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