Florida will finally open it's season this week against MAC opponent Eastern Michigan. With the early start on Saturday it will surely be a sauna for the match-up of the Gators and Eagles.
This week a lot of talk has centered around the reinstatement of Channing Crowder and Jarvis Herring. Both players were suspended for the Middle Tennessee game by athletic director Jeremy Foley. Because of the rescheduling of the game UF will allow the two players to suit up this week. It has caused a little bit of stir among some of those who thought they should be out for the first game. The coach in me says let the guys play and get your season started but the media member in me says you probably ought to sit them out and avoid any negative PR.
First of all UF, has not had a situation with Jeremy Foley as athletic director where they opened the season with a conference opponent or a major power like Miami. I believe this could be the case in the future with the twelve game schedule coming back and Miami and Florida back at the front of the schedule. It would set the precedent that a player must be suspended from his first game and not just any game. I don't think athletic directors and coaches should suspend players for conference openers or games of that magnitude and here's why. Number one, the suspension hurts the team. If you lose a player for a big game as opposed to a directional school you not only are penalizing the player 1/11th or 1/ 12th of his season but you are hurting his teammates. Secondly, by taking him out of the first game only, you are putting yourself in a position that in the future if you have a big game first you could lose a key player. The bottom line is you want to have discipline but every off season something happens somewhere so why penalize your team and your fans for conference games. In the glory years of the 90's UF always had the two games to get there suspensions out of the way and one time in the mid 90's there were as many as 12 players suspended for a game.
The reality is it would have been easier to extend the suspension to this week vs Eastern Michigan who Florida should handle and move on. But coaches and administration felt that it would be OK to go ahead and get the season started. It's tough on starters after missing an entire week of work with the first unit to then miss another week as well before the big SEC opener against Tennessee. The fact is that the kids missed everything except the game and they will miss that on Oct 16th. Middle Tennessee State is a much more formidable opponent than Eastern Michigan and these guys will be missed in that game.
Let's all remember why this game was cancelled and the circumstances many of us have been put in the last week or so. From a PR standpoint does it look a little bad, sure it does but FSU and Miami did not have any suspensions for their game Friday and they had guys arrested for felony charges. I know Gator fans are proud of the level that UF holds itself to with discipline and academics and I believe in the same things but as we all have been inconvenienced the last week by mother nature let's all get back to some normalcy and see the Gators go play football.
Snippets and Tidbits...
Eastern Michigan will bring it's version of the spread offense to Gainesville Saturday with a strong emphasis on the run. New Coach Jeff Genyk is a Northwestern disciple and his attack will feature a style similar to Randy Walker's and look a lot like Wake Forest and Clemson's when they had Woody Dantzler. The key for the Eagles is they spread you out to run. The quarterback, Matt Bohnet, was the second leading ball carrier a week ago in his first game in the offense. The Eagles return a nice running back in Anthony Sherrell who has nine consecutive 100 yd games. He's a smallish (Fred Russell-Iowa) type back who was the nation's seventh leading rusher last season. Eastern runs predominantly out of the shotgun and 60% of the time the ball is on the ground. Look for a lot of Gun Draws, Gun Zone plays, some Gun Option and Bootleg keepers with the quarterback. The passing game is predicated on tailback and wide receiver screens used to tire out the defensive line and stretch teams horizontally to open up running lanes. It's a good blocking line up front where they just try to stay on you and use your momentum against you.
Defensively they are a base 4-3 team that played it pretty vanilla a week ago. Look for them to sit in a lot of zone coverages and mixing in an occasional zone blitz. They will test the patience of Chris Leak and the offense early on. They do not have a lot of speed on the defense so they will keep it simple and let there best player, linebacker Kevin Harrison, make most of the tackles. The Safeties are very active in the running game and especially when they line up in a cover 4 or two safety look. Last week Buffalo, who is not a great offense, had some success against Eastern with 25 first downs and 225 yards rushing.
Look for the Gator offens and the starters to play close to a full game this week in preparation for Tennessee. UF might be a bit rusty with the late start to the season but Coordinator Larry Fedora wants to get the receiving corps as much experience as necessary. Chris Leak will spread the ball around this week and could go on a streak of double digits completions in a row at one time. Fason and Wynn should get at least 10 carries each and that might be enough to get them both to 100yds. The eagles did not look good tackling last week and that bodes well for the ground attack. Skyler Thornton, who will play this week but be suspended for the Middle game in October, should share time with frosh sensation Marcus Manson.
OJ Small could have a big day in receptions if Eastern sits in zone coverage a lot. He will work the middle of the field and Leak has shown in camp he is comfortable throwing across the center of the defense. Florida could have as many as five guys with at least three receptions this week. Red Zone offense will be a key as UF will look to get some stuff on tape for Tennessee to work on.
Defensively UF should be pretty much in base or base nickel most of the night. Eastern Michigan runs a lot of boot and some option so it's hard to blitz and bring heat in assignment football. The ends with Cohen and Mincey must play their assignments while the safeties and Crowder must get to the quarterback on the perimeter. Look for UF to bring in Terrence Holmes in their nickel package and sit strong side linebacker Travis Harris at times.
Kenny Parker and Marcus Thomas will focus on starting running back Anthony Sherrell and try to take him out of his game early. Although he is not as big as Tennessee's backs he is a straight ahead runner much like Riggs and Houston. Eastern ran the ball 52 times last week, so Florida will have plenty of chances to work on their tackling.
I think UF will be pretty vanilla this week on both offense and defense. Defensively with the screen and boot package you don't want to all out blitz and give up big plays. On offense it's important to establish a rhythm in the passing game. This is a new group of receivers and with the Vol secondary looking shaky in game one it is imperative that they remain confident. The other aspect to look at will be special teams. Kicking and punting should be fine but what about the return game? Vernell Brown will not be Keiwan Ratliff or Lito Shephard but he should be reliable. The kickoff return must improve and give UF's offense better field position.
Keys to the Game...
1. Start fast offensively and use WR's
2. Force 5 or more three and outs on defense
3. Turnovers + Penalties must be under ten.
Stat of the Week: 71. The number of players on UF's roster that are either freshman or sophomores.