Opponent: Florida Gators
Kickoff: 3:30 PM
Well, the off week was long overdue given the schedule we faced early this season. Now that we’ve rested up we get the #1 team in the country, the defending national champions, a team that utterly destroyed us last year, led by a coach who is probably still trying to make a statement about a perceived slight. Perfect. Oh well, into the breach…
About the Vandy game…
The Good: Initially on offense there wasn’t much, then AJ broke loose and we actually started to look more like an offense with a plan. The defense was outstanding all day, with the exception of getting rolled to open the 3rd quarter. All in all, pretty much the ideal performance against a team that hadn’t been giving up many points on the season. We didn’t win the turnover battle but a push feels like a win, especially when the turnover we gave up was deep in our opponent’s territory, a decidedly different approach to turning the ball over for us. Oh, Caleb King looked good in as gutsy a performance as you’ll see (his jaw was broken).
The Bad: The offense struggled early, not getting a first down in the first 3 drives. Against a team with a more potent offense than Vandy (pretty much anyone I suppose), we could have been in considerable trouble given our defensive play for much of the year. The running game was still largely a mystery although there were some signs of life.
The Key: Solid defensive play was the key. The offense didn’t show up until we threw it to AJ and let him just create but the defense seemed to have everything under control for the most part. Man that’d be great to break out this weekend, you know, a defensive pulse.
- This isn’t the Gator offense of the past couple of years, the one headed by Tim Tebow that just blew the conference apart averaging over 43 ppg for the past two years. This offense has struggled at times, particularly in the red zone, as the personnel losses are appearing to be a bigger issue than originally expected. They are still a formidable bunch, it’s just shifted. They still have a good bit of talent and their national rushing rank of 6th is certainly impressive. The fact that they are currently 8th in the country in total offense and 9th in scoring offense and people are wondering what’s wrong is a testament to how good they’ve been prior to this year with Tebow at the helm.
- You might have heard of UF’s QB, former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. A threat to score whenever he touches the ball, he’d be considered a throwback player because of his bull-headed approach to the game except for the fact his dual-threat ability is decidedly un-throwback. His career passer rating is the highest in SEC history and he’s 1 rushing TD from setting a new SEC record for career rushing TDs. While the UF passing game has struggled some this year, he’s really taken the reins and his 121 carries is more than double anyone else on the team. He’s a load.
- At RB, UF has 3 options (whenever Tebow doesn’t just do it himself). Demps and Rainey are essentially interchangeable, ridiculously fast, shifty weapons. USC (the real one) transfer Emmanuel Moody has more beef to him but he’s only getting a handful of touches a game. It’s surprising given the struggles of the UF WRs to see that the RB corps doesn’t have much in the way of receptions. They’ve stayed out of that for the most part. Demps is currently a little questionable for the game after injuring his neck, but if Tebow could play through a concussion that would take down a rhino I’m sure Demps will be fine.
- Gone are Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, the pieces that just might have made the Gator passing attack work. In their place is essentially Riley Cooper and well, that’s it other than TE Aaron Hernandez (who, while very good, is not going to present the same threat as Harvin/Murphy). Cooper is a solid WR and since he’s white I feel like I should say he’s got great hands and runs good routes. He does have a knack for being pretty hands-on with CBs and not getting called, a la Murphy against us last year. Hernandez is a real threat for a WR. He’s vital to their option game too as a 3rd or 4th option on the TE shovel pass that can just be a back breaker when it looks like everything else is covered up.
- The UF OL is big and experienced, with every starter tipping the scales over 305. The line is anchored by the Pouncey twins, Maurkice and Mike, who man the OC and RG positions. As much as Tim Tebow’s scrambling ability helps them look good, his tendency to hold onto the ball for long stretches has led to as many sacks already this year (15) as he had all of last year and more than he had for the whole 2007 season (when 6 of his 13 season sacks came against UGA). They aren’t overly excited with the unit as a whole though and are toying with starting true freshman Xavier Nixon at LT.
- Bottom Line: UF came out of the gates looking like world-beaters, averaging almost 60 ppg (against questionable opposition), but they’ve come back to earth, averaging roughly 26 ppg in the 5 SEC contests since. UF has really struggled in the red-zone this year where (in SEC games) they have sported a decidedly mortal 76% red-zone scoring efficiency (19 of 25) including a surprisingly bad 28% TD rate (7 of 25). This is hard to believe considering Tebow is one of the great short yardage options in recent memory (or at least he was prior to this year).
- Key Matchup to watch when they have the ball: Tebow is obviously the key to this offense, and while he’s not a great option QB in the sense of making defenders commit (although from what I’ve seen of him this year he’s gotten better), UF really gets scary when they attack the perimeter with that speed at RB, Tebow as a power option and Hernandez coming underneath as another option. We have to play good, disciplined defense to defend that part of their offense and that scares me. If we can force Tebow to stand in the pocket, I like our chances, UF’s WRs have struggled to get open against most of the SEC teams they’ve faced, including an Arkansas team we threw all over.
- Well, any questions about UF’s offense certainly don’t apply to their defense. While Alabama gets all the hype for having the best defense in the country, this UF unit is actually ranked 1st in total D nationally. Oh and they’re 2nd in scoring defense, allowing barely 10 ppg. They have legit, first day NFL talent at every level of the defense and return their entire 2-deep from the defending national championship defense. That just doesn’t happen. They’re very, very good.
- On the DL, UF sports a pair of bookend DEs as good as anyone in the country. Javon Kearse might have been labeled the Freak but Carlos Dunlap is one. At 6-6, 290 he’s as big as many DTs but he moves like a LB and just wreaks havoc. He led the SEC in sacks last year and leads the team in sacks this year (5). Opposite him is the more normally-sized Jermaine Cunningham, who leads the team in TFLs with 7 and has considerable experience to draw on, with 32 career starts. Inside, a rotation of Omar Hunter, Terron Sanders, and Lawrence Marsh (possibly out with an injury) make for a stout unit that have given OLs fits. Justin Trattou can play inside or outside but is banged up some.
- As good as the Gator DL is, the LBs are likely better. MLB Brandon Spikes is an All-American and likely the best MLB in college football. He’s missed the last two games with a groin injury but will likely be just peachy for our matchup. He also looks like he’s 45. WLB Ryan Stamper leads the team in tackles and basically caused the team to not miss a beat in the absence of Spikes. SLB AJ Jones is an incredible athlete. Guys like Dustin Doe and his 17 career starts have been rendered to backups. Sick.
- As good as the Gators front 7 is, the secondary is likely the strength of the team. CB Joe Haden is a pure CB who just makes plays. Janoris Jenkins started as a true freshman last year and was the 2nd true freshman to ever start at CB on opening day for UF. The first was Haden, so these guys are seriously talented. The safety trio of Will Hill, Ahmad Black and Major Wright are as good as you’ll ever see on a college football team and all 3 will likely make NFL rosters. There’s a reason they are 2nd nationally in passing defense.
- Bottom Line: If we’re going to score significantly more than the 10 we managed last year we’re going to have to play our best offensive game of the year. This defense is more than just a collection of NFL talent. They are a disciplined, aggressive, brutal bunch that plays with passion. Pretty much the ideal defense. We’ll have our hands full for sure. We’ve done a pretty good job of keeping Cox upright this year but we haven’t faced a front this good and if Cox starts staring WRs down like he has at times, this secondary will be all over him. UT has a good bit better running game than we do but they were willing to sell out to run the ball and it kept the game close. I’m not sure we can run against them, but I wasn’t sure we could in 2007 and Knowshon ripped off nearly 200 yards. We, unfortunately, don’t have Knowshon anymore.
- Key matchup to watch when we have the ball: Everyone knows that AJ Green is our best player. That’s easy to see. As much as I want to say we need to establish the running game and be able to control the clock, I just don’t think we can and I’m not entirely convinced we should. AJ (and to a lesser extent Charles and White) gives us our best matchup, even against the top secondary in the country. If AJ gets shut down, we likely don’t stand a chance.
The UF Game Overall
There are tons of old football adages out there about winning…run the ball and stop the run, protect the football and play good field position, be sound in the kicking game, etc. The fact is we haven’t adhered to many of those. If we’re going to have success this weekend we’re going to have to do a better job at a lot of those. We’ve got be better at holding onto the ball and forcing turnovers. Don’t even get me started on special teams where I imagine even a banged up Brandon James is licking his lips, not to mention whoever is in charge of Florida’s fake punts…seems we’re good for one of those every key situation since the 2005 Sugar Bowl (exaggerated sure but a nugget of truth in there).
A couple of weeks ago I was convinced that this was going to be utterly hopeless. After watching UF play the last few weeks I’m going to upgrade that to likely hopeless. Florida is a very, very good football team with as good a defense as you’ll face that isn’t getting paid. When you look at the matchup on paper, we really have no legitimate shot. Honestly. We’ve yet to run the ball with any consistency and our passing attack is essentially one guy, although what a guy. On the other side of the ball, well, ouch. We made Jonathan Crompton and Stephen Garcia look like all-Americans. Neither one of those guys will ever be considered for a Heisman. Tebow is being considered for his 2nd. UF is running the ball on everyone. We’re handing out turnovers like candy. It doesn’t look good folks.
With that said, why do I have this sinking suspicion that this game is way, way closer than the 17-point spread Vegas is laying on it? Yes, I know we’re coming off a bye week and that certainly isn’t to be underestimated given the history of the bye week and this series, and I’m very pleased we’ve had 2 weeks to prepare, but I think this game sets up well for us for other reasons too. Richt can basically pitch this as David and Goliath. We’ve got nothing to lose, UF has everything to lose. Their offense, while winning, has been beaten up steadily since the UT game. Teams have shown how to play them. Lesser teams than us have played them closely. As strong as they are on paper, they haven’t lived up to it yet, then again, neither have we.
This UF team came into the season with one main goal, an undefeated season. No Florida team has ever done that. It’s the reason that Tebow, Spikes, et al came back for another year. They want to win back-to-back titles but they want their legacy to be perfection. So far they haven’t lived up to their preseason expectations. Sure, they’re undefeated and still ranked #1, but they’ve looked more like those Ohio State teams that scrape by every week than the preseason machine that some picked to win every game by 10 or more. The more they struggle, the more they seem to press. If we can manage to play some stout D early and put some points on the board, I could see Florida pressing for perfection and eventually it will backfire. Wouldn’t it be nice if just once Florida was the team that played tight in Jacksonville?
- Getting back Akeem Dent and Marcus Dowtin should help considerably. Both are talented LBs who will allow us to rotate more and stay fresh tracking down UF’s strong run game.
- Looks like there will be even more shifting on the OL. Boling at LT makes a ton of sense. Josh Davis played well at OT in his return at Vandy. The rumors of a Boling-Glenn left side make me think we’re heading that way on the ground. Whatever works.
- Chapas returns. He hasn’t had the year he did last year but getting him back certainly eases things from a depth perspective. Munz was his usual productive self. I can’t imagine anyone in the history of football has a better touches-to-points ratio.
- If anyone ever questions Caleb King’s toughness they need to be shot. The guy has a broken jaw, is still on a liquid diet and he’s ready to go. Very impressive. He looked good against Vandy in the passing game too.
- If we’re going to have success against UF, we’re going to need that vaunted interior DL of ours to actually play like a vaunted interior DL. Owens, Weston and Atkins have played like world-beaters at times but I want to see some pressure this week.
- How great was it to see Prince Miller with a couple of nice punt returns?
- Well, everybody in the country is now talking about the SEC refs. Are they conspiring to set up the matchup the conference wants in the SEC title, Alabama vs. Florida? Florida has certainly gotten some breaks here and there from the officials. It’s pretty absurd to think that the refs are in on some plot to get UF to the SECC game as #1. Just to prove how absurd that is, I think the refs need to call a blatantly anti-Florida game this week. Go ahead refs, shock the world and prove just how unbiased you are. I dare you.
- So apparently the World Series just started. I couldn’t imagine two teams I’d less like to see in there than the Yankees and the Phillies.
- How is it that Tebow never gets flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct despite leading the league in self-aggrandizing celebrations?
- I think Carlton Thomas has the most ill-fitting helmet I’ve ever seen. It always seems like it’s way back on his head and he’s looking through the bottom of his face mask.
- Did anyone notice how often Dan Mullen and Tim Tebow remain in physical contact? They still do, which would be more understandable if he wasn’t coaching against him. It’s like Mullen’s Tebow’s pet or something. Pretty coach. Tim like coach. Mullen looks positively smitten.
- Pottsie with the line of the week again: “I keep expecting Logan Gray to fair catch a snap”
- If you don’t want Boise State playing for the national title you’d better be pulling for USC to beat Oregon this weekend. If Oregon wins then BSU will take a big jump in the computer polls. Not that UGA has any stake in those anymore.
- I know most of you have probably already water-coolered this one to death but how about Verne’s slip up in the Arkansas-Florida game when the guy had run with the ball about 40 yards and fumbled at the goal line to which Verne queried: “is that an incomplete pass?” Wow, Verne, that’s Mike Patrick territory there. You’re better than that Verne.
- Earlier this year I was wondering why Bob Griese had fallen so far as to be doing the noon Big-10 game on ESPN when he used to be a solid mid-afternoon guy and I think he even called the national title game a few years ago when Michigan won (QB’d by his son). Maybe he was dropping taco-esque lines in production meetings and it was just a matter of time.
Have a safe weekend,