Well, the Gators found a way to circle the wagons with less than 60 players available, multiple starters out, and losing others because of a fight at halftime, and still beat down the Missouri Tigers 41-17.
The defense was vastly simplified, with a lot more 4-3, less blitzing, more zone in the intermediate areas, and occasionally more man coverage by the CBs. The secondary was without 3 starters going in, and lost Trey Dean due to injury in the first half. Talk about clearing the bench for Homecoming – there were guys not even on the 3-deep roster and a few non scholarship players seeing snaps in the 4th quarter – and still they survived without allowing too many big plays. Amazing what can happen if you simplify some stuff, isn’t it, Todd Grantham? The return of DT Kyree Campbell was evident, as he did a nice job of stuffing some running lanes and getting some push in the pocket on occasion. That allowed other guys to play their more natural positions and excel. Brenton Cox had his best game as a Gator, getting pressure on the QB but also setting the edge better against the run and making some good tackles pursuing down the line of scrimmage. Zach Carter played very well in the first half before being ejected due to the fight. Brad Stewart played well at safety, and hopefully is allowed to stay there the rest of the season. Young CBs Jaydon Hill and Chester Kimbrough and safety Rashad Torrence saw extended playing time.
The offense was not as well-balanced as I had hoped, but part of that seems to be by design, as Dan Mullen stubbornly refused to run the ball more and relied on Kyle Trask and a plethora of receivers to control the game. Trask had some shaky moments – some of his own doing – but he remained poised and played well overall. The timing between him and his receivers was better than I expected, but still showed some rust after losing 2 weeks of practice time. Trask actually wound up as the leading rusher as well, with some timely runs extending drives – but this isn’t a viable course for the rest of the season. Mullen is going to have to rely on the RBs to carry their share of the load to try and survive the balance of the season. Kyle Pitts was hot early, and that loosened things up for the other receivers the rest of the game. Kedarius Toney scored 3 TDs – 2 receiving and 1 rushing – and continues to show what a huge leap he has made this season……he’s making himself some money come NFL Draft time.
Of course, there was one negative……a HUGE one. The fight at the end of the first half was caused by a late hit on Trask and then inflamed by Mullen’s uncontrolled reaction led to multiple ejections. The most serious one is losing Carter for the first half of the upcoming game. Just a bad look all around, with no help from the inept referees who could have at least thrown a flag for the late hit and probably prevented this. Mullen gets a $25K fine, players get suspended, and the Gators get bad press nationally……all of which was avoidable. That’s twice this season that Mullen has crapped on himself to the detriment of the school and team – he needs to control himself better, even if the team feels he has their back. You can show the team the same without these over-the-top words and actions.
It’s on to Jacksonville for the SEC East showdown against Georgia. This is going to be a really tough matchup for the Gators because of the style the Puppies play – a tough running game and physical defense with both size and speed. The Florida front seven is going to get it’s toughest challenge of the season by far from Georgia’s O-line and stable of talented running backs, led by Zamir White. White, Kendall Milton, and James Cook are all talented, and Cook is also a weapon as a receiver. The Gator defense has to get some stops and as many possessions as possible for the offense. It’s going to take at least 24-27 points to win this game, and it will take a lot of possessions to get there against the toughest defense Florida will face in the regular season. As a result of Carter’s suspension for the first half, I hope to see both Campbell and TJ Slaton on the field at the same time at DT as much as possible to try and clog the inside running lanes and also disrupt the pocket on passing downs. The LBs need to make a huge improvement in filling the running lanes. QB Stetson Bennett is nothing more than a game-manager, and Kirby Smart will rely on the running game to control the line of scrimmage and also time of possession. Their main goal will be to try and keep Florida’s offense on the sideline, as they were able to do last season.
Florida’s offense will be under pressure all afternoon from a physical, fast, and well-coached Georgia defense. For starters, let’s hope they don’t repeat the fiasco of last season, when the skill position players had the wrong play calls on their wristbands which caused confusion and self-inflicted wounds the entire first quarter. There is very little room for error this week – the O-line will have to manage at least a stalemate at the LOS to both protect Trask and also establish some semblance of a running game for balance. The Gator WRs will need to be prepared for a secondary that specializes at playing physical at the LOS to knock receivers off routes and disrupt timing. The WRs can’t afford to get frustrated – they must fight through this and make some individual plays. Trask will find the right person if given time, and has the right temperament to withstand some pocket pressure and take some hits. Georgia’s defense has suffered some significant injuries recently – both on and off the field. All-SEC Saety Richard Lecounte is out after a scooter accident, while DL Julian Rochester is out with a torn ACL and DI Jordan Davis may try to play through a serious shoulder injury. Some of the Puppy LBs are also dinged up but will play – Quay Walker and Monty Rice are excellent defenders and would be sorely missed. Dan Mullen really needs to call a quality game, as this year’s Gator offense has it’s best matchup since Mullen has been the head coach.
I would feel better about this game if Florida was in it’s regular weekly game rhythm, had it’s full complement of players, and was simply in 100% game shape. The loss of 2 weeks of practice time in October is a tough hurdle to overcome, complicated by facing an opponent that hasn’t had those issues. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is stop an opponent’s winning streak against you……and much of that can be the mental game. I just don’t see the Gators at 100% for this one and ready to reverse their fortunes in this series.
Prediction; Georgia 27 Florida 23