Florida Gators Self Scout

The Florida Gators as much as they are riding high with a 5-0 start and residing in the top five of the country, they still have questions to answer. After last week's performance against LSU, the defense seems to have found its groove, but the offense was very limited in the passing game while surprisingly being able to run it very effectively against the vaunted Tiger defense. Here is more.

Quarterback

Sophomore Jeff Driskel (6-3, 235) can run very well. He has a huge prototype arm and all the intangibles you are looking at in a quarterback. The one thing he is lacking is experience and he is getting that week in and week out in the toughest conference in America.

He has remained efficient in the passing game and is currently ranked 26th in the nation. However, the efficiency comes from a short passing game for the young quarterback. He has all of only four touchdown passes on the season, but also only one interception.

The Gators gave up eight sacks in game two of the season against Texas A&M, and six of them were on Driskel. In the two games following, Driskel did much better with the ball and under pressure only giving up one more. Against LSU he tried to do too much and was sacked five times in the game all in the first half.

He is most effective when he uses his feet in the game plan to compliment his arm and help open things up for the passing game.

Running Back

Senior Mike Gillislee (5-11, 208) is the back bone of the offense right now. He is coming off the best game of his career and ran for an astonishing 34 carries Saturday piling up 146 yards.

Gillislee leads the SEC in rushing now at almost 110 yards per game and really is a complete back. Florida head coach Will Muschamp has praised his ability in pass blocking as well.

Gillislee is backed up by true freshman Matt Jones (6-3, 230) and sophomore Mack Brown (6-0, 216). Jones has quickly learned all the stuff outside of running the ball very quickly and so he sees a lot of playing time when Gillislee needs a rest. He is also the best pass catcher of the group. Brown may run the hardest of any of them and he has been used in critical situations early this year to get first downs and has produced. Against LSU, Brown may have earned the right to be in the second unit and backing up Gillislee.

Sophomore fullback Hunter Joyer (5-11, 245) has to be talked about when mentioning the best fullbacks in the conference. He is an excellent blocker and is often times the reason Gillislee gets the hole he is aiming for.

Two H-back players are really important to the offense junior Trey Burton (6-3, 240) and senior Omarius Hines (6-2, 225) could line up anywhere on offense. Burton has 165 yards of total offense this year while Hines has 136 yards and is starting to be more of a weapon.

Receivers and Tight Ends

Senior Frankie Hammond (6-0, 187) has emerged as a play maker for Florida so far. He has the two longest touchdowns on the year (50 and 65 yards) and he has been pretty reliable. He has a 20.2 yard average on his 10 catches this year amassing 202 yards. He has also dropped more balls than any other receiver and fumbled in the game against LSU.

Sophomore Quinton Dunbar (6-1, 189) has 12 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown so far in 2012. He is becoming a more common target for Driskel as the season progresses and has somewhat propensity for the exciting catch.

Other complimentary receivers of note include junior Andre Debose (5-11, 189) who has more big plays under his belt in his career than any receiver on the team, but caught his fort catch of the season against LSU. Solomon Patton is the other and while he has only caught one pass for 17 yards he has 10 rushes on "Jet Sweeps" for 74 yards and is constantly in motion in this Brent Pease offense.

Florida's starting tight end Jordan Reed (6-3, 243) is Driskel's most common target and leads the team with 19 catches for 223 yards and a touchdown. He is the best physical mismatch for Florida opponents that the Gators have. Vanderbilt will have to stick a big safety on him to cover him adequately. Florida's other best options at tight end are Trey Burton and Omarius Hines mentioned earlier and they have six catches each totaling 158 yards.

Offensive Line

The Gators are averaging only 373 yards per game on offense, but a very solid 5.6 yards every time they snap the ball. The coaches continue to sing the praises for the offensive line as to why this is happening. In fact, they have blocked and protected very well despite the heavy sack numbers in two games this season.

They have had to do their work with two of the top three tackles missing all or a lot of playing time as sophomore Chaz Green (6-5, 310) has missed some and senior Matt Patchan (6-6, 290) has missed all five games this season. The top tackle now is senior Xavier Nixon who has played well this season.

Inside, junior center Jonotthan Harrison (6-4, 299) is in his second season snapping the ball and has been very solid. Junior Jon Halapio (6-3, 321) gets more praise from the coaching staff than any lineman in the group and is coming off a couple of all-star type performances. Senior James Wilson (6-4, 323) is in his first full year of starting and is also producing good results up front. The staff will tell you the line is the strength of the offense and they have started to yield some positive depth up front to go along with talent.

Bottom Line On Offense

Florida was having fits with pass protection against LSU so surprisingly they switched to a big power running game and man-handled the very talented Tiger front line. Florida finished with 25 rushes in 25 plays on the day and absolutely dominated in the second half.

Pease wants to use motion in his offense and you will see it on almost every play. That has been where Driskel has been impressive, he has really learned how to deal with all the motions and make adjustments on the fly given what the defense shows.

The main motion guys are Burton, Hines, and Patton. Depending on what Vanderbilt does, one of those three could very well be the main target in this game.

Little by little they are incorporating Driskel's excellent athletic ability into the offense with him running the ball. A team that had real issues getting short yardage plays early in the season, is now winning 3rd downs and a lot of it has come with Driskel running the ball.

The big thing we have yet to see is Driskel take over in the passing game. He has the tools, but is still learning and they have been able to protect him in that regard through this stage of the season.

If Florida stays away from senseless penalties and turnovers against Vanderbilt, they should be able to produce due to the multiple ways they can and will attack.

Defensive Line

Inside the Gators start two seasoned guys in senior nose tackle Omar Hunter (6-0, 313) and junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (6-3, 303). Floyd has been playing well for over a year now and is a candidate for post season awards. Hunter is really coming on strong in his senior season and may have played his best games ever in the last two weeks. They are backed up by two players playing well in sophomore Leon Orr (6-5, 305) and Damien Jacobs (6-3, 284). On the outside the play has been solid but the best thing about the ends is the depth that is being built. Defensive end starter Dominique Easley (6-2, 280) has a quick first step and is hard to block. Behind him are two guys that are stepping up big in senior Earl Okine (6-7, 287) and promising true freshman Jonathan Bullard (6-3, 271).

The BUCK position is a hybrid SAM linebacker and rush defensive end spot. The starter is senior Lerentee McCray (6-3, 249) and he has arguably had the best season so far of any of the front four. He has certainly been Florida's most consistent pass rusher. Behind him is true freshman Dante Fowler (6-3, 277) who has really played well and been a bonus up front.

Linebackers

This is currently the thinnest position on the team outside of running back. Senior WILL linebacker Jelani Jenkins (6-0, 237) returned to action against LSU but pulled his hamstring early in the game. He has played about a game and a half of action this year and is a leader on the defense. Jenkins is adept at rushing the passer in blitz packages and very good in pass coverage. True freshman Antonio Morrison (6-1, 218) backs him up and has played very well, but can get caught out of position a bit.

At the MIKE, All-SEC candidate Jon Bostic (6-1, 246) is a sure tackler but hasn't been the ‘thumper' the fans are always looking for. The coaches love him and he along with Jenkins are leaders on the defense. He is second on the team in tackles, leads the team in tackles for loss, and is also excellent in pass coverage. He is backed up by junior Michael Taylor (6-0, 226) a sure tackler and a ‘thumper' that at times gets out of position.

The Gators play a lot of nickel and will go without a SAM linebacker but when there is a SAM it is a battle between junior Darrin Kitchens (6-1, 229) and sophomore Neiron Ball (6-3, 231). Ball seems to be the coaches' choice right now with his size, but he missed all of last year with a neurological condition so he is still getting back on his feet a bit and should improve drastically as the season progresses. Kitchens played in spots last year and when called on he really produced, leading the team in tackles in both games that he started.

Secondary

Junior strong safety Matt Elam (5-10, 202) is probably the best player on the team right now. He is third on the team in tackles (26), has two tackles for loss including a sack, he has an interception, and two pass break ups, and forced a fumble that was maybe the play of the game against LSU last week. The LSU game was probably the best game of his career. He loves playing near the line of scrimmage and that allows the Gators' nickel package really be more like a regular defense.

Senior free safety Josh Evans (6-2, 201) leads the team in tackles (28) and hits hard. He has been guilty of a missed tackle or two, but he usually brings some punch when he comes to the fight on a tackle.

In the nickel package sophomore Pop Saunders (5-9, 189) gets the start. With the lack of a better comparison I would say Saunders is a poor man's Tyrann Matthieu. He's a little bigger, but he's not nearly as fast. Saunders has great quickness and like Matthieu he has football savvy and a sense of where the ball will be at all times. He missed the first two games of the year but had an interception in the last game against Kentucky.

At cornerback it is a three player rotation for two spots. Junior Jaylen Watkins (6-0, 187) is in the mix with sophomores Marcus Roberson (6-0, 178) and Loucheiz Purifoy (6-1, 189). All three like to play physical and all three mark a big improvement from what the gators fielded a year ago. In 2011 the cornerback position yielded one interception on the season. In 2012, they already have three and have had many more chances. Watkins has two interceptions both coming in the last two games.

Bottom Line On Defense

A week ago I was looking for the defense to finally play up to their potential. They did just that holding LSU to just 46 yards rushing and 200 total yards on the day while forcing two turnovers.

The best thing about this defense is while they have some star players, none of them really stand out on the stat sheet because they really have learned to play like a team. The first of the Texas A&M game was a wake up call where they often times played out of position missed their gaps, or just decided to do their own thing up front against the Aggies. A half time change saw them come out and play inspired ball. They haven up only 7 points total in the second half in the last four games.

The Gators are deep and talented across the board on defense and really don't have a weakness with the strength being numbers and maybe the secondary.

Special Teams

Florida is solid in the return game and coverage game, but not spectacular. There really isn't much to write here except Andre Debose can be a weapon in returning the ball and has been in the past. It hasn't materialized just yet this season.

Florida senior kicker Caleb Sturgis is special and has already set a Gator record with seven field goals of 50+ yards in his career. Will Muschamp wouldn't take anyone else's kicker to replace his.

Sophomore Kyle Christy has been a great surprise this season. He is second in the conference in punting average at 46.5 yard average which also amounts to fifth best in the country. He has been able to flip the field a few times this season to allow a little breathing room for the coaching staff and their play calling. He pinned LSU inside the teen yard line three times a week ago.

Bottom Line on Special Teams

The Gators need to get Debose going. He can be a weapon on special teams and has shown it in the past. They feel like they can win games with Sturgis and great about their punting situation as well with Christy.
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