Another week, another sloppy, inconsistent performance from the Gators……and another SEC win. Nothing comes easy for this group, but they have proven resilient so far and showed resolve in the second half, physically dominating Vanderbilt and overcoming crucial injuries.
The offense continued to show signs of life with Luke Del Rio at QB, only to have him knocked out with a separated left shoulder that will require season-ending surgery. The running game carried the day under both LDR and Feleipe Franks, as the O-Line manhandled the Vanderbilt D-Line all afternoon. Once again the RB rotation of Malik Davis, Lemical Perine, and Mark Thompson led the way, helping to dominate time of possession and keeping the Gators 1-2 scores ahead in the second half while the defense once again struggled against the pass. Franks did an excellent job of running the 2-minute offense at the end of the first half to get the tying FG. In the second half he made some clutch throws, but also could have been easily picked off twice and continues to hesitate before throwing. Why he continues to not take some good yardage when being forced to scramble is a mystery – unless the staff has told him not to take any chances of injury. The RBs were utilized more in the passing game as well, and were effective. The WRs were again very average other than Tyrie Cleveland. Freddie Swain did make a great catch on a deflected ball that lead to a TD, but rest of the group was invisible. Finally, it’s hard to believe that Moral Stephens is the most effective TE right now, but he had some clutch 3rd down catches and a big reception that led to a 3rd quarter TD. Deandre Goolsby had one catch in the first half, while C’yontai Lewis’ picture is appearing on milk cartons.
The Gator D-Line had it’s way most of the game and helped to partially offset the continued struggles of the LBs and safeties in pass coverage. For almost 3 quarters the back seven made Kyle Shurmur look like Dan Marino, leaving the middle of the field open and blowing assignments. Once the lead became 14 points and the threat of the running game was negated, the D-Line harassed Shurmer the rest of the game and the pass coverage tightened up. The return of Kylan Johnson to the LB corps was a boost, as he was able to get on roughly half of the defensive snaps and made his presence felt. Jeremiah Moon and Vosean Joseph are still struggling, though, and there is simply no quality depth. Duke Dawson moved between boundary and slot CB, and played well. Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson were both victimized by some deep throws, but kept competing as good CBs need to do. Chauncey Gardner came up to make some good tackles from the safety position, but Nick Washington still struggled in coverage. There will be plenty of things to work on after watching the film.
Now it’s on to the newest grudge match on the schedule as the LSU comes to the Swamp for the first of 2 straight visits, the result of last year’s game being moved to Baton Rouge due to the whining of LSU AD Joe Alleva. There was a lot of bad blood in last year’s game, as the Gators were especially motivated to win after all the disrespect afforded by Alleva and the entire LSU team. Now the Tigers come to Gainesville really hurting after an upset loss at home to Troy in which they were physically beaten on both sides of the LOS.
With Franks now the de facto starter, there’s no more security blanket with LDR ready to come in. It’s his show now, and he must perform with more consistency or get replaced by Malik Zaire. Franks has so much to work on that the staff will have to try to manage his game while trying to continue the recent uptick of the offense in general. He has to improve his cadence at the line, he needs to stop double- and triple-clutching some of his passes and let it go on the first read, and has to improve his accuracy and touch on intermediate throws. No matter how well Franks plays, expect more of the wildcat formation with Toney at QB, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Zaire get some designated series during the game, both to get him experience with this offense and also for a change of pace. No matter the QB or the amount of “special plays” that may be in the game plan, the run game is where the offense needs to continue to shine. Despite the fact that LSU will likely crowd the box and dare the Gators to throw, the O-Line and RBs have to find ways to move the chains and not force Franks into many bad down-and-distance scenarios. Hopefully Davis and Toney can have some success outside the tackles and around end, while Perine and Thompson will need to run tough inside. I keep saying it – throw more to the RBs to get them in space and take pressure off of the QB and O-Line. The passing game took a major hit with Cleveland’s ankle injury apparently keeping him out this week. No one else has stood out or been a consistent contributor, and this could prove problematic. Josh Hammond supposedly had an excellent fall camp, but has disappeared during the regular season. Dre Massey has been on the milk carton photos Lewis hasn’t. Brandon Powell is the senior and has made some plays, but it’s been solely with his legs, trying to make defenders miss after getting a short pass. It’s not all on their shoulders, as Franks has struggled with his reads and progressions, but they have to start getting separation from DBs and getting open quickly. Another steady diet of swing passes and short passes within a few yards of the LOS isn’t going to cut it this week. This is not a vintage LSU front seven – Florida should be able to find some success running the ball if they stay patient, and Franks can make some plays downfield if he’ll just trust his WRs and make some throws on time and in rhythm.
The Gator defense knows it will be in a physical war this week. LSU is still a run-dominant team, and has two terrific RBs in Derrius Guice and Darrell Williams. Their O-Line is not as talented as in years past, but is no slouch. The Florida LBs need to play their best game of the season – scraping off of blocks, making better reads and run fits in the gaps, and staying in their zones in coverage. Will the light finally come on for these guys? The D-Line needs to continue it’s strong play, getting penetration to disrupt blocking schemes and timing and forcing the Tiger RBs wide. The DEs are a proven commodity, and should make QB Danny Etling’s life miserable if LSU is forced to throw regularly. If the Gators can’t slow the running game, then big-play WR DJ Chark becomes even more dangerous – he is LSU’s playmaker, and the Gator secondary has to keep him contained all afternoon.
As usual, Florida has a huge advantage on special teams. Eddy Pineiro and Johnny Townsend have been excellent all season and are far better than their counterparts in this game. The punt coverage team showed improvement against Vanderbilt, and needs to continue to get better. The Gator offense isn’t good enough to score a lot on it’s own, and needs some help with occasional field position wins.
This team has been maddening to watch so far, matching great plays with dumb mistakes and horrible tackling. The current level of inconsistency will eventually catch up to them unless it is reduced dramatically. LSU will have a ton of motivation after the Gators gutted out the big win in the Hurricane Matthew game at Baton Rouge last year, along with the embarrassment they suffered at home last week. The Tigers still have enough quality talent to win most games they play. Hopefully the Gators are smart enough to realize they cannot overlook anyone, and remember how hard they’ll need to play for 4 quarters. Coach Mac certainly remembers all the crap that came from Alleva and the entire Tiger camp before last year’s game, and I know that he personally wants this game badly. I’m thinking that there will be some new wrinkles from both the offense and defense this week that the staff has been holding back. With such a flawed team, it’s imperative to minimize turnovers and penalties. This game is usually a close affair into the 4th quarter, and I expect the same in this one.
Prediction: Florida 23 LSU 20