Florida Atlantic Review / Florida $tate Preview

Florida tempted fate again against an outmanned FAU team, and was fortunate to survive overtime with a desultory effort.  As bad as it was going into halftime tied at 0-0, blowing a 14-0 lead in the 4th quarter was worse.  It’s easy to just go ahead and bash the players for a lack of effort and focus – especially on offense, but perhaps the smoke-and-mirrors it’s taken the staff to hold the offense together through 11 games is finally taking it’s toll on the emotional level of the entire team.  Even the defense has started to show cracks in concentration and execution the past 2 weeks.  It also didn’t help that the FAU was playing dirty by cut-blocking the Gator DL all afternoon, leading to a few injuries, including Jon Bullard.

The Gator offense regressed (again) from last week, with another Misschump-era performance.  The O-Line was brutal, never allowing the running game any consistency, and having Treon Harris run for his life for most of the day.  The starting lineup was back in place, but their play was a painful reminder of what many believed would be the case at the start of the season.  It’s hard to say if this unit just mentally checked out for this game, or if deeper problems have developed behind the scenes.  Harris was pressured all afternoon, but occasionally was his own enemy as well, missing open receivers.  Kelvin Taylor and Jordan Scarlett had little room to run all day.  It’s hard to believe the WRs couldn’t work free more often, but to be fair, Harris didn’t have much time to throw.

Florida’s defense allowed only 1 TD, but certainly didn’t distinguish themselves.  They allowed too many sustained drives, and the secondary played way to softly in coverage, giving up a lot of easy throws in the second half.  Even the run defense was gashed.  The lack of depth on the D-Line due to injuries really showed itself in the 4th quarter.  To their credit, they generated the first Gator TD with a QB sack and fumble returned to the FAU 1-yard line, and the oft-maligned Brian Poole made the play on the ball on the last 2 plays in OT.

At this point I don’t know what to say or even think about Austin Hardin’s placekicking.  He hit the upright on one FG attempt and them overcorrected on the other, both from under 40 yards, and had another XP blocked due to a low kick.  Somehow the staff has to find a more reliable option next season, as Hardin’s mental makeup is simply not getting the job done.  Florida will have to live and die with him the rest of this season, though.

The final regular-season game is at the Swamp this week, as Florida $t. comes to Gainesville to try and continue their recent run of success against the Gators.  Dalvin Crook and the Criminoles would love nothing better than to take advantage of Florida’s recent struggles and sneak out with a win.

F$U sadly has figured out that Sean Maguire is the better of their 2 QBs, as I was hoping that Everett Golson would be the starter and ready to turn the ball over multiple times.  Maguire is not the running threat that Golson is, which should help the Gator front seven contain him in the pocket and force him to find open receivers.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see them break tendencies and take some deep shots early to try and loosen up the Florida secondary so they can work their short passing game.  Travis Rudolph and Kermit Whitfield are the main receiving threats, but neither is a burner and true deep threat.  If the Gator cornerbacks are on their game, there’s no real strategy F$U can expect continued success with – their WRs and TEs are simply not as good as the Gator secondary.  Most of the Criminoles’ success on offense is predicated on their strong running game with Crook, which sets up play-action passes.  The Gator defensive front seven has to refocus itself and play hard for 60 minutes.  Many of the linemen are dinged up, so expect a heavy rotation all along the line to try and maximize their performance and keep them fresh.  Bullard, Jordan Sherit, Taven Bryan, and Alex Macalister all may be limited in the number of snaps they get.  The long season is also starting to catch up to Tank Morrison and Jarrad Davis at LB.  They continue to soldier on valiantly, but neither of them is close to 100% at this point, with little relief in sight form the backups, who simply aren’t good enough yet.  The defense can’t afford to crack against the running game and allow long, time-consuming drives.  The Gator offense is going to need as many chances as they can get to try and generate points, which leads me to……

……the Gator offense.  The pressure lies squarely on the shoulders of the entire unit this week, and every man has to raise his level of play from recent weeks.  The O-Line has been a sieve lately due to injuries and lack of focus, and that has to change.  Only 8 OL will likely play barring injuries, and the communication and effort have to be on point to give the RBs and Harris any chance of sustaining a few drives and scoring some points.  David Sharpe and Martez Ivey have to play through injuries, while Trip Thurman, Can Dillard, Tyler Jordan, and Mason Halter need to step up their performance.  The staff will hopefully have some new formations and schemes in order to break free the TEs and WRs.  The middle of the field between the numbers has to be utilized – Harris needs to make quick reads and simply cut it loose.  Hopefully Jake McGee and Deondre Goolsby can hit some seam routes or wheel routes.  Demarcus Robinson needs to break out of his recent funk and show 100% effort every play.  He has great physical skills, but his mental game continues to hold him back.  Antonio Callaway continues to impress as a true freshman, but still lacks polish at route-running.  Somehow he needs to generate 1 or 2 of the big plays he’s contributed throughout the season.  The recent play of the offense will almost surely guarantee a loss unless they show massive improvement.

The Criminole defense is lead by DL Derrick Nnadi, DeMarcus Walker, and Josh Sweat, LBs Reggie Northrup and Lamarcus Brutus, and DBs Derwin James and Jaylen Ramsey.  This is a solid unit overall, but lacks the big-time playmakers.  They have not allowed many long plays, but have been gashed more often than recent years by both the run and pass.  Of course, given the current struggles of Florida’s offense, almost any defense can look formidable.  I expect the same look from the F$U defense as Florida has seen against most of it’s better opponents – 8 or 9 men in the box, and single coverage on the WRs.  There will be opportunities for some big plays, but can the Gators rise to the challenge?  It’s all about effort, determination, and competing hard every play.

The national media has savaged the Gator offense all week, and belittled the team’s accomplishments to date.  Florida has fallen to #12 in the Playoff standings, behind even some 2-loss teams.  Talk about a slap in the face – the collective pride of the team has to be hurt, and this should serve as more than enough motivation to play their best game of the season.  I believe the defense will play well enough to win, but the offense has been so horrid recently that it is difficult to look past that and predict success against a quality opponent.  I am worried that their recent struggles are affecting their confidence, and that they can’t simply relax and play loose.  It pains me to make this pick, as a healthy Gator team with Will Grier at QB would likely win this game.

Prediction:  F$U 20        Florida 17