Miami Review

On a night in which the Gators tried to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Florida defeated Miami 24-20 despite a flurry of turnovers and penalties that made the score much closer than the two teams really are.  That was one, um……interesting game, but still satisfying in the end with a win.

I knew the first game would feature some sloppy play, but damn!  Let’s just say the Gator staff will have plenty to discuss with the team during the bye week with a LOT of things to “correct”.  I knew that the only way this game would be close was if Florida lost the turnover battle, and (unfortunately) that’s exactly what happened.  Leading 7-3 in the second quarter, Felipe Franks and Lamical Perine somehow muffed an exchange on a zone read, allowing Miami to escape a potential 11 point deficit and changing the entire complexion of the game.  A dropped pitch from Franks to Malik Davis should never have happened, which led to the ‘Canes taking the lead at halftime.  Franks then had 2 interceptions in the 4th quarter that allowed Miami first to retake the lead and then to stay close.  The first was a pass to an open Freddie Swain that was too high and tipped.  The second was, well……I’ll be nice and just say egregious.  I liked Coach Mullen calling a pass play on first down with 4:30 left, instead of just running the ball to try and milk the clock.  But no one knows why Franks made the throw that he did, giving the ‘Canes a short field to try and win the game.  Like I said……LOTS to “correct”.

The Gator defense was lights out for the most part.  The offense did them no favors by running only 54 plays and leaving the defense on the field for 36 minutes.  But those guys never flinched and brought the heat all night.  Yes, there was the one long rushing TD allowed because of horrific tackling.  But the defense rose up time and again after the turnovers gave Miami a short field many times.  DEs Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard and LBs Ventrell Miller and James Houston created havoc in the ‘Cane backfield all game, getting 10 sacks and numerous QB pressures along with many negative running plays.  My guess is that close to 100 yards of Miami’s 301 total came only after multiple pass interference and personal foul calls gave them new sets of downs.  DeeJay Dallas ended with 95 rushing yards, but 74 came on only two plays out of the wildcat formation, again driven by terrible tackling.  Miami has two quality TEs, and while Brevin Jordan had 88 yards and a touchdown (on a tipped pass), the defense did a much better job overall in covering the TEs than last season.  The safety play is still suspect – Jaewon Taylor and Donovan Stiner are not SEC-level players, and Brad Stewart was sorely missed, serving (another) suspension.

Florida’s special teams were dynamite, as expected.  I expected them to dominate, while most pregame analysis glossed over them.  Tommy Townsend’s punts were excellent, and his fake in the first quarter gained a first down and allowed the Gators to take the lead on the very next play, a 66-yard WR screen to Kadarious Toney.  All but one of Evan McPherson’s kickoffs found the end zone, and he converted his only FG attempt.  Finally, the buy-in by starters like WRs Van Jefferson and Tyrie Cleveland on punt coverage is a prime example of Mullen’s emphasis on special teams.  Both guys were right in Jeff Thomas’ face when he fumbled a punt at the Miami 11-yard line in the 3rd quarter.  Jefferson recovered, and the Gators took the lead 17-13 on a Franks to Perine pass.

After the immediate hysteria dies down about the wild 4th quarter, turnovers, penalties, and poor tackling, many will realize that these were the only things that kept the score close, as Florida was at least 14-17 points better than Miami.  By playing in this special opening game, Florida gets the rare gift of a 3rd bye week – allowing them plenty of time to recuperate after a hard-fought win and to clean up many things.  I could not care less what the national media and perception is from this game – it was a huge win against a bitter in-state rival, and will look even better as scUM cruises through a weak ACC schedule.

I’ll be back next week with my preview of the home opener against Tennessee-Martin.  Go Gators! 

Miami Preview


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

2019 Season Preview

Florida comes off of the momentum of a strong finish to 2018 with wins over Florida $t. and Michigan, and will now be more the hunted than the hunter. Dan Mullen and his staff have the opportunity to build on the positive changes they established last season and continue to rebuild a solid foundation for the program. Every season is important, but some in retrospect are seen as more important than others – was 2018 a mirage, or do the Gators prove they are truly headed in the right direction?

There are some significant holes to fill with the losses of OT Jawaan Taylor, DE Jachai Polite, and slot defender Chauncey Gardner-Johnson to the NFL. There are some very good players ready to step in, but quality depth can only be found within certain position groups and not across the board. Another solid season would go a long ways toward closing the talent (and depth) gap that widened during the Won’t Misschump and Swamp Donkey eras by continuing the recent recruiting momentum.

Offense

Florida finally will roll out a group of skill position players that approaches what is expected by Gator Nation. However……unless Coach Hevesy can develop an O-Line that is at least serviceable, then there could be some problems against a challenging schedule.

Any success from the offense will depend almost solely on the offensive line. Nick Buchanan is the only returning starter, at center. There is no real experience behind him, so Brett Heggie will likely be the backup. Heggie is the best returning lineman and will start at left guard, but has battled injuries for 2 seasons and must stay healthy. Redshirt freshman Chris Bleich gets first crack at right guard – he has looked good in spring and fall camp, but (in a recurring theme) has little experience. The biggest concern is at the tackle positions, trying to replace LT Martez Ivey and RT Taylor. Stone Forsythe earned the start at LT in fall camp, while Texas transfer Jean Delance was slated to be the RT until incurring a leg injury in fall camp. Forsythe may have to move to RT or a backup gets forced into a starting role. There is so little experience and so much youth that usually this is exposed and magnified in the SEC. Mullen will have to call plays that help hide some deficiencies and try and allow a solid group of skill position players to shine. Richard Gouraige and TJ Moore are the only backups with any meaningful experience, with Noah Banks having to quit football for medical reasons. This is a scary depth chart, and injuries to any starters could derail any chance for a big season.

The running back corps is solid. Lamical Perine returns for his senior season as the leader. He has always been a tough runner, but has improved his speed during his career and is also a reliable receiver and pass-blocker. Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis will provide quality depth and have shown big-play potential. Freshman Nay’Quan Wright has promise, but will get only limited carries with so much quality ahead of him.

The strongest unit by far is at wide receiver. Talent, speed, depth, and size abound. Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes, and Tyrie Cleveland are all reliable targets with big-play potential. What would really help the offense is the development and some actual production out of the slot receivers – Josh Hammond, Rick Wells, and Freddie Swain need to put pressure on the middle of the field to help Franks keep the chains moving and the improve the overall efficiency of the offense. Finally, will this be the season that Kadarious Toney is utilized as he should be? He needs 8-10 touches a game to stress the defense on the perimeter and to showcase his ability in the open field.

I’m more bullish on the TE group than most. Despite the lack of experience, this unit has guys with SEC size and talent that can actually help in both the run and pass game. Kyle Pitts, Lucas Krull, and Kemore Gamble all have the potential to contribute – the question is which one or two takes over?

At quarterback, it’s Felipe Franks’ offense now. He finished 2018 strong and has distanced himself from Emory Jones and Kyle Trask. If he simply focuses on continued improvement in the film room and runs with conviction when the opportunities are there, he will be fine. As long as the O-Line doesn’t have him running for his life, there are plenty of playmakers surrounding him in order to have success on offense.

Defense

The Gator defense should be very good this season, with razor-thin depth in the secondary the only major concern. As long as the offense isn’t forcing these guys to play too many snaps, there are real playmakers in the group to assist in perhaps a run at the SEC East title.

The D-line actually could be as good or better than in 2018 – especially the edge guys. The loss of Jachai Polite might be felt initially, but the overall depth at DE, led by returning starter Jabari Zuniga, Louisville transfer Jonathan Greenard, and Jeremiah Moon are as good as anyone in the SEC. Young guys like Zach Carter, Andrew Chatfield, and Mohamoud Diabate will get their chance in the rotation to make a splash. The most important group will be the interior DL. Adam Shuler is the leader at DT and should make some noise this year. It’s time for Kyree Campbell, Elijah Conliffe, and TJ Slaton to put up or shut up. The physical talent is there – but will they mentally push through fatigue and the occasional injury, unlike last season?

The linebacker corps should be the best group since 2016. Senior David Reese leads the way at ILB. James Houston and Ventrell Miller have shown flashes, but need to play well consistently. Amari Burney is the young gun that started to ball out the last 2 games and could be the breakout star this season. Ty’Ron Hopper is a true freshman that could get into the rotation if he practices well and contributes on special teams.

The secondary has perhaps the best pair of CBs in the SEC in CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson, who returns from an ACL injury last September. These guys can shut down anyone, and should allow the front seven to make plays. Trey Dean was forced into Wilson’s spot last year and did well as a true freshman – he will step into the Star role in the place of NFL-bound Gardner-Johnson. Kaiir Elam is the one true freshman that could see significant snaps this year in a backup role. The safety position is the one that worries most observers. Shawn Davis and Brad Stewart are SEC-level players, but Davis has to improve in coverage, while Stewart’s biggest enemy is himself being a knucklehead off the field. Jaewon Taylor and Donovan Stiner are solid backups, but both have to improve in coverage and with the angles they take for open-field tackling.

Special Teams

I am really excited to see how this unit will contribute this fall, as the kicking specialists might be the best pair in college football. In addition, Dan Mullen has the roster depth now to place some real dangerous guys in the return game.

PK Evan McPherson could have been the most important recruit of 2018. He never looked like a true freshmen, making 90% of his FGs including clutch kicks to help win the road game at Mississippi St., while regularly placing his kickoffs into the end zone. Tommy Townsend succeeded his brother Johnny at punter and didn’t miss a beat, with great hang time for the coverage units and even sticking his nose in to make some tackles.

It’s finally time to put some real playmakers in for returns. There obviously is risk in using any starter, but guys like Toney and Davis could steal a close game if given the opportunity. Swain and Cleveland got the majority of touches on punts and kickoffs respectively in 2018, so it will be interesting to see if Mullen sticks with the the familiar or shakes things up.

Schedule and Outlook

Florida’s schedule begins with a showcase on August 24th against Miami in a neutral site game in Orlando. It will be the only game of the day, kicking off the 150th season of college football. This is a huge opportunity to get off to a good start both on the field and in recruiting – but comes with a lot of added pressure. The 4-game SEC stretch from Auburn through Georgia will ultimately determine how big of a season this will be for the Gators.

vs. scUM (Orlando) – Win
Huge game for the Gator program and Mullen. No need to take a step back after a strong finish to 2018. Beat down an in-state rival for recruiting momentum. Could be close into the 3rd quarter, but Florida should have too much for the ‘Canes.

Bye Week 1

UT Martin – Win
A glorified scrimmage to start the home schedule. Offers the chance to knock some rust off before starting the SEC slate. As always – no injures, please.

@Kentucky – Win
The Mildcats are talking proud after a 10-win 2018, but are gonna take a step back after taking advantage of some weaker-than-usual teams. They will learn quickly that having a target on your back is a lot different. Very important game to get off to a good start in conference – Mullen will have the Gators ready even though this one is on the road.

Tennessee – Win
Always an important SEC East game for the Gators. The Vols still have a major rebuild in progress. Florida simply has too many talent advantages across the board to lose this one at the Swamp.

Towson – Win
Another glorified scrimmage. Offers the chance to play some young guys and rest/heal the starters before a brutal SEC stretch. As always – no injures, please.

Auburn (Homecoming) – Loss
Toughest game to predict before the season starts. The Gators historically have struggled with Auburn. The Tigers have the best D-Line in the SEC, and will rely on a strong running game. The Gators can’t afford to play from behind. Auburn’s inexperience at QB could allow Florida to win a very close game, but right now this looks like a bad matchup at the line of scrimmage.

@LSU – Loss
LSU returns most of a very strong defense, and likely will have an improved offense. This series has turned ugly recently, and this will be another typically tough matchup. I’m going with the Tigers to prevail based on the Gators coming off of a difficult game the previous week.

@S. Carolina – Win
After 2 tough games, this one could be a lot closer than it should be. The Lamecocks have a lot of holes to fill and have a very tough schedule. But any road game in the SEC can prove difficult, and I could see this one coming down to the last possession.

Bye Week 2

vs. Georgia (Jacksonville) – Loss
The Puppies have taken advantage of very shady recruiting practices and a weak SEC East to prop themselves up nationally the past 2 seasons. Sadly, Georgia has a distinct talent advantage right now, and enough experience returning to win a close game. The Gators need to reverse the trend in this series soon.

Vanderbilt – Win
The Gators will be coming off a very tough 4-game conference stretch, and likely will have one of their historic letdowns against the Commodores. Florida wins by double-digits, but it may not be pretty.

@Missouri – Win
Florida has been embarrassed by this mediocre program mostly due to it’s own struggles since the Tigers joined the league in 2012. Missouri lost a lot of talent on offense and will be rebuilding. If this game were anywhere but on the road in what could be bad weather conditions, I would pick the Gators to win comfortably. This one could be close into the 4th quarter.

Bye Week 3

Florida $t. – Win
The Gators ended a miserable 5 game losing streak to the Criminoles last year, and the pendulum is swinging Florida’s way. It’s a rivalry game, so (almost) anything is possible, but F$U has major issues within it’s program and it’s talent level is way down. Mullen will put a stamp on a state championship with a solid win.

Overall Record 9-3
SEC Record 5-3

2019 arrives with a much different feeling surrounding the Florida program than the uncertainty of Dan Mullen’s first season. There is confidence that comes from the strong finish to 2018, but there are also the expectations that come with that. Predicting even 9 wins with an inexperienced O-Line against a tough SEC slate could be wildly optimistic. New players need to step into leadership roles – Franks, Perine, and Jefferson on offense and Henderson, Reese, and Zuniga on defense. The starting 22 are among the best in the SEC, but quality depth is sorely lacking at OL, LB, and in the secondary in case of injuries. The Gators will need some luck on the health front to maximize it’s win potential. Another good season will keep the recruiting momentum going and allow Florida to further distance itself from F$U and scUM. With so little room for error, it will be another interesting season in Gainesville.

It’s that time again……Heeeeeeeeeeeere come the Gators!

Peach Bowl vs. Michigan Review

Florida closed out it’s 2018 season with a resounding 41-15 beatdown of Michigan in Atlanta. What a turnaround from 2017 – props to Dan Mullen, his coaching staff, and the players for starting the rebuild/rehabilitation of the Gator brand with a 10-win season and providing much-needed momentum going into the February recruiting period and off-season.

After a slow start, the offense found it’s footing by establishing a solid running game that included some chunk plays by Franks on read-options that forced the Wolverine front seven to stay honest. Perine and Scarlett wore down the Michigan defenders in the second half, with Perine’s long TD run on a 3rd-and-20 draw play effectively ending the competitive phase of the game. Other key plays were Toney’s 30-yard burst on 4th-and 1 to set up a score, and the tunnel-screen throw to Perine for the TD that put Florida in the lead for good (a play that hadn’t been run all season).

The defense bent some in the first half, but once they were able to control the LOS and slow Michigan’s running game, that allowed the pass rushers and secondary to take over. The DT rotation held it’s own against a strong Wolverine O-line, while Polite and Zuniga disrupted the pocket for Shea Patterson on quite a few pass plays. CGJ closed out his Gator career with 2 critical interceptions – the first ending a Michigan scoring chance at the goal line followed by a long return that set up a Gator score, and then capping off the scoring with a pick six that started the celebration early.

After suffering 2 embarrassing losses to Michigan under the Swamp Donkey, this result showed the rest of the country that Florida is beginning it’s return to elite status with a head coach that actually works as hard as he demands from his staff and players along with becoming tougher both physically and mentally.

Dan Mullen and the staff can now use this exclamation point to further their case on the recruiting trail, while the retuning players can look back and see the fruits of their hard work and buy-in to the new regime, including Nick Savage’s S&C program. While F$U and scUM struggle, Florida can step into the vacuum and re-establish itself as the premier program in the state while starting to put space between itself and it’s in-state rivals. If the Gators can close on a handful of recruits at positions of need and continue to grind in off-season workouts and then spring practice, they will be in good shape in advance of another challenging season ahead.

The light at the end of the tunnel is no longer an oncoming train of bad coaching and lazy, misguided recruiting……it’s one of better days ahead for Gator football and for the Gator Nation.

Peach Bowl vs. Michigan Preview

Florida’s reward for a bounce-back 2018 regular season is it’s 3rd matchup in it’s past 38 games with Michigan – this time in the Peach Bowl at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The teams are coming off of dramatically different season-ending games.  While the Gators crushed F$U to end a painful 5-game losing streak, Michigan was embarrassed by Ohio $t. in a 62-39 beat down that made it 14 out of 15 losses against their bitter rival.

Florida’s offense will be challenged by a strong Wolverine front seven – even with the decision by DT Rashan Gary to forgo the game to prep for the NFL Draft. DE Chase Winovich and LB Devin Bush are all-Big 10/11/12/ whatever players.  The running game has carried the Gators all season, but Mullen will have to be ready to mix things up if Michigan is stopping the run. Where some teams – especially the Black eyes – have exposed the Wolverines is in the secondary.  If Florida can get their play makers into space they can do some damage.  This game can be a showcase for LT Martez Ivey and RB Jordan Scarlett to exhibit their abilities against a legit front seven.  The O-line has to stand it’s ground and give Franks time to find his WRs – if they do, there are some big plays to be had.  I’m hoping that Grimes and Jefferson can build on their breakout game against F$U, while Toney has the kind of quickness and speed that O$U used to exploit Michigan’s defense.

Michigan’s offense is led by QB Shea Patterson, who transferred in from Ole Miss prior to the 2018 season and seriously upgraded the play at that position.  While his new team has reined in some of his running, he is still a threat to scramble and make big plays.  He also improved his passing dramatically this year, with a 21-5 TD-Int ratio.  His main targets are WRs Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins and TE Zack Gentry.  DPJ and Collins arebig, physical targets that will be a challenge for the Gator DBs.  The Wolverines historically feature the TE, a position that has exploited poor coverage by the Gator LBs all season.  Still, Michigan relies first onit’s running game, led this year by Karan Higdon, who has averaged just under 100 yards per game.  It’s incumbent on the defense to win 1st down in order to force the Wolverines into more difficult down-and-distance plays.  If Michigan is winning the LOS this will be a long afternoon for the Gator defense, and likely lead to a loss.

As with almost any bowl game – especially a non-playoff game – it virtually impossible to predict the mindset of the players coming in.  There are so many variables – guys not playing to prepare for the NFL Draft, grades, baby mommas, guys that do play that will get drafted but try not to get injured, agents/runners sniffing around draft-eligible players, family/posses with their hands out, etc.  Many of the bowl games now are more like exhibitions for the following season, with the main reward being the additional practices to develop younger and inexperienced players.  

I feel that this game is more important to the entire Florida football program because of it’s recent transition in AD, coaching staff, and attitude. That may not necessarily translate into a win, but I believe Coach Mullen and the players will have extra motivation to prove to the nation (and future recruits)that the prognosis for Gator football isn’t just a short rally, but long-term success.  Florida was embarrassed by Michigan in both the Citrus Bowl after the 2015 season and in their 2017 opener – both games under the Swamp Donkey.  A new message needs to be sent that things are truly different –and better – going forward.

I think that Michigan’s experience within a consistent scheme for the past 4 seasons, the desire to begin erasing the impressions from their meltdown against Ohio $t., and better talent along the OL and DL will be enough to win.  However, I also hope that once this game is over they – and the nation – realize that Florida is not the mentally and physically soft team they have enjoyed beating recently.

Prediction:  Michigan 27      Florida 20

Florida $t. Review

Florida ended 5 years of misery with a 41-14 beatdown of Florida $t., a result made even sweeter as it came in Taliban City.  The game was won because the Gators controlled the game at the LOS from the outset and imposed their will all afternoon.  As the game wore on, it was obvious how poorly coached and undisciplined F$U is – multiple illegal formation penalties, late personnel changes, and stupid personal fouls.  Anyone watching the game (including recruits) could easily see the vast difference between the two teams, including teamwork..

Florida’s offense piled up over 500 yards for the 3rd straight game, showing balance with over 250 yards each rushing and passing.  The O-Line was able to create holes despite the Criminoles stacking the box all day, and Perine and Scarlett wore down the front 7 and eventually broke some long runs.  This domination allowed Franks to have a relatively clean pocket in order to pick out his WRs.  It was good to see the WRs finally exploit the intermediate zones and middle of the field, as both Grimes and Jefferson had some big plays and TDs.  The offense had the ball for almost 37 minutes, which allowed the defense to rest and eventually force F$U to abandon the running game in the second half.  The only complaint was the play-calling in the red zone in the first half, which kept the halftime score at 13-7 for Florida instead of a 20-7 or 23-7 lead.  Mullen said it himself in his television show that he could have called a better red zone game.  All the Gators had to do inside the 10-yard line was continue to pound the rock, but instead Mullen tried to get too cute with QB runs or passes into a crowded end zone.  All’s well that ends well – especially having a head coach secure enough in himself to acknowledge his mistakes publicly – unlike Slick Wille Taggart and F$U.

On defense, the Gators essentially shut down Florida $t. the entire game except for 2 drives kept alive by 3rd-and-long and 4th-and-long scrambles by Deondre Francois.  Each time there were defenders that whiffed on the tackle, or else this could have been close to a shutout.  The one player I was most worried about showed why – RB Cam Akers scored the first F$U TD on a one-handed catch, and had a long catch-and-run for a TD called back due to one of those stupid penalties I mentioned.  He was the only consistent threat.  The passing game was never a real threat due to constant pressure applied by Florida’s DEs against the F$U turnstiles.  The Gator secondary did a nice job of defending the long passes that F$U relied upon all season – once that was taken away the Criminoles simply weren’t going to put together long drives.  Props to Polite, Jefferson, and CGJ in their last regular season game as Gators.

Florida’s special teams were again solid.  McPherson capped off a great freshman season with 2 FGs and long kickoffs.  Getting McPherson to switch his commitment from Mississippi St. to Florida was one of the most important recruiting wins for Mullen.  Townsend had some long punts to flip the field, even a few of the rugby-style that I really don’t like.  The coverage units tackled well and never cracked.  Mullen takes it upon himself to put a lot of emphasis on special teams, including getting some starters on the coverage units, and the difference from last season was striking.

This was a statement win for Coach Mullen and entire the football program.  He has been playing catchup in recruiting since he arrived, especially with being out of the state for so long.  Now he has results to back up his pitch to recruits, along with proof that Florida is a better-coached and more stable program than F$U or scUM.  He and the staff are still behind in establishing the long-term relationships needed not just with kids but with coaching staffs around the state, and that has hampered efforts putting together the 2019 class so far.  This win could swing a few kids Florida’s way this season, but will pay long-term dividends for the 2020 and 2021 classes, of which the Gators have a much better start on.

Florida will learn it’s bowl fate in a week.  The Gators likely will finish in the top 12 of the CFP rankings and receive a New Year’s 6 bowl invitation.  That would be a better result than most expected before the season started, and especially after losing to Kentucky early in the season at home.  The extra practices will benefit all of the younger players that are redshirting, including QB Emory Jones.  There are a lot of positives to take away from the 2018 season, and hopefully that momentum continues through to Early National Signing Day in late December, the bowl game, and National Signing day in February.

I’ll be back with a bowl preview in December.  Until then – It’s Great To Be A Florida Gator!