Just like last season, Florida comes into Jacksonville riding a disappointing 3-game losing streak, but this time with a new staff and a still-unsettled QB situation. The off week had to help the physical health of the team overall, but the main challenge for the coaches is to get the players into a positive mental state – no sure thing given the youth and inexperience of the 2011 Gators.
Florida’s defense will again be called upon to carry any real hope of victory. The pass rush has to improve, but the poor play of the DEs probably can’t be solved by any personnel changes – there is simply a void of SEC talent at this position. More blitzing by the LBs may be in the offing this week, but the sad thing is that this group is better in pass coverage than in run support, so that negates some of their strengths. That leaves the bulk of the responsibility and pressure on the DTs – Howard, Easley, Floyd, and Hunter. The secondary has 2 solid players in CB Marcus Roberson and S Matt Elam, but every other position in any scheme is shaky at best. No matter the personnel, it’s time to play more man-to man coverage and take your chances.
Georgia still relies on the pass for it’s most effective means of moving the football, which should help the Gators out based on their current personnel. The #1 priority is to stop the TEs from beating you……failure to do that almost guarantees a loss. That’s why I think you’ll see Bostic, Jenkins, and even Powell used to shadow Orson Charles and Aron White. They are the security blanket for Aaron Murray, as the Puppy WRs are inconsistent and simply not that scary – if they are the ones to make big plays, so be it. Malcolm Mitchell is probably their deep threat with his speed, and Tavarres King is their most experienced WR, but has never been a go-to guy. Georgia’s running game has recently begun to show signs of life again, but the injury status of Isaiah Crowell could hamper them. Given Florida’s struggles against the run recently, I’d be surprised if the Puppies didn’t try and exploit that weakness, but, again, I don’t think it’s in their nature to comfortably rely on running more than passing.
Georgia’s defensive front seven is fairly solid this season. The DL has a good size with DTs Jonathan Jenkins and Kwame Geathers (suspended for the 1st half). Jarvis Jones (transfer from USCwest) was a godsend to an underachieving unit, and Brandon Boykin can make plays in the secondary and as a kick returner. Overall not a terribly distinguished group, but it hasn’t taken much to stop the Gator offense in October. Of course, I can only hope that Florida finds a way to pull off the shocker and rub it in the face of that loser defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, he of the choke sign to Chas Henry before his game-winning FG last year, and repeated missteps with opponents with his big mouth that isn’t backed up by a great defense.
It’s anyone’s guess as to how the Gator QB situation is handled this week. Will Brantley miraculously be well enough to play? Will Brissett and Driskel split halves like they did against Auburn? Can someone get a hot hand and play the majority of the game? This is what a loss to Georgia is made of unless someone rises to the challenge, and unfortunately neither of the freshmen looks the part yet. The Puppies have a good offense, not the mediocre crew that Auburn fielded that kept Florida in the game 2 weeks ago. It would be nice to see Mike Gillislee finally get the chance to carry the ball between the tackles, instead of Rainey bouncing most of his carries outside and giving up valuable yards. Maybe Jeff Demps is serviceable for a handful of meaningful snaps this week after not playing against the Tigers – the threat of his speed is still a concern for any defense, and can take some of the focus off of the young QBs.
I do believe that we will see more of the Wildcat on offense with Burton running the show. It has earned some solid yards in the running game, even in the past 3 games. The key for me is whether we will see it when Florida gets into the red zone instead of using it for getting out of the hole deep in it’s own territory. My opinion is this was a misstep by Coach Weis against Auburn, as the Gators could have punched in at least one touchdown that way to possibly steal the win.
The Gator WRs and TEs have been of zero help during the losing streak. Frankie Hammond is the only consistent performer. Coach Hill has to find a few guys that can raise their level of play to stretch the field and give the QBs at least a chance for success. Jordan Reed has been terribly inconsistent at TE – his route-running is poor, and both he and AC Leonard have been guilty of too many penalties. That simply has to stop, whether it’s by better focus or becoming comfortable with riding the bench.
Finally, the Florida OL has been inconsistent just like the rest of the team, but I still believe there is enough talent there to be effective. The OTs have struggled in pass protection, but hopefully the additional week of practice has tightened that up. The interior of the line has done an adequate job run-blocking in the Wildcat, but needs to translate that play to I-formation run plays as well.
Coach Muschamp and his entire staff have a huge challenge ahead of them the rest of the way……motivating the younger guys to continue to practice hard and improve, while keeping the seniors that have seen their hopes dashed engaged. My biggest hope is to actually see improvement in the fundamentals across the board for the balance of 2011, no matter the win/loss results.
The hardest thing for a young team to do is get off of a losing streak. Last year’s team still had a familiar coaching staff and a handful of senior leaders to pull together and get a much-needed win. Unfortunately neither of those applies to 2011, and the losing streak probably will stretch to 4 games for the first time in a LOOOOONG time. It pains me to predict this, because the Puppies are a mediocre team (as usual)……
Georgia 31 Florida 13 (if Brantley doesn’t play or is ineffective)
Georgia 27 Florida 20 (if Brantley is somewhat effective)