Certainly injuries have played a factor. Between the loss of Bubba Caldwell and a significantly slowed Jemalle Cornelius Florida has not had its top four guys healthy for most of the season. But that doesn't explain why Tate Casey has disappeared after catching four TD passes last year. It doesn't explain why Florida's younger receivers have not been called upon with freshman Nyan Boateng's three receptions leading the pack. In an effort to figure out what it will take to get the receiving corps going, I spoke with Florida receivers' coach Billy Gonzales:
LV: Billy, talk about what you wanted to get done during the off week?
BG: I think the main thing was to keep them focused. You want to get them some rest, but you want them to stay sharp mentally. We spent some time looking at Georgia and looking for some ways to get the receivers the ball in good positions.
LV: All in all how do you feel your unit performed the first seven games?
BG: Oh I think we've been too sporadic to be honest with you. If you had asked me about production after the first couple of games I would have said pretty good, but we've only shown glimpses of what can be possible. But at the same time we keep going until lulls and its up to us as coaches to keep that from happening. You look at Chad versus Wyoming or Jemalle versus Kentucky or Dallas in the Mississippi State game, but we need all four or five receivers in the game to be productive like that.
LV: You talk about getting the ball to playmakers in space. Chad Jackson has proven he can be a playmaker, but it seems lately he's always getting the ball in traffic, why is that?
BG: That question has been asked a lot lately. We've been in this offense for five years and I always tell my players it's not the play that makes the player it's the player who makes the play. It doesn't matter if you catch a hitch, a short drag a slant or a bubble play the job is to make guys miss and make something happen. At the same time, we have to do a better job to get our guys the ball where they already have some running space.
LV: Obviously the Gators were a lot more dangerous when you were full speed, but you lost Bubba and have not had a full-speed Jemalle for a few weeks. Will he be full speed for this game?
BG: Oh yeah, he played every snap against Mississippi State. He'll probably tell you he was about 90 percent, but I would say it was closer to 80. Now he's almost fully healed and his presence adds a lot.
LV: We've seen a little bit of Nyan Boateng who has made three catches and carried the ball twice. He's averaged over 16 yards per touch. Is he ready to be more of a factor down the stretch?
BG: He just has to be more consistent. He's no different than the other guys, but he's a freshman and one of the things about freshmen is they are not mentally tough all the time. When you go through a long practice you watch him and say, gosh darn look at him make those plays. And then as practice drags on the mistakes start to come along, but he's getting closer. He's doing some good things but the big question is, can you be accountable, can your team count on you to make that block or catch? Nyan is getting much better. He's getting close.
LV: At this point is it more about knowing the offense? Technique? Blocking?
BG: I think it's a little bit of everything. He's very smart. He knows what the offense is, he can play various positions, but at the same time he's a freshman and you don't want to ask too much. We want him to perfect the things he has does best. He needs to concentrate better on catching the ball and be tougher when blocking on the perimeter. But he's coming along.
LV: One guy we saw a good bit of last year was Tate Casey. I know he had a couple of drops early on but where is he right now and what are the chances he could be a weapon for you down the stretch?
BG: I hope so. When you are a spread team you look at your opponent and see how they are going to scheme you. Mississippi State was a substitution by personnel team so we used Tate and Billy (Latsko) a lot and spread them out which created some opportunities somewhere else. Is Georgia going to play nickel when we leave Tate in there? If so, we might be able to get a mismatch on a smaller guy. He reps ad the receiver position, the tight end position and even at the running back position but it comes down to where we can create the matchups we want.
BG: Everyone is a possibility at this point, but if we were to do that now I would have to explain to him that it was really an emergency. The reason we started thinking about pulling his redshirt was out at practice he started making a lot of plays and was really looking like a Florida receiver. He's gotten strong, he knows the system and he's playing with confidence again. But we're going into week eight of the season and I really don't want to do that (play him).
LV: With the offense struggling against the top teams on the schedule are you concerned about the unit's confidence heading into the Georgia game?
BG: No. We know they're a great football team but we think we have a great football team and we have some great talent. The thing is our playmakers need to make plays. We're close. We've just gotten into a situation where we're a step short or one block short or a throw just a fingernail too long. It's the entire unit; it's not the quarterback; it's not the offensive line; it's all eleven guys; it's the coaches involved with it. You'll see so many plays where we have ten guys doing a great job and that one miss is the difference in us not making the play.
LV: So how good is that Georgia defense?
BG: Oh, they're a great football team. On the back end they have a veteran secondary that is really fast. They have linebackers that can really move. They're not big, but they can run. Up front they are very aggressive. They do some good things. They mix up zone with some man to man. They play with a lot of confidence.
LV: It'll be your first Florida/Georgia game with the stands split in half and all that. What have you heard about this game and how much are you looking forward to being a part of it?
BG: Oh I'm excited. I think any time you play a game no matter where it is you get excited. First of all, Florida travels great. They have great fans and no matter where we are there will be Gator fans when we get off the bus. This is going to be unique. It's going to be in a pro stadium. As far as I'm concerned it's a home game. We're still playing in Jacksonville, Florida and that's a lot closer to us on the map I have.
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Billy Gonzales may be a young guy (34) but he has the coach speak of a man with many more years on the sidelines. That said, you gotta like his energy and his desire to see things get better. I'm just looking forward to hearing something more specific than "our play makers have to make plays". But that's just an old guy being cranky.
I also think Tate Casey might be the emerging guy this weekend.
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