Florida Vs Tennessee: In-Depth Gator Preview

Bob Redman has been working for or writing about the Florida Gators going on 19 years now. He has attended most and watched all of the Florida games since 1985. Here is a look from the FightinGators.com managing editor as the Gators head into the showdown with the Volunteers on Saturday in The Swamp.

THE OFFENSE

Florida heads into the Tennessee game with a lot on their minds offensively. First and foremost is ball security. The Gators gave their last game away literally to the Miami Hurricanes, fumbling three times and throwing two interceptions. The second issue the Gators face is an ineptitud4e in the red zone. The Gators are dead last in putting points on the board once they enter the scoring zone of the field. That has to change for the season to improve.

Quarterback

Outside of turnovers, junior Jeff Driskel (6-3, 235) is off to a decent season and overall looks more composed than a year ago when he first became the starting quarterback for Florida. Too many of the turnovers have come in the red zone for him to show up among the leaders in pass efficiency, but he has looked a lot better at finding receivers in the mid to deep range of the field so far.

He threw for a career high 291 yards against Miami and the Tennessee game a year ago may have been the best of his career so far. There is a lot to build from, but he needs to progress faster than he has.

Driskel ran seven times against Miami for 39 yards. That number dropped with the sacks he gave up, but the fact is his running ability is a skill that has to be utilized more than it has been. The staff seems scared to do so because there really is no one behind him that has done anything to this point and if he gets injured enough not to return, it could get messy.

Running Back

Matt Jones (SO, 6-2, 226) returned in the last game after a serious bout with a viral infection that saw him miss all of fall practice and the first game. He didn't play up to the expectations they had for him leading up to the season averaging 2.7 yards on 18 carries for 47 yards. They totally believe he is the real deal, it is just a matter of time before he gets back into the swing of things, There is little doubt that the bye week was good for Jones and he has been vocal this week about taking the team on his shoulders moving forward.

Mack Brown (JR, 5-11, 215) has been solid, but no one would call him spectacular. He broke the 100 yard mark for the first time in his career in the opener vs. Toledo, but he isn't going to be that guy that breaks off 40-50 yard runs. However, he just may be the guy they call on when they need 1-2 yards, he has proven himself reliable in running hard and holding on to the ball. .

Valdez Showers (JR, 5-11, 190) was moved over from defense 10 days before the season and has become a spark plug for the running game. He has 6 rushes for 59 yards and a team best 9.7 yard average so far this season and was moved to this side of the ball because of his speed. They also expect him to be a weapon in the passing game.

Starting fullback Hunter Joyer (JR, 5-11, 240) has struggled since his return from injury that saw him miss almost all of fall camp, but play in the first game. Gideon Ajagbe (JR, 6-2, 244) has played very well in place of Joyer.

Receivers

Starters Quinton Dunbar (JR, 6-2, 194) and Solomon Patton (SR, 5-9, 177) have played very wel so far this year and are far and away off to their best starts as Gators. Both are dependable and quick, Patton has shown signs of being a play maker. But, they need more from the position. They need someone that can catch the ball, make a defender miss, do some wiggle and get in the end zone. That is something Florida should have a few of on their roster and we haven't seen it from any skill guy yet. Freshmen receivers Demarcus Robinson (6-2, 201) and Ahmad Fulwood (6-5, 196) could be the answer and I would look for both to get several opportunities on Saturday. Another option is senior Trey Burton (6-2, 225) who had a great game against the Vols a year ago, but is coming off a poor performance against Miami in the Gators last game.

Clay Burton (JR, 6-4, 257) is listed as the starter at tight end, but he struggled as well against Miami. Tevin Westbrook (JR, 6-5, 255) is the backup and has been a non-factor. Both were moved over from defense before last season. I keep waiting for Colin Thompson (R-FR, 6-4, 258) to make a move having come out of high school as a true line of scrimmage type tight end and ranked high as a prospect in high school. I wouldn't look for Kent Taylor (FR, 6-5, 220) unless the Gators get in a position to throw the ball up high in the back of the end zone to him.

Offensive Line

Injuries were a huge factor against Miami on the offensive line. The Gators racked up 413 yards of offense, and at one point in the game had no starters in the game that were scheduled to start at their position at the beginning of fall.

Left tackle D.J. Humphries (SO, 6-5, 285) has missed the second half of both games this year spraining his MCL in the opener and then tweaking it again against the Canes. Max Garcia (JR, 6-4, 313) was moved to left tackle from his starting left guard spot when Humphries went down. Center Jonotthan Harrison (SR, 6-3, 310) is in his third year starting at the position and had to leave for a couple of series from a virus that caused him to get sick. Right guard Jon Halapio (SR, 6-3, 320) has missed both games so far mending his shoulder. Finally, Chaz Green (Sr, 6-5, 310) will miss the entire season due to a shoulder injury he suffered in fall camp. All but Green will be back and close to 100% for Saturday's game in The Swamp. Tyler Moore (SO, 6-5, 320) who substituted for Green also missed a lot of the game after being injured. He should return to practice Wednesday and be okay for the game. If not, Kyle Koehne (SR, 6-5, 315) or junior college transfer Trenton Brown (JR, 6-8, 360) will take his place.

Brown or Koehne, Trip Thurman (SO, 6-5, 315) and Ian Silberman (JR, 6-5, 306) supply depth to the line and should make this the most healthy and ready the line has been since the start of the season.

THE DEFENSE>

Florida's defense looks to be as good as last year but different in their attack. They have become a more multiple defense with the return of some players and the fact they want speed more than size on the field up front.

Defensive Line

Dominique Easley (6-2, 285)has moved back inside to tackle and is having an all-star year so far. He is as quick as you will find at the position and really forces a lot of mistakes for offenses up front even if he isn't the one collecting the stats. The Gators should start junior Leon Orr (6-5, 302) at NOSE, but look for them to switch to a 3-4 alignment a lot and also moving their ends inside to get even more speed up front. Easley and Orr are backed up by junior college transfer Darious Cummings (6-1, 305) who is coming off of a suspension from game one and senior Damien Jacobs (6-3, 300) who will fight Orr for that starting spot all season long.

The Gators are blessed with two of the best defensive ends in college football and both are only sophomores. Dante Fowler (6-3, 266) and Jonathan Bullard (6-3, 270) are both big enough to slide into different places along the line and both have continued to wreak havoc from a year ago where they earned freshman all-conference and all-American honors. Fowler is the starter at the BUCK position and could be displayed as a linebacker at times in the right defensive call.

The top back up at end is Bryan Cox (6-3, 260) from Ft Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. Cox had a tremendous spring and fall camp and graded out very high last week despite not showing up on the stat sheet. Starting SAM linebacker Ronald Powell will also play some BUCK at times and is a terror rushing the quarterback as well.

Linebacker

We already mentioned junior Ronald Powell (6-4, 240) but he is one of the better stories on this Gator squad. The top high school player in America coming from California in 2010, Powell tore his ACL in the spring of 2012. Just before he was expected to return late last season, he tore the same ACL. Now, he looks no worse for the wear. He is moving fast and does not seem to be favoring the knee at all. He has great size as a linebacker and blazing speed off the edge as a pass rusher.

Antonio Morrison (SO, 6-1, 230) missed the first game with off-the-field issues and didn't start against Miami. He is expected to be the Gators best linebacker this year although Powell may have something to say about that. Michael Taylor (JR, 6-0, 233) is his back up and whichever one of these guys is in the game will call the plays on defense.

The Gators have a quality duo at WILL as well. Neiron Ball (JR, 6-3, 235) may be the fastest linebacker at Florida in the last few years, which says a lot. He has played exceptionally well this fall after playing through a foot injury all of the 2012 season. Darrin Kitchens (SR, 6-2, 237) would start for many teams at linebacker and has always been productive when he sees the field.

It is a bigger and probably faster unit overall than the 2012 version, these guys are playing well and have depth.

Defensive Backs

This is the position where the Gators just have riches to spare. Cornerback Marcus Roberson (JR, 6-0, 195) is an all-star candidate as is fellow starting corner Loucheiz Purifoy (JR, 6-0, 190). Behind them is super rookie Vernon Hargreaves (FR, 5-11, 192) who was the top rated cornerback in high school a year ago and has the only two turnovers for Florida this season with his two interceptions. Brian Poole (SO, 5-10, 205) is listed as the starting nickel and can also play cornerback.

With the emergence of Hargreaves and the steady play of Poole at corner, the staff decided to move Jaylen Watkins (SR, 6-0, 188) to free safety following the Miami game. It is a position Watkins played almost the entire fall camp before switching to corner the week before the first game. He will start in place of Marcus Maye (R-FR, 6-0, 206) who had a solid spring and fall, but did get beat for a long touchdown against Miami and head coach Will Muschamp was notably upset about it.

Cody Riggs (JR, 5-9, 190) is a little undersized at strong safety, but he has performed very well since moved to the spot to start fall camp. Maye and Jabari Gorman (5-10, 194) provide depth at safety and both have experience now.

Florida has played two pass happy teams in the first two games and pretty much held the passing game in check for both contests.

The scary thing about this group is that they are young. They will be a lot better by seasons end, but are already playing at a pretty high level.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Place kicker and Austin Hardin (R-FR, 5-10, 208) won the job this fall and is 2-3 so far this season missing on a 39 yard try in the opener. Backup Brad Phillips (SR, 5-10, 195) has some experience and there is no doubt that there is still competition at the position.

Punter Kyle Christy (JR, 6-3, 198) is an all-American candidate. He spent time kicking away from a good return man in the opener, so he is still working on upgrading his current 40.2 yard average for the season.

Kick returners for the game should be between three players in Solomon Patton, Valdez Showers, and Loucheiz Purifoy. All three bring good speed to the position, Marcus Roberson is a solid punt return man with the ability to make the big play.


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