FOOTBALL: Grading the Gators vs. Gamecocks

The Monday Morning Armchair Quarterback grades the Gator's game versus South Carolina...

(This week, Steve McKibben graciously volunteered to fill in for Randy Platt. Thanks, Steve!)

In his final home game as Gators head coach, Ron Zook's team finally got a comfortable win against a legitimate SEC opponent. By virtue of the 48-14 victory the Gators became bowl eligible for the fourteenth straight year.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

IMPRESSIVE: The Jackson's (Chad and Kyle), Brandon Siler, Jeremy Mincey, Punt defense team.

SOLID: Offensive line, receivers, linebacking, defensive line, running backs

NEEDS WORK: No unit stood out as a liability

THE GRADES

DEFENSIVE LINE: The defensive line got better pressure and penetration into the offensive backfield than they have most of the year. Jeremy Mincey was a force from the edge and Ray McDonald and Marcus Thomas took turns disrupting the Gamecock's offensive backfield. Despite occasionally giving up lanes for SC's running backs to run through, they had a solid performance. Mincey's interception set up UF for their first score, although he did make it interesting by fumbling the ball at the end of the return. GRADE B

LINEBACKERS: The Gator welcomed the return of Earl Everett after he sat out the Vanderbilt game due to a concussion he suffered playing against Georgia. The continued absence of Channing Crowder, Travis Harris, and Todd McCullough forced the Gators into opening in a 4-2-5 formation, with Everett being partnered by true freshman Brandon Siler, who responded with a monster 14 tackle (10 solo), one sack performance. GRADE B+

DEFENSIVE BACKS: The secondary held the Gamecocks to a measly 132 yards passing and although they gave up two touchdown passes, they also tallied four interceptions, two from true freshman safety Kyle Jackson. They were victimized early by some penalties, but recovered to have an outstanding night. It didn't hurt that by the end of the contest they were facing SC's third string signal caller. GRADE A

OFFENSIVE LINE: The offensive line play was a mixed bag. On the one hand Chris Leak wasn't sacked the entire game, nor was the Carolina defense credited with a quarterback hurry. But a frustrating pattern of committing holding and false start penalties at inopportune times continually put the offense into longer than necessary third down situations. Whether it was the plan by USC to make Leak beat them or just their front seven being more physical than the Gators' blockers, UF finished with a paltry 105 yards rushing on 28 attempts, with the longest being an 11 yarder by Skyler Thornton. GRADE C+

RECEIVERS: Eight different Gators caught Chris Leak passes, and the big three of Bubba Caldwell, Chad Jackson, and Dallas Baker all registering TDs. But the big story had to be the continued emergence of true freshman tight end Tate Casey as an offensive weapon. He made a beautiful catch for 24 yards on a seam route for the Gators' first score, holding on to the ball while absorbing a vicious hit from an USC safety, and Leak found him in the back of the end zone for his second tally just halftime. Casey now has 5 receptions on the year, four of them for touchdowns. OJ Small made some of his patented catches in traffic over the middle, but also had a couple of uncharacteristic drops. The downfield blocking wasn't as consistent as usual, which hindered not only the running game, but also rendered the slip screens and one ill fated reverse ineffective. GRADE B

RUNNING BACKS: The Florida ground game never really got untracked Saturday night. Having Ciatrick Fason somewhat hobbled certainly didn't help, and for the first time in a while he wasn't even the leading ground gainer for Florida, that honor going to Skyler Thornton, who took advantage of Deshawn Wynn's absence through injury to lead all rushers with 55 yards on 13 carries. Fason added 28 on nine carries and Leak pitched in with 19 yards on four carries on a combination of scrambles and QB draws. GRADE C+

QUARTERBACK: Despite not having one of his most accurate days as a passer Chris Leak put up a career high six touchdown passes while going over the 300 yard mark for the second week in a row (319). A couple of ill advised passes resulted in interceptions that curtailed UF scoring opportunities and he was lucky to not have had a third picked on an overthrow deep down the middle of the field that wasn't handled by the Gamecocks safety playing a deep center field. GRADE A-

KICKING/SPECIALTY: This was one of the best special team performances of the year. Coverage was solid on both kickoffs and punts, and no, this is not a misprint --- UF blocked a punt! Jemalle Cornelius's block was alertly covered by Tony Joiner to give the offense a short field that led to a score. Chad Jackson made an incredibly athletic play to down one of Eric Wilbur's three punts inside the Carolina one yard line. Matt Leach connected on all of his extra point as well as going two for two in field goal attempts, hitting from 40 and 34 yards. GRADE A

COACHING: Even though they got off to a slow start on both sides of the ball the Gators appeared to be solid in both scheme and execution throughout the night. It's hard to take the offense to task too much for the anemic running game when they took the passing game, which was what the defense was giving them all night long. On defense, apart from the bookend TDs given up before the team woke up and after the game was all but over, they surely didn't play like a unit that was missing some of it's best and most experienced players. GRADE Offense B Defense A Overall B+

FANS: USC scoring first, and the Gators waiting until the second quarter seemed to take the crowd out early, but they rebounded as the team turned up the intensity. The atmosphere never really reached big game levels, but that's fair since as important as it was for this year's edition to attain bowl eligibility, this game never was going to rate with some of the monster contests that have been fought in the Swamp. GRADE B

FINAL THOUGHTS

This was the long sought rout of an SEC opponent that has been so missing in the Ron Zook era. If this team builds from this to break the winless streak in Tallahassee and win the bowl game it will only add to the craziness surrounding this program at the present. I was personally glad to see Zook rewarded with this kind of victory in his last home game at the helm of the Gator ship and the resulting Gatorade bath administered by Matt Leach, but couldn't help but feel a little saddened by the obvious bittersweet post game remarks from the lame duck coach. OVERALL GRADE: A


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