The biggest benefit from this game was to give the younger, inexperienced players a positive first road result. Other than Jon Halapio, it looks like the Gators escaped relatively healthy. Coach Weis used this game to showcase Rainey and Demps (again) as the home-run threats they are, and also to knock the rust off of the Wildcat formation with both Rainey and Burton running at will. Good stuff to put on film for future opponents to spend some time on. Brantley hit a home run down the seam to Christian, a pattern that has been open quite often already, but finally exploited. He also made some good throws downfield to Hammond (finally). Another vanilla scheme overall, as it was obvious early on that UK was out-classed across the board.
The Gator defense played well, but had some disappointing run support on the edges. It appeared as if the DEs simply didn’t care about the run with the Mildcats so far behind, but it showed a lack of experience and discipline that must improve. The pass coverage was generally good, with some more missed opportunities for interceptions. Again, a pretty vanilla scheme, so there isn’t much on tape for opponents to exploit.
It’s going to be a long year for UK, and the Joker will be missing from the deck if his team continues to get blown out.
On to the Bataan death march. This is the toughest month of games in many years for the Gators beginning this week against Alabama. Similar to 2010, Florida rolled through September, but hopefully will have some better results in October 2011.
There’s a lot of talk that Weis will throw everything in the playbook at the Tide this Saturday, but given how young and inexperienced this offense is, I actually think he’s going to keep the game plan simple, with just a few wrinkles in formations, and a handful of “special” plays thrown in when the situation is favorable. If you are thinking instead of playing fast against Bama’s defense, you have no chance. Many say this game is all on Brantley to perform well, but it’s the OL that will dictate any real success. This group has jelled nicely in a short time, but the leap in competition may be too much of a challenge. Again, you don’t want these guys thinking about assignments while mistakes lead to a clear path to the QB.
Bama knows that Florida will try and isolate Rainey and Demps on the LBs, whether it’s with screen passes or delay routes, so I’d expect more nickel looks than Saban usually likes to run. Even in this look, Bama will probably attempt to stuff the run,and take it’s chances with a solid secondary against a group of Gator WRs that, frankly, has underachieved to date. Weis is really going to have to be creative with the routes. There is much anticipation that, with the return of Reed, that the TEs will get a lot of chances to make plays. I’m hopeful some success will help to open up the LOS, but unless the OL holds it own, the TEs may have to be kept in to block more often than desired.
Florida’s DL performance will ultimately determine the chances of winning. This is a top 10 group nationally, and now it’s time to handle your business on your own to allow the LBs and secondary to play straight up and take their chances. It’s no secret that the Tide will seek to pound the rock to control tempo and wear down the opponent. Trent Richardson in one of the top RBs in the nation, and is also a sneaky good receiver in their screen package, which actually generates a lot of their big offensive plays. Lacy is a capable backup. I really don’t fear their TEs and WRs.
What will be a importance is getting some pressure and some hits on A.J. McCarron. The Gators need to get in his head and show what it is to play a tough SEC team on the road. Coach Muschamp will certainly have some new blitz packages not seen before this season to try and confuse him, and to get the defense off the field as often as possible.
Florida’s special teams really have to step up their play across the board starting this week. The kickoff coverage has been shaky, and Lerner is much too inconsistent as the punter so far. Poor play by this unit evens things out quickly, or even tips the momentum to a good visiting team that relies on defense and special teams first. Caleb Sturgis has to kick the ball deep on kickoffs all night. He could be the guy that the game ultimately comes down to late, and has been terrific on FGs so far.
I really think the Florida coaching staff will not give the players too much new stuff to do, and will attempt to make this a 4th quarter game, which usually favors the home team. It should be a tremendous atmosphere in the Swamp, but a stupid play on special teams or some early turnovers will negate that advantage quickly.
Too many ‘what-ifs’ for a young Gator team. The Gator in me really feels this is a winnable game, and Florida has enough playmakers on both offense and defense to get it done. However, you cannot undervalue experience and a great defense in the SEC, and I think Alabama holds on for a tough win.
Prediction – Alabama 24 Florida 17