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

Mississippi Review / Missouri Preview

The Swamp was the Swamp again Saturday night, as the Gators hammered Ole Miss and reminded the nation of what they can expect in the coming years as Florida rebuilds into a SEC power again. The Rebel players, coaches, and fans looked bewildered, as they have not seen what has been possibly the best home-field advantage in the country for 30 years until the Will Miss-champ era began and mercifully ended. They won a big game at Alabama 2 weeks ago, but ran into a defense and home crowd that can intimidate anyone. The atmosphere was electric, and the recruits at the game were treated to a great show for the second week in a row.

The entire offensive coaching staff deserves a ton of credit for developing such an efficient and successful game plan. They are still keeping things relatively simple, but the players are playing quicker and reducing the number of mistakes. Will Grier made some excellent reads and got the ball where it needed to be on time and in rhythm. Jake McGee is turning in to a clutch receiver and a weapon in the red zone. Demarcus Robinson – finally – got some chances to make some plays downfield, and he delivered. He still needs to run tougher and more north-south, but if he continues to make some big plays that won’t matter as much. Kelvin Taylor was a workhorse with 27 carries, and made just enough decent runs to help balance the offense. The OL is going to struggle all season in the running game, but so far they have opened up some lanes often enough to keep drives going. That has to continue with the schedule coming up the rest of October. The return of Martez Ivey from injury should help, and provide some depth.

The Gator defense made a statement to the nation and, more importantly, themselves. They dominated Ole Miss the entire night, punished the QB, got penetration often to blow up run and pass plays, and showed great speed in the front seven. Jon Bullard is all-SEC in my opinion to date, and has been disruptive every game. A lot of guys are getting quality snaps on the DL, and this is keeping them fresh. Jarrad Davis and Tank Morrison were all over the field at LB making big plays – I just hope they don’t get worn down or hurt. The coverage in the secondary was excellent – that was an explosive offense they shut down, despite the makeshift OL the Rebels had to use. There are multiple Ole Miss WRs led by Laquon Treadwell that will be playing in the NFL some day, and they controlled them all night. The tackling was cleaned up, and they laid some big hits on the QB and WRs. The only quibble is a small one – they still allowed the QB to make good gains on the counter plays, but I have to believe part of that was simply allowing for that possibility while shutting down the other playmakers.

It’s off to Columbia to try and exorcise the demons of the past two games against Missouri. This will be a huge test of the maturity and leadership on this team. I know there will be some players that will overlook the Tigers, but hopefully the upperclassmen can focus most of the guys on just getting the job done this week. Actually, I hope the team isn’t too hyped up on trying to make up for the past 2 performances against Mizzou, and make silly mistakes trying to do too much. I don’t care how ugly it is, as long as the Gators get out of there with a win and move on.

The Tigers are struggling on offense, with QB Maty Mauk regressing from his play the previous season. It now looks like his suspension will continue, and true freshman Drew Lock will get thrown into the fire. Hopefully he presses, and the Gator defense hits him early and often as they have done to the opposing QB all season. They have lost a lot of talent on the O-Line and at WR, and have not replaced it with the same level of play. The main threats are RB is Ish Witter, and WRs Nate Brown and J’Mon Moore. The defense has already played against better talent, and if the guys come to play, they should be able to handle anything the Tigers throw at them. No need to overpursue and get caught by misdirection or any trick plays – just play solid straight-up defense and control the action.

The Gator offense now has something to fall back on in terms of confidence, as they can see in the past 5 quarters of play that they can indeed apply pressure to defenses and make plays. The Tigers have another solid defense, but have lost a lot of NFL talent on the D-Line over the past 2 seasons. As always, it starts with the Florida OL – keep Grier upright, try to generate at least 100 yards of rushing to stay balanced, and continue to improve on pass protection and picking up blitzes. Taylor has carried a big load at RB the past 2 weeks, and it would be nice to see Jordan Cronkrite be able to spell him for a bit without a significant drop off in production. The WRs need to continue to improve, as it’s always that much more difficult on the road to move the ball. Robinson’s confidence has to be on the upswing after a big game, and that should take some attention away from the other WRs. Look for the TEs to continue to be relied upon to convert 3rd downs and be a check-down option for Grier. As long as he continues to play smart and understand that making the safe throw and settling for short gains is OK, the offense should do just enough.

After 2 such lousy seasons, it’s hard not to get too excited about how this team is developing. But that’s just the time when a young team can stumble and lose a game it should win. The coaching staff has a different challenge this week in keeping the players focused on just the next game and simply doing their job each play. This isn’t the time for bad penalties and turnovers to allow the Tigers an early lead and to get the momentum. The trip to Missouri is a strange one – not a traditional SEC location, iffy weather, and quite frankly, not an impressive stadium or noisy crowd. If the Gators can replicate the start they enjoyed at Kentucky, that should be enough to get the ball rolling to an important road win. I fully expect the Tigers to throw everything they have into this game, including trick plays. Florida’s special teams could be the equalizer – they have been less than special so far this season, and were embarrassed by Missouri last year.

Florida 20 Missouri 13

New Mexico St. Review / East Carolina Preview

It was a promising start to the Jim McElwain era with a 61-13 manhandling of New Mexico St.  There was a great turnout by the fans and some real excitement back in the Swamp.  The past 2 seasons had really sucked the life out of the fan base and the players, and it was refreshing to see how excited they were and how it was reflected in the team’s play.

There were glimpses of what may be a functional offense this season, or at least indications that the offensive coaches actually have a plan on how to use the personnel they have effectively – as long as the offensive line can stay healthy and continue to develop as the season progresses.  Both Treon Harris and Will Grier were efficient, limited mistakes, and spread the ball around to many receivers – including the RBs and TEs.  While the stats were similar, Grier definitely looks more comfortable as a passer, and showed he has good athletic ability to make plays with his legs if necessary.  The WR play was sketchy, but not a complete surprise based on reports coming out of fall camp.  Unless Demarcus Robinson learns to run tougher, and some of the other WRs can shake loose of coverage, then OC Doug Nussmeier has little choice but to try and scheme plays to the TEs and RBs.  The OL did pretty well for the first game, getting lined up properly and not committing a rash of penalties.  However, I was disappointed in the run-blocking more than the pass protection, and this may bode ill as the schedule toughens.  There is not enough experience at QB or quality at WR to have to lean on the passing game too much.  I hope to see some better running lanes opened up this week, and the RB rotation of Kelvin Taylor, Jordan Scarlett, and Jordan Cronkrite looks to be ready for SEC competition.

The Gator defense did what was expected – control the running game (less a few well-executed plays), and shut down the NMSU passing game (less a few blown coverages by the backups, which should be corrected).  The second half showed the depth in both the DL and secondary, as Florida simply wore down the Aggies and shut them out, with very few net yards allowed.  Overall a solid performance that allowed the defensive staff to substitute liberally and get valuable snaps to the younger players while experimenting with different lineups and schemes to evaluate personnel.  Veterans like Jon Bullard and Vernon Hargreaves showed their leadership by making big plays, while young players such as Taven Bryan and Cece Jefferson on the DL showed a lot of promise.

Next up for Florida is East Carolina.  Florida is very familiar with the Pirates, as they defeated them in January in the bowl game.  ECU’s offense was one of the best in the country last season, led by senior QB Shane Carden and senior WR Justin Hardy, who was drafted into the NFL.  However, their projected new QB was injured in fall camp and is out for the season, to be replaced by a JUCO transfer with only a few weeks of practice.  While this will hurt their efficiency, the coaching and scheme are still in place that could challenge the Gator defense and make this game one that won’t be decided until the second half.  Fortunately the strength of Florida’s defense lies in the secondary, and they should be able to slow down the Pirates enough to allow the Gator offense to not worry about getting into a scoring contest and staying balanced.  I expect to see both Harris and Grier at QB again, but hopefully one of them moves ahead of the other and can be considered the starter going forward.  The running game needs to show improvement and consistency.

This is a step up in competition, and that will continue each week into October.  As long as Florida doesn’t suffer a key injury at QB or in the OL, the schedule sets up well to keep the team focused each week on the task at hand, and not to look ahead.  There should be another good crowd in the Swamp Saturday night, as the Gators try to continue to build momentum.

Prediction:  Florida 31      East Carolina 13

 

 

 

Gators Get Their Guy, Reach Deal with McElwain

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jim McElwain is returning to the Southeastern Conference after three seasons as head coach at Colorado State.

The 52-year-old McElwain, who as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Alabama from 2008-11 helped the Crimson Tide win two national titles, has been hired to replace Will Muschamp.

Florida Athletics Director Jeremy Foley finalized an agreement with McElwain on Thursday and a press conference to introduce McElwain as the 24th head coach in Florida football history is scheduled for Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

“Coach McElwain was someone we targeted from the beginning of the search,’’ Foley said. “The more we worked through the process and did our due diligence, coupled with our meeting and conversations with him and those around him, it was obvious he is the right person to lead the Florida Gator football program.”

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