Eastern Kentucky Preview / Florida $tate Preview

The Gators sent the senior class and Will Muschamp out on a winning note in the Swamp with a workmanlike thrashing of the Colonels. The team played well, especially factoring in all of the off-the-field distractions surrounding the program. The defense throttled EKU all afternoon, while the offense got some explosive plays from the passing game to build a huge lead and enable the staff to clear the bench in the second half. Both Treon Harris and Jeff Driskel made some excellent TD throws, and Demarcus Robinson and Quinton Dunbar showed that they are threats downfield when given the chance. Other than the bruised knee suffered by Harris, fortunately there were no other key injuries. There’s not much in-depth analysis needed for this game, which is a welcome break from the drama that has been 2014.

Which leads to……the showdown in Taliban City this Saturday against the Criminoles.

There are even more storylines than usual for this year’s game, starting with F$U’s winning streak, Muschamp’s last game as Gator head coach, and the fact that the entire country hates the cesspool that is the Criminole program and their teflon QB, Shameless Winston.

It’s imperative that Florida not fall too far behind early and force the offense to try and climb out of that hole, as they are simply not ready to do it. The Gator offense has shown the ability to run the ball effectively, and will need to do so again to control the flow of the game and rest the defense. F$U’s defense has been vulnerable most of the season, and can be exploited. I do expect more chances to be taken than at any time this season on early downs, as there is really nothing to lose for Muschamp and the team……but ultimately it will still come down to an effective running game. The O-Line is in good health, and hopefully can repeat what a handful of teams have already done this season – gash the F$U defensive line and also have success with zone read runs by the QB. I expect both Harris and Driskel to play, and possibly a little reverse game-planning in store with Harris running more than usual and Driskel taking some shots downfield in the passing game. Hopefully Kurt Roper is allowed to actually run more of his true offense than Muschamp allowed after the Alabama loss, and has a few big plays dialed up for Saturday.

Florida’s defense knows what it has to do – slow down the Criminole passing game and force some turnovers, which Winston has been susceptible to all season. I fully expect F$U to pass the ball early and often to try and expose Florida’s mediocre play at the safety position. Rashad Greene and Nick O’Leary are the favorite targets of Winston, and the Gators need to force someone else to beat them. Dante Fowler should command a lot of attention in the pass rush, so that could open up things for others in the front seven to make some big plays and also get some sacks. The defensive game plan will likely be to dare F$U to run the ball with Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams – consistently – and make them try and be patient on offense, which isn’t in the nature of King Crab.

If Florida can keep this game close deep into the second half, the pressure on F$U will ratchet up and possibly finally make them lose one of a handful of games they have escaped with a win this year. Dumbo Fisher is crowing about how they “finish” games. Yeah, with a team fumbling inside the 15 with a minute left (Climpson), another being stopped by a pass interference call negating the winning score (Notre Shame), another who went too conservative in the second half, and where it took a fluke tipped pass that became a TD to escape (scUM), and just last week against a team that outsmarted itself with a late trick play call that almost worked, instead of pounding the rock (Bahsten College). I’d love to see Florida put the Criminoles in that spot and to see what happens.

Can history repeat itself on Ron Zook Field at Joke Shamble Stadium? Can a lame-duck coach go out with a huge win, and in this case ruin an undefeated season and the playoff aspirations of F$U? While the Gators can play carefree with no pressure, the Criminoles have their entire season on the line, and they will be feeling it. It could be a perfect bookend scenario – Florida winning in Taliban City before the F$U winning streak starts, and ending it.

The struggles in the passing game, along with the injuries on defense to LBs Jarrad Davis and Neiron Ball, make this a tough game to win for Florida. My thought is that the Gators have a 1 in 4 chance of winning this game – not great, but does the right scenario play out and will Florida embrace the situation and put the dagger into F$U’s season? The Gators have to win the turnover battle and have to play a full game with only a few minor mistakes or penalties, given the razor-thin margin of error for the offense. The opportunity is there, but I’m not sure this team can reach out and take it. It’s my 34th consecutive game in the rivalry, and 35th out of 36 – I’m looking forward to it. No matter the outcome, it’s great to be a Florida Gator, and not be a “fan” of a rogue “school” with players, a head coach, and an administration lacking a moral compass.

Prediction: Florida $t. 26 Florida 17