Ask Ack: June 15, 2004

In this week's edition of Ask Ack I answer questions about whether or not Florida will have a feature running back this season, the Director's Cup, the prevent defense UF ran last year, the Gators pitching staff and more!

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Our first real pivotal test this year is the Tennessee game. A win adds confidence and places us in a very good position for the eastern division. How do our coaches go about preparing for them? We must know what they are looking for and expecting, how should our coach's exploit this? Do you sense our coaches understand the importance of that game? Are there preparations and practices scheduled long before this game? It would seem Tennessee would prepare likewise. By the way, do we have plays or formations that look like we're doing what they expect but instead of zigging, we zag? Thanks.
--J. Peterson

First of all you are right in that it is a pivotal game for both teams this season because of the youth in both programs. Look what last year's win did for the Vols confidence as they went on to win 10 games and beat Miami. This is always a tough game to prepare for because you don't want to get to cute with your plan yet you certainly want to have some wrinkles up your sleeve. Florida has always been a vanilla team in the first two games prior to Tennessee (during the years without Miami on the schedule) but I think UF will have to do more offensively this year to get it's players ready for the Vols. With all due respect to Eastern Michigan and Middle Tennessee State I am pretty confident that UF will work on some things for Tennessee in Camp and in the first two games. The key is to not let your players know that it is the coach's intention to use some stuff just for Tennessee. Keep the players focused on the game at hand but wrinkle in some work on the Vols. The Tennessee game has been about Florida and only UF for about a decade. The Vols try not to lose the game and and the Gators always try to win the game. Two years ago Tennessee self destructed and UF won the game by being aggressive and taking some chances on big pass plays in the rain. Last year Tennessee played it close to the vest again and UF had the worst offensive performance in the Swamp in twenty years and the Vols stole the victory. Tennessee always has the mindset of not beating themselves and if you don't take the win from them they will beat you, ask Miami. Florida must play the way it has always played under Zook on the road and that is loose and aggressive. Florida does have plays that set up other plays and that will be more evident this season with a more experienced quarterback under center.

For I don't know how many years now Stanford has won the Director's Cup, and each year UF finishes in the top 3-8 in the standings. We have 20 varsity sports, and through looking at how the standings are accounted for and scored, it seems like we should be ranked higher than we are. Our 3 biggest sports, football, basketball, and baseball have essentially ended up being our 3 lowest ranked teams this year. Each year we seem to improve all around.... Do you see anywhere in the near future UF seriously contending for the Director's Cup championship?
--Robert P.

I don't see UF contending for the Championship as long as Stanford can be allowed to count more sports towards the point system. I think they should take an arbitrary number that is attainable for all the Division one schools such as 18 major sports and count the points from them in the Cup. If you have more than 18 sports then you can count the highest 18 in your standings. Stanford has a lot of Olympic type sports that are very popular on the West Coast and they are able to load up on points in areas that UF cannot even score. Most years Florida's top three sports are very similar if not better than the Cardinal's big three. Varsity sports are all about finances and being title nine compliant. UF has bucked the trend under Jeremy Foley the last ten years and instead of cutting sports he has added women's sports and terrific facilities.

It always seems like when we get a lead in a game that we go to the 3 man rush prevent Defense ( i.e. last year FSU, Miami etc. ) and it comes back to haunt us. Do you think that with Zook opening up the offense some with Fedora that he may also allow Charley Strong to blitz and pressure the QB more this year? I'd rather lose that way then to have teams drive through our prevent at will. Thoughts?


I think all of us are in agreement that the prevent did not exactly prevent losing last season. I think some coaches have a philosophy of how to play long yardage defense when they are ahead and it is tough to change them. I still think if UF blitzes or brings five vs FSU on 4th down the game is over, but that is just my opinion. The offense helps by converting third downs. If you are losing the time of possession battle because of your offense it is tough to blitz a lot on defense because blitzing tires you out. Also you must have numbers on defense to blitz so that you can replace them immediately. I do think this defense will pressure more because of the depth and talent in the front seven, combined with the inexperience in the secondary. It's the old adage that if you have inexperience in the secondary make them cover for a shorter time. I do think however if UF is up 20-13 on Tennessee with one minute to go and it is 4th and 17 they will rush three and drop eight. Hopefully for Gator fans the defense will be able to execute the prevent better this season. Finally, as far as my thought on blitzing in long yardage situations, it depends on the quarterback and his level of experience under pressure. I think you have to treat each situation individually with regards to prevent defense. For example, I would be less inclined to blitz Eli Manning or Philip Rivers than I would Chris Rix or Brock Berlin.

Hey Ack, I was wondering if you could give me your prediction on who is going to be the featured back on our team this year? Will there be a feature back or will several RB's share the carries? A lot of fans feel that Fason has proven he deserves to get the ball at least 20 times a game, i.e. his play during the LSU and UGA game really stand out. By no means am I trying to take anything away from Wynn and Thorton, who are outstanding backs, but it seems like most of the successful running teams in the SEC have one back that gets a majority of the carries. Can this be distracting or aggravating for a team? It seems teams like UT and UF haves lost a lot of their running attack because they can't seem to find one back that is ready to step up to the plate.

I have often said I think Fason will be the featured back. He is a game breaker and I believe Larry Fedora will get the ball in his hands close to 20 times per game. Wynn can be a big time player as long as he keeps his weight down and continues to hang on to the ball. UF will use all three backs and to be honest with you -- Thornton has looked like a better short yardage redzone back than the other two. I don't think it is distracting to a team because in this day and age of college football it is hard to have a featured back. It is more common to have two good backs than on who totes it 300 times. Kids understand this more now than ever and with backs becoming better receivers the last ten years teams can now get them the ball in a variety of ways.

Hey Brady - question for the Gator Baseball Coaches: it seems the pitching has really improved over the later half of the season - particularly in the post-season - or so it seems. Pitchers are pitching complete games and even in losses seem to have great control, etc. What can be attributed to this? Are the coaches doing something different w/ the pitchers? Did they each develop a new pitch to add to their repertoire? And is pitching now considered a 'strength' of the Gator baseball team?

I think Pat McMahon and his pitching coach Ross Jones do a great job of teaching their players how to pitch the right way. This staff throws strikes and they do not waste pitches or at bats. Coach Mac likes his guys to keep the ball near the strike zone and if they get it into play then the defense will back them up. Even though UF does not strike a lot of hitters out they get the ball in the strike zone, they avoid a lot of walks and it keeps pitchers "pitch count " down. This strategy has helped the staff get a lot of innings and mileage out of guys with average stuff. Hoyman may be the only guy with "good" stuff on this staff. I don't know if pitching is the strength of this team because I think you can add some more Hoyman's to the rotation, but the pitchers are not losing games for this team. They are giving them a chance to win the games.

Hey Ack, if I remember correctly I think I read in one of your "Ack's Insight" columns that Gavin Dickey was going to play summer baseball. If so, what does it mean with regards to his future role (if any) on the Gator football team. I would think that he has given up playing QB and if he does play some more football for the Gators it would be as a "slash" type athlete. So I guess the question is, what does the future hold for Gavin on the gator football team? Thanks!

I think Gavin will be with the football team when fall camp begins. He will be in a battle with Justin Midgett for the number two quarterback job. He seems to know the right answers and where to go with the football a bit better than Midgett right now. Justin has serious upside if he can just master the mental side of the game. I think both guys will play in the first two games and that may decide who would be number two for Tennessee. I think eventually Midgett will be number two but there are some qualities that Dickey has displayed that reassures the coaches that he can handle pressure situations. He is very well liked on the team and has a leader's personality.

Ack, what does our linebacker depth look like and if Crowder is suspended for the first game or two who will start at middle linebacker?

I think UF has four guys they can count on right now -- Crowder, Everett, Harris and Todd McCullough. UF will need some contribution from one of the incoming freshman in Siler or Estopinan. I think both could play some and be a factor on special teams. I really like Estopinan inside and he could be an immediate impact guy. Taurean Charles looks like he can help this team in nickel as a pass rushing or blitzing linebacker. He does not read his keys well yet but he still has fall camp. A walk on could emerge to help out the unit this fall. If Crowder is suspended I expect Todd McCullough to start at the middle spot until his return. Remember UF will probably play a lot of nickel against Middle Tennessee who is a spread offensive team.

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