Jacksonville St. Review / Florida $t. Preview

Florida finished 2012 with only it’s 3rd 7-0 record at the Swamp with a workmanlike 23-0 shutout over JSU.  Again, another dull effort by the offense, as the game plan was vanilla and the fans had to watch the Gators slog through this game, hoping against hope that there is an inspired effort left in them the last regular season game.

Brissett did what little he was asked to do, playing it safe and not turning the ball over, as the defense had the game well in hand throughout.  Lots of short, safe throws to keep the chains moving.  Gillislee had a nice Senior Day with over 100 yards and a TD, and should go over 1,000 rushing yards for the season before it’s over – quite the accomplishment after he was essentially forgotten by the previous staff.  The O-Line is still beat up, but each of the starting 5 from early in the year all saw some action.

The defense got it’s second shutout of the year with another solid effort.  Jon Bostic had a great Senior Day moment with a pick-6.  The unit as a whole never was really challenged after the first JSU drive of the day ended with a missed FG.  The D-Line is still banged up at DT, but everyone will give it a go in the last game.

It’s on to Taliban City to face the Criminoles in the regular season finale, and there’s a ton at stake for Florida in terms of BCS implications.  Finding a way to pull out a win would really set the Gators up nicely to at least get a BCS bowl game invite, and also give them an outside shot at sneaking in to the BCSCG if things fell their way.  However, there is a lot of work to do this week, and the offense has to somehow generate some points to give the defense a chance to pull it off.

No surprise here – it’s pretty much entirely up to the Florida OL to manage some semblance of a run game and allow time for a controlled passing attack to provide some balance and keep the defense from wearing down.  The OTs are in the spotlight, as they have to keep the F$U DEs out of the backfield and allow whomever is at QB the time to make some plays.  Werner and Carradine have had good seasons, and will be a challenge for Florida.

There is no reason to doubt that the Criminoles will dare Florida to throw, putting 8 and 9 men in the box and challenging the WRs to make plays.  The good news is that it appears Driskel is well enough to start, but no one will know for sure if he limited as a runner or when scrambling due to his ankle injury until the game starts.  Brent Pease has to scheme up some plays to give his offense help and get the F$U defense to back off the LOS somewhat, or it will be a 3rd ugly loss in a row to them.  Coach Davis has to get his OL to stop blowing pass protection assignments that have been allowing unblocked blitzers into the backfield.  Reed has to get open and make some catches to occupy the LBs and safeties at TE, and somehow a few WRs have to rise to the occasion and make a play downfield.

I’m actually hoping that Florida will use a game plan similar to the one Alabama employed against LSU in last year’s BCGCG.  Bama threw early and often on first down, and continued to do so throughout the game, even when LSU’s defense had to think they would revert back to tendency by running on the early downs.  Bama stayed committed to it, and it worked well.  I simply don’t believe the OL is physically ready to rely on a power running game.  There is no SECCG next week, so there is no reason to hold anything back in the playcalling in this game.

The Gator defense knows what it is capable of, and has been tested in some tough road environments already.  EJ Manuel is still the person you want to force to make plays, as he still can be forced into bad decisions and turnovers when under pressure.  The Gator DL should be able to at least get a stalemate, so the back seven have to help shut down the F$U running game and make Manuel beat them passing against a solid Gator secondary.  Floyd, Easley, and Fowler have to be able to get pressure, while Bostic, Jenkins, and the rest of the LBs have to have a great day tackling.

F$U’s running game was hurt with the loss of Chris Thompson.  Devonta Freeman and James Wilder are not the home-run threat Thompson was, and the Gators need to shut them down early and force Manuel to make plays consistently.  Kelvin Benjamin and Rodney Smith are big targets at WR, but lack breakaway speed, and the Gator DBs should be able to stay with them one-on-one…….they just have to be ready for a physical battle all day and not get out of position to make a play on the ball.  Rashad Greene is probably their best WR in space and the one guy that Florida has to contain.  Look for F$U to try and single out Purifoy as many other team have done recently – he is the Gator DB that struggles the most in coverage.  I’m not worried about Roberson and Watkins in coverage, and Elam has a score to settle with these Clowns.

Florida has a decided edge on special teams.  Despite the lack of any playmaking this year by the kick and punt returners, overall this unit is one of the best on college football.  Both PK Sturgis and P Christy are finalists for national awards, and deservedly so.  The coverage units have been excellent as well.  When you have key injuries and are on the road, the special teams have to be reliable, and a single big play from them can be the difference.

It’s really a shame that the injuries to the OL and Driskel could derail what may have been an excellent chance to win at F$U.  Despite all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth, I know that the Gator staff has been holding back a lot for this game, and doing it’s best to manage all of the injuries and try to have all hands on deck for this one.  If Florida was coming in to this game healthy and clicking on offense, I’d give them a better than 50% chance of winning.  Unfortunately, the poor play of the offense makes it look like there is at best a 1 out of 3 or 4 chance of victory.  I definitely give the coaching edge to the Florida staff.  Here’s hoping this week is that 1 game, but I’m not inclined to pick it that way……I can only hope I’m wrong.

Prediction:  F$U 20    Florida 13