Utah Preview

The season is finally here, and it certainly will be an interesting one.  The past 9 months has been a whirlwind for new head coach Billy Napier – filling out his coaching staff, hiring a very large (and quality) support staff to finally match the other winning programs of the past decade, cobbling together a 2022 recruiting class (and doing much better than expected), working on the 2023 recruiting class (off to a very good start), and trying to figure out what kind of talent he has to work with for the upcoming season.

Napier and the Gators do not get the luxury of easing into a new season with an overmatched opponent.  Utah comes to the Swamp off of winning the PAC-12 and getting to the Rose Bowl last season, and have a lot of preseason hype surrounding them.  They have some distinct advantages coming into this game – an established starting QB, a quality RB, experience on their defense, and the comfort of a stable coaching staff and scheme.  Kyle Whittingham is entering his 18th season as head coach – remember he replaced Urban Meyer when Meyer took the Florida job……seems like a lifetime ago.

Florida will likely need to rely on it’s defense to carry the load early in the season as the offense finds it’s footing.  They have a tough assignment right away, starting with controlling mobile QB Cam Rising and 1,000-yard RB Tavion Thomas.  The Gator front seven knows it must handle these two, and do have the advantage of the noise of the home crowd along with Utah breaking in 2 new tackles and a center.  Those are critical positions, and the Gator DEs, along with DT Gervon Dexter, must get penetration and create havoc early and often.  Rising can keep plays alive with his legs and is a solid running threat, but can find trouble when forced to throw from the pocket.

Utah historically has used it’s TEs very effectively in the passing game, and I expect them to attack Florida’s LBs early and often.  Gator LBs have struggled mightily in pass coverage for years now, and have to prove they are better in the new scheme devised by DC Patrick Toney.  Utah does not have game-breaking WRs, and Florida’s secondary should play well under new coach Corey Raymond.  No more soft coverage and bad tackling will be tolerated.  The front seven will have it’s hands full, so the secondary must perform at it’s best.

It’s Anthony Richardson time for the Gator offense.  He will have to carry a lot on his shoulders, despite little experience and coming off of a handful of nagging injuries in 2021.  With no backup QB having any real experience until Jack Miller returns from injury (broken thumb), he’ll have to manage his running in order to stay healthy.  The most important ability for him to exhibit this year will be availability.

Napier will be calling the plays with help from OL coach Rob Sale.  They will have to lean on a solid RB corps and (hopefully) a better-coached and developed O-line.  Once again, Florida’s O-line starts another season having to prove itself SEC-worthy.  It’s been over a decade of essentially the same story, and it’s no surprise that it correlates with the past 3 coaching firings.  Napier definitely upgraded the coaching with Sale and Darnell Stapleton, but how fast will their teaching translate into performance?  If this group struggles, the offense – and season – could look very rough.

The Gators RB room is as good as anyone in terms of depth.  Nay’Quan Wright, Lorenzo Lingard, and Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson all are capable runners, and Wright is solid in the passing game.  Freshman Trevor Etienne may not see many carries early in the season, but could contribute in the kick return game as he settles in. 

I expect Utah to stack the box early in the game and force Florida to prove it can move the ball consistently by passing when necessary.  The Gator WRs have much to prove, trying to overcome a combination of little returning experience and incorporating senior transfer Ricky Pearsall.  Justin Shorter needs to show he can lead this group with his on-field performance – he has the size to be a weapon in the red zone.  Xavier Handerson, Ja’Quavion Fraziars, Ja’Markus Weston, and speedster Marcus Burke have shown little to date and must improve.  AR has already developed a good rapport with Pearsall, who along with Trent Wittemore in the slot are his most reliable targets.  Those two could really help open up the rest of the field for the outside receivers by making plays and moving the chains in the middle zones.  Utah has had to replace it’s entire LB corps (including Florida transfer Mahmoud Diabate) and could be susceptible in pass defense.

It’s Napier’s first game, it’s a night game at the Swamp, and Utah comes in highly ranked and talking a big game.  It may sound counterintuitive, but the fact that the Utes will have little film to work off of may work into Florida’s favor, despite the new scheme and some new starters at key positions.  There is much to be said for coaching and scheme continuity traveling well, but many of the Gator players have big-game experience of their own, and have a lot of motivation to prove themselves after 2021’s late-season implosion.  I expect a tough, physical game that won’t be decided until the 4th quarter.  The noise and humidity will play large factors, as will the Gators developing a real trust factor with their new coaches.  Florida embarrassed itself in the second half of last season, and there’s no better time than right now to start washing away the bad taste and stain of that performance.

Predicction: Florida 24 Utah 21

NIL  – The Good, The Bad, and The (Mostly) Ugly

NIL – Name, Image, and Likeness.  Three letters and three words that are currently roiling the foundations of college football and spurring the latest remaking of the conference landscape.  Just the mention of those letters or words starts off heated debates, along with hand-wringing, teeth-gnashing, and any other fill-in-the-blank physical manifestation you wish.

What should have been a straightforward but at the same time revolutionary step forward for college athletes was quickly bastardized by a certain percentage of greedy, egomaniacal boosters, agents, parents, handlers, and players into the current chaotic mess.  It’s the Wild West for “procuring” the best talent – “procuring” in the sense of $$$$$$ as opposed to obtaining by legitimate means following the rules.  NIL is a “pay-for-play” exercise now for too many people involved in the recruiting process.

The NCAA essentially created this mess, stubbornly exploiting kids for decades while making obscene profits, and the member schools are also to blame for backing up the NCAA and collecting massive television rights money.  Once the NCAA finally capitulated, knowing they would be crushed in the courts (as usual), they further screwed things up by kicking the can down the road – allowing individual states to write and enact their own laws, with zero continuity.  This created an uneven playing field between conferences and schools – with Florida immediately feeling the pain.

Florida football has been essentially ground zero for all of the travails that have followed NIL – especially since recruiting has been the full focus since spring practice ended.  The Gators have already lost some elite players to other rivals – the most notable being QB Jaden Rashada to the Miami Ruizes, er, Hurricanes, CB AJ Harris to Georgia, and CB Tony Mitchell to Alabama.  Miami “businessman” and lawyer John Ruiz has been blatantly flaunting the state of Florida’s NIL Law, publicly admitting he’s buying recruits away from the Gators to the Canes – Rashada being the biggest name.  Harris was a long-time strong lean to Florida, then suddenly takes a trip to Georgia, and – just like that – commits to the Dawgs and talks of being ‘home’ and “stacking money”.  Mitchell was also a strong lean to Florida, then takes a trip to Alabama and commits.  Mitchell Sr. completely pulled back the curtain in a tweet that says Florida is “not making a big enough effort on the ‘business end’ of NIL” – a transparent money grab, exploiting his son’s athletic talent.

Billy Napier is maintaining the company line that Florida will follow the rules and not tie in any “signing bonuses” that other schools are using to entice high school players or some in the transfer portal.  He stresses that the Florida program will concentrate on the players already on the roster, and eventually those that sign with the Gators.  That position has stirred up it’s own firestorm of arguments and infighting between Gator fans that are on the side of the law vs. those that are worried that the talent gap will continue to widen and drag Florida down into consistent mediocrity, and want the Gators to do what the usual suspects are doing.  Adding insult to injury, Darren Heitner, a Florida graduate and lawyer, is the person that drafted most of the state of Florida’s laws that are handcuffing the new staff.

So much for simply “helping kids out” by allowing them to take advantage of their name, image, or likeness based on their perceived market by others.  NIL is just a cover for the previously-hidden bagmen to come out into the light and laugh at laws and dare the inept NCAA to do anything about their illegal actions.  There are some that say that the market will settle in a few years, or that locker rooms (like the appropriately-named aTm or Miami) will fracture once highly-paid kids either don’t play, underperform on the field, if/when payments are missed, or (even more naively) that the NCAA will crack down and create uniformity.  Meanwhile, Napier, his coaching staff, and his recruiting army are in a death struggle to put together a competitive recruiting class while certain schools “procure” elite talent and pull farther ahead.

What will be the endgame?  No one knows for sure if the state laws will be amended to give Florida more flexibility in making it’s recruiting pitch.  Even if that happens, how many recruiting classes will they have been working at a disadvantage?  No one can question the work ethic of Napier, his coaches, or the recruiting staff.  They are professional, kids and families like them, and they connect with recruits.  But it’s tough to watch them get cut off at the knees trying to sign elite players after all of their hard work is unrewarded in the immediate time frame.  Perhaps some of those same kids will eventually wind up at Florida a year or two from now for various reasons?

Finally, USC and UCLA, through television partner FOX, reached out to the Big 10/11/12/13/14/whatever and quickly moved to leave the LAC-12, stabbing their fellow schools in the back.  This has prompted wide speculation that the Big whatever will continue to expand, and that the SEC will accelerate it’s efforts to offset this latest move.  There are a handful of schools in the ACC, along with Notre Dame, that are certainly getting phone calls right now to start the ball rolling.  I certainly would like to see well-regarded schools like North Carolina and Virginia on speed dial from Greg Sankey’s SEC office.

This drama is not going away anytime soon, and it certainly gives everyone that follows college athletics much to talk about through the summer.  Before you know it, the regular season will be upon us.  That is an entirely different subject for discussion – how well can Napier and the new staff coach up a broken team?  Florida football is never a dull subject.

Until then……Go Gators!

Florida $t. Review

In a game that was never as close as the final score, the Gators ended the regular season on a winning note, defeating the Criminoles 24-21.  Gator Nation could enjoy themselves again, and I am so happy for the players, as they were shafted by the former coaching staff.  They finally have something good to remember from this terrible season.

The Gator defense pretty much had their way all afternoon, less some sloppiness in the last 8 minutes.  F$U QB Jordan Travis could only hurt them with his legs, and he did when some players lost discipline and allowed him to break containment late.  But they did the proper things in shutting down RB Jashaun Corbin and containing Travis in the pocket for the most part, where he was never going to threaten them.  Florida’s D-line dominated the LOS for much of the game as expected – F$U’s O-line is worse than Florida’s, and was exposed.

It’s a shame Florida didn’t win by at least the 4 TDs they should have, but that can be traced directly to the horrific play of Emory Jones.  Despite his nice throw to Kemore Gamble for the opening TD, he had 4 additional chances in F$U’s territory in the first half to put the game away, and delivered 3 terrible interceptions and a blown option read.  It’s a shame it ended that way and led to him being benched, but at least the interim staff had the guts to put him on the sideline and let Anthony Richardson do some work.  AR didn’t have to do anything special – just be efficient and supply the occasional run to move the chains.  He made the throws he needed to, including a nice corner route to Justin Shorter in the end zone to make it 17-7 in the 3rd quarter and give the Gators some breathing room. 

Props to the Gator RBs – they all played well when they were called upon, and Dameon Pierce’s disallowed TD run in the 4th quarter after his helmet was ripped off juiced up the entire stadium.  Here’s hoping he gets his shot in the NFL, as he was criminally underutilized at Florida.  Malik Davis had some nice 3rd down runs, and a clutch catch-and-run on 3rd and 21 that led to the TD pass to Shorter.  Nay’Quan Wright had a few good plays until his nasty ankle injury, which will sideline him at least through spring practice.

The Criminoles played true to themselves – a trash team with trash players and a trash culture.  Late hits, undisciplined play, penalties, trash talk……all while being handled by a team with an interim coaching staff, being gifted 3 turnovers that were the only reason they were still in the game at halftime, and simply terrible ACC officiating.  All the talk about them being a team on the rise was bullshit – the ACC was even worse than usual this year, and they still had their 4th consecutive losing season with no bowl game.  Conquered – again.

As of this writing, Billy Napier has been hired as the next head coach for Florida.  He will bring a desperately-needed infusion of work ethic, professionalism, organization, and an understanding that recruiting is the lifeblood of any program.  Dancin’ Danny and the MSU Mafia have left him with a very poor recruiting class.  He has essentially 2 weeks to try and salvage it by trying to get some kids that decommitted to return, get some new names that are still available excited about the Gators again, try and retain some current players, and then hit the transfer portal especially hard in order to try and fill out the 85-man roster.  He also has a lot of dead weight on the current roster that simply isn’t SEC-level talent.  It’s a monster challenge, but he and the guys he hires for his staff will be working with his overall plan and vision for the program.

It will be announced after Championship Saturday where the Gators will go bowling.  It won’t be a game of any real significance, other than the opportunity for Napier and some of his new staff to evaluate what they have to work with, and allowing the younger players that were ignored by the previous staff to get more reps in practice and possibly some live playing time in the bowl game.

Recruiting is already seeing signs of life, and Gator Nation is already emerging from under the dark cloud that followed Dancin’ Danny around the past 11 months – kind of like Pig Pen in ‘Peanuts’.  There is excitement and real hope for the future.  It will take time to rebuild the roster and brand that have been gutted, but Napier has boundless energy and work ethic, which is what it will take.

Go Gators!

Missouri Review / Florida $t. Preview

The last curtain has fallen on Dancin’ Danny’s Theatre of the Absurd, with another embarrassing loss to an inferior team.  The good news?  There will be no curtain call.

Florida lost at Missouri 24-23 in overtime, mucking around on offense the entire afternoon and finally losing on a throw-back 2 point conversion throw that easily should have been defensed.  Of course, it never should have come to that, but Mullen seemingly pulled his Kentucky game plan out of the trash can and thought, “Hey!  It’ll work this time!”.  What a buffoon.

The offense threw away a ton of points.  Emory Jones again missed open receivers and also struggled making correct reads on option plays.  You could see the physical toll the season has taken on him, as he has been asked to run way too often by Mullen.  The O-line was disorganized and soft, and even the RBs had a bad afternoon, missing holes and slipping on the field for some mysterious reason.  The WRs looked good when given infrequent opportunities.  In all, pretty much the norm for what Darth Mullen shoved down the throats of Gator Nation in 2021.

The defense actually looked competent for 3 quarters – they played the run lanes very well, and shut down the passing game.  Until……the 4th quarter, when some bad habits crept in and they started getting gashed in the running game, which was inexcusable as Missouri has NO passing threats.  That, in addition to the ridiculous wheel route TD allowed to the TE on a 1st-and-25 play in the 3rd quarter, were enough to beat a Gator offense that looked out of sync trying to execute a trash game plan.

Then, after the game, Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz clowned Mullen with his “May the force be with you” barb, and Gator Nation just has to sit there and take it.

Welp, at least Gator Nation won’t have Dan Mullen to kick around anymore.  He will dance off into the netherworld of coaching jobs with a $12 million termination package, and Florida can look for a competent, professional coach that is hard-working, recruits his ass off, can put together a professional and organized coaching staff and recruiting office, and doesn’t embarrass the school every time he opens his mouth in a press conference.

And now……unbelievably, it’s a bowl play-in game back at the Swamp against a bad F$U team.  Greg Knox for some reason will be the interim head coach, but thank god he’s not calling the plays – QB coach Garrick McGee gets that opportunity.  It appears that Paul Pasqualoni and David Turner have taken a lot more control of the defense, as they have shown some life the last 6 quarters of play.

The Criminoles come in at 5-6 as well, and seemingly with momentum.  But the ACC is even worse than usual this year, so I’m not putting any real stock into that.  Their offense pretty much starts and ends with the arm and legs of QB Travis Jordan – he’s fast and athletic and can extend plays, but is still an inaccurate passer when forced to throw, and the Gator defense has to put him in situations where he has to do just that.  I would not be surprised to see McKenzie Milton play as well, but he lacks mobility after his horrific knee injury suffered 2 years ago while starting for UCF, and Florida’s team speed could prove problematic for him.  F$U’s O-line is as bad or worse than Florida’s, and the Gator front seven has to dominate them and own the line of scrimmage.  Jashaun Corbin is a very good RB, and is tied for the team lead in receptions as well with 22.  F$U has no real threats at WR, so the Gator secondary needs to shut them down on their own and allow the front seven to wreak havoc.

I’m not sure what to make of Florida’s offense coming into this game.  Jones incurred an ankle injury in practice on Tuesday, so Richardson has been taking all of the 1st team reps.  For now, it appears that he will start.  If so, that means more big plays……but will they be for or against the Gators?  He has to play better – and smarter.  The O-line needs to control Jermaine Johnson, who leads F$U with 10.5 sacks.  A solid performance by the running game would go a long way towards a win.  AR also pushes the ball downfield more, and I believe the Gator WRs have a decided advantage over the Criminole secondary – if given the chance.

It’s Senior Day, and a rivalry game.  Plus, the team, I believe, plays with some enthusiasm and juice with Mullen’s hang-dog attitude no longer around.  It’s a shame the Gators are playing so poorly and with little confidence, because if they were sitting with even 7 or 8 wins at this point, I think they would roll F$U by at least 2 TDs.  It could be another sloppy game by both teams, and another 4th quarter play could decide things.  It would be such a nice change to see Florida actually come out fast for once and get F$U in a hole early, as I don’t believe they have the team nor talent to recover from that scenario.  But that’s why they play the games.

Prediction: Florida 27 Florida $t. 24

Oklahoma Preview

Florida travels to Arlington, Texas for a Cotton Bowl matchup with the Oklahoma Sooners.  Interestingly enough, this is the first ever appearance for the Gators in one of the longest-running bowl games in history.  The fact that Florida remained 7th in the CFP standings after losing 3 games shows a ton of respect from the committee and gives Florida a chance at finishing a trying season with a win against a big-name opponent.

Despite this being one of the few big games outside of the Playoffs, this is starting to feel more like an exhibition.  Florida has been gutted by opt-outs, injuries, and Covid:

Kyle Pitts (opt-out)

Kedarius Toney (opt-out)

Trevon Grimes (opt-out)

Jacob Copeland (Covid)

Kyree Campbell (opt-out)

Ventrell Miller (injury)

Marco Wilson (opt-out)

Shawn Davis (injury)

That’s a loss of over 75% of receiving receptions, yards, and touchdowns, the best run defenders at DL and LB, a 4-year starting CB, and the most experienced safety.  Other than that – “all is well”…as Kevin Bacon’s character in ‘Animal House’ stated during the parade chaos.  LMAO.

What a shame after such an entertaining season, but that’s what happens when your defense blows a Playoff spot in the current era of college football where the Playoffs have such a disproportionate weight.  It looks like Kyle Trask will suit up and start, but how long he plays is a significant question.  There are some talented younger receivers like Justin Shorter and Xzavier Handerson to try and take up some of the slack, but it will be almost impossible to approach that amount of talent loss and production.  Unless the Gators somehow discover a running game to provide some balance, backup TEs Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer, along with all of the running backs, will be called upon to step up and give Trask and/or Emory Jones all of the help they can.  If the passing game struggles, I expect Jones to get more snaps than many expect, both to help with the running game and also to get some experience prior to taking over as the starting QB in 2021.

Oklahoma actually played decent defense for the first time in at least 5 years – nothing spectacular, but compared to the sieve they were previously, definitely improved.  Their secondary came up with 13 interceptions during the year, led by CBs Tre Brown and Tre Norwood.  Fortunately for Florida, Brown has chosen to opt-out of the game, which hopefully lessens the impact of losing all of the main receiving contributors.  The Sooner front seven is led by LBs Brian Asamoah, DaShaun White and Nick Bonitto, along with sack leader DE Isaiah Thomas.  They racked up 36 sacks in 9 games, so once again the Gator O-line will be challenged to keep Trask and Jones relatively clean, especially having to find less experienced targets when passing.

After enjoying a crazy run of elite QB play (Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts), this is not a vintage Lincoln Riley offense.  The Sooners are still potent with freshman Spencer Rattler and skill players RB Rhamondre Stevenson and WRs Marvin Mims and Theo Wease, but average more than 2 touchdowns less per game and don’t run plays at the breakneck speed they did under their previous Heisman winners.  Their O-line is also a step down from previous units, as the running game isn’t as strong and Rattler has to scramble often to extend plays.  Given how poorly Florida’s defense has played all season, maybe none of that matters, but one can hope.  With Campbell out, freshman Gervon Dexter will get a lot of snaps at DT.  The loss of Wilson may not be as significant, as he has struggled mightily all season.  Young CBs Jaydon HIll and Tre’Vez Johnson will get their opportunity to make an early push for starting status in 2021.  Trey Dean seems to have locked down a starting spot at safety, and Brad Stewart is coming off of perhaps his best game as a Gator against Alabama.  If…if the young secondary can make Rattler go through his progressions, the Gator pass rushers, led by Brenton Cox, Chris Bogle,and Zack Carter, should be able to disrupt the pocket and get some sacks.

I expect Oklahoma to have a decided advantage in the number of fans allowed to attend the game.  The state of Texas has very relaxed Covid protocol rules regarding attendance limitations, and it’s a short trip for OU fans to simply drive down to Jerry World vs. a very long drive or a riskier plane trip from around the country for Gator fans.  The Florida fan base has to be shaken as well after seeing the offense gutted like a fish and a handful of defenders that actually made some plays this season out as well.  I’m not sure what frame of mind the Gator players will be in.  Have they checked out after losing to Alabama?  Will the absence of so many star players simply be too much to overcome in so short a time?  Will guys that do play and have a chance to be in the NFL Draft be more concerned about staying healthy instead of playing with all-out physical effort?  The coaching staff has a major challenge ahead – can they motivate a suddenly much younger and inexperienced team?

Both Florida and Oklahoma have solid special teams.  Sooner placekicker Gabe Brkic has had an almost identical season to the Gators’ Evan McPherson.  One big impact is Florida losing Toney as a kick returner  – that is a major blow.

After the grind of a Covid season that included so many stops and starts going back to the spring, along with playing 11 straight SEC games, it will be a huge task in gearing up for a game with no title implications.  I hope the Gators can end the season with a win after the players endured so much in 2020.  It’s going to be a tough ask – even if Trask plays (and plays well), there may be too much to overcome.  Oklahoma has a young team that has improved after a 1-2 start, is playing much closer to home, and is familiar with the venue.  Sadly, this game is starting to feel like the opposite of the Florida v. Michigan Peach Bowl of 2 years ago

Prediction: Oklahoma 34 Florida 31

Orange Bowl Preview

Florida gets rewarded for another 10-win season and top-10 ranking with it’s second consecutive New Year’s Six game – this time in the Orange Bowl to play the Virginia Cavaliers.

This is great for the program for many reasons.  First is the ability to practice and be seen in the fertile South Florida recruiting region, with scUM currently a dumpster fire.  It also shows future recruits around the country that Dan Mullen has the program headed in a winning direction again.  Finally, it’s a great reward for the guys that either stayed with or came into the the program to turn things around and reinvigorate the Florida brand nationally.

Virginia is led by head coach Bronco Mendenhall, and the team reflects his personality – fundamentally sound and tough.  Their offense is led by senior QB Bryce Perkins, a true dual-threat QB with almost 200 carries this year.  He is the focus of the Cavaliers’ attack, and the key to whether the Gator defense can slow or shut down Virginia and make it a long night for them.  Perkins isn’t terribly accurate as a thrower, but can hit some big plays on scrambles or if a play breaks down and he improvises.  His main target is WR Joe Reed – Reed is a 1st-Team ACC player, and also a dangerous kick returner with 2 kickoff returns for scores.  The Gators will have one of their better CBs on him all night, and occasionally roll a safety over the top to keep him on check.  The only other ballcarrier with significant snaps is RB Wayne Taulapapa who averages only 10 carries a game, but has 12 rushing TDs.  The Gator defense seems to match up well against Virginia’s attack.  If the front seven does it’s usual good job of controlling the LOS, the DEs are going to make things very tough on Perkins.  It appears that both Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga will play – a huge boost in contrast to many star players sitting out bowl games.  Unfortunately, CB CJ Henderson will be one of those, so freshman Kaiir Elam gets a chance to start and make a name for himself.

Florida’s offense should have success as long as they come motivated to play and keep Kyle Trask upright.  Virginia’s defensive strength is in their LB corps, which plays sound football and tackles well.  However, there is no one outstanding talent that can’t be handled, and the Gator WRs could have another big game.  Indications are that everyone available will play, so Trask has his entire compliment of weapons.  Here’s hoping that the rest and extra practice has the O-line playing one of it’s best games and allowing RB Lamical Perine to go out a winner with some good running and pass-catching.

Head Coach Dan Mullen wants this win in order to keep the positive momentum going for the program, get more top-level recruits interested in Florida, and continue to widen the distance between Florida and it’s in-state rivals F$U and scUM.  He and the staff have shown the ability to keep their players motivated and playing hard, and that will be challenged by a lackluster opponent and a Monday night game after the CFP games have already been played.

Bowl games can be tricky to handicap – some players sit out to avoid injury before leaving for the NFL, some players play but ‘protect’ themselves from injury before the NFL draft, and some are dealing with baby mommas/agents/runners for agents/other distractions that take away from their usual focus.  Finally, Virginia comes in with the motivation to rehabilitate their image after getting completely embarrassed by Clemson in the ACCCG, and I believe they will be fired up for this game.  Florida needs to be ready from the start to match the Cavaliers’ intensity.  The Gators are similar to Clemson in team speed, and ultimately I think they pull away in the second half.

Prediction: Florida 34 Virginia 20

Florida $tate Review

Florida put a second straight beatdown on the Taliban City Losers with a 40-17 win that wasn’t as close as the score suggested.  The only reason the game was even that close was halftime – at that point the Gators were completely dominating the Criminoles on offense and defense, and the break prevented a mercy killing in the Swamp.

As expected, Florida’s strength on offense – the passing game – was a perfect attack to employ, as F$U’s pass defense was horrid all season.  Just like a bad matchup in the NCAA basketball tournament, you could see this was gonna be a long night for their defense, which only made me especially happy that it happened under the watch of interim head coach Odell Haggins, who hates the Gators.  Deal with it Odell……again.

The O-line again struggled to generate a running game, and even were stuffed late in the 3rd quarter with a first-and-goal inside the 1……unacceptable.  More reason to put Coach Hevesy on notice in 2020.  That really bothered me, as Coach Mullen could have just given Lamical Perine a last touchdown run in the Swamp on Senior Night but didn’t even have him in the game.  But it didn’t even matter, as Kyle Trask and the WRs toyed with F$U all night, doing pretty much as they pleased.  Only a few missed deep throws by Trask and a missed RB pass form Kadarius Toney to Dante Lang prevented a 50+ point output.

The defense did as I expected – giving up a big play to each of the only two players on FSU’s offense that are legit talents – WR Tamorrion Terry and RB Cam Akers – but shut down everything else for the most part.  The only real complaint was (again) the safeties getting burned deep 2-3 times……they were lucky James Blackman was harassed and missed open receivers for some big plays.  I still can’t believe Akers didn’t enter the transfer portal after last season to get the hell away from that sinking ship……but at least he’ll leave early for the NFL now.  The Gator pass rush racked up 8 sacks and numerous pressures, and never let either F$U QB get comfortable in the pocket.  Jonathan Greenard added 3 more sacks, and should be 1st team all-SEC.  The open-field tackling was adequate, but there were some bad misses by the safeties that allowed a few scoring drives to continue.

Finally, in the ultimate act of schadenfreude, the ACC referees allowed to officiate this game in Gainesville for the first time since the Swindle in the Swamp in 2003 absolutely killed F$U with crushing penalties at the most inopportune times, extending Gator scoring drives and even reversing a Gator turnover.  It was beautiful to watch.

Florida finishes the 2019 regular season at 10-2, which betters the 2018 record of 9-3.  Now the Gators await the results of the conference championship games and the final CFP rankings to see where they fall in the bowl pecking order.  If Florida somehow gets shut out of a New Year’s Six bowl game that would be a disgrace, but it’s college football, and weird, inexplicable things happen.  I’m hoping for an Orange Bowl bid, but the Cotton Bowl is in play as well.

On the heels and momentum of a state championship, Mullen and his staff are now hitting the recruiting trail hard to close on some potential stud players, with some new names popping up on the board now.  There is still some real dead weight on the staff in regards to recruiting (OL – Hevesy, Safety – English, RB – Knox, TE – Scott), and Mullen can only do so much on his own……he needs the position coaches to pull their weight, and we’re going to see soon if they will.

Given the circumstances of how the season developed – especially the season-ending injury to Feleipe Franks, recurring injuries to Jabari Zuniga and Greenard, and no real running game almost the entire season, Coach Mullen gets tons of respect for coaching around the deficiencies and getting to 10 wins, and also being in the LSU and Georgia games deep into the 4th quarter.  F$U and scUM continue to struggle and regress, and it’s time to bury them deeper as well as start to reduce the talent gap between Florida and the 5-6 schools nationally that have dominated recruiting the past 6-8 years.

I’ll be back with my bowl preview later in December.  Enjoy another successful football season, a state championship, and the holidays to come.

Go Gators!