Eastern Michigan Review / Kentucky Preview

As expected, it was a beatdown from start to finish as the Gators finally were able to play a game, and took out their frustrations on hapless EMU.  I’m sure it was cathartic in some ways for the players, coaches, and fans to see a new product on the field and start to bury the memories of 2013.

The new offense of Kurt Roper was on display, and compared to the Brent Pease disaster it looked like Steve Spurrier vs. Lynn Amedee (for you Gator fans going back to the late 1980s – it wasn’t called ‘The Amedeeville Horror for nothing).  Lots of quick throws, mostly horizontal routes to spread the field, but enough deep shots to keep the secondary honest and not have to watch 9 defenders crowding the box anymore.  Jeff Driskel looked OK in his first action in almost a year, hitting more than 10 different receivers.  Yes, the Gators have WRs, and they have to love the fact that they can finally show off some of their skills.  Quinton Dunbar still seems to be Driskel’s go-to guy, but Demarcus Robinson flashed some of the big-play ability that was expected when he signed with Florida.  Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones had enough touches in the running game to make some big plays, and it looks like there’s finally an OC that will get Jones involved in the passing game, to show off his receiving ability and also give the defense another option to worry about.  Driskel still stares down his primary receiver occasionally, and that’s going bite him in the ass against better opponents down the road unless he improves.

The O-Line looked better, but there were still too many times Driskel was pressured, especially troubling against an outmanned opponent.  The poor OL recruiting of the past 3 years is evident.  Chaz Green looked good in his return from season-ending shoulder surgery that wiped out all of 2013.  He will be needed in the Tackle rotation more than ever, as DJ Humphries did not look especially impressive and is hurt (again), this time with a high ankle sprain.  The Guard rotation did not impress.  Trip Thurman simply isn’t a SEC-caliber player, and Tyler Moore looked tentative coming back from a bad elbow injury that ended his season early last year.  Max Garcia did a nice job at Center – the Gators are very fortunate he transferred into the program last year.  It looks like young guys like tackles David Sharpe and Rod Johnson will get a lot of snaps early, and while it may cause some offensive struggles early this year, it will pay dividends in the future.  The ability level of future OL recruits simply has to improve.

The defense never was challenged, and the coaching staff was able to play nearly the entire roster.  A lot of younger players were able to get  a lot of action, and the future bodes well for the Gator defense.  Gerald Willis, Caleb Brantley, and Joey Ivie add a lot to a D-Line anchored by Dante Fowler, Jonathan Bullard, and Leon Orr.  Quincy Wilson, Keanu Neal, and Duke Dawson all made plays in the secondary, including Dawson’s pick six.  They will be relied upon all season, as opponents will rarely challenge Vernon Hargreaves.  Not a lot more to say here, as EMU was completely outmatched.

The SEC slate begins this week with the Kentucky Wildcats coming to the Swamp trying to end a 27-game losing streak to Florida.  Mike Stoops thinks he is raising the profile of a weak program with supposedly better recruiting.  The Mildcats are talking proud about their new offense, and also looking to last year’s Gator meltdown against Vanderbilt for hope.  Well, they are gonna get a reality check when they see the Gator defense unleashed Saturday night.  Kentucky has a new QB in Patrick Towles, who is a vast improvement over recent offerings, and their scheme is much more wide-open then previous seasons, featuring more spread concepts.  However, unless they unveil a rushing attack led by Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard and Towles that exploits Florida’s weakness against a power running game, they will realize quickly that the Gator pass rush and secondary play are superior.

I’m not sure if Roper will revel many (if any) new wrinkles yet on offense, as Florida should be able to move the ball with success running the base offense.  I am focusing on improvement across the board after the first game, especially by the O-Line.  This unit has to get it’s act together, as the schedule will toughen quickly.  I think the running game will be featured more, as the EMU game was little more than glorified scrimmage that allowed a lot of work on the passing game.  It’s rare that an unbalanced offense has any sustained success in the SEC, and Muschamp knows this.  The defense needs to continue to develop quality depth by rotating in the younger players, and pressure Towles early and often to disrupt his rhythm.  If he tries to run the ball 20+ times like last week, I don’t think he’ll make it through the entire game.

The loss of the Idaho game due to weather really hurt the offense, and they have to accelerate their development this week with a very tough road trip to Alabama coming up next.

Prediction:  Florida 31      Kentucky 14