East Carolina Review / Kentucky Preview

The roller-coaster ride begins with a win that felt like a loss, as Florida held on for a 31-24 “win” over ECU.  That was, frankly, a disappointing effort across the board.  The offense committed untimely penalties and some dumb turnovers, the defense looked lost for much of the 4th quarter, and the rotation at QB hurt momentum more than helping it……all contributing to keeping the Pirates in the game until the very end.  It took a fortuitous fumble inside the red zone to prevent what could have been a devastating loss and serious blow to the team’s psyche.  The most troubling thing of all was watching a lazy performance, with players looking like they read too many press clippings during the week and perhaps feeling entitled.  Why?  The Gators haven’t done anything for 2 full seasons and are an afterthought in the SEC……that attitude has to be erased starting now.  The bench may need to be a teaching tool to get the attention of some guys.

I believe it’s clear that Will Grier gives the Gator offense the best chance to win right now, as his ability to read defenses and make a variety of throws at least can keep a defense honest in it’s coverage.  That being said, he has a long way to go as far as judgement, as he forces too many throws into coverage, and it will bite him and the team sometime soon.  Treon Harris rarely looks for a 2nd receiver, and is basically a one-read and run QB right now.  The running game is looking pretty mediocre so far, and still doesn’t appear to provide the balance either QB needs.  Kelvin Taylor may be the most experienced RB, but Jordan Cronkrite is really pushing for more carries as he is the best north-south runner.  Jordan Scarlett is going to see the bench a lot more if he doesn’t hang on to the football better.

The play of the Gator pass coverage was the largest disappointment of the night.  After seemingly finding it’s footing and shutting down ECU after it’s first drive of the game, the entire 4th quarter was frustrating to watch, as the LBs and safeties were repeatedly beaten on the simplest of checkdown and slant routes, and simply ran out of gas by not getting off the field on 3rd down.  Lots of missed tackles in open space as well, and this has to get cleaned up immediately.  The loss of Alex Anzalone to a recurring shoulder injury really underscored how valuable he is in pass coverage in the underneath and intermediate zones.  He may be gone for 2-3 weeks or even longer, and the defensive staff has to come up with a scheme to offset his loss.  The DL played pretty well in shutting down the running game, and applied decent pressure on the QB given the large dose of quick throws.  The quick passing game of the Pirates exposed some areas of concern, but there were plenty of opportunities to make plays that were missed.  DC Geoff Collins has a reputation for blitzing, attacking defenses, but was forced to stay conservative, and this almost contributed to an upset.

It’s on to the Bluegrass to face Kentucky, who comes off a tough road win at South Carolina and is looking to end a 28-game losing streak to Florida and establish themselves as a surprise team in the SEC East.  The Wildcats are nothing special, but at least have some continuity in their 3rd year under Mike Stoops and momentum coming into this game.

The Gator defense needs to atone for a terrible effort last year against QB Patrick Towles, getting torched for over 300 yards passing and some long TDs.  The return of Vernon Hargreaves and hopefully Keanu Neal should settle down the secondary somewhat, but the entire unit has to focus and tighten things up right away.  Any road win in the SEC is a big deal, and this game could prove pivotal in determining a successful season or another struggle for mediocrity.  The Wildcats have established a decent running game led by Boo Williams, and that is priority one.

On offense, it was my hope that Coach McElwain could pick a starting QB by this game, but it appears both Grier and Harris may play.  Perhaps this a ploy to make UK prepare for 2 QBs, but if one guy gets the offense moving he needs to have the opportunity to play the majority of snaps.  OC Doug Nussmeier needs to develop a plan this week that makes the starter comfortable, and figure out a way to establish some success on the ground.  Leaning on a young QB, especially on the road with an average-at-best OL, is usually unsuccessful in the SEC.

Maybe the best thing for this Gator team is to get away from Gainesville, re-focus on fundamentals, and come together to go on the road and try to get a win.  The mental lapses against ECU cannot be repeated, and it’s time to earn some respect, not expect it just because of the name on the jersey.  Right now, I just don’t know if the offense is ready to carry it’s weight on the road.  If Florida is to win this game, the time-honored formula of solid defense and special teams has to be employed, and I’m just not sure this team is ready.

Prediction:  Florida 23      Kentucky 20