienced RBs against LSU for pass pro.  The Commodore secondary is nothing like LSU’s, so the short passes to the WRs should be more available to take pressure off of Franks.  There will be opportunities for some big plays if the O-line continues to improve and Franks makes the proper reads.  He has to improve his accuracy in order to extend drives and give the defense some rest.  This is an opportunity for the entire offense to work on becoming more efficient.

Defense and special teams travel, so as long as there isn’t an unexpected dropoff, those units should make it easier to get another SEC road win.

Now we get to see if Florida can handle success.  Mullen and the rest of the staff have a big challenge in getting the players refocused and continuing to emphasize consistency and effort.  This is another important step in the transformation of the program.  This team isn’t good enough to overcome lack of execution and sloppy play, so here is an opportunity to prove to themselves they are indeed working their way back to the Gator Standard.  Historically, Vanderbilt plays Florida close more often than not no matter the circumstances, and I think they will hang around at least into the second half.  After 3 big SEC wins, it’s time to grind through the mental and physical fatigue and get another victory before enjoying an off week.  It was an exhilarating win against LSU, but that has to be immediately set aside by the team to move forward to potentially some bigger things.

Prediction:  Florida 27      Vanderbilt 20



Mississippi St. Review / LSU Preview

Florida got another important SEC road win, defeating MSU in a tough, low-scoring affair that showed the development of some mental and physical toughness.  The team showed focus, blocking out all the hype around the game concerning Dan Mullen’s return to Starkville, and embraced the grind of a hard-fought victory.  This was the most complete team effort of the season.  All that talk in the offseason from MSU’s players and fans about how they are better off now has been exposed.  Florida has had to suffer long enough with these kinds of issues – it’s time to leave them behind and let other programs deal with them.

On offense, the playbook was pared down to only a handful of base plays that spread the field sideline-to-sideline to offset the strength of the Bulldog’s defense, their D-line.  While the final statistics weren’t gaudy, there was enough production by the running game to complement a short passing game that kept the chains moving and gave the defense a chance to rest.  The O-line had his best performance of the season to date.  They benefitted from the quick throws, only allowing 1 sack and few QB pressures, and got enough push in the run game to open some lanes for some key first downs on long drives.  Franks was solid for the most part, making some quick throws on the WR screens and some strong throws when needed on slants and digs.  This limited the number of reads he had to make to help him get rid of the ball quickly to avoid the rush.  The WRs stepped up with some tough catches over the middle and hard running after the catch.  Swain, Grimes, and Jefferson all showed toughness – not just with their pass-catching, but also in their blocking on the WR screens and running plays.  Perine is making a push to be the starting RB, again having success both in the run and pass game.  Scarlett continues to miss holes and lacks the explosiveness of 2016.  Pierce got some important carries in the 4th quarter and continues to impress.  And……finally…..Toney got some touches early, breaking off 2 nice runs from the wildcat formation and hitting the option pass for the winning TD.  He has to continue to be incorporated more into the offense.

The Gator defense also had it’s best performance of the year.  6 sacks, constant pressure on the pocket, decent run defense against a strong opponent, and solid pass coverage (less one blown play that should have resulted in a TD for MSU).  The DEs made life miserable for Nick Fitzgerald all night in the passing game, and the DTs and LBs shored up their zone-read fits in the second half to force the Bulldogs to pass more often than they like.  Polite and Zuniga were terrors off the edge, the LBs tackled well in space, and the secondary covered for the early loss of Dean to an unwarranted targeting ejection.  MSU wanted nothing to do with CJH’s side of the field all night, forcing Edwards and McWilliams into the spotlight.  They fared well overall but still had a few busted assignments that have to be corrected.  The return of Shawn Davis at safety really filled a gaping hole – he made some big plays early to show the Bulldogs the middle of the field wasn’t going to be as open as previous Gator games this season.  Finally, CGJ has become the leader of the secondary, getting them lined up properly and really improving his open-field tackling to lead by example.

It’s on to Alleva Bowl 3 – the rubber game in the grudge match that resulted from LSU AD Joe Alleva’s whining back in 2016 about travelling to Florida with Hurricane Matthew not far away – forcing the Gators into a second straight game at Baton Rouge in which Florida won the East with a goal line stand as time expired.  Sadly, the Tigers got the last laugh in 2017, beating the Swamp Donkey in the first of 2 straight games in Gainesville.  LSU comes in undefeated and riding high, with two wins over Top 20 opponents away from home already on their resume.  This is by far Florida’s toughest test so far this season.

The Tigers were fortunate to land QB Joe Burrow, who transferred in from Ohio St.  In only a few months he has proved more than competent, showing toughness and poise along with surprising running ability.  His overall passing statistics aren’t great, but he has been clutch in key moments and has won his teammates over.  LSU is still a running team first, lead by a solid O-line and RB Nick Brossette, who did not start until now, his senior year.  The difference in their offense now vs. the past few seasons is that they mix in the pass more often on first down, with WRs Justin Jefferson and former Gator commit Ja’Marr Chase providing targets with good size and speed.  Florida’s DTs will have to get at least a stalemate inside to slow the running game, while the DEs have to find a way to continue their recent excellent pass rushing on must-pass downs.  Getting Dean back will be a boost to the secondary at CB – he and CJH will be challenged by the size and speed of LSU’s WRs, and have to play their best game to date.  The safeties will likely be required to help in run support, but whoever is left behind in coverage has to tackle well in space to prevent big plays.  The Tigers really like working the middle of the field with slants and square-ins, so everyone in the secondary will need to be physical and try to get the WRs off of their routes.

The Gator offense really needs to find a way to run the ball effectively, as the LSU secondary may be the best one they will see all season.  Passing the ball with efficiency could be a real struggle given the occasional issues with the O-line and RBs in pass pro and the inconsistent reads and accuracy from Franks.  The Gators did run the ball well in the second half of last year’s game with the Tigers and the past few weeks of this season, but another slow start really lessens an already narrow margin for success.  It will be interesting to see if Perine gets more carries, and if Toney is used to get to the edges to try and spread out a very good LSU LB corps led by all-SEC candidate Devin White.  The O-line has to eliminate the stupid penalties that have hampered the offense and get some push, or it will be a long afternoon.  I really liked how the RBs were involved in the passing game last week, and that would be a big help again to keep the defense honest and prevent them from stacking the box.  Florida’s WRs will also face their biggest challenge to date against an excellent LSU secondary led by safety Grant Delpit and CB Greedy Williams.  The Tiger secondary will be motivated to show out in their annual feud with the Gators about who really is DBU.  The WRs have to get some separation to help Franks, and I expect they will again be asked to make some tough catches in the middle of the field.  I’m not sure how well a repeat of the MSU game plan with the quick screens to the WRs will work against LSU’s defensive speed and physical CBs.  There may be a few opportunities to fake a screen and try for a deep ball, now that LSU has seen so many short throws on film.

Florida’s special teams need to continue their excellent play.  Points may be at a premium, so McPherson has to make any reasonable FG attempts he gets.  Townsend will be called upon to flip the field with his punts, and hopefully he can continue his success in pinning the opponent inside the 20 when presented the opportunity.  The coverage units have also been playing well, and have to keep it going.  In a close game against a strong opponent, a big play by this unit could be the difference.

This is the biggest recruiting weekend of the season for Florida, and the Gators really need to put on a good performance to help get some key recruits off the fence and committed.  It will be a wild scene at the Swamp for this one, and hopefully the team continues to show improvement in execution and toughness, no matter the outcome.  The win at MSU has to provide a confidence boost for the players.  LSU has already been tested and had success against some quality opponents, so they will not be intimidated by this game.  Gator Nation really wants this game badly to stick it to LSU for their childish actions back in 2016 and a bitter home defeat in 2017, but I don’t know if the running game and Franks’ passing ability are far enough along to win the day in what I expect will be another close battle with the Tigers.  I feel Florida’s best chance in this one is to not be forced to play from behind, and applying early pressure on LSU by getting the lead.  I just hope the Gators don’t come in too hyped and commit a slew of mistakes that takes them out of it early.  It will require a complete effort from all 3 phases – the potential is there, but I’m just not sure this team is quite ready yet.

Prediction:  LSU 23            Florida 20

Tennessee Review / Mississippi St. Preview

Florida gained a much-needed victory, getting it’s first SEC and road win of the season on Rocky Top.  Despite the large margin of victory, I’m not going to buy into any more fool’s gold – the Gator offense was still inconsistent, while the defense and an avalanche of turnovers by the Volunteers were mainly responsible for the blowout.  Yes, there seems to be progress in the development of certain players and positions, but Tennessee is so bad right now that any evaluation is tainted.

After a strong first quarter in both production and execution, both the offense and Franks’ performance struggled at times with some questionable play-calling and mental errors.  Franks gets credit for improvising on his 2 long TD throws to Swain and Cleveland, but he took advantage of a terrible Tennessee secondary.  There were still missed opportunities and some inaccurate throws that would have extended drives.  The running game did enough to provide balance, but the O-Line still has issues with getting a consistent push.  Scarlett had a few nice runs and the TD that iced the game, but the rest of the game was spotty less Pierce’s TD after the game was decided.  Pass protection had less blown assignments and rushers coming free at Franks, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.  The performance of the WRs was difficult to judge, as there were only 18 pass attempts.  Swain continues to surprise as the breakout star, adjusting his route when Franks had to move out of the pocket to get open and outrun the Vol secondary.  I feel for Jefferson and Grimes, who, along with Toney, were underutilized……again.  Toney only had 2 touches – a wildcat QB keeper for 9 yards and a jet sweep for 34 yards.  Perhaps his blocking is not up to par or he is not performing well in practice, but the staff is wasting a real talent.

The Gator defense dominated at the LOS as it should have against a poor Vol O-line.  The D-line gets credit for improving it’s run fits, but the real difference was the return of David Reese at LB.  His presence really shores up the entire run defense and provided an emotional spark.  Transfer Adam Shuler is becoming a playmaker at DT, and has earned a starting role.  The DEs had a field day rushing the passer and getting some monster hits on the Vol QBs – eventually knocking Jarrett Guarantano out of the game.  There are still holes in pass coverage in the middle of the field, and Trey Dean is going to get picked on at CB until he gains experience and improves his deep coverage.  The biggest surprise of the night on defense was the emergence from the missing person’s file of Brad Stewart at safety.  He made a great interception on a deep pass, and came up in run support and actually made some solid tackles.  The overall performance of the safety position has been so bad that any development by him or anyone else will be a huge boost.  Overall, the defense played with more energy than in any game so far this year, and that has to continue.

Special teams play was solid again.  McPherson made all of his FGs and kicked off well, while Townsend pinned Tennessee inside the 20 many times and also hit a few long punts to flip the field.

Next up on the schedule is the Dan Mullen Bowl, as he returns to the aptly-named Starkville to face his former team in Mississippi St.  The Bulldogs have had this one circled on their calendar ever since he left for Florida, and will be very motivated to stick it to him and the Gators this week.  It will be interesting to see how they react after getting whipped at Kentucky, which has taken some wind out of their sails and slowed their talk about being a contender in the SEC West.

MSU’s offense is led by senior QB Nick Fitzgerald and a tough O-line.  He is a physical runner but a mediocre passer, and the Gator defense will have to try and replicate what the Wildcats did – stuff the run as much as possible and force him to throw to beat them.  RB Kylin Hill and WRs Osirus Mitchell and Stephen Guidry are the main contributors after Fitzgerald.  The WRs don’t have a large volume of catches, but don’t be fooled – they are quality players that simply don’t get as many touches due to the reliance on the running game and the inaccuracy of Fitzgerald.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see backup QB Keytaon Thompson get some snaps for a change of pace – his throwing ability is no better, but he is a much quicker and dangerous runner.  The Gator DEs will again be relied upon to set the edge, while the secondary has to stay disciplined and not get caught peeking into the backfield just to get beaten over the top.  Something tells me that MSU is going to try and throw long more often this game.  The Bulldogs will be a much more formidable opponent than Tennessee – the defense will have to continue to play with effort and not lose confidence even if they give up some big plays along the way.  Coach Grantham is very familiar with the MSU personnel, and should be able to scheme up some looks that he knows will affect Fitzgerald’s play and slow down the Bulldog running game.

Once again, the success of the Gator offense rides almost solely on the arm of Franks.  Even if Florida can establish a semblance of a running game, he will have to have success throwing the ball if the Gators have any real hope of winning.  The MSU front seven is tough and physical, and has two of the better DEs in the SEC with Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons – they are effective pass rushers and will have to be accounted for by the Gator tackles and RBs in pass protection.  The O-line has to find a way to establish a run threat, or else this will be a long evening for the offense.  The tackles will have by far their toughest assignment of the season to date in pass protection, and have to at least get a stalemate against those tough DEs.  I’m hopeful that (finally) there will be a package to exploit Toney on the edges.  Getting (and keeping) the RBs involved in the passing game will also help slow the pass rush and stretch the defense, not allowing them to crowd the box.  Finally, there will be chances to hit some deep throws, but is Franks capable of exploiting the advantage the WRs have over the Bulldog CBs?

MSU is coming off of an embarrassing loss at Kentucky, and will seek to re-establish it’s identity against Florida – a power running game and tough run defense.  These are two areas that the Gators have struggled with this season, and it doesn’t help that the players and fans will be especially hyped for Mullen’s return.  I feel that the Gators could pull this one off if they can get an early lead and force the Bulldogs out of their comfort zone by having to pass more often.  Perhaps the special teams can continue to make big plays and set up some easy scores to help with the upset bid.  However, I still don’t trust Franks to be an efficient and accurate passer and decision-maker, and don’t see the rest of the team being good enough yet to overcome the offense if it struggles against a quality opponent.

Prediction:  MSU 31            Florida 17

Colorado St. Review / Tennessee Preview

The Gators got a much needed bounce-back win against CSU, capitalizing on big plays from the special teams to race out to an early lead and then regain momentum after a slow second half start.

The offense looked marginally better, but until they perform against a solid SEC team, it could be more fool’s gold.  Franks did hit some long throws, but again left points on the field with slow decisions and late throws.  Will he ever develop the mental part of his game?  He did take off and run a few times when the field opened up, which is what he should do.  The running game still goes in fits and starts.  Scarlett broke off a nice TD run, but still missed some holes.  Perine continues to play solidly as the 3rd down back, and Pierce again broke off a long run and is pushing for more carries.  Davis hobbled off the field after a tackle with what has been diagnosed as a broken foot, and will miss 4-6 weeks.  Fortunately the RB position is the deepest on the team.  The O-Line seemed to play more cohesively, but, again, they have to play better against better competition.  There are still too many missed assignments in pass blocking from experienced guys, which tells you that some of them are playing only because of poor depth.  The WRs continue to get open, but Franks again missed some opportunities for big plays.  Finally, Toney continues to be criminally underutilized.

The defense actually played better in spurts and looked more disciplined in the run fits by the LBs.  Houston continues to push for more playing time, Jackson’s tackling was better, and Joseph actually made some big plays because he was in position and not freelancing.  The D-Line did a better job with it’s pass rush off the edge, and this has to continue going forward as the competition improves dramatically in conference play.  The secondary had it’s moments, but I’m worried about the coverage between the hashmarks.  The safeties are still too soft and occasionally lost in coverage, leaving too much room over the middle for easy completions.  At this point, I’m doubting if that changes at least until Shawn Davis returns from injury.  Coach Grantham will simply have to blitz more often to try and force quicker throws and generate turnovers.

Special teams led the way, with a fumble recovery, a blocked punt, and a punt return TD by Swain.  This unit is the best on the team so far, and has brought some energy to the team.  I’m very impressed with McPherson as the PK so far – he has a nice career ahead of him, and already looks steady – especially for a true freshman.

Florida now travels to Knoxville to face another struggling program.  This game is not even a shadow of what it once was right now, and neither team looks competitive in the SEC.  Tennessee has not looked good at all – the one decent team they played, West Virginia, ran up close to 600 yards and was never challenged, and they have outclassed two weak opponents – eerily similar to Florida so far.  The Vols have even more new faces and less experience on their roster than the Gators, and are looking for an identity on both offense and defense.  QB Jarrett Guarantano has improved some after being forced into action last year as a freshman and getting beaten up.  He has a good deep arm and some mobility, but can be forced into mistakes by a good pass rush.  Tennessee relies on RBs Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler to control the clock while WRs Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer are the favorite passing game targets.  I expect them to challenge the Gator secondary, which after CJH and CGJ is undistinguished.  Tennessee has some SEC talent at the skill positions, but the Vol O-Line has struggled, and Florida’s D-Line has to take advantage of it’s talent advantage and create havoc at the LOS to disrupt timing and possibly create turnovers.  It’s time for Coach Grantham to unleash some of the pressure looks he’s touted for and to force Tennessee into things they are uncomfortable doing.  The LBs and safeties are simply not good enough in coverage to hold up.  I also want to see the tackling continue to improve – both in technique and finishing off ball carriers.  The safeties have to improve – now.

The Tennessee defense is the least talented it’s been in memory, relying on a team concept to try and mask individual deficiencies.  To date their pass rush has been weak, but can Florida’s O-Line actually protect Franks on the road?  The conundrum with how the Gators will attack on offense is that, while Mullen would like to establish the running game to take pressure off of Franks, the Vol secondary is dreadful, and should be taken advantage of by a Florida WR corps that is superior in talent.  But, can Franks begin to make throws consistently on time and accurately to take advantage of this mismatch?  There will be plenty of opportunities for big plays if the interior O-Line reduces the number of missed assignments and gives Franks a decent pocket and some time.  The RBs will need to fight through contact for extra yards, and hopefully will be utilized some in the passing game to force Tennessee to defend the entire field.  Pierce will step in for Davis to get more carries, but Scarlett and Perine have to take over the majority of the load and be leaders of the offense.  Once again, will Toney finally get the touches he needs to make some big plays?

One thing that can tip the scales Florida’s way is the play of the special teams.  This group hopefully can continue to build on it’s early season success and set up the offense a few times with a shorter field.  They can change or build on momentum quickly, and with all of the issues on both offense and defense right now, all three units have to play well for this team to win.

This is a huge game for both programs and head coaches.  Jeremy Pruitt was way down the list of candidates to get the Tennessee job and has a lot of doubters, while Dan Mullen is trying to change the culture at Florida in all phases of the football program and is hitting some bumps in the road so far.  The team that loses this game faces another long, painful season ahead, while the winner at least has something positive to build on despite low expectations going forward.  Since both teams are struggling, it looks like the one that plays smarter, protects the football, and more effectively takes advantage of the opponent’s weak secondary will win this one.  Fair or not, again the Gators’ fortunes fall on the decision-making ability of Franks, which is a dicey proposition.  I’m hoping the advantage in experience on the Florida roster is enough to offset the home-field advantage for the Vols.  The Gators desperately need this win to provide some hope and a spark for the rest of the season.

Prediction:  Florida 27          Tennessee 24

Kentucky Review / Colorado St. Preview

All of the early hype and excitement about a new regime came crashing down Saturday night, as the Gators put on an uninspired display, getting embarrassed by Kentucky in a 27-16 loss.  That about does it for the last remnants of the football program pre-2010, as the last positive streak came to a desultory end.  Nothing is left from the great run of 1980-2009, and the rebuild now appears to be more of a 3-5 year one.

It appears that too many, including the players, bought too much into the fool’s gold of the first game.  It was stunning to hear Coach Mullen say in his post-game presser that he and the coaches witnessed first-hand how the team felt entitled and practiced poorly all week.  It looks like there are still a lot of bad apples left behind from the Swamp Donkey’s tenure, and the new staff is stuck with playing most of these guys as there is a lack of SEC talent and depth at the OL, LB, and safety positions that will take years to restock.  Hearing how the team came in overconfident is mind-boggling – talk about out of touch with reality.

There isn’t much analysis needed – the OL and DL were outplayed, outhustled, and physically beaten all night.

On offense, it’s apparent now why Mullen has chosen to throw so often – the OL is soft, and doesn’t play with the attitude necessary to run block.  Combine this with a mediocre QB, and it’s a recipe for disaster.  The absence of Brett Heggie at guard or center is really being felt, and he can’t get back soon enough to bolster the interior O-Line.  It may be time to shuffle positions and put Ivey back at guard, bench both Jordan and Johnson, and get some young guys in.  John Hevesy is supposedly a master technician as a position coach – let’s see it.  There was actually one area the OL performed well in – the draw plays were effective all night.  .Franks is what he is – even when given time he misses open guys or is late with the throw.  When he’s pressured at all, it’s a complete crapshoot.  The skill guys did what they could to offset the poor OL and QB play.  Malik Davis is still recovering mentally from his knee injury, bit is starting to show flashes of his old form at RB.  Perine is excelling on 3rd downs, both running and receiving.  Scarlett, however, looks tentative and slow – he has lost whatever juice he displayed in 2016, and is in danger of losing snaps.  The WRs consistently bailed out Franks on bad throws.  There was a ton of YAC and two potential scores lost due to inaccurate throws.  Once again, it appears the jet sweep is not allowed at Florida.  Toney (again) is being underutilized – he is electric with the ball.  Perhaps it’s time to move him to the QB room.  Finally, what was up with the first play of the 2nd quarter?  Run the damn ball and get a first down or TD there – that cost the team 4 important points.  If that was the call from Mullen, despite the struggles of the O-Line, it was brutal.

What did I think of the execution of the defense?  I’m all for it.  That was one of the worst tackling displays in memory, as the Wildcats gained 168 freaking yards after contact!  It was shocking how bad the DEs were at setting the edge or playing contain on the QB or RB.  I’m not sure how much blame to pin on the staff, as some players apparently don’t want to be coached.  It took until the 4th quarter, but Polite finally started to play the read option correctly on handoffs to the RB and made some tackles for little or no gain.  Too little, too late, though.  The LB fits in the run game were horrendous.  Joseph just freelanced and continually got pinched inside, and Jackson’s tackling technique was awful.  Just having a healthy David Reese to bolster the run defense may have been enough to win – he may struggle in pass coverage, but he’s by far the best run-stopper on the team.  The safety play was terrible.  Brad Stewart is approaching “bust” territory – many had high hopes for him.  Taylor is getting lost in pass coverage.  I knew things were bad when Stiner was named a starter – he may work hard, but he’s just not a SEC-caliber safety.  The injury to Shawn Davis is really being felt here, and no one knows exactly when he’ll return.  To add injury to insult in the secondary, all-SEC candidate Marco Wilson is out for the year with a torn ACL.  After he went down on the second defensive snap of the game, the entire defense seemed a little deflated.  Trey Dean gets his chance now to back up a lot of his talk – he made some plays, but also looked like a freshman on occasion.  If he or Henderson go down……yeesh.  CJ was all over the field all night, even though you could tell he was gassed.  I wasn’t impressed with Coach Grantham’s schemes, either.  I wonder if he’ll ever decide to spy a running QB?  Where is all the blitzing and pressure that was promised?  What’s the worst that could happen – the QB breaks contain and converts 3rd-and-long plays all game?  Oh, wait……

Colorado St. comes into the Swamp with a lot of momentum off of a surprising 4th quarter comeback win at home over Arkansas.  It’s going to be interesting to see how the Gators react to such a dispiriting loss.  The players better focus on nothing other than improving themselves – they ain’t all that, despite what they may have thought.  The Rams came back against Arkansas with their passing game, and with the injuries and lack of depth in the Gator secondary, I expect a lot of passing by them this week.  I wonder if the game plan for the Florida offense will be pared down to more basic plays, despite the potential wasting of so much talent at the skill positions.  The O-Line has to get better, and Franks has to improve his accuracy.  I hope the RBs are incorporated more into the passing game, and that there are some quicker throws to the WRs to allow them to make plays in space.  If they start slowly, there will be rumblings from the stands – Gator Nation is not happy right now.

This is an early fork in the road for Mullen and the team.  Will the players pick themselves up and allow themselves to be coached and improve, or will they tank?  Or will they not take either path and just run directly into the tree?  I’m still holding out hope for a winning record, but the loss to Kentucky was sobering and exposed a variety of problems.  The coaching staff has a lot of work to do to build the players back up and improve their play.  It’s time to start using the bench as a motivator to adjust some attitudes and to get some young guys in if the upperclassmen don’t want to buy in.  This has suddenly become a critical game to set the tone for the rest of 2018.

Prediction: Florida 31          CSU 21



Charleston Southern Review / Kentucky Preview

It was a fun night at the Swamp, as the Gators cruised to an easy 53-6 blowout of CSU.  The Gators came out fast and ran to a big early lead, which allowed the coaching staff to empty the bench throughout the second half and get a lot of young players some experience.

Surprisingly, it was the passing game that set the tone early and throughout the first half.  Feleipe Franks threw 5 TDs to 4 different WRs, and spread the ball around very well.  He looked a little tentative early, but once he relaxed he threw more accurately than in any previous appearance.  Newcomers Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes accounted for 3 TDs and look like the 2 best WRs on the roster, providing a huge boost in talent and big-play capability.  All was not fun and games for the offense, however, as it took a while for the running game to get untracked.  The O-Line looked like there was more thinking than simply playing, and it was disappointing to see them struggle to dominate the LOS until the CSU D-Line started to tire in the 2nd quarter.  Jordan Scarlett’s return at RB was a bust, as he looked very tentative and did not hit the holes hard.  He was more than picked up by the depth at RB, as Malik Davis, Lamical Perine, and Dameon Pierce all broke off big runs to finally provide balance to the attack.

The Gator defense dominated all evening as they should have, controlling the LOS and making life miserable for the Buccaneer option attack with quick penetration from the D-Line.  Jachai Polite showed why he earned a starting role, and was unblockable.  I was impressed with the play of the some of the young LBs – Rayshad Jackson took himself off the side of milk cartons all over the state for at least 1 week, while Ventrell Miller showed some of the promise he came with out of high school.  The secondary was not challenged all night, but did play the run well and did not get lulled to sleep to then allow a long completion.

Florida’s special teams showed a pulse as well.  Freshman Evan McPherson made all of his FG attempts, and the Gators blocked both a FG and an extra point, providing some added excitement.

The real season starts this week with the SEC opener against Kentucky.  The streak now stands at 31 over the Wildcats, and after their gut-wrenching loss last year in Lexington, does UK really believe they can beat the Gators, especially on the road?  Once again, they are talking a big game, bringing their most experienced team and best defense under Mike Stoops to Gainesville.

Kentucky’s offense struggled against Central Michigan, as new starting QB Terry Wilson looked lost in his first start, while backup Gunnar Hoak provided the only passing TD.  The Wildcats will rely heavily on their running game, led by Benny Snell.  Wilson will likely start, as he brings a running dynamic that they will need to try and sustain drives and wear down the Florida defense.  They will try to shorten the game and make it into an ugly affair, hoping that Franks will panic if behind early or feel the pressure if the game is close deep into the second half.  The Gator defense welcomes back Cece Jefferson and David Reese from suspension, and those two will help to bolster the run defense.  The front seven will be under the gun to stuff the Kentucky running game and force them to throw, which will be a decided mismatch in favor of Florida.

The outcome of this game simply comes down to how well Florida’s O-Line plays.  The run blocking has to make a huge improvement from the lackluster play of last week, because the Gators have a stable of RBs that can control the entire game.  If they can give Franks sufficient time to keep the offense balanced with the passing game and allow the Gators to sprint out to an early lead, I really don’t see a path to victory for the Wildcats unless the Gators commit a rash of turnovers.

Florida will have to show marked improvement on offense from game 1 to game 2, and I believe this coaching staff is light-years ahead of the previous one in preparing the players.  The Gators have the advantage in the number of playmakers on both sides of the ball, and something tells me the special teams will make a significant play as well.  Finally, the excitement and support of the home crowd should provide the energy to help run the streak to 32 straight.

Prediction: Florida 30        Kentucky 20