DEFENSE; A tale of two halves…
It definitely was a Jekyl and Hyde game for the Florida Gator defense. The Aggies scored on three of four possessions in the first half and scored on none in the second, and forced 4 three-and-outs in that second half.
In the "great but not so great" category, senior free safety Josh Evans led the team in tackles for the game with eight. Good for him, but you don't really you're your free safety making all those tackles and especially with only 21:40 gone in the game.
My play calling issues for the defense really came at the end of the first half.
After three series of watching the quarterback run with the ball on the series before half, the defense was playing safe and allowed a 10 yard run with over a minute and a half left on the clock. Too safe if you ask me. The next play and they only rush three finally with pressure he slides right and throws for (25) to wide open man.
To juxtapose that at the end of the game in the next to last series of the game for the Aggies, they had a 5 wide set and Gators have 5 up front (one extra). The QB ran a draw and ran wide where he eventually is run out of bounds by Roberson (0). The next play was a quick bubble screen thrown too quick and incomplete (0). And finally they learned about his running and on 3rd and 13, the Dline pinched from outside, inside guys stayed pat and excellent coverage, the quarterback scrambles and Bostic runs him out of bounds for no gain.
After the game Will Muschamp shed some light into what was going on. While all of us were praising the play calling adjustments that were being made, what was really happening was the players started playing their assignments.
I liken it to the difference between the 2005 Gator defense and the 2006 Gator defense. You basically had all of the same players except for Jarvis Moss' emergence in 2006. The difference was the unit, especially up front, learned to play as a unit and not selfishly or often times just not trying to "make the play" on every down. If a defensive lineman constantly misplays his gap assignment in order to take the easy way to the ball carrier, he makes it easy on an offense to scheme against them.
What we saw is the staff insert you hg guys into the starting lineup to start the second half and those kids played their assignment. Once the message was sent, the young guys still played a lot, but the older guys learned a real lesson. Things went well from that point on.
If they had played that way the entire game, there likely would be a different outcome. The second half defense was much more like the 2006 one and the first like 2005 with basically the same players. We will find out in short order how much of a lesson was learned.
The thing I think I like the most about the line play is that they are playing so many guys. At one position we are seeing Dominique Easley, Earl Okine, and Jonathan Bullard play and play a lot. Okine was in on the first drive, Bullard started the second half. Easley and Bullard combined for 10 tackles.
Lerentee McCray is quickly becoming the best pass rusher and he probably was before the season started. He missed all of spring with an injury. He was only credited with three tackles but had a forced fumble as well. He should have been credited with two hurries, and I am still not sure how he didn't force the fumble in the fourth quarter on the QB as he was running by the sideline. All but one time the quarterback dropped back to pass he was chased from the pocket and McCray was doing the chasing a lot. His lone sore spot was the PF penalty on the first drive that changed the down and distance from 3rd and goal to a first down and they scored from there. Still, he is putting heat on the quarterback regularly.
This defense may be better suited with easley inside
I have not been a big Leon Orr fan but I will say when he was pressed into duty on Saturday, he looked pretty good. On consecutive plays in the second half it looked like this from Orr. Quick screen outside and Orr sniffs it out and bolts to the receiver causing him to come back inside and a loss of two yards. Orr on the next play fights off the block from the guard and hits the back in the backfield (-2).
Sharrif Floyd was active up front and finished with five tackles on the day. His backup in Damien Jacobs played a lot in the game as well. I'm not sure that Orr didn't outplay Omar Hunter on the day. I will say that Hunter seems to be running a lot better, but his inside play has not much to show for it. I thought Dante Fowler was serious about not over-playing the ball and he may have been a little too inactive when in there.
The linebackers were key in the game. They relied heavily on the defensive linemen to play their assignments and once the linemen did that in the second half, the linebackers made the plays they were supposed to.
Jon Bostic and Mike Taylor each had a sack for Florida. Like the defensive line we are seeing the whole second team linebackers playing as well. However, Saturday was a bit more out of necessity than a plan. Jelani Jenkins went out in the first series and was replaced by true freshman Antonio Morrison. Jenkins had a hell of a hit when he broke his thumb, but Morrison plays to hurt people and was flying around all over the place. If he can continue to play that way and still partially under control, he can be special. Morrison always sticks his nose in there to make the big hit.
Two of senior Jonathan Bostic's five tackles went for a loss (one was the sack). He also had a pass break up playing n the short zone in the second half. He did get burned on a screen call where he lost outside containment on the RB and then was blocked by a lineman out of the play. Still, a good day for the Gator MIKE LB.
Bostic played a good game
Bostic's backup is Michael Taylor and I thought he had a so-so day. He had a couple of big hits but he also went for a five yard ride from Aggie running back Christine Michael. He also lost his gap in short yardage and gave up a few yards to get to goal line on the Aggies first touchdown. Taylor got a sack on a great defensive call where the Gators lined up in a 3-3 and brought all three linebackers dropping the two DE's into coverage. Taylor ran untouched for the sack. Taylor also had a big tackle on the last Aggie drive when he stuffed the back for 2 yards on 1st and 10.
There were not many drop back passes from the Aggie quarterback. All but one there seemed to be pressure coming and some of that pressure was forced because of coverage sacks. The 25 yard pass just before the half was the only one that was not defended and someone lost coverage on that one. Otherwise, the coverage seemed tight all day.
We saw in the first drive two pass break ups in the end zone, back to back, by Marcus Roberson and Matt Elam that were touchdowns a year ago with this same secondary. They are just a lot more comfortable now and able to play with their eyes on the ball when it is in the air.
Elam continues to play well and he forced a sack by Bullard and Floyd when he blitzed from his nickel position during the second drive for the Aggies.
Josh Evans was much maligned mainly because he was put out of the game by a hard hit, and because he took a bad angle on a touchdown run by the quarterback, but the kid finished with eight tackles in just over 20 minutes of play. Like I mentioned before that is way too many for a free safety to make and feel comfortable about your front seven, but he was there to make those tackles including a great shoe string tackle of the speedster Williams of the Aggies.
The secondary has had their issues with wrapping up the ball carrier. Jaylen Watkins and Loucheiz Purifoy both had their shots at bringing down a couple of receivers and let them get first downs after contact. This is the part of the game that I think the secondary needs the most work. They are constantly in the right position to make the play, just need to finish and make the tackle.
Bottom Line on the Defense…
I said before the season that I thought Jonathan Bullard would be a guy that could change the complexion of this defense. With Ronald Powell out, it would seem that Dante Fowler would be the most important guy, but Bullard actually allows the staff to make some position changes up front to get the best four player up there. While I think it was a necessity to move Sharrif Floyd inside because he is great there, it appears to me that Dominique Easley may still be suited better inside. He was eaten up by long armed tackles in this game and his quickness is a real mismatch for guards inside. If Bullard can start and Okine is ready to play the move of Easley inside will help with the fact that Omar Hunter isn't doing a whole lot right now.
At linebacker, I think Bostic is playing great. Jenkins didn't get a lot of time to show himself in the game before being pulled, but he was pretty silent in the season opener, although I think he is a plus. We haven't gotten a lot of the SAM yet, but they have played a lot of nickel defense without a SAM linebacker on the field.
Backups Mike Taylor and Antonio Morrison are hard hitters. Taylor seems off and on making the right play while Morrison seems like he is playing out of his mind right now and doing all the right things.
As I mentioned, if the secondary can learn to wrap up a few times a game there would be less scoring drives in both games so far. They have depth although that took a hit with Cody Riggs out of the game. I liked the play of Jabari Gorman who filled in for the hurt Josh Evans. Gorman laid a serious lick on the quarterback in the third quarter. The secondary is so much better right now than this time last year. It isn't even close.
OFFENSE: A work in progress sees improvement…
In the game against Bowling Green the offense had 14 first downs total and on Saturday they had 21 first downs (9 rushing, 9 passing and 3 via penalty). For his second real outing of his career sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel was 13-for-16 for 162 yards. I'm going to pick on him not throwing the ball away in a minute but the 13 of 16 is a great stat.
If you take away the sacks that were part of Driskel's issue of not throwing the ball away, the gators had over 200 yards rushing the ball. That was against a top 8 rush defense from a year ago. Another great statistic.
The issues with play calling again this week had to do with running up the gut with too many defenders in the box. We saw this early and late in the game. In the second series their were two plays that stood out, a run with Matt Jones with nine in the box, motion to opposite side of the run and no defender followed the TE in motion. A seasoned quarterback would have seen the defnse's aligmnet and changed the call, but we don't hav a seasoned quarterback yet. In that same drive, the Gators had 31 personnel (3 tight ends and a running back) and ran an inside run to the left that was completely covered, Mike Gillislee cuts to right and gets stuffed for (0).
The last drive had one run that was similar, which was an inside run and Mack Brown has to break it outside, nothing there. There were nine in the box.
My worst play call of the day on offense came on first down of the last series. I thought it was a total unnecessary and foolish run with 53 seconds left on the clock and Mack Brown gets seven hard yards up the middle on an inside on 1st and 10. At that point all they needed was three kneel downs and go home. A fumble from Brown there and it could cost them the game.
I'm going to start by saying that jeff Driskel played a heck of a game on Saturday. He was in a very hostile environment and there were times he absolutely put his team on his back and carried it, especially in the final quarter with some runs that kept the clock running. That said, the first cure for his ailments is to learn to throw the ball away and it is something we all know.
Driskel showed real promise for a very bright future
I counted five times in the game for (-28 yards ) where it was on the quarterback for holding on to the ball too long or trying to run around defenders, or not seeing a blitzing nickel player and getting sacked. Trust me, I know this will get better, but we aren't here to criticize or memorialize the future, just what happened in the game on Saturday. There was a bubble screen in the fourth quarter that was particularly perplexing and I don't have any idea why he didn't throw it, instead he took a five yard loos and a sack when he ran out of bounds.
Outside of those instances, he was marvelous. He showed deft accuracy on the short and long throws. He put the ball on the money on slants and maybe the best pass of his career was the 37 yard corner pass to Omarius Hines.
No doubt the best thing about Driskel for Coach Pease and company his his rifle arm and quick release. He gets rid of the ball in a hurry and has great accuracy on his throws.
Once he learns the progressions necessary in this offense to make it really work, he will be lethal. I actually believe Pease is going to be a guy that puts him in easy situations by mostly calling plays that will have his first read open, but he will still have to learn the rest. Then when he learns to play that fine line of knowing when to take off and run or not, he will take it to the next level. We saw a couple of those late in the game on Saturday.
Running Back and Fullback
The star of the game was of course running back Mike Gillislee and he has delivered early this year. He really has all the tools with vision, speed, and power. He just needs to stay healthy. I could go on and on about Gillislee, but we all know what he brings to the table. He isn't perfect though, he missed two assignments in pass protection and he gave up one sack because of it. Bu he is a good protector when he follows his assignment.
One guy we kind of forget about at times, but will be a bog part of this offense moving forward is Trey Burton. He just knows how to do too much for them not to use him in different ways and his versatility means that Pease can draw up a ton of stuff. Folks wondered what we didn't show in the first game, well burton hardly touched the ball then and he got the first pass from scrimmage on Saturday. He needs to give the ball up a little more as the "wildcat" quarterback, but other than that I think he played a good game and contributed to the win. Plays like the shuttle pass on the fake field goal are things we forget sometimes, but he did a great job. At the same time I think he was over used a few times in the past and it seems we won't get that from this coordinator.
I will put Matt Jones and Mack brown in the same category here. They are both having to grow up fast with playing time and both stepped on the field in crunch time on Saturday and delivered. I think one issue they are both having is that the battery between the snap and the hand off and the run to the line of scrimmage is a little slower tan it is with Gillislee. Once that timing improves, they will hit the holes a little faster and be on the spot when the hole is created at the line of scrimmage. A few times they both had to cut back out of the hole because a slanting defender was already there and had the timing been right, they would be past that slanting defensive lineman. Brown seems to run harder of the two while Jones seems a little more elusive. Jones also gave up a sack when he missed a pass blocking assignment. Jones also caught a tough five yard pass from Driskel late in the game that helped get a first down and run the clock.
Mack Brown stepped up late in the game
And I almost forgot Hunter Joyer again, but who can forget the three guys he blocked on Gillislee's last touchdown run. Gilly set him up well by cutting in and then out again but it allowed Joyer to get his hands on one guy and then use that defender to bowl the other two right out of the play. It was beautiful and the kid knows how to lower his head and block people.
Receivers and Tight ends
There really have been no surprises in the receiving groups. They came into the season praising the play of tight end Jordan Reed, the consistency of Frankie Hammond, and the play making of Quinton Dunbar. We have seen some of most of that this season and in this game.
I guess the big issue so far is Hammond and the three drops that he has had in the two games. That isn't the criteria for a consistent player. Still, he has had some big plays and in the game Saturday a bevy of serious blocks that have helped his teammates do some big things. Right now we take the drops because he has had some tough catches as well and made some plays.
Jordan reed continues to be the best receiving threat on the field. He was my preseason pick to be the biggest surprise this year on offense and so far he has lived up to it. Reed is a big play waiting to happen and made a couple of them on Saturday. I am so pleasantly surprised by his blocking now, he is an absolute complete tight end which is something I didn't expect from him. I watched him continuously bull his guy down the line on run plays when he lined up at the line of scrimmage. He had 5 catches for 59 yards and his 30 yard catch and run on the right sideline was outstanding for a guy that weighs almost 240 pounds.
One thing that has gone a little unnoticed has been the blocking of the receivers. I mentioned Hammonds, but both Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose were responsible for big blocks on long runs on Saturday. These guys are buying into it all right now and as Driskel is able to play better in the pocket, they will sta5rt seeing those dividends down the road. Dunbar made a tough catch of a Driskel laser in the first series to open the second half.
The more I watch him I believe that Omarius Hines is a receiver and not a running back. Now that Mack Brown and Matt Jones are coming around we may see them push Hines more to be a slot guy. His 37 yard corner catch was great and one of the biggest plays of the season so far.
Solomon Patton is making big plays for Florida
Lastly, we have seen them run the reverses to Solomon Patton almost without fault. Two went for first downs on Saturday and a third in the opener went for good yardage. Patton has a knack of making one defender miss and he gets the ball quickly in open space on their end-arounds.
This unit has been the guilty party more times than not in the offensive penalty category but it happened only once on Saturday with a false start on Xavier Nixon and it didn't result in a setback as the Gators continued the drive and got a touchdown.
I also think this unit takes too much flack for not doing their job. Are they the road graders we have seen at Alabama in the last few years? No, but they usually do their job and a bunch of times finish hard on their blocks.
One of the more criticized linemen is right guard Jon Halapio and I tried to watch his every snap to see what was up. Halapio does miss two or three plays a game where he whiffs on a guy and it seems that they are really stand out plays for the defense for some reason, but That is only about 5% of his time on the field. What you see if you really follow him on every play is a guy that when he gets a clean shot on someone he takes it. I noticed quite a few times where he was far from the play but able to square up on his man and plant him on the ground. Coaches love that stuff and it takes it's toll on defenders during the course of a game. There was one sack that was not his fault, and during the course of the play Halapio peeled off of his running and just planted a lineman on the turf. I did see him give up a sack and in the last drive of the game in short yardage, he passed up his closest man to block to go to a second level linebacker to block and the man he passed made the tackle. It was 3rd and 1 and that one yard was so important it wasn't a good play.
Jonotthan Harrison has been great snapping the ball, but I did notice a whiff or two on Saturday. Still his overall game was great.
I think all the guys missed on whiffs here and there, but overall they really played a tough game and blocked well. As Muschamp said the Aggie defense was really all or nothing, they played like they were outmanned so they came hard, slanted a lot, and took chances. That is one reason there were so many big runs and tackles for loss.
Xavier Nixon did play very well for the second week in a row.
Bottom line on the offense…
Muschamp said it after the game. This offense is going to be like this. We are starting to see some plays in the receiving game, but the quarterback still has a long way to go. In the meantime, they want to rely on a running game that produced 200 yards rushing without the sacks and play smart football.
I still think he may be goiong too far at times pushing the smash mouth style with so many defenders residing in the tackle box, but it is hard to change calls with a young quarterback like the gators have.
Once Driskel gets beyond that fine line of when to run and when to throw and once he really learns his progressions, this offense will be a lot better. Once the running backs are hitting the holes hard like Gilly, this offense will be better. Still, there are not a bevy of play makers on offense but enough skill to win some big ball games if put into position to do so.
the funny thing is the offense may have been better in the first half than the second half. Because of the flow of the game it didn't seem that way. The offense scored ten points and two times on three possessions in the first half and 10 point nand two times on six real possessions in the second half. Four of nine possessions is not a bad ratio against a good opponent. Special teams
Muschamp praised his special teams after the game. Sophomore Kyle Christy had a 48-yard punt in the second quarter and added a season-long 55-yard kick in the fourth quarter. He averaged 47.2 yards on his five punts and put two inside of the 20-yard line.
Kicker Caleb Sturgis connected on a 51-yard field goal late in the second quarter to extend his school-record total of successful field goals beyond 50 yards to seven. He also had a 51-yarder in the season opener versus Bowling Green. Sturgis was two for two on field goals and extra point kicks.
Florida ran a fake field goal in the first quarter that saw redshirt freshman snapper Kyle Crofoot snap to redshirt junior holder John Crofoot, who had a shovel pass to Trey Burton for a three-yard gain.
I have often heaped the praise on special teams coordinator D.J./ Durkin, but we need to give Muschamp a little atta-boy also. With injuries coming up all over the field, the Gators were missing a gunner on punt team because Cody Riggs was hurt and when Chaz green went down with cramps, his spot on the field needed to be taken. Muschamp called a time outs on a field goal and a punt to make sure replacements knew what they were doing. That may not seem significant, but mess one of those up on Saturday and this game may have had a different outcome.
The lone setback on special teams was the Andre Debose fumble on the fair catch on the last punt. The only thing I can forgive him for it is because it was kicked from the sunlight to the shadows cast in the stadium and may have been difficult to find in the air. It is more likely he just lost his concentration.