Questions And Answers From Saturday's Game

As could be expected, Saturday night was anxiety central for Gator fans. Losing to South Carolina and then watching Auburn beat Georgia meant Florida was oh so close but ever so far away to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. An hour in the chat room produced some questions that bear detailed answers that I hope help better answer some of your questions.

The defense really sucked, didn't it?

It really wasn't a case of bad defense. The defense gave up only 120 rushing yards and 126 passing yards. It seems worse because on two of South Carolina's scoring drives, the defense made some poor plays, for example the 64-yard pass from Blake Mitchell to Sidney Rice. Take that play away and we're talking about 182 yards surrendered by the defense. Another example is the 77-yard scoring drive for South Carolina's second touchdown. Poor tackling, a personal foul and a pass interference call all contributed to the touchdown.

The defense was put in a bad position by the special teams or a turnover for 17 of South Carolina's 30 points. The interception and long return gave South Carolina a gift touchdown on the Florida five. A shanked punt gave South Carolina the ball on the Florida 47 for the Gamecocks' third touchdown and another short punt gave them the ball at their 43 which resulted in their field goal.

Coach Urban Meyer preaches field position football and I can't disagree with that. Putting the defense in position to defend a short field is a recipe for disaster.

We took seven minutes to score on a drive! That's entirely too long!

There isn't a coach in the country that doesn't love those kind of drives. Even the visored one loves them. Sure, the fans get revved up by 80-yard pass plays and 70-yard runs and coaches love them, too, but grind it out drives are great for the defense. The drive in question in this case is Florida's first drive of the second half, a 12-play, 80-yard drive that took 7:06 off the clock. Florida kept its defense off the field and kept South Carolina's defense on the field. It's a total team effort and when you put together these kind of drives, your offense is actually playing defense for you as well because you're keeping your defense off the field and fresh. The tendency in football is that most big plays are surrendered by tired football teams and the best way to tire an opponent's defense is to pound the ball and make them stay on the field.

I know we have had a lot of injuries, but everybody has injuries. That's just an excuse.

You haven't heard Urban Meyer making excuses about the injuries, have you? He hasn't, but you could make a serious case for how injuries have crippled Florida. Losing Bubba Caldwell was devastating because of the fear factor alone that he provides. He's the one player that Florida had that made defenses accountable for him with two people minimum on every single play. His presence made it impossible to double up on Chad Jackson. You want to know why it is that Chad Jackson's numbers in terms of yards per catch have diminished since the third game? All you have to do is look back to that play against Tennessee when Bubba broke his leg.

The Ray McDonald injury has been significant even though the defense has played great football for all but a couple of games. Ray was on his way to having an All-America season. The injuries to the guards early on impeded the progress of the guards on the offensive line. Losing Vernell Brown was critical in more ways than just his ability to lock down one receiver. His on the field presence was a steadying factor. Brandon Siler, Earl Everett, Marcus Thomas and Jarvis Herring have all been battling through injuries, too. Throw in Jemalle Cornelius effectively missing a month and now the injury to Dallas Baker, who played courageously with a broken rib and a not yet completely healed ankle Saturday.

Yeah, everybody gets injuries, but I don't know of a team in the SEC that's been hit by so many injuries that were so devastating as Florida. The only other case you could really make is the injury to Tyrone Prothro at Alabama but other than his critical loss, the Crimson Tide hasn't had that many injuries.

The injuries to the wide receivers are because of the spread offense. No receiver would want to come here and get beaten up like these guys do on those short little passes.

Okay, let's review the injuries. Bubba Caldwell got hit by a helmet on the femur on a kickoff return against Tennessee. Can't say the spread offense caused that one. Jemalle Cornelius sprained his ankle on a kickoff return against Alabama. Nope, not the spread there, either. Dallas Baker injured the ankle against Georgia on a deep out pattern and he broke the rib when he got hit trying to make a catch of a 14-yard curl against Vanderbilt. The sore hamstrings that Chad Jackson had that slowed him down for a couple of games aren't the result of getting beaten up in the spread, either.

None of those injuries were caused by getting beaten up in the spread, and before anyone goes railing against using Caldwell and Cornelius on kick returns, they've been used on kick returns for the previous two years and they didn't get hurt. Those are just freak things that happened, but they weren't caused by the spread offense.

Our two minute offense sucks. Where was our time management in the fourth quarter Saturday?

You're 100 percent correct there. That's an issue that has to be addressed. When you're down by two scores (30-19) and there are only nine minutes left in the game, there has to be a greater sense of urgency. You can't put yourself in a position to depend on recovering an onside kick so you have to score and give your defense a chance to get the ball back in decent field position.

Florida took over with 9:04 remaining and it took 16 plays to get a field goal. There was a sack, three running plays, a delay of game penalty and a false start figured in there along with a rotten call at the goal line when Dallas Baker CAUGHT the ball at the one but the zebras in the booth didn't review.

Of Florida's first seven plays on that drive, there were two short running plays, a scramble by Chris Leak that netted zero yards, a sack and three pass plays that netted 20 yards. That is simply too nonchalant. There needed to be a greater sense of urgency. Those routes should have been at least 10-12 yards, the kind that get a first down which stops the clock when the pass is completed.

Where was Tate Casey? We threw effectively to Billy Latsko and then didn't use him anymore.

Tate Casey dropped the first pass thrown his way late in the first half and he had the ball thrown his way two other times but both passes were incomplete. I'm not sure if Leak lost confidence in Casey or what, but he was open a number of times and the ball went somewhere else.

As for Latsko, I'm in complete agreement. He had two catches for 31 yards and a touchdown. South Carolina ignored him in the passing game, convinced that he was in there simply to block for the running game. I think he has to become a viable threat in the passing game to make teams account for him on every play.

For the same reason, I think it's ridiculous to have Kenneth Tookes and Gavin Dickey in the game and they are ignored. If you're going to put them in the game, make teams defend them by at least throwing the ball to them one or two times.

Our coaching staff is over its head, especially Dan Mullen.

I'll disagree with that notion. I think it's a very good coaching staff that is in a difficult situation. This is a transition year and transition years from one coaching staff to another aren't always smooth, especially when the inherited personnel isn't exactly a great fit for the new schemes. Remember this: Jimmy Johnson inherited a national championship team in 1984 and he promptly took that team to an 8-5 record. Bernie Kosar left for the NFL after that year because he didn't feel he was a particularly good fit in Jimmy Johnson's offense.

Transition years are tough on everyone. I think you will see the same coaches doing the same exact things next year only with greater success. Why? Because players will be doing things instinctively a year from now that they're still getting comfortable with now. This is a growing process and it is simply taking a little bit longer than everyone thought.

I think Mullen is a very good offensive mind and a darn good quarterback coach. That being said, I'm not sure if it is that Chris Leak is a poor fit for the offense or that he's simply taking a lot longer than anyone expected to master the things he has to do to run this offense effectively. I thought Leak had a breakthrough game against Vanderbilt the way he took the positive yards and got rid of the ball quickly to open receivers. South Carolina played defense the same way Vanderbilt did and Leak held onto the ball and didn't use his feet to make South Carolina pay for leaving him unaccounted.

Now is that Mullen's fault for poor coaching or is it that Leak is simply not all the way there in terms of being able to run this offense confidently? When I see Leak doing things well, such as running the option as he did on Saturday, I believe that the coaching isn't the problem. I think Leak has problems with this offense and I don't know if it's resistance on his part or that it's just taking a lot of time for it to become instinctive.

I know the offense has been scaled back to better fit Leak's abilities so I do wonder if there was too much emphasis made on getting Leak to see the whole picture too quickly rather than feed him the offense bit by bit, allowing him to master one phase before moving on to the next.

The offensive line sucked again. Leak got sacked five times by South Carolina.

I'll disagree that the line sucked. The running game produced 185 positive yards (149 net because of 34 lost yards on sacks and two for a kneel-down at the end of the first half) against a pretty good defensive team. Of the five sacks, four of them can be attributed to Leak holding the ball way too long. On three of the sacks, he had a receiver wide open in the middle but he was looking to get the ball deeper and so he held onto the ball. On the fourth sack, he had a chance to run with the football straight up the middle but instead he tried a spin move and ran parallel to the line of scrimmage where he was caught from behind. The fifth sack was totally the fault of the line.

In the Vanderbilt game, Leak took the positive yards running the ball when they were available. For the most part, he didn't do that against South Carolina. In the Vanderbilt game, Leak got rid of the ball quickly but against South Carolina he was holding the ball way too long again.

Now, all that being said, the offensive line is responsible for a false start and a hold that killed Florida's most important drive of the game when the Gators were trying to answer immediately after South Carolina went ahead, 27-19. Still, overall, it was a pretty decent effort by the OL.

Scrap the spread option and go with a more conventional offense that will work in the SEC.

There's nothing wrong with the spread option. What's wrong is that it's taken a year to get it working right and that these players may not be a good fit --- at least at this point --- for what the coaches are trying to do. Check the numbers from Bowling Green and Utah. Our numbers aren't that far off from year one. Check what Bowling Green and Utah did in year two of this system. Those are mind boggling and hopefully indicative of what can and will be accomplished next season.

The offense will work in the SEC or anywhere. In concept, it's not all that different that what we're seeing at places like Texas. The only difference is that at Texas the spread works well because the quarterback is a perfect fit for the offense. We're not at the point where we can say Leak is a perfect fit for this offense. It's a tough situation: does the staff continue to patiently wait for Leak to get it, or is there a point where they decide that this isn't going to work? I'm glad I'm not the one who has to make that decision.

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