“Train Right Open, Big Ben In”
That’s the play call that (again) will be etched into Florida Football history. Unbelievable – the same play that won the game against Tennessee in 2015 came up aces again on Saturday, with the 63-yard throw from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland putting the dagger into the Vol’s hearts – again. The 4th quarter turned what had been a mundane, low-scoring game into a highlight reel.
While all of the headlines will be about the last-play TD, it was the Gator defense that set the stage by holding the Vols to 3 points until the offense finally found some footing late. The defense came up with many stops in it’s own territory throughout the game, forcing Tennessee to try long FGs (3 of which missed). Duke Dawson came up with a huge pick at the Gator 1-yard line late in the third quarter, and CJ Henderson continues to shine as a true freshman with another pick six early in the 4th quarter to give Florida a 10 point cushion. The one area of major concern is the poor defense of the linebackers, both against the run and pass. There were again a host of missed tackles against the Vol RBs, and this group still hasn’t defended screen passes properly and continues to vacate the middle in pass coverage. These were the only reasons Tennessee’s offense finally made it a close game, scoring way too quickly and easily in the 4th quarter. Some of that might be attributed to getting worn down by having to play so many snaps due to the offensive struggles, but there were too many poor angles taken and a lack of recognition of pass-play development. Coaches Shannon and Skipper have to get this corrected, even if it means moving to more 4-2-5 sets and getting another DB into coverage.
The offense again had it’s struggles, but did show signs of life in the running game. Each of Lemical Perine, Mark Thompson, and Malik Davis had their moments, especially the long run by Davis that almost became a back-breaking TD to give the Gators a 17 point lead and effectively end the game. It was good to see a few throws on slants to the WRs, which helped keep the LBs honest. Kedarious Toney was finally unleashed, and showed off some big-time moves and speed. His athletic ability will help the other WRs get more single coverage, and open up the entire field for Franks. The route-running and lack of separation by the WRs remains a concern, and Coach Dixon isn’t impressing anyone right now with the lack of development of this group. Every offensive unit still lacks consistency, and has room to improve. Finally, moving Doug Nussmeier to the booth may have helped a little, but the lack of aggressiveness and assertiveness of his playcalling still is handcuffing the offense and in my opinion prevents the players from playing fast and loose as they should. The Gators still aren’t taking full advantage of the speed of their skill players to threaten defenses all over the field.
It sounds like Volsheimers is setting in early in Knoxville, as somehow their narrative is that the better team lost.
Well, when you……
didn’t lead the entire game
have Florida lose a 73 yard touchdown run when the ball was stripped from behind at the one
had the ball first and goal at the one and didn’t score
missed 3 FGs
played a Florida offense with only 4 skill position players having more than 14 career games of experience
played against a Gator defense that at some times in the 4th quarter had 7 freshmen playing
……and don’t win, you didn’t deserve to win, and likely should have never been that close.
It’s on to the Bluegrass State to face a Kentucky team that is talking proud right now about how they have finally “arrived” in the SEC East this season. This after coming off wins such as struggling on the road to beat a bad Southern Mississippi team, an ugly home win over Eastern Kentucky, and winning at South Carolina against an overrated Lamecock team. Any time you get a road win in the SEC that is to be commended, but I’m not buying into the media hype that this is the year the Wildcats end their 30-game losing streak to the Gators just yet. Head Coach Mike Stoops has his team playing solid fundamental football and limiting mistakes, but Florida is a large step up in talent and won’t be as accommodating.
Florida’s offense showed some glimpses of improvement and big-play capability against Tennessee, and must continue to attack more often and get the ball into the hands of Toney and Davis. Their ability to stretch the field and spread out the defense opens up the rest of the offense, and allows Franks to become more comfortable in the passing game. The Gator running game showed improvement last week and should have more success against a Kentucky D-Line they physically outmatch. The rotation of Perine, Thompson, and Davis is improving, and allows each guy to stay fresh into the second half. Franks hopefully will improve and quicken his decision-making, as he left a lot of yards on the field against Tennessee both as a passer and runner. Josh Hammond seems to be the #2 WR behind Cleveland now, and he plus Toney have to help make the defense play more honest in coverage. Perhaps Dre Massey will finally be removed from the side of milk cartons and get some touches. The O-Line improved a little, but at this point I’m not expecting more than a middle of the pack performance this season. This is where the playcalling has to help the entire offense – Coach Mac needs to continue to ensure the keys players are getting the ball and somehow quicken the pace of play. So far the TE position has contributed nothing – a huge disappointment. Here’s hoping Kemore Gamble gets healthy soon and can get on the field.
The old adage that defense travels is the mantra for this week. The Gator defense has to shake off a bad 4th quarter of minor injuries and poor tackling against Tennessee and get back to solid fundamentals. Kentucky simply doesn’t have the playmakers or firepower that the Vols have on offense, and the Gators should be able to control the action at the LOS and force QB Stephen Johnson into situations he is not comfortable in. Johnson is more of a threat as a runner than as a passer and is the second leading rusher behind Benny Snell, so the DEs must stay in their rush lanes and contain him in the pocket. Snell is the Wildcat workhorse – he’s not especially fast or elusive, but plays a physical game and tries to wear down opponents. C.J. Conrad is the main receiving target – he doesn’t have many catches, but has a large average per catch, making big plays after defenses bunch up to stop the running game. The Gator secondary has enough talent and playmakers to control the Wildcat WRs as long as they maintain discipline and don’t get caught looking into the backfield and allowing receivers to get behind them. The LB corps misses Kylan Johnson and lacks quality depth right now, but simply has to play better and smarter – starting with containing the QB on scramble plays this week.
Florida’s special teams should have a huge advantage in this game. Anything they can do to help field position and assist in generating points is always magnified on the road.
Someday Kentucky will end their losing streak to Florida, which now stands at 30. They are at home, and will have an excited crowd behind them for a night game. However, even with an offense and QB that are works in progress, the Gators have a better defense and a decided edge on special teams. The coaching staff should be able to use the tape from the Tennessee game to keep the players focused on improving, and let all the talk coming out of the Kentucky camp provide motivation to keep the streak alive.
Prediction: Florida 27 Kentucky 17