Florida’s winning streak reached 31 against Kentucky with another ugly performance that had a beautiful ending. After being outplayed for most of the first 3 quarters, the Gators dominated the 4th quarter to overcome a 13-point deficit and steal a SEC road win.
After watching Feleipe Franks stumble through another rough outing, Coach Mac inserted Luke Del Rio late in the 3rd quarter to try and spark the offense. It turned out to be the correct call, as the offense came to life and moved the ball effectively and scored 2 touchdowns. Malik Davis had the hot hand at RB, and surprisingly led the way with 21 carries for 93 yards to help establish a consistent running threat. Kedarious Toney again showed why he is already one of the best freshmen in the SEC with a 36-yard TD run out of the wildcat formation and a long pass to Tyrie Cleveland that set up the first TD of the 4th quarter. Cleveland scored a TD of his own in the 2nd quarter on a 4th down play known as “jazz hands”, where the staff had noticed that Kentucky sometimes was slow to cover an outside receiver out of a bunch formation. Fortunately Franks saw the opening and delivered the ball to Cleveland. Unbelievably, the same play worked to perfection late in the game for the winning score on a pass from LDR to Freddie Swain. The O-Line did a decent job of run blocking even with no real threat from Franks and the passing game. However, you could immediately see a huge improvement in both run and pass blocking when LDR entered the game. He knows the playbook better than any of the QBs, and also knows how to call blocking scheme changes that help the O-Line. The pocket was basically clean the last 20 minutes of the game.
The playcalling of Doug Nussmeier remains numbingly poor and predictable. The swing passes and pitches to the short side of the field. Only one deep throw. No slant routes. Passes within 2 yards (or behind) the LOS when longer yardage is needed.. Any time there was a pass on first down, you could count on a run on 2nd down and a pass on third down. The same crap for 3 seasons, and the opposing coaches actually get paid to see the same things. Nuss must go.
Shockingly, Deandre Goolsby made 2 clutch catches to extend drives in the second half, the first real contribution out of the TE position all season. Greg Nord must go.
The punt coverage was abysmal – no lane integrity, poor angles. Greg Nord must go.
The WRs still cannot get open consistently, displaying poor technique getting off the LOS and sloppy route-running. Kerry Dixon must go.
Overreaction? Not after 2+ years of this mess.
The Gator defense did not help the cause by allowing the Mildcats to control the ball and clock for almost 3 quarters. The same problems have not been corrected yet – poor run game fits by the LBs, poor coverage by the safeties, no one setting the edge on outside runs, and incredibly bad tackling. The loss of LB Vosean Joseph for a targeting call in the first half hurt the defense, already missing LB Kylan Johnson due to injury. Nick Washington looked bad in coverage, getting beaten for Kentucky’s first TD. The D-Line struggled in the first half against the run, but settled down in the second half and finally found it’s footing. The pass rush was terrific all night, ending a handful of Mildcat drives that could have put the game away before the QB change for Florida. Finally, the CB play from the freshmen continues to excel – they have helped save the team from what could be an 0-3 start.
Vanderbilt comes to the Swamp off of a crushing 59-0 loss to Alabama at home. After getting off to a 3-0 start and talking themselves up, they were reminded of their place. It will be interesting to see how they react to the loss – come out deflated, or use the embarrassment as motivation. At this point it may not matter to the Gators, as they have so many issues of their own that no opponent can be overlooked.
The Commodore’s quick start to the season was led by their defense, as their offense has looked even worse that Florida’s. Head Coach Derek Mason has done a very good job of coordinating the defense since he fired his defensive coordinator in the middle of the 2016 season (see Coach Mac – it can be done). The Vandy front seven had been solid against the run, led by a very good LB corps. However, they were literally run over last week by Alabama, so perhaps the Florida coaching staff can find some things in the film to exploit. Their secondary is suspect, but who knows if the Gators can take advantage of it until it’s proven? If LDR is named the starter this week (and I don’t see any reason not to), that should lend itself to a more varied passing scheme and (hopefully) more consistent success and balance. The WRs should be able to get open more often. The RB rotation of Davis, Lemical Perine, and Mark Thompson has been effective the last 2 weeks, and will be relied upon again. The O-Line will need to continue to mesh, and should have improved communication with LDR at QB. Finally, Toney should continue to terrorize defenses with his speed and playmaking ability.
Randy Shannon and the entire defensive staff have so much to work on, it’s hard to decide where to start. This is perhaps the worst tackling team I’ve seen since the 1970s. The LB play has been especially poor, hampered by both injuries and suspensions, with no relief in sight. The DEs are doing a great job rushing the QB, but still are allowing way to many easy runs to the outside on sweeps and on not maintaining lane integrity on draw plays. The safeties have really struggled – Chauncey Gardner while (not) tackling, and Washington in coverage. I expect to see more of Shawn Davis and Brad Stewart this week – might as well throw Stewart in like the freshmen playing well at CB – he has the raw ability to be very good. Perhaps it’s time to consider a 5 man front to shore up the edges, and let the chips fall where they may for the LBs. The return of Joseph from his targeting ejection last week will be a huge boost. A 5-2-4 alignment may be just what’s needed to get the best 11 defensive players on the field for now.
It hasn’t been pretty, but the Gators don’t need to make any apologies for being 2-0 in SEC play. The important things are continuing to correct mistakes, developing the young players as the team is essentially on probation with 9 suspended players and some injured ones, and focusing only on the next game. It’s the start of a critical 3-game home stand that could set Florida up for another run to Atlanta, or expose the team’s flaws and really ramp up the “noise in the system”. The pressure continues unabated for Coach Mac to improve the offense, while Shannon and the defensive staff have to find ways to mask the poor LB play. For now, it’s hard to imagine a performance by this team that leads to a comfortable win until it happens.
Finally, now that felony charges have been filed for the “Suspended 9”, I’m hearing some disturbing things about what’s happening both inside and outside of the locker room. Coach Mac is going to need to change his “aw shucks” persona and get tough publicly, and he also needs to not let friendships with coaches preclude improvement.
Never a dull moment for Gator Nation.
Prediction: Florida 20 Vanderbilt 17