Alabama Review

1 step forward……2 steps back

What a strange (and ultimately disappointing) game.  Tied in the 3rd quarter due to a Gator team that was more opportunistic than good, the outcome never really seemed to be in doubt.

Might as well get the negatives out of the way first, because they were so glaring.  The secondary play, especially the coverage (or lack of) by the safeties, is inexcusable.  Inexperience is one thing, but the blown assignments and poor discipline are shocking at this level of competition.  Will Muschamp and Travaris Robinson are great secondary coaches that have recruited and developed a ton of quality players that have succeeded in the SEC and NFL.  But the performance the past 2 games is unacceptable, and has to be corrected – now.  Perhaps simplifying the schemes and playing more zone coverage is a temporary solution (even though I’m sure Muschamp and Robinson would hate to do it).  Keanu Neal is a great physical talent, and has already shown big-play capability, but jumping the simplest of QB or WR head fakes doesn’t cut it at this level – he has to play smarter.  Jabari Gorman simply looks too slow.  Marcus Maye has caused a few turnovers, but really hasn’t shown improvement in coverage yet from last season.  The coaches have to find a way to stop the bleeding and coach these guys up.  At CB, Brian Poole isn’t a cover guy – he’s a good rotation player, but doesn’t seem to possess the quickness needed when forced into man coverage.  VH3 also had some bad moments, but a stud WR like Amari Cooper will make some plays every game.  I’m more concerned with his Achilles strain, and that the staff kept putting him back in the game late – he’s too valuable to be physically abused that way.

It may be a good idea for either DJ Durkin or Robinson to move into the coach’s booth to better see the field, and perhaps help get the secondary lined up more quickly and properly.  Something has to be done to help these young guys get it together.

Now, for the QB play – or lack thereof.  Jeff Driskel actually had decent protection and the occasional running game to allow him time to make reads in the passing game and also execute the zone read.  But it didn’t happen……again.  He is simply too inaccurate with his throws, and made some mistakes in the running game, including his terrible handoff to Matt Jones which killed a scoring opportunity after a Bama turnover in the 2nd quarter.  His best 2 plays were his TD pass to Valdez Showers to tie the game at 7 in the 1st quarter, then his run on the QB draw to tie the game again at 21 early in the 3rd quarter.  But simply too little, and too infrequent.  There doesn’t seem to be any adjustment during the play that he can make – it’s the first read or something bad happens.

The offense never established any consistency, mainly due to the bad performance by Driskel.  The O-Line actually looked decent, establishing some running lanes usually and giving Driskel a pocket and time to throw.  Sadly, he squandered their play with an erratic throwing day that wasted some quality scoring opportunities that could have made this a 4th quarter game.  Yes, there were some egregious drops by Andre Debose and Quinton Dunbar (again), but still there were far too many overthrows and slow reads that missed some open receivers that could have extended drives.  The fact that this is Driskel’s 3rd OC in 4 years does not excuse continued poor throwing and reads.  Is it time to give Treon Harris a real shot at significant playing time?  Perhaps – at a minimum he needs to get 3-4 series starting at Tennessee.  The Gators have an off week in which to come to grips with the QB play and give Harris reps with the first team in practice.  Matt Jones ran hard, and the fumble on the exchange from Driskel was the QB’s fault, putting the ball on Jones’ hip.  When Driskel starts making mistakes in the running game, it’s painfully obvious he is not playing relaxed and with confidence.

The defense again had multiple busts in coverage, allowing Bama to complete some ridiculously easy long TD throws, and never really rising up on 3rd down to get off the field.  Florida allowed a team record-high 645 yards – that cannot happen to a Head Coach that hangs his hat on tough defense and great secondary play.  Muschamp and Robinson have 2 weeks to simplify things and find 2 safeties that will not overpursue and actually keep WRs in front of them.  The run defense held up well until the last 20 minutes, when they were gassed and Bama could rotate their stable or big RBs and control the game.

I do want to point out what could have been the real backbreaker of the entire game, and I point the finger squarely at the defensive staff. In the 3rd quarter, with a 3rd and 23 play, it was painfully obvious that a screen play was likely to be dialed up by Bama.  Sure enough, they called it, and Derrick Henry was allowed to run almost untouched to the 3-yard line, leading to the go-ahead score.  That cannot happen with the quality of this staff – and it shouldn’t happen again this season.

Despite the obvious bad plays, there are some things I saw that were encouraging. The O-Line play, even with the loss of Trenton Brown, was adequate.  The D-Line wasn’t pushed around until they tired late.  Kyle Christy seems to have rediscovered his punting touch of 2012.  The kick coverage was very good, and even Austin Hardin made some solid, deep kickoffs.

Wow – there is a LOT to work on.  The timing of this off-week is great for the staff and players to go back to basics, and also to seriously evaluate the play at key positions and possibly put in some new guys and see if they can spark the offense and defense.  The howling from the anti-Muschamp “fans” has started anew, which doesn’t help anything right now – the players, coaches, or recruiting efforts.  I know my criticisms this week are pretty pointed, but I’m not immediately giving up on 2014 just yet.  October is a huge month for this year and possibly the future of the program.  All 3 games are winnable, starting with the biggest game of the season (as I stated in my season preview) at Tennessee.  It’s a tough task to try and get things back on track, with all of the pressure on the staff and players.  Somehow Muschamp has to look inward and do what’s best for the team and it’s chances for success going forward, and that starts with some personnel decisions.

See you next week with my preview of the Tennessee game.  Go Gators!