Upon further review with an eye towards Tennessee

My inside access and knowledge allows me to do a little more of an in depth look than most at how the Gators performed Saturday against the Eastern Michigan Eagles. I will try and dissect as much as possible without over-stepping my bounds as far as that access. Here is what I gleaned from Saturday with a thought as to what needs to be improved for the upcoming clash against Tennessee along with comments from the Florida coaches.

The Offense…

We will start with Chris Leak. He was a little off on Saturday. He underthrew a lot of balls. OJ Small may have had a long touch down on the long post pattern had Chris put a little more air under the ball and thrown it longer and faster. Instead, Small had to slow down and the defender made a break on the ball. Still Leak managed 3 touchdowns and the offense was very efficient over all. He does look at his receiver a little too much at times, but one also has to remember that a quarterback's mind may be made up before the snap if he reads the defense correctly.

I thought Ciatrick Fason was more elusive than I have ever seen him. Fason has never been a dancer and I still don't consider him one. Yet, he made some moves in traffic that I haven't seen before this off-season. I think Ciatrick will continue to be a warrior and a star this year in the backfield. I thought DeShawn Wynn was effective when needed and was able to lower a shoulder and knock people back a few times. Skyler Thornton ran hard and made a nice cutback to score a touchdown in the game. Both guys are steady and I would consider reliable.

The receivers had some drops today, and also made some plays that we haven't seen much of lately. Mr. dependable OJ Small caught 6 passes and showed that he is as reliable as always. He did have an un-OJ like fumble. Had Bubba Caldwell not tripped on the 40 yard line chalk, he would have jetted for a long touchdown. Dallas Baker made a nice catch before being smacked by two defenders and still held on to the ball. Cornelius disappointed when he fumbled a reverse that would have gone a long distance. I believe his eyes were as big as the football when he tried to tuck it in. Chad Jackson had the play of the day on an acrobatic catch at the goal line. I thought the receivers as a whole played well.

The tight ends were not a factor in the game and often times not even in the game. This is what we thought would happen and it has. The tight ends will be a blocking force until the Gators can find someone that can block and be a receiving threat.

I thought the offensive line played very well. For instance, the quarterbacks threw 28 times, and were touched by a defender only twice. I don't mean sacked, I mean touched. The Gators threw a drop back pass or a play action resulting in a still pocket 19 times. On 18 of those, the pocket for Leak and Dickey could have been drawn with a compass. There was absolutely no penetration until a linebacker blitz slipped by Randy Hand for a sack. The running game pulled off some long runs but was not steady. The Eagles were a little disruptive to the running game because they would crash line backers and play their defensive backs up to help in run support. They really changed a lot of things from their opening game and kept the rusty offensive line guessing on their run assignments.

Coach Wickline said, "They played well enough for us to win. They were rusty from not having practiced and it being the first game. I don't think they were pressed based on match-ups. I think EMU did some things, some crashes, stunts, and blitzes that affected our running game and we weren't sharp. Those are things that we can see, we can work on and see if we can alleviate some of those situations. Overall, with the weather, the lightning, and the halftime, the way it all went down, they kept their focus and gave ourselves a chance to win. Mike Degory had some nice things. I need to mention Jon Colon, because he is a guy that's been a question mark medically."

Offensive intangibles…

The only penalty on the offense was an equipment violation that resulted in a lost time out. It is a silly rule that states only 2 players on the field can have a towel. We happened to have a receiver that ran on with one. Still, not one penalty from this young but talented offense is a very nice thing in their first game. The discipline showed its face in a few other ways maybe not seen by the common fan. Next time the receivers line up, watch them look to the referees on the sideline that signal if everyone is lined up correctly. . Also noticeable was a little two yard shift that two receivers did on one particular audible that changed the routes they were going to run. It was a minor shift, but both guys did it in unison. This is what 1300 snaps in the off-season will do for a young offense.

There were some noticeable scheme things going on. The Gators went to a 5 wide receiver set a couple of times, and I assumed one reason was to force an adjustment of the defensive personnel or to get a real mismatch with a receiver. The Eagles were real stubborn with their personnel and often left a 4-3 alignment in there with 4 wide receivers in the game.

Play action was used extensively in the pre-season. Going into the 4th series, the Gators were steadily establishing the run and I wrote down in my notebook, "are we going to see play action?" Two plays later, Leak hits a wide open OJ Small for a 36 yard reception on a play action pass.

The Defense…

The Defense was on the field for 80 plays, including penalties. Two drives totaled 27 of those plays or 1/3 of entire number of plays. The defense had a Jekyl and Hyde day. Take away the opening drive and the one following the one hour delay and the starting defense gave up an average of 3.3 plays per series. Not too bad. The opening series was helped by 3 defensive penalties; it is easy to see why the defense may have actually played better than the statistics show. Still, there is a lot that can be fixed.

The defensive front had a solid but not spectacular game. The Eagles came in with a terrific running back that sliced and diced everyone he faced last year on the way to almost 1,600 yards. I was highly impressed with the fact that the Gators held Sherrell to 24 yards and 1.5 yards a carry. For the most part it meant that tackling was pretty good. The defensive line only had one sack, but was disruptive and the longest runs came on quarterback scrambles. All but 7 passes were of the quick throw, screen, or sprint out variety, meaning the defense rarely had time to pin their ears back and come at the quarterback.

Coach Strong said, "Mincey and Harris stood out. Joe Cohen played well but he didn't get any big plays." Coach Anderson gave his thoughts on the tackles, "They played pretty hard. We made a few mistakes here and there as you would expect in the first game, but overall I was pleased. On the defensive line I thought Ray McDonald played well and so did Stephen Harris. Harris is a defensive end, but on occasion he also played defensive tackle; he played really hard and made some plays. Our goal was to stop Sherrell, who had 100 yards a game for nine consecutive games. We met our goal there as he had only 24 yards in the game. We made some mistakes, a couple of dumb penalties and missed assignments that cost us, but overall those guys played pretty hard and not too bad for the first game. Obviously, this week, we have a heck of a challenge to see what we are made of."

I thought the linebackers played well and very aggressive. The top two tacklers were linebackers and a welcome sight because last year, outside of Crowder, the secondary led the team in tackles. I think this was key in keeping the running game in check.

Coach Miller said, "The effort was good and they tried to play with some emotion out there. I think they were just so happy to be playing more so than who we were playing. I think it was a good start., but that's all it is, it's a starting point. Channing (Crowder) had some production and Earl Everett had a good ball game. Travis (Harris) had a good effort ball game and had some production. We got Todd McCullough out there a little bit, but he is still behind because of that ankle."

Youth was served in the linebacker corps as two true freshmen played their first game of their college careers. Most saw Siler get burned on a Go route by a receiver, but he played much better than that. Coach Miller added, "The young kid, Brandon Siler, had 41 snaps and Javier (Estopinan) had 25 snaps. We got to play a bunch of guys and it was a real positive from that standpoint. Both Brandon and Javier played aggressive and took care of that part of what we wanted to see."

The secondary seemed to catch the brunt of the criticism from the game. Most are wary because this is the group that was expected to be a weak link in the pre-season. Dee Webb was the most active defender in the secondary. He led the secondary in tackles with five and also in pass break-ups. Those break-ups could have and should have resulted in interceptions as he was in position to make the spectacular play and didn't. He also fell victim to two other plays that led to 66 yards and all the eventual points for the Eagles. He was a victim of his own aggressiveness. This is something that can be fixed with experience.

Coach Disch said, "There were some good things. Obviously we made some rookie mistakes. The biggest thing is we gave up two big plays. Webb missed a tackle that went for a touchdown and the 44 yard fade that led to a field goal. We need to make those plays. We had three or four opportunities to make big plays, get picks, one that would have led to a touchdown, and we didn't. We know we can't give up big plays and take the opportunities when they are given to us. As Coach Zook said, it's a starting point. We will continue to work and get better. We don't have much time. I was pleased with the safety play, but the corners need to work to get better every day and I think we will be alright. With young guys, it was a bit of what we expected a little nerves and butterflies. Once they get that out of their system they will be good to go. I was pleased with their effort. I have said that all along, they have good attitudes. We have to do a better job. When plays present themselves we have to make them. We have to do everything in our power not to allow the other team to have big plays. They (the defensive backs) ran around and pursued the ball well."

Defensive Intangibles…

Te Gators may have to find a way to get Siler on the field. He saw 41 snaps which was more than half the defensive snaps in the game. The freshman really flew around out there and knew what he was doing. As was mentioned he got burnt on a Go pattern by a wide receiver in a mismatch the heady quarterback picked up on. Still, Siler was steady all day long and hit hard.

In the short yardage defense, Mo Mitchell lined up at nose guard with Ray McDonald and Marcus Thomas flanking him on both sides. That's a hefty line.

Stephen Harris led the defensive line in tackles and had the only sack of the day. He really had a pretty good game.

I could have put this on the offensive or special teams too, but… the Eastern Michigan team were really a bunch of nasty players. They were chop blocking on defenders that were engaged and just a lot of unnecessary cheap shots. They had personal fouls on 4 different kick returns. As I heard a caller into a radio show say, it is a testament to the discipline they showed. I honestly don't know how Ray McDonald is walking as many times as he got chopped while engaged with a blocker on Saturday.

Special Teams…

Eric Wilbur seemed to put a little lock on his starting punters job. He has been neck and neck all pre-season with Nick Fleming, but was better on all 3 punts on Saturday. The coverage was good on all but one punt return.

Matt Leach racked up seven extra points and 55 in a row. That streak stands as the 4th best in Gator history. Leach has been solid all pre-season.

Chris Hetland surprised everyone including Coach Zook when he boomed two kickoffs deep in the end zone. This may be a sign of things to come. Kick off coverage was excellent all day and the Eagles had many chances.

The kickoff return team had a little different look as the Gators went out with three deep return men. With Bubba Caldwell in the middle and Reggie Lewis and Chad Jackson to each side and 5 yards ahead, Jackson showed his stuff with a very impressive kick return.

Vernell Brown was solid returning punts all day.

Jemalle Cornelius was close on numerous punt blocks. The speed is very apparent coming off the edge. The Eagles have a very far setting deep blocker on punts. It makes it very difficult to get an edge rush in there to block. The plan was to hopefully free someone up on the inside instead.

One Big intangible…

OJ Small must feel a couple of inches smaller today. On his touchdown in the south end zone, Mo Mitchell was so happy for him, Mo ran 25 yards and leaped on Small's back to celebrate. I don't know how Small is walking.


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