ACK: Gator Offense Doing Some Things Right

Much of the talk this week has centered around the offense and how long it will take to get it up to speed with the other phases of the team. We know Florida wants to be balanced and is looking to bounce back this week with a stronger running performance. Coach Urban Meyer would like to see more touchdowns, fewer field goals and certainly he would like to clean up protection and penalties. But what has the Gator offense done well to this point?

We know that UF is winning the time of possession battle and that the Gators have committed just one turnover. The offense had a game where quarterback Chris Leak broke a school record for consecutive completions and they had another game in which they ran for 251 yards. But we can take it further and examine more of what UF is doing right that will ultimately lead to the numbers everyone expects as the season goes along.

First of all, in Meyer's plan to win he mentions time of possession and red zone scoring as two parts of his five-part plan. We know the Gators are dominating time of possession overall but look closer and you will see an incredible improvement over last season. In order this season beginning with Wyoming UF has owned the fourth quarter of TOP with the numbers as follows: 10:05, 9:29 and last week versus Tennessee they held the ball for 11:16 of he fourth quarter. If that is not finishing the game strong and doing something good, I don't know what is. Secondly we understand scoring in the red zone as vitally important to the success of a team. UF is 11-14 in the red zone but all three misses were with the second team and late in games. Chris Leak and the first offense has managed to come away with points albeit five times thanks to the strong performance of Chris Hetland.

UF has also had eight drives for touchdowns over 50 yards in just three games. That shows the potential of the offense to maintain a consistent approach and not give up when field position is against them. They have also had seven three-minute plus drives for touchdowns, which once again helps the defense stay fresh and ready to attack when called upon. Combine the lack of turnovers with the time of possession and not once has the defense come off the field and turned around to go back with a "sudden change."

A couple of other things UF has done well in three weeks and first is Leak's performance on third down against Tennessee and in the fourth quarter. Deshawn Wynn has emerged as the go-to running back when all fall camp we had no idea who that guy would be for the Gators. Dallas Baker is off to his best start as a Gator, having made a key third down catch in the victory over Tennessee. The Gators have a legit threat in All-America candidate Chad Jackson and an All-America center in Mike Degory. These are some of the things that I believe the offense has done well and established during the 3-0 start. I would not judge this team solely on statistics, but on wins and losses and how they are doing in Meyer's "plan to win."

UF will go forward without my favorite offensive player in Bubba Caldwell. I really think he is special and it will be hard to replace the team's all-purpose yard leader through the first three games. The first guy that needs to step up is Chad Jackson who will likely get some safety help on him during some games. He must raise his level even higher and demand the football in key situations. Jemalle Cornelius is very capable of stepping in and putting up good numbers. Chris Leak will have to share the ball with other guys to get their confidence going. It is interesting that UF has yet to throw 30 passes in a game this season, but if they have to there are plenty of experienced guys who can get it done. Look for Dan Mullen to get creative and maybe use Kestahn Moore, Markus Manson, Nyan Boateng or Louis Murphy in the offense down the road. You could certainly see the athletic Manson or Moore move into a slot and be the pitch on the option or shovel pass.

KENTUCKY: Rich Brooks is on the hot seat not only due to his team's performance but also because he has burned some bridges very quickly in Lexington. The Wildcats cannot seem to stick with an offensive identity. The Cats are only rushing for 89 yards a game which does not bode well against the Gator defense. Overall Kentucky averages less than 300 yards a game and have not exactly lined up against some great defenses the last two weeks. Defensively teams have had their way with Kentucky, but give the Wildcats credit: they did battle Louisville pretty hard. This unit will only hold up as long as Kentucky is in the game. Strong Safety Muhammad Abdullah is a terrific player from last season and one to watch around the football. There have been some bad Kentucky teams that have scared Florida to death in the past but this team does not seem to have much in the way of morale. They are at home and maybe there coach could pull out all the stops, but Florida would have to help the Cats for this one to get close.

The Gator defense is ranked second nationally, the highest ranking this far into a season in quite some time. Quietly, Stephen Harris and Marcus Thomas have played very well up the middle. Sometimes you can be disruptive and impact the play without coming up in the stat sheet and these two have definitely done that. The numbers that impress me the most so far with this unit are tackles for loss or TFL's. These are plays made behind the line of scrimmage that force teams to play behind the chains in down and distance situations. The Gators have 18 TFL's in three games with the injured Ray McDonald leading the way with three. The Gators have registered eight sacks but have had nine different players combine for those big plays. The diversity in the number of guys getting to the quarterback tells me UF can use multiple blitzes and that if you leave a defensive lineman one on one, he has the ability to get to the quarterback. The most impressive number however is 20%. That is what teams are converting on third down which I would imagine is on pace to be the best in UF history.

What can the Gators work on this week? Well, the balance in the offense is very important but I think UF would like to continue to improve their third down percentage and score more touchdowns in the red zone. They currently stand at 34.9% on third down, tenth in the SEC, and they have scored touchdowns on just 57% of their red zone opportunities. We may see Josh Portis this week and also the backup running back position will be an area to watch for as well. UF will also look to cut down on it's pre-snap penalties. Defensively UF will look to play some more players depending on the number of snaps but I think the Gators would like to have a big sack game this week. UF will turn up the heat to try and get a five or six-sack performance. Joe Cohen seems primed to get his first career sack and Derrick Harvey is a guy I really want to see more of in crunch time. If the Gators can get control of the game early will we get to see more of Avery Atkins, Jarvis Moss, Clint McMillan and Jon Demps. Also on special teams Jemalle Cornelius will get a chance to return kicks in place of Caldwell.

How will it play out?

Florida should be able to handle the Wildcats this weekend and have control in the second half. What we do know about Meyer's offense so far is that when he wants to work on something he works on it. Once again I look for UF to run it more than they throw it this week and once again they should get 200 yards like they did against Louisiana Tech. Kentucky played Louisville tough in the opener so UF cannot completely overlook them. Eliminating penalties and running the ball with all their weapons should be on the Florida menu. Defensively, look for UF to blitz and get more sacks this week. UF should be wary of any trick plays and expect Kentucky to pull out all the stops to get points. My guess: Florida's defense continues to shine and the Gators win 42-7.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Joe Cohen, Earl Everett, Jim Tartt, Drew Miller and Jemalle Cornelius.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Florida held Tennessee scoreless in the second half last week. The Gators became the first team in the Phil Fulmer Era to hold the Vols scoreless in the second half on the road.

Gator Great Emmitt Smith, who was honored at the Cowboys Monday night game, could be coming to town to see the Gators play. Emmitt was asked by the the student body to Grand Marshal this year's homecoming parade. It appears he will make the trip and you may have a chance to see him in person. Emmitt ranks as one of the greatest ever. Many will remember 1987 when he started his first game against Alabama as a true freshman. Running behind Willie McGrady, Emmitt racked up over 200 yards in a huge Gator upset.

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