The Wyoming Offense versus the Gator Defense:
Quarterback Corey Bramlet is a mercurial talent and the Cowboys will come into the swamp confident that they can throw the ball around the park. They are a five and seven step drop throwing offense, employing many of the same timing routes that Gators were fed a steady diet of in the 1990's. Those offenses were indeed a highlight real, and the Cowboys have racked up good yardage against Mountain West defenses and looked good in their last outing against UCLA.
But as Mark McLeod pointed out in his great summary, Bramlet is interception prone away from home field. In press cover 1 man coverage against a spread formation, we will not have the opportunities to break out of empty zones and jump the single covered routes. Nevertheless, we have one who breaks on the ball exceptionally, and another with a better than average recovery on the backpedal. We get our hands on four balls and intercept two of them. One on our side of the field and one on theirs. Bramlet is somewhat more mobile than he is given credit for, and look for Wyoming to spread us out and for him to take to his heals on a handful of designed isolation runs. With our LB speed, this will only be mildly successful, but they will catch us in the blitz a couple of times and make a nice gain on these plays. Nevertheless, often enough we'll be in position, and force them to abandon the designed runs for the QB.
The Cowboys find themselves coming into the game a bit depleted at running back. They like to line up in a two tight end and run isolations to the backside of their zone blocking. In this they will find only slight success if they can catch us out of position in the nickel.
Wyoming's OL is a veteran squad and is effective in pass protection. However they surrendered 40 sacks to Mountain West competition, including coach Meyer's Utah squad. Since the Cowboys run a great deal of intermediate timing routes, the tackles must hold their contain blocks for a long duration. Are Wyoming's offensive tackles up to the task of hold five second blocks against a 285 pound, cat quick Ray McDonald, and a relentless Jeremy Mincey? The SEC hasn't seen an end like RayMac since Marcus Spears. He will make plays in the backfield in his new position and demonstrate strength in run containment. In last year's defensive scheme, inside technique was used on the right defensive end quite often. Consequently, we did not have tremendous pressure coming from one side of the formation. The re-assignment of Ray McDonald will alter this equation markedly and our ends will get better pressure this year.
Now to the wide receivers. Fortunately, Wyoming does not go as deep at WR as Florida does at DB/Everett (yes, Everett is a position as well as a player).Were the Gator's DL to be ineffective, this would be a more even matchup. But the DL is probably the most improved position on the team from some reports. Thus with a push at DL the routes will need to develop more quickly, and keeping the Coyboys out of the deeper routes where a DB like Brown is more vulnerable. Add in an inexperienced but live-legged Reggie Nelson at nickel and Avery Atkins as a third corner, and you have the makings of a real advantage. At Safety, Florida has a real strength in Herring and Jackson in the cover 1, permitting us to maintain strong run support. Given this, it can make you vulnerable against teams deep at WR. The Cowboys will get theirs to some extent, early, before our DL and the Florida humidity create pools in their cleats.
Now a few words about the Gators on offense. Wyoming does indeed have the advantage of having seen Coach Meyer's offense up close and personal, and this is certainly the case. Almost across the board he will be executing it with better horses, but ones that are less experienced and have far less command of the offense. Thus individual matchups and athletic contests are even more critical. Fortunately, there are few head-to-head battle where Wyoming has a clear advantage.
At quarterback Florida has the phenomenal Chris Leak. What can be said about him that hasn't already? Well, he has a new body for one thing, and a new more aggressive attitude. He has gone from silence in the huddle to commanding attention. Chris is in a new system and word is he's beginning to master it. Still, there are decisional nuances that have to be mastered. Reads and reactions. Look for us to limit the option aspects of the offense and work more to Leak's strengths as a pocket passer. The option must receive repetitions in game situations and we'll run a few to keep the Cowboys honest on the edges and keep their ends pinned down.
On the offensive line, the Gators are breaking in two new starters, and three players at new positions. Look for some repetitions necessary to settle in to game "tightness" in those new roles. Drew Miller is taking over for a still-recovering Jim Tartt. The Cowboy defensive front is light but quick, and look for them to test the gaps over Miller. Nevertheless, the Gator line is anchored by three veterans, each of whom is all SEC caliber. Randy Hand is quietly one of the best 2 or three OTs in the SEC. Mike Degory is a grizzled, tough veteran who is the conference's best center. Though Wyoming has good quickness inside, Florida's front will seal them in the zone, and wear them down. Good yardage will be had in the running game as our underneath routes force Wyoming out of good position for backside contain. Defensive tackle Jake Mayes is entering a starting role for the first time for the Cowboys, having played in a reserve role last year, and we'll test him early and often. The story of the Wyoming defense is NG Dusty Hoffschneider who is very quick and can be disruptive. Still, he is undersized at 5' 8" 257, and I have to believe Mike Degory et al. can lean on him and wear him down. Senior DE John Flora is counted on to bring pressure, but Randy Hand has faced down the best of the SEC.
In the running game, look for Meyer to introduce the nation to Marcus Manson, and to get Manson matched up on slower linebackers on short out routes and a screen or two. I am expecting to see Chad Jackson and Skyler Thornton in the H-Back role. In each of these matchups, the Gators have great speed advantages. The Wyoming linebacking corps is depleted, having graduated a massive amount of experience. Their leading returning tackler at LB had 32 tackles last year.
Inexperience in the pressure cooker of the Swamp is a recipe for over-pursuit, which the Gators will take advantage of with some misdirection and quick-hitting reverses and influence plays.
A word about our Wide Receivers. Of the four Gator WRs who are proven threats, the biggest threat will be Jackson out of the slot in shallow crossers, 10 yard outs and digs. One thing we're going to want to do is keep our route trees under wraps, and going conservative exposes us if they have a decent secondary. Recognizing Florida's speed, Wyoming will not venture much out of their 3 deep Zone coverage, and they will play to keep Florida's Fab Four in front of them. I think the Wyoming secondary is very mediocre, having given up a bunch of yards through the air last season, and our routes can be relatively simple, not revealing too many of our backside reads.
Since Meyer's offense (and defense) is predicating on finding personnel mismatches and exploiting them, here are my key matchups on each side of the ball:
#73 Chase Johnson versus #95 Ray McDonald
OT Chase Johnson is an All Conference talent and it will be very interesting to observe the key matchup here against the re-positioned Ray McDonald. RayMac's chief advantage has always been his quickness. Playing single-gap defensive tackle, he was in the opponent's backfield more often than Clarence Darrow was in court. He has good success against Wyoming's best tackle.
#9 Jevon Bouknight versus #15 Dee Webb: Webb is an experienced, savvy, highly athletic corner with great instincts and recovery. He is NFL material to be sure. But so is his opponent Jevon Bouknight. There is no height advantage in this matchup, and we'll go best on best to attempt to take him out of his game. We will be attempting to keep their WRs on the LOS longer than they'd like, keeping them out of deeper routes. But the more important matchup is at the second receiver spot with Vernell Brown (one of Coach Heater's greatest "reclamation" projects) matching up with Jason Wallace at 6-2 187 and with Senior experience. Here we see Brown battling gamely with good but not complete success. Brown will not keep the much heavier Wallace out of his routes entirely, especially late, and some tosses to the Cowboy's second receiver will find their mark.
#8 Chad Jackson versus the Wyoming LB Corps. Buh Bye.
I will go on record and say that depending on the accuracy of my evaluation of their OL strength, this will be a 21-28 point game for the good guys. I feel that M.M. slightly overestimates The Boys From Laramie.
A note about Scheme and Strategy:
The Swamp will be rockin' for this first game of the Meyer era. Look for Coach to use this to our advantage and come after the Cowboys defensively with relentless pressure, and Earl Everett coming from every conceivable angle. In the heat, humidity, and intensity, Coach Meyer will be counting on Wyoming to get rattled into offensive miscues.
If Wyoming can't find a ‘tweener in the nickel, the Gators will run off guard for good yardage since our slot will be drawing a safety or LB all game long. Against the Gators, you've gotta have four kids that can run, run, run...and I don't think they do. They are never ever going to be able to spare a safety for run support, and you'll see them in cover 3 trying to keep everything in front of them.
Frankly I think we'll keep some of the route trees under wraps and try to wear out their front. The underneath stuff for the slot will be wide open as we get those LB back pedaling to drop into the LB/Safety gap in the intermediate zones. I think they will not gamble with their coverage, as our WR corps is one of the 5 fastest in the country. If the LBs are dropping too deep into that gap, their undersized DL will get exposed as we wear them down, and you will begin to see gashing runs off-guard. We need to get in some reps with the small amount of option we'll run, and we think we can get Miller or Wash on the "stuck" LB (the one who does not drop) and get into the defensive backfield with Jackson, Caldwell, and Thornton. Whom I think will all be tried in the H-back role. I also feel that we are going to be flooding intermediate zones and getting YAC, since the S.O. is a rhythm offense that works a lot in the LB/Safety gaps. Mullen is not going to put a great deal of pressure on Chris early to find his lanes and chuck it downfield unless our posts and streaks are coming wide open due to our speed and them having to commit a safety to run support. To defend us you need four guys who are physical enough to keep us out of our routes, and can hang around the LOS for run support. I just don't see this happening with physical WRs like Jackson and Caldwell, both of whom can and will get off the LOS.
Result? Good Guys 48, Cowpokes, 20. Chris Leak passes for 275 Yards and the running game nets about 180 yards. We get our hands on 4 balls and intercept two. Early jitters result in one lost fumble. The Pokes lose two balls. The Good Guys get 4 sacks, and hold Wyoming to 110 yards or less on the ground. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.