I think it was a solid win for the Gators and the first win in stretch of "payback" games for the Gators. I think it is a good indication of how focused your team is when your special teams can dominate a game. The "third" phase was very good and when you combine that with a dominating defensive performance, the Gators get a comfortable win. The offensive numbers are a bit misleading but the Gators did get some new faces in the mix and Chris Leak showed great toughness by playing on Saturday. This game had the feel of a struggle on offense because of all the injuries and the ongoing development of the offense.
Brady: Did the Gators fix anything on the offense?
They did get 480 yards, rushing for 191 yards which was 100 more than Georgia managed against the Bulldogs. This is even more impressive considering Leak and Wynn were injured. Manson showed his burst and once again, let me say I think he should get even more touches in this offense. Dan Mullen moved to the box this week to try and get a feel for working up top before next week's game against LSU. The Gators did have two long scoring drives for touchdowns, giving them 10-plus drives over 60 yards for touchdowns this season.
Ack: Was Chris Leak's injury the problem with the passing game?
I think it had some impact on his ability to zip in the medium throw down the middle of the field. I also think Florida is trying to run a four receiver offense with just two receivers. Jamelle Cornelius was not able to go this week, leaving Leak with Dallas Baker and Chad Jackson as the only proven threats in the spread offense. Combine some drops and a couple of turnovers and you have a spotty passing performance. I was encouraged by Nyan Boateng and would like to see him in as the fourth receiver with Cornelius coming back next week. Florida did not attempt a downfield pass until 10 minutes to go in the second quarter and that was not even Leak's first read.
Brady: Did the offensive line protect well or are they still struggling?
I thought they did a good job overall considering UF threw the ball 30-plus times in the game. They have been given some blame for sacks that were coverage sacks against the receivers. There were times in which no one could get open which is a byproduct of only having two experience threats in the passing game. I think the sacks should be a "shared" blame on the entire offense. At times backs and lineman are missing blocks, sometimes Leak is holding on to the ball too long and sometimes the receivers are not doing a good job of getting open.
Ack: Any other thoughts on the spread offense?
First I liked seeing the shovel pass back in the mix of plays and also some good option plays for the Gators. It is obvious to me this is a ball control passing attack that features a lot of short routes beneath the coverage. The fact that the Gators have not developed a homerun threat at running back has made it easy for teams to roll back into deep zone coverage. Florida Coach Urban Meyer spent all summer saying he was looking for a fifth receiver and right now he would gladly take four to go play against LSU. You cannot run a spread offense very effectively with just two receivers, a banged up quarterback and no established running threat. To that end UF did manage 480 yards and I think the offensive line deserves some credit after taking a lot of heat this week.
Brady: What about the defensive performance?
It all starts with the defensive front which was dominant on Saturday. They created a new line of scrimmage with great penetration. Two big plays (Norwood run/Conner pass at the end of the half) kept the numbers from being a record low. Marcus Thomas showed me once again that he is playing at All-SEC level by continuing to take on double teams and get pressure. Jeremy Mincey had a terrific game and Brandon Siler was stout all day long. The Gators played with passion and delivered six sacks, an interception and two safeties. I think everyone now knows who Reggie Nelson is and why we have wanted to see more and more of him. He has a high football IQ and you combine that with his talent and the Gator scheme, you have a playmaker. Kyle Jackson bounced back nicely from last week although he did miss that tackle on the big pass. We could also see more of Tony Joiner in the near future. UF set the tempo early with three and outs and a turnover to stop a Mississippi State scoring opportunity.
Ack: How do you get Reggie Nelson on the field?
Well you don't bench Vernell Brown or Dee Webb but you can get him in on nickel situations like last Saturday. I think Nelson is physical enough to play in a scheme that features him on the outside as the third linebacker. He is the Gators best blitzer right now and takes good angles to the quarterback. Anytime a team spread the field or gets in a second or third down situation he should be on the field. Look for Charlie Strong to maybe put in some of his "Joker" package to get Reggie Nelson on the field.
Ack: Anything early thoughts on LSU?
The Tigers will have four straight at home beginning with the Gators and can finally settle in to a routine. Turnovers kept their game close at Vanderbilt and they seem to be getting better on defense. The Gator defense must first stop Joseph Addai and Justin Vincent in the run game. When UF blitzes they cannot let JaMarcus Russell get out the gate like Oman Conner did a couple of times. This week, if UF can get healthy, they should be able to throw the ball on the Tigers who have blown a lot of coverages this season so far. UF will be an underdog and need some great special teams play and zero turnovers to win the game. This may be a game for Meyer to pull some "trickeration" to get some easy points. One thing to remember, the last time UF went there as an underdog Chris Leak led them to victory.
Ack: Should Ray McDonald play this week against LSU?
Yes and No. If the doctors say yes, then play him 10-15 snaps in pass rush situations. Ray is an emotional leader and is Florida's fastest lineman off the snap. He could give this team a big spiritual lift. Joe Cohen is doing better and Jarvis Moss looks ready to play so it's not a situation in dire straits. No if there is any chance at a setback and the Georgia game will be really huge if the Gators can get this one this week.
Brady Ackerman can be heard on ESPN radio Gainesville-Ocala on AM 900 and AM 1230. Brady's website is http://www.bradyackerman.com