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