Georgia Review / Vanderbilt Preview

What a waste.  The Gators had every opportunity to win the East and go on to bigger things, but the defense simply could never get off of the field at any critical moment, leading to a 24-17 loss that leaves fans and players to wonder “what if?”, which never amounts to anything.  The team looked flat most of the game, and there was little to no juice on the sidelines – puzzling.  Too many mental mistakes and some poor coaching decisions were enough to expose all of the weaknesses this team has and has tried to cover up until now.

The run defense did an excellent job in allowing only 117 yards playing against the best O-Line and RB in Deandre Swift they will see all year.  And then……they allowed 12 of 18 3rd down conversions……many 8 yards or more……AND NEVER GENERATED ONE 3-AND-OUT SERIES THE ENTIRE GAME ūüėĪūüė†ūüíÄ  “3rd-and Grantham” personified.  Georgia has converted 12 3rd downs in a game only twice in it’s history – in 2017 and now – both against Todd Grantham defenses.  Let that sink in.  This allowed the Gator offense only 7 possessions the entire game, of which 3 were converted into scores.  One was ended by a terrible booth review generated not by the game official but by the league office in Birmingham (hasn’t happened all season), one by a terrible play call on 4th-and-1 in the first quarter, and one when Trask made his only bad play of the afternoon by taking a 19 yard sack instead of throwing the ball away after the Gators (again) had easily moved into Georgia territory.  Talk about frustrating – seeing the offense move the ball through the air despite no commitment to running the ball – but never getting enough opportunities to cash in one or two more scores to win the game.  The front seven played bravely, but the pass defense was horrendous.  Way too many completions against air, and a lack of consistent pressure on the QB.  I hate to do it, but I am going to call out a few guys.  Trey Dean is completely lost at the Star position, and may need to be moved to safety.  Speaking of which……Shawn Davis busted a coverage leading to a wide open TD pass to Lawrence Cager, and Brian Stewart gave up the last 3rd down conversion by simply not being able to knock down a lollipop deep out throw made off the back foot by Jake Fromm, which essentially ended the game and allowed Georgia to run out the clock.

I stated in the game preview that it’s no secret that Florida can’t run the ball consistently, but to call only 10 runs for the RBs was simply too unbalanced an attack.  Even with an excellent WR corps and a QB playing at a high level, that is a big ask.  Coach Mullen did the offense no favors with some questionable calls.  Trying a slow-developing throw on the failed 4th down play in the first quarter was bad, calling a delayed deep handoff which was blown up on 3rd-and-2 to end another drive was worse, and bringing Emory Jones in for only 1 play – a second down deep in Georgia territory that wound up being a telegraphed QB run behind an unbalanced line that was stuffed and wiped away the rhythm that Kyle Trask and the offense had achieved on that drive – ended with only a FG and the only points of the first half.  There was no margin for error against Georgia given the weakness of the O-Line, and too many mistakes were made to overcome them.  Props to Kyle PItts and Freddie Swain, who each played a great game and were open most of the day.

Finally, the officiating call that allowed Georgia’s TD drive late in the second quarter was criminal.  There is no way that was a catch, and even the guys on the TV crew and the official they have on staff to comment were stunned the play was allowed to stand as called.  That had a massive impact on the game – at minimum a 4 point swing, and a huge momentum boost to the Puppies.

We’ll see if the hangover of a massively disappointing loss and a noon kickoff lead to a slow start this week against Vanderbilt.  The Commodores have struggled mightily this season, and head coach Derek Mason has been rumored to be on shaky ground – a complete joke considering the historical lack of commitment to football by that school.  Vandy’s only real offensive threats are RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn and WR Kalija Lipscomb.  Florida’s defense should be more than capable of controlling those two, especially with the ‘Dores down to their 3rd-team QB, Deuce Wallace.  The Gators will be without DE Jeremiah Moon and LB Amari Burney due to injury, but should have more than enough to control the LOS and force Vandy into another rough afternoon offensively.

Vandy does roll out a decent defense, which is Coach Mason’s calling card.  The Gators will hopefully have better success running the ball this week, but I’m still not expecting anything special.  Perhaps a few jet sweeps will be in the game plan this week as the ‘Dores don’t have the speed of the elite defenses Florida has already played this year.  Trask will once again be counted upon to make quick accurate reads and get the ball into the hands of his playmakers in space.  Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce need to provide at least a few good runs to better balance the attack and perhaps hit one of the long runs they have provided most of this season.

It’s going to be a challenge for the coaching staff to have the team mentally into this game, after the huge disappointment of last week.  Hopefully the seniors can provide some much-needed leadership for this game and the rest of the regular season, to help ensure a strong finish and a 10-win season.  Historically it’s usually a mental slog with some sloppy play thrown in against Vanderbilt, and I expect some of the same again, but Florida has too much talent to allow a huge upset.

Prediction: Florida 31 Vanderbilt 13

South Carolina Review

As expected, it was a typical ugly game against a Won’t Misschump-coached team, but the Gators pulled away in the 4th quarter for a 38-27 win at soggy Williams-Brice Stadium.  I knew it would be hard for the staff to get the team emotionally ready after 2 tough games against Auburn and LSU, and it took a full half for the players to get into the game.

The script was pretty much the same for the Florida offense – difficulty in establishing a consistent running game then hitting a long run for a TD, while Kyle Trask had another efficient passing game with a career-high 4 TDs after struggling throwing a wet ball in the first half.¬† The return of Damien Pierce was a boost to the running game, with his 75 yard TD tying the game at 17 in the 3rd quarter after a bad Trask interception gave Carolina a short field which they capitalized on.¬† After Pierce’s run, the entire team settled down and played much better.¬† Coach Mullen had another solid game plan for the offense to execute and coached an aggressive game despite the weather conditions.¬† Once again the Gators dominated the 4th quarter of a game, hitting the Lamecocks with 21 consecutive points to ice the win.

The Gator defense surprisingly struggled against the run again, allowing over 200 yards and keeping Carolina in the game until the 4th quarter.¬† Carolina QB Ryan Hilinski was hobbled by a knee injury sustained against Georgia, and I would have thought the front seven would have been more conscious of the running game.¬† Of course the absence of DEs Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga was felt, but that’s no excuse for being gashed repeatedly most of the game.¬† The DT rotation is a bit banged up as well, but their play against the run was disappointing.¬† DT Kyrie Cleveland and LB David Reese cannot do everything alone to stop the run, and someone else at LB has to step up their play right now if Florida is to have any chance at beating Georgia in Jacksonville.¬† The secondary played only an average game.¬† WR Brian Edwards was Carolina’s only real threat, and he was contained most of the day.¬† However, there were some lapses – CJH dropped what should have been an interception in the end zone which allowed a Carolina scoring drive to continue, while the safety support in the running game again was lacking.

Florida’s special teams were very good again.  Evan McPherson made a difficult 48 yard FG to get the Gators on the board, Tommy Townsend did a nice job of pinning down the Lamecocks with some excellent punts, and the kickoff and punt coverage units were sharp.

Finally, the officiating during the game was atrocious against both teams.  Florida’s TD catch by Kyle Pitts was set up by an illegal pick/block, Pierce’s TD run could have been negated by a false start penalty on RT Jean Delance, while Carolina got away with exorbitant holding by both their O-Line and secondary all afternoon.  I will say that it was nice to see the Gators actually be the beneficiary of some bad calls for once.

All’s well that ends well – the Gators won another road SEC game, and now go into the bye week with the opportunity to rest, get a handful of injured guys healed, and begin 2 weeks of game-planning for what is essentially an SEC East title game against Georgia.¬† Despite a 7-1 record, the coaching staff has a lot to work on to get cleaned up before a tough upcoming game.¬† Getting at least one of Greenard or Zuniga back would be a boost to the entire defense, but there some fundamental flaws against the running game that have to be improved upon.¬† Offensively, the running game has to provide some balance to give Trask any chance of being effective.¬†¬†

I’ll be back next week with a preview of the Georgia game – Go Gators!

LSU Review / South Carolina Preview

Florida fell short to LSU 42-28 in a closely-contested game at Tiger Stadium Saturday night.  The Gators stood toe-to-toe with the Tigers until midway through the 4th quarter, when Kyle Trask made his only real mistake of the game, an end-zone interception midway through the 4th quarter that prevented the Gators from tying the game at 35 and subsequently allowing the Tigers to add on an insurance score for the final margin.

The offense was terrific all night.  Dan Mullen called a great game, and Trask was efficient and accurate in leading the Gators on four touchdown drives of over 70 yards.  The Gators held the ball for over 38 minutes, ran 30 plays more than the Tigers, and ran the ball for over 100 yards.  Florida’s WRs rose to the challenge, outplaying LSU’s secondary all night.  Kyle Pitts was a monster in the first half with 8 catches, Van Jefferson was the main target in the second half making two great TD catches against physical coverage, and Trevon Grimes and Freddie Swain also made some clutch catches in the middle of the field.  Once again it was tough sledding for the O-Line, but they opened just enough room for Lamical Perine to grind out some important first downs to extend drives and provide some balance.  Backup QB Emory Jones had a few good moments, but Mullen’s playcalling for his selected series was surprisingly conservative, unlike the package he had against Auburn.  Jones was mostly a runner, and only threatened the defense with 2 passes over 10 yards beyond the LOS.  The O-Line finally broke down in the 4th quarter, allowing some drive-ending sacks.

Sadly, the great performance by the offense in a hostile environment was offset by a truly horrid performance by the defense, who allowed over 500 yards and 42 points on only 49 offensive plays.  It is puzzling to see the CBs continually play off of the WRs, allowing QB Joe Burrow and LSU’s own set of excellent WRs an easy night of pitch-and-catch.  But what became the real back-breaker was allowing LSU over 200 yards in the running game, including multiple plays of over 20 yards.  The run support (or lack of) by safety Brad Stewart and the LB corps (less David Reese) was shockingly bad – bad angles, weak tackling, and simply not being in the proper position to make plays.  It did not help that Florida was without it’s two best DEs in Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga, who each only played a handful of snaps before being forced out with recurring ankle injuries.  However, this doesn’t excuse the rest of the defensive unit, who were embarrassed all night.  A handful of young guys had to be plugged in more often than the staff wished, and also the D-Line had to be shuffled, which created some physical mismatches that the Tigers were able to exploit.  But some of the fault lies directly with DC Todd Grantham, who continues to allow soft coverage, and also the front seven had another of it’s alarming breakdowns against the run.

Now the players and staff have to regroup and focus on South Carolina, who is coming off of a stunning upset of Georgia in Athens.  The Gamecocks have a tough defense that will be another physical challenge for Florida’s struggling O-Line, and once again Mullen will have to scheme around them and try and provide Trask a game plan that allows him time to throw.  His performance at LSU should be a huge confidence-builder for him and also for the rest of the offense as they are seeing how cool under fire he is, along with his toughness.  Carolina is led by DT Javon Kinlaw, LB Ernest Jones, and CB Israel Mukuamu.  Any defense coached by Won’t Misschump and Travaris Robinson will be fundamentally sound.  Mullen knows this, and once again has the challenge of developing a game plan that is patient and efficient, knowing the limitations of the O-Line.  It will be another struggle for the running game, and the passing game again has to take the lead and hopefully open up the things for the running game.  

The Lamecocks are hoping QB Ryan Hilinski can play after exiting the first half at Georgia with a knee sprain.  If he struggles early or can’t go, they will have to play 3rd-team QB Dakereon Joyner, who has almost no experience and will severely limit their passing game.  Carolina will try to run the ball with Rico Dowdle and Clemson transfer Tavien Feaster to protect either QB, with the occasional deep throw to WR Bryan Edwards, by far their most dangerous offensive threat.  If the Gator defense can bracket Edwards and refocus on tightening up the run defense, they should be able to hold Carolina in check for most of the afternoon and give the offense the chance to score enough points to get out of Columbia with a critical win.  There is a lot to see on the LSU film that should make the Gator defense sick to watch, and should give them the incentive to come out and show they are much better than they were last week.

Coach Mullen is right – this is the most important game of the season coming up, to go into the bye week with confidence and the opportunity to rest and get the injured guys as ready as they can for the final SEC East push in November.  I don’t expect Greenard or Zuniga to play this week unless absolutely necessary, and even by Nov. 2 they may still not be 100% for the Georgia game.  It will be interesting to see if the Florida staff can rally the team emotionally for one more big game – always a challenge with college players.  This would be an easier assignment if the game were at the Swamp, but it’s another SEC road trip into a hostile environment.  We’ll see if Carolina is still emotionally hung over from their upset win at Georgia.  I actually like the fact this is another one of those snoozer noon kickoffs, where the home team and fans are usually slow to get into the flow of the game.  If the Gators play hard and protect the football, they have enough to get out of Columbia with a win……and I don’t care how ugly it might be.

Prediction РFlorida  23 South Carolina  17

Auburn Review / LSU Preview

Florida – for at least one week – shut up the doubters and criticism with a resounding 24-13 win over Auburn in a Top 10 matchup at the Swamp.  The atmosphere was electric all afternoon and reminded Auburn fans (and, sadly, other SEC fans that have not seen it often the past decade) that the Swamp is on the very short list as the toughest place to play in the country.

Offensively it wasn’t pretty at times, mostly due to Auburn’s excellent defensive line, but enough plays were made to take and keep the lead and force Auburn to play from behind all afternoon.  The Gators turned the ball over 4 times on fumbles, 3 times giving the ball to the Tigers in Florida territory.  This led to Auburn’s 13 points (all in the first half), which is a testament to how well Florida’s defense played at all 3 levels and continued to rise to the occasion under constant pressure.  Despite being forced into 3 fumbles, Kyle Trask stayed cool under fire and had another efficient passing day that included 2 TDs.  He read coverage well all day (when given the time) and showed a lot of toughness returning from a scary-looking knee injury (MCL sprain) to tough out the win.  Returning to the game is going to play well in the locker room, as the entire team knows they have a guy leading the offense that will play through pain.  Emory Jones did a great job when he had to come in right after Trask left the game in the 2nd quarter, continuing the same drive into Auburn territory leading to a FG and showing the Tigers (and his teammates) that he could move the offense with both his arm and legs.  Coach Mullen showed faith in Jones by running the same game plan, and that vote of confidence has to help Jones mentally going forward in his career.  As expected, it was a rough day running the football against potentially 3 NFL-bound DL, but Mullen ran the ball just enough to keep the rush somewhat honest.  Florida finally got the one crack it needed to ice the game, Lamical Perine’s 88-yard TD run in the 4th quarter to make the score 24-13 and force Auburn to abandon the run for the last 9 minutes.  Finally, Mullen showed he’s not afraid to gamble in a big game, calling the TE Lucas Krull throwback pass to Trask to get the first down that essentially iced the game, and allowing punter Tommy Townsend to call his own number on a fake punt that failed and led to Auburn’s only TD.

The Gator defense was outstanding – especially in shutting down Auburn’s running game until the 4th quarter and forcing a true freshman QB to try and beat them with his arm.  Once that happened, it was a mismatch, as Bo Nix was held to 145 yards passing (more than half on 2 completions to Seth Williams – one of which resulted in their only offensive touchdown immediately after the botched fake punt).  The DEs did a great job of setting the edge which negated much of Auburn’s speed, and also applied constant pressure which forced Nix off his spot and caused him to panic and either take some big sacks or throw his 3 interceptions.  The LBs, led by David Reese, were the most physical they have been in 3 seasons, applying some big hits and denying the Tigers on their first 5 3rd-and-2 yards or less attempts.  All of this came against an experienced and talented Auburn OL.  The secondary was solid all day except for one busted coverage that allowed a long completion to Williams late in the 3rd quarter.  That was offset 3 plays later with an end-zone interception by Donovan Stiner that ended Auburn’s last scoring threat.  The return of CJ Henderson was noticeable, as the rest of the secondary could show many different looks and confuse the young QB.  Finally, it was great to see Marco Wilson play his best game since 2017, showing he is almost 100% back from his ACL injury and silencing some ridiculous criticism of his play.

Both head coaches described how loud the Swamp was and the intense atmosphere.  Gus Malzahn said he was surprised that the crowd got to his veteran O-Line – but that is what the Swamp does to any team when the Gators roll out a legit team to play in a big-time game.  This was (along with 2018 LSU) another reminder to recruits that Florida is building it’s way back to the standard it maintained from 1990 through 2009.  The atmosphere and result should reap rewards for both upcoming signing days.

There is no time to celebrate, as Florida now goes to Baton Rouge for another massive Top 10 showdown, this time with LSU.¬† This will be an even tougher matchup for the Gators, playing a night game at Tiger Stadium against a Tiger offense that has finally emerged from the Stone Age by becoming a passing team.¬† LSU is led on offense by QB Joe Burrow and a group of excellent WRs that includes Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, and Terrace Marshall.¬† They have incorporated NFL passing concepts installed by special advisor Joe Brady to take advantage of where they have the most talent, and it is paying off.¬† Brady is likely the most valuable person on Ed Orgeron’s staff this season, giving them a legitimate chance to win every game they play.¬† LSU will give Florida’s defense perhaps it’s biggest challenge of the entire season, but the Gators have enough talent in the secondary to match up with the Tiger WRs, along with the talent at DE to get some pressure on Burrow.¬† It’s incumbent to force Burrow off his spot in the pocket and get some pressure and the occasional sack.¬† This may be a game where the Gators will be in a nickel or dime defense most of the night, daring LSU to run the ball.¬† The Tiger running game is only average this year, partly given it’s overwhelming reliance on the pass.¬† Clyde Edwards-Helaire is by far their leader in carries and yards.¬† He is not a big-play threat but does most of his damage after LSU has forced teams to focus on the passing game.¬†

Florida’s offense was able to at least get a stalemate against the best D-Line it will play against all season, but will need a similar effort and result this week – especially in a hostile road environment.¬† It remains to be seen how the mild MCL sprain Trask incurred will affect him this week – he’s not going to be counted on to run as much as Franks or Jones would be, but being able to run the occasional zone read or QB power is a staple of Mullen’s offense.¬† If he is OK and given time to throw, he should be able to make some plays against a LSU defense that has been surprisingly less dominant than their roster and talent level would indicate.¬† The Gators will still need to run enough times to maintain some balance, but (hopefully) should be able to find more room than against Auburn.¬† Perine was a workhorse both running and receiving, and has to come up big again.¬† Hopefully, Dameon Pierce can return after sustaining a concussion against Auburn to bolster the running game – if the Gators are forced to become completely one-dimensional, I don’t believe they have the consistent firepower to win a shootout.¬† Of course, the turnovers have to get cleaned up, or this will be an ugly result.¬† Given the expected level of noise, Trask will have to stay poised, run a silent count, and make quick, accurate decisions and throws.¬† Florida has perhaps the 3rd best WR corps in the SEC after Alabama and LSU, and have to make some big plays against a talented Tiger secondary led by all-SEC safety Grant Delpit and excellent CBs Kristian Fulton and Derek Stingley, Jr.¬† If you’re a fan of WRs and secondary players, this game may be the best one played in all of 2019.¬† Lastly, the Gator O-Line certainly was tested against Auburn, and that experience should pay dividends going forward.¬† LSU has some talent along it defensive front, but it simply isn’t as good as Auburn’s – hopefully Florida can establish a semblance of a running game and provide continued solid pass-protection to keep Trask upright.

Winning this game will be a tall order, especially coming right off of a big emotional win.  I think the staff and players have enough maturity to rise up for a second week in a row, but going on the road and against an experienced QB playing as well as anyone in the SEC may be too much to overcome.  I think the Gators will need to get to 27 points to have a real shot at winning.  It will take another complete effort and success from all 3 phases to pull this one off.  Florida’s special teams again need to be great and perhaps set up the offense with a short field or score on their own to help the cause.  Both schools have been talking a ton of trash for years now about which one is really ‘DBU’.  Well, with all of the great WRs on the field Saturday night, each team’s secondary depth is going to be tested.  LSU is a better team overall than Auburn, and certainly has payback on it’s mind after getting whipped last year in Gainesville.  Until Florida can prove it can protect the football and tighten up it’s O-Line play a little more, this assignment may be too tough to win right now.  

Prediction: LSU     31 Florida  20

Tennessee Review / Towson Preview

The Gators made it 14 out of 15 in the series with a 34-3 win over a Tennessee team and program that is only a shell of its former self.¬† Despite it being Kyle Trask’s first start and coming in with a poor running game and key players on defense out due to injuries, the Gators were never really threatened by the Vols.

Trask was very sharp early, leading the offense to a touchdown on its opening drive and using the middle of the field most of the day – a refreshing change.¬† The offense bogged down for a lot of the first half after that due to the continued struggles of the O-Line in the running game.¬† It was encouraging the see the final possession of the half-turn into a time-consuming drive ending with a 4th down TD run by Perine as time expired.¬† That score gave Florida a 17-0 halftime lead and ended any real hope Tennessee might have had.¬† In the second half, the Gators again scored on their opening drive which essentially ended the game.¬† There were some hiccups, though, with Trask throwing 2 interceptions to end potential scoring drives.¬† As I mentioned in the preview, I wasn’t surprised there were some bad throws mainly due to inexperience.¬† Coach Mullen will help Trask in correcting these reads going forward.¬† The O-line is still a work in progress – Coach Hevesy did move some guys around and insert some new players to see if some better combinations might be available going forward.¬† It was interesting to see the running game show life after Emory Jones came in during the 4th quarter and led the offense to its last TD.¬† Perhaps his running ability was the reason, but will that mean situational series and plays for each QB going forward?

The defense controlled the game except for one drive in the first half, and controlled the LOS most of the afternoon, never allowing either Vol QB the chance to become comfortable.  Tennessee did get some good RAC yards from WR Jauan Jennings and hit a few draw plays, but never could establish any real continuity or any extended drives.  The surprising QB change to start the 3rd quarter provided them a little spark, but once that drive was stopped and ended only with a FG, that was the last real threat from the Vols for the day.  The young Gator CBs like Kaair Elam and Chester Kimbrough got extended action against two very good WRs in Jennings and Marquez Callaway, and that experience should help going forward.  DE/Buck Jonathan Greenard was unstoppable (again) with 3 tipped passes and a forced fumble Рhe looks like an all-SEC player right now and will have the chance to shine nationally in October.

Next up for Florida is a visit by the Towson Tigers – the first of 4 groups of Tigers to play the Gators in 2019 (Auburn, LSU, and Missouri to come).  Towson is led by QB Tom Flacco, younger brother of NFL QB Joe Flacco.  He is a dual-threat player who also leads his team in rushing yards.  The obvious key to this week’s game plan for the Gator defense is to limit his effectiveness and choke off any real offensive threats.  Florida has Towson outmanned and should have little trouble controlling the LOS.  The only thing that could hurt is lack of focus and sloppy tackling that could extend some drives.  Towson is a ranked FCS team, though, and could give the Gators a few fits early until Florida asserts itself.

The Gator offense has the opportunity in this game to continue to work on personnel combinations on the O-line to see what will be the most effective starting group going forward.  Stone Forsythe may see more snaps at RT while Richard Gouriage gets his chance at LG or LT.  This unit has to step up its play and generate at least a mediocre running game in October, or the hope of a big season will be ended.  Trask needs to clean up some of his reads, distribute the ball to more WRs other than Jefferson, Pitts, and Swain, and exercise a little more patience by checking down underneath instead of forcing some throws into double coverage.  Trevon Grimes is too good a player to disappear in this offense and needs more touches.  Jacob Copeland is starting to get more reps Рwhile flashing some big-play potential, he can improve his blocking and concentration (he dropped a sure TD pass early in the 4th quarter on a go route).

This game should be decided by early in the 3rd quarter, so the staff can rest starters and hold out injured players like Zuniga and Henderson for the big games coming up in October.  Trask should get the chance to continue to sharpen his game, and Emory Jones should get more snaps and the chance to pass the ball a little more to be better prepared as needed for any extended period going forward.  I expect some sloppiness as some younger guys get playing time and the mental focus may be lacking a little with Auburn coming to the Swamp next week.  Once again – NO INJURIES, PLEASE.

Prediction: Florida    41 Towson  10

UT-Martin Review / Kentucky Preview

The Gators took care of business with a 45-0 plucking of the SkyHawks in the home opener.  This was a mismatch from the start, as the defense completely shut down the UTM attack, while the offense was nothing more than workmanlike.  Plenty of young players were able to see extended action, as the coaching staff was able to clear the bench starting in the second half.  The offense is still struggling to establish the running game – the right side of the O-line is still a weakness right now, and unless this improves starting this week with the SEC schedule, it will cost the team in the big games coming up.  The offense ended the night with over 200 yards rushing, but that was deceiving, as many of those yards came after UTM was worn down and backups were playing.  Once again the pass blocking was solid, allowing Franks to complete 25 of 27 passes, including 2 long TDs to Jefferson and Cleveland.  The game plan was pretty vanilla with no disguises put on film for Kentucky to study.  The defense controlled the LOS all night, only allowing a few long runs and one pass well after the game was settled and backups littered the field.

Unfortunately, the night didn’t go as well as planned, as both CJ Henderson and Kedarious Toney were injured in the 2nd quarter and never returned.  It appears Toney will be out with a shoulder injury until at least the Auburn game, while CJH may miss this week and possibly the next with an ankle sprain.  It’s the one thing I always hope doesn’t happen against these overmatched opponents – injuries to key players.

It’s on the Bluegrass State for the SEC opener against the Wildcats.¬† Speaking of injuries, Kentucky received some bad news with the loss of starting QB Terry Wilson to a knee injury for the rest of 2019, so backup transfer Sawyer Smith gets thrown into the fire against a formidable Gator defense and pass rush.¬† Head Coach Mark Stoops is saying that the offense really won’t change that much, but we’ll see.¬† I expect the Wildcats to try and shorten the game by grinding out first downs with the running game featuring Kavosley Smoke and Asim Rose to keep the score close and try to steal a win late.¬† If Florida can win first down, it will be a long night for Smith and their passing game, as the Gators lead the nation in sacks with 15 and have a host of pass rushers ready to deliver some pain.¬† Smith is not the athlete nor runner that Wilson was, and that will hurt when plays start to break down.¬† Brad Stewart returns from suspension this week and will be a welcome upgrade at safety.¬† DC Todd Grantham should have some exotic packages dialed up for the new starting QB to apply constant pressure and confuse him with new looks.¬† It will be interesting to see how aggressive he is calling the defense – does he come after the new QB early and often, or force him to make reads?¬† The defense was been susceptible to screens and draws, and It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Kentucky use some of these.

On offense, I hope that Mullen isn’t too stubborn to go to the passing game early, especially if the running game continues to struggle.¬† The Wildcats have a NG and DT each over 350 lbs., so perhaps running some misdirection and counters to get those big guys moving the wrong way could help.¬† The deep passing game has really come along, and it may be decisive again this week.¬† A few big plays to make some scoring drives easier could go a long way towards a win.¬† I expect some throws to Perine to slow the pass rush, while Jacob Copeland gets the chance to fill in for Toney and show¬†why he was one of the most highly-recruited athletes in the 2018 class.

The Gators should have no problem being highly motivated for this game, as they’ve had to listen for an entire year how they blew the 31-game winning streak in the series last year, at the Swamp, and how they were physically manhandled at the LOS. 

This is a huge game for the Gators – take advantage of Kentucky’s injury problems and win the SEC opener before coming home for Tennessee.  It’s time to finally start playing closer to expectations – especially on offense – and start building to a peak before the big games in October.

Prediction:

Florida     27

Kentucky 17