Florida, which had the No. 1 offense in the SEC a year ago, will try to improve its points per game statistic against a Spartan defense that pitched a shutout in its opener against I-AA Grambling. Defensively the Gators will try to create more turnovers in 2003 and will face a senior quarterback in Scott Rislov who did not have an interception in his first start against the Tigers.
The Spartan offense rolled up 463 yards against Grambling and 335 in the air. Rislov was 24-of-38 with no interceptions and completed passes to many different receivers. The Spartans are a one back, three wide offense that looks to establish the short passing game and the zone running game. Jamall Broussard and Kendrick Starling each had four receptions a week ago. Running Back Yonus Davis made an impact as a true freshman with 69 yards rushing and six receptions. San Jose State was 24th in the country in passing offense a year ago.
The one-back attack employed by Fitz Hill is a conservative passing offense. The Spartans use the quick screen to the wideouts as well as anyone UF will see. The Spartan receivers block well on the perimeter and put pressure on the corners. The Spartans use a variety of crossing routes including the big athletic tight ends. Rislov will use everyone in the screen packages even the running backs. It is a similar offense to the West Coast offense used by many NFL teams. The philosophy of throwing short to guys who can make plays is much like the Oakland Raiders. The running game is built on zone blocking which allows the running backs to pick and choose where they want to run. The offensive line is not as big as Florida's, but does a good job of staying on its blocks. Left Guard Joseph Hayes is an outstanding inside run blocker. Their other favorite run play is the counter to the wing back's side which can really put pressure on the defensive ends. UF's secondary must wrap up on quick slants and outs because the Spartan receivers are very good after the catch.
Gators on the Hot Seat: Linebackers
The Gator linebackers, who are minus two players this week, will be put under pressure by the crossing routes and short passing game of the Spartans. Expect Cory Bailey to play a lot but UF to play a lot of zone underneath and even turn their backs to the line of scrimmage in certain pass plays to knock Spartan receivers off their routes. What will be another problem is smallish freshman Yonus Davis who can be hard to find in the backfield and possesses great speed. UF will have to play a lot of nickel and Bailey and Jarvis Herring must recognize the tight end.
For the first time since 1988 the Spartans shut out an opponent with the 29-0 whitewashing of Grambling. The defense allowed less than 300 yards (260) for the first time since 2000. Last year it was one of the worst in the country finishing 115th in total defense and 106th in scoring defense. San Jose State was able to finish 6-7 because it was able to get turnovers, especially from interceptions. A week ago the defense registered points on a fumble return by outstanding safety Gerald Jones. Philip Perry led the defensive line a year ago with 14.5 tackles for loss. He recorded his first sack of the season a week ago. The Spartans used a variety of blitzes to force Grambling into eight punts.
San Jose State runs a four down linemen, two linebacker and five defensive back set. The Spartans use three safeties which make up most of their blitz package. The favorite blitz is the weak side safety coming, especially in spread formation. It is the equivalent to a 4-3 team bringing a weak side linebacker blitz. The Spartans also like to play "games" with their defensive tackles to try and free up delayed blitzes from middle linebacker Onyeka Ossai. San Jose State did a good job of disguising coverages against Grambling using cover 1, cover 3 and robber coverage with the safety across the middle. This defensive package allows a lot of flexibility against a spread offense like Florida. The weakness of the Spartan defense is at the point of attack up the middle. The key will be whether or not UF can stay patient with its running game as its backs emerge and get into the flow of the game.
Gators on the Hot Seat: Running Backs
One more reason Ran Carthon may be starting is the fact he has been UF's best pass blocker in camp. The Gators will see a lot of blitzes that will focus on the running backs picking up their man for the offense to be successful. One example of the Gator backs missing a block that cost the offense was the second preseason scrimmage when Jimtavis Walker whiffed on Jermaine McCollum which led to a turnover and a score. The backs should have a lot of room to run at the point of attack and will be called upon to make guys miss at the second level. The back who proves he can protect as well as make guys miss down the field will get the most playing time. In a game where UF is favored it cannot allow mistakes to give up easy scores to the opposition.
Special Teams Scouting Report:
The Spartans boast a dangerous return game led by wide receiver Kendrick Starling. It will be important for the Gators to stay in their lanes and cover kicks. With 10 true freshmen playing and many more redshirt freshmen, guys can get excited and forget their responsibility, which can lead to a big play. Jeff Carr showed a good leg connecting on a 47 yard field goal while making three field goals a week ago. UF should dominate in its return game with Ratliff on punts and Andre Caldwell, Chad Jackson, Demetrice Webb and Reynaldo Hill returning kicks. The Spartans may not kickoff much but expect a big return from the Gator kickoff return team this week.
Having a game under its belt will help San Jose State. Travelling across the country will not benefit the Spartans. Ron Zook has a young, hungry football team that is looking to taking the first step to restoring respect to the Gator Swagger. The Gators must control and harness early emotion to avoid mistakes that could add to the Spartan confidence. There are too many good offensive players for UF to not have its way with the outmanned San Jose State defense. The margin of victory will depend solely on the defense and coordinator Charlie Strong.