Preseason Preview: Vandy at Florida

Though it is impossible to avoid the continuing police investigation into the four former Commodores, we are here once again to look forward to when the football actually begins. With just over a week to go until the first game, a game which frankly cannot come soon enough, our preseason countdown has reached week nine and a visit to The Swamp.

Though it is impossible to avoid the continuing police investigation into the four former Commodores, we are here once again to look forward to when the football actually begins. With just over a week to go until the first game, a game which frankly cannot come soon enough, our preseason countdown has reached week nine and a visit to The Swamp.

WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 9; Time TBD

WHERE: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (Gainesville, FL.)

LAST SEASON: 11-2 (7-1 SEC, 2nd place in SEC East; beaten by Louisville 33-23 in Sugar Bowl)

CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: 10th in both AP and Coaches'

SERIES HISTORY: Florida leads, 35-9-2. (Last meeting: Florida 31, Vanderbilt 17, in game 6 last season)

OFFENSE: Long gone are the days where the vertical passing game of Steve Spurrier or the spread option style of Urban Meyer dominated in Gainesville. Current Gator head coach Will Muschamp is much more of a defensive minded guy, so much of the offensive work in the pro-style attack that Florida runs is left to offensive coordinator Brent Pease. Last season this produced mixed results, but the Gators will be hoping that another year in the system for some of the major components will see the kinks be ironed out this fall.

The bread and butter of this offense is the running game. Though Florida lost a good one to the NFL in Mke Gillislee (over 1,100 yards and ten touchdowns in 2012) they are still absolutely loaded at the tailback position. Sophomore Matt Jones is the most complete back on the roster and if he gets over a viral infection his pass protection skills and ability out of the backfield will see him get the starting nod. True freshman Kelvin Taylor, son of NFL legend Fred, however, is the future and his intoxicating blend of speed, power, and agility, will be hard to keep off the field.

The Gators will be counting on the running game to open up the pass because junior quarterback Jeff Driscoll is still to show he can make consistent good decisions in the passing game. Florida will need to see more from an offensive line which struggled to protect the mobile Driscoll last fall, resulting in many quick and errant throws. This combination wasn't helped by a receiving corps which struggled to get open off of the line or pick up many yards after the catch.

Conclusion: Florida was prone to miserable offensive games in 2012 and in some ways it is amazing this team was able to compile an 11-2 record at all. The loss of the steady Gillislee is a huge worry as he was the one weapon that Florida could count on. If Vandy can shut down the run game and make Driscoll pass they can live off of his mistakes. The 'Dores defensive backs must always know where Trey Burton is on the field as the dynamic senior is one of the few proven targets Florida will have out there.

DEFENSE: The defense carried Florida through large stretches of 2012, but the unit was ravaged by graduation and early entries to the NFL Draft. The result is only four players return from a unit which was equally adept against the run and the pass, but it is likely there will not be too precipitous of a drop off as the Gators just throw more 4 and 5 star recruits into the fray. The defensive line especially will be raw, but there is no lack of talent, while the linebackers and secondary could be as good as any in the country by season's end.

One of the big names on the defensive side of the ball for the Gators this fall will be linebacker Ronald Powell. Powell has waited a year and a half to get back on the field and hasn't played a down since 2011, when he led the team in sacks, before succumbing to a horrible knee injury in 2012's spring game. Powell has been taking inspiration from Minnesota Viking running back Adrian Peterson's return from his own ACL tear, and the 6-4 junior has impressed all onlookers with his speed and ability to change direction early in practices.

Conclusion: A healthy Powell, the top recruit in the country in 2010, is a huge bonus to a defense which is high on talent by low on experience. Some of the top defensive prospects in the state from last year, the likes of cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and safety Keanu Neal, will have to get up to speed quick as they will be expected to contribute immediately. The 'Dores are going to have to fight fire with fire and play as physically as possible up front to try to destabilize the Gators defensive line.

Other Factors: Florida are always a threat in the return game because it seems there are always track stars on the Gators depth chart. New special teams coordinator Jeff Choate can turn to return guys such as Andre Debose (four career kickoff returns for touchdowns) and all-purpose asset Loucheiz Purifoy to change the flow of a game in an instant. Purifoy had a punt block and forced three fumbles as part of a dominating special team's crew in 2012.

Conclusion: Stop the run and run the ball. That has to be the mantra from the 'Dores entering this one. The Florida defense should be top ten good, especially by the time this game happens, so it will be important for Vanderbilt to make some plays defensively to give the offense a short field or two. If the 'Dores can find a way to put this on the arm of Driscoll then they have a shot. Getting the Gators into that situation is going to be the difficult part.

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