Furman Review / Florida $t. Preview

In keeping with how the season has played out, the Gators did everything they didn’t want to do in getting a sloppy, uninspired win over Furman.

The defense was sleepwalking throughout the first half, digging a 15-point hole early that required most of the starters on both sides of the ball to play into the 4th quarter to ensure the win. The offense was able to score on a multitude of big plays, mostly through the air, which was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was the sporadic running game, where poor blocking led to more short gains than should have ever happened. I give the defense some credit for pulling together after the rough start, mostly due to the fact that the Paladins came out with an entirely new offensive scheme not shown all year. Smart by them, but once Florida made their adjustments after the 1st quarter, they simply out-manned Furman the rest of the game, outscoring them 47-10. Forcier, who transferred from UCLA, is a solid QB that could play on a lot of FBS teams.

On the injury front, a few key players were dinged up as well. Jordan Reed’s ankle injury did not look good, while Matt Elam’s shoulder should be OK this week. John Brantley continues to limp around, and Chris Rainey has a bad ankle as well. The loss of Marcus Roberson in the secondary will be painfully obvious this week. LB Lerentee McCray and OT Chaz Green have been sorely missed recently – unless they are immobilized this week, they need to at least provide some quality snaps. Suck it up, rub some dirt on it, or, more likely, get a pain shot and get your ass in there, young man.

The season mercifully ends this Saturday against F$U. After all the preseason claims of being “back”, the Criminoles are “back” – back to another 4 or more loss season, and once again little factor in the Almost Competitive Conference. They have no excuses, except for continued mediocre OL play, an overrated QB, and the imagined genius of Dumbo Fisher, who still hasn’t put together a potent offense, going back to his underachieving L$U offenses in the mid-2000s.

Sadly, the F$U front seven on defense has outperformed Florida’s group in 2011. DE Jenkins is a tough pass rusher, and their LB corps is very good – light years ahead of the Gator contingent. Nigel Bradham is excellent, but still is as dirty as they come. Their secondary is the weakness, but, can Florida’s OL give Brantley time to expose them? Lemarcus Joyner is a stud at FS, but the rest of that group strikes fear in no one. Their team speed is again very good, and will be tough for the Gators to consistently overcome, given their lack of a power running game. Coach Weis is up against it with his current roster – he’s going to have to develop a scheme that will keep the F$U defense off-balance and make them think (always a challenge for them) instead of just reacting. Just as Reed was finally showing development at TE, he could be no factor this week. A.C. Leonard may have to rise to the challenge – Brantley did target him more last week than all year. All the skill guys have to show up and contribute. Andre Debose has to make a few big plays downfield, and should command respect and enough attention from the F$U secondary to hopefully help the other WRs find some open space. someone out the remaining WRs – Deonte Thompson, Frankie Hammond, or Quinton Dunbar, have to help keep the F$U defense honest and prevent them from crowding the box. Jeff Demps and Rainey need to rip off a few big runs, and perhaps Trey Burton and Hunter Joyer will finally get a few more touches inside the tackles. We may see a little more Wildcat in short yardage this week. It’s all hands on deck for the Gator offense. But unless the OL plays well, it could get ugly.

The Florida DL has to get penetration on it’s own without relying on blitzes to pressure the QB. E J. Manuel scares no one – despite his mobility, he is an inaccurate passer downfield and looks tentative when having to read defenses. The defensive game plan in general may look very similar to what they employed for Georgia – concede the run, and concentrate on the short and intermediate routes. This actually plays to the strength of Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins at LB. Despite the loss of Roberson, I think Coach Muschamp and Coach Quinn can devise some coverage looks that will confuse Manuel.  The secondary has to find some playmakers – Elam can’t do it all by himself, and Jaylen Watkins is still very inexperienced, despite his recent improvement.  Maybe Pop Saunders gets another pick this week – he still gets out of position, but definitely has ball skills.  F$U’s running game is nothing special, their OL is almost as mediocre as Florida’s, and they have no consistent WR threat that the Gators can’t handle in man coverage. The Criminoles will attempt the occasional deep pass that Josh Evans or Josh Shaw must stay in position for.

Special teams are about equal. Greg Reid, despite being a punk, is a dangerous punt returner. Hopkins is a decent FG kicker, but will be coming in off of choking a win away last week against Virginia. FSU’s kick coverage unit is average, but Florida’s KO return game has been dynamite all year. Here’s hoping that the Gators do maximum damage with hopefully only a few attempts. If the Criminoles are smart (risky proposition), they will do what many teams have done recently – kick shorter to the up backs. At least Florida has countered that strategy by moving Debose up.  Kyle Christy has been shaky at punter, but Caleb Sturgis has had a great season on FGs – the game could hinge on him at the end.

Can the Gators pull together after all of the adversity and troubles throughout the season to put together one complete game from all units? Certainly pride has to be on the line, and not just after the debacle in Taliban City last year. Florida can atone for at least some of it’s self-inflicted woes with a win over it’s rival. This is a huge game for recruiting momentum for the Gators, as the staff has put together a solid class so far that will add 10-12 more players before NSD 2012. There is immediate playing time available next year at a multitude of positions for any freshman that takes advantage of the opportunity. Urban Meyer said it himself after last year’s loss to F$U – “We have to hit the recruiting trail hard to build things back up”. That’s a fact that many fans simply have forgotten – the fruits of which were borne out in 2011 and, unfortunately, will still be seen in 2012 as well. It will take 2-3 years of solid recruiting classes to stockpile the roster back to 85 quality athletes that can compete for championships.

It’s a shame that the Gators are so far down in talent and depth that they are a home underdog to Florida St.  The Swamp will be alive early, but ultimately it will be up to the players to keep the crowd in the game to the finish  I think Florida has one final big push in them. The defense has had enough sand kicked in it’s face to last a career – Jaye Howard, Sharriff Floyd, Omar Hunter, and Dominique Easley need to fight back now.  The incredibly overrated Dumbo Fisher could also be a great equalizer.  If the game were in Taliban City, Florida loses by 14-21 points.  At a neutral site, Florida loses by 7-10 points.  At the Swamp?  Ugh – this hurts……

Prediction  – Florida $t. 24        Florida 20