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