L$U Review / Arkansas Preview

 Back to the Future
It looks like Urban Meyer is channeling old-school SEC football for this season, along with shades of the closer games from 2006.  The staff decided to play it extra safe with Tim Tebow, and rely on a dominant defense that was never really threatened by LSU.  Florida sucked the life out of the Tigers and their fans on the very first offensive drive of the game, and were in control throughout.
The Gator OL controlled the LOS from the start, especially on the straight dive play.  That was very important, as the read option was pretty much ruled out to protect Tebow from extra hits, and had to be successful to set up the controlled passing game.  It was obvious that Tebow had missed most of 2 weeks of practice, as his passing accuracy wasn’t as sharp, and he missed some easy throws, including a sure TD pass to Aaron Hernandez on the opening drive of the 3rd quarter.  Hernandez has to be an All-American candidate, as he is a great blocker, can get downfield on passing routes, and receive the inside shovel pass — a complete player.
Of course, the real heroes were the offensive linemen.  Those guys knew going in that their performance would dictate the entire game plan, and on top of that Tebow would be limited in what he did.  That’s a lot of pressure to be under, especially on the road in a place like Tiger Stadium, and they performed admirably.  Running so many dive plays against a tough defense is big-boy football, and to have the success they did is a real confidence boost for the entire offense and the coaching staff.
It was good to see Jeff Demps and Emmanuel Moody run so hard and effectively.  Maybe Moody has finally earned more carries and confidence from the staff — we’ll see in the coming weeks.
The Gator defense completely shut down LSU’s offense all night.  Their one scoring drive was set up by 2 dubious personal foul calls on consecutive plays, and even then they kept the Tigers out of the end zone.  It appeared that the “Joker” package with 3 down linemen, and other rushers/blitzers from alternating positions, confused Jordan Jefferson and their OL all night.  The Florida DL was able to apply pressure off the edges, and the DTs did a nice job of controlling the inside running game of Charles Scott.  Coach Strong did a good job of scheming coverage, because I was concerned about the Tiger WRs having a big night downfield, but they only hit one long crossing route the entire game.
This week’s game against Arkansas will be a challenge.  Bobby Petrino has a legitimate QB in Ryan Mallett, and his passing scheme utilizes all of the skill players and the entire field.  This will be the biggest regular-season challenge to the Gator back seven, and they had better be ready to cover one-on-one.  The key will be the Gator DL being able to get pressure on the QB without too much help from the LBs or secondary on blitzes.  Allowing Mallett time to set his feet and throw comfortably will lead to a long day for the defense.  RB Michael Smith is a threat as well, and provides good balance to the Razorback attack.
Conversely, the formula that has worked so well so far this season for Florida’s offense is especially important this week.  A successful running game keeps Arkansas’ offense on the sideline and shortens the game.  However, the Gators have surprisingly struggled in the red zone so far, and that has to improve against better offenses, as FGs will get your team beat if the defense has an off-day.  The continued struggles of and/or reluctance to utilize the downfield passing game is becoming a legitimate concern as the season is at the halfway point.  The pass protection has only been so-so to date, and hopefully Tebow being back into the regular practice schedule sharpens up the pass offense starting this week.
Arkansas comes in a more confident team, coming off of 2 straight wins, including a big win last week against undefeated Auburn.  Make no mistake — their offense is good enough to win this game.  The Gator defense faces it’s biggest challenge of the year so far.  The Florida offense has to continue to control the LOS, and the Swamp crowd needs to do it’s part to disrupt the Razorback offense.  This game requires another complete team effort.  Fortunately, it’s apparent that the coaching staff has complete confidence in the leadership and professionalism of this team that they will prepare well and execute the game plan.  The usual bugaboo about losing at least once to a SEC West opponent each season still hangs out there.  The 22-point spread seems a little high to me as well.  Great respect for the Gators, but the offensive performance hasn’t backed it up so far.
Prediction Florida 31        Arkansas 20