Georgia Review / Arkansas Preview

Wash, rinse, repeat.  Florida is no closer to Georgia right now than it was the previous 2 seasons, getting pushed around (again) in an embarrassing 43-20 blowout loss.  Every issue the Gators have had on either offense, defense, or special teams was magnified against the Bulldogs.  I wasn’t one of the delusional fans who thought there was more than a remote chance at an upset win, and sadly I was right.

After a terrific opening possession that led to a TD pass from Graham Mertz to Tre Wilson, the offense stalled out and was inept until garbage time.  Florida managed only the same amount of total yardage after that initial drive until the 4th quarter when the game was out of hand.  The offensive line was brutally bad, getting manhandled all afternoon and endangering the health of Mertz with terrible pass-blocking.  Once again, after the first well-scripted series, the rest of the game was a disjointed mess.  Billy Napier didn’t help the cause at all with his rendition of the infamous 1976 “4th-and-dumb” play call by Doug Dickey.  Why on 4th down with less than a yard to gain he tried the SAME play that they had run in just their previous game against South Carolina – the wildcat formation with Trevor Etienne trying to throw a flat pass – was beyond me.  Just line up 5-wide, and allow your struggling O-line to only have to block some combination of 6 DL/LB and run a simple QB sneak with Mertz, who is big and strong enough to get the first down.  That play gave Georgia all of the momentum, as they extended the lead to 17-7 immediately after and rolled from there.  Finally, why the TEs were ignored in the passing game is a mystery, and really impacted the effectiveness of the offense.  Napier really needs to recuse himself of any playcalling and hire a legit OC, as he simply lacks any feel for situational football and can’t seem to provide any continuous flow as a game progresses.

Florida’s defense wasn’t much better, giving up over 500 yards and never establishing the LOS.  The run defense again was gashed for multiple big plays, there was rarely any pass rush of note, and the secondary blew assignments, tackled poorly, and again showed an alarming lack of ball-awareness when given opportunities to defend the pass.  Other than that – “nothing to see here……move along, please”.  The defense never had any control of the game, and only a goal-line stand that held the Bulldogs to a FG on their opening possession stemmed the tide of their troubles.  Georgia ran and passed at will, rolling up over 500 yards of offense.  The Gators never really pressured Carson Beck, allowing him all the time he needed to pick apart a shaky Florida secondary.  It’s painfully obvious at this point that Napier needs to completely scrap the Patrick Toney defense he kept from the 2022 season, as it simply doesn’t work against legit SEC and Top 25 competition.  Princely Umanmielen was one of the precious few defenders that played well, playing perhaps his best game of the season from the Buck position.  To add injury to insult, Shemar James incurred an injury in pre-game warmups on the freshly resodded field.  He put a brace on his knee and gave it his best effort until limping off of the field in the second half with what turned out to be a season-ending injury – a dislocated kneecap requiring immediate surgery.   The LB and secondary play were both dreadful, as they allowed Georgia multiple chunk plays and never could play tight coverage.  This unit seems to be regressing as the season goes on, and must reverse it’s fortunes for the team to have a chance of success the rest of 2023.

Special teams again reared it’s ugly head, allowing a blocked punt due to a complete breakdown of blocking scheme, which just continued the momentum that Georgia had established in the 2nd quarter.  Just another in a LONG list of reasons Napier has to rethink his way of handling that unit.  It’s time for one voice in that room, and no more coaching-by-committee.  The “Gamechangers” were certainly that, all right.

Overall just a dispiriting effort and further proof there are still serious fundamental issues with both the coaching staff and the schemes being employed.  The team continued to play hard for 4 quarters, but not necessarily well, or smartly.  It will be a few more painful years before Florida approaches the level of talent it needs, and I can only hope that by then the coaching issues are resolved as well. 

The Gators return home for the first time in 4 weeks for a must-win game against Arkansas.  The Razorbacks come into this game off a bye week, which was serendipitous for them given how their season hit rock-bottom in their Homecoming loss to Mississippi St.  They fired their OC after a horrific 7-3 losing performance that had the home fans booing them off the field.  They were fortunate to have the extra time to try and turn things around.  What’s strange is that they have played well in a lot of close losses against one of the toughest schedules in the country, yet come inot this game on a 6-game losing streak.  Head Coach Sam Pittman always has his team ready to play for 60 minutes and to play hard – they just haven’t played well on offense.

The Razorback offense is led by QB KJ Jefferson, a huge guy who is a load to bring down.  That being said, he’s not that elusive of a runner and struggles mightily to complete passes when forced to move in the pocket.  Despite Pittman being one of the best O-line coaches in the nation, their running game has been abysmal, averaging only 109 yards per game and forcing Jefferson into too many must-pass scenarios.  Of course, South Carolina was doing even worse, and the Gator defense then made them look great.  In fact, the Gator defense is allowing well over 400 yards per game against it’s SEC opponents, and that gives me pause as to how effective they can be the rest of the season.  Arkansas’ main RB is AJ Green, who is averaging 6 yards per carry, but has only 42 attempts.  Theor best RB from 2022 – Rocket Sanders – may be back this week in limited action.  Jefferson is the main ball carrier by default – one of the reasons their OC was let go in-season.  Their top WR is Andrew Armstrong, who’s 42 catches is more than double the total of anyone else.  Normally it would be obvious how to defend and stop this offense – keep Jefferson in the pocket, simply get a stalemate at the LOS, and concentrate the pass coverage on Armstrong.  But with the firing of the OC and the week off, I would not be surprised to see enough wrinkles in the offense that allow the Hogs to keep this game close into the 4th quarter, like most of their games.  The loss of Shemar James creates a huge hole for the Gator defense that I’m afraid they can’t adequately fill.  Mannie Nunnery and true freshman Jaden Robinson will have to somehow cover for the loss, likely in situational roles.  The entire defense has to show up and play inspired football.

Florida’s offense will need to find balance, and will be tested by a good Razorback defense that has managed to hold up well despite having to repeatedly cover for the inept offense.  Since the O-line is such a mess right now in pass-protection, it looks like we may see a reversion back to the conservative, short passing game, and attempting to establish a more consistent running game to keep the struggling defense off the field.  Not the best situation at this point, but it may be the only option to get a win this week.  RBs Trevor Etienne and Montell Johnson looked good against Georgia, and will need to be leaders this week.  Ricky Pearsall along with Wilson again will be the main passing targets.  I’m hoping the TE position reappears after being basically ignored last week, to the detriment of the offense.

Once again, another massive game for Napier and the Gators, who need this win to become bowl-eligible.  The remainder of the schedule after this week features 3 teams in the Top 15 of the BCS rankings, the next two being on the road.  If the Gators lose this one, most if not all of any momentum and positive vibes created in the first half of the season are lost, and the possibility of a losing record is suddenly staring the team in the face.  No doubt they will be feeling extra pressure this week, and that may not bode well for the performance of such a young team.  I’m afraid this one might come down to the last possession of the game, and neither the Florida offense or defense gives me comfort in that scenario.


Florida 23

Arkansas 20