What to think about these Gators?

It should be easy. Embracing a top 10 and 10-1 team should be as easy as saying yes to a date with the cheerleader captain. Certainly nothing this group of Gators has done off the field or character wise would lead any fan of the Florida Gators not to root them on, but all of that and in the top six of the BCS with only one game left on the schedule, and Florida Gator fans are probably confused.

Oh they cheer. They want them to win, no doubt. But this group of cardiac kids is just maddening in the way they play up or down to their competition. Saturday was much of the same for this Florida unit. A defense that dominates most everyone it plays did so for most of the game and managed a shutout after two missed short field goals. An offense that has been desperate for anything positive in the last four games couldn't do much against one of the worst defenses in FCS football… the division of college football below what the Gators are in.

Defense gets a shutout, offense scores one touchdown on the day.

Yes, the starting quarterback was out. Yes there are injuries up front along the line of scrimmage. Yes the team is worn out, tired, and banged up from a tough and grueling SEC and overall schedule. All of that doesn't matter when you line up against a Jacksonville State team that would be the worst team on your schedule and just about any schedule of any team you face this year. The offense should have been able to roll out the entire second team and run the ball every play and scored four times in the game.

Enough of that.

These are your 2012 Gators. They are the cardiac kids and the guys that are just willing to have you look on in disbelief in the way they play defense and most of the time on special teams, and look on in discontent in the way they play offense. So exactly what should we think about this team?

Well of course I can't tell you what to think, but I can tell you what I think.

I think on defense this year this team has taken the steps they needed it to take to be an elite defense, and an elite defense it is. Same bodies as a year ago, some older, wiser, and physically more mature, but they are all on the same page.

To me, the biggest difference in the defense is the secondary and pass coverage. The young guys just had to grow up and trust in the system and more importantly trust in themselves to make plays. They have absolutely done that. The Gators are tops in the country in pass efficiency defense and they have two of the top four guys in the league in passes defended. Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins are making plays they just did not make a year ago.


Roberson

The defense as a whole is ranked fourth in the country and they already have 26 turnovers compared to 14 they took away a year ago. These are the same guys in year two in a system.

On special teams the Gators have rallied behind the best 1-2 combination in kicker Caleb Sturgis and punter Kyle Christy. Sturgis has lived up to and exceeded the hype he had coming out of high school. Christy has made one of the more meteoric rises from year one to year two of any player in recent memory. Sprecial teams have also capitalized greatly on blocks and fake kicks in different games this year.


Sturgis

The offense of course is different, but I will say for the most part we are getting about what we expected in the preseason. As a matter of fact, this is a phrase head coach Will Muschamp has continued to use in the last four weeks. "This is what we thought we were this summer."

This offense just can't get out of its own way with penalties and lacks sufficient skill to consistently make up for those mistakes when they get caught in constant 2nd and long and 3rd and long situations.

This is the talent and skill we have on offense. There are pieces to build around like a couple of quarterbacks in Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett that have shown glimpses of good things. There is the fullback that may be the best in the country in Hunter Joyer. Trey Burton has been a consistent weapon that still has another year to play for the Gators.

Three seniors and a junior that have had bright moments in Frankie Hammond, Omarius Hines, Mike Gillislee, and Jordan Reed have all probably played above expectation this year but all have their limits and will likely all be gone after the season.


Hines

Quinton Dunbar has played like he has been talked about from the staff and despite a big drop Saturday has routinely made the difficult catch. We have had good moments from Solomon Patton who looks to have a bigger role next year.

But none of the guys above should be a number one receiver in the SEC.

The offensive line was the praise of the year for the first half of the season and now they can't get out of their own way it seems. They do get blamed for things out of their control, but they aren't living up to the hype they received at midseason. Not sure who or what to blame there.

There have been masterful moments throughout the season in all phases of the team. Who can forget the halftime adjustments this defense made against Texas A&M in game two. Who can forget the adjustment in the offensive running game to bring in the extra linemen against LSU? My favorite call of the year is to allow the clock to run against Louisiana and give yourselves just 12 seconds as they had to punt the ball with the game tied... knowing that your best chance to win in regulation is to block a punt and either get the short field for field goal or to score on the block. Bingo, they all worked.

All of this to say…

The parts of this team that are working are the parts of this team we expected to work well before the season and they are going beyond expectations in my opinion. The offense has the benefit of having two-thirds of the team really playing well enough where they don't have to. I think that has limited some of what they have tried to do and in effect may have hampered the growth a little bit as Muschamp played a little passive early in the season in order to not make mistakes and allow the defense and kicking game to win it.

This ‘game plan' has worked 10 of 11 times and may very well be 11 for 11 if we don't fumble the ball two yards from the goal line. As mentioned above, if that happened, this team could very well be ranked number one in the country.

Simply amazing.


In all honesty, could we have asked for anything more from the team as a whole in the preseason? I couldn't. I had them pegged at 8-4 with the toughest schedule.

So what do I think? I think I am going to enjoy this team for what it is. It has it's deficiencies in places and they have maneuvered and managed those deficiencies for most of the season to 10 wins. They are 7-0 at home for only the third time in UF history. They have without a doubt played hard in every game. They have represented well, even if production hasn't shown for it.

Think of it this way. USC (the Trojan variety) has one of the more prolific offenses in the country and probably more talent on offense than anyone in the country. They were preseason number one and they are staring down the barrell of a five-loss season right now. How happy would you be with that?

In the end, I am going to view this team as a huge building block for what I think will be a successful program and one that has a direction of where it wants to go.


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