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Opponent: Florida Gators
Kickoff: 3:30 PM
Am I really mentally ready for this? Another year, another trip down to Jacksonville that has me all optomistic again. Florida’s had a rough year so far while we’ve been on a roll. Dare I dream?
About the Vandy game…
The Optimist Saw: Um, not much. Marlon Brown stepped up but probably won’t be that open again all year. Murray played well and was efficient, including adding that little bit of scrambling back into the repertoire.
The Pessimist Saw: A lot. A run defense that had played so well going up against one of the worst offenses on our schedule and getting torched on the ground. Our running attack was anemic. A defense that had opportunities to close the game out and just kept leaving the door open.
When the Game was Over: When Vandy got tackled at the 10 with no time left. This game was so reminiscent of the 2007 game it’s scary. After that game, we proceeded to destroy everyone else on our schedule. I’m hoping we pull that off again.
- In the first year of the Charlie Weis offense in Gainesville, things aren’t going according to plan. Granted, he’s working with a group of players recruited to play the spread, but Brantley was widely regarded as a pro-style QB stuck in the spread, so he should’ve fit in easily. With him out for the last few games, their offense, which looked so solid against FAU, UAB, UT and UK has put up an average of 9 points in the subsequent 3 weeks. 41st nationally in rushing offense and a lowly 100th in passing offense, they are in the bottom half of the SEC in most categories. Of course, Brantley’s return throws everything up in the air, so who knows.
- Brantley’s high ankle sprain isn’t the type of injury you want your QB to have. It’ll affect planting and stepping into throws as much as it will his pocket mobility, which wasn’t spectacular to begin with. Prior to injury he was completing passes at a nice clip and had thrown 5 TDs to 3 INTs. He was throwing lots of short passes with the occasional shot up top. They weren’t working that 10-20 yard section much at all. If he can’t go, look for a combination of a few guys, all of which are more of a threat on the ground than through the air at this point. While he hasn’t seen much action behind center this year, Trey Burton killed us in the wildcat last year so I’d just as soon Weis not go there.
- The UF RB tandem of Demps and Rainey seems to have been recruited by Spurrier. You can debate for a while which one is faster. They can both fly. Demps has been hurt some and Rainey’s productivity has declined drastically in recent weeks but these guys have the pure speed that makes them a threat to score from anywhere. They also play a huge role in the passing game, where Rainey leads the team in catches and yards receiving. Jr. Mike Gillislee has been very good in Demps’ absence.
- The Gators don’t have the luxury of an Ike Hilliard, Jacquez Green, Chad Johnson, Reche Caldwell, etc. group this year. Former top recruit Andre Dubose provides excellent deep speed and playmaking ability but only has 9 catches on the year (2 for TDs). The closest thing they have to go-to WR is Deonte Thompson, who at 6-0, 200 is a solid target.
- The Gator OL is big but hasn’t played all that great this season. They consist of one senior (a transfer from ND that played for Weis), 3 sophomores and a freshman. They’ve done a decent job of protecting the QB when you look at the stats but they’ve attempted over 40 fewer passes through 7 games, testament to their reliance on the running game.
- Bottom Line: It’s hard to say what you’ll see this week as, even if Brantley plays, I don’t really see them going to the pass early and often. They’ll want to establish the run or the short passing game early to make us respect it so they can try a big play up top if they need it. With Brantley being a little gimpy, I really can’t see him going all game if we’re able to get pressure. Considering the firepower we get back on the defensive side of the football, I’m thinking you’ll see a lot more fire from our guys. My greatest concern on this side is that whatever Vandy was doing up front uncovered something that Weis will try and exploit. If Vandy’s RBs were able to find a crease and our LBs got sucked into another lane it’s one thing. You give Rainey or Demps that hole and odds are you won’t be tackling them.
- Key matchup to watch when they have the ball: Rainey and Demps have plenty of speed to the edge, but our defense is pretty fast too, what concerns me the most, like I said above, is the thought of them gashing us up the middle with a quick hitter that gets into our 2nd level and past it before our LBs get set up. I’m not completely convinced that Brantley will be playing Saturday, but even if he does, I’m not entirely sure they have the type of passing game to exploit anyone to this point. Without Brantley they managed 6 points against Auburn, a team that gave up 34 or more to all but 2 other teams on their schedule (FAU and SC).
- The UF defense has been solid so far. They’ve been particularly strong against the pass (6th in the country). They’ve been decent against the run, giving up barely 120 ypg, good for 4th in the conference (behind us and two somewhat decent defenses from the SEC West). Scoring-wise they’re giving up less than 19 ppg which is really solid.
- The UF DL is just eaten up with talent. I mean they have 5-stars backing up 5-stars. They are technically a 4-man front but former uber-recruit Ronald Powell will stand up and occasionally drop in coverage, which he’s comfortable with after seeing some time at OLB last year in a 4-3 anyway. At 6-4, 250 he’s got as much athletic ability as anyone in the SEC. The other 3 DL are all big and mean, with Dominique Easley and Shariff Floyd both nailing down starting spots in their true sophomore seasons (same as Powell). They were the top 2 DTs in that class and Powell was the top DE. Talk about a dream team. While this group has all the potential in the world, they haven’t been the dominant unit you might expect. They’ve been very, very good, but with Will Muschamp’s rep and all of their press clippings, I was expecting a lot.
- The Gator LB corps is led but Jonathan Bostic at MLB. At 6-1, 243, he’s that Mike Singletary type thumper in the middle. Jelani Jenkins outside was another former 5-star recruit who was always a little small but has finally bulked up to 230. Lerentee McCray has blossomed in the new system, producing as well as anyone despite being considerably less heralded.
- The Gator secondary has been a strength. Like the first two levels, it’s loaded with former HS super recruits. They sport 3 very solid CBs in Marcus Roberson (a true freshman), and Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins (both true sophomores). Riggs is smallish but the other two are both 6-0 and all three can turn and run with anyone. Former 5-star Matt Elam is starting to play like one this season. Although not the biggest safety out there, he’s got a nose for the football. The Gators have gone back and forth at the other safety spot between the surprising freshman De’Ante Saunders (who’s made some mistakes) and Jr Josh Evans who hasn’t been able to win the job outright.
- Bottom Line: The Gator defense has as much talent as any team in the SEC on paper but it’s all still really young. They only start 1 senior (Jaye Howard at NG) and 2 juniors (and that’s if you count Josh Evans as a starter). If anyone knows what a defensive scheme change can do to a team, we do, as our switch to Grantham’s 3-4 last year was a decidedly mixed bag of mostly bad news. Couple in a really, really young team and the stats they’ve put up become more impressive. Of course, while they’ve held all the really bad teams they’ve played to low scores, the 2 good teams they played lit them up pretty good (Bama scored 38, LSU put up 41). They’ve really struggled getting to the QB so far, ranking 8th in the SEC at barely 1.5 sacks per game. If UF can’t pressure Murray Saturday it might be a long day as he’s probably the best QB they’ve faced all year with the lone competition coming from Tyler Bray who lost his best WR during that game and still put up 288 yards and 3 TDs (to go with 2 INTs). If we can keep their safeties and LBs occupied with a noticeably absent Orson Charles and Aaron White, Crowell could go off in a big way.
- Key matchup to watch when we have the ball: Sure it’s easy to go with the easy ones like can the OL protect for Murray or can they open holes for Crowell, but I think the early drives are going to set the tone. The last two times we beat UF (2004, 2007) we opened the game with statement drives, scoring early and consistently. More importantly though, I want to see an offense that’s got control of its emotions. Murray has a tendency to get amped up early in games and misfire. Last year’s first half in Jacksonville was probably the worst half of his career. Add in a mercurial guy in Crowell who clearly plays with his emotions on his sleeve and I want to see a fired up team that isn’t so fired up it interferes with their productivity.
The UF Game Overall
This game is huge for us. A loss will get the hot seat questions roaring back up. An ugly loss would be a death knell. As important as this game is for UGA, it might be even more important for UF. Muschamp walked into a program expecting to win. The cupboard was stocked and even though they’re somewhere south of 75 scholarship players right now, the fans are already starting to get restless. The fact that they lost to some pretty good teams while playing without their starting QB doesn’t really register. They expect to win and a loss to UGA would something that could be seen as a turning point, and that’s something Muschamp can ill afford.
Many of the losses we’ve incurred down there in recent memory have been marked by spectacular examples of self-immolation. Like the SC series, our games with UF typically have some form of defensive score by UF or catastrophic failure by our offense or defense in a key moment. Heck, even our 2007 win saw Stafford throw a pick-6 while getting sacked in the endzone.
What it boils down to is can we as a team exorcise whatever demons we have created down there. The only guys on the team right now who have beaten UF were redshirt freshmen when it happened. Most of the upperclassmen were part of two massive blowout losses in 2008 and 2009. This team has a good core of leaders but none have tasted a win over UF. For the seniors it would mean going out on top, for the underclassmen it would mean a chance to turn the series back the other way and give us a 3rd win over UF in 8 years. For Murray, going home to Florida, it would be a statement win that he desperately needs.
One thing that I feel absolutely confident saying is that we simply aren’t a good enough running team to be able to start trying to grind out the clock really at any point in the game. We’ve proven that over the last 4 games. We just can’t do it. Against Vandy, after Rambo inexplicably kneeled following his late INT, we not only didn’t manage to gain a first down, we lost yardage on all 3 plays. If we are lucky enough to get up on this team, we need to go for the throat as we’ve proven that our attempts to shorten the game only manage to somehow keep the opponent in it.
- I’m excited to see what happens with our LB group this week. Yes, Cornelius Washington returns from his 2-game suspension to bring our best pass rushing threat onto the field but I’m most excited to see the return of Alec Ogletree at MLB. ‘Tree was arguably our top defender this summer (behind Jarvis Jones) and has only played about 3 defensive series so far. With his return and the development of Gilliard and Herrera inside, our LB corps has depth and flexibility that we could only hope for at the start of the season.
- It appears that Malcolm Mitchell will be at best limited Saturday. The hamstring tweak he suffered against UT resurfaced and unless Richt for the first time in his tenure in Athens is playing the media, the kid will likely not see much PT. Mitchell was clearly our best deep threat and Murray seemed comfortable with him underneath too. Hopefully the emergence of Marlon last week will help. Tavares King had a big game down there last year but Charles was even bigger. Hopefully they all just step up.
- Shawn Williams being out for the first half means Commings slides inside and Boykin and Smith start at CB, which isn’t bad. Love will likely get the nod at CB in the nickel, which we probably won’t be using as much as we have in recent weeks given UF’s scheme.
- Geathers missing the first half is probably not that bad of a thing as Jenkins as really been playing well at the NG spot. Having a fully rested Geathers coming on the field in the 2nd half ain’t the worst thing either.
- Malcome getting some snaps with the 2nd team is interesting. Maybe he’s finally got his head on right and ready to contribute after that transfer talk. Lord knows we need him. After a few strong runs last week, Samuel went back to looking like a fullback and Carlton Thomas just disappeared. We need a someone to step up behind Crowell.
- Speaking of Crowell, our offense goes as he goes. When he’s ripping off those fluid, gliding runs, it just opens up so much more for offense. We don’t have anyone else capable of bringing that to the table. I’m still waiting for us to get him involved in the passing game. He clearly doesn’t have the best hands on the team but Murray hasn’t exactly given him the best catching opportunities either.
- After being banished to the hinterlands of college football TV, it sure will be nice to get back to CBS and the big game slot. Verne, I’ve missed you.
- OK, so how does LSU get several guys busted for an illegal substance and they sit just 1 game? 1 game? We’ve got guys missing half that much time for reacting to chop blocks. For the record, I’m pretty sure that “punch” that Geathers threw against that scumbag Vandy center (has anyone ever said that before?) could be called in pretty much every game at some point.
- Speaking of LSU, you know you’re pretty good when the backup to your Heisman candidate DB manages to not only play well but also score a TD on a pick-6.
- I’m pretty bummed I missed the Michigan State-Wisconsin game. The ending looked incredible. I couldn’t stay awake. Racing overnight does that to you.
- Given that it appears Walsh is in a sincere funk kicking, and given that it appears it’s going to be windy down there, can we just go ahead and score a bunch of TDs to take the drama out of it? Awesome. Thanks, guys. Walsh, we’ll get you right against NMSt next week.
- So, is anyone else as completely tired of ESPN just saying “sources say” all the time and not really just reporting? Do they think that excuses them from having to be accurate? I say that because I’m about sick of them reporting that “sources say” Team X is moving to Conference Y every other day only to find out none of it has really happened yet or maybe ever will. Hey ESPN, I know it doesn’t work with your blather driven means of reporting and speculation but I’d prefer my news to be definitive. My sources are saying ESPN needs folks going on the record.
- James Franklin is whiny.
- Seriously, how huge is that LSU-Bama game going to be? With it being at 8 and our game being early, I can make it back in time for that one. That’s awesome, assuming this weekend’s game doesn’t reach deep and rip out every ounce of desire I have to watch college football for a while like it seems to do most years.
- So, the mighty Bama’s halftime score against UT was…6-6. Same score we had only we were facing Tyler Bray, not the last (and least) of the Simses. Interesting stat…against UGA, Bama and LSU, the Vols have been outscored 42-0 in the 3rd quarter. Ouch. C’mon UT, we need you this week and I think we can all agree that if anyone ever needed a win right now it was Derek Dooley. I can say that because it’s totally self-serving. He can go back to losing next week.
- I hope Mr. Grantham has read up on his Shakespeare this week. “Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war” Mr. Granthem. I’m not the best lip reader but I’m pretty sure Grantham slipped a “havoc” in there when discussing the game with the aforementioned Franklin. I’m pretty sure there were other words but maybe they were all Shakespearean.
Have a safe weekend,