South Florida Review / Tennessee Preview

The Multiverse of Madness is real!

In what felt like an alternate universe of reality, the Gators had to come from behind to escape – yes, escape – with a 31-28 “win” over a badly outmanned USF team.  It was an uneven effort from the start by the entire team, and another terrible performance from Anthony Richardson, as he threw 2 more interceptions that almost lost the game.  I said in the game preview that nothing good would come from this game other than hopefully no injuries.  I was more right than I’d even imagined.  There are just more questions now on both sides of the ball, and AR is regressing – not improving.  His checkoff inside the 5-yard line to a pass in the 4th quarter, when the Gators were blowing the Bulls off the ball and running at will, was bad judgment.  But to then double-down and throw a pass low and inside instead of high and outside with touch – to the near sideline no less – was just awful.  He was lucky that the defense got a turnover and gave the offense a short field to take the lead late.  Then the defense almost did its own Jekyll-and-Hyde imitation, allowing USF to drive inside the 20 before a bad snap ended the drive and a bad hold botched the tying FG attempt.  The entire game was brutal to watch except for when the RBs were allowed to dominate and Jalen Kimber’s pick six on a great play.

The Gator defense was horrific against the run, getting gashed for almost 300 yards on the ground and looking as bad as that statistic.  It is mind-numbing watching the DEs and rush LBs continue to play undisciplined football, not setting the edge or reading the QB on basic option runs.  Gervon Dexter is simply not a natural DT, and is playing out of position to help the team.  Ideally, he would drop 25 pounds and be a terror as a DE, but there are only inexperienced guys other than him in the DT rotation.  The inside LBs had a bad night, and it wasn’t just because the DTs weren’t doing their job – there were some poor fits and misreads that can’t happen.  Yes, Ventrell Miller was out, but the dropoff should not be that extreme for Florida at any position……just another indictment of the poor recruiting by Dancin’ Danny and the Losers.  The lone bright spot on the D-line was Des Watson – he still has a LONG way to go before he’s in good enough shape to play more snaps, but he’s improving each game, and does control the interior of the LOS when he’s in the game.

There is a serious talent issue, as the current depth chart of the defensive front seven is the weakest Florida has fielded since before Charley Pell took over in 1979……and that’s not hyperbole.  But the undisciplined play and lack of personnel/scheme adjustments by DC Patrick Toney to counter the run game is troubling.  The D-line was consistently outnumbered (again) by jumbo formations, and Toney stubbornly stuck with a 3-3-5 alignment for the entire night.  That has to change going forward for Florida to have any chance against the better teams coming up on the schedule.

Florida now travels to Rocky Top to face a 3-0 Tennessee team that can smell the blood in the water.  You know things are bad for the Gators when they go into this game having won 16 out of the last 17 in the series, and are currently 11 point underdogs……and that number continues to rise.  Based on the lack of quality depth and experience in the defensive front seven, this is an especially bad matchup against the Vols’ fast-tempo offense.  QB Hendon Hooker is nothing special, and the Gator secondary can likely cover the Tennessee receivers, but for how long?  When Hooker has to come off of his first read, that’s when he’s susceptible to turnovers.  Their O-line isn’t used to having to sustain blocks for more than a few seconds and can allow a lot of sacks.  Somehow, some way, the Gator defensive front seven has to dictate the action, or else it will be a long afternoon.  I do believe the secondary matches up well with Tennessee’s WRs, and Toney’s 3-3-5 scheme may work better against their style of offense.  The Vols do have a few injuries that could impact their offense.  WR Cedric Tillman is slowed by an ankle injury, another WR is suspended for the first half of the game, and their leading RB, Jaylen Wright, is playing through some injuries.  But none of that will matter if they control the LOS.

It’s all on AR to turn himself around and into the natural playmaker he was until a few weeks ago to make the Florida offense actually threatening.  He has been playing almost emotionless football recently, and looks completely lost.  The coaches can only do so much in developing a game plan that accommodates his strengths, but I will say Billy Napier and Co. need to tell AR to let himself loose and go back to some of the sandlot style that he excels in.  I know they have been protecting him from possible injury, but the passing offense just isn’t working consistently, and there’s no way you can be a solely running team in today’s SEC and win with regularity.  The only thing I liked in the USF game was that finally there were some jump balls thrown to a big receiver – in this case Justin Shorter.  He made a great catch on one, and didn’t have a chance on the other because it was such a poorly-executed throw by AR.  If you’re going with a QB with a lower completion percentage, then perhaps it’s time for more low-percentage throws that can either be big plays or simply incompletions……not interceptions.

It’s obvious that Florida will have to run the ball well – and often – to have any real chance at an upset win.  Of course Tennessee will do what every team has done to date – force AR to prove he can beat them throwing the football, and stack the box to slow the running game.  What’s disturbing is that even when he makes the correct reads, he’s overthrowing his receivers by a LOT.  If it’s nerves and he can’t shake them, then it’s time to try someone else, no matter the limited options right now.  Even a series or two on the sideline might help him see things better……or not.  But this is what the passing game has devolved into at this point.  Even with the limited and simplistic game plans, there are receivers getting open.  Word is that Jalen Kitna may finally have enough trust of the staff to be called upon if AR struggles again……maybe that provides some extra motivation?

Napier goes into his first SEC road game with a lot of noise building in the system.  No one is calling for head and he’s not going anywhere, but many who were concerned about his position coaching and play calling history are saying “I told you so” right now.  If the offense continues to struggle all season, it’s going to be of great interest as to whether he relinquishes those duties and becomes CEO Billy Napier.  There’s nothing wrong with that in today’s football landscape.  I predicted a loss in this game in my season preview, and unfortunately, I’ll have to stick by that for now.  As long as I see a competent offense and an improved run defense, that will bode well for the rest of the season.

Prediction: Tennessee 34 Florida 21

Kentucky Review / South Florida Preview

The Chicken or the Egg?

Or just a crappy omelet?

Talk about a stunning reversal of fortune.  After a thrilling, well-played win in the opener over Utah, the Gator offense – especially QB Anthony Richardson – looked terrible all evening in a dispiriting 26-16 upset loss to Kentucky.  It was even more painful to watch than last years’ meltdown in Lexington, watching AR completely implode.  His throws were off-target, his decision-making was suspect, and he gave the game away with essentially 2 pick-sixes, to give the Wildcats life and set Florida up for another bad loss.  His comments after the game were telling – and troubling.  He said he completely lost confidence in himself early on, and he allowed that to affect the rest of his game.  That is not what you want to hear from any player, even an inexperienced one.  Unfortunately, the play calling of Billy Napier/Rob Sale was……well……I’ll just say the words “unimaginative” and “limited” came to mind.  Why they continued to call so many pass plays when the running game is the strength of the offense was puzzling – especially after the Gators took a 16-7 lead late in the 2nd quarter after a safety.  Just going into halftime with that lead would have been fine, as the defense was playing well.  But then AR was picked on a terrible throw to allow Kentucky to close to within 16-13 at the half.  You could just feel the deflation of the crowd and AR himself, and it only got worse from there.  The running game suffered as a result of AR’s ineffectiveness, as Kentucky could load the box in the 2nd half.  Even so, Napier/Sale gave up on the run too early and often – there were still some plays to be made by Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson that were simply taken away from them.  RT Michael Tarquin’s leg injury immediately had an impact, showing the small amount of quality/experienced depth along the O-line  Austin Barber may be better in 2023, but he had his struggles filling in for Tarquin.

Regarding the opening questions……was it simply AR being mentally weak, was it a poor game plan with lousy play calling, or a combination of both?  Sadly, I have to lay the majority of the blame on AR’s shoulders.  He missed a lot of open receivers – especially in the 1st half when the Gators could have put the game away.  For some reason (and he stated this publicly), he almost forced himself to be more of a pocket passer instead of using his athletic ability to make plays he normally would.  That is a troubling decision, and hopefully his teammates don’t take it personally and just move forward.  To his credit, he took the blame after the game and faced reporter’s questions.  Now we have to wait and see how he responds.

Florida’s defense really stepped up to try and cover for the offensive struggles, and did enough to win almost any other game.  They pressured Will Levis most of the night, Gervon Dexter finally looked disruptive at the LOS, and some blitzes helped generate sacks and incompletions.  There still are problems with coverage of the TE that have to be corrected.  I give these guys a lot of credit for continuing to play hard, knowing their QB was completely out of the game mentally, and even covering for Napier’s ill-advised decision to go for it from his own 40 on 4th down with still 6 minutes left in the game.  They forced a 3-and-out and then got the missed FG, but the offense stalled again, and this time they could do no more than allow the game-clinching FG.  The overall tackling was improved, but the safety play is still suspect.  I like what Corey Raymond is doing with the cornerbacks – it’s a massive improvement over what we have had to suffer through the previous 4 years.  I need to see DC Patrick Toney help the players out in some coverage schemes, especially on 3rd down with opponent TEs.  Here’s hoping that Ventrell Miller’s leg injury isn’t too serious, and that he can return for the Tennessee game.

Special teams are only half special right now.  Punter Jeremy Crawshaw had a great night, and Adam Mihalek made both of his FG attempts, including a 50-yarder.  However……there is still no juice in the return game, and another dumb holding call killed the momentum after the safety, which took away good field position and immediately preceded the start or AR’s meltdown.

What could have been an even better start to 2022 has now given way to questions and concerns, which easily could have been avoided.  Coach Napier and his staff have some real work to do the next 2 weeks……more mental than physical.  The offensive game-planning has to improve, and somehow they need to re-build AR’s confidence……in a hurry.  Welcome to the SEC, Billy Napier.

This week South Florida comes to the Swamp for a big paycheck and a bigger beatdown.  The Bulls are terrible again this year, as they continue a massive, years-long program rebuild.  This game should essentially be a glorified scrimmage for the Gators.  The thing about USF being so bad is that this game really will do nothing to solve the issues of the offense.  My biggest hope for this game is……no injuries.  Florida is travelling to an undefeated Tennessee after this game, and needs everyone healthy and focused for that one.  Perhaps AR decides to take some pressure off of himself and the offense in general and throw to his RBs more with quick passes in the flats.  He has had multiple opportunities in both games to do so, and for some reason won’t pull the trigger.  The defense shouldn’t be threatened in any real way – just tackle well and get a lot of guys some snaps.

Prediction: Florida 45 South Florida 10

Utah Review / Kentucky Preview

Florida started off Billy Napier’s tenure with a rousing 29-26 win over Utah in front of a season-opener record crowd at the Swamp.  This game went as I suspected, with two evenly-matched teams battling until the end in a close game.  Utah played well in a hostile environment, but all of their talk about being PAC-12 champions rang hollow, as they looked simply like a solid SEC team.  Similar to when Auburn is good, for instance – good running game, mobile QB, well-coached, but nothing the Gators don’t see 5-6 times every season.  Their fans will never really understand that SEC teams see this kind of atmosphere 6 or more times EVERY season, and sometimes 3-4 weeks in a row.  The SEC isn’t a one-off conference……welcome to the grind.  Another fantastic showing from Gator Nation in the Swamp – it was an electric night.

Anthony Richardson was the best player on the field, and did a good job in his first start as QB1 given the quality of the opponent.  He stayed within himself for the most part, not trying for hero plays and executing the offense.  His passing came around after he calmed down as the game progressed, but it was his legs that were the difference-maker.  Utah had no answer for him as a runner, even when they had him defended – he’s just that elite of a playmaker.  The O-line played perhaps it’s best game in a decade, allowing the Florida RBs to get to the second level while controlling the LOS.  O’Cyrus Torrence played up to his pre-season hype, while the rest of the linemen looked better coached than in years.  Nay’Quan Wright, Montrell Johnson, and Trevor Etienne all had their moments.  Johnson looks like a load between the tackles, while Etienne received more snaps than I think anyone expected, and showed why.  He has some serious juice, exhibiting both elusiveness and power.  The WR corps definitely has a WR1 in Ricky Pearsall, and it’s obvious why AR says he’s already built a comfort level throwing to him.  He was effective in the middle of the field all night, and made some clutch 3rd down receptions to extend scoring drives.  Xavier Handerson and Justin Shorter were effective ball-control targets.  Florida still seems to lack a deep passing game for now, and I’m not sure if that’s going to change this season.  If not, opponents will start to shrink the field even more to slow the running game.  It was disappointing to not see Trent Wittemore involved more, with zero catches.

Surprisingly, the defense struggled much of the night, especially against Utah’s running game.  Frankly, I was disappointed in DC Patrick Toney’s schemes, especially the entire second half.  Utah came out with an overloaded O-line and he never adjusted his personnel to it.  The Gator D-line was manhandled, getting gashed time and again, and also not spying QB Cam Rising, who hurt Florida with some huge 3rd down runs.  The secondary played very well, limiting Utah’s WRs all game,  However, Toney never seemed to account for their TEs, who are the strength of their passing attack.  Yes, Amari Burney had the play of the game with his end zone interception to save the win, but where were the nickelbacks and CBs to cover the TEs?  This was a stark reminder of what coaching continuity and experience can do – the Utes made key adjustments in the 2nd half, and the Gators did not counter them well……or at all.  LOTS of improvement needed there.  The open-field tackling was improved from last season, but still has a long way to go.  Safety Rashad Torrence missed too many tackles, and the cornerbacks can do better in run support.

Special Teams were solid but unspectacular.  Still no return game of note, and I’m surprised the staff didn’t put Etiennne, Lorenzo Lingard, or a cornerback in to return punts.  Adam Mihalek, a preferred walk-on, got the start as the placekicker, which was surprising.  His kickoffs weren’t that deep, and he wasn’t allowed any FG attempts, as Napier rolled the dice on two 4th down calls in the red zone that led to touchdowns.  I’m concerned about this until Mihalek or Trey Smack show something in live action.  Jeremy Crawshaw did a nice job of placing his punts inside the 20 with no chance for returns.

I really liked Napier’s comments in the post-game locker room and presser.  They were measured and to the point, and you can tell how much the players respond to him.  What a change from Dancin’ Danny – no arrogance or stupid, off-the-cuff statements that embarrass the players and University.

Florida’s SEC East Revenge Tour begins this week with Kentucky coming to the Swamp.  After the embarrassment of last year’s debacle in Lexington, this team has all the motivation it needs to not have a letdown after such a big game.  The Wildcats are getting some run from the media as the 2nd-best team in the East for some reason, but I’m not buying it.  They are playing through some school-imposed suspensions of a few key players, including RB Chris Rodriquez.  They didn’t look impressive in beating Miami (OH) last week, and we’ll see if they know anything about expectations in football.  QB Will Levis for some reason is getting hyped by some NFL Draft gurus as a potential 1st-round pick, which is laughable.  He has a decent arm and some mobility, but a crappy Todd Grantham defense held him to 87 yards passing last season, and their running game is not as good this year.  Despite it’s struggles in the second half against Utah’s running game, I expect some improvement from the Gator front seven this week.  I’m hoping to see some scheme adjustments from DC Patrick Toney, and perhaps some additional rotation at DT to keep bodies fresh.  Florida’s offense isn’t so explosive that the defense can allow Kentucky to control the clock for extended periods, or else this game could become another dicey 4th-quarter affair.

I expect a lot of the same things we saw from the offense against Utah in this game.  Florida will try to establish it’s running game to allow AR some comfort in a controlled passing game, with the occasional QB run for shock and awe.  I’m still waiting for evidence of a deep zone threat to open up the field.  Anything will be an improvement over last year’s meltdown – just limit the penalties and turnovers, and eventually wear down the Wildcat defenders.  3rd down efficiency will be a key all season until there is evidence of big-play ability in the passing game.

I actually believe that Kentucky is similar to Utah in many ways – relying on a strong running game and run defense, along with coaching and scheme continuity.  Those similarities should help the Gators in their preparation.  They will already have that kind of game feel from last week, and should not be surprised by anything the Wildcats throw at them.  The Swamp will be jacked up for the SEC opener, even more so coming off of a thrilling win.  Florida owes Kentucky some serious payback, and I think we get to see it Saturday night.

Prediction: Florida 27 Kentucky 20

2022 Season Preview

Here we are – again.  Another reset for the 4th time in 12 seasons.  Billy Napier takes the reins to try and finally establish consistency, continuity, and stability in the Florida football program.  To his credit, he has pushed almost all the right buttons so far.  He has hired a professional and very hard-working coaching staff; he has instituted a large support staff to help with every phase of the program – especially recruiting; and he has shown to be a steady public speaker – sending out the correct messages about the program without making an ass of himself publicly like Dancin’ Danny and the Losers.

He inherits likely the least talented and experienced roster of any new Gator head coach since Charley Pell signed on in 1979.  The staff has to implement an entirely new scheme, determine the depth chart, and coach up many unproven players behind the starters.  The previous staff did a terrible job of getting backups experience, and in many cases not even playing more talented guys by favoring seniority.  It’s a massive undertaking – trying to rebuild the program while putting together a viable product on the field.

Everyone is anxious to wash away the bad taste of a miserable 2021 season.  The schedule isn’t going to help, with a difficult start the first 2 games and the usual SEC grind.  Add in all of the unknowns with the roster and little proven depth, and this could be a rough first season on the field for Napier.  We shall see how the season unfolds……”that’s why they play the games”.

Offense

It will be a common theme in the position group analysis across the board – many questions, a few answers, and a lot of guesswork as to what we can expect from the new staff and the new schemes.

At quarterback, it’s the Anthony Richardson show now.  He is the unquestioned leader of the offense, and will need to prove to everyone he can perform efficiently in a new offense, while showing he can stay healthy and be durable through a SEC season.  The physical skills are not in doubt – he has to exhibit accuracy when throwing, make the correct reads quickly, and use his legs intelligently to extend plays and occasionally gash the defense with a big play.  Jack MIller has emerged as the top backup as of now.  He’s a transfer from Ohio St. with minimal playing experience, but no stranger to big-time college atmosphere.  While he seems to have grasped the new offense, his performance in the Orange and Blue Game was erratic.  Unfortunately, he broke the thumb on his throwing hand in fall practice and will miss at least the first 2 games.  This is a major issue as behind them are Jalen Kitna and freshman Max Brown.  Neither should be counted on much this year unless something serious happens regarding injuries, but one has happened.  Kitna may be forced into early duty, and even he is fighting off some nagging injuries and is being force-fed reps to try and have him ready.  I think this is really going to limit the amount of leash AR has regarding running the ball on broken plays.  Napier and Co-OL Coach Rob Sale will be calling the plays, and I suspect them to be as conservative as possible to try and grind out wins early in the season.

The running back room again looks to be the best and deepest unit on the offensive side of the ball.  Lorenzo Lingard finally seems to be healthy and gets his chance to play meaningful snaps – he emerged as the #1 RB after spring practice.  Montrell Johnson transferred in from Louisiana, following Napier to Gainesville.  He ran for over 800 yards as a true freshman last season and knows the offense, and will see plenty of action this fall.  Nayquan Wright seems to be fully recovered from his broken ankle suffered in the win over F$U, and has the most seniority.  He is a tough and savvy runner despite his size, and is the best receiver of the group.  True freshman Trevor Etienne was recruited by RB coach Jabbar Juluke while at Louisiana, and likely will have to wait his turn, even as he has impressed in fall practice.

The WR corps has it’s own questions to answer.  There is some returning experience and production, but also has not shown consistency or big-play capability.  Fortunately, Napier pulled off a coup by snatching coach Keary Colbert from USC.  Colbert has developed a lot of elite players the past few years at Southern California and put those players into the NFL – he is a massive upgrade.  On the outside, Justin Shorter is the leader of the group.  He has NFL size and physicality, but needs to improve getting separation from defenders.  His size should make him a great red zone weapon.  Ja’Quavion Fraziers, Xavier Henderson, Ja’Markis Weston, and Marcus Burke all have good size as well, but none showed they could consistently get separation running their routes – a common theme.  All have experience but little production to show for it, and at least a few of them have to contribute more.  Burke is the fastest of the group, and perhaps can stretch the field for the others.  In the slot, Florida may have some major weapons that can open up the rest of the field.  Trent Wittemore returns from injury, and has already shown he can get open and make plays.  Ricky Pearsall transferred in from Arizona St., and has showed well in fall practice.  He comes in with good production last season at Arizona St. and is a senior.

The TE group lost a good player when Kemore Gamble inexplicably transferred to UCF, creating a hole that we will have to wait and see how it’s filled.  Dante Zanders moved from DE in the spring, and surprised many by taking over as the #1 option. Keon Zipperer is more of an H-back than true in-line player, and I’m not sure how well he fits in the new offense.  Nick Elksnis started off well in spring practice, but has battled injuries.  He has the size and pass-catching ability that could make him the starter, but seemingly hasn’t convinced the coaches yet.  There are some freshmen with promise in Arlis Boardingham and Hayden Hanson, but they likely redshirt this year.  Coach William Peagler has to show he can develop what he has at his disposal, but has already shown chops on the recruiting trail.

Finally, it comes down to the offensive line – again.  After enduring mediocre coaching and bad recruiting from John Hevesy, he is replaced by two vastly better coaches – Sale and Darnell Stapleton.  Sale comes from the NFL, and has been named Offensive Coordinator, with Napier calling the plays.  Along with Stapleton, these two have already impressed the players with their knowledge and coaching, while making inroads in recruiting.  It’s been way too long for Florida to field a dominant OL, going back to the Meyer years.  There is enough returning experience and ability for this year’s group to be SEC-caliber, but they have to stay healthy and show more consistency.   Kingsley Eguakun returns at center – he played well last season until injuries slowed him.  The guard position is probably the deepest, with a rotation of Josh Braun, Ethan White and Louisiana transfer O’Cyrus Torrence forming a solid unit.  Torrence comes in with a lot of preseason hype and is highly-regarded by NFL scouts.  The tackle position remains the biggest question mark – again.  Richard Gouriage should start at LT, but is coming off of an injury sustained in fall camp.  He had some good moments last season, but needs to show improvement and more consistency.  Michael Tarquin seems to have pulled ahead at RT, but has little experience.  Behind those two there are a lot of young players with precious little experience, and an injury to either starter could prove problematic.  The coaches have a LOT of work to do to develop some serviceable players.  If the O-line somehow stands strong all season, that will allow Richardson to maximize his effectiveness and hopefully keep him healthy.  If they struggle, Napier’s plan for a solid running game to protect his QB while giving the defense a break will fall apart, and it could be a rough season.

Defense

Finally, the losing scheme and mentality of Todd Grantham is gone from Gainesville.  After watching historically bad defense from this group the past 2 years, it’s time for the Gator defense to start reasserting itself as one of the best in the SEC and country.  New Defensive Coordinator Patrick Toney is a young, promising coach who brings legitimate schemes that will allow the defenders to play fast again and more physically – especially in the secondary.   Gone are the days of “3rd-and Grantham” and soft coverage.  Toney also has some elite position coaches to help implement what eventually could become a real SEC defense as the season progresses.

The defensive line has a lot of questions coming in regarding playmaking ability and quality depth.  There are no questions, though, as to the leader of the group – Gervon Dexter.  He has shown flashes of elite play and speed his first two seasons, and is on the radar of many NFL teams.  He is now called upon to take charge of a largely unknown and unproven group.  The only returning players with any meaningful experience at DT are Jalen Lee and Des Watson.  Lee has potential, but has to make a huge jump this season to provide SEC-level play and contribute to a frighteningly young rotation.  Watson is still carrying too much weight at 415 lbs.  No matter how well he may seem to carry that much weight, he will still not be in good enough shape to play a decent number of consecutive snaps, and is holding himself back from realizing his potential.  Jaelin Humphries has been injured most of his first 2 years, and Chris Thomas just recently was reinstated to the team after being in Napier’s doghouse since the spring.  After them, some talented true freshmen are going to be forced into action and have to provide enough quality snaps in order to rest the starters and help survive the conference schedule.  Chris McClellan enrolled early and made some noise in the spring, and Jamari Lyons will be pressed into duty probably too early, but will hopefully not be overwhelmed.  The rotation at DE is a little better off, led by Princely Umanmelien and Justus Boone.  Princely has impressed the new staff, and Boone showed some flashes in limited snaps as a freshman.  After them, it’s the same story as at DT – precious little experience and proven depth.  Tyreak Sapp has the athletic ability to play in the SEC, but hardly played his freshman season.  It looks like Sean Spencer, aka Coach Chaos, will have to coach perhaps his best season yet to survive with this group.  I believe there will be many snaps with only 3 DL, with perhaps a few rush LBs and 5 or 6 DBs on the field based on the opponent.  This seems to be Toney’s preferred personnel philosophy, and makes the most sense with such a thin D-line.

The LB corps comes in with more depth and raw talent than has been seen since maybe 2016, but also with little experience behind the expected starters.  OLB Brenton Cox should be primed for a breakout season – he is a proven pass-rusher, but it’s time to improve against the run and to show more consistency and discipline within the scheme.  Lloyd Summerall, Chief Borders, and Antwaun Powell are inexperienced, but showed promise in the spring and will be counted upon to make the leap to solid contributors.  Summerall has shown flashes as a pass-rusher, but still has to gain weight and strength to avoid being overpowered too often.  At ILB, Ventrell Miller fortunately chose to return for his 6th year after a torn pectoral muscle ended his 2021 season very early.  His experience and leadership will benefit the entire defense, especially a young group at his position.  Derek Wingo and Scooby Williams showed some promise when they were finally allowed on the field once the previous staff was fired, and will be heavily counted upon.  It’s a shame they were blocked not by opposing teams but by their own coaches……more professional malfeasance.  Diwan Black has experience on special teams, but must show something at the LB position.  True freshman Shemar James was one of Napier’s star recruits, and will play early and often.  The arrival of Jay Bateman and former Gator great Mike Peterson to coach the LBs will pay dividends the longer they get to develop these players.

The secondary has been hamstrung by Grantham for far too long.  Gone are the days of “3rd-and Grantham” – soft coverage, poor schemes, and bad tackling and pursuit angles.  Napier hit a home run in stealing Corey Raymond away from LSU.  Raymond has sent multiple players to the League, and is both a tremendous recruiter and developer of talent.  We should see an exponential leap in the playmaking and performance of the cornerbacks and safeties.

The CB rotation is talented, but lacks depth in numbers.  Jason Marshall played well as an elite true freshman recruit last season, and comes into 2022 as the leader of this group.  Starting opposite him will be Jalen Kimber, a talented transfer from Georgia who was buried on their depth chart after getting injured early in 2021.  He looked very good in the spring game and has been a standout in practice.  There are some very good players behind those two, with Avery Helm, Jordan Young, and true freshman Devin Moore all being prepped for significant duty this fall.  Helm is perhaps the most athletically gifted of the entire group, and just needs to develop his football skills to match.  Young redshirted last season but has shown promise in fall camp.  Moore has been especially impressive given his youth, and has pushed his way into the rotation.  Finally, Jaydon Hill is still rehabbing from his second knee surgery in less than 3 years.  He has played well in limited duty, but has to show he can stay healthy.  All of these guys will also get some reps at the NIckel position until a few move ahead.

The safety position is a real mystery.  There are a handful of players with experience that have simply not played to their potential, and there are some young guys that were buried on the depth chart by the previous staff that can play, but unfortunately have scant experience.  Trey Dean came back for his 5th year to hopefully fulfill the promise he came to Gainesville with.  He is leader of the group, and has by far the most experience.  Rashad Torrence had an inconsistent freshman season, but is being hyped as a potential early-round NFL pick if he continues to develop.  Both he and Dean need to exhibit better pursuit angles and tackling in space, as well as better ball awareness.  Something tells me with professional coaching they will improve dramatically.  Dakota Mitchell and Tre’Vez Johnson return as the backups with the most experience, but both have plenty to improve upon.  Jadarrius Perkins transferred in from Missouri in 2021 and saw a good bit of action on special teams and also in the Nickel rotation, along with Johnson.  Finally, the crown jewel of Napier’s first recruiting class, Kamari Wilson, comes in as the highest-rated recruit for Florida in many years.  He enrolled early, and has already impressed everyone with both his physical development along with his maturity – he will see the field this fall.

Special Teams

After the ineptitude of 2021 and the complete lack of playmaking in the return game under Greg Knox, anything in 2022 should be an improvement.  Coach Napier uses the term ‘gamechangers’ when describing this unit, which would be a welcome and much-needed sight.

You think the Gators couldn’t have used Evan McPherson in 2021?  After Dancin’ Danny ran him off by throwing him under the bus after the LSU game in 2020, Florida had to endure weak and inconsistent placekicking from Jace Cristmann and Chris Howard in 2021, with bad results.  This year, freshman Trey Smack likely gets first crack as the #1 FG kicker.  He certainly has a stronger leg than either of last year’s kickers and comes in as an elite prospect, but has to prove he can perform under the pressure of SEC games.  Preferred walk-on Adam Mihalek may also get some early-season work if the right situation presents itself.

Jeremy Crawshaw returns as the punter.  He had some success last season, but needs to improve his consistency, hang time, and lessen the number of low kicks.  Hopefully he continues the recent run of Australian rugby player success in American college football, and he has the leg strength to do it.

The most impactful change may come in the return game.  Big plays have been sorely lacking for far too long, and with the many question marks concerning the offense, this group could directly affect the outcome of a few games this fall.  Kickoff returns were mostly handled by Weston and Fraziers last year, while Henderson returned punts (or mostly called a fair catch).  The coaching staff needs to get away from the risk-averse thinking of the previous staff and let some athletes cut loose and make some “gamechanging” plays.  

Too many questions to feel comfortable right now, but also some real hope that quality coaching makes a huge improvement.

Schedule and Outlook

The 2022 schedule is difficult, with a strong start and the usual SEC grind.  There is no time for easing into the season – the staff and players will have to be ready immediately for a tough September with scant room for error or poor play.

Utah – Win

I have gone back and forth on this game for a while.  Utah returns most of it’s starters from last season’s Rose Bowl team, and has the luxury of continuity in coaching and scheme.  However, the LAC-12 was just not very strong in 2021, so it’s difficult to say how good the Utes really are.  It may seem counterintuitive, but the fact that Florida will come in with so many new faces along with new schemes could play into their favor, as Utah will not have much film to prepare for what they might see.  The humidity and a loud night game in the Swamp could carry the day.

Kentucky – Win

So much is being made of the Wildcats after finishing 2nd in a crap East Division last season.  For some reason QB Will Levis is being made out to be a high-level NFL prospect, which he hasn’t shown against the Gators, as they made him look terrible in last year’s debacle.  Florida will have a massive amount of motivation to take it to the Wildcats and get payback for that embarrassment.  It will likely come down to the 4th quarter, but I think the Gators find a way to win.

South Florida – Win

South Florida was horrific in 2021.  Their roster is slowly improving, but still is miles away from competing with a team like Florida.  The only thing that may keep this game close for the first half is that the Gators will be coming off of 2 intense, physical games.

@Tennessee – Loss

I have a weird feeling about this game.  I have no doubt that the Gators can win, but it will be the first road game after a tough start to the season, and coach Josh Heupel will be running his fast-paced offense that can cause problems for a defense.  I’m just not sure if Richardson and all of the young players are ready for the environment, and could suffer a letdown.

Eastern Washington – Win

A welcome light opponent in what should be no more than a controlled scrimmage after a tough previous 4 weeks.

Missouri (Homecoming) – Win

Eli Drinkowitz and the Tigers had their fun last year, beating the Gators in overtime and putting the nail in Mullen’s coffin.  Then he doubled down, punking Mullen by pulling out a light saber to mock Mullen’s press conference from the season before when Mullen wore his stupid Darth Vader costume to the post-game presser.  Well, it won’t be Eli that’s coming this time, but payback.  Missouri is a leech on the SEC, and never should have been accepted.

LSU – Loss

Too many times have the Gators had the better team and then laid an egg in this game.  LSU comes in with a new coaching staff of it’s own, as suddenly Cajun-speaking Brian Kelly gets to find out what the grind of the SEC is all about.  Too many weird things have happened in this game over the past 30 years to expect anything other than the unexpected.

Bye Week

Georgia (Jacksonville) – Loss

The Puppies finally ended a 41-year championship drought last year.  Gone is most of that generational defense, but that’s why recruiting is so important, as they will backfill all of that lost talent with more, albeit less experienced.  Even in this rivalry game where upsets happen, their coaching and scheme continuity are probably too much for Napier’s first-year team to overcome.

@Texas A&M – Loss

Now that Dumbo Fishy and the Aggies have bought one of the best recruiting classes in history, the pressure is on to finally produce.  The appropriately-named aTm has it’s own QB issues to resolve, but will be at home.  Fishy has a deep hatred for Florida, and usually gets whatever team he’s coaching up for this game.  This is a doubly-tough game for the Gators coming off of their rivalry game in Jacksonville.

South Carolina – Win

Florida embarrassed itself and all of Gator Nation in last year’s game at Columbia, quitting early and getting blown out.  Coach Shane Beamer and the Lamecocks are getting way too much run for that result, and the Gators continue their SEC East redemption tour by winning this one.

@Vanderbilt – Win

Vandy was terrible last season, and I don’t see much improvement in this year’s team.  Florida likely does it’s usual sleepwalk for this game, but wins even if it’s ugly.

@Florida $t. – Win

The Criminoles are talking proud for some reason after coming off of 4 straight bad seasons.  They may actually qualify for a bowl game this season, but still look much more like the pre-Bobby Bowden teams of the 1970s.  This game was moved to Friday night after Thanksgiving allegedly for better TV viewership, so if really true that means more people will see the Gators win their 4th straight in the series.

Overall Record          8-4

SEC Record              4-4

2022 could prove to be a fascinating season.  There are so many questions concerning the players and coaches, of course, but also the schedule plays out in ways that will not allow the staff to hide any weaknesses nor have the luxury of some early easy opponents to get valuable reps and experience before things get real.

The starting 22 can compete with almost anyone, but after that is where the story of 2022 will be decided.  There will be injuries as always, and can a group of inexperienced and unproven kids provide the level of talent and depth needed both to compete against elite teams and also maintain a high level of play through the grind of a SEC schedule?  The previous staff did this team no favors at all by holding back so many young players, and the new staff has a LOT of work to do to cobble together both schemes and rotations that maximize what they have to work with.  If the offense can’t provide an effective running game and score efficiently, the defense will wear down as the season progresses.  

Lots of new faces in key roles – again – and a lot to prove to themselves and the country – again.  The talent is mostly there, but it is unproven.  You can’t hide in the SEC, and the good (or bad) will be exposed soon enough.  The season could go a lot of ways, and we’re about to see where.  With all of the uncertainty, I believe winning 8 games would be a successful season.  Anything above that would be icing on the cake.  But, if injuries hit key players, it could be a tough road to get to 6 wins.  Patience, which is in small supply in college football – especially in the SEC – will be needed as Coach Napier starts the road back for Florida to compete for championships.

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

Florida Welcomes Billy Napier

It’s that time again (unfortunately) to welcome a new head football coach to Gainesville.  Florida hopes that it finally has hit upon a long-term and successful hire with Billy Napier, after the mostly disastrous past 11 seasons under Won’t Misschump, The Swamp Donkey, and Dancin’ Danny.

Napier comes to Florida with a solid background as both an analyst, assistant coach, and head coach.  He spent a few years at both Clemson and Alabama coaching wide receivers and also as Offensive Coordinator at Clemson, watching what those programs did to build – and sustain – their current runs as elite programs.  He is also the son of a legendary high school football coach in Georgia, and has a ton of contacts in that state which should serve him well in recruiting.  His first head coaching job came at Louisiana, where he built a conference champion over 4 consistently-improving seasons.

Napier has a set way of building a program that includes both the infrastructure (assistant coaches plus staff) and the system to set them in motion and sustain them.  He is calm and methodical in explaining them, which I believe is how he was able to quickly gain the trust of the Athletic Dept. and University administration that hired him.  The success at those three schools obviously carried weight in the interview process, but it speaks to his ability to communicate his vision of success that he was hired so quickly and without a long search process. 

The staff he has put together is likely the most professional, hardest working, and best recruiting group since Urban Meyer built a mini-dynasty in Gainesville.  He has hired coaches from both the college and NFL ranks that have an established record of success, and also are already exhibiting desperately-needed hard work and energy on the recruiting trail.  He smartly negotiated a large bump in the salary pool for both his assistants and the support staff to rival the handful of recent winning programs.  Results are already being seen in recruiting – the list of players interested in Florida now comes close to the level of players that Meyer signed.  Now, we need to see if they can close on them and develop them (and the program) to where the Gators should be – among the nation’s elite.

Napier has instituted his “8-Phase” approach to the program.  These 8 Phases obviously lead up to the regular season, and it will be fascinating to watch the level of detail take hold in the process.  He is now up to Phase 3 – Spring Practice.  It will be refreshing to see open competition for every position and player, not the previous staff’s way of heavily favoring seniority over talent and productivity.  So many simple and basic points of coaching and the way you treat young men were warped by the Mullen Mafia it was professional malfeasance.  Part of the beauty of the massive army of employees he’s hired is in how no one person is overworked, and can apply 100% focus and energy on their specific responsibilities – including the players themselves.  And if they don’t?  They will be released from their duties……as it should be.

Ultimately, the final result – wins and losses – carry the most weight.  It’s hard to say what we will see this fall, as there are so many moving pieces – coaches, players, and new schemes.  It could be a bumpy ride during the season, but I believe the Athletic Dept. and the University have bought into Napier’s plan and vision, and will be patient with him to build the Florida program to his standard.  We will all be witness to his “process” and how it develops over the coming seasons.  Gator Nation is ready to celebrate returning to the conversation of being among the elite programs in the country and winning more SEC championships – it’s almost criminal that the last was all the way back in 2008.

Best of luck to Coach Napier and his “Army”.  Something tells me they won’t need too much luck with all of the hard work – and smart work – they put into the task. 

Samford Review / Missouri Preview

70-52.

Quite the second-half turnaround.  The Gators got hot from behind the 3-point line, hit the boards hard, and…..wait……what?!

The descent into hell accelerated Saturday, as FCS Samford embarrassed Florida by taking a 42-28 halftime lead, making the Gator defense look, well, even worse than the previous week.  It took a record-setting day from Emory Jones and the Gator offense doing what it should have done anyway to get the win, dominating the entire afternoon and rolling up those 70 points on over 700 yards of offense.  The sad thing was…..they HAD to in order to win the damn game!  And, of course, with Jones close to the passing yards record in addition to the total yards record he had just broken, Dan Mullen pulled him for a few garbage-time snaps from Anthony Richardson.  He is completely oblivious.

At least dead-man-coaching Mullen put it in proper perspective, claiming it was a “hard-fought and ‘good’ win.”.  LMFAO – how clueless can you be?  And then, to double down, he leads a dance party in the locker room after this “big win” that’s released on social media……just to be completely ripped by the national media and other schools and coaches around the country.  That will definitely turn around the 2022 recruiting class.

Samford set records for a FCS school scoring on a FBS school, a SEC school, and Florida in particular.  Their 42 points was the most allowed in a half by the Gators……EVER.

Dance on, Danny Boy.

Mullen continued his string of good decisions by allowing Christian Robinson, coach of the terrible LB corps and Todd Grantham disciple (LOL) to call the defensive signals.  Yeah – that was gonna change things.  Thank god former Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni is on staff as a defensive analyst – it appears he put on a headset in the second half and “helped” with the defense.  That group was horrific – again.  No energy, poor tackling, and lack of effort.  As I feared, a lot of these guys have mentally and physically checked out over the past month.

And to think I always laughed at the crap defenses in the Big 12.  The past 2 weeks have made those Big 12 defenses of the past two decades look like the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers, or the 1985 Chicago Bears……or (sadly) the 2021 Georgia Bulldogs.

Ace RB coach and Special Teams coach Greg Knox, not to be outdone, limited Dameon Pierce to only 7 carries for “only” 78 yards, watched as Samford cashed in a 98-yard kickoff return TD, and then mind-numbingly didn’t have the kick team ready for an onside attempt in the second half after Samford cut the lead to 56-52.  Pierce has not had double-digit carries in a single game in 2021!  At least he’ll be fresh for the League when he’s drafted, and that team won’t believe their good fortune in getting such a solid player with so much tread still on his tires.  I can’t wait for Florida’s Pro Day, when teams will see Pierce up close, watch how good he looks in drills and catching the ball, and view the (limited) film from his career.  The comments will be pure gold – “Wow – where did they hide this guy?”  “He must have been the number 1 RB on the depth chart.  Wait……what?!”

We are witnessing criminal malfeasance perpetrated by most of this coaching staff.  I’m just glad there is solid, definitive leadership at the Athletic Dept. and at the University level to fix this mess.  Oops……

It’s on to Missouri, who somehow held last week’s juggernaut South Carolina to 28 points in a 31-28 win.  I pray Pasqualoni is allowed to take over the defense.  The main priority is to stuff the box with 8-9 guys to try and slow down RB Tyler Badie, who just racked up his 4th 200 yard game of the season.  It all starts with stopping the run – fail that, and it’s another loss, and more embarrassment.  If Missouri chooses to throw, then so be it.

Florida’s offense had better be ready to run the ball in the cold as well, if for no other reason than to keep the horrific defense on the sidelines.  The O-line has to open some lanes for whomever Knox deems fit for carrying the ball.  That should have been the formula at Carolina, but Danny Boy chose to go rogue and try “shock and awe” with Jones throwing almost exclusively the first half.  Missouri has one of the worst run defenses in the Power 5 – that trend has to continue this week.  Jones will start, and likely again go the distance barring injury or another blowout loss.  The Tigers are nothing special on defense, and the Gators should find success……if they care to play hard and are given a smart game plan by the smartest man in the room.

It’s hard to watch Mullen and the Mississippi St. Mafia continue to tear down what Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer built.  These clowns need to be shown the door ASAP, but I have zero confidence his buddy and fellow MSU stalwart Scott Stricklin has the guts to do so.  Maybe……maybe the defense can show some pride this week, and perhaps the team can rally.  It’s really hard to see it happening given the body of evidence to the contrary and the lack of coaching leadership, but since this season has descended so quickly into chaos, I suppose anything is possible.

How Florida can be favored on the road this week is just crazy to me, and shows (again) what a weak schedule they could have feasted on this season.  Missouri is just as bad as Carolina, which could be the death knell.  Referencing last year’s big fight at the start of halftime between these teams at the Swamp, of which Darth Mullen was a prime participant, Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz got in some barbs during SEC Media Days in August and specifically pointed to this game on the schedule.  What is the next act in the Theater of the Absurd?

Prediction: Missouri 31 Florida 24

South Carolina Review / Samford Preview

Rock Bottom.

Welcome to the new Gator Standard, courtesy of Dan Mullen and Co.  Florida completely quit on the coaching staff in its most embarrassing loss, since, well, last season against LSU, or going back to the 2013 debacle against Georgia Southern, or going back to……umm……let me step into the WayBack Machine……the end of the Doug Dickey era in 1978, perhaps.

The defense embarrassed itself and Gator Nation against a Lamecock team that had struggled to barely defeat Vanderbilt, Troy, and Eastern Illinois.  It allowed a 3rd string FCS QB to shred them, and also was gashed by the second-worst rushing attack in the SEC.  Wide-open WRs, wide-open running lanes, missed tackles, and no fight.

The offense was dismal as well.  Carolina came in with a terrible rush defense, yet they stoned a pathetic Gator O-line most of the night, and also got pressure on Emory Jones the entire game, along with a strip-sack for a score.  The Gators actually had some early success throwing downfield, but even that stopped for some reason after halftime.  Another fantastic game plan from Mullen.

It was a horrific game all around, and now it’s likely all over but the shouting.

There is a game this week, but it carries no significance.  The Samford Bulldogs come to the Swamp for a nice paycheck and the chance at (another) shocking Gator defeat.  It’s very unlikely, but I’m almost numb at this point due to the rapid descent into college football irrelevance, no matter what happens.

Honestly, there’s not much to be gained from what is essentially a controlled scrimmage.  Some kids actually may be energized with the two fat a**** gone, and perhaps can start to show what they can really do.  The crowd (what’s there) won’t be happy anyway, and I expect to hear them get their pound of flesh by booing Mullen.

I expect we will see more sloppiness on offense, while the defense outmans its opponent.  LMAO – we’ll probably see Mullen have EJ throw it all over the yard, while RB Coach (and Special Teams wizard – NOT) Greg Knox gives Damien Pierce another few carries while still using his weird rotation of guys.  Really, they should just pound away with the running game to get some timing back, and as prep for Missouri in cold weather, then F$U. If the O-line has any pride, they will take out some real frustrations on Samford.  Just get out of there with a comfortable win, and no injuries.

Now all Mullen can do is open up the ‘Embattled Head Coach” playbook.  Cast blame on the flu, the weather, the noise, and fire, years too late, an incompetent Defensive Coordinator and OL coach.  Todd Grantham and John Hevesy stole money from Florida, and I hope they never get another job.  Mullen, however, hired these clowns and stuck with them out of blind loyalty or stupidity – neither of which reflect good judgment from a head coach.  This was simply an offering to keep his job for another few weeks and to cover his ass, and I hope it fails.  Any Athletic Director with a spine would have seen through all of Mullen’s recruiting laziness, arrogance, Immaturity, and petulance, and shown him the door, but his buddy Scott Stricklin is on his own hot seat and has shown to be nothing but an empty suit.  What a disaster.

It’s up to the University leadership, UAA leadership, and someone out there who wants to be the head coach at The University of Florida to get sh*t right.  The 2022 recruiting class will likely fall outside the Top 25 with little help on the defensive side of the ball.  Mullen (if he survives) will pray to the transfer portal gods once again, which is not the way to sustain and build a program.

It could potentially be an even uglier ride to the end of the 2021 season, so buckle up……it could be a bumpy ride.

** Note:  This is my 3rd re-write……I hope it gets by the Editor……LOL.

Prediction: Florida 48 Samford 13

Georgia Review / South Carolina Preview

I’m not sure where the program is headed after a humiliating 34-7 loss in Jacksonville, but I’ve got a good idea if history is a guide.  I’ve seen this show before, both at Florida and at other big schools, and it very rarely ends well.

Dan Mullen’s playcalling for the offense was uninspired and lazy.  He gave Anthony Richardson precious little of the misdirection plays and long pass opportunities seen earlier this year, and all of that can’t simply be blamed on the mediocre O-line play.  It was a crapshoot to have AR get his first start in this scenario against what may prove to be a generational defense, but Mullen certainly didn’t give him much help.  The O-line struggled in pass protection all afternoon, and more penalties crept back in.  I don’t see anything Mullen can hang his hat on after that performance.

As bad as the offense played at times, they still put some good drives together, and were in the game until the fateful last 3 minutes of the first half.  Instead of playing it smart with poor field position and trying to get into halftime down either 3-0 or 10-0, Mullen still had AR passing, and the kid admittedly made some bad throws.  But instead going into halftime down no more than 10 points and getting the second-half kickoff, the competitive phase of the game had effectively ended.

The defense played hard, but eventually, their spirit waned after the turnover debacle.  The secondary played perhaps it’s best game of the season, as it should, given Georgia has no one to really scare anyone at receiver or TE.  The D-line had it’s moments against the run, but the lack of talent and size at linebacker was exposed……again.  The LBs again missed tackles and were out of position at times filling their run gaps – Christian Robinson has proved to be a bad position coach, and hopefully, he leaves along with DC Todd Grantham at the end of the season.  The defense gets credit for not laying down and giving up, especially after the offense had essentially given the game away by halftime. 

This was certainly not the performance to have given the terrible losses at Kentucky and LSU.  Gator Nation is restless (again), and Mullen is just adding fuel to the fire with both the coaching performances from him and his staff along with his dreadful press conferences.

It’s on to South Carolina and a program that is struggling badly right now under new head coach Shane Beamer.  Their problems at QB make Florida’s issues there look rosy.  They will likely start Luke Doty or Zeb Noland, who originally was supposed to be a graduate assistant coach.  Neither has the arm strength or running ability to stress a defense.  Their offense has no real threats other than RB Kevin Harris with only 236 yards rushing, and WR Josh Vann, their best weapon.  Their O-line is terrible, and the Gamecocks average only 119 yards per game rushing.  It looks like Won’t Misschump ruined another school’s offense, and his legacy lives on.  Florida’s defense should feast on this overmatched group all afternoon……if they are focused and play hard, which may or may not happen given the state of affairs right now.

Carolina’s defense, especially against the pass, is solid.  They have 11 interceptions, led by CB Javian Foster with 5, which is one of the better totals in the country.  Their front seven has struggled against the run, however, and the Gators must re-establish a physical running game this week.  This should be a good matchup, but, again, it’s hard to say what the mental makeup of the team is right now.  Given the struggles of both Jones and Richardson throwing the ball, I’m anticipating a large dose of ground-and-pound, unless the situation is dire.  Jones will start and likely play almost all of the snaps, given Richardson’s injury status coming out of the Georgia game.  Mullen will have to have at least one of the true freshmen – Jalen Kitna or Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, ready to play.

Mullen and his staff have a tough task ahead trying to keep players engaged and focused.  I fully expect more lackluster and inconsistent play the rest of this season, as the coaching has let the players down, and some are going to mentally check out.  There is no juice left in the schedule these last 4 games – all against bad teams.  Perhaps some individual leaders will step up and rally the team, but I’m in wait-and-see mode.

There is so much negative press and energy around Mullen right now that it has to be affecting the team.  I just hope the talent gap is so great the last month of the season that the Gators can put together some wins and try and salvage whatever little they can out of the 2021 season.  Maybe the Gators can finish 8-4 with a win over a bad F$U team in Gainesville.  The problem is that recruiting has taken some big hits the past few weeks with decommitments, Mullen is getting trashed on the recruiting trail and in the national media for being lazy (no real surprise), and a mediocre bowl game isn’t going to energize the players or fans.  Once again, the worst thing is that all of this could have been avoided – it’s self-inflicted damage due to Mullen’s arrogance, lazy recruiting, and immaturity in dealing with adversity.

Prediction: Florida 27 South Carolina 17

Georgia Preview

Florida limps into Jacksonville on the heels of an ugly 2 game losing streak, coaching turmoil, player unrest, and recruiting troubles.  But, “All is well!”, just like Kevin Bacon’s character said in ‘Animal House’.

A beleaguered Dan Mullen brings the Gators into this game with seemingly not enough coaching fingers to plug all of the leaks in the dike.  The first issue will be how many snaps does Anthony Richardson get at QB?  It’s likely he trots out Emory Jones to start……but does Mullen hope to just keep the game close enough to let Jones play most of the game?  At this point in the season, it’s likely time to let AR-15 get more reps and show during the rest of 2021 if he can develop enough to be the man in 2022.  But it’s Mullen, so nothing can be assumed.

The Gator O-line has to return to something at least close to it’s form earlier in the season.  Florida has to have some semblance of a running game for some balance and to give either QB the chance for success throwing the ball.  Injuries have been blamed by Mullen for their recent struggles, but I’m not completely buying it – the lack of elite talent is as big of an issue.  And now they get the best front seven in the country for a challenge.  Georgia’s D-line has been dominant all season, led by DT Jordan Davis, a sure 1st-round NFL pick.  Their LB corps is fast and talented, led by Nakobe Dean and Nolan Smith.  Their secondary hasn’t been challenged much.  There could be opportunities for Florida’s WRs if the QBs give them some chances.  This isn’t to say the Puppy secondary is bad, but the Gators have some underutilized talent at WR that needs opportunities to show what they can do.  It seems when AR-15 is in the game they show out, so by default that may determine what Mullen does.  I don’t expect Georgia to allow the Gator RBs over 200 yards in receiving like last season, but the RBs really need to make some explosive plays running or receiving.  They have the talent – but will they get the chances to show it?  

Florida’s defense was completely embarrassed at LSU, allowing almost 300 yards rushing to a poor rushing team, and now faces a Georgia offense that relies on it’s power running game and talented O-line to control the LOS and dictate the action.  The Puppies have their own excellent RB rotation of Zamir White, Kendall Milton, and James Cook.  If the Gators can’t at least slow this group down, it will be another long afternoon, and likely another bad loss.  Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has said he plans on playing both Stetson Bennett and J.T. Daniels at QB, but I believe at least part of this comment is a direct poke at Mullen and his reputation as a QB whisperer.  I expect Bennett to start – he has the past month as Daniels has been nursing various injuries.  Neither QB has been especially impressive throwing the ball when playing any kind of decent defense……but we’re talking Todd Grantham here, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see either of them go off, things have become so dysfunctional in Gainesville the past 1 1/2 seasons. Georgia has been plagued by injuries and lack of production from the WR position, and have had to rely more on TE Brock Bowers and slot receiver Ladd McConkey than expected.  Neither target is one that the Gator secondary can’t handle…..if the scheme allows them to play aggressively.  The Gator secondary has to handle it’s business, as the front seven will have it’s hands full trying to slow down the running game.  I just hope the coverage is close and aggressive the entire game – they match up well athletically.

This is not the game to play it safe – the season goals are already gone, so (sadly) the team has to try and play the spoiler role.  I just hope the coaching staff allows the players the opportunity to do it.  Mullen is starting to really feel the heat, and I have seen no evidence that he’s willing to make any meaningful changes.  Winning this game could go a long way to staunch the bleeding, of which it’s mostly been self-inflicted.  I’ve seen everything in this rivalry, and the Gators could pull off the upset like they did in 2014, for example.  The difference is……again……Todd Grantham, the anchor that is weighing down the entire program.  Because of that alone, I don’t see Florida winning, unless they completely flip the script, get turnovers, and at least significantly slow down Georgia’s running game.

Prediction: Georgia 41 Florida 20

LSU Review

Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, Dan Mullen and Todd Grantham completely gutted the 2021 season with another upset loss to an outmanned LSU.  Repeating the same mistakes from the 2020 fiasco, the Gators turned the ball over 4 times, one, a pick-six, and reverted back to their horrific defensive play, allowing the Tigers to run through them like swiss cheese to the tune of 300+ yards.  This coming from a team ranked next to last in rushing in the SEC.

It’s already appearing as if some players have checked out mentally, as I feared.  Kaiir Elam started at CB, but looked tentative as if he’s saving his health for the Draft.  No one on defense really stood out.  The D-line embarrassed itself by getting pushed around all afternoon.  The LBs missed tackles and continually looked lost trying to fill their run gaps.  The secondary played touch with LSU’s WRs all afternoon, allowing too many easy 3rd down conversions.  Brenton Cox regressed back to blindly rushing off the edge, allowing LSU to easily run right by him for huge gains – again and again.  Once again, the Gators made weak-armed Max Johnson look like Joe Burrow at times.  And……again…..Grantham couldn’t figure out how to stop the same counter-run play for an entire game.

The Gator offense lost it’s identity, failing to run the ball effectively against a bad LSU front seven.  Emory Jones looked completely lost at times, and threw 2 terrible interceptions, the second being the pick-six that gave LSU a 35-21 3rd quarter lead and getting him benched.  From then on, Anthony Richardson came in and rallied the Gators back time and again, making a handful of spectacular TD throws and keeping drives alive with his legs.  Yes, he also had 2 interceptions, but the last was a desperation throw with under 2 minutes left and with a defender (again) bearing down upon him.  The O-line played it’s worst game of the season, getting abused physically, and blowing a lot of pass protections.  LSU was down 5 starters on defense, including both all-SEC candidate cornerbacks.  And……once again……Mullen laid more than just an egg……an entire omelet.

And in the largest bit of irony, even winning this game wasn’t enough to give Ed Orgeron any more time, as he’s been shown the door by LSU.  Partially for a poor win-loss record since the end of 2019, but also for covering up rape allegations, a Title-IX investigation currently ongoing that includes some actions of the football program, and for personal indiscretions off the field, some of which are well-publicized.

Sadly, we’re right back at the same place where Won’t Misschump and the Swamp Donkey were.  Mullen has shown zero propensity for changing his staff, and Grantham is the anchor around his neck that is dragging the entire program down.  Mullen likely survives and gets another year in 2022, but he has exhausted all equity he built up his first 3 1/2 seasons with last year’s late collapse and now the latest two disasters.

Here are the ugly truths:

– Florida is now 4-6 in it’s last 10 games, 3 of those wins against FAU, USF, and Vanderbilt

– The Gators are 2-6 in their last 8 games against Power 5 opponents

– Mullen is 0-2 vs. Alabama, 1-3 vs. LSU, 2-2 vs. Kentucky, 0-1 vs. Texas A&M, and soon to be 1-3 vs. Georgia

All of his talk about “The Gator Standard” is lip service – he shows no passion or care when losing (which he’s getting a lot of experience with); he goes with seniority over ability at many positions; he continues to employ bad coaches like Grantham and John Hevesy, who most teams wouldn’t even interview; he continues to provide meaningless comments to the media and fans when pressed for details on what he’s going to do to change the program’s fortunes; and, finally, he shows no ability for self-reflection, believing he’s always the smartest man in the room.  The only reason he gets another year in Gainesville is because his buddy, Scott Stricklin, is the AD……and I hope the mess he helped create within the women’s basketball program gets him fired.  That seems to be the only way to make Mullen feel any heat and possibly make some LONG overdue staff changes.

I said in my season preview that the floor for this team was 7 wins – at this point I’m just hoping the Gators don’t fall right through that floor.  Mullen has frittered away the huge advantages he could have had recruiting in-state players vs. Miami and F$U, who both stink, and now has to try and hold the 2021 class together.  Important targets and some commits are looking around now, and the decommitment of Shemar James, the top LB prospect in the country, is a killer – he likely flips to Georgia.

It seems those who feared that Stricklin and Mullen would turn Florida into Mississippi St. east may have been right.  Now, Gator Nation has to go through the ringer (again) for 2 weeks until the Georgia game in Jacksonville, which right now looks like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid vs. the Bolivian Army.  It looks like a long, drawn-out 5 games to go for the 2021 season, with rumors of player and coach movement throughout and into what will be a rough offseason.

And the worst thing of all?  It all could have easily been avoided if Mullen had the guts and humility to make changes during and after 2020.  This is self-inflicted damage.  He’s choosing to ride-or-die with the Mullen Mafia.

On that happy note, I’ll be back next week with a preview for the Georgia game.