The Gators got a much needed bounce-back win against CSU, capitalizing on big plays from the special teams to race out to an early lead and then regain momentum after a slow second half start.
The offense looked marginally better, but until they perform against a solid SEC team, it could be more fool’s gold. Franks did hit some long throws, but again left points on the field with slow decisions and late throws. Will he ever develop the mental part of his game? He did take off and run a few times when the field opened up, which is what he should do. The running game still goes in fits and starts. Scarlett broke off a nice TD run, but still missed some holes. Perine continues to play solidly as the 3rd down back, and Pierce again broke off a long run and is pushing for more carries. Davis hobbled off the field after a tackle with what has been diagnosed as a broken foot, and will miss 4-6 weeks. Fortunately the RB position is the deepest on the team. The O-Line seemed to play more cohesively, but, again, they have to play better against better competition. There are still too many missed assignments in pass blocking from experienced guys, which tells you that some of them are playing only because of poor depth. The WRs continue to get open, but Franks again missed some opportunities for big plays. Finally, Toney continues to be criminally underutilized.
The defense actually played better in spurts and looked more disciplined in the run fits by the LBs. Houston continues to push for more playing time, Jackson’s tackling was better, and Joseph actually made some big plays because he was in position and not freelancing. The D-Line did a better job with it’s pass rush off the edge, and this has to continue going forward as the competition improves dramatically in conference play. The secondary had it’s moments, but I’m worried about the coverage between the hashmarks. The safeties are still too soft and occasionally lost in coverage, leaving too much room over the middle for easy completions. At this point, I’m doubting if that changes at least until Shawn Davis returns from injury. Coach Grantham will simply have to blitz more often to try and force quicker throws and generate turnovers.
Special teams led the way, with a fumble recovery, a blocked punt, and a punt return TD by Swain. This unit is the best on the team so far, and has brought some energy to the team. I’m very impressed with McPherson as the PK so far – he has a nice career ahead of him, and already looks steady – especially for a true freshman.
Florida now travels to Knoxville to face another struggling program. This game is not even a shadow of what it once was right now, and neither team looks competitive in the SEC. Tennessee has not looked good at all – the one decent team they played, West Virginia, ran up close to 600 yards and was never challenged, and they have outclassed two weak opponents – eerily similar to Florida so far. The Vols have even more new faces and less experience on their roster than the Gators, and are looking for an identity on both offense and defense. QB Jarrett Guarantano has improved some after being forced into action last year as a freshman and getting beaten up. He has a good deep arm and some mobility, but can be forced into mistakes by a good pass rush. Tennessee relies on RBs Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler to control the clock while WRs Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer are the favorite passing game targets. I expect them to challenge the Gator secondary, which after CJH and CGJ is undistinguished. Tennessee has some SEC talent at the skill positions, but the Vol O-Line has struggled, and Florida’s D-Line has to take advantage of it’s talent advantage and create havoc at the LOS to disrupt timing and possibly create turnovers. It’s time for Coach Grantham to unleash some of the pressure looks he’s touted for and to force Tennessee into things they are uncomfortable doing. The LBs and safeties are simply not good enough in coverage to hold up. I also want to see the tackling continue to improve – both in technique and finishing off ball carriers. The safeties have to improve – now.
The Tennessee defense is the least talented it’s been in memory, relying on a team concept to try and mask individual deficiencies. To date their pass rush has been weak, but can Florida’s O-Line actually protect Franks on the road? The conundrum with how the Gators will attack on offense is that, while Mullen would like to establish the running game to take pressure off of Franks, the Vol secondary is dreadful, and should be taken advantage of by a Florida WR corps that is superior in talent. But, can Franks begin to make throws consistently on time and accurately to take advantage of this mismatch? There will be plenty of opportunities for big plays if the interior O-Line reduces the number of missed assignments and gives Franks a decent pocket and some time. The RBs will need to fight through contact for extra yards, and hopefully will be utilized some in the passing game to force Tennessee to defend the entire field. Pierce will step in for Davis to get more carries, but Scarlett and Perine have to take over the majority of the load and be leaders of the offense. Once again, will Toney finally get the touches he needs to make some big plays?
One thing that can tip the scales Florida’s way is the play of the special teams. This group hopefully can continue to build on it’s early season success and set up the offense a few times with a shorter field. They can change or build on momentum quickly, and with all of the issues on both offense and defense right now, all three units have to play well for this team to win.
This is a huge game for both programs and head coaches. Jeremy Pruitt was way down the list of candidates to get the Tennessee job and has a lot of doubters, while Dan Mullen is trying to change the culture at Florida in all phases of the football program and is hitting some bumps in the road so far. The team that loses this game faces another long, painful season ahead, while the winner at least has something positive to build on despite low expectations going forward. Since both teams are struggling, it looks like the one that plays smarter, protects the football, and more effectively takes advantage of the opponent’s weak secondary will win this one. Fair or not, again the Gators’ fortunes fall on the decision-making ability of Franks, which is a dicey proposition. I’m hoping the advantage in experience on the Florida roster is enough to offset the home-field advantage for the Vols. The Gators desperately need this win to provide some hope and a spark for the rest of the season.
Prediction: Florida 27 Tennessee 24