ACK: It Can Still Be Successful Year For UF

Believe it or not the University of Florida still has a lot to play for after the tough loss to South Carolina. The Gators fell short of their Southeastern Conference goals but this can still be a successful season that Coach Urban Meyer can us to build on for 2006. I think the next two games are the most important games for Florida in a long, long time.

Think about the difference in 9-3 and 7-5. If the Gators win the next two games they will finish with nine wins for the first time since 2001 and will have beaten arch rival FSU two years in a row. That will complete a season that included an undefeated home record for the first time since 2000 and wins over rivals Georgia, Tennessee and FSU. Two wins will send the Gators into the top fifteen in the National Polls and give them their first bowl victory since Steve Spurrier left the school. All these goals are still out there for UF and more importantly the fan base of Gator Nation.

You have to expect improvement in year two under Meyer, especially considering his track record. The offseason would be much more palatable at 9-3 rather than 7-5. UF is only 3-3 in the last six games and two more losses would raise many questions before next season. It's time for UF to "cowboy up" and forget about South Carolina. It's a two game season that will determine how livable the next nine months will be in Gator Nation. Two wins and it's a good transition year, a win over FSU and a loss in the bowl game and it's progress in a transition year, and two losses make it an unsuccessful transition year.

Ten games into Urban Meyer's coaching tenure offers both good and bad moments. Let's take a look at both sides of the ledger:

Good: Unbeaten at home

Bad: .Did not win the SEC East.

Good: Defense ranked eighth in the country in total defense.

Bad: Offense ranked fifth (59 nationally) in the conference.

Good: Wins over Tennessee and Georgia.

Bad: Loss at South Carolina.

Good: Play of Reggie Nelson, Markus Manson, Jarvis Moss.

Bad: Injury to Bubba Caldwell limiting the offense in year one.

Good: Improving running game behind the offensive line.

Bad: Four linemen will leave due to graduation on the offensive front.

Good: Five of the top six defensive linemen return next season.

Bad: Jeremy Mincey will graduate to the NFL.

Good: Florida leads the SEC in time of possession.

Bad: UF is seventh in the SEC on third down percentage after leading the conference in 2004.

Good: Urban Meyer has changed the discipline and kept players out of trouble. Bad: Florida is the most penalized team in the SEC.

I have gotten more "Ask Ack" questions during the week so here is some more answers to your questions.

Question from BJohnson: I think SC averaged over six yards on 12 first down running plays. Any idea of UF production on first down, both running and passing? It seems to me that our first down production is very bad. Thanks

Florida ran 29 plays on first down versus South Carolina. It was 16 runs and 13 passes which shows good balance. They ran for 73 yards while completing just five passes for 55 yards and gave up a sack. That translates to less than 4 yards a play overall for the game.

Ack: (1)This offense seems to lack the big play explosiveness we had in the past and everything seems to be built on short gains and long time consuming, ball control drives (too time consuming in my book), why is that and why do they not seem to play with any sense of urgency, good clock management and the desire to hit big plays more often than they do? (2) How did our defense go from looking so dominant earlier in the season to a seeming inability to stop anybody? Are you surprised by the diminishing contributions of the LB's and DB's? The defense didn't appear to be able to make the plays against Vandy or SC, and finally (3) Do you think Meyer will truly rethink the spread option in the off season and acknowledge that SEC defenses are too fast and athletic for all of this sideline to sideline running?

The big play has been missing all season. Whether UF has not executed the throw and catch or the backs have not busted through the secondary it has been non existent. I believe the offensive philosophy is conservative which lends to fewer opportunities for big plays. Clock management is an area this staff must work on in the offseason. The defense gave up very few yards but seemed to play flat on Saturday. There were missed assignment and missed tackles. I think the defense has struggled all season at stopping teams after turnovers or sudden field changes. I can't remember the last time UF got a three and out after a team started a possession on their side of the field. I think Meyer will re-think the spread option but I also believe he will go back to it for next season.

Ack: Do you our staff has been overmatched in key games this year? This is not a knock on Coach Meyer. I think he is a great coach but some of his offensive staff have never coached at SEC level. Carolina Gator

I think the offensive staff has gained some valuable experience. I think they have struggled in big games this season. Defensively there have been some situations but overall I think the coaches have had a good handle on the game plans week to week. If your offense continues to struggle to find points at some point don't you scheme up the trick play for some easy offense?

Ack: Even if Urban Meyer increases our toughness and discipline next year, how much can our offense improve with 4 offensive linemen to replace, and a mediocre QB who is ill-suited for our style of play?

If the answer is recruiting new players (I believe it is), and with the aforementioned problem and Auburn coming onto our already BRUTAL schedule next year, isn't it unrealistic to expect big things from the Gators next year? And, with next year's team, especially on D, composed of a plethora of SR's, isn't it also unrealistic to expect the 2007 team, which will be breaking in a new QB also, to excel? Should we expect some improvement in areas such as discipline, toughness, focus and familiarities with the system the next 2 years, and thus somewhat better results, but should we not try to be patient until 2008 to have the personnel to dominate? Thanks, Ultimategator

These are good questions that I will address in the next segment. Sometimes change at positions can be good even if the guys going out played a lot of football for you. The schedule is very tough and I think the key is for Meyer to play more young players especially at receiver, running back and linebackers. You should expect improvement from year one to year two. Whether that translates into wins against a tougher schedule remains to be seen.

Defensive Mirage: One burning question has been the drop off in the defense the last two weeks against Vandy and South Carolina. Statistically the Gators stand eighth in the country in total defense which is very impressive. But if you go back to my pre-season indicator for title teams, you will find the Gators coming up short on defense. I stated that championship teams reach 30-30-15 on the defensive side of the ball. That's 30 turnovers forced, 30 sacks and holding opponents to 15 points per game. UF has been close all season on these numbers and will miss on at least one goal in my opinion. Florida came into the South Carolina game with 24 sacks and 26 turnovers forced. The Gators did get three sacks but did not create a turnover. If UF creates two turnovers Saturday they win and are headed to Atlanta. If UF holds South Carolina to under 17 points they win the game. As it stands today the Gators are giving up 19 points per game and need four turnovers and three sacks against FSU to reach these goals. I don't think they will reach all three which further strengthens my argument on why they did not make the SEC title game this year. One number to point out with regards to the Florida defense: Of the top 20 total defensive units in the country only Kansas (ranked 20th) with 29 touchdowns has given up more points than the Gators (26 touchdowns).

Sneak Peek at 2006: Urban Meyer's teams have always improved from year one to year two under his leadership. This could become a very tough stat to keep up next year with the Gators 2006 schedule. Florida has road games at Tennessee and FSU as they always do in even years. But take a look at this four game stretch of games beginning with Alabama, LSU, at Auburn and Georgia in Jacksonville. Other than Kentucky and Vandy the schedule has no real lay ups. South Carolina is at home with Steve Spurrier coming back and even the two "preseason games" look tougher than usual with Conference USA leaders Southern Miss and UCF coming to the Swamp. The Gators will go through this schedule with a brand new offensive line against seven teams that rank in the top 40 in total defense in 2005. The schedule features eight bowl teams with the possibility of nine if Tennessee can win out versus Kentucky and Vandy. That will be the toughest schedule in Florida history on paper beginning the season.

Inside the Numbers: Florida is now 27th in the country in scoring defense.; FSU is 31st in the country in scoring; Florida is 8th in the country in total defense; FSU is 10th in the country in total defense; Florida is 60th in total offense; FSU is 39th in total offense; Florida is 54th in scoring offense; FSU is 29th in scoring offense; Florida is +16 in the turnover margin; FSU is -5 in turnover margin.

Early FSU thoughts: The Seminoles have lost two in a row and three games in the ACC for the first time ever in the conference. They are a banged up team that has been exposed in recent weeks for lack of a running game. The Noles got off to a fast start but are 2-3 in their last five games. Turnovers have stunted the growth of Drew Weatherford while missed tackles have plagued the defense. FSU's weaknesses right now are on the offensive line, running game and the secondary. There strengths are the athleticism at receiver, linebackers and defensive line. They should have a healthy receiving corps as well as get Leon Washington and Kamerion Wimbley back for the Gator game.

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