Upon Further Review: UF Offense vs. FSU Defense

The 2004 Florida-Florida State game will go down as a classic for more ways than one. Yes, the Florida Gators broke their 18-year drought of winning in Tallahassee, but it was a classic also in that it represented a changing of the guard. Watching the game on replay using the tools at my disposal which allow a more thorough breakdown, it was apparent that the talent level and skill of the Gator team has officially passed that of FSU.

It will be even more distinguishable next year when the Gators lose a total of five starters who opened against FSU, while the Seminoles lose 11. As it has been said the past two years by some of Gator Country's more knowledgeable posters, whoever coaches this team in 2005 is going to look like a genius.

Breaking Down the Offense

The offensive game plan looked like the offensive staff is auditioning for its next gig. The game plan was wide open as the staff took plenty of shots downfield and exploited FSU's vaunted defense time and time again. The Noles defensive ends line up extremely wide, opening up the shovel pass to the backs and the option play. Both calls are designed to help out on wide ends and three linebacker sets and both worked consistently well. The screens were not effective at all. Florida State's superior speed at linebacker negated screen passes from the spread formations because the linebackers were already lined up wide.

The disparity at quarterback is huge right now. Chris Leak is already light years ahead of whomever the Noles put under center next year in Gainesville and that gap will only grow wider. Leak was great early on in the contest against one of the best defenses in the country. He seemed to slow down a bit when he got hit head on by Ernie Sims which resulted in a fumble, but it also appeared the play calling changed immediately after that. Before that call the Gators were passing a lot out of a straight drop play action. After the injury they went to a sprint out attack and trying to keep Leak on the move. In that time frame, the Gators had four possessions in a row that went three downs and out. They also moved Leak out of the pocket, trying to take the heat off of him. He definitely throws better when he can plant and throw. Leak wasn't on most of the night anyway. The biggest plays were on underthrown balls or balls that were late to the target. His interception was both late and underthrown. He also had a mental error when he lost four yards early in the game when he ran out of bounds with the ball instead of throwing the ball away. Still, he was able to put up good numbers and early and helped keep the Nole crowd out of the game for most of it.

At running back, Ciatrick Fason stole the show. While Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker helped the Noles to a season low 34 yards rushing, C4 led the Gators with 103 yards against the nation's stingiest run defense. Ciatrick got better as the game went on. Following their blockers superbly, Fason and his backup, Skyler Thornton, sealed the win by grinding out large chunks of yardage, especially on the drive that resulted in the touchdown that provided the winning margin. The FSU duo may have had better hype coming into the game, but Florida's duo is better and Florida will be better off if Fason stays next year.

The receivers were great. They ran sharp routes and their intensity was high. One thing that was extremely noticeable was their blocking downfield for the ball carriers. The offensive line has gotten a ton of credit this year and deservedly so for blocking down field. The receivers deserve much of the same credit for blocking downfield. The hustle is also apparent with OJ Small's recovery downfield of Bubba Caldwell fumble. It was a huge play in the drive that sealed the win for the Gators. This receiver corps is deeper and more talented across the board than the current Nole board. The Noles lose their top three receivers and the Gators lose one.

Tate Casey continues to play extremely well at tight end. A new weapon for Leak and company, he gives Florida a legitimate threat at the position, one who can outrun most linebackers and who has very sure hands. His presence in the middle of the field makes it nearly impossible for opponents to run man coverage. His speed and height (6-6) creates mismatches for either safeties or linebackers who try to cover him. Even needing 25 pounds of weight, he is still better by far than any tight end on FSU's roster.

The offensive line was a major difference, especially late in the game. The guys up front were road graders as the Gators drove to the game clinching touchdown. They simply manhandled the FSU defensive front that was supposed to be among the very best in the country. When the Gators dropped straight back to throw, Leak had all the time he needed. This year they have proven to be the single most consistent group on the offensive side of the ball. They lose two starters (Jon Colon and Mo Mitchell) and two second team guys (Anthony Guerrero and Billy Griffin), but there is a great deal of young talent stockpiled at UF, so there will be quality players to step in. The talent on the line will make Florida's offense best in the SEC again, and probably one of the elite units in the nation. The FSU offensive line was maybe the most overrated unit in all of college football based on the preseason hype. With three preseason Outland trophy list players, I saw nothing that could have merited that distinction. Our offensive line is better across the board, and will be next year.

TOMORROW: Reviewing the defense.

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