Florida took care of business against Idaho, mashing the Potatoes, er, Vandals in a 63-10 blowout. The game worked out as well as Coach Mullen could have wanted – get a big early lead, and start pulling starters and emptying the bench to get the young guys some live reps.
Idaho was badly outmanned, and the Gators did as they pleased on both sides of the ball. I was surprised at how often Mullen called a pass play, but perhaps he was secure in his comfort level with the running game for next week and wanted both Franks and Jones to get as many throws in as they could. Franks had great numbers, but still missed some easy TD throws to Jefferson, continuing a season-long theme. He was still high with some throws over the middle to open WRs and behind on a few slants, but found the range in the second quarter before being pulled. Jones looked good moving the team, and made some accurate throws to all 3 zones. He also turned the ball over on a botched snap, showing his inexperience. Even in such a mismatch, the absence of Buchanan at center due to suspension meant Jordan had to move to center, and his play there immediately looked scarily like 2016 and 2017, as even the Vandals were able to stuff the inside run occasionally and get some pass pressure. The Gator defense set the tone on the first scrimmage play, with CGJ getting a pick-6. Florida dominated the LOS as they should have, and did an excellent job of shutting down the Idaho passing game, forcing the QBs to run for their lives all afternoon. A lot of young guys got extended time, with DE Zack Carter and LB Ventrell Miller making some big plays.
The best thing about this game other than seeing so many young guys play was that there were no significant injuries.
Now it’s on to the rivalry game against the Criminoles in Taliban City. Florida has now lost 5 straight and 7 out of 8 in the series, and that has to stop. Recruiting and program prestige have suffered, and the time is ripe for Mullen and the Gators to take control of the state again.
F$U has struggled on offense most of this season, mainly due to a weak O-Line that has allowed QB Deondre Francois to be punished. Florida has to focus on slowing RB Cam Akers, and then let the chips fall where they may with the matchup of their pass-rushing DEs vs. the sieve that is the F$U O-Line. This should force F$U into more max-protect formations, negating some throws to the TE and RBs and allowing the Gator secondary to match up against the Criminole WRs. F$U has some talent at WR in Nyqwan Murray and Tamorrion Terry, but nothing explosive like in previous years. As long as the safeties play sound football and don’t allow any plays over the top, this is a good matchup for Florida. Hopefully Stewart can play after sitting out the past 2 weeks with a quad injury. If the Gator DTs can at worst get a stalemate and occasionally disrupt the interior, the rest of the defense should have a good day. F$U has not shown the capability of sustaining long scoring drives, so they will be looking for a lot of chunk plays – the Gator LBs and secondary have to play sound and alert football all afternoon and communicate coverages.
Florida’s offense can’t simply play safe, conservative football all day. While the F$U defense has had difficulty against power-running teams, the Gators can’t expect to simply control the LOS all game long. It will be interesting to see how much risk Mullen is willing to take in the passing game – will he try to push downfield more often to loosen up the Criminole defense, or hope to continue to rely on the short, safe throws that protect Franks from extra punishment…..and from himself. Scarlett and Perine need to get the tough yards to help the offense win on 1st down, as Franks can’t be relied upon to consistently bail out the offense in long-yardage situations. It appears that Jones will be given a package for the game as well – whether he will be called upon is another matter. The Gator O-Line has to account for DE Brian Burns in pass pro – he is one of the best pass-rushing DEs in the country. The return from suspension of Buchanan at center should bolster the interior. Florida’s WRs will need to block well and win some physical battles for the football against a F$U secondary led by Levonta Taylor and Stanford Samuels.
This game is massive for Coach Mullen and the Gator program. Getting a win against a sub-.500 F$U team, ending their 36-year bowl game streak, and showing that Mullen is a much better coach than Slick Willie Taggart would do wonders for recruiting, the Gator Nation, and national perception. There is a lot of internal unrest in the F$U program, as the team has looked outcoached and without focus many times. They are coming off of a last-second win giftwrapped by Boston College, and now have some faint hope of another 6-6 season and extending their bowl game streak. As in almost any rivalry game, records don’t mean much – like the stock market, past performance does not guarantee future results. Florida really needs to win this game, but has to expect a 4-quarter battle unlike anything that the Criminoles have exhibited in 2018. If this game were at the Swamp I could see a comfortable Gator win, but unless the Gators race out to an early lead and demoralize the F$U players and fans, this one likely doesn’t get decided until the 4th quarter.
Prediction: Florida 24 Florida $t. 20