Insider View: Florida Gators

FightinGators.com publisher Bob Redman gives you an ‘insider's view of what the Gators will put on the field on Saturday against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

The Florida Gators are 6-0 and ranked number three in the country heading into Saturday's contest with South Carolina. With one of the best resumes in the NCAA so far they still have some issues they need to resolve, especially on offense. A top flight defense was finally hit in the fourth quarter last week in Nashville, but the Gators think they can rely on defense and special teams to win games.

FightinGators.com publisher Bob Redman gives you an ‘insider's view of what the Gators will put on the field on Saturday  

Quarterback  

Sophomore Jeff Driskel (6-3, 235) can run very well.  He has a huge prototype arm and all the intangibles you are looking at in a quarterback.  The one thing he is lacking is experience and he is getting that week in and week out in the toughest conference in America.  

Throwing for just 77 yards on 11 of 20 passing last week, Driskel dropped from 26th to 44th national in quarterback passing efficiency. He has thrown four touchdowns and has one interception on the year and the Gators are last in the SEC in passing yards per game.  

What Driskel and the staff have done lately is learn to rely more on his legs. Against Vanderbilt last weekend, he ran for 177 yards on 11 carries.. He had three long touchdowns on the day as Vanderbilt keyed elsewhere in the offense and the "Read Option" was wide open for him several times.

Driskel must learn to get more comfortable in the pocket and be more aware of everything that is going on. The passing game must pick up a notch or two for Florida to live up to where they are now perched in the national rankings.  

Running Back  

Senior Mike Gillislee (5-11, 208) is the back bone of the offense right now. Gillislee is second in the conference in rushing at 102.5 yards per game and the gators have leaned on him a few times during the first half of the season. He should be about as healthy as he has been in a while after working his way through a groin injury in previous games.  

Sophomore Mack Brown (6-0, 216)is the top backup to Gillislee and runs the ball hard when inserted in the game. This will be one of those type of games where Florida should run it a lot and Brown should get some touches. Freshman Matt Jones (6-3, 230) picked up the offense pretty quickly in the offseason and has played some, but is behind Brown for now.  

Sophomore fullback Hunter Joyer (5-11, 245) has to be talked about when mentioning the best fullbacks in the conference. He is an excellent blocker and is often times the reason Gillislee gets the hole he is aiming for.  

Two H-back players are really important to the offense junior Trey Burton (6-3, 240) and senior Omarius Hines (6-2, 225) could line up anywhere on offense. Burton has 183 yards of total offense this year while Hines has 161yards and is becoming more of a weapon and fixture in the offense.  

Receivers and Tight Ends  

Senior Frankie Hammond (6-0, 187) has emerged as a play maker for Florida so far. He has the two longest receiving touchdowns on the year (50 and 65 yards), but also has more drops than anyone on the team.  He has a 18.5 yard average on his 11 catches this year amassing 204 yards.  

Sophomore Quinton Dunbar (6-1, 189) has 13 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown so far in 2012. He is becoming a more common target for Driskel as the season progresses and has somewhat propensity for the exciting catch.   

Other complimentary receivers of note include junior Andre Debose (5-11, 189) who has more big plays under his belt in his career than any receiver on the team, but has only one catch for five yards on the year so far. Solomon Patton is the other and while he has only caught one pass for 17 yards he has 11 rushes on "Jet Sweeps" for 125 yards and is constantly in motion in this Brent Pease offense.   

Florida's starting tight end Jordan Reed (6-3, 243) is Driskel's most common target and leads the team with 21 catches for 237 yards and a touchdown. He is the best physical mismatch for Florida opponents that the Gators have. South Carolina will have to stick a big safety on him to cover him adequately. Florida's other best options at tight end are Trey Burton and Omarius Hines mentioned earlier and they have 15 catches among them for 189 yards.   

Offensive Line   

The Gators are averaging only 378 yards per game on offense, but a very solid 5.9 yards every time they snap the ball. The coaches continue to sing the praises of the offensive line as to why this is happening. In fact, they have blocked and protected very well despite the heavy sack numbers in two games this season.     

They have had to do their work with two of the top three tackles missing all or a lot of playing time as sophomore Chaz Green (6-5, 310) has missed some and senior Matt Patchan (6-6, 290) has missed all five games this season. The top tackle now is senior Xavier Nixon who has played well this season but missed most of the game against Vanderbilt with a knee injury. He should be back and playing against the Gamecocks.  

Inside, junior center Jonotthan Harrison (6-4, 299) is in his second season snapping the ball and has been very solid, but he too left the game early last weekend having injured his elbow in the first series of the game. Harrison also will return, but senior Sam Robey played well in his place against the Commodores. Junior Jon Halapio (6-3, 321) gets more praise from the coaching staff than any lineman in the group and is coming off a couple of all-star type performances. Senior James Wilson (6-4, 323) is in his first full year of starting and is also producing good results up front. He missed the entire game last weekend with an eye injury, but he will be back Saturday as well.

The staff will tell you the line is the strength of the offense and they have started to yield some positive depth up front to go along with talent.   

Bottom Line On Offense   

The biggest thing for the Gators is trying to establish something in the passing game. Tough defenses like the Gamecocks are going to stuff the box and force Florida to produce through the air. Driskel can absolutely throw the ball with the best of them, but he and the receiver need to get more on the same page.  

At the same time, they cannot be afraid to call Driskel's number in the running game. He has shown that he can run with power, speed, and/ or elusiveness when called for.  

Hines needs to be more of a weapon in the passing game as well. He will line up everywhere on offense and they need to get him in a little bit of space and allow him to make plays, he is a capable play maker.  

Defensive Line   

Inside the Gators start two seasoned guys in senior nose tackle Omar Hunter (6-0, 313) and junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (6-3, 303). Floyd has been playing well for over a year now and is a candidate for post season awards. Hunter is really coming on strong in his senior season and may have played his best games ever in two of the last three weeks. Floyd is super quick for an inside guy and just an excellent player for the position. They are backed up by two players playing well in sophomore Leon Orr (6-5, 305) and Damien Jacobs (6-3, 284).   

On the outside the play has been solid but the best thing about the ends is the depth that is being built. Defensive end starter Dominique Easley (6-2, 280) has a quick first step and is hard to block. He missed the last game with a knee injury, but should be back. Behind him are two guys that are stepping up big in senior Earl Okine (6-7, 287) and promising true freshman Jonathan Bullard (6-3, 271). Bullard started the game Saturday in Nashville and played very well.   

The BUCK position is a hybrid SAM linebacker and rush defensive end spot. The starter is senior Lerentee McCray (6-3, 249) and he has arguably had the best season so far of any of the front four. He has certainly been Florida's most consistent pass rusher. Behind him is true freshman Dante Fowler (6-3, 277) who has really played well and been a bonus up front.   

Linebackers   

This is currently the thinnest position on the team outside of running back. Senior WILL linebacker Jelani Jenkins (6-0, 237) returned to action against LSU but pulled his hamstring early in the game. He has played about a game and a half of action this year and is a leader on the defense, but also missed the entire Vandy game.  Jenkins is adept at rushing the passer in blitz packages and very good in pass coverage. He will play on Saturday. True freshman Antonio Morrison (6-1, 218) backs him up and has played very well, He will be a star for Florida during his time on campus.   

At the MIKE, All-SEC candidate Jon Bostic (6-1, 246) is a sure tackler but hasn't been the ‘thumper' the fans are always looking for. The coaches love him and he along with Jenkins are leaders on the defense. He is third on the team in tackles, leads the team in tackles for loss, and is also excellent in pass coverage. He is backed up by junior Michael Taylor (6-0, 226) a sure tackler and a ‘thumper' that at times gets out of position.   

The Gators play a lot of nickel and will go without a SAM linebacker but when there is a SAM it is a battle between junior Darrin Kitchens (6-1, 229) and sophomore Neiron Ball (6-3, 231). Ball seems to be the coaches' choice right now with his size, but he missed all of last year with a neurological condition so he is still getting back on his feet a bit and should improve drastically as the season progresses. Kitchens played in spots last year and when called on he really produced, leading the team in tackles in both games that he started.   

Secondary   

Junior strong safety Matt Elam (5-10, 202)  is probably the best player on the team right now. He is second on the team in tackles (33), has three tackles for loss including a sack, has an interception, and two pass break ups, and forced a fumble that was maybe the play of the game against LSU. The LSU game was probably the best game of his career.  He loves playing near the line of scrimmage and that allows the Gators' nickel package really be more like a regular defense.   

Senior free safety Josh Evans (6-2, 201) leads the team in tackles (36) and hits hard. He has been guilty of a missed tackle or two, but he usually brings some punch when he comes to the fight on a tackle.   

In the nickel package sophomore Pop Saunders (5-9, 189) gets the start. With the lack of a better comparison I would say Saunders is a poor man's Tyrann Matthieu. He's a little bigger, but he's not nearly as fast. Saunders has great quickness and like Matthieu he has football savvy and a sense of where the ball will be at all times. He missed the first two games of the year but had an interception in the game against Kentucky.   

At cornerback it is a three player rotation for two spots.  Junior Jaylen Watkins (6-0, 187) is in the mix with sophomores Marcus Roberson (6-0, 178) and Loucheiz Purifoy (6-1, 189). All three like to play physical and all three mark a big improvement from what the gators fielded a year ago. In 2011 the cornerback position yielded one interception on the season. In 2012, they already have three and have had many more chances.  Watkins has two interceptions both coming in the last two games. Roberson and Watkins are both tied for second in the SEC with (8) passes defended this year.   

Bottom Line On Defense   

Florida gave up points in the fourth quarter for the first time all year against Vanderbilt Saturday when the Commodores scored 10 in the final period. They were a little thin with some injuries and maybe that was the cause at the end of the game with guys playing extra reps they aren't used to.  

I don't think it is cause for alarm, but one thing the defense does have to do is get out of the gate quicker. They have allowed teams to take the lead early in five of the six games so far this year.    

The defense has gotten much better at taking the ball away and after notching only 14 take-aways all of last season, they have 11 in just half a season this year.  

Special Teams   

Florida is solid in the return game and coverage game, but not spectacular. There really isn't much to write here except Andre Debose has been a weapon in the return game in the past and we may have seen a glimmer of him picking that up again with a 60+ yard return against Vanderbilt last weekend.   

Florida senior kicker Caleb Sturgis is special and has already set a Gator record with seven field goals of 50+ yards in his career. Will Muschamp wouldn't take anyone else's kicker to replace his. He is 11 of 13 on the year while going 3 for 3 on field goals of 40 or more yards.   

Sophomore Kyle Christy has been a great surprise this season. He is first in the conference in punting average at 46.1 yards per punt which also amounts to fourth best in the country. He has been able to flip the field several times this season to allow a little breathing room for the coaching staff and their play calling. He pinned LSU inside the ten yard line three times two weeks ago.  

 Bottom Line on Special Teams   

The Gators need to get Debose going. He can be a weapon on special teams and has shown it in the past. They feel like they can win games with Sturgis and feel great about their punting situation as well with Christy.  

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