Kentucky Review / Tennessee Preview

Another nooner snoozer start for the Gators, and another decisive win at the end, 34-10 over Kentucky.

The Mildcats were certainly that after their one successful touchdown drive that consumed over 8 minutes.  The best part of that was watching the ass-chewing Dan Mullen gave to Todd Grantham after allowing another long drive with poor basic schemes and late alignment by the defenders.  Maybe this public display will finally lead to some positive developments regarding the defense.  Certainly something changed after that, as the Gators allowed barely 100 yards the last 40 minutes of game time and played aggressively.  The defense came up with 3 interceptions in the second half, and the game was never really in doubt after Florida took a double-digit lead in the 3rd quarter.  Zach Carter was in the backfield most of the afternoon, and Mahmoud Diabate had one of the interceptions while running down the UK ball carriers with his speed while limiting them to short yardage.  The entire secondary played more aggressively in the second half, and I hope this continues the rest of the season.

The offense started out slowly as Kentucky dropped eight in coverage and dared Florida to run the ball – which they didn’t do effectively as the right side of the O-line had it’s worst performance of the season.  RG Stewart Reese appears to be playing hurt, and RT Jean Delance continues to struggle while Gator Nation wonders why a better lineup can’t be found by OL Coach Hevesy.  Maybe it’s loyalty and a preference to play upperclassmen, but the best guys aren’t playing right now, and it’s painfully obvious.  Kyle Pitts certainly reintroduced himself to the nation with a dominant 3 TD afternoon – toying with the Mildcat secondary.  But the biggest and most important plays of the game were on special teams.  The first was the fake punt after the offense went 3-and-out on it’s first possession – Damien Pierce carried the ball for a first down and gave the sleepy Gators some energy and led to a touchdown drive.  The second was the punt return TD by Kedarius Toney late in the first half – it gave the Gators a 14-10 halftime lead, completely changed the momentum of the game, and deflated Kentucky after they expended all the energy they could with a depleted roster for the first 30 minutes.  In the second half, Florida’s offense took over, and Kentucky had no answers as they wore down.

It’s now on to Rocky Top to face Tennessee.  The Vols are on a current 5-game losing streak, all losses by double-digits, and the noise in the system is getting pretty loud about Jeremy Pruitt’s job status.  Tennessee had an off week after Covid-related schedule changes, and I’m sure this will be their bowl game as they try to damage Florida’s chances of winning the SEC East and perhaps ending their Playoff dreams.

The Volunteer offense is led by a strong O-line that is experienced and talented.  RB Eric Gray has emerged as their lead back, and I expect to see him get a lot of touches both running and receiving, as Tennessee will try to do what Arkansas and Kentucky couldn’t for 60 minutes – shorten the game and keep the Gator offense off of the field.  QB Jarrett Guarantano has simply never progressed in 4 years – he continues to turn the ball over too often and is inaccurate as a passer.  He likely gets the start this game, but true freshman Harrison Bailey will see some snaps as well.  Coach Mullen recruited Bailey and is familiar with him as a highly-ranked dual-threat QB.  You can bet the Florida defense will do everything they can to force either QB to make reads in the passing game, but even more importantly must be stout against the run on first and second down to force those passing situations.  DTs Kyree Campbell and Tedarrell Slaton need to plug the middle of the LOS while (hopefully) getting improved gap responsibility by the LBs.  When the Vols do throw, they have a good group of WRs led by Josh Palmer and Brandon Johnson.  The Gator secondary will be forced into more man coverage while the front seven concentrates on the running game, so the coverage has to be tighter and the tackling more secure.  The defense can’t allow Tennessee a big advantage in time of possession and needs to give the offense enough possessions to score points and force the Vols out of their comfort zone.

Tennessee has an experienced defense with a strong front seven led by DT Matthew Butler, LBs Henry To’o To’o and Quavaris Crouch, and DBs Trevon Flowers and Bryce Thompson.  This group has played pretty well given the struggles of the offense and having to play extended snaps.  Florida is going to have to stay patient on offense and do a better job of running the ball than they have the past 2 games.  I expect the Vols to continue the recent trend by opposing defenses of dropping eight into coverage as often as possible to try and frustrate Trask and force the Gators to prove they can run the ball effectively.  The Florida O-line will need to play a physical game while cleaning up the missed assignments on the right side of the line.  It will be interesting to see if any personnel changes will be made based on their early performance – this is not the time for Coach Hevesy to continue to be stubborn.

The weather forecast for Knoxville isn’t good – temps in the mid 40s with possible precipitation.  That could impact Trask and the Gator passing game and force Mullen’s hand somewhat in his playcalling.  Tennessee will be hyped for this matchup and the Gators need to match that energy and emotion from the opening kick.  While a loss would still leave Florida as the SEC East leader, it certainly would end their hopes of making the Playoffs and would put a serious damper on what has been a very good season to date.  This one could be tense well into the second half, and the Gators need to play hard and confidently for 60 minutes

Prediction: Florida 31 Tennessee 24

Vanderbilt Review / Kentucky Preview

Florida played it’s typical game at Nashville against an outmanned Vanderbilt team, leaving with a less-than-inspiring 38-17 win.  The Gators started out slow through most of the first half before taking the lead with under a minute to go, then stretched the lead in the second half before a sloppy finish.

The Florida offense ran up almost 600 yards and 38 points, but it’s telling that compared to the unbelievably high bar it has set this season it felt like a mediocre performance.  Kyle Trask had a good but not great afternoon with 383 yards and 3 TDs, but still missed some big plays.  The running game was adequate but lacked explosive plays.  Kemore Gamble filled in well again for the missing Kyle Pitts with 2 TD catches, while Kedarious Toney contributed a TD catch but also a fumble deep in Commodore territory that ended a probable TD drive.  Trevon Grimes has stepped up his play the past 3 games, and is finally looking like the star he was expected to be this season.  The O-line blocked pretty well, but took a step back from the previous 2 games.  Plenty of backups were able to see action, and Emory Jones led a nice TD drive in the 4th quarter both running and passing to ice the game.

The defense, however……  Another lackluster effort filed with busts in coverage and poor tackling against a true freshman QB and a Vandy team missing multiple starters.  They allowed an opening-drive TD (for the 3rd game in a row) and then a go-ahead FG right after the Gator offense responded.  From the middle of the second quarter until early in the 4th quarter the unit started to play better – especially against the run – but then lost it’s focus again and was gashed for some long plays and a TD catch-and-run highlighted by missed tackles and poor angles.  It’s shocking to continue to see the secondary late to line up and/or blow assignments.  Most of these guys are highly-rated recruits with 3 or more years in the program.  If that’s not an indictment on the Defensive Coordinator I don’t know what is.  Sadly, at this late point in the season it likely doesn’t improve much (if at all), and the offense is on the hook with the pressure of having to score 40+ points almost every game.

The Gators return home this week to host Kentucky.  The Wildcats were eviscerated at Alabama 63-3 last week after keeping the game close for the first 20 minutes and then completely collapsing.  Kentucky (again) had no effective passing game,and were down some starters on both offense and defense due to Covid-19 protocols.  It wouldn’t have mattered too much, though, as Bama right now is outclassing the rest of the SEC by quite a distance……including Florida.  QB Terry Wilson is struggling mightily throwing the ball, and backup Joey Gatewood is essentially a TE who can run but not throw.  They are completely one-dimensional right now, but against the Gator defense that still could be enough to pull an upset.

I expect the Wildcats to display an effective, physical run game against the Gator defense.  I also expect to see 50+ carries by Kentucky to try and shorten the game, keep Florida’s offense off of the field, and somehow keep the game close enough to try and steal it in the 4th quarter.  Their O-line is big and physical, and RBs Chris Rodriquez, Asim Rose, and Kavosiey Smoke are tough runners.  Either QB is an effective runner as well, so I expect head coach MIke Stoops to pound away all afternoon until they are (hopefully) forced to throw if they fall behind.  Florida’s front seven is on notice this week, and had better be ready for a rough, physical afternoon of smash-mouth football.  Tedarrell Slaton and Kyree Campbell need to play as well as they did against Georgia to help the rest of the defenders.  Hopefully the defense has a healthy contingent of both starters and backups, as they could be on the field a lot.  I hope not, but I also haven’t seen much to convince me otherwise.

Kentucky’s defense has struggled against the pass this season, so that should portend well for Trask and his receivers.  Pitts returns after missing the past 2 games, which just creates more headaches for their defense.  I expect much more passing from Dan Mullen this week after working the running game against Arkansas and Vanderbilt, knowing his passing offense was always ready to ramp things up if needed.  The Wildcat D-line is actually good, and will give Florida’s O-line some trouble.  The run game will still be mixed in for some balance, but the RBs could be contributors this week in the passing game, as I expect UK to concentrate on taking away as much as they can downfield, forcing Trask to stay patient.

The Gators should have extra motivation after Kentucky came into the Swamp 2 seasons ago and ended their 31 game losing streak to Florida.  However, the defense continues to struggle so badly that nothing can be taken for granted.  I hope the Gators can run away and hide in the first half, but something tells me that won’t be the case, and that there could be some tense moments in the second half.  Finally, the Wildcats could be down even more players due to Covid issues, so perhaps that shows up in the second half if the Gator offense can get ahead early and wear Kentucky down.

Prediction: Florida 38 Kentucky 24

Arkansas Review / Vanderbilt Preview

Florida kept it’s historic scoring run going with a 63-35 blowout of Arkansas that wasn’t as close as the final score.

Kyle Trask and the Gator offense roll on, even with the absence of Kyle Pitts.  Keon Zipperer snagged 2 TD catches, Justin Shorter made a leaping TD grab on an NFL-type back shoulder throw from Trask, and Trevon Grimes continued his recent resurgence with 2 TDs of his own.  Trask showed complete command of the offense, picking apart the Hogs’ zone defense with accurate throws and racking up 6 TD passes.  However, the bigger story was the patience Dan Mullen showed in running the ball 45 times against a 3-man front for the Hogs to give the Gator defense a chance to rest against Arkansas’ tempo offense.  Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis and Nay’Quan Wright all had good games, with Wright especially showing improvement and composure for such a young player.  The O-line seems to be improving as the season progresses, and a handful of backups are getting more snaps and working themselves into the rotation.  It was good to see Stewart Reese bounce back from his shoulder injury against Georgia, while Josh Braun and Ethan White are playing well off the bench and showing they are SEC-level players for next season.

The other benefit of Mullen calling so many running plays was to keep the Gator defense off the field and from embarrassing themselves with more blown coverages after allowing 3 TDs of over 50 yards.  The busts in the back seven are shockingly bad and way too frequent – high school-like.  Shawn Davis has regressed greatly from his play at safety last season, while the LBs continue to blow their assignments in filling the running lanes.  Some of the young players may get more snaps than expected if the upperclassmen can’t play their assignments better.  The defense is getting more stops and more possessions for the offense, but giving up so many big plays and long TDs is unacceptable.  At least the D-line is showing some consistency and improvement.  Zach Carter had another big game and also had a scoop-and-score to ice the game early in the 4th quarter. 

It’s now on to Nashville to face Vanderbilt.  The Commodores are really struggling, coming into this week’s contest winless at 0-6.  Derek Mason may very well get fired after this season, and if he does someone (Florida?) could get a very good defensive coordinator.  Vandy has actually shown some life on offense the past few weeks after inserting true freshman Ken Seals at QB.  RB Keyon-Henry Brooks is their leading rusher and also a good receiving threat with 22 catches for 2nd on the team.  Cam Johnson is by far their leading receiver, and TE Ben Bresnahan is a big target in the red zone.  The Gator D-line should be able to disrupt the ‘Dore offense, as they have a marked advantage against the Vandy O-line.  Here’s hoping that the back seven can get a few turnovers this week just to make the overall task that much easier.

The Gator offense should continue it’s onslaught even with Pitts sidelined for one more game.  The running game could very well be featured again to get more good work in, with the passing game there to close out drives.  I expect another game where many different runners and receivers get touches.  Just play smart and protect Trask, and keep the momentum going.

Florida has a huge advantage in special teams, and I could see Toney perhaps breaking a return this week.  Evan McPherson continues to excel in the kicking game, but the kickoff return unit has given up some long returns the past 2 weeks and has to get that corrected.

The weather looks pretty good for mid-November in Nashville, with temps in the 50s and 60s during the game and hopefully a dry track.  The Gators get another noon kickoff, but are used to it by now and should not be affected.  The main worry for the staff is a letdown after the past 2 weeks, which has historically been the case when the Gators travel to Music City and Vanderbilt is outmanned.  FInally, this should be another opportunity to play a lot of backups and young players to gain experience.

Prediction: Florida 48 Vanderbilt 20

Georgia Review / Arkansas Preview

Florida ended 3 years of frustration by running away from Georgia 44-28 in Jacksonville.  The Gators bounced back from a horrid start and took it to the Puppies the rest of the afternoon in convincing fashion.  The team deserved a lot of credit for staying together and quickly getting back into the game after falling behind 14-0 only 4 minutes in.  The offense simply dominated until midway through the 3rd quarter by going on a 41-7 run, while the defense did just what everyone in Gator Nation pleaded for – getting enough stops to allow the offense to do what it does.  A great win and hopefully a springboard into the second half of the regular season.  Also, this could turn some key recruits Florida’s way for the 2021 class and improve their chances for some studs in the 2022 class.

Kyle Trask had his best performance as a Gator with 474 yards passing and another 4 TDs – becoming the only QB in SEC history with at least 4 TD passes in 5 consecutive games.  Remember that all of these games were against SEC opponents – no cupcakes.  The RBs stunned Georgia all day with over 200 yards – in pass receptions – continually burning LBs in coverage with big plays on wheel routes that the great Kirby Smart never made an adjustment to.  The much-maligned O-line did just enough in the running game to keep the defense honest, while allowing only 1 sack and keeping Trask upright and comfortable enough to shred the Puppy secondary.  Dan Mullen deserves praise for the game plan – isolating the RBs against LBs was something he obviously saw on film as a mismatch.  The playcalling in the last 20 minutes was very conservative, but at that point he had decided that Georgia’s offense wasn’t a threat to score many more points.  It also didn’t help that Kyle Pitts had left the game in the second quarter after a targeting call for a dirty hit that left him with a possible concussion.  Speaking of injuries, RG Stewart Reese left with a shoulder injury, while RT Jean Delance played through a knee injury.  Freshman Josh Braun filled in adequately for Reese and redshirt freshman Michael Tarquin held his own while Delance was out.

The Gator defense is improving, and other than the bust on the first play of the game – a 75 yard TD run by Zamir White – they did a nice job of controlling the running lanes and getting a stalemate at the LOS.  In just 2 games Kyree Campbell has established himself as the defensive MVP.  He, along with Tedarrell Slaton, have formed a solid duo at DT, allowing Zack Carter, Brenton Cox, and the other linemen to play in their natural positions……as the results speak for themselves.  However, there were still a handful of complete busts in the secondary, as Georgia had multiple receivers open deep.  Fortunately their QB play was so bad that it didn’t matter.  It’s perplexing to see a senior like Shawn Davis continually out of position……something has to be done to fix this issue, as other QBs on the remaining schedule won’t miss all of those deep throws.  Overall, they did enough to limit Georgia to 3-13 on 3rd down and 1-3 on 4th down – providing the Gator offense with more than enough possessions to pile up points and get the Puppies out of their comfort zone.  There is still a LOT of room for improvement, however.

Next up for Florida is Arkansas at the Swamp, led by former Gator QB Feleipe Franks.  The Razorbacks have already won 3 conference games this season after winning that many over the previous 3 seasons combined.  Head Coach Sam Pittman has revitalized that program, but solid QB play from Franks is the real reason they have been competitive.

Florida’s offense will get a different look from Arkansas, as former Missouri head coach Barry Odom has them playing mostly a zone defense that looks for opponents to make mistakes or force the ball into coverage.  I’m not sure that’s going to work against Trask – he’s shown patience and maturity in hitting the open receiver and taking what defenses have been giving him.  The Hogs have forced over 2 turnovers per game, and that has lifted them to some surprising wins.  Ball security will be important this week, as turnovers are really the only way the Razorbacks could steal this game.  What’s great about all of the pass completions to the running backs against Georgia is now that opponents see that on film, they will have to focus a significant amount of practice time on it, which should allow Mullen to be able to break those tendencies with different looks and perhaps more emphasis on the running game.  Florida also can’t afford any more injuries along the O-line.

Arkansas’ offense has not been overpowering.  They average only about 140 yards a game on the ground and 240 passing.  What they have done is rely on occasional big plays from Franks on deep throws or after he has kept a play alive with his legs.  New Offensive Coordinator Kendal Briles has them playing with tempo and having Franks making quick reads and getting the ball out.  If the Gator defense can force Franks to check down and not allow long completions, they should have success limiting the Hogs’ effectiveness.  The Florida D-line is still improving, and they have enough talent and depth to get pressure on Franks and also control the running game.

The Florida coaching staff has a big challenge this week in getting the team focused on the Razorbacks after such a big win.  They also have some key personnel to replace due to injury – Pitts and Reese likely are out – so their backups need to step in and contribute in a positive way.  I certainly hope that the Gators don’t feel they are suddenly unbeatable and can simply go through the motions and win without too much effort.  They are only halfway through their season, with nothing but SEC teams on the schedule.  Arkansas will have to play this game with Coach Pittman back in Fayetteville quarantined with Covid-19, so that could lower their energy as the game goes on.  I do think there will be a small letdown by the Gators, but eventually their offensive firepower will be too much to overcome.  There has been a lot of chirping all week between Franks and the Gator defenders, so at least the defense should be hyped for this one.  I could see a sloppy game mentally for Florida for a half, but I think the Gators pull away in the second half and do just enough to get a comfortable win.

Prediction: Florida 38 Arkansas 24

Missouri Review / Georgia Preview

Well, the Gators found a way to circle the wagons with less than 60 players available, multiple starters out, and losing others because of a fight at halftime, and still beat down the Missouri Tigers 41-17.

The defense was vastly simplified, with a lot more 4-3, less blitzing, more zone in the intermediate areas, and occasionally more man coverage by the CBs.  The secondary was without 3 starters going in, and lost Trey Dean due to injury in the first half.  Talk about clearing the bench for Homecoming – there were guys not even on the 3-deep roster and a few non scholarship players seeing snaps in the 4th quarter – and still they survived without allowing too many big plays.  Amazing what can happen if you simplify some stuff, isn’t it, Todd Grantham?  The return of DT Kyree Campbell was evident, as he did a nice job of stuffing some running lanes and getting some push in the pocket on occasion.  That allowed other guys to play their more natural positions and excel.  Brenton Cox had his best game as a Gator, getting pressure on the QB but also setting the edge better against the run and making some good tackles pursuing down the line of scrimmage.  Zach Carter played very well in the first half before being ejected due to the fight.  Brad Stewart played well at safety, and hopefully is allowed to stay there the rest of the season.  Young CBs Jaydon Hill and Chester Kimbrough and safety Rashad Torrence saw extended playing time.

The offense was not as well-balanced as I had hoped, but part of that seems to be by design, as Dan Mullen stubbornly refused to run the ball more and relied on Kyle Trask and a plethora of receivers to control the game.  Trask had some shaky moments – some of his own doing – but he remained poised and played well overall.  The timing between him and his receivers was better than I expected, but still showed some rust after losing 2 weeks of practice time.  Trask actually wound up as the leading rusher as well, with some timely runs extending drives – but this isn’t a viable course for the rest of the season.  Mullen is going to have to rely on the RBs to carry their share of the load to try and survive the balance of the season.  Kyle Pitts was hot early, and that loosened things up for the other receivers the rest of the game.  Kedarius Toney scored 3 TDs – 2 receiving and 1 rushing – and continues to show what a huge leap he has made this season……he’s making himself some money come NFL Draft time.

Of course, there was one negative……a HUGE one.  The fight at the end of the first half was caused by a late hit on Trask and then inflamed by Mullen’s uncontrolled reaction led to multiple ejections.  The most serious one is losing Carter for the first half of the upcoming game.  Just a bad look all around, with no help from the inept referees who could have at least thrown a flag for the late hit and probably prevented this.  Mullen gets a $25K fine, players get suspended, and the Gators get bad press nationally……all of which was avoidable.  That’s twice this season that Mullen has crapped on himself to the detriment of the school and team – he needs to control himself better, even if the team feels he has their back.  You can show the team the same without these over-the-top words and actions.

It’s on to Jacksonville for the SEC East showdown against Georgia.  This is going to be a really tough matchup for the Gators because of the style the Puppies play – a tough running game and physical defense with both size and speed.  The Florida front seven is going to get it’s toughest challenge of the season by far from Georgia’s O-line and stable of talented running backs, led by Zamir White.  White, Kendall Milton, and James Cook are all talented, and Cook is also a weapon as a receiver.  The Gator defense has to get some stops and as many possessions as possible for the offense.  It’s going to take at least 24-27 points to win this game, and it will take a lot of possessions to get there against the toughest defense Florida will face in the regular season.  As a result of Carter’s suspension for the first half, I hope to see both Campbell and TJ Slaton on the field at the same time at DT as much as possible to try and clog the inside running lanes and also disrupt the pocket on passing downs.  The LBs need to make a huge improvement in filling the running lanes.  QB Stetson Bennett is nothing more than a game-manager, and Kirby Smart will rely on the running game to control the line of scrimmage and also time of possession.  Their main goal will be to try and keep Florida’s offense on the sideline, as they were able to do last season.

Florida’s offense will be under pressure all afternoon from a physical, fast, and well-coached Georgia defense.  For starters, let’s hope they don’t repeat the fiasco of last season, when the skill position players had the wrong play calls on their wristbands which caused confusion and self-inflicted wounds the entire first quarter.  There is very little room for error this week – the O-line will have to manage at least a stalemate at the LOS to both protect Trask and also establish some semblance of a running game for balance.  The Gator WRs will need to be prepared for a secondary that specializes at playing physical at the LOS to knock receivers off routes and disrupt timing.  The WRs can’t afford to get frustrated – they must fight through this and make some individual plays.  Trask will find the right person if given time, and has the right temperament to withstand some pocket pressure and take some hits.  Georgia’s defense has suffered some significant injuries recently – both on and off the field.  All-SEC Saety Richard Lecounte is out after a scooter accident, while DL Julian Rochester is out with a torn ACL and DI Jordan Davis may try to play through a serious shoulder injury.  Some of the Puppy LBs are also dinged up but will play – Quay Walker and Monty Rice are excellent defenders and would be sorely missed.  Dan Mullen really needs to call a quality game, as this year’s Gator offense has it’s best matchup since Mullen has been the head coach.

I would feel better about this game if Florida was in it’s regular weekly game rhythm, had it’s full complement of players, and was simply in 100% game shape.  The loss of 2 weeks of practice time in October is a tough hurdle to overcome, complicated by facing an opponent that hasn’t had those issues.  Sometimes the hardest thing to do is stop an opponent’s winning streak against you……and much of that can be the mental game.  I just don’t see the Gators at 100% for this one and ready to reverse their fortunes in this series.

Prediction; Georgia  27 Florida  23 

Missouri Preview

The 2020 season gets another restart on Halloween against MIssouri.  Florida has had no football operations in place for almost 2 weeks, but now has only 6 days to get ready for an important home game.  We won’t know who is available until kickoff, so there could be some key contributors on both offense and defense missing.  Talk about a huge challenge for the entire team and the coaching staff.  After having to wait an additional 3 weeks to start the season, the Gators now have to manage a 3 week break between games during the actual season.

Missouri actually has some momentum coming into the Swamp.  They rolled up 45 points in a huge upset win at home against LSU, and shut down Kentucky last week, allowing only 10 points while running the ball over 60 times.  Lerry Roundtree is their workhorse RB, and unless the Florida front seven can control the Tigers’ running game, this one could get dicey.  Missouri installed freshman QB Connor Bazelak during their second game after a slow start on offense, and he seems to have provided a spark to their passing game to provide some balance to their attack.  He has two good WRs in Jalen Knox and Damon Hazleton who have had success in the SEC.  Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham has had 2 additional weeks to fix some of the problems with the Gator defense, but I’ll believe it when I see it.  Even if there are some schematic changes, the loss of 2 weeks of practice is going to hurt……we just don’t know how much until the game is played.  The D-line will get Kyree Campbell back to bolster the DT rotation, but I’m not counting on him too much until he gets into game shape.  The rest of the D-line and the LBs have a lot to prove, and there is no room for error the rest of the way if the Gators are going to make noise nationally.

It could be a challenge for the Gator offense to come out with the same precision and production it showed the first 3 games, after this schedule pause with no official practice time until this past Monday.  Sadly, until the defense shows a pulse, they may be forced (again) into scoring 30+ points and having that constant pressure on their shoulders the entire game.  If the timing is off early in the passing game, I hope Coach Mullen isn’t afraid to lean on his stable of running backs to keep the defense fresh and, until they prove their worth, off the field.  Missouri is led by LBs Nick Bolton and Devin Nicholson and DT Trajan Jeffcoat, so they are strong up the middle.  All 3 have played well this season and will need to be neutralized as much as possible.  If given time, Kyle Trask should find success against a Tiger secondary that has struggled against good passing attacks.  It’s still a mystery as to when Ethan White returns to give the O-line another quality starter and more depth.

Missouri will have a decided advantage as they are in a weekly schedule rhythm and are sharp.  It’s imperative that the Gators somehow come out strong early and play smart, controlled football.  On top of this, Dan Mullen is one of the 4 staff members who has tested positive for Covid-19, so the entire coaching staff has it’s hands full attempting to get both themselves and the team ready to go from the start while dealing with reduced contact with the players on and off the field.  It would not shock me if the Tigers pulled off an upset, but it would be a massive disappointment for the team and Gator Nation to see the season suddenly on the brink.  There’s no home field advantage at the Swamp with only 17,000 or so fans, instead of nearly 90,000 to help the team through any rough stretches.

Prediction: Florida 34 Missouri 24

Texas A&M Review

Well, it wasn’t Covid-19 that possibly killed the Gators’ chances at a big season – it was Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham and his crap strategy and schemes.  It was so bad that even the Gator offense – having it’s 3rd straight game of only punting 1 time – wasn’t enough to overcome a historically bad defense in a 41-38 loss at College Station.  This is the worst scoring defense after 3 games that Florida has rolled out since 1917 – right before the Spanish Flu epidemic.  Coincidence?  

There was nothing good about any defensive group.  The D-line was pushed around the entire second half as the Aggies ran at will, and they did not get enough push into the pocket on pass plays.  The LBs were continuously lost in coverage and did a terrible job of filling running lanes.  The secondary was soft and out of position too many times to count.  Grantham continues to let the DBs play 5-8 yards off receivers, even when the opponent needs 5 yards or less and can complete simple slant routes all game long.  This very thing essentially ended the game late in the 4th quarter, as A&M completed an easy slant route pass on 3rd and 8 from the Gator 30 yard line.  Instead of a tough FG, the Aggies could leisurely run out the clock for a last-play FG to win.  Marco Wilson had his worst game in his Gator career, continually giving up big plays – even when in position to make one of his own – completely whiffing on an easy pass breakup or interception which allowed a long TD pass completion.  Florida gave up over 500 yards to a pedestrian offense and QB, and only forced 1 punt.  The players look confused and look like they are thinking too much, instead of playing fast and running to the ball aggressively.  The only good thing the entire unit did was when Jeremiah Moon forced a fumble early in the 4th quarter that the Gators turned into a TD and their last lead at 38-31.  But that was it……nothing else of note for the entire game……brutal.

If Dan Mullen doesn’t have the guts to tell Grantham and the defensive staff to simplify the schemes and calls to let these athletes actually use their abilities to their fullest, he’s not doing his job as the leader of the program.  At this point, I’d be fine if he demoted Grantham and demanded major changes, and allowed other guys like DL coach David Turner and CB coach Torrian Gray to have a lot more input.

The Gator offense was terrific once again. Kyle Trask threw another 4 TD passes, spreading the ball around on many long scoring drives.  8 possessions – 5 TDs, 1 FG, 1 punt, and 1 crushing fumble on their last possession by Malik Davis, who has had fumbling issues previously.  Again, when will Mullen give Dameon Pierce the chance to be the hammer in the last 6 minutes of a game?  But there’s no way I’m going to lay this loss at Davis’ feet.  The RBs – including NayQuan Wright – were once again effective in both the running and passing game.  Kyle Pitts, even hobbled with a foot injury, scored the first TD and demanded attention from the Aggies, allowing other receivers room to operate.  Kedarius Toney looks remarkably improved as a route-runner, and caught 2 TDs.

Well, there won’t be a LSU preview, as a Covid spike within the Gator team and staff has postponed that game until 12/12.  Now we wait to see if enough players will be eligible to try and have the Missouri game as scheduled – or possibly moved a few days later to a weekday in order to try and have all 10 games played by the end of the regular season.  LSU is in a world of hurt right now, and the Gators would have been able to take further advantage of them as their starting QB would have likely been out for the game.

Seeing games postponed is no surprise, as this was expected across the country.  Yes, it sucks that Florida is one of the affected teams, but I am very glad that the SEC had the guts to go ahead with a season, and mitigation plans were already in place for schedule impacts.  Here’s hoping the outbreak is contained as well as possible and that things can get back on track in a week or so.

It’s more than interesting at this point that all 3 teams that have played Texas A&M have subsequently had Covid outbreaks.  The disregard for Covid protocols in the stands at College Station was just a continuation of ones already seen at Georgia and other schools.  The SEC is now threatening a fine of $100K for any offense – even retroactively – but that’s a drop in the bucket to SEC schools.  The only thing that will get their attention is the threat of becoming ineligible for the SEC title……but the league office would never have the guts to do it.

Mullen and the entire coaching staff have a lot of work to do – navigate this latest pause in operations, start fixing the defense, and maybe keep an eye on the locker room in case some finger-pointing begins.

We’ll see how things develop the next 7-10 days, and hopefully I will be back then with a preview of the Missouri game.

S. Carolina Review / Texas A&M Preview

Florida dispatched South Carolina with a workmanlike 38-24 victory in the home opener at the Swamp.  This one was somewhat ugly early and late, but the Gator offense was so dominant in it’s limited 23 minutes of possession the outcome was never in serious doubt.

Florida’s defense gave up another touchdown on the opponent’s opening drive, allowing the Lamecocks to march right down the field both running and passing.  Despite Carolina lacking any real playmakers other than WR Shi Smith, they did as they pleased early on.  Fortunately, the Gators responded immediately with TDs on their first 2 drives to take the lead, a run by Dameon Pierce and reception by Kyle PItts.  With a chance to put Carolina in a deep hole in the 2nd quarter, Kyle Trask made an uncharacteristic error, keeping the ball on a read option and fumbling, which gave the Lamecocks life and allowed them to tie the game at 14.  Again, the Gators then flipped the offensive switch and scored the next 24 points going into the mid-3rd quarter to effectively end the game.  Pitts, Kedarius Toney, and Trent Whittemore all had TD receptions as the offense got on a roll.  Then the entire team seemed to lose focus and momentum, and Carolina went on to dominate time of possession and scored the last 14 points – and it really should have been 21 except for a poorly thrown pass on 4th down with just under a minute left.  DC Todd Grantham played a soft, conservative defense which allowed the Lamecocks to move the ball, but run out almost all of the remaining clock on their last drive. 

The Gator defense did improve – it went from horrific to just bad.  The D-line was gashed most of the afternoon by Carolina’s running game, and once again could not get off the field on 3rd and 4th down in the 4th quarter.  The secondary played a little more aggressively, but the LBs again struggled in the intermediate zone.  This is disappointing, as this was supposed to be a point of emphasis and improvement from last season, but appears to be more of the same.  Shawn Davis certainly helped in his return to safety, but there are still way too many missed tackles at all 3 levels along with guys simply not getting lined up in time to get into proper position.  This is high school stuff that has to stop.  They allowed Carolina 37 minutes time of possession, which kept Florida’s high-powered offense sidelined far too long.

Overall, a decent performance by the Florida offense and a far from impressive finish by the defense.  Dan Mullen stated that his play-calling contributed to the loss of momentum and aggressiveness, and I agree.  Fortunately, Carolina is led by Won’t MIsschump, who seemed to not care that his own offense essentially iced the game by showing a lack of urgency over the last 8 minutes.  Just another in a long list of examples of why I’m so glad that clown is gone from the Florida sideline and is someone else’s problem.

It’s on to College Station to face Texas A&M, which is coming off of a big loss, getting hammered at Alabama 52-24 and not looking very good on either side of the ball in doing so.  This, coming off of a lackluster 17-12 opening game win at home against an outmanned Vanderbilt squad, has the A&M faithful really worried about their season going off the rails early.

The Aggies lost some of their best playmakers on offense, including their best 2 WRs, who opted out of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  They have 4-year starting QB Kellen Mond leading the attack, and he is still a threat both running and throwing.  However, he seems to have plateaued the past 2 years, showing little improvement.  He does have a decent O-line in front of him, and his favorite target is TE Jalen Wydermyer – who will be a tough matchup for the Gator LBs as they continue to struggle in coverage.  Surprisingly, their running attack has been only average so far, despite having 2 good RBs in Isiah Spiller and Ainias Smith.  Smith is also a capable receiver out of the backfield who is very quick and will have to be accounted for.

We are going to see now whether Grantham been playing it vanilla so far and holding back some things for this game.  Or has everyone figured out he’s pretty much a one-trick pony and his defenses struggle if they can’t pressure the QB and subsequently allows his soft secondary coverage to be exposed?  Brad Stewart returns from suspension to shore up the safety position, but the continued loss of Kyree Campbell at the DT spot highlights an underwhelming rotation that has been gashed by the running game so far.  The front seven will face it’s sternest test of the season to date, and somehow has to find ways to not allow long, time-consuming drives that keep the Gator offense on the sideline.

I do expect the Gator offense to continue to have success, especially throwing the ball against a depleted Aggie secondary that has suffered losses due to players opting out.  They were torched by Bama on deep throws that entire game, but the deep throw is not Trask’s strong suit.  I hope the running game has more success than it did against South Carolina, but Texas A&M does have a stout front seven that will be by far the best Florida has faced this season.  The O-line struggled some against Carolina protecting Trask, and has to tighten some things up.  The running game took a step back, and has to provide more balance this week.  Trevon Grimes and Jacob Copeland need to step up and take advantage of the easier coverage they receive while defenses focus on Pitts and Toney.

Will this be another case of the offense having to continue to outscore the opponent for 60 minutes?  No offense can continuously do that, and eventually it will bite the Gators unless the defense starts to step up at least occasionally.  I predicted a loss in this game, and despite the fact that the Aggies have not looked good at all in 2 games, there is too much talent there to see them stink it up for an entire season.  They have the weapons on offense in Monds’ running ability, a big TE, and a quick RB who catches the ball well in the intermediate zones – all areas that the Gator defense has yet to prove it can contain.  I just have a bad feeling that the cumulative effect of all of these matchups, along with a desperate group of Aggies who don’t want their season to unravel so soon, could cause Florida to stumble in this one.

Prediction: Texas A&M 31 Florida 28

Mississippi Review / S. Carolina Preview

What should have been a blowout win was marred by one of the worst defensive performances by the Gators since maybe 1979.  While Kyle Trask and Kye Pitts toyed with the Rebel defense all day, the defense continually looked like a high school unit, embarrassing themselves and forcing the offense to keep it’s starters in well into the 4th quarter to continue scoring and keep a safe lead.

The Florida offense was unstoppable.  Trask and Pitts served early notice that they could be in line for some major awards this year, but there were many other contributors.  The running backs, led by Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis, ran hard and also were featured more prominently in the passing game.  Trevon Grimes, Kedarius Toney, and Jacob Copeland each had their share of big plays in the passing game.  The O-line did a solid job, giving Trask plenty of time to scan the field and open running lanes for the RBs.  But before anyone gets too excited, remember this was against a young, inexperienced defense with a new coaching staff.  There are much tougher tests to come.

The Gator defense was horrific.  Even with the offensive expertise of Lane Kiffen’s playcalling, they made Ole Miss look like last year’s LSU offense.  Receivers were running unchecked and uncovered all game, and it was never corrected.  Despite knowing the Rebel QBs would be looking to run, the pursuit angles were poor and the DEs failed to set the edge.  

These breakdowns weren’t attributable to Covid-19 issues, loss of practice time, or inexperienced guys getting extended playing time in the secondary – this was blowing basic football assignments and miscommunication.  Just because Shawn Davis was stupid enough to get himself tossed early in the game for targeting and Brad Stewart was serving yet another suspension, this is the SEC……these guys are better than they are being coached.  Todd Grantham is on the clock.

Florida returns home to the Swamp to face South Carolina.  The Lamecocks put up a fight late against Tennessee, but, as usual, failed to finish the game.  Another typical Won’t Misschump performance.  

If the Gator O-line can do a serviceable job of run blocking and keep Trask upright, the offense should be able to continue having success.  This Carolina defense is not as good as recent vintage, and can be exploited – they actually made Tennessee’s offense look good at times, which is hard to do.  Of course, Misschump and DC Travarus Robinson will still have their axe to grind against Florida and do everything they can to spring an upset, so the Gators should expect a motivated defensive opponent.

Sadly, until the Gator defense shows up, nothing is certain.  There is too much talent on paper to allow the Lamecocks much success on offense, but I have a serious lack of confidence in Grantham right now.  The return of Davis and Stewart at safety hopefully provided a big boost to the secondary, and here’s hoping Kyree Campbell returns at DT to provide more depth and experience.  Carolina has a new starting QB in transfer Collin Hill – he was serviceable against Tennessee, but has nowhere near the mobilty the Ole MIss QBs had, which will help the Florida pass rush.  His main target is WR Shi Smith – the secondary will have their ficus on him, as they won’t have to worry about as many other threats that the Rebels offered.  Misschump still wants to run the ball, but the Lamecock O-line and RBs are retooling, and shouldn’t be as tough to deal with as usual.  Of course, the best scenario would be that the Gator offense gets Carolina behind on the scoreboard and forces them into being one-dimensional.

I expect Carolina to play hard, as MIsschump and Trevarus Robinson still have an axe to grind with Florida after getting fired.  As long as the Gators don’t implode with turnovers and keep Trask upright, the offense should be able to put up enough points for a comfprtable win – but it likely won’t be decided until sometime in the second half. 


Florida  34

S. Carolina  17

Mississippi Preview

Florida opens the season with a road trip to Oxford to face the Ole MIss Rebels and their new head coach, Lane Kiffen.  

The Gator offense already has some adversity to deal with, as starting center Ethan White will miss multiple games with a meniscus injury.  That will force Brett Heggie to center, Richard Gouriage inside to Heggie’s spot at guard, and put Jean Delance back at right tackle, where he struggled all of 2019.  Not an ideal, as Ole MIss has some good edge rushers that will have to be accounted for.  We’re going to see early on if the O-line can improve in the running game – it’s a requirement for the Gators to have any chance at a championship this season.  Kyle Trask is back and can handle pressure and make quick throws, and it looks like he may have to recreate his 2019 performance, at least early on.  RBs Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis should be good enough to provide balance, but only if they aren’t avoiding tacklers in their own backfield.  TE Kyle PItts will always draw a lot of attention from the defensive back seven, so we will get an early idea of how much WR Trevon Grimes and the other receivers can fill the large void left by losing 4 seniors that were one of the best corps in the country by the end of 2019.  Jacob Copeland and Kedarius Toney must show improvement, while transfer Justin Shorter may have to play a bigger role than many have predicted.  FInally, Ole Miss lost a lot of starters to graduation, and also have an entirely new defensive backfield – Mullen and Trask have to expose this group.

On defense, Florida will be challenged by a new offense with no film to study from, along with the likelihood of seeing 2 QBs with very different skill sets.  John Rhys Plumlee is an excellent runner and took over as the starter midway through 2019, but struggles mightily in the passing game.  Knowing how Kiffen likes to throw the ball, we’ll find out early if this is a “square peg into a round hole” situation, and if former Gator commit Matt Corral gets a majority of the snaps.  He is a talented passer and good athlete.  This unknown alone will make it a challenge for the defense on Saturday.  The other threats are RB Jerrion Ealy and WR Elijah Moore.  The defense will be down at least one DT (Kyree Campbell may opt out of 2020) and one safety (Brad Stewart suspended yet again – what a waste of talent).  Fortunately there is plenty of experienced depth at safety to cover for Stewart’s absence, but a few young DL like Gervon Dexter will get thrown into the mix early on, while Zach Carter likely will have to play DT for most of this game.  There is plenty of experience and talent at DE and LB that should be able to contain either QB trying to run while getting consistent pressure in passing situations.  This will be a good test to see if the open-field tackling by the back seven has improved – the Gators have really struggled with this the past 2 seasons and must improve.  The Rebels have an almost completely new O-line, and it would be a major disappointment if the Gators give up a lot of yards and points.

Jacob Finn has won the job at punter, and fortunately for the Gators he is a senior with some experience, so he shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the pressure of his first start.  Evan McPherson is one of the best placekickers in the country, and having someone so reliable is very important – especially on the road.  The return game for the Gators remains a mystery until someone stands out.  Here’s hoping that the Florida coverage units continue to perform as well as they have since Dan Mullen’s return.

Ole Miss is trying to break in a new coaching staff with an altered practice schedule, having almost 30 players miss practice time already with Covid-19 systems, and learning new schemes on both offense and defense.  While the newness of all this can be a hindrance to the opponent, I’m hoping that the Gators can actually get some benefit from this, combined with the stability of it’s own coaching staff and roster – especially at QB.  Many pundits think the Gators win easily, rolling up a lot of points on a defense that is retooling.  I think it could be closer than that, with some sloppy play and nerves showing themselves early.  This will be one of those noon eastern kickoffs that no team likes, as many times teams are sleepwalking through the first half.  I’m just hopeful for a win and no serious injuries in the start to the strangest season ever.


Florida  27

Mississippi  17