Still on Top at Rocky Top
All that talk…….all that excitement……all those toothless fans……and still another beatdown administered by Florida to Tennessee.
The Vols certainly made it easy for the Gator coaching staff to motivate the players, trash-talking all week about everything they were going to do to the Gators, and there was even a debate as to whether to rush the field. Maybe one of their fans could have helped catch Trey Burton or Frankie Hammond as they scorched the field for the tying score and the backbreaker. Stupid is as stupid does, as another case of Volsheimers is documented for the record.
It looks like Jeff Driskel is learning with every game, and that is an encouraging sign going forward. He kept his cool in the pocket, ran only when necessary (but with great effect), but is starting to learn that using his mobility can help in the passing game as well. After a sluggish start, the O-Line started to wear down the Tennessee front seven, and the big plays came in bunches in the second half. Still some missed assignments and some really dumb penalties (Xavier Nixon), but this group is starting to gel, and it’s fun to watch. Still, a lot of improvement is needed as the tough competition is coming up in October.
Mike Gillislee continues to show toughness by playing through a groin injury, but is still producing at a high level, and leads the SEC in rushing. The matchup problems caused by Jordan Reed and Trey Burton are being exploited by Brent Pease, who is showing Florida fans what a real OC does, after the disasters known as the Dazzler and the Cheeseburger. Now we are seeing glimpses of what the WR corps can start to contribute, with Hammond and Dunbar beginning to get some looks. The production at the WR position is still the weakness of the offense, and must improve as better defenses to come will really squeeze the box and force Driskel to make plays downfield. Can Coach Pease find a way to unleash the athletic ability of Andre Debose, who is starting to appear on milk cartons as the missing WR?
Another slow start for the Gator defense, as they allowed that punk Tyler Bray to make some big plays down the field throughout the first half, and this group is still giving up way too many 3rd-and-long conversions. A new threat was unveiled, as Lerentee McCray was in beast mode all night – he may very well be showing up on NFL draft boards now, and not in the late rounds. It was a solid if unspectacular performance by the rest of the D-Line rotation, as they started to get hits on Bray in the second half and apply enough pressure to make him inaccurate.
The performance by the LB corps was OK, as they tackled well in space and did a decent job of pass coverage on the short throws. Still, too many unfilled holes against the run, and this has to improve. Jon Bostic was flying from sideline to sideline making plays, and Tank Morrison continues to show signs he can be an future all-SEC level player. The rest of the group needs to contribute more big plays, though.
The secondary had it’s struggles, but you have to give credit to the QB, WRs and TE they were facing – possibly the best they will face in the SEC all season. To their credit the CBs played physical and did not back down even after giving up some big plays. Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins had their hands full, but battled. Louchiez Purifoy is still learning, and gets beat too often. Matt Elam, Pop Saunders, and Josh Evans were in position most of the game at safety, not allowing the home run that could have turned momentum strictly Tennessee’s way.
Finally, the special teams were exactly that – another great game from Kyle Christy, Caleb Sturgis is the best PK in the SEC, and the coverage teams were excellent. The only problem is the continued timidity of the punt returners. Too many times they have allowed short kicks to roll for an additional 10-20 yards, giving a still-growing offense that much harder a task. Maybe Will Muschamp is still gun shy after the disaster that was 2011, but he has a lot of gifted runners available to make things happen.
Next up is Kentucky, as Florida seeks it’s 26th straight victory against them. The Mildcats are coming off an embarrassing home loss to Western Kentucky, and can’t be a good frame of mind heading to the Swamp.
The offense has to remain focused on solid execution……they are simply not good enough yet to look past an SEC opponent. It’s time for some backups to contribute this week at RB and WR. Perhaps Jacoby Brissett can get some snaps at QB if things go well through 3 quarters. The defense should be too much for Kentucky’s offense to have consistent success against. Jumping on the Mildcats from the start and getting them in an early hole would be the best scenario. I need to see continued development from the backups at LB and DB.
I hope that many key players can get some rest this week. In a perfect world, Gillislee and Dominique Easley would not play at all, but maybe the staff wants them to get enough snaps to stay sharp. This could be a great opportunity to develop some more depth before the bigger games come along.
It will be interesting to see how the Florida players react to the early success so far. Will they stay focused on the current opponent, or have another sloppy performance at home, looking ahead to October? That’s the challenge facing the Gator coaching staff – it would be nice to see some maturity in preparations this week by the players, and a professional effort on Saturday. However, there are still many young and/or inexperienced players at many critical positions, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a middling affort……but I’d like to be pleasantly surprised.
Prediction: Florida 34 Kentucky 13