You can tell the football season has begun, as the angst from the fans is already in full effect. Based on the performance by the Gators against the Falcons, some of it is warranted.
The offense was extremely vanilla as expected, with emphasis on the running game despite 8- and 9-man fronts, to give Texas A&M as little as possible to scout on film. Even so, there were a lot of missed assignments by the O-Line, especially in short-yardage situations, that were inexcusable from a veteran line. Mike Gillislee looks like a solid no. 1 at RB, but there is no established backup or rotation yet.
The passing game was painful to watch, with dropped passes by the WRs and both missed reads and bad throws by both QBs.
Based on getting the majority of the snaps from the 2nd quarter on, Jeff Driskel appears to be the starter going into College Station next week. He is definitely the better runner between he and Brissett, and I’m hopeful the staff allows him to utilize this against the Aggies, as he’s going to be pressured all afternoon. It was interesting to see that Brissett had minimal snaps and passing attempts before sitting, leading me to believe that Coach Pease had made some decisions even before fall practice had ended.
The WR performance is hard to gauge right now with the inefficient QB play, but there were drops and missed assignments that were obvious. This group has to establish some consistency and a vertical threat the next 2 weeks. I’m sure the conservative game plan had something to do with it……then again, maybe I’m not so sure.
The TEs will be relied upon heavily it appears early this season while the QB play (hopefully) improves. Reed and Burton (out of the H-Back position) were open all game, and are playmakers that the QBs have to take advantage of until they are more comfortable in the new offense and can establish a downfield passing threat to back defenses off of the LOS.
What unexpectedly has me worried is the so-so performance of the defense. Perhaps the preseason hype for this unit was off base, as the D-Line failed to get consistent penetration most of the game, and the LBs looked painfully reminiscent of last year’s group in its inability to fill the gaps against a pretty simple run scheme. The DE play will again struggle this season, but there is hope for the future in the performance of Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard, who will get on-the-job training against the SEC as true freshmen.
The secondary’s pass coverage was pretty good, but the quick slants were not adjusted to most of the game, and the tackling was horrendous. Too much reaching and grabbing, and not enough form tackling……worse than anything I saw in 2011. Some young guys like Jaylen Watkins and Jabari Gorman got extended snaps, because Louchiez Purifoy was beaten all day in coverage and couldn’t tackle anyone. Even Matt Elam played a little lazy – hopefully he’s back to last season’s level of play as the competition ramps up, but that was a disappointing effort from one of the team leaders.
Someone in the DT rotation has to step up his play to match that of Sharrif Floyd. Between Hunter, Orr, and Jacobs, there should be enough ability to play off the attention Floyd will get and to start making plays of their own consistently. Everyone got a huge scare when Easley went down with a tweak to his surgically-repaired knee. I still maintain he has been rushed back too soon, and I’m concerned he will not get back to his former level of play until 2013……unless he gets injured again first. His former aggressiveness could be missed all season.
Now it’s on to the start of the SEC season, as Florida travels to Texas A&M with the pressure of not just an inconsistent offense to improve, but facing a program and team extremely motivated to prove it’s worth to the SEC by winning its first conference game and announcing its arrival as an opponent to be reckoned with.
Complicating matters for the Gators is the arrival of a new staff in College Station, as Kevin Sumlin brings his pass-heavy spread attack over from a successful run at Houston. He will have the advantage of scheming up a game plan that likely will have twists that the Florida staff will not see on any Houston game film that is tailored to his new players. However, part of that advantage is hopefully offset by the Aggies having to start a freshman QB, and having their first game against Louisiana Tech postponed by Hurricane Isaac. That should affect their timing and perhaps limit their efficiency, while also causing some mistakes – whether those are penalties or, better yet, turnovers.
Texas A&M does have most of its O-Line return from last year, led by 2 tackles that could be in the first 2 rounds of the NFL Draft after the season. Solid OL play can offset a lot of other issues, and the Gator DL must elevate its play and disrupt the rhythm of the quick passing game that Sumlin employs.
The Aggie defense is led by a strong LB corps that will be coming after the Gator QBs all day long, and forcing the Florida offense to prove it can make plays down the field before they play a more honest scheme. They will have the home crowd advantage and will attempt to dictate the tempo. If the Gators can find some balance between the run and pass, though, they can take advantage of a young secondary and D-Line and control the flow of the game.
Kyle Field will be rocking, and a likely record crowd will be there to see this historic game, including the Visor. The 12th Man will be in force for Aggies, trying to bring home a first SEC win. It is tremendously hard to predict how the game will unfold, as both teams have so many questions to answer in terms of both the performance of its players, and also the coaching staffs.
Will Texas A&M’s players actually come out too hyped, and make a lot of early mistakes that help Florida grab an early lead? Will their young QB be inaccurate or become rattled if the Gator defense comes with pressure and new looks? Can Florida shake off a mediocre effort in week 1 and start to silence the doubters and critics? Will Jeff Driskel be the guy to grab the starting QB job for good and elevate the play of the entire offense? Can the Gator WRs finally make some big plays downfield to take the pressure off the running game?
I am expecting Coach Pease and the Gator offensive coaching staff to unveil some wrinkles in the passing game that allow Driskel to roll out of the pocket and allow a pass/run option to pressure the Aggie LBs and secondary. I have to believe that Dan Quinn and Coach Muschamp have some schemes ready to confuse the young QB and force some mistakes. The Gator defense has to play aggressively and close off the short, quick throws – sitting back and waiting is a bad plan vs. this passing attack.
It’s time for Florida to play with pride for itself and the entire SEC by stepping up with a big-time road win to start the conference season and work on erasing the bad memories of 2011.
Prediction: Florida 23 Texas A&M 20