USF Review / Alabama Preview

Florida easily dispatched South Florida 42-20 in Tampa, but the end result was one of inconsistent play, questionable QB decisions from Emory Jones, and possible critical injury news.

The Gators rolled up over 660 yards of offense, dominating the first half to take a commanding 35-3 lead.  All was well – a solid running game and some excellent TD throws and runs from both Jones and Anthony Richardson.  Then the second half came, and Jones reverted back to his surprisingly slow pass reads and bad decision-making, throwing 2 horrendous picks to end long drives, and opening up the QB controversy door even wider.  AR-15 was again an explosive playmaker, with a long TD pass to Copeland and a spectacular 80-yard TD run……which ended with a hamstring strain and now clouds Florida’s chances this week.  It was obvious Coach Mullen wanted to emphasize the passing game more to get both QBs some reps, and the WRs played well.

Florida’s defense was again average.  The D-line was facing an overmatched opponent and controlled the LOS, but the LB and secondary play again seemed to be sabotaged by a crap scheme from DC Todd Grantham and poor LB coaching from Christian Robinson.  South Florida’s offense is poor, and yet the defense allowed 3 long, double-digit play drives, making both Bull QBs look efficient at times.  Still way too many guys out of position, playing slow and not instinctively, and sometimes blowing assignments.  They did force 2 interceptions, but why Grantham won’t allow more aggressiveness from the secondary is beyond me.  Finally, it appears MLB and defensive leader Ventrell Miller will miss the rest of the season with surgery due to a torn biceps tendon.  This is a massive blow to the defense, as he’s the guy getting the calls from the sideline, helping guys get into proper position, and far and away the best run defender.

It’s on to the much-anticipated showdown with Alabama at the Swamp, and Gator Nation has a lot to be concerned about.  The Florida offense has not really been challenged by a solid defense with talent and depth, but now gets thrown into the deep end of the pool against a Crimson Tide team that continues to roll along, now with an improved defense compared to the past 2 seasons.

The Gator defense faces a monster task against an Alabama offense that comes in with a dominant O-line, solid running game, and enough talent at WR to help redshirt freshman QB Bryce Young develop while still playing efficiently and providing big plays with both his arm and legs.  Young has been efficient so far with 7 TD passes and no interceptions.  What he hasn’t done much of is run the ball on called QB runs, as I”m sure the Bama staff wants him to protect himself from injury so they don’t have to call upon backups with no real experience.  He has shown enough mobility to keep plays alive and not take losses.  Their O-line is led by All-American candidate LT Evan Neal, and has numerous talented players and quality depth – this unit has been the unsung key to Bama’s offensive juggernaut the past decade.  The RBs are led by Brian Robinson and Trey Sanders – both are physical and tough to tackle.  The WRs are led by John Metchie and Ohio St. transfer Jameson Williams, who both have excellent speed.  This WR group is nothing like the embarrassment of riches Bama has enjoyed the past 6 years with multiple players being selected in the 1st round of the NFL Draft, but they have been effective and made enough explosive plays to date to stretch defenses and open up the running game.

For the Gators to win, the defensive line has to play lights out for 60 minutes.  They have to somehow at least get a stalemate at the LOS to slow the running game and force Young to beat them by passing the ball by necessity.  The loss of Ventrell Miller at MLB for perhaps the rest of the season is a huge issue, as he was by far the best run-stuffer of the LB unit.  I’m not sure how well the rest of the LBs, led by Mohamoud Diabate and Amari Burney, will stand up to the physical challenge.  It looks like Jeremiah Moon is being asked to move from the Buck position to try and shore up the inside, and Ty’Ron Hopper will see an increased role.  Florida’s secondary has to find good CB play opposite Kaiir Elam – Avery Helm and Jason Marshall have the raw physical ability but simply lack experience, and have been picked on the first 2 games.  The safeties have been out of position too often, and that includes Trey Dean.  Grantham’s defensive scheme still seems to confuse his own players too often, and this will kill any chance of victory unless something significant changes.

Florida’s offense has been very effective the first 2 games, but I’m afraid a lot of that is simply fool’s gold against outmanned opponents.  I do think the O-line looks more crisp in it’s assignments, but that’s compared to previous mediocre units,  The task ahead on Saturday is a massive leap in difficulty.  Bama’s D-line is likely the most talented and deepest in the country, led by Tim Smith, Justin Eboigbe, and Byron Young.  The same can be said for their LB corps – Christian Harris, Tennessee transfer Henry To’oTo’o, and puss-rush specialist Will Anderson, Jr. are all studs, and again there is plenty of quality depth behind them.  They lost Christopher Allen to a foot injury in the Miami game, but they continue to roll on because of top-ranked recruiting classes every year.  The Gator QBs had better be ready to run the ball with determination to try and keep Bama from loading the box.  They likely will be forced to often because Bama’s front seven is that good, and I’m afraid Florida’s O-line is going to have some real struggles.  The Gators have enough quality RBs with Malik Davis, Dameon Pierce, Nay’Quan Wright, and Demarkus Bowman to challenge anyone……but you can’t be effective if you don’t have running lanes and room to operate.  I think we will see the RBs incorporated much more in the passing game this week to alleviate the pressure on the QBs and hopefully help put together some extended drives.

Jones will get the start at QB, but there are some serious concerns about his passing and where his head is at – he’s had 4 terrible and costly interceptions so far and has looked slow in his reads.  Anthony Richardson has been incredibly dynamic both running and passing, but has benefitted from using his athletic ability to bail him out against weaker opponents.  He’s day-to-day with his hamstring injury, but has been getting some practice reps in this week.  Dan Mullen has a huge dilemma – does he risk shelving AR-15 for many games to come in and try to pull off the upset, or does he ride-or-die with Jones and save AR-15 for the balance of the season?  We’ll find out on Saturday, but without Richardson and the threat of the big play, it looks bleak.  If the O-line can stand up and give the QBs some time, I believe the Gator WRs can find success.  Alabama has some good DBs in Marcus Banks, Malachi Moore, Daniel Wright, and Jordan Battle, but they can be beaten for some big gains when actually forced to cover by the opponent.  Jacob Copeland, Xavier Henderson, and Justin Shorter must get separation and make some big plays downfield, while Trent Wittemore has to work the seams and underneath the zones to help move the chains. 

What can be done to help pull off the upset?  As has happened in the past, turnovers and big special teams plays can do it.  Somehow, the Gator defense has to force mistakes from Young and also be ballhawks – strip sacks, tipped passes, stripping ball carriers.  Sadly, this hasn’t been much in evidence under Grantham with his soft coverage and bend-but-try-not-to-break defenses.  There’s no reason to hold back anything schematically or physically, but until I see it on the field, I can’t expect it. 

It’s amazing that Florida is more than a 2 TD underdog at the Swamp, but that just shows how dominant Alabama and Nick Saban have been for so long.  They have been the ultimate proof that winning is a habit – especially winning big games – and have all the hardware to prove it.  Mullen is 0-10 against Alabama, and hasn’t done much better against other quality opponents.  I don’t see a path for a Florida victory that doesn’t include an Alabama implosion comprised of multiple turnovers plus busted assignments allowing some Gator offensive TDs.  Dan Mullen can scheme up all he wants for the offense, but Grantham’s defense is so pedestrian that any decent offense with a capable QB should have little trouble carving it up.  The Swamp will be electric at the start, but will Bama race out to an early lead as it usually does and pull the plug on the crowd?  The longer this game stays close, the more Young and the Tide will start feeling the heat.  It can happen, but not without the aforementioned turnovers and big plays.  I will see it live and firsthand but am not expecting it.

Prediction: Alabama 38 Florida 17

Oklahoma Preview

Florida travels to Arlington, Texas for a Cotton Bowl matchup with the Oklahoma Sooners.  Interestingly enough, this is the first ever appearance for the Gators in one of the longest-running bowl games in history.  The fact that Florida remained 7th in the CFP standings after losing 3 games shows a ton of respect from the committee and gives Florida a chance at finishing a trying season with a win against a big-name opponent.

Despite this being one of the few big games outside of the Playoffs, this is starting to feel more like an exhibition.  Florida has been gutted by opt-outs, injuries, and Covid:

Kyle Pitts (opt-out)

Kedarius Toney (opt-out)

Trevon Grimes (opt-out)

Jacob Copeland (Covid)

Kyree Campbell (opt-out)

Ventrell Miller (injury)

Marco Wilson (opt-out)

Shawn Davis (injury)

That’s a loss of over 75% of receiving receptions, yards, and touchdowns, the best run defenders at DL and LB, a 4-year starting CB, and the most experienced safety.  Other than that – “all is well”…as Kevin Bacon’s character in ‘Animal House’ stated during the parade chaos.  LMAO.

What a shame after such an entertaining season, but that’s what happens when your defense blows a Playoff spot in the current era of college football where the Playoffs have such a disproportionate weight.  It looks like Kyle Trask will suit up and start, but how long he plays is a significant question.  There are some talented younger receivers like Justin Shorter and Xzavier Handerson to try and take up some of the slack, but it will be almost impossible to approach that amount of talent loss and production.  Unless the Gators somehow discover a running game to provide some balance, backup TEs Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer, along with all of the running backs, will be called upon to step up and give Trask and/or Emory Jones all of the help they can.  If the passing game struggles, I expect Jones to get more snaps than many expect, both to help with the running game and also to get some experience prior to taking over as the starting QB in 2021.

Oklahoma actually played decent defense for the first time in at least 5 years – nothing spectacular, but compared to the sieve they were previously, definitely improved.  Their secondary came up with 13 interceptions during the year, led by CBs Tre Brown and Tre Norwood.  Fortunately for Florida, Brown has chosen to opt-out of the game, which hopefully lessens the impact of losing all of the main receiving contributors.  The Sooner front seven is led by LBs Brian Asamoah, DaShaun White and Nick Bonitto, along with sack leader DE Isaiah Thomas.  They racked up 36 sacks in 9 games, so once again the Gator O-line will be challenged to keep Trask and Jones relatively clean, especially having to find less experienced targets when passing.

After enjoying a crazy run of elite QB play (Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts), this is not a vintage Lincoln Riley offense.  The Sooners are still potent with freshman Spencer Rattler and skill players RB Rhamondre Stevenson and WRs Marvin Mims and Theo Wease, but average more than 2 touchdowns less per game and don’t run plays at the breakneck speed they did under their previous Heisman winners.  Their O-line is also a step down from previous units, as the running game isn’t as strong and Rattler has to scramble often to extend plays.  Given how poorly Florida’s defense has played all season, maybe none of that matters, but one can hope.  With Campbell out, freshman Gervon Dexter will get a lot of snaps at DT.  The loss of Wilson may not be as significant, as he has struggled mightily all season.  Young CBs Jaydon HIll and Tre’Vez Johnson will get their opportunity to make an early push for starting status in 2021.  Trey Dean seems to have locked down a starting spot at safety, and Brad Stewart is coming off of perhaps his best game as a Gator against Alabama.  If…if the young secondary can make Rattler go through his progressions, the Gator pass rushers, led by Brenton Cox, Chris Bogle,and Zack Carter, should be able to disrupt the pocket and get some sacks.

I expect Oklahoma to have a decided advantage in the number of fans allowed to attend the game.  The state of Texas has very relaxed Covid protocol rules regarding attendance limitations, and it’s a short trip for OU fans to simply drive down to Jerry World vs. a very long drive or a riskier plane trip from around the country for Gator fans.  The Florida fan base has to be shaken as well after seeing the offense gutted like a fish and a handful of defenders that actually made some plays this season out as well.  I’m not sure what frame of mind the Gator players will be in.  Have they checked out after losing to Alabama?  Will the absence of so many star players simply be too much to overcome in so short a time?  Will guys that do play and have a chance to be in the NFL Draft be more concerned about staying healthy instead of playing with all-out physical effort?  The coaching staff has a major challenge ahead – can they motivate a suddenly much younger and inexperienced team?

Both Florida and Oklahoma have solid special teams.  Sooner placekicker Gabe Brkic has had an almost identical season to the Gators’ Evan McPherson.  One big impact is Florida losing Toney as a kick returner  – that is a major blow.

After the grind of a Covid season that included so many stops and starts going back to the spring, along with playing 11 straight SEC games, it will be a huge task in gearing up for a game with no title implications.  I hope the Gators can end the season with a win after the players endured so much in 2020.  It’s going to be a tough ask – even if Trask plays (and plays well), there may be too much to overcome.  Oklahoma has a young team that has improved after a 1-2 start, is playing much closer to home, and is familiar with the venue.  Sadly, this game is starting to feel like the opposite of the Florida v. Michigan Peach Bowl of 2 years ago

Prediction: Oklahoma 34 Florida 31

Orange Bowl Preview

Florida gets rewarded for another 10-win season and top-10 ranking with it’s second consecutive New Year’s Six game – this time in the Orange Bowl to play the Virginia Cavaliers.

This is great for the program for many reasons.  First is the ability to practice and be seen in the fertile South Florida recruiting region, with scUM currently a dumpster fire.  It also shows future recruits around the country that Dan Mullen has the program headed in a winning direction again.  Finally, it’s a great reward for the guys that either stayed with or came into the the program to turn things around and reinvigorate the Florida brand nationally.

Virginia is led by head coach Bronco Mendenhall, and the team reflects his personality – fundamentally sound and tough.  Their offense is led by senior QB Bryce Perkins, a true dual-threat QB with almost 200 carries this year.  He is the focus of the Cavaliers’ attack, and the key to whether the Gator defense can slow or shut down Virginia and make it a long night for them.  Perkins isn’t terribly accurate as a thrower, but can hit some big plays on scrambles or if a play breaks down and he improvises.  His main target is WR Joe Reed – Reed is a 1st-Team ACC player, and also a dangerous kick returner with 2 kickoff returns for scores.  The Gators will have one of their better CBs on him all night, and occasionally roll a safety over the top to keep him on check.  The only other ballcarrier with significant snaps is RB Wayne Taulapapa who averages only 10 carries a game, but has 12 rushing TDs.  The Gator defense seems to match up well against Virginia’s attack.  If the front seven does it’s usual good job of controlling the LOS, the DEs are going to make things very tough on Perkins.  It appears that both Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga will play – a huge boost in contrast to many star players sitting out bowl games.  Unfortunately, CB CJ Henderson will be one of those, so freshman Kaiir Elam gets a chance to start and make a name for himself.

Florida’s offense should have success as long as they come motivated to play and keep Kyle Trask upright.  Virginia’s defensive strength is in their LB corps, which plays sound football and tackles well.  However, there is no one outstanding talent that can’t be handled, and the Gator WRs could have another big game.  Indications are that everyone available will play, so Trask has his entire compliment of weapons.  Here’s hoping that the rest and extra practice has the O-line playing one of it’s best games and allowing RB Lamical Perine to go out a winner with some good running and pass-catching.

Head Coach Dan Mullen wants this win in order to keep the positive momentum going for the program, get more top-level recruits interested in Florida, and continue to widen the distance between Florida and it’s in-state rivals F$U and scUM.  He and the staff have shown the ability to keep their players motivated and playing hard, and that will be challenged by a lackluster opponent and a Monday night game after the CFP games have already been played.

Bowl games can be tricky to handicap – some players sit out to avoid injury before leaving for the NFL, some players play but ‘protect’ themselves from injury before the NFL draft, and some are dealing with baby mommas/agents/runners for agents/other distractions that take away from their usual focus.  Finally, Virginia comes in with the motivation to rehabilitate their image after getting completely embarrassed by Clemson in the ACCCG, and I believe they will be fired up for this game.  Florida needs to be ready from the start to match the Cavaliers’ intensity.  The Gators are similar to Clemson in team speed, and ultimately I think they pull away in the second half.

Prediction: Florida 34 Virginia 20

Florida $tate Review

Florida put a second straight beatdown on the Taliban City Losers with a 40-17 win that wasn’t as close as the score suggested.  The only reason the game was even that close was halftime – at that point the Gators were completely dominating the Criminoles on offense and defense, and the break prevented a mercy killing in the Swamp.

As expected, Florida’s strength on offense – the passing game – was a perfect attack to employ, as F$U’s pass defense was horrid all season.  Just like a bad matchup in the NCAA basketball tournament, you could see this was gonna be a long night for their defense, which only made me especially happy that it happened under the watch of interim head coach Odell Haggins, who hates the Gators.  Deal with it Odell……again.

The O-line again struggled to generate a running game, and even were stuffed late in the 3rd quarter with a first-and-goal inside the 1……unacceptable.  More reason to put Coach Hevesy on notice in 2020.  That really bothered me, as Coach Mullen could have just given Lamical Perine a last touchdown run in the Swamp on Senior Night but didn’t even have him in the game.  But it didn’t even matter, as Kyle Trask and the WRs toyed with F$U all night, doing pretty much as they pleased.  Only a few missed deep throws by Trask and a missed RB pass form Kadarius Toney to Dante Lang prevented a 50+ point output.

The defense did as I expected – giving up a big play to each of the only two players on FSU’s offense that are legit talents – WR Tamorrion Terry and RB Cam Akers – but shut down everything else for the most part.  The only real complaint was (again) the safeties getting burned deep 2-3 times……they were lucky James Blackman was harassed and missed open receivers for some big plays.  I still can’t believe Akers didn’t enter the transfer portal after last season to get the hell away from that sinking ship……but at least he’ll leave early for the NFL now.  The Gator pass rush racked up 8 sacks and numerous pressures, and never let either F$U QB get comfortable in the pocket.  Jonathan Greenard added 3 more sacks, and should be 1st team all-SEC.  The open-field tackling was adequate, but there were some bad misses by the safeties that allowed a few scoring drives to continue.

Finally, in the ultimate act of schadenfreude, the ACC referees allowed to officiate this game in Gainesville for the first time since the Swindle in the Swamp in 2003 absolutely killed F$U with crushing penalties at the most inopportune times, extending Gator scoring drives and even reversing a Gator turnover.  It was beautiful to watch.

Florida finishes the 2019 regular season at 10-2, which betters the 2018 record of 9-3.  Now the Gators await the results of the conference championship games and the final CFP rankings to see where they fall in the bowl pecking order.  If Florida somehow gets shut out of a New Year’s Six bowl game that would be a disgrace, but it’s college football, and weird, inexplicable things happen.  I’m hoping for an Orange Bowl bid, but the Cotton Bowl is in play as well.

On the heels and momentum of a state championship, Mullen and his staff are now hitting the recruiting trail hard to close on some potential stud players, with some new names popping up on the board now.  There is still some real dead weight on the staff in regards to recruiting (OL – Hevesy, Safety – English, RB – Knox, TE – Scott), and Mullen can only do so much on his own……he needs the position coaches to pull their weight, and we’re going to see soon if they will.

Given the circumstances of how the season developed – especially the season-ending injury to Feleipe Franks, recurring injuries to Jabari Zuniga and Greenard, and no real running game almost the entire season, Coach Mullen gets tons of respect for coaching around the deficiencies and getting to 10 wins, and also being in the LSU and Georgia games deep into the 4th quarter.  F$U and scUM continue to struggle and regress, and it’s time to bury them deeper as well as start to reduce the talent gap between Florida and the 5-6 schools nationally that have dominated recruiting the past 6-8 years.

I’ll be back with my bowl preview later in December.  Enjoy another successful football season, a state championship, and the holidays to come.

Go Gators!

Florida $t. Preview

Florida ends it’s 2019 regular season with its annual rivalry game against Florida $t. in the Swamp.  The Gators ended a painful 5-year losing streak in the series last year in Taliban City, and look to build on that by extending its own streak.

F$U has had a miserable season and (unfortunately) did the right thing by blowing out Slick Willie Taggart 3 weeks ago.  Odell Haggins has taken over in the interim, and the players actually respect him and have played harder recently.  It’s just a shame that they are already bowl-eligible, as the Gators would have loved to prevent the Criminoles from going bowling a second consecutive year.  F$U’s identity this season has been to start fast on offense, then do little to nothing in the second half while the defense collapses.

F$U’s offense has been wildly inconsistent all season, partly due to the uneven play of starting QB James Blackman backup Alex Hornibrook, but moreso by a weak O-line that has performed even worse than Florida’s.  The Criminoles have racked up some big numbers against weaker competition, but have struggled against decent or good opponents.  RB Cam Akers is the best player on the entire roster, and the sole hope they have to be competitive in this game.  He is an excellent runner and also a consistent threat as a receiver out of the backfield.  The only real receiving threat is WR Tamorrion Terry, who has size and deep speed.  The Gator front seven need to remain disciplined and not get fooled by the motion and quick pace of OC Kendal Briles’ offense, which he brought from Baylor.  If the Florida DTs can at a minimum get a stalemate at the LOS or get occasional penetration in the gaps, it could be a long night for F$U’s offense.  The DEs, led by Jonathan Greenard, should be able to disrupt the pocket consistently against the poor OTs, and need to get either QB off their spot and first read.  Jeremiah Moon is out with a foot injury, but it appears that Jabari Zuniga will get at least limited snaps.  The secondary should match up well against any spread sets, especially now that Marco Wilson has moved to the Star position and can slow down the slot receivers and help control the middle of the field.  F$U has enough talent at the skill positions overall to make some plays, but if the LBs and safeties can tackle well in space and force the Criminoles into long drives, that should be enough to disrupt their offense, as it thrives on big plays and isn’t built for long, ball-control drives.  The tackling against Missouri was as good as it’s been all year, and that offense with a mobile QB could help as a preview for what to expect Saturday night. 

On offense, Florida’s passing game matches up well against F$U’s pass defense, which has struggled all season both in coverage and open-field tackling.  The Gator WR corps has a decided advantage in size, speed, and depth.  As always, as long as the O-line can keep Trask clean and relatively upright, he and the receivers should be effective most of the night moving the ball.  It remains to be seen if Mullen can somehow coax any semblance of a running game, which could hit some big plays if the passing game is clicking early.  I have a feeling that Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce may be able to break free for a few chunk plays.  F$U’s defense has been hurt by season-ending injuries to DT Marvin Wilson (a future high draft pick) and LB/safety Jaiden Woodbey, but there’s no sympathy felt here – go after their replacements and keep the pressure on all game long.

Florida’s special teams have a decided advantage.  PK Evan McPherson and P Tommy Townsend have excelled all season, and the coverage units have been some of the best in the nation.  It’s a luxury and a real bonus to field position, and has been a huge help to both the offense and defense.  These hidden yards can’t be underestimated in the Gators’ success this year.  

It’s Senior Day, a chance for the first 10-win regular season since 2015, and the opportunity for Florida to set itself up for a New Year’s Six game.  The bigger goals of winning the SEC East and playing in Atlanta weren’t achieved, but there are still some significant things to play for, and there should be plenty of motivation to put on a great performance.  As always, in-state recruiting is impacted by this game, and Florida can continue to distance itself from scUM and F$U by winning the state title and closing the gap on the SEC schools it still trails in both talent and in the standings.  The Swamp should be electric at night for this game, and Gator Nation is ready to see another winning performance against the Criminoles.

Prediction: Florida 34 Florida $t. 17

Missouri Review

Florida took care of its business in Columbia with a workmanlike 23-6 win over Missouri that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.  The Gators didn’t play an entirely clean game, especially in the first half, but played hard, stayed focused, and proved their superiority over the Tigers with a dominant second half.

Kyle Trask once again was called upon to lead the offense despite no running game to provide any balance, and he did with 284 yards and 2 TDs, both in the 3rd quarter to essentially end the game.  Van Jefferson was the primary target most of the afternoon and was open most of the day.  Josh Hammond and Lamical Perine caught the 2 TS throws from Trask, with Perine making a great catch in traffic – especially good for a running back.  Emory Jones received the most snaps he has in a meaningful game since Auburn, and responded with a handful of good runs to extend drives and one long completion to Kedarious Toney setting up a FG.  The O-line again was pushed around trying to run block, but was able to give Trask just enough time to make some reads and get the ball out.  They did allow 4 sacks, though mostly from inside rushes where the guard play has fallen off recently due to injury and inexperience.

The Gator defense made life miserable for the Tigers and QB Kelly Bryant all afternoon, repeatedly getting penetration into the backfield, harassing him on many throws, and getting 3 sacks and multiple tackles for loss.  The front seven did a pretty good job limiting RB Larry Roundtree, but did get hurt by some designed runs and scrambles by Bryant that extended a few drives that led to their only points.  The pass coverage in the intermediate zones was solid – TE Albert Okwuegbunam was held to 4 catches for 26 yards, and the tackling was better than it has been in weeks, limited yards after the catch.  The improvement in coverage with Marco Wilson playing the Star position was immediately noticeable.  Kaiir Elam got the most snaps he has all season at CB, while Trey Dean moved for Star to CB and at least looked more comfortable – I still think he may be better suited for safety.  The safeties tackled well and didn’t allow any passes over the top.

Special teams were on point as they have been all season.  Evan McPherson made all 3 of his FG attempts, Tommy Townsend averaged 46 yards on his punts with 4 placed inside the 20, and the kick coverage was solid.

Defense and special teams need to travel on the road in the SEC, and this was just another example of that.  Missouri never had any momentum, and knew they would have to be more lucky than good to make anything happen as the game progressed.

Credit to Dan Mullen and his staff for having his players in the right mindset for this game.  No need to look backwards at the embarrassing losses under Won’t Misschump, the Swamp Donkey, or even last year.  No need to be concerned about the weather (it was fine).  No need to read too much into Missouri’s home record which was built up against garbage teams.  Just go out and play hard, and the better team (Florida) would win.

There are still a few goals to achieve for this year’s team – win 10 regular season games, beat F$U, and get into another New Year’s Six bowl game.  The Gators have their 3rd bye week of the season to rest, get as healthy as possible, and throw everything they have at the Criminoles and beat those clowns down – again.

I’ll be back next week with my game preview.  Happy Thanksgiving, and Go Gators!

Vanderbilt Review / Missouri Preview

Florida came out and dominated Vanderbilt from the start with a 56-0 shutout that was as easy as the score indicated.  For a change, the Gators didn’t struggle with Vandy after a tough game (win or lose), completely shutting down the Commodore offense while getting untracked on offense late in the first quarter and never looking back.

The Gator defense took advantage of the ‘Dores having to play their 3rd-team QB, focusing on controlling RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn and their running game.  After establishing control of the LOS, Vandy’s passing game was never going to be a threat, and the defense held the ‘Dores to 128 total yards while racking up 6 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 1 fumble recovery returned for a TD by Jonathan Greenard.  Vanderbilt is 126th out of 130 FBS schools in scoring offense, and simply were outclassed all afternoon.

On offense, Florida again struggled to establish a consistent running game, but completely overwhelmed Vandy’s pass defense as Kyle Trask rolled up 363 yards with 3 passing TDs and one running TD.  Emory Jones was able to get a decent number of snaps throughout the game and was efficient throwing and running, including 3 rushing TDs.  The WRs were mismatches for Vandy’s secondary and consistently gained separation all afternoon.  Trask did have 2 interceptions – one was simply a poor read on his part – still some learning to do.  True freshman Ethan White filled in at right guard for the suddenly departed Chris Bleich, while redshirt freshman Richard Gouriage started in place of the injured Brett Heggie at left guard.  It was a glimpse of the future, and they did an adequate job in relief. 

It’s on to Missouri, which has (sadly) won 4 of 7 against Florida since joining the SEC.  For some reason the Gators never seem to go into this game with any real enthusiasm, and the results have reflected that attitude.  Gator Nation is sick of these interlopers having the upper hand, and it sure would be nice to go up to Columbia and punish the Tigers.

Florida’s defense will have to focus on stopping Missouri’s running game first, led by Larry Roundtree.  Tyler Badie is the 3rd down back, and has been effective all season catching the ball out of the backfield.  The Tigers usually have a physical O-Line, and have pushed the Gators around too often in the series.  It’s unknown if Kelly Bryant will be their starting QB, due to a hamstring injury.  If he plays, he is normally a legit dual-threat who could prove to be difficult to contain by the front seven, which has been struggling due to injuries.  Hopefully, he is at least slowed by his injury if he does indeed start.  If he can’t go then backup Taylor Powell will start – he did not impress at Georgia as the Tigers were punked 27-0.  Missouri has one of the best TEs in the country in Albert Okwuegbunam, and he will be a difficult matchup for the Gator secondary.  WRs Johnathon Johnson, Jonathan Nance, and Kam Scott are all good receivers.  The Tigers will be a stern test for Florida’s defense all day.  I can only hope that DC Todd Grantham changes things up in the secondary in regards to both coverages and personnel.  It’s time to move Trey Dean back to CB or possibly to safety and possibly let Marco Wilson man the Star position.  If the secondary isn’t allowed to mix in some press coverage and plays soft again, it could be along, cold afternoon.

On offense, Florida will again have to employ the formula that has been the most successful this season – pass first and lean on Trask and the WRs to make enough plays to win the game.  Missouri’s defense is solid, and will come after Trask and the weak O-line.  The Tiger secondary plays aggressively, and could be susceptible to giving up some big plays if Trask is given time.  Florida really needs Heggie to return at guard, to try and help generate some semblance of a running game for Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce.

After getting embarrassed many times by Missouri recently, it’s time for Florida to rise up and make a statement this week.  It will be a chilly day in Columbia with temps in the 40s for the game, but it should be a dry track.  The Gators will enjoy their 3rd bye week after this game, so they should be able to roll out almost everyone that is healthy enough to play – and they likely will need them.  As much as I’d like a dominant victory, I feel this one will not be decided until the 4th quarter, and will take a solid effort from all 3 phases to win.

Prediction: Florida 24 Missouri 20

Georgia Review / Vanderbilt Preview

What a waste.  The Gators had every opportunity to win the East and go on to bigger things, but the defense simply could never get off of the field at any critical moment, leading to a 24-17 loss that leaves fans and players to wonder “what if?”, which never amounts to anything.  The team looked flat most of the game, and there was little to no juice on the sidelines – puzzling.  Too many mental mistakes and some poor coaching decisions were enough to expose all of the weaknesses this team has and has tried to cover up until now.

The run defense did an excellent job in allowing only 117 yards playing against the best O-Line and RB in Deandre Swift they will see all year.  And then……they allowed 12 of 18 3rd down conversions……many 8 yards or more……AND NEVER GENERATED ONE 3-AND-OUT SERIES THE ENTIRE GAME 😱😠💀  “3rd-and Grantham” personified.  Georgia has converted 12 3rd downs in a game only twice in it’s history – in 2017 and now – both against Todd Grantham defenses.  Let that sink in.  This allowed the Gator offense only 7 possessions the entire game, of which 3 were converted into scores.  One was ended by a terrible booth review generated not by the game official but by the league office in Birmingham (hasn’t happened all season), one by a terrible play call on 4th-and-1 in the first quarter, and one when Trask made his only bad play of the afternoon by taking a 19 yard sack instead of throwing the ball away after the Gators (again) had easily moved into Georgia territory.  Talk about frustrating – seeing the offense move the ball through the air despite no commitment to running the ball – but never getting enough opportunities to cash in one or two more scores to win the game.  The front seven played bravely, but the pass defense was horrendous.  Way too many completions against air, and a lack of consistent pressure on the QB.  I hate to do it, but I am going to call out a few guys.  Trey Dean is completely lost at the Star position, and may need to be moved to safety.  Speaking of which……Shawn Davis busted a coverage leading to a wide open TD pass to Lawrence Cager, and Brian Stewart gave up the last 3rd down conversion by simply not being able to knock down a lollipop deep out throw made off the back foot by Jake Fromm, which essentially ended the game and allowed Georgia to run out the clock.

I stated in the game preview that it’s no secret that Florida can’t run the ball consistently, but to call only 10 runs for the RBs was simply too unbalanced an attack.  Even with an excellent WR corps and a QB playing at a high level, that is a big ask.  Coach Mullen did the offense no favors with some questionable calls.  Trying a slow-developing throw on the failed 4th down play in the first quarter was bad, calling a delayed deep handoff which was blown up on 3rd-and-2 to end another drive was worse, and bringing Emory Jones in for only 1 play – a second down deep in Georgia territory that wound up being a telegraphed QB run behind an unbalanced line that was stuffed and wiped away the rhythm that Kyle Trask and the offense had achieved on that drive – ended with only a FG and the only points of the first half.  There was no margin for error against Georgia given the weakness of the O-Line, and too many mistakes were made to overcome them.  Props to Kyle PItts and Freddie Swain, who each played a great game and were open most of the day.

Finally, the officiating call that allowed Georgia’s TD drive late in the second quarter was criminal.  There is no way that was a catch, and even the guys on the TV crew and the official they have on staff to comment were stunned the play was allowed to stand as called.  That had a massive impact on the game – at minimum a 4 point swing, and a huge momentum boost to the Puppies.

We’ll see if the hangover of a massively disappointing loss and a noon kickoff lead to a slow start this week against Vanderbilt.  The Commodores have struggled mightily this season, and head coach Derek Mason has been rumored to be on shaky ground – a complete joke considering the historical lack of commitment to football by that school.  Vandy’s only real offensive threats are RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn and WR Kalija Lipscomb.  Florida’s defense should be more than capable of controlling those two, especially with the ‘Dores down to their 3rd-team QB, Deuce Wallace.  The Gators will be without DE Jeremiah Moon and LB Amari Burney due to injury, but should have more than enough to control the LOS and force Vandy into another rough afternoon offensively.

Vandy does roll out a decent defense, which is Coach Mason’s calling card.  The Gators will hopefully have better success running the ball this week, but I’m still not expecting anything special.  Perhaps a few jet sweeps will be in the game plan this week as the ‘Dores don’t have the speed of the elite defenses Florida has already played this year.  Trask will once again be counted upon to make quick accurate reads and get the ball into the hands of his playmakers in space.  Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce need to provide at least a few good runs to better balance the attack and perhaps hit one of the long runs they have provided most of this season.

It’s going to be a challenge for the coaching staff to have the team mentally into this game, after the huge disappointment of last week.  Hopefully the seniors can provide some much-needed leadership for this game and the rest of the regular season, to help ensure a strong finish and a 10-win season.  Historically it’s usually a mental slog with some sloppy play thrown in against Vanderbilt, and I expect some of the same again, but Florida has too much talent to allow a huge upset.

Prediction: Florida 31 Vanderbilt 13