Florida Offensive Preview
The first signature victory of the Urban Meyer era was delivered when Florida upset then fourth ranked, undefeated Georgia 14-10 last weekend. It was thought that feat was accomplished when the Gators dusted off then fourth ranked Tennessee in early September. However, the Vols have proven themselves pretenders.
The real contender for a bowl opportunity is Vanderbilt, the best team in Tennessee. The Commodores (4-4, 2-3) are having one of their most successful seasons in the modern era of the Southeastern Conference.
Florida spent much of the bye prior to the Georgia game shoring up their pass protection problems and run blocking schemes. The Gators have struggled in pass protection, allowing 25 sacks in just eight games, eleventh in the conference. Some of them can be traced to coverage sacks. Ten of those sacks had come in the three games before playing Georgia. The Gators gave up only one sack against the Bulldogs.
Offensive line coach John Hevesy utilizes a zone blocking scheme that asks a lot of their offensive front. The inexperience and injuries at guard have been a major source of frustration. Things were much better at the guard position.
Outland and Rimington Trophy candidate Mike Degory (Photo right) is the rock of the Florida offensive line. The senior center has the intellect, intensity, and inertia to get things moving positively.
#68 Mike Degory 6-6 304 Sr. 3L Melbourne
#67 Drew Miller 6-5 310 So. 1L Sarasota
#79 Steve Rissler 6-3 310 Jr. 2L Sarasota
#76 Tavares Washington 6-4 320 Sr. Sq Greenville, MS
#63 Jim Tartt 6-3 315 Fr. Sq. Sopchoppy
#74 Randy Hand 6-6 310 Sr. 3L Ft. Myers
#72 Lance Butler 6-7 315 Sr. 2L Lexington, NC
Florida has played musical guards throughout 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 did a good job overall.
Rissler is the guy the 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 spots, coupled with injuries forced Rissler into the rotation. It appears that Rissler is nailing down a position.
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.
Sophomore Drew Miller had his finest performance as a Florida Gator on Saturday. 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.
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 also lacks the necessary experience, but his physical attributes will continue to get him playing time. Tartt figures to be a serious challenger in the spring and the coaches hope that his fellow linemen take on his aggressive 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.
Injuries: Jim Tartt (shoulder). He will play on Saturday, as he continues to get better.
Analysis: The Gators answered their critics with a solid performance against a very good Georgia front seven. The offensive guards appear to be getting comfortable and gaining confidence. Rissler and Miller graded out as champions.
Most impressive was the play of Degory, Hand, and Butler who played very well. The seniors came out fired up and blew the Bulldogs off of the ball in the first quarter. Florida had a sound running game and pass protected very well.
A talented group of wideouts- Chad Jackson (Photo right), 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.
Florida's talented receiving corps lost Caldwell to a broken leg in the Tennessee game and Jemalle Cornelius rolled his ankle 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 both Mississippi State, LSU, and Georgia as well.
The Gators wideouts have at times run routes that were wrong. There were other times that Leak and the receiver were not on the same page. There were other routes that seemingly take too long to develop in the speedy SEC. Some of the appears to have been adjusted this past week.
Dallas Baker has emerged as the Gators go to guy. Baker (36-480, 2 TD's) has outstanding speed and strength. He is not a guy a defensive back can hope to bring down consistently with a shoulder pad. Baker is fifth among SEC receivers in yardage per game.
Chad Jackson (55-579, 6TD's) is another strong receiver that requires special attention. He leads the conference in receptions per game (6.75) and is third with 72.5 receiving yards per game. Despite his glowing stats, I would say that Jackson too has struggled somewhat to get away from opposing defensive backs.
#84 Tate Casey 6-6 242 So. 1L Longview,Tx.
#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
#28 Kyle Morgan 6-2 225 Sr. 1L Melbourne
Florida's third leading receiver is the man affectionately known as JCorn. The Ft. Meade native has hauled in 17 passes for 245 yards. He has great quickness and good acceleration after the catch. He played quarterback in high school because he was such a talented athlete.
Tight end Tate Casey has not been used as often as I thought. Thankfully, that changed Saturday. Casey nearly doubled his receiving production for the year as he caught three passes for 21 yards and a touchdown. Casey (6-49, 1TD) is an exceptional talent and should continue to be utilized. He had a costly drop or two early in the season, but that is uncharacteristic of Casey.
Kyle Morgan has proved to be an outstanding blocker, which is demanded in the Florida offense. Throughout practice sessions the past couple of years, Morgan demonstrated great hands and a possession receivers' ability. However, he had not recorded a catch this season.
Quarterback/outfielder Gavin Dickey (1-17) has good hands and tremendous running ability after the catch. He didn't get many reps early in the season, but he has seen a boost in playing time since the injury to Caldwell.
Don't be surprised to see the Gators use one, two, or possibly three talented freshmen. Nyan Boateng (3-66) has good hands and is blessed with tremendous speed and the ability to make people miss him after the catch. Louis Murphy saw action after Dallas Baker sprained his ankle against Georgia.
Injuries: Andre Caldwell (knee), Jemalle Cornelius (ankle), and Dallas Baker (ankle) Caldwell is out. Cornelius should be ready. Baker is questionable.
Analysis: Dallas Bakers' injury was not something the Gators needed. Of the top five receivers on the depth chart to begin the season, one is out and two more arenursing ankle injuries. Nyan Boateng and Louis Murphy are very talented players with speed. Both will need to continue making strides blocking.
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 to get one thrown his way in the near future.
Quarterback Chris Leak (Photo at right) struggled against Alabama, where he injured his shoulder. He struggled against Mississippi State and LSU. His mechanics, which had been awful, were much improved against Georgia. I'm still not convinced that his should is 100%. Leak overthrew a wide open Casey and Wynn last week.
Leak (141-234, 1683, 11 TD's and 4 INT) is the seventh rated passer in the conference in passing and total offense. He has proven that he can bounce back as he did several times last year. However, Leak has to continue to get good protection and open receivers.
Freshman quarterback Josh Portis is an outstanding runner. He is the third leading rusher on the Florida team with 26 carries for 159 yards (6.1 yards per carry). However, defensive coordinators have duly noted that Portis doesn't throw the ball when he is in shotgun formation.
#12 Chris Leak 6-0 210 Jr. 2L Charlotte, NC
#4 Josh Portis 6-4 210 Fr. HS Woodland Hills, Ca.
#21 DeShawn Wynn 5-11 236 Sr. 3L Reading, OH.
#2 Markus Manson 6-0 210 RFr. Sq. Tuscaloosa, AL.
#33 Kestahn Moore 5-10 205 Fr. HS Arlington, Tx.
Coach Urban Meyer says that he has finally found a tailback, and thy name is DeShawn Wynn (photo at right) . The senior had at times been tentative to fire off of the ball, such as the goal line rush against Bama. His most successful runs have been up the middle, where he uses his cutback ability to get into the secondary. There is no question that Wynn (95-467, 7TD's) has improved.
Freshmen Markus Manson (35-195) and Kestahn Moore (26-128, 1 TD) are the Gators top two reserves. Both have adequate size and more speed and quickness than Wynn. Manson should play an expanded role in the Florida offense.
All three of these backs have proven to be able receivers out of the backfield. They have combined for 17 receptions for 168 yards and two touchdowns.
Injuries: Chris Leak (shoulder)
Analysis: Leak looked much better this past week. Much of that can be attributed to the offensive line pass blocking. The running game emerged in the first half with Wynn and Manson taking control. They appear to be the top two guys during the stretch run. They too must block.
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.
Is the Florida offense on the rise?