S. Carolina Review / Texas A&M Preview

Florida dispatched South Carolina with a workmanlike 38-24 victory in the home opener at the Swamp.  This one was somewhat ugly early and late, but the Gator offense was so dominant in it’s limited 23 minutes of possession the outcome was never in serious doubt.

Florida’s defense gave up another touchdown on the opponent’s opening drive, allowing the Lamecocks to march right down the field both running and passing.  Despite Carolina lacking any real playmakers other than WR Shi Smith, they did as they pleased early on.  Fortunately, the Gators responded immediately with TDs on their first 2 drives to take the lead, a run by Dameon Pierce and reception by Kyle PItts.  With a chance to put Carolina in a deep hole in the 2nd quarter, Kyle Trask made an uncharacteristic error, keeping the ball on a read option and fumbling, which gave the Lamecocks life and allowed them to tie the game at 14.  Again, the Gators then flipped the offensive switch and scored the next 24 points going into the mid-3rd quarter to effectively end the game.  Pitts, Kedarius Toney, and Trent Whittemore all had TD receptions as the offense got on a roll.  Then the entire team seemed to lose focus and momentum, and Carolina went on to dominate time of possession and scored the last 14 points – and it really should have been 21 except for a poorly thrown pass on 4th down with just under a minute left.  DC Todd Grantham played a soft, conservative defense which allowed the Lamecocks to move the ball, but run out almost all of the remaining clock on their last drive. 

The Gator defense did improve – it went from horrific to just bad.  The D-line was gashed most of the afternoon by Carolina’s running game, and once again could not get off the field on 3rd and 4th down in the 4th quarter.  The secondary played a little more aggressively, but the LBs again struggled in the intermediate zone.  This is disappointing, as this was supposed to be a point of emphasis and improvement from last season, but appears to be more of the same.  Shawn Davis certainly helped in his return to safety, but there are still way too many missed tackles at all 3 levels along with guys simply not getting lined up in time to get into proper position.  This is high school stuff that has to stop.  They allowed Carolina 37 minutes time of possession, which kept Florida’s high-powered offense sidelined far too long.

Overall, a decent performance by the Florida offense and a far from impressive finish by the defense.  Dan Mullen stated that his play-calling contributed to the loss of momentum and aggressiveness, and I agree.  Fortunately, Carolina is led by Won’t MIsschump, who seemed to not care that his own offense essentially iced the game by showing a lack of urgency over the last 8 minutes.  Just another in a long list of examples of why I’m so glad that clown is gone from the Florida sideline and is someone else’s problem.

It’s on to College Station to face Texas A&M, which is coming off of a big loss, getting hammered at Alabama 52-24 and not looking very good on either side of the ball in doing so.  This, coming off of a lackluster 17-12 opening game win at home against an outmanned Vanderbilt squad, has the A&M faithful really worried about their season going off the rails early.

The Aggies lost some of their best playmakers on offense, including their best 2 WRs, who opted out of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  They have 4-year starting QB Kellen Mond leading the attack, and he is still a threat both running and throwing.  However, he seems to have plateaued the past 2 years, showing little improvement.  He does have a decent O-line in front of him, and his favorite target is TE Jalen Wydermyer – who will be a tough matchup for the Gator LBs as they continue to struggle in coverage.  Surprisingly, their running attack has been only average so far, despite having 2 good RBs in Isiah Spiller and Ainias Smith.  Smith is also a capable receiver out of the backfield who is very quick and will have to be accounted for.

We are going to see now whether Grantham been playing it vanilla so far and holding back some things for this game.  Or has everyone figured out he’s pretty much a one-trick pony and his defenses struggle if they can’t pressure the QB and subsequently allows his soft secondary coverage to be exposed?  Brad Stewart returns from suspension to shore up the safety position, but the continued loss of Kyree Campbell at the DT spot highlights an underwhelming rotation that has been gashed by the running game so far.  The front seven will face it’s sternest test of the season to date, and somehow has to find ways to not allow long, time-consuming drives that keep the Gator offense on the sideline.

I do expect the Gator offense to continue to have success, especially throwing the ball against a depleted Aggie secondary that has suffered losses due to players opting out.  They were torched by Bama on deep throws that entire game, but the deep throw is not Trask’s strong suit.  I hope the running game has more success than it did against South Carolina, but Texas A&M does have a stout front seven that will be by far the best Florida has faced this season.  The O-line struggled some against Carolina protecting Trask, and has to tighten some things up.  The running game took a step back, and has to provide more balance this week.  Trevon Grimes and Jacob Copeland need to step up and take advantage of the easier coverage they receive while defenses focus on Pitts and Toney.

Will this be another case of the offense having to continue to outscore the opponent for 60 minutes?  No offense can continuously do that, and eventually it will bite the Gators unless the defense starts to step up at least occasionally.  I predicted a loss in this game, and despite the fact that the Aggies have not looked good at all in 2 games, there is too much talent there to see them stink it up for an entire season.  They have the weapons on offense in Monds’ running ability, a big TE, and a quick RB who catches the ball well in the intermediate zones – all areas that the Gator defense has yet to prove it can contain.  I just have a bad feeling that the cumulative effect of all of these matchups, along with a desperate group of Aggies who don’t want their season to unravel so soon, could cause Florida to stumble in this one.

Prediction: Texas A&M 31 Florida 28

Mississippi Review / S. Carolina Preview

What should have been a blowout win was marred by one of the worst defensive performances by the Gators since maybe 1979.  While Kyle Trask and Kye Pitts toyed with the Rebel defense all day, the defense continually looked like a high school unit, embarrassing themselves and forcing the offense to keep it’s starters in well into the 4th quarter to continue scoring and keep a safe lead.

The Florida offense was unstoppable.  Trask and Pitts served early notice that they could be in line for some major awards this year, but there were many other contributors.  The running backs, led by Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis, ran hard and also were featured more prominently in the passing game.  Trevon Grimes, Kedarius Toney, and Jacob Copeland each had their share of big plays in the passing game.  The O-line did a solid job, giving Trask plenty of time to scan the field and open running lanes for the RBs.  But before anyone gets too excited, remember this was against a young, inexperienced defense with a new coaching staff.  There are much tougher tests to come.

The Gator defense was horrific.  Even with the offensive expertise of Lane Kiffen’s playcalling, they made Ole Miss look like last year’s LSU offense.  Receivers were running unchecked and uncovered all game, and it was never corrected.  Despite knowing the Rebel QBs would be looking to run, the pursuit angles were poor and the DEs failed to set the edge.  

These breakdowns weren’t attributable to Covid-19 issues, loss of practice time, or inexperienced guys getting extended playing time in the secondary – this was blowing basic football assignments and miscommunication.  Just because Shawn Davis was stupid enough to get himself tossed early in the game for targeting and Brad Stewart was serving yet another suspension, this is the SEC……these guys are better than they are being coached.  Todd Grantham is on the clock.

Florida returns home to the Swamp to face South Carolina.  The Lamecocks put up a fight late against Tennessee, but, as usual, failed to finish the game.  Another typical Won’t Misschump performance.  

If the Gator O-line can do a serviceable job of run blocking and keep Trask upright, the offense should be able to continue having success.  This Carolina defense is not as good as recent vintage, and can be exploited – they actually made Tennessee’s offense look good at times, which is hard to do.  Of course, Misschump and DC Travarus Robinson will still have their axe to grind against Florida and do everything they can to spring an upset, so the Gators should expect a motivated defensive opponent.

Sadly, until the Gator defense shows up, nothing is certain.  There is too much talent on paper to allow the Lamecocks much success on offense, but I have a serious lack of confidence in Grantham right now.  The return of Davis and Stewart at safety hopefully provided a big boost to the secondary, and here’s hoping Kyree Campbell returns at DT to provide more depth and experience.  Carolina has a new starting QB in transfer Collin Hill – he was serviceable against Tennessee, but has nowhere near the mobilty the Ole MIss QBs had, which will help the Florida pass rush.  His main target is WR Shi Smith – the secondary will have their ficus on him, as they won’t have to worry about as many other threats that the Rebels offered.  Misschump still wants to run the ball, but the Lamecock O-line and RBs are retooling, and shouldn’t be as tough to deal with as usual.  Of course, the best scenario would be that the Gator offense gets Carolina behind on the scoreboard and forces them into being one-dimensional.

I expect Carolina to play hard, as MIsschump and Trevarus Robinson still have an axe to grind with Florida after getting fired.  As long as the Gators don’t implode with turnovers and keep Trask upright, the offense should be able to put up enough points for a comfprtable win – but it likely won’t be decided until sometime in the second half. 

Prediction:

Florida  34

S. Carolina  17

Mississippi Preview

Florida opens the season with a road trip to Oxford to face the Ole MIss Rebels and their new head coach, Lane Kiffen.  

The Gator offense already has some adversity to deal with, as starting center Ethan White will miss multiple games with a meniscus injury.  That will force Brett Heggie to center, Richard Gouriage inside to Heggie’s spot at guard, and put Jean Delance back at right tackle, where he struggled all of 2019.  Not an ideal, as Ole MIss has some good edge rushers that will have to be accounted for.  We’re going to see early on if the O-line can improve in the running game – it’s a requirement for the Gators to have any chance at a championship this season.  Kyle Trask is back and can handle pressure and make quick throws, and it looks like he may have to recreate his 2019 performance, at least early on.  RBs Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis should be good enough to provide balance, but only if they aren’t avoiding tacklers in their own backfield.  TE Kyle PItts will always draw a lot of attention from the defensive back seven, so we will get an early idea of how much WR Trevon Grimes and the other receivers can fill the large void left by losing 4 seniors that were one of the best corps in the country by the end of 2019.  Jacob Copeland and Kedarius Toney must show improvement, while transfer Justin Shorter may have to play a bigger role than many have predicted.  FInally, Ole Miss lost a lot of starters to graduation, and also have an entirely new defensive backfield – Mullen and Trask have to expose this group.

On defense, Florida will be challenged by a new offense with no film to study from, along with the likelihood of seeing 2 QBs with very different skill sets.  John Rhys Plumlee is an excellent runner and took over as the starter midway through 2019, but struggles mightily in the passing game.  Knowing how Kiffen likes to throw the ball, we’ll find out early if this is a “square peg into a round hole” situation, and if former Gator commit Matt Corral gets a majority of the snaps.  He is a talented passer and good athlete.  This unknown alone will make it a challenge for the defense on Saturday.  The other threats are RB Jerrion Ealy and WR Elijah Moore.  The defense will be down at least one DT (Kyree Campbell may opt out of 2020) and one safety (Brad Stewart suspended yet again – what a waste of talent).  Fortunately there is plenty of experienced depth at safety to cover for Stewart’s absence, but a few young DL like Gervon Dexter will get thrown into the mix early on, while Zach Carter likely will have to play DT for most of this game.  There is plenty of experience and talent at DE and LB that should be able to contain either QB trying to run while getting consistent pressure in passing situations.  This will be a good test to see if the open-field tackling by the back seven has improved – the Gators have really struggled with this the past 2 seasons and must improve.  The Rebels have an almost completely new O-line, and it would be a major disappointment if the Gators give up a lot of yards and points.

Jacob Finn has won the job at punter, and fortunately for the Gators he is a senior with some experience, so he shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the pressure of his first start.  Evan McPherson is one of the best placekickers in the country, and having someone so reliable is very important – especially on the road.  The return game for the Gators remains a mystery until someone stands out.  Here’s hoping that the Florida coverage units continue to perform as well as they have since Dan Mullen’s return.

Ole Miss is trying to break in a new coaching staff with an altered practice schedule, having almost 30 players miss practice time already with Covid-19 systems, and learning new schemes on both offense and defense.  While the newness of all this can be a hindrance to the opponent, I’m hoping that the Gators can actually get some benefit from this, combined with the stability of it’s own coaching staff and roster – especially at QB.  Many pundits think the Gators win easily, rolling up a lot of points on a defense that is retooling.  I think it could be closer than that, with some sloppy play and nerves showing themselves early.  This will be one of those noon eastern kickoffs that no team likes, as many times teams are sleepwalking through the first half.  I’m just hopeful for a win and no serious injuries in the start to the strangest season ever.

Prediction:

Florida  27

Mississippi  17

2020 Season Preview

Where to begin?  With the disruption of ‘normalcy’ and routine because of the Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps any effort at previewing and predicting what will happen this fall is folly.  That being said, the SEC is giving it the old college try – so to speak – along with the ACC and Big 12/11/10/whatever, while the Little 10/11/12/13/14/whatever and LAC-12 are currently either delaying their start even longer or tappng out and already feeling the ramifications from fans, players, recruits, and communities for doing so.

There will be a modified schedule this season with 10 games, all within the conference.  That will significantly increase the difficulty for SEC teams, with no cupcake games for a breather.  The meat-grinder that is the SEC will really be evident, even with a few open weeks built into every team’s schedule to provide some respite along with flexibility if a game or games have to be rescheduled due to virus outbreaks.  The NCAA is allowing for any play in 2020 to not count against eligibility limits, so coaching staffs can at least play freshmen as much as they want to potentially ease any depth issues (provided they have the luxury of a large enough lead in a game).  Additionally there are actually rules in place that could lead to postponement of a game if a certain number of players at a particular position are unavailable due to the virus.  Talk about a crazy possibility. 

Dan Mullen has led the Gators to two consecutive double-digit win seasons and New Years Six bowl wins.  The foundation is finally starting to settle in, but now he will be working with almost exclusively players he and his staff have recruited, and there have been some missteps along the way that have left some talent and/or depth holes in the roster to be managed by the coaching staff.

Offense

It all starts with QB Kyle Trask, who stepped in cold for an injured Feleipe Franks in last year’s Kentucky game, led a stirring comeback win, and essentially saved the season for Florida.  His performance in 2019 was a revelation, and nothing that 2020 throws at him will be intimidating.  There is some room to improve regarding reading some defenses and improving his deep throws (which may be helped by a now-healthy knee after the injury against Auburn and playing hurt the rest of 2019).  Emory Jones could probably start for most of the other SEC teams, and I would not be concerned if he had to step in due to injury or performance issues from Trask.  He filled in admirably when Trask went down in the Auburn game, and got plenty of experience in every game.  In case the O-line struggles again run blocking, he may actually get more snaps due to his own running ability in order to keep defenses more honest.  True freshman Anthony Richardson is a physical beast already, and looks like the prototypical Mullen QB with his running and strong arm.  The QB room is the best it’s been since 2009.

The running backs will be led by junior Dameon Pierce, who is in line to get the first crack at replacing the graduated Lamical Perine.  Pierce, Malik Davis, and transfer Lorenzo Lingard have big shoes to fill, but the raw talent is there.  Pierce is a physical runner who also has decent hands in the passing game.  Davis still has to prove he is physically and mentally back from his leg injuries, while Lingard himself is coming off of a knee injury.  Nay’Quan Wright may be one of those South Florida diamonds in the rough that pops out if given the chance.  Lots of potential here, but no proven commodity……yet.

The WR corps lost a ton of talent and production with Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland, and Josh Hammond all making it to the NFL.  Florida was very fortunate to have Trevon Grimes elect to return for his senior year to lead a young group that lacks experience but has some elite physical tools.  Jacob Copeland gets his opportunity to show out, while Kedarius Toney has one last chance to prove he can be a more consistent threat as a true receiver instead of making only 2-3 splash plays a game on sweeps and screens.  Transfer Jordan Pouncey brings experience, but there’s a group of talented freshmen that will get their chance for plenty of meaningful snaps.  Trent Wittemore, Ja’Markis Weston, and Xzavier Henderson (brother of CJ) all have enough ability to force their way into the rotation this fall – hopefully at least one of them does and provides some quality depth.  Finally, Florida received great news on the transfer waiver request for Justin Shorter – he was a big-time recruit for Penn St., and could be a huge boost to the WR group as he was the top high school WR prospect in the 2018 class.

The Gators have perhaps the most dangerous TE in the country in Kyle Pitts, who was Trask’s favorite target last year and a matchup nightmare for defenses.  His numbers may actually go down this season as he garners more attention, but that only opens up the field for the WRs to step up their production.  There is not much proven production behind him, as Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer both need to show the coaches they are ready to step up their game.  Perhaps Shorter, with his size, could actually be a solid backup to Pitts this fall.

Finally, we come to the much-maligned (and deservedly so) offensive line.  This group was terrible run blocking last season, and not much better in protecting the QB, especially the tackles.  Trask’s quick decisions and Perine’s pass-pro skill helped mask some of those deficiencies, but this group has to improve in order for Florida to make a run at any championships.  The interior of the line actually looks to be SEC-caliber, with Ethan White moving from guard to center and the combination of Brett Heggie and transfer Stewart Reese at guard.  There are still huge questions at the tackle spots – Stone Forsythe and Jean Delance return but they each had serious struggles last season.  Richard Gouriage had some good moments there in 2019, but has to become a consistent performer.  Unless one of the young and inexperienced guys like Joshua Braun or MIchael Tarquin can hold up in the rotation, Resse may have to slide out to try and stabilize the unit.  Coach Hevesy is on the clock to roll out a SEC-worthy unit this fall – the time for talk is over, and he needs to stop trying to fit guards into the tackle spots.

Defense

Florida lost some playmakers in DEs Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga, CB CJ Handerson, and 4-year starter David Reese at LB.  However, there is actually more depth at those respective positions that may very well make up for their key contributions.

The biggest question mark will be the defensive line, especially along the interior.  Luke Ancrum and Adam Shuler have graduated, but neither was a consistent performer nor 3-down player.  Tedarrell Slaton and Kyree Campbell have shown flashes the past 2 seasons, but now are seniors and must step up as leaders and increase the number of snaps they play each game.  Zach Carter came on the second half of 2019, and is starting to look like a Jon Bullard-type player that can play inside and out – he will be needed more at tackle as the DE and Buck posiitons are loaded with talent and numbers.  The one freshman that could be a factor at DT could be 5* recruit Gervon Dexter, already a man-child at 6’7″ and 270 lb. with freakish athletic ability.  This group needs to stay healthy this fall or else inexperienced and undersized players will be forced to play, not a good recipe in the SEC.

There is a lot of youth at DE and Buck, but the talent is undeniable.  Jeremiah Moon returns for his senior season as the leader and best pass rusher – his decision to come back was crucial and hopefully pays major dividends.  Mohamoud Diabate, Khris Bogle, and Andrew Chatfield saw a lot of action as freshmen, and are now being counted upon to make the leap to established SEC starters.  Lloyd Summerall and Princely Umanmielen are freshmen that will be forced into early playing time to provide some depth.  If this group struggles, Zack Carter may be forced outside, which will hurt the rotation at tackle.  Plenty of talent along the line, but much of it is still young and must grow up quickly.

Losing Reese hurts at LB, but there will be more athleticism and depth there than since 2016.  Ventrell Miller and James Houston are the returning starters with the most experience, but both need to show consistency.  The major upgrade will be 5* Brenton Cox, who transferred from Georgia and unfortunately did not get his waiver approved to play in 2019.  He is tearing it up in fall practice and will be a force outside and as a pass rusher on occasion.  Amari Burney is a freak athlete, but needs to find a position – he played both OLB and Star at times in 2019, but was simply not good enough in pass coverage at Star – I really hope Grantham leaves him at OLB to improve the pass coverage against TEs and pursue the run.  Freshmen Tyron Hopper, Derek Wingo, and David Reese (different Reese – I know, confusing) all have athletic talent, and will need to grow up quickly to provide some depth.  Again, a less experienced group than going into 2019, but I believe a more athletic and talented one overall.  The pass coverage in the intermediate zones should be much-improved – this has been a sore spot and an area that has been exploited since Todd Grantham arrived.

The secondary will be significantly reconfigured with the loss of CJH and the movement of key contributors from 2019 to new positions.  However, I think the overall production and quality of pass coverage will improve.  Marco Wilson returns as the leader of the unit, and likely will be the starter at the Star position.  Kaiir Elam came on the last month of 2019 and has established himself as a starter at CB.  The only question is who fills in opposite him at CB – the hope is that the combination of Chester Kimbrough, CJ McWilliams, and Jaydon Hill is adequate.  If that group struggles, however, Wilson may need to move outside and a combination of Trey Dean and Brad Stewart slide down from safety to Star.  Which leads me to the safety position – probably the most experienced group, but one that still has more questions than it should.  Dean seems to have accepted his move here, as he struggled mightily in coverage at CB last season.  Stewart’s play regressed, and he is wasting his physical gifts with poor mental preparation and is now down to his last season of eligibility to make his mark.  Shawn Davis is the best player here, showing good coverage skills and hard tackling.  Donovan Stiner will get plenty of snaps in the rotation, but is simply not a SEC-caliber player.  Tre’Vez Johnson, Mordecai McDaniel, and Rashad Torrence are 3 freshmen who could be future SEC stars that will get the chance to provide some additional depth and gain experience as they will be counted upon heavily in 2021 when 4 seniors depart.  This group can show significant improvement both in deep zone pass coverage and in taking proper angles for open-field tackling.

Special Teams

I am really excited to see how this unit will contribute this fall.  Florida has one of the best placekickers in the country in junior Evan McPherson, who has proven to be one of most important recruits for Dan Mullen at Florida.  Unfortunately, the 6-year run of the Townsend brothers at punter has come to an end, and the Gators need to find a competent replacement.  It looks to be a battle between Jacob Finn and Australian Jeremy Crenshaw for the job.  Whoever gets the chance has big shoes to fill.  

Once again my wishes for a playmaker in the return game remained unanswered.  Swain performed the punt return duties, but more for ball security than for breakaway potential.  Toney may get first shot, but has to be a north-south runner in that role as opposed to his usual wild, freewheeling style.  Freshmen Fenley Graham may get an opportunity when he recovers from a fractured forearm sustained early in fall practice.  It’s still a mystery as to who Mullen will give kickoff return responsibility to  – Toney or one of the young receivers could get an early look.  Plenty of raw athletic talent, but who will step up?

Schedule and Outlook

The 10 game SEC-only schedule will likely be a real grind – no cupcake games to rest starters and get younger players experience.  This could really show which coaching staffs have the ability to develop and motivate a team, and expose weak links.  Additionally, the Gators will not play Florida $tate for the first time since 1957 – too bad, as the Criminoles are in a world of hurt, and I was looking forward to another beatdown in Taliban City and turning more recruits off to that cesspool.

@Mississippi – Win

Lame Kiffen returns to Power 5 football, and is going to have a rough go in his own division, let alone having to open with the Gators.  The Rebels have a ton of roster turnover along with experiencing many players contracting the virus or opting out of 2020.  Too much uncertainty and a lack of talent on defense.  The only way this one stays close into the fourth quarter is a combination of Gator turnovers and first-game sloppiness.

South Carolina – Win

Won’t Misschump will always have an axe to grind against Florida, so his team will have extra motivation.  However, they still lack playmakers on offense, and it’s likely their defense will wear down in the second half of games – again.  THis one is likely close at halftime, but Florida pulls away in the second half.

@Texas A&M – Loss

The Aggies are seemingly always a mystery – some elite talent, but always coming up short and laying some eggs along the way.  They will be pointing to this game as a springboard to a big season.  Will Kellen Mond finally show up in a big game?  Florida historically struggles with at least one SEC West team each season, and this could be the game.

LSU – Win

Tiger fans will tell you that Florida gave them their toughest test in 2019.  Since then, their roster was gutted like a fish due to the draft, early departures, and opt-outs, and they also lost both coordinators.  They had their magical season, and are gonna experience some payback.  HIstorically this is a close game, but the Gators have too much experience and a solid QB – enough to get the win.

Missouri – Win

The Tigers are hurting for talent and depth, and breaking in a new coaching staff and QB.  Never a good combination in the SEC, and they are going to have a rough go of it this fall.  The Gators could experience a hangover from the previous week, but this one could get ugly.

Bye Week

vs. Georgia (Jacksonville) – Loss

Florida has the advantage at QB, while the Puppies have what could be a generational defense.  Dan Mullen is still winless against UGA as a head coach, and one of the hardest things to do is get off the struggle bus.  I have to see Mullen and the staff put a 4 quarter game plan in place and win this one to believe.

Arkansas – Win

Feleipe Franks could be the starting QB for the Razorbacks when they come to the Swamp, which is fine.  I’ll get to see him turn the ball over and help the Gators win.  Arkansas is far behind the elite SEC teams in talent and depth.

@Vanderbilt – Win

The Commodores were really bad in 2019, and don’t have any better talent this season.  The only reason this one could stay within 3 TDs is the Gators sleepwalking through this one, as they have historically done.

Kentucky – Win

Terry Wilson was a surprise in 2018, and sadly had perhaps the best game of his career against Florida.  Since then, the rest of the league has seen the tape, and there isn’t much to scare you – he’s a good runner and an inaccurate passer.  The Gators are due to put a beatdown on the Mildcats after too many close games the past decade.

@Tennessee – Win

Volsheimers is almost always in effect at the end of each season, as Tennessee finishes the year with 4 or 5 straight wins against a garbage schedule and proclaims themselves ‘back’.  Florida will relish the chance to shut the Dollies up to end the season on a high note.

Overall Record          8-2

SEC Record              8-2

2020 could be remembered as the most challenging and weird season ever.  With so much uncertainty for every team even before the games begin, coupled with the unknown of whether a virus outbreak could derail a season, it may be an exercise in futility to try and predict what could happen.  Florida has some built-in advantages – an intact coaching staff, stable QB room, and (so far) no large virus outbreaks reported that have undermined practice (and performance) already for other Power 5 teams.  In a vacuum, the Gators look to be better than anyone on their schedule except maybe Georgia.  There’s a lot of talk in the media that this is the year the Gators win the East and return to Atlanta, but there are still some major hurdles to overcome – winning at Texas A&M, getting by LSU at home, and of course shutting up Kirby Smart.

Additionally, with only 20-25% fan capacity in stadiums, any home-field advantages may simply not exist.  Florida must remain healthy along the O-line and D-line, and someone in the WR corps has to take up the slack behind Grimes.  The coaching staff seems quietly confident in this group, which is a good sign.  Finally, can the Gators navigate 2020 by staying healthy on – and off – the field?   

It’s that time again (I hope)……Heeeeeeeeeeeere come the Gators!

Georgia Preview

The SEC East title is essentially on the line this week, as the Gators have an opportunity to reclaim the top spot in the East, a trip to Atlanta, and more national respect.

Even with their recent struggles on offense, I expect the Puppies to focus on using RB Deandre Swift and leaning on their solid O-Line and running game to try and wear down a suddenly soft Gator run defense.  QB Jake Fromm is starting to be exposed with less receiving talent and experience around him.  If the Gators can generate a pass rush (hopefully with the help of returning DEs Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga) and get him off his spot and uncomfortable in the pocket, they can possibly generate some turnovers.  It is imperative to win first down and dictate the action.  Hopefully, DC Todd Grantham will mix in more press coverage by the CBs and not allow Fromm easy completions and Georgia to sustain long drives.  The Florida front seven has to play a lot better this week.  The DTs have to be more stout at the point of attack, and the LBs have to fill the gaps smartly – way too many missed assignments the past 2 games.

Florida’s offense is what it is by now – a mediocre running game with the occasional big play, while leaning on Kyle Trask and a stud receiving corps to make plays.  Hopefully, the O-Line can continue to provide Trask just enough time to go through his progressions and move the ball through the air, allowing Kyle Pitts, Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes and co. to terrorize the Puppy secondary.  I am hopeful that the solid passing game downfield will allow the RBs (mainly Lamical Perine) some room in the flats to make some plays in space, extend drives, and keep some pressure off of Trask.  Dameon Pierce could be a surprise weapon as long as Florida is either tied or in the lead with his strong downhill running.  Finally, the Gators need to avoid a repeat of last year’s offensive performance, where turnovers killed them any time they had gained some momentum in the game, allowing Georgia to work from some short fields and stay in front most of the game.

Both teams have solid special teams, but recently Georgia PK Rodrigo Blankenship has struggled.  Florida PK Evan McPherson and P Tommy Townsend have been consistently good all season, and I hope it continues……they might be the difference this week. 

This will be the 40th consecutive Florida-Georgia game for me, and it never gets old……especially with so much on the line.  While Florida is in a similar position in the standings coming into this year’s game as last year, the feeling this year is much more intense.  Dan Mullen has a team this year that knows it can win tough games and come from behind in the second half, unlike last year.  Georgia has been talking a LOT since 2017, but underneath the surface some fear and doubt is starting to bubble up concerning both the performance of the team and also the ability of Kirby Dumb and his staff to develop talent and coach the team through tough games, instead of simply relying on a huge talent gap and opponents going through coaching transitions.  I am going to stick with my preseason pick of Georgia, as they still have the advantage along the LOS……but will be very happy to be wrong. 

Prediction: Georgia 27 Florida 20

Towson Review / Auburn Preview

Florida pitched its second shutout of the season with a 38-0 win over Towson.  It may not have been as smooth as many hoped, but it was efficient, and a solid win over a good FCS team while sitting at least 6 starters due to various injuries.

The Tigers’ offense actually generated two 12-play drives in the first half, exposing what has been the only real problem to date for the Gator defense – getting off of the field on 3rd down.  Their dual-threat QB hurt the Gators by consistently escaping pressure and scrambling for some first downs.  The pass defense was never truly threatened, but the run defense again had some lapses between the tackles.  If this is a harbinger of similar things Auburn does (and better), that could be bad news.

Florida’s offense was solid, but not spectacular.  Kyle Trask again was very efficient, going 18-20 and 2 TDs but only 188 yards, as Towson refused to bring their safeties into the box.  Unfortunately, the running game was only average (again), struggling with blocking between the tackles and still suffering from missed assignments.  Dameon Pierce came on in the second half to provide a spark at RB, and is pushing for more carries.  

The preseason is now officially over, as the calendar rolls into October and the schedule suddenly changes from weak to the toughest in the country.  Florida faces 3 Top 10 teams in their next 4 games, starting with the Auburn Tigers/War Eagles/Plainsmen/whatever visiting the Swamp for the first time since 2007.

Auburn’s defense starts with an excellent D-Line, led by Derrick Brown.  Their line is big, fast, and experienced.  This is a bad matchup for Florida’s weakest unit, the O-Line.  I have not seen the improvement expected after 5 games, so at this point Coach Mullen has to scheme around them.  Since the run blocking is not very good, I’m expecting the Gators to throw often on 1st and 2nd down.  If the O-Line can give Trask just enough time, the WRs and TEs can make plays.  The drawback, though, is that this could generate some quick 3-and-out series, forcing the defense into extended action and possibly causing them to wear down in the second half.  Execution has to be crisp. Trask has to make quick, decisive decisions with the ball.  Slow-developing plays won’t work against the Tigers.  Trying to pound the running game between the tackles likely won’t work, so some edge plays like jet sweeps have to be in the game plan.  I’m hoping that Mullen has been sandbagging in regards to his play sheet all season and has held some good plays in reserve for this game.

Florida’s defense also has a tough matchup against a senior-laden Auburn O-Line.  The tackle rotation has to play it’s best game of the year defending the power running game led by leading rusher JaTarvious Whitlow, while the DEs need to set the edge and guard against jet sweeps and QB runs form Bo Nix.  Nix is a true freshman, but now has had the chance to play in two big games against Oregon and at Texas A&M.  We’ll see if Coach Grantham also has been holding some looks and blitzes in reserve for this game in order to confuse the young QB and the O-Line blocking schemes.  I expect a lot of pressure near the LOS while putting the CBs and safeties on an island in more man coverage.  Marco Wilson and CJH (returning from injury) have to provide some lockdown coverage, and Trey Dean has to improve his coverage at the Star position.  Seth Williams is by far Auburn’s most dangerous WR and has good size – he needs to be taken out of the game as often as possible.  The Gator front seven also benefits from the return of DE Jabari Zuniga and LB Ventrell Miller from injury.  Finally, the defense has to ignore a lot of the ‘eye candy’ from Auburn – motion, weird formations, the ‘sugar’ huddle (which is nothing more than a quick-snap set), etc.  Stay focused, and play your assignments.  Make the QB uncomfortable, and force some mistakes and hopefully a few turnovers.

Florida’s special teams have been excellent so far, and have to be near perfect this week.  Flipping the field and forcing Auburn to drive the length of the field is imperative, as is execution of any FG opportunities.  It’s time (hopefully) for a big return in the kicking game to pop up for the Gators to provide a short field and generate some easier points.

It’s Homecoming week, with all of the added excitement to go along with the first visit by ESPN’s Game Day since 2012 and the Gators wearing throwback uniforms from the 1960s.  It will be a sellout crowd for the biggest home game of the season, as Florida has its chance to make a statement on the national stage.  No one really has a good feel for how good (or not) the Gators are right now, given the weakness of their opponents to date.  Florida has not been pushed other than the 4th quarter of their opener against Miami and then the 4th quarter comeback at Kentucky.  That could be a disadvantage going into this game, as Auburn has already defeated Oregon on a neutral field and won at Texas A&M. 

I’m going to stick with my preseason pick of an Auburn win.  I do think the Gators will play their best game of the season to date, but sometimes the matchup style is just too much to overcome.  It will take a complete game from all 3 phases to win, and it can be done.  But I have watched enough SEC games over 45 years to know that if a team is overmatched on both sides of the LOS, it is usually too much to overcome. 

Prediction: Auburn  24 Florida  20

Kentucky Review / Tennessee Preview

In the latest installment of a recently bizarre series, Florida managed to overcome some long odds and injuries to pull off another 4th quarter comeback at Kentucky, 29-21.

The win came at a huge cost, as Feleipe Franks suffered a dislocated ankle and possible broken fibula at the end of the 3rd quarter that will end his season.  The Gators once again did not seem completely engaged mentally from the outset – Franks threw a terrible interception that ended a promising opening drive, the offense committed some untimely penalties, and the defense was pushed around for much of the game at the LOS while playing a soft coverage in the secondary to try and protect the true freshmen pressed into service.  The performance of the defense through the first 3 quarters was perhaps the biggest disappointment.  The defensive game plan by DC Todd Grantham was, at best, curious.  Despite having to play some true freshmen CBs, they have talent, and the Wildcat WRs weren’t that special.  The soft coverage allowed backup QB Sawyer Smith to look like Tom Brady until the deciding 4th quarter.  The D-line was gashed at times by the running game, and it took a heroic performance by LB David Reese with 16 tackles – including 2 consecutive ones on 3rd- and 4th-and-1 right after the Franks injury and change of possession – to keep the game within reach for Kyle Trask to come off the bench and lead the comeback.  As soon as Trask came in, there was an urgency displayed by both the offense and defense that had been missing.  He immediately started by attacking a lesser-talented Wildcat secondary with quick, accurate throws that kept the pass rush away from him.  The drive ended with a touchdown on a great play by Trask, an option pitch while he was being tackled to Perine to pull the Gators within 21-16.  After an exchange of possessions, Shawn Davis made the second of his two interceptions with 8 minutes left to set up the Gators for the go-ahead drive.  Trask again was the difference, finding Van Jefferson and Kyle Pitts for key completions and then finishing off the drive with a zone-read keeper and a 22-21 lead.  The 2-point try failed, and left Kentucky 4 minutes to get into FG position for the win.  Again, fortune smiled upon the Gators as a 35-yard FG missed with 58 seconds left.  Florida then iced the game on 3rd down with a well-executed jet sweep handoff to Josh Hammond who made a 74-yard house call.

As I have said from the start, the lack of a running game is going to hurt in big games.  The O-line was manhandled most of the evening, forcing the Gators to be more pass-heavy than Coach Mullen wishes.  **Notice to Coach Mullen – the O-line ain’t gonna get much better this season, and Florida is going to have to be a passing team first going forward.**  He’ll need to take advantage of what Trask can do best along with a host of quality WRs and an O-line that seems to be adequate in pass-blocking.  Florida once again ran less than 60 plays, forcing the defense to hang on while starting to tire.  

It’s now Trask’s turn to lead, and hopefully, he can be coached up for the meat of the schedule, starting with Tennessee.  It’s gonna be really interesting going forward to see if Mullen is stubborn about the running game if it continues to struggle early in SEC games, or he starts by using the passing game to set up some runs later on.  A lot of folks have been critical of Lamical Perine this year, but where the hell can he go when both the D-line and O-line are in the backfield?  We’ll see if Coach Hevesy tinkers with the starting O-line, perhaps putting Richard Gouriage at LT and flipping Stone Forsythe to RT.  Also, Brett Heggie may need to start seeing time at center, with Ethan White getting some reps at LG.  Some semblance of a running game is still necessary to keep the offense on the field for more plays and provide some rest to the defense.  In Florida’s favor is that Tennessee’s D-line is simply not very good right now, suffering from lack of talent and experience.  I am hopeful that the offense rallies around Trask and runs the ball better this week.  

The Volunteers come to the Swamp with a load of their own problems.  They suffered an embarrassing loss in their home opener to an FCS school – Georgia St. – followed up by an overtime loss on Rocky Top to BYU after giving up a late lead.  A win over UT-Chattanooga is little to be proud of, and you have to wonder what their confidence level truly is headed into their SEC opener to a team they have lost to 13 out of the last 14 games.  On offense I expect QB Jarrett Guarantano to test the Gator secondary with their two best skill players in WRs Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway.  Hopefully, CJ Henderson can return even in a limited role to help in covering these two.  RB Ty Chandler is a good player, but the Volunteer O-line has struggled even more so than Florida’s to date.  If the Gator defense can force Tennessee into being one-dimensional, it will be a long, painful afternoon for Guarantano.  There are some injury concerns for the Florida defense, as DE Jabari Zuniga and LB Amari Burney both left the Kentucky game early and didn’t return.  Those losses, plus CJH, were felt by the defense against Kentucky.  Zuniga looks like he’s out for this week, so I am hoping that Burney and CJH can play at least a limited number of snaps.

Fortunately, this game is at the Swamp, and that should be enough to help pull the Gators through.  The only drawback is a noon kickoff, which typically helps the visiting team as the home team usually seems to sleepwalk early along with it’s fans.  I can only hope the slow starts by the offense in every game so far can be addressed and corrected, because this team cannot continue to rely on second-half comebacks – especially with the schedule about to become extremely difficult in October.  Since it’s Trask’s first start and he doesn’t have much live game experience, I expect some rough patches and perhaps an ugly interception along the way, but hopefully the team plays a solid game overall and the home field can make up for some of those inexperienced mistakes.  This is a scenario where the special teams can really help both the offense and defense.

Prediction: Florida       27 Tennessee 17

UT-Martin Preview

The home schedule begins this Saturday with the Tennessee-Martin SkyHawks coming to the Swamp for a big paycheck and an even bigger beatdown.  This will be not much more than a glorified scrimmage for the Gators, and a good opportunity to shake off some rust after the bye week while (hopefully) showing a lot of things were cleaned up after the sloppy win against Miami.

The offense has plenty of room for improvement.  The right side of the O-line was exposed against Miami – Bleich and Delance need to show improvement right away or may get replaced.  The WRs need to get separation and make more plays downfield.  The TEs have to improve their run-blocking.  Franks can improve some fundamentals and quicken his reads.  The entire offense needs to generate a solid running game – working on improving timing and execution.

The Gator defense should have little trouble controlling anything UT-Martin tries.  This should a good opportunity to get a lot of young guys some snaps in the second half, while some key players like DT Tedarrell Slaton return from suspension and can get some live game reps in.  The safety play has to improve – the performance against Miami was poor both in coverage and angles taken for tackling – the same issues as last season.

As always in a game like this, the mantra is NO INJURIES.  Things get a lot more interesting next week with the SEC opener at Kentucky.  I hope the staff is able to get the players to focus a little better than they might normally do with such an important upcoming game.

Prediction:

Florida 51

UTM     6

Miami Review

On a night in which the Gators tried to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Florida defeated Miami 24-20 despite a flurry of turnovers and penalties that made the score much closer than the two teams really are.  That was one, um……interesting game, but still satisfying in the end with a win.

I knew the first game would feature some sloppy play, but damn!  Let’s just say the Gator staff will have plenty to discuss with the team during the bye week with a LOT of things to “correct”.  I knew that the only way this game would be close was if Florida lost the turnover battle, and (unfortunately) that’s exactly what happened.  Leading 7-3 in the second quarter, Felipe Franks and Lamical Perine somehow muffed an exchange on a zone read, allowing Miami to escape a potential 11 point deficit and changing the entire complexion of the game.  A dropped pitch from Franks to Malik Davis should never have happened, which led to the ‘Canes taking the lead at halftime.  Franks then had 2 interceptions in the 4th quarter that allowed Miami first to retake the lead and then to stay close.  The first was a pass to an open Freddie Swain that was too high and tipped.  The second was, well……I’ll be nice and just say egregious.  I liked Coach Mullen calling a pass play on first down with 4:30 left, instead of just running the ball to try and milk the clock.  But no one knows why Franks made the throw that he did, giving the ‘Canes a short field to try and win the game.  Like I said……LOTS to “correct”.

The Gator defense was lights out for the most part.  The offense did them no favors by running only 54 plays and leaving the defense on the field for 36 minutes.  But those guys never flinched and brought the heat all night.  Yes, there was the one long rushing TD allowed because of horrific tackling.  But the defense rose up time and again after the turnovers gave Miami a short field many times.  DEs Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard and LBs Ventrell Miller and James Houston created havoc in the ‘Cane backfield all game, getting 10 sacks and numerous QB pressures along with many negative running plays.  My guess is that close to 100 yards of Miami’s 301 total came only after multiple pass interference and personal foul calls gave them new sets of downs.  DeeJay Dallas ended with 95 rushing yards, but 74 came on only two plays out of the wildcat formation, again driven by terrible tackling.  Miami has two quality TEs, and while Brevin Jordan had 88 yards and a touchdown (on a tipped pass), the defense did a much better job overall in covering the TEs than last season.  The safety play is still suspect – Jaewon Taylor and Donovan Stiner are not SEC-level players, and Brad Stewart was sorely missed, serving (another) suspension.

Florida’s special teams were dynamite, as expected.  I expected them to dominate, while most pregame analysis glossed over them.  Tommy Townsend’s punts were excellent, and his fake in the first quarter gained a first down and allowed the Gators to take the lead on the very next play, a 66-yard WR screen to Kadarious Toney.  All but one of Evan McPherson’s kickoffs found the end zone, and he converted his only FG attempt.  Finally, the buy-in by starters like WRs Van Jefferson and Tyrie Cleveland on punt coverage is a prime example of Mullen’s emphasis on special teams.  Both guys were right in Jeff Thomas’ face when he fumbled a punt at the Miami 11-yard line in the 3rd quarter.  Jefferson recovered, and the Gators took the lead 17-13 on a Franks to Perine pass.

After the immediate hysteria dies down about the wild 4th quarter, turnovers, penalties, and poor tackling, many will realize that these were the only things that kept the score close, as Florida was at least 14-17 points better than Miami.  By playing in this special opening game, Florida gets the rare gift of a 3rd bye week – allowing them plenty of time to recuperate after a hard-fought win and to clean up many things.  I could not care less what the national media and perception is from this game – it was a huge win against a bitter in-state rival, and will look even better as scUM cruises through a weak ACC schedule.

I’ll be back next week with my preview of the home opener against Tennessee-Martin.  Go Gators! 

Miami Preview


The 2019 season begins with a huge national showcase game against Miami in Orlando, to kick off the 150th season of college football.  This is a massive opportunity for the Gators to make a statement with the entire nation watching.  The fact that it’s against a bitter in-state rival makes this game even more critical to get off on a positive first step and also for in-state recruiting.
Florida’s offense has perhaps it’s best group of skill position players in a decade ready to roll out and show the nation how explosive they can be.  RBs Lamical Perine will be the leader of the ground game, but Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis are capable guys with little to no falloff in production.  QB Felipe Franks has a stable of veteran WRs outside that possess speed, size, and run after the catch ability in Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes, and Tyrie Cleveland.  This group will demand the attention of the Miami secondary, many times in man coverage.  If the WRs make an early splash, that will open up the middle of the field for slot receivers Freddie Swain and Josh Hammond and TEs Kyle Pitts and Kemore Gamble.
Ultimately, all of that ability by the skill guys will be tempered (or worse) if the rebuilt O-line struggles.  Nick Buchanan in the only returning starter, at center.  Bret Heggie is a stud a left guard, but has been dogged by injuries his first 2 seasons and has to stay healthy.  Redshirt freshman Chris Bleich gets the start at right guard and has practiced well in camp.  The tackle situation is the biggest question mark, as Stone Forsythe and Jean Delance/Richard Gouriage step in for Martez Ivey and Jawaan Taylor, respectively.  If Coach Hevesy can somehow get this unit to at least perform as an average SEC line, that will be more than enough to win this game but also give the Gators a chance for bigger things ahead.
If the O-line struggles to protect Franks, I expect more 2-back and 2-TE sets to help out.  While this will lessen the chances for big plays, these formations would allow Franks to get the ball out quickly to the RBs and TEs when not trying to run the ball.  Putting these guys in motion would also simplify the reads for Franks by making the defense declare their coverage and looks pre-snap.  Finally, jet sweeps to Kadarious Toney and Jacob Copeland can help stretch the filed horizontally and not require the O-Line to hold it’s blocks as long.
Miami returns most of it’s front seven on defense, but lost a key player in D-lineman Gerald Willis to the NFL.  Shaq Quarterman leads a very good LB corps filled with senior starters.  Al Blades Jr. is solid at CB as are Amari Carter and Gurvan Hall at safety.  This group will challenge the inexperienced Gator O-line, and Franks has to stay patient and not force things.
I expect the Gator defense to face a conservative, run-heavy game plan by the ‘Canes. If new OC Dan Enos is stupid enough to try and have an inexperienced Jarren Williams try to beat the Gators by passing the ball against a great secondary and pass rush, with an extremely inexperienced O-line at the tackle positions, he’ll just be setting up the offense for failure.  The Gator DEs – Jabari Zuniga, Louisville transfer Jonathan Greenard, and Jeremiah Moon – have to be licking their jaws, ready to eat up a true freshman and redshirt freshman at OT.  I expect Miami will try to shorten the game with steady running and the occasional play-action deep shot to a WR (KJ Osborn or Jeff Thomas – if he’s not suspended) or seam route to one of their talented TEs (Brevin Jordan or Will Mallory).  This will be an immediate test to see if Coach Grantham has improved the pass coverage by the LBs and how well Trey Dean is ready to fill in at the Star position.  Miami’s TEs will test the middle of the field, and the Gator LBs and safeties have to be ready and at least slow them down.
Florida should have a decided advantage on special teams.  PK Evan McPherson and punter Tommy Townsend are one of the best tandems in college football, and Coach Mullen has plenty of experienced and dangerous threats in the return game.  If Thomas is suspended for this game, that a big hit the the Hurricanes, as he is a dangerous kick returner.
If the Gators can protect the ball on offense and win first down on defense, this should be a solid win, despite the rivalry aspect of the game.  I expect Miami to come out early with a lot of fire, but after a few series and the teams settle down, Florida has enough experience and playmakers on both offense and defense to pull away in the second half. 
Florida 26scUM  13