Other undefeated teams have big games as well this week with Penn State facing Ohio State, Georgia facing Tennessee and Nebraska and Texas Tech squaring off. There has been at least one top ten team lose every week of the season so expect that trend to continue. One thing for sure is the Southeastern Conference race is wide open especially in the East. The only two unbeaten teams in the division are Georgia and Vanderbilt. Florida still controls its destiny. If the Gators run the table and win the SEC title they will be as deserving as any of the one-loss contenders.
The Harris Poll is tightening up nicely and without all the mistakes last week, I believe the voters are doing a good job. It will be interesting to see the first BCS poll when they combine the computers with the polls. Finally, what about the old school teams Alabama, Penn State and Nebraska being undefeated for the first time since 1994 this late in the season? The last time that happened all three teams finished the season undefeated.
Running game struggles
The offensive line has taken more heat this week than the director of FEMA did when he stepped down and the criticism is merited. I think the running game is enabling the ineffective offensive line. What I mean by that is the fact that UF has had no big plays in the ground game to get defenses to respect the UF rushing attack. It is tough to pass block when the other team knows that is all you are going to do. The Gators five biggest runs which are 20 yards or more are led by back up quarterback Josh Portis with two, linebacker Earl Everett with one on a fake punt and wide receiver Bubba Caldwell with one on a reverse. The only run by a running back over 20 yards was the sweep to DeShawn Wynn versus Lousiana Tech in game two. This offense is based out of the run and while Chris Leak is a very good passer the running game must improve. The Gators stand at seventh in the SEC in rushing offense and if that remains the same the rest of the year, this is a team that will underachieve.
Markus Manson is the perfect compliment to Wynn. He has carried 19 times for 103 yards in mop-up duty but this week he looks to get a shot at playing in prime time. Running from the shotgun calls for great vision and quick decisions and I think Manson can provide that for this offense. I also think Manson and Wynn in the backfield at the same time would be an interesting wrinkle in the shotgun, capable of providing more of a threat on the option than there is when Tate Casey is back there.
Mississippi State is very solid against the run and is only giving up 113 yards per game. Portis is an electric player with the ball in his hands so why not give him some snaps to run the offense? I am not advocating working him in to take Leak's job but more like D.J. Shockley at Georgia when he was backing up David Greene. Give Portis a series each half and let him finish a drive.
Behind the chains
Ex-Florida coach Steve Spurrier was maybe the greatest behind the chains coach in SEC history. He always seemed undaunted by third and long situations and often tried to make them in convincing fashion. Today's college football teams look to stay "on schedule" and get down and distance in their favor. Urban Meyer has dominated the last four years because he has had teams on their heels on third down. The thought of calling a run or pass makes it tougher to defend on third down which helps offenses stay on the field. The two week run of Chris Leak on third down was a tremendous accomplishment but not what Urban Meyer is good at and not what you want to make a living on in the SEC. It's nice to have a quarterback who you can trust to get you third and 10 but the more times he is in that situation against quality opponents the more likely he will not succeed.
The other factor in third and long situations is use put the struggling offensive line in a situation in which the defense has its ears pinned back and with a one track mind. The Gators and Urban Meyer would like to be in third and four or shorter where he could use his full arsenal of plays. So far this season UF has been in third and five or longer 75 percent of the time which is a complete opposite of Meyer's team's the last four seasons. Against Alabama the Gators were 2-10 on third and 5 or longer. In hostile environments against quality opponents you want to reduce your third and mediums and third and longs to less than 50 percent of the time. Florida would like to be more effective not only on first down but on second down as well. Keep an eye on the Gator offense and see if it starts to operate in front of the chains this week.
Be diverse on defense
The Gator defensive scheme was "exposed" by Alabama in Urban Meyer's own words. I don't believe the Gator defense is a bad as it looked in the first half last Saturday. The Gators needed to make adjustments and should as the season goes along. No team had success up until last week against UF's 4-3 cover three zone look. Now that Alabama did some things to hit the Gators with some big plays expect some more wrinkles from UF. I expect Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong will play some 2-man cover schemes and some zones while continuing to give a steady diet of blitzes. The Gators were in pretty good coverage and the Bama quarterback was able to make terrific throws. The key to the whole defense is not the man coverage but the play of the front seven. If teams are going to max protect against UF then the Gators must play zone some of the time to avoid getting guys stuck on an island with no pass rush.
The pride is hurt on the defensive side of the football, but the confidence should still be there. This system fits the personnel and talent and recruits should want to come to Florida and play in it. Alabama only ran 55 plays in the game and averaged less than five plays per drive. The problem? Two big pass plays for touchdowns and a short drive after an interception that resulted in seven points.
Florida has eight scholarship receivers after the injury to Andre Caldwell and this number would probably grow to twelve in future years. If you're an I-formation team you will probably have eight or nine running backs/fullbacks on scholarship. If you're a spread team that runs one back you may have four. Because of the prior system, the Gators had three tight ends, three tailbacks (one left early) and two fullbacks. This is eight players that ate up some of the scholarships that Meyer would use on receivers. Tate Casey is needed in the offense but I think Meyer would like to have some more receivers. The other thing with recruiting your own personnel is the type of receiver you recruit.
Expect Meyer to have tall athletic guys on the perimeter and athletic running back type guys in the slots. I have always said a coach needs time to put in his system and personnel when taking over a program even at a school like Florida. Chris Leak is a perfect example of great quarterback who does not fit this system. Look for UF to recruit more offensive skilled guys to fit their system.
The Bulldogs are a better team than last year but they do have three losses against quality opponents. Omarr Conner has improved as a quarterback, increasing his touchdown to interception ratio. He is only completing 55 percent of his passes. He has some solid receivers led by Will Prosser. Jerrious Norwood is back and if you remember, he had a huge game against Florida last year. Norwood has 339 yards rushing and he must be licking his chops watching the Gators miss so many tackles versus Alabama last week. Defensively, Mississippi State has 13 sacks which is one more than UF so far this season. Willie Evans has six of those plus he also has nine tackles for loss. Considering Florida's tackles struggled last week against Alabama, this could be another tough week.
Urban Meyer trailed by 21 at the half last week while last season at Utah his team averaged 21-point lead at halftime for the entire season ... Chris Leak went 23 straight games with a touchdown pass and now he has gone two out of three without one. Chris has completed 60.3 percent of his passes during his career and should pass Danny Wuerffel this week for third on the Gator all-time list.
Dallas Baker's 115 yards last week versus Alabama was a career high and the first 100 yard game of his career ... The highest ranked team offensive category for Florida in the SEC is passing offense at 252 yards per game which is third in the league … Marcus Thomas had three tackles for a loss versus Alabama and now leads the Gators with 5.5 on the season ... UF has not been 5-1 to start a season since 2001 ... Reggie Nelson leads the team with two caused fumble this season … Florida has been to the SEC title game seven times and five of those seasons Florida made it to that game with only one loss.
Halfway through the season let's look at Ack's Defensive Keys to Success: The formula for a BCS season is 30-30-15 (turnovers, sacks and points per game).
Turnovers: 7 interceptions and 6 fumbles recovered = total 13. On pace to reach goal. Sacks: 12 total with 0 last week. Just under pace to reach goal. Scoring Defense: 16.6 after 31-3 loss to Alabama. Last week forced the Gators off the pace.
How will it play out?
This game has the feel of being a flat atmosphere because of the loss last week to Alabama but the Gators should want to come out and prove something and I think they will do that. It would be nice to see the UF offense be balanced on the first drive of the game and go down and get a touchdown. It will be tough to run consistently on the Bulldogs considering the struggles of UF and the strength of MSU. The shovel pass should be back on the playbook this week and could be a big play in the Gator attack. Florida will get a run over 20-plus yards this week by a running back. Markus Manson should provide a spark and a compliment to Wynn at tailback. Defensively, I think the Gators will blitz and pressure Conner all day. Look for the defense to start fast and create some short fields for the offense with turnovers. It is homecoming and the Gators will get revenge for last season against a team they match up good with. Florida wins 24-6,
Gator Legend from the offensive line
Mo Collins who played from 1995-1998 can best be remembered for shutting down the FSU pass rush in the 1997 classic at Florida field. Mo recently retired from the NFL and owns several companies from investments to retail sales. He is married to Jolin and they have a new baby daughter Carlin. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.