Florida spent much of the bye prior to the Georgia game shoring up their pass protection problems and run blocking schemes. The Gators had clearly struggled protecting Leak, allowing 24 sacks in just seven games. In fact, ten of those sacks had come in the three games prior to the trip to Georgia. Seemingly improved, the Gators gave up only one sack in each of the past two games before the wheels fell off against South Carolina. Leak was sacked five times, which included a coverage sack and mental mistakes he made holding on to the ball too long. The offensive line had a much better performance against Florida State. They allowed two sacks while opening enough holes for the running game to keep the Seminoles attacking style defense honest.
This is an improved offensive front in many ways. Offensive line coach John Hevesy utilizes a zone blocking scheme that asks a lot of their offensive front. The inexperience and injuries at guard had been a major source of frustration.
All-Southeastern Conference selection Mike Degory is the rock of the Florida offensive line. The senior center has the intellect, intensity, and inertia to get things moving positively. He is a power-oriented blocker who also has solid pass blocking technique.
Center #68 Mike Degory 6-6 304 Sr. 3L Melbourne
Guards #79 Steve Rissler 6-3 310 Jr. 2L Sarasota #76 Tavares Washington 6-4 320 Sr. Sq Greenville, MS #67 Drew Miller 6-5 310 So. 1L Sarasota #63 Jim Tartt 6-3 315 Fr. Sq. Sopchoppy
Tackles #74 Randy Hand 6-6 310 Sr. 3L Ft. Myers #72 Lance Butler 6-7 315 Sr. 2L Lexington, NC #75 Phil Trautwein 6-6 310 So. 1L Voorhees, N.J. #77 Jason Watkins 6-6 300 RFr Sq Lakeland
Florida had played musical guards throughout much of the 2005 season. Four players (Tavares Washington, Steve Rissler, Jim Tartt, and Drew Miller) have rotated in an effort to find permanent starters at both positions. Washington and Rissler started against Georgia and Vanderbilt with both earning champion grades after post game film review. They have established themselves as the starters.
Rissler is the guy the Florida coaches feel should challenge for Degory's position next spring. He saw reps as the backup center in August and little else. However, their inability to find players to nail down the guard spots, coupled with injuries, forced Rissler into the rotation. Rissler has answered the call. He is consistently coming off of the ball quicker and getting a sound punch on his man. His footwork seemingly has been much improved.
Junior college transfer Tavares Washington played sparingly in 2003 and was redshirted last season after suffering an injury during the summer. The senior has battled some minor injuries including an elbow injury against Alabama, but those are apparently behind him. Washington has long arms and has improved his balance. He is playing the best football of his Florida career.
Sophomore Drew Miller had his finest performance as a Florida Gator against Georgia and played well versus Vanderbilt. Miller, an Olympic lifter, has the physical tools needed to become an outstanding lineman. He has lacked the experience. It appears the two weeks of practice helped greatly before the Georgia game. Miller was named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week. Miller too has long arms and continues to improve locking and moving a defender.
Redshirt freshman Jim Tartt has the powerful build and on the field anger management issues that O-Line coaches love. However, Tartt has been slowed by a shoulder problem that was surgically repaired just before the season. He continues to get reps to gain the necessary experience. Tartt figures to be a serious challenger in the spring and the coaches hope that his fellow linemen take on his aggressive on-field persona.
The Gators return three solid seniors at center and tackle. Mike Degory, Randy Hand, and Lance Butler, who have several starts among them the past two years. Hevesy thought it best to switch Hand and Butler, with Hand now manning the left tackle position.
Hand and Butler did an outstanding job against two very good Georgia defensive ends. They both graded out champion with their strong performance. I noted several plays where Hand and Butler both took the Georgia rush off of the edge out of the play. They continued that performance against Vanderbilt, as both again earned champion grades. Both players performed well against Florida State with Hand earning SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors for his play against the Seminoles.
Analysis: The Gators continue to grow as a unit. Rissler and Washington have solidified their roles as the starters at guard. Center Mike Degory and tackles Randy Hand and Lance Butler have performed well as the season has progressed. It will interesting to see if they can establish control of the line of scrimmage against the Hawkeyes after the long layoff.. Receivers
A talented group of wideouts- Chad Jackson, Andre Caldwell, Dallas Baker, and Jemalle Cornelius- were supposed to be among the most dangerous group in the country. Just as it did with the rest of the Florida offense, things looked ahead of schedule to Coach Urban Meyer. That is, until the trip to Tuscaloosa on October 1st.
Florida's talented receiving corps lost Caldwell to a broken leg in the Tennessee game and Jemalle Cornelius suffered a high ankle sprain against the Tide. To complicate matters, the receivers found getting separation from the Crimson Tide secondary to be a difficult task. That appeared evident at times against Mississippi State, LSU, Georgia, and South Carolina. That was not the case against a poor Vanderbilt secondary. Nor was it the case the last time out against the Seminoles.
Dallas Baker has emerged as the Gators go to guy. Baker has hauled in 42 passes for 550 yards and three touchdowns. Despite limited action since breaking a rib and puncturing a lung during the Vanderbilt game, he is ranked eighth among SEC receivers in receptions and receiving yards per game. Baker should be much improved against the Hawkeyes.
Chad Jackson (81-824, 9 TD's) leads the conference in receptions per game (7.36) and is third with 74.9 receiving yards per game. Despite his glowing stats, I would say that Jackson too has struggled somewhat to get away from opposing defensive backs. He also must improve his blocking. Jackson torched the Seminoles for none catches for 97 yards and a score. It was perhaps his best effort running routes this season.
Tight End #84 Tate Casey 6-6 242 So. 1L Longview,Tx.
Wide receivers #8 Chad Jackson 6-1 205 Jr. 2L Hoover, AL #81 Dallas Baker 6-3 204 Jr. 2L New Smyrna Beach #6 Jemalle Cornelius 5-11 190 Jr. 2L Fort Meade #17 Gavin Dickey 5-11 205 Jr. 1L Tallahassee #3 Kenneth Tookes 6-2 209 Jr. 1L Jacksonville #80 Nyan Boateng 6-2 200 Fr. HS Brooklyn, NY #28 Kyle Morgan 6-2 225 Sr. 1L Melbourne
Florida's third leading receiver is Jemalle Cornelius. He has great quickness and good acceleration after the catch. JCorn is the Gators third leading receiver with 28 receptions for 375 yards and a score. Tight end Tate Casey had not been used as often in the passing game as expected. He has improved his blocking and was open twice against South Carolina deep, but was missed. Casey has eight catches for 94 yards and a score.
Wide receiver/Quarterback/outfielder Gavin Dickey (1-17) has good hands and sound running ability after the catch, as evidenced by his starting role on the kickoff receiving team. However, he is not getting the ball very often in this offense. He could see a play or two as the backup quarterback.
Injuries: Andre Caldwell (knee) out.
Analysis: Dallas Bakers' injury was not something the Gators needed. He was really hitting stride when he was popped while going d\to the playing surface in the Vanderbilt game. He really plays with a lot of heart as he demonstrated against Florida State.
Chad Jackson is an outstanding talent, who has to do a better job blocking. He finally had a sound all around game running routes.
Tight end Tate Casey and fullback/tight end Billy Latsko were used more in pass protection to slow down the blitz. Don't be surprised to see Casey catch a few more passes and perhaps, Latsko also forces linebackers to keep an eye on him.
Backfield Quarterback Chris Leak had a stellar performance against Vanderbilt. He completed 32 of 41 (78%) for 257 yards and three touchdowns. As solid as his passing numbers were, Leak demonstrated vast improvement running the football. He was the games leading rusher with 12 carries for 67 yards (5.6 ypc) and two touchdowns. Leak was rewarded with SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Fast forward one week, and Leak's struggles replayed like a bad B movie.
His unimpressive play manifested against Mississippi State and LSU. His mechanics, which had been awful, were much improved against Georgia. The mental meltdown returned in the form of looking downfield too long, not sensing the pressure of a pass rush, and failing to run when the opportunity presented itself.
He responded with a 19 for 28 performance against Florida State in which he threw a pair of touchdowns passes and managed 20 yards on the ground.
Leak has hit on 210 of his 334 attempts for 2361 yards. He has thrown 18 touchdown passes and has run for six more. Among SEC passers, Leak is third in total offense (219.2) and passing (214.6).
The Gators have problems backing up Leak. Although Gavin Dickey and Cornelius Ingram are talented two sport stars, neither has experience playing quarterback.
Quarterback #12 Chris Leak 6-0 210 Jr. 2L Charlotte, NC #17 Gavin Dickey 5-11 205 Jr. 1L Tallahassee #7 Cornelius Ingram 6-5 225 RFr. Sq Hawthorne
Running back #2 Markus Manson 6-0 210 RFr. Sq. Tuscaloosa, AL. #21 DeShawn Wynn 5-11 236 Sr. 3L Reading, OH. #33 Kestahn Moore 5-10 205 Fr. HS Arlington, Tx. #42 Billy Latsko (FB) 5-10 230 Jr. 2L Gainesville
Junior DeShawn Wynn is the Gators leading rusher. The power back has 122 carries for 587 yards and seven touchdowns. He also has two scores catching the ball out of the backfield. Wynn injured his shoulder several weeks ago, but is doing much better. He was not especially successful against the Seminoles.
Freshman Markus Manson picked up the SEC Freshman of the Week for his efforts against Vanderbilt. Manson ran for 61 yards on 18 carries, while also hauling in six passes for 48 yards for the Gators in place of the then injured DeShawn Wynn. Manson has great quickness, speed and usually finds the open lane after coming through the middle. He has run for 352 yards on 77 carries.
True freshman Kestahn Moore (35-189 2 TD) is the other half of this rushing tandem. It appears that he is getting better and better each week. Moore has a nice blend of quickness, speed, and power. Moore is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield.
Injuries: DeShawn Wynn (shoulder)
Analysis: Leak is a totally capable passer. However, he will have to demonstrate the ability to make wise decisions with the football when the rush is on, when pitching the ball, and noting the markers. It will be interesting to see if the timing between Leak and the receivers remains intact after the layoff.
Florida will use Billy Latsko at fullback, tight end, and H-back for blocking purposes. Latsko is an excellent blocker, who can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Wynn, Manson, and Moore are dangerous threats receiving as well.