Tennessee Review / Kentucky Preview

A Whole New Ballgame

That was quite the unexpected Saturday at the Swamp despite the expected win over Tennessee.  This season, much as I feared, has possibly turned upside down with the loss of Jeff Driskel for the year with a broken fibula.  Tyler Murphy showed a lot of poise and maturity, giving Gator Nation some hope that the season won’t go down the drain.  Given that he has never played a meaningful snap going in to his redshirt junior year, that was a clutch performance, even against a bad Dolly team.

It’s really interesting now to hear the various thinking about the QB situation……

Take #1 – “Driskel sucks, is a turnover machine, and just doesn’t ‘get it’ at QB.  Murphy may be better”.

Not so fast, my friends.  That was a bad Tennessee team, and Murphy had the element of surprise, as there is NO film on this guy.  Yes, Driskel is limited in some ways, but is a tough player and has serious physical skills.  Definitely premature thinking by a long shot.

Take #2 – “The season is toast.  5-6 losses for sure”.

Despite losing the starting QB, Florida has enough talent on offense and such a great defense that I still expect wins (unless Murphy goes down – yeesh) against Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Georgia Southern.  I believe that enough offense can be generated in those games, especially with Murphy showing mobility and the ability to make plays with his legs to keep defenses somewhat honest.

Take #3 – “At least Will Grier is an early enrollee, and may start as a true freshman in 2014”.  Again, WAY premature, and simply unlikely.  The staff has a lot of trust in Driskel (I can hear the haters groaning), and if somehow Murphy blows up and earns the job based on the rest of 2013 going into Spring practice, I simply can’t see Grier playing much, if at all.

Now, back to the game……

The pick 6 from Driskel shook the offense (and the fans) in more ways than one, and it showed for a few series until Murphy started making some plays, which injected life into the team and the crowd.  I was never really worried, especially after the Gators took a 10-7 lead on the TD pass to Patton.  But I REALLY wasn’t worried as I watched Gator defense taking the Dolly offense to the woodshed.  Yes, that was a mediocre Tennessee offense, but they do have some SEC-caliber RBs and WRs, and a few decent OL.  Fowler was a man in that game at DE, and Easley his been a disruptive force inside all season.  The secondary, even with Roberson sitting out, Poole getting ejected, and Purifoy getting hurt on the kickoff return, was still lights out until letting down for a score near the end of the game.

I have to give the team credit for staying focused after Driskel left, and to the coaches for staying patient through a rough first half, which I’m sure helped the players keep their poise and to continue to play hard.  There are still some areas that need work, starting with getting Matt Jones right at RB – he doesn’t look anything like what was expected yet, and now has fumbled in both games he has played.  Brown was a workhorse, but is not a breakaway threat.  Still no throws to the RBs, and that has to change to help out a new QB.  Perhaps Murphy can develop some chemistry with a few of the WRs.  Dunbar has played well this season, and Patton has some big plays, but the ball has to be spread around more.  I’m starting to wonder if Burton may need to play more H-back again and less in the slot, to help the running game some and give defenses the Wildcat look to practice for.

Looking at Tennessee’s schedule through October……it’s gonna be another looooong season.  Volsheimers will be needed again after this year is over.

Now it’s on the Commonwealth for the first SEC road game against Kentucky.  New head coach Mark Stoops has a reputation as a defensive genius, but how much of that is reality, and how much just for he last name?  This is another team that has a LONG way to go to become consistently competitive in the SEC.  The Mildcats did hold Louisville to 27 points in a loss 2 weeks ago, but that was an in-state rival that they were certainly up for.  Yes, they haven’t beaten the Gators since 1986, and that can serve as motivation – to a point.  But they are (again) outmanned and have a weak offense with inconsistent QB play and precious little playmaking ability, and will have to rely on the Gator offense to continue it’s disturbing penchant for turnovers to have a chance at the upset.

Before some in Gator Nation get too excited about Murphy’s performance, rest assured that he’s going to have his struggles going forward.  He has virtually no experience, and now has the added pressure of being the starter.  He also had the advantage of two weeks of (limited) practice snaps before Tennessee, but will now have to get into the weekly rhythm of learning a new opponent.  His arm strength isn’t great, and no one has a clue as to his ability to read defenses yet.  A backup can survive in a home game, but the road environment in the SEC is completely different.

It’s time for each offensive player to take more accountability, in order to not just help out the new QB, but to help the team win games.  Cut down on the penalties, take care of the damn football, and play smart and fast going forward.

And now for the latest downer……Dominique Easley is out for the season after tearing his ACL in practice Tuesday.  Un-freakin’-believable!  Chucky was really coming on, looking fully recovered from the ACL tear in his other knee sustained against F$U in 2011……and now this.  Leon Orr had better learn to play hard every snap starting now, and Darious Cummings is going to get  a lot more snaps.  Looks like the redshirt may be pulled off of one of the true freshmen – perhaps Jay-nard Bostwick or Caleb Brantley.  Any way you look at it, this is a big loss to the team, as Easley was probably the spiritual leader of just not the defense, but the entire team.  No more dancing at the LOS before blowing up another play Chucky – good luck in the NFL next season.

The defense had some other dings against the Dollies, especially in the secondary.  Roberson should be back to help offset the loss of Poole for at least the first half after his illegal hit disqualification.  Purifoy may play, but it’s hard to tell after a deep thigh bruise how he’ll feel at kickoff.  Fortunately there is so much quality depth there that the Gators should survive.  The D-Line has disrupted so many plays at the LOS it’s made life easy for the back seven to dominate.  It may not be as easy going forward without Easley’s presence.

It’s going to be a different feel going forward.  The defense may have to still carry the team, as the offense will have it’s struggles until Murphy can prove to be a consistent, if not spectacular, performer.  Special Teams need to step up as well.  Christy is a huge disappointment punting so far, and Hardin needs to show he can make a FG longer than 35 yards – the loss of Caleb Sturgis could really be felt going forward.

Unless somehow the team gets completely ambushed early by a rash of turnovers or blown assignments on both sides of the ball, I think Florida eventually wears down and draws away in the second half.  I have no illusions about the offense – I think it’s going to be dicey going forward as teams get more film on Murphy – and the offense has yet to prove it can play smart, mistake-free football.  Coach Pease has some late nights ahead of him to try and gameplan to help this offense survive.  If he can somehow devise ways to get the passing game going to provide some balance, the defense is good enough to beat most teams as long as it doesn’t sustain any more key injuries..

The margin for error is razor-thin now, and it truly will take a complete team effort going forward to make this a good season.  Coach Muschamp’s mantra has been, “Man down, Man up”.  That is being put to the test moreso than anyone could have expected.  Remember this – there’s a reason a depth chart exists……some players are just better than others.

Prediction:  Florida 23              Kentucky 14