Kentucky Review / South Florida Preview

The Chicken or the Egg?

Or just a crappy omelet?

Talk about a stunning reversal of fortune.  After a thrilling, well-played win in the opener over Utah, the Gator offense – especially QB Anthony Richardson – looked terrible all evening in a dispiriting 26-16 upset loss to Kentucky.  It was even more painful to watch than last years’ meltdown in Lexington, watching AR completely implode.  His throws were off-target, his decision-making was suspect, and he gave the game away with essentially 2 pick-sixes, to give the Wildcats life and set Florida up for another bad loss.  His comments after the game were telling – and troubling.  He said he completely lost confidence in himself early on, and he allowed that to affect the rest of his game.  That is not what you want to hear from any player, even an inexperienced one.  Unfortunately, the play calling of Billy Napier/Rob Sale was……well……I’ll just say the words “unimaginative” and “limited” came to mind.  Why they continued to call so many pass plays when the running game is the strength of the offense was puzzling – especially after the Gators took a 16-7 lead late in the 2nd quarter after a safety.  Just going into halftime with that lead would have been fine, as the defense was playing well.  But then AR was picked on a terrible throw to allow Kentucky to close to within 16-13 at the half.  You could just feel the deflation of the crowd and AR himself, and it only got worse from there.  The running game suffered as a result of AR’s ineffectiveness, as Kentucky could load the box in the 2nd half.  Even so, Napier/Sale gave up on the run too early and often – there were still some plays to be made by Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson that were simply taken away from them.  RT Michael Tarquin’s leg injury immediately had an impact, showing the small amount of quality/experienced depth along the O-line  Austin Barber may be better in 2023, but he had his struggles filling in for Tarquin.

Regarding the opening questions……was it simply AR being mentally weak, was it a poor game plan with lousy play calling, or a combination of both?  Sadly, I have to lay the majority of the blame on AR’s shoulders.  He missed a lot of open receivers – especially in the 1st half when the Gators could have put the game away.  For some reason (and he stated this publicly), he almost forced himself to be more of a pocket passer instead of using his athletic ability to make plays he normally would.  That is a troubling decision, and hopefully his teammates don’t take it personally and just move forward.  To his credit, he took the blame after the game and faced reporter’s questions.  Now we have to wait and see how he responds.

Florida’s defense really stepped up to try and cover for the offensive struggles, and did enough to win almost any other game.  They pressured Will Levis most of the night, Gervon Dexter finally looked disruptive at the LOS, and some blitzes helped generate sacks and incompletions.  There still are problems with coverage of the TE that have to be corrected.  I give these guys a lot of credit for continuing to play hard, knowing their QB was completely out of the game mentally, and even covering for Napier’s ill-advised decision to go for it from his own 40 on 4th down with still 6 minutes left in the game.  They forced a 3-and-out and then got the missed FG, but the offense stalled again, and this time they could do no more than allow the game-clinching FG.  The overall tackling was improved, but the safety play is still suspect.  I like what Corey Raymond is doing with the cornerbacks – it’s a massive improvement over what we have had to suffer through the previous 4 years.  I need to see DC Patrick Toney help the players out in some coverage schemes, especially on 3rd down with opponent TEs.  Here’s hoping that Ventrell Miller’s leg injury isn’t too serious, and that he can return for the Tennessee game.

Special teams are only half special right now.  Punter Jeremy Crawshaw had a great night, and Adam Mihalek made both of his FG attempts, including a 50-yarder.  However……there is still no juice in the return game, and another dumb holding call killed the momentum after the safety, which took away good field position and immediately preceded the start or AR’s meltdown.

What could have been an even better start to 2022 has now given way to questions and concerns, which easily could have been avoided.  Coach Napier and his staff have some real work to do the next 2 weeks……more mental than physical.  The offensive game-planning has to improve, and somehow they need to re-build AR’s confidence……in a hurry.  Welcome to the SEC, Billy Napier.

This week South Florida comes to the Swamp for a big paycheck and a bigger beatdown.  The Bulls are terrible again this year, as they continue a massive, years-long program rebuild.  This game should essentially be a glorified scrimmage for the Gators.  The thing about USF being so bad is that this game really will do nothing to solve the issues of the offense.  My biggest hope for this game is……no injuries.  Florida is travelling to an undefeated Tennessee after this game, and needs everyone healthy and focused for that one.  Perhaps AR decides to take some pressure off of himself and the offense in general and throw to his RBs more with quick passes in the flats.  He has had multiple opportunities in both games to do so, and for some reason won’t pull the trigger.  The defense shouldn’t be threatened in any real way – just tackle well and get a lot of guys some snaps.

Prediction: Florida 45 South Florida 10