Survive and advance. Unfortunately, given the terrible red-zone performance of the Gator offense this year, that’s the mantra the rest of the way, unless major changes occur. There are serious rumblings out of Gainesville this week that some changes may actually start to happen, including perhaps Carl Johnson moving back to LG, and an entire re-think of red zone play calling. The offensive staff is simply not giving the players the best chance to win, and that’s completely on them.
When you see Tim Tebow show that much frustration to Coach Meyer, and the lack of smiles and fun had by the team, than there is something seriously wrong. I’m sure Tim is pressing, and the constant attention and sniping from everyone across the country has to wear on young kids like this. Being a defending champion is tough — being the Florida Gators, with Tim Tebow and so many returning starters, has to be incredibly tough. Just look at how poorly Arkansas played against Ole Miss — think they didn’t give the Gators their best shot?
There are no real complaints about the offensive performance between the 20s. Chris Rainey was very solid, Aaron Hernandez is money, and Riley Cooper made some nice catches over the middle. You have to make defenses pay if they are going to crowd the box and run blitz constantly. The pass protection is still a major concern, though. Mike Pouncey was beaten badly a few times, and Carl Johnson does not have the foot speed to handle speed rushers. The loss of Matt Patchan really hurts at LT.
The Florida defense again led the way, allowing zero offensive touchdowns. They did a great job in limiting the effectiveness of Dixon in the running game, meaning MSU had zero chance of any consistent success. Dunlap and Cunningham seem to be ramping up the pass rush, and Terron Sanders is playing the best football of his career at DT. Once again the LB corps handled the loss of Spikes almost seamlessly.
Now it’s on to Jacksonville to play a desperate Georgia team. The Puppies have beaten Florida the first 2 times the Gators were defending a National Championship, and have had a week off to prepare to try and save their season.
The Puppy offense has shown flashes of big-play ability all year. AJ Green is the one true playmaker in their offense at WR, and commands attention anywhere. Orson Charles has hit some big gains on the seam route at the TE position. The real surprise is why their running game has struggled so much. Even with the loss of Knowshon Moreno, they have talent at RB in Samuels, King, and Ealey. The performance of their OL has been the main culprit, and their level of play has to improve dramatically to have any chance of scoring on the Gators. Joe Cox can make plays, but only with time to throw and by scheme — he does not have the physical tools like Matt Stafford to make plays when things start to break down, and the hope is that the Florida defense breaks the entire Puppy offense — in two.
Georgia’s defense has been maligned since game one, and defensive coordinator Willie Martinez seems to be ‘Dead Coach Walking’ right now. Little pass rush and poor DE play, spotty play from the LBs (except all-SEC performer Rennie Curran), and shockingly inconsistent play from their secondary, who made Tennessee’s Jonathan Crompton look like Peyton Manning 2 weeks ago. They may be fired-up early against Florida, but a crushing running drive or an actual big pass play could shatter what little confidence they may have right away.
It’s been an interesting week in Gainesville getting ready for this big game. I still have confidence that the staff will correct some things, and that the players realize that they have made some uncharacteristic mistakes, including Tebow. Tim needs to throw more passes on-time, and take some swing passes earlier. Plus, the main thing to correct is fumbling the ball — ball security is key in Coach Meyer’s Plan to Win, and he has to be dying inside after the past 2 weeks. Even the special teams can improve. The kickoff coverage has shown some cracks recently (partly due to poor kicks from Sturgis), and Brandon James is simply not himself. I think the added responsibility of more offensive snaps is wearing him down some physically, as he doesn’t look nearly as explosive as past seasons.
Despite the extra week to prepare, a confidence-shaking loss like the one to the Vollies could be too much for Georgia to overcome. The Puppies are hurting not just from last year’s beatdown at the hands of Florida, but from the recent collapses against LSU and Tennessee. Yes, Florida’s offense is making even mediocre defenses look good right now, but I have to go with the matchups at QB (Tebow vs. Cox), defensive coordinator (Strong vs. Martinez), Head Coach (Meyer vs. Pricht), and Florida’s across-the-board superiority in talent level and leadership. Maybe this week is when the Gators turn it on for a run to Atlanta.
Prediction – Florida 23 Georgia 20