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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Florida $t. Review / Alabama Preview

In another frustrating and painful road loss, the Gator offense once again failed miserably to do it’s part to win the game. After a great opening drive that featured a quick pace and spreading the ball around the entire field, it was back to the same predictable, ineffective play calling and execution that that has been all too common in 2016. That initial promising drive ended with the very questionable (in my opinion dead wrong) decision to try and score a TD on 4th down instead of taking the points and buoying the confidence of the offense. After that, it was hit or (mostly) miss, with a beaten up O-Line and inaccurate passes killing any legitimate chance to keep the game within reach. Why the offensive scheme didn’t remain the same the entire night is something that Coach Mac needs to address immediately – continued bad offense will be his undoing and he’ll not even make it to his 5th year, and perhaps 4th. Once again the lack of a quality SEC QB was obvious, as just a few accurate deep throws to open WRs completely changes the complexion of the game. Appleby missed Antonio Callaway on a corner route near the goal line after the interception by Chauncey Gardner, and later in the 3rd quarter missed Tyrie Cleveland on a post-corner route for a gain deep into F$U territory. The Criminole defense played to stop the running game and make the Gators prove they could do damage through the air, and that strategy ultimately worked. Martez Ivey was playing hurt from the start, and it showed. David Sharpe again struggled with speed rushing off the edge, while Jawaan Taylor simply wasn’t good enough as a true freshman to control Demarcus Walker. The RBs didn’t help out in pass protection either, consistently missing assignments and making life difficult for Appleby. The O-Line could not consistently provide the same holes for Jordan Scarlett and Lemical Perine that they did against LSU. Finally, the offense was 0-13 on 3rd down – that is embarrassing, and another indictment against Doug Nussmeier.

The Gator defense played valiantly with limited resources and inexperience at key positions at LB and in the secondary, and kept the game within reach until the middle of the 3rd quarter, when they repeatedly allowed 3rd down conversions that eventually wore them down and allowed 2 big plays that lost the game. The long pass and run by Travis Rudolph wasn’t helped by the bad angle Chauncey Gardner took attempting the tackle, and the fullback counter play early in the 4th quarter came against a tired defense that almost always easily makes that play – as they did repeatedly against LSU when rested. All that being said, the defense in general did not do a good job of controlling Dalvin Crook, allowing him to control the game with over 100 rushing yards and not setting the edge at the LOS, allowing him to get outside. Lots of missed tackles and bad angles as well. I think the struggles of the offense again have taken their toll physically and mentally – DE Jordan Sherit left with a season-ending knee injury, backup S Jaewon Taylor incurred a shoulder injury that took him out of the game, and others like CBs Duke Dawson and Quincey Wilson started to cramp up and were noticeably limping in the second half. It’s amazing that this unit held together this long, especially losing the heart of the defense in Jarad Davis, Alex Anzalone, and Marcus Maye to injury the past month. But……again……they did crack, and it’s déjà vu all over again, with flashbacks to the horrid end of the 2015 season.

The Gator special teams did what they could by blocking a FG at the end of the first half, controlling the F$U return game, and scoring a TD in the 4th quarter on a fumble recovery. Johnny Townsend and Eddy Pineiro have been outstanding this season, and did their part. The only glaring mistakes were 2 shanked kickoffs by Pineiro that allowed F$U to start form their 35-yard line, but neither of those possessions wound up in points.

That makes 6 out of 7 losses to F$U, and another hit to recruiting. Zero offensive TDs in the last 2 games against your in-state rival – unacceptable. Some very basic changes are necessary, and hopefully Coach Mac is strong enough to do what is necessary – now.

Florida now moves on to a return trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. This is a rematch of the 2015 game against Alabama, and once again Florida is a huge underdog, and deservedly so. Bama has top talent and depth throughout it’s roster, and has had little trouble imposing it’s will on opponents all season. Despite good production on offense led by true freshman QB Jalen Hurts, the Crimson Tide defense again is the backbone of the team. The front seven is heavy with future NFL players led by DTs Jonathan Allen and Da’Shawn Hand. Their D-Line is stout against the run, but also consistently gets pressure with pass rush specialist Tim Williams. The Bama LB corps is led by Rueben Foster and Ryan Anderson, 2 more all-SEC caliber players that are smart and physical. Florida’s depleted O-Line will have trouble moving the ball with any regularity – it’s up to Coach Mac and Coach Nuss to realize this, try and spread the field with quick throws in space, and accept the fact that it will take success with low-percentage deep pass plays to make this a game. While CB Minkah Fitzpatrick is a playmaker and ball hawk, the loss of Eddie Jackson needs to be exploited, as the Tide secondary can be beaten occasionally. There really is nothing to lose, and there is no proof that the Gators can sustain a running game against this level of competition. Yes, the run game was effective in the second half at LSU, but this Bama front seven is better.

Florida’s defense is depleted further this week with more key injuries. DE Jordan Sherit is done with a knee injury, S Jaewon Taylor is out with a bad shoulder, and the key pair of LB Alex Anzalone and S Marcus Maye remain out. It does look like LB Jarrad Davis will give it a go after missing the past 3 games with ankle injuries – his leadership could prove valuable. There is still enough talent and depth along the D-Line led by Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie, and Taven Bryan to get a stalemate at the LOS, but will these guys (again) become worn down by another putrid performance by the Gator offense? The Bama running game is still strong led by a veteran O-Line and RBs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, but a few guys have been dinged up recently and they haven’t been gashing teams as often the past month. Hurts is threat to run as well as pass, but if the front seven can keep containment and force him to throw, he has shown he will turn the ball over. Calvin Ridley is an excellent WR and ArDarius Srewart is a deep threat, but the narrative is essentially the same as the previous 2 weeks – try to hold things in check up front, and lean on Tabor and Wilson to control the intermediate and deep passing game. Hopefully, TE OJ Howard will continue to be underutilized, as he is a tough matchup for slower LBs and smaller DBs – he could be a real threat in this game. Ultimately, the defense can’t afford to allow any easy scores, and must make Hurts prove he can move the Tide offense through the air.

Special Teams have to be just that this week – they somehow have to lead directly to a score or provide short fields for the offense at least twice. Townsend and Pineiro have answered the bell all season for the most part, and have to once again. It’s incumbent on the return game to find a way and break Callaway loose.

As much as I had hoped the end to 2016 would be different, it’s starting to feel like 2015 again. A bad loss to F$U, a difficult matchup with a strong Alabama team, and recruiting momentum stopped. I’m not sure how this game ultimately plays out, but unless Appleby is allowed to run occasionally and to take more deep shots, and the offense finds a way to give the defense a fighting chance, this will be another blow to Florida on the national stage and could cripple the 2017 recruiting class. Coach Mac is starting to hear the questions and feel the pressure that comes with being the head coach at Florida. He will need to make some difficult but necessary decisions as soon as this game is over in regards to his current staff and also hold together what was until last week a good recruiting lass. A solid showing against Alabama is the first, difficult step……he has a lot of things working against him right now.

Prediction: Alabama 37 Florida 13

LSU Review / Florida $t. Preview

Finally, some good fortune for the Gators! Despite tough odds playing with 8 missing starters and having to play a second straight year on the road at Baton Rouge, Florida gutted out a memorable 16-10 win that books a trip back to Atlanta as SEC East champions. That was a remarkable effort from the entire team and coaching staff. It wasn’t pretty at times, but timely playmaking and strong red-zone defense were enough to earn a much-deserved victory and shut up all of those corn dog fans and assclown AD Joe Alleva.

On a day defined by big plays such as the 98-yard TD pass from Austin Appleby to Tyrie Cleveland and great individual efforts such as Jordan Scarlett’s 102 yards rushing, everyone will remember the goal-line stand by the defense. That group forced 2 turnovers and allowed only 10 points on 5 trips by LSU into the red zone. The young LBs led by David Reese played very well, and the D-Line made enough individual big plays led by Caleb Brantley to turn back a physical Tiger rushing offense. How poetic that Derrius Guice, who ran his mouth all week about how Florida was scared to play LSU, fumbled in the first half at the Gator 2-yard line and was stuffed on the last play of the game. Watching the replay showed that every defender did a great job of holding their ground and not allowing any room to run. While the Gators were hurt by throws to the TEs, they weren’t going to have a repeat of 2015, when they allowed 2 long pass TDs to the WRs by simply failing to locate the ball on what should have been easy breakups or interceptions. Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson were in man coverage almost all afternoon, and held up well. Tabor also made a game-saving tackle on the last LSU drive by tackling D.J. Chark after Wilson had fallen down in coverage. LSU did move the ball well between the 20s, but the defense rose up when it counted most to save the day.

The Florida O-Line found it’s rhythm in the second half, churning out 2 long, time consuming drives by running right at LSU’s front seven and dominating the LOS. T.J. McCoy did a great job at center in his first-ever start, getting the line calls made and holding the point of attack. The guards were able to get to the second level and break Scarlett free for some big runs, but he also earned a lot of yards with very tough running and second effort. The passing game was not going to be relied upon unless absolutely necessary, and the defense made sure that Appleby didn’t have to win the game by throwing every down. The WRs did a great job of blocking for the running game and not getting down about the limited pass plays. Appleby was overly cautious at times when he had open field to run, but perhaps the staff had told him to protect himself at (almost) any cost. He was able to make critical completions in the second half to extend drives and the big TD to Cleveland (the second-longest pass TD in Gator football history) that completely changed the momentum of the game.

There was so much going against Florida coming in to this game, and it was gratifying to see them team respond with such a great performance. The entire LSU athletic dept. and team disrespected the Gators……and now get no respect after losing and being ridiculed across the country for their behavior. I hope they are looking forward to 2 straight trips to the Swamp!

There’s no time to rest on it’s laurels, as Florida now travels to Taliban City to face the Criminoles. The Gators certainly should come into this game with a lot of confidence from winning at LSU, and are trying to end a 3-game losing streak in the series.

This will be the 4th straight year that Florida comes into this game with a backup QB. At least Applebly has made some big plays at both Tennessee and LSU, and won’t be fazed by the night-game atmosphere. The game plan for the offense may look similar to LSU – try and win time of possession with the running game, and occasionally go for the big play with the pass. Given all of the recent turnover on the O-Line, pass protection is usually the hardest thing to solidify. I expect McCoy to start again at center, but David Sharpe has been a turnstile at LT in pass protection. Unfortuntely, Martez Ivey has an undisclosed leg injury and may not start. Kevaris Harkless may have to start at his 4th OL position this week. F$U’s strength on defense is it’s pass rush led by DeMarcus Walker, and that’s not a good matchup for Florida. If Appleby does get time to throw, the Criminole secondary has been vulnerable all season. It’s imperative to get the ball to Callaway and Cleveland in space for the opportunity of a big play. I look for a little better mix of passes on early downs, but still a heavy dose of Scarlett and Lemical Perine to try and keep the offense on schedule. I know the staff would like to let Appleby run more often on zone reads or scramble plays, but with zero experience backing him up those plays will have to come judiciously.

The Gator defense will be tested, as F$U mixes the run and pass well. They are led on offense by RB Dalvin Crook, and must make it a priority to slow him down first to force freshman QB Deondre Francois into passing downs. The Criminole O-Line has been a sieve in pass protection – Francois has taken a beating all season and can’t be anywhere near 100% health. He has played well given his inexperience and can be an elusive runner. However, he is susceptible to turnovers and his passing accuracy is only average. If the Gator D-Line can apply pressure and get hits on him, there will be opportunities for takeaways. They should be able to physically overmatch the F$U O-Line occasionally, but have to remain disciplined in their gaps because of Crook’s cutback ability and quickness. Once again Tabor and Wilson will be relied on heavily in man coverage against Travis Rudolph and the Criminole WRs. I expect F$U to be able to move the ball well at times – the Gator defense will need to limit explosive plays and stiffen in the red zone. Dumbo Fisher will try to expose the young LBs in pass coverage with screens and swing passes to the RBs, and that could be a real problem for the defense.

Florida’s special teams were certainly that against LSU, and have to repeat that performance. Johnny Townsend needs to continue his excellent punting, including pinning the opponent inside the 20. Eddy Pineiro has been a real weapon on kickoffs by not allowing many returns, and has found a groove on FGs that hopefully continues – he will be relied on this Saturday. The coverage teams will face some good return men and need to break down and contain. Callaway can hopefully break loose on a punt return, while Tabor has stepped in to help Chris Thompson on kickoff returns. Anything that can help flip field position will be welcomed.

As always, a lot rides on this game for Florida. Can the Gators finally put 2 quality efforts together? Of course it would be great to end the losing streak, but also to continue to gain momentum on the recruiting trail as there are several big-time targets both schools are fighting for. A lot of recruits are paying close attention to how Florida ends this season and whether they look consistently competitive against the best teams. The coaching staff has done an excellent job in keeping the team together despite so many injuries and off-the-field noise. Once again the Gators have to close ranks, find the right available personnel to match up with a talented opponent, and find a way to rise up emotionally to the challenge. I’m not sure if so many younger players are ready to perform again at a high level after so much effort went into the victory at LSU. At full strength, Florida has a good chance to win. With so many starters out……not so much

Prediction: Florida $t. 27 Florida 16

S. Carolina Review / LSU Preview

So much for the doomsayers and sky-is-falling crowd. South Carolina was no match for Florida in the Swamp, in a game where the score didn’t reflect the Gators’ domination. Florida should have been up at least 30 in the 3rd quarter if not for 2 terrible fumbles in the red zone. Not surprisingly, the Gator defense completely shut down the Lamecock offense and their supposed freshman sensation QB, only allowing a garbage time TD and some late yards with the backups playing. The D-Line controlled the LOS all afternoon, while David Reese, Kylan Johnson, and Vosean Joseph played well at LB despite their inexperience. Austin Appleby played to his strengths, and made enough plays with his arm and legs to spark the offense and provide some hope. Jordan Scarlett rumbled to over 100 yards, and Ahmad Fulwood (!) came straight off the missing person’s sticker on the milk carton to make some big catches and score a TD. It was good to see Coach Nuss force the ball to Antonio Callaway and let him make plays in space. Even though Appleby can’t read defense at LDR’s level, he can make athletic plays and make the long throw.

It was a solid showing overall, and always good to see Won’t Misschump get sent packing with another loss. Its just a shame the Gators didn’t roll up a bigger score to embarrass that clown. They did put on a good show for what was a huge recruiting weekend, with an excellent list of recruits in attendance. Coach Mac and the staff have to lock some of these kids down to restock the roster for 2017 while injecting some more juice into the offense.

The dark cloud that is injuries is getting bigger. Tyler Jordan left after the first play after getting rolled up by a teammate, David Sharpe had the same thing happen to him later in the 1st quarter, and Marcus Maye, the only real leader left on the defense, was injured in the 3rd quarter and had to be carted off with a broken arm. Talk about gutted like a fish – that’s 3 starting OL from a unit that was only average at best, and the strength of the defense up the middle in Jarrad Davis, Alex Anzalone, and Marcus Maye (Anzalone and Maye are out for the season – Davis is likely out for this week). Maybe some day good luck will return to this program, because it’s been in short supply for 7 years running.

It’s do-or-die time for Florida this week, having to travel to LSU to play the Tigers after Hurricane Matthew screwed up the scheduling. LSU AD Joe Alleva became a whiny bitch and got his way (for this season), making the Gators play in Baton Rouge for a second straight year. Win, and the Gators are SEC East champions and book a trip back to Atlanta. Lose, and it’s depend on the unlikely scenario that Tennessee loses at home to Missouri or at Vanderbilt, in which the Vols will have more fans at that game than the Commodores – pathetic.

For Florida to win on the road, it’s going to take big plays from all 3 phases. The defense will have to at least slow the rugged Tiger rushing game led by Leonard Fournette and Darius Guice, while generating a score of their own. The offense will play the fastest and toughest defense it will see in the regular season, and have to put a least 10 points together. And special teams will need to break Callaway loose on a punt return to either score or set up a short field for the offense. The O-Line is a M*A*S*H unit at this point, but perhaps for 1 game they can rise to the occasion. Martez Ivey looked good at his natural LT spot, while TJ McCoy filled in adequately at center. Jordan should be back this week, which helps the interior. Appleby’s mobility will be critical in this game, as the LSU D-Line will be after him all afternoon. Coach Nuss will have to continue to design rollouts for him, and also allow him to keep the ball on the read option – that worked very well against Carolina and can at least slow the pursuit of LSU’s front seven.

LSU’s offense is all predicated on establishing it’s power run game, as QB Danny Etling is nothing special as a passer, despite having quality weapons at WR in Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre, and D.J. Chark. The secondary will be on it’s own in man coverage all day, as the front seven will have it’s hands full with LSU’s running game. It all starts with RBs Fournette and Guice, possibly the best 1-2 punch in the country. They will pound the rock all afternoon, and the Gators front seven will have to play it’s best game of the season to just slow them down – I don’t see them being able to completely stop the Tiger running game. It’s imperative that the Florida DL play sound football, holding their gaps and not allowing cutback lanes. The LBs will have to play the game of their young lives – they need to tackle well and not overpursue. The Tiger defense is led by LB Kendall Beckwith, CB Tre’Davious White, and safety Jamal Adams. All are all-SEC caliber players. Florida will have to find a way to get some modicum of a running game going with Scarlett and Lemical Perine, and those 2 will also need to help in pass blocking and in the passing game to take pressure off of Appleby and sustain some drives. If the offense can’t give the defense some rest, there’s no way they will hold up with all of the critical losses they have suffered. Hopefully CeCe Jefferson can play some this week at DE, and I think Davis will give it a go at LB. His presence would be a huge boost to the entire team, even in limited action.

I hope the Gator coaching staff throw everything they can at LSU and can keep them off-balance enough to keep the game close into the 4th quarter. If the offense sputters again, it will another bad loss on the road, and likely a bitter end to the SEC season with no trip to Atlanta. As much as is riding on the outcome, the Gators can’t get too jacked up and make early mistakes – just do your job, and play hard and physical. Florida has a lot of pride to play for after embarrassing themselves on the road this season, and this would be a monumental win. Unfortunately, I don’t see Appleby and the offense making enough happen on their own, and the defense cracking due to the inexperience it brings in at LB and getting worn down as the game progresses.

Prediction: LSU 30 Florida 13

Arkansas Review / South Carolina Preview

Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth. After Tennessee lost at S. Carolina last week to open the door for Florida to win the SEC East by winning 2 out it’s last 3 conference games, the Gators were barbecued in the Ozarks, embarrassing themselves in a 31-10 defeat that was not as close as the score. Another brutal performance by the offense from the first snap to the last completely took away any incentive for the defense to soldier on. The game plan by Doug Nussmeier is grounds for immediate dismissal – coming out throwing against a team that just yielded over 500 yards rushing by Auburn with a QB that simply isn’t a SEC-caliber player was unconscionable. 5 carries by Jordan Scarlett, and 2 crippling interceptions by LDR, one a pick 6 on the first offensive play. Unacceptable.

To add injury to insult, Alex Anzalone is out for the year with a broken arm, Jarrad Davis had to leave with his recurring ankle injury, Cam Dillard has a knee injury that could keep him out until the bowl game, CeCe Jefferson has a foot injury that will limit him at least the coming week, and finally LDR is gone with a shoulder injury suffered late in the first half. Coach Mac stated he should have sat him down, but respected his toughness. Well, the performance didn’t merit that respect, and now it’s Austin Appleby’s chance to save the season.

The best thing to happen for Arkansas was a week off to regroup, get angry, and take it to Florida. I predicted a Razorback win, and was pessimistic all week about the game. But the (lack of) performance was disheartening to the defense and fans. This crap has to stop.

It’s back to the Swamp for the final home game of 2016 against South Carolina, with Will Misschump coming back to the place he tore down to try and pile on to the current negative momentum for the Gators. No one thought this game would even be competitive, but with all of the injuries and roster turnover on Florida’s side, this suddenly becomes a very important game for the Gators current SEC hopes, how the entire season is remembered, and also for recruiting. After the horrid performance at Arkansas, the coaching staff has to swing for the fences with the players filling in.

On offense, most of the attention will be on Appleby, but the O-Line will have to be revamped. Tyler Jordan will move from guard to center, Fred Johnson will start at Jordan’s spot, but expect to see an 8-man rotation with Kevaris Harkless, Richard Desir-Jones, and Brandon Sandifer getting snaps. It’s time to force the ball the Antonio Callaway, no matter if the defense is keying on him. You can put him in motion, use him on sweeps, and make sure he gets at least 8-10 targets in the passing game. No other WR seems to have the confidence of the staff, so go with your horse. To help Appleby out, make sure to feed the ball to Scarlett and Perine in the running game, and use the swing passes to the RBs more often. Appleby doesn’t have to try and do too much, but he has a much better arm than LDR and is a better runner – coach and game plan to his strengths. It also appears that Coach Mac is ready to pull the redshirt off of one of the freshmen QBs as the backup, and right now Felipe Franks has the edge over Kyle Trask. Franks is an elite athlete who could be effective in limited action with a specific script of plays. The Carolina defense is middling at best, but right now Florida’s offense makes any defense look good. Coach Nuss has to shake things up this week to inject some excitement into the players and generate points.

The defense will still have to be leaned upon, despite the myriad injuries. With both starting LBs out, freshmen Kylan Johnson, David Reese, Vosean Joseph, and Jeremiah Moon have to step into the void and perform. Jarrad Davis will likely dress out, but hopefully doesn’t need to take the field – his ankle injury needs the rest. The D-Line is still playing a lot of guys with injuries, but there’s too much on the line now to rest guys. The Gator secondary should have little problem with the Gamecock WRs – there are no game-breakers in that group. Carolina is starting true freshman Jake Bentley at QB. He has put up decent stats so far against mediocre competition, but is taking a major step up in competition. I know a lot of fans are down on the Gators right now, but I can’t wait to see Florida’s defense get after this kid – he has no idea what he’s up against Saturday, and I hope he gets punished. I expect Brandon McIlwain to get some snaps at QB as a change up because of his running ability, but he poses little threat as a passer.

It’s all hands on deck, literally, to get back some positive momentum, get the win this week, and set up a win-and-in scenario the following week at LSU. Unfortunately, this game will be another noon start, so expect far from a sellout crowd to help cheer the Gators on. With all of the strangeness that has been the 2016 season to date, now the drama of Misschump returning to Gainesville gets added to the mix. He and Trevaris Robinson have done nothing but bad-mouth Florida since they were let go (while still getting paid by UF), and need to get their asses kicked and punched in the mouth. I know Coach Mac wants this game badly, on top of it’s importance to the Gators’ SEC chances. I think the embarrassment of last week will motivate the players, and the entire coaching staff has something to prove as well. It could be another offensive grind for Florida, but I think Appleby can do enough on offense, and the home field will certainly help. Losing to MIsschump simply can’t be allowed to happen.

Prediction: Florida 23 S. Carolina 13