Line-up and blow them off the ball. The Michigan Wolverines clearly exploited the Vanderbilt weakness when they rolled up 246 yards in the season opener. Nine weeks into the season, the Commodores remain weak against the run.
The Ole Head Ball Coach and his South Carolina Gamecocks ripped the ‘Dores for 194 yards on the ground two weeks ago. Last week, Duke blew the Vanderbilt front seven apart for 253 rushing yards.
However, the difference in those two ballgames resembled night and day. Duke simply had nothing else to offer. South Carolina, while not an aerial juggernaut, is dangerous as long as Steve Spurrier is on the sidelines. Despite turning the ball over three times, Carolina mixed things up and scored on three of their first four possessions. You can't be one dimensional and beat Vanderbilt these days.
Carolina kept the drive alive by converting five of six third down opportunities and jumped out to a 17-3 lead in Nashville. Duke converted only 3 of 10 third down chances and was soundly beaten.
That isn't particularly good news for a Florida offense that has been woeful over the past month on third down- 13 of 44 (29.5%)
A team that ranked among the nation's best in converting third down plays has found the going extremely tough against top 25 defenses. However, much of the blame for many of those third down faux pas can be found in their own huddle. Penalties, dropped passes, poor execution combined with a bizarre personnel move or obvious play call has made life difficult for the Florida offense.
The Big Nasties
Florida head coach Urban Meyer used the media to issue a challenge to the offensive line. He chastised the group for allowing opponents to pressure quarterback Chris Leak. He didn't stop there either. Meyer said that the Gators have no choice, but to play the incumbents, because there is currently only one reserve ready to challenge for a starting position.
Left tackle Phil Trautwein (6-6 308) did a heck of a job on Georgia's pre-season All-American defensive end Quentin Moses last weekend. Moses finished with a big zero. Zero tackles. Zero assisted tackles. Trautwein was one of only two offensive linemen named to the champions club this past week. Trautwein was named offensive player of the game for his play against LSU where he graded out at 84%. He was also named co-offensive player of the game by the Florida coaches for his effort against Tennessee. He graded out at 88% with seven knockdowns against Kentucky and also made the champions club for his play against Alabama.
The projected starting offensive guards prior to the season opener were Jim Tartt (6-3 315) and Ronnie Wilson (6-3 312). Both give Florida a physical, rather punishing presence. Tartt has demonstrated toughness in returning from those shoulder surgeries. He does not have the range of motion and continues to experience tightness in the shoulder. Overall, Tartt has played pretty well. He has experienced some penalties that have cost the Gators. Once he regains full motion in that shoulder, the Florida coaches expect him to become one of the leagues dominating guards. He is a real road grader.
Florida lost Wilson on August 12th to a broken ankle that required surgery. Wilson had performed very well throughout practice and like Tartt, displayed the nasty attitude that coaches love. Wilson returned against LSU where he saw action on 44 plays as a reserve. He graded out as a champion in that game. With the problems Florida experienced last weekend up front, it remains to be seen if he cracks the starting lineup or once again comes off the bench. That will be determined in practice this week.
Two of Florida's best linemen are center Steve Rissler (6-3 306) and right guard Drew Miller (6-5 305). The pair played together at Sarasota Riverview High School. They were among the most sought after recruits in the state. Rissler is Florida's elder statesman with sixteen starts. The senior moved over from guard where he player last season. Rissler was named co-offensive player of the game after his performance against Tennessee and graded out very high against Kentucky, Alabama, and LSU. He was the only other lineman to grade out champion last weekend against Georgia.
Miller, a junior, made a name for himself as an Olympic lifter at Riverview. He told me that helped him tremendously with the transition to the collegiate level. Miller has started fourteen games in his Florida career. He was also named to the champions club for his work against Kentucky, Alabama, and LSU. Obviously, he did not grade out among the champions last weekend.
Right tackle Carlton Medder (6-5 315) was seemingly lost last spring. However, he noted that a change had to be made. The redshirt junior worked very hard in the weight room- the result being a stronger, more physical lineman. Medder graded out high against Tennessee, earning membership in the champions club. He had a most pleasant surprise on the front. However, he did not make the champions club the past two weeks against Kentucky and Alabama.
Overview: Meyer lambasted the offensive line and simultaneously issued a direct challenge to the offensive coaching staff that the mistakes, which have been addressed, must be corrected. Penalties, dropped passes, players failing to carry out assignments, and reserves who aren't making the push for playing time continue to hurt this unit. I would think it was understood- loud and clear.
Personally, I wonder if the Gators have experimented in practice with the right side of the offensive line they used throughout most of August with Ronnie Wilson at right guard and Drew Miller at right tackle. The chemistry between Wilson and Miller was pretty good back then.
Regardless, things should be somewhat easier this weekend for the guys up front.
Vanderbilt allowed Duke to run for 4.2 yards per carry. South Carolina ran for five yard per carry. Ole Miss and Georgia averaged 3.9 yards per carry. Arkansas is the only squad the Commodores will face who have averaged more than the Gators 4.6 yards per carry.
Last weekend the Gators inserted the running back by committee campaign. Six different Florida players carried the football and running backs only accounted for nine of the Gators thirty-five rushes. It wasn't a failure, but it did appear discombobulated at times.
It appears that you'll see Florida go back to more of DeShawn Wynn at running back with either fullback Billy Latsko or a tight end providing additional running room. Wynn does not have good speed, quickness, or flash. Nor is he a power runner who runs as determined as John Riggins, Larry Csonka, or Mike Alstott in their prime- and that has frustrated the Florida coaches. Wynn is better than adequate though and based on the coaches' depth chart is the best Florida has ready at this point. Had Union County running back extraordinaire C. J. Spiller not opted for Clemson on National Signing Day- it is probable that he'd be entrenched as the starter at Florida.
Quarterback Chris Leak (6-0 207) has completed 124 of 201 passes for 1666 yards. Leak is tied with Erik Ainge with 16 touchdown passes. He has thrown seven interceptions. Leak took a hit in the game and said that his effectiveness was limited due to some blurry vision. This was a very foolish move on Leak's part. He is a part of the team. Not letting them know of his injury put all of their hard work for an Eastern Division championship in jeopardy.
Leak struggled the past couple of weeks in the second half. Against Auburn, he hit only 5 of 12 passes for 54 yards and a key interception. Last week he hit 6 of 12 for 46 yards and another interception. Again, he was feeling the effects of a shot to the head, but he must come out and play better in the second half.
True freshman reserve quarterback Tim Tebow (6-3 229) earned the SEC Freshman Player of the Week against LSU. Tebow brings a whole new aspect to the Florida offense that forces defensive coordinators to spend time preparing for him. Tebow is the Gators second leading rusher with 282 yards on just 50 carries, a hearty 5.6 yard average.
Senior DeShawn Wynn (5-11 238) should be full speed this weekend. He did not start last weekend. In fact, Florida's leading rusher didn't even secure his first carry until the third quarter. Fortunately, the coaching staff saw fit to get the ball into his hands, where he helped secure the victory. Wynn has 83 carries for 436 yards (5.3 ypc) and three touchdowns. Sophomore Kestahn Moore (5-10 212) is also banged up. Moore has run for 218 yards on 43 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. Both are also solid receivers out of the backfield. Wynn has hauled in five passes for 48 yards. Moore has seven receptions for 56 yards and a score. He had only one carry last weekend.
The unsung hero of this offense is senior fullback Billy Latsko. He is an outstanding blocker who gives Leak additional time to throw, Wynn and Moore the ability to get past the linebacker, and is often spotted downfield knocking around a defensive back to clear a path for the Florida receivers. Latsko (5-10 232) provided a huge spark to the offense with a key 18 yard reception against Alabama. He provides yet another headache for defensive coordinators.
Florida has a pair of athletic tight ends. Junior Tate Casey (6-7 240) has several starts under his belt and teams with Cornelius Ingram (6-4 225) to provide a terrific one-two punch. Casey is a big target who played baseball with the Gators baseball squad. He made the national highlight circuit with his receptions of Tebow's double-pump, jump pass in the back of the endzone against LSU. Ingram played basketball for the Gators and is one of the most athletic tight ends in the nation with speed and running ability galore. Ingram has hauled in eight passes for 100 yards. He picked up 38 yards on a big play against the Vols. The pair has combined for 15 receptions totaling 163 yards and two touchdowns.
The Gators have one of the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the country. They can flat torch you when they opt to go four or five wide. The leader of the group is senior Dallas Baker (6-3 207) who leads the team with 37 receptions for 596 yards (16.1 ypc) and six touchdowns.
Junior Andre Caldwell (6-1 203) who was lost for much of the season last year. Caldwell was a little rusty in the season opener against Southern Miss, but has emerged as the Florida playmaker the past two games. His running ability after the catch was outstanding against Georgia. Caldwell has 31 receptions for 301 yards and four touchdowns. He carried the ball extremely well on reverses last weekend too. Overall, he has 11 carries for 89 yards and a score. Senior Jemalle Cornelius (5-11 185) has 18 receptions and brings a tremendous 18.7 yards per catch average with him. He has a lot of quickness and wiggle. Cornelius has three touchdowns.
True freshman Percy Harvin (5-11 180) saw extensive playing time last weekend running the football. The former U.S. Army All-American had eight carries for a team high 37 yards last week against the Bulldogs. He had suffered a high ankle sprain against Tennessee. Harvin has blazing speed and has hauled in 10 passes for 163 yards (16.3 ypc), while rushing for 195 yards on just 22 carries, an average of 8.9 yards per carry.
Overview: Last week should have been a breakout for the Florida offense. There was really nothing that Georgia did that throttled the Gators offense. They made a plays at times, but Florida did more to hurt themselves. Those problems ranged from the coaching booth to the sidelines to the huddle to the line of scrimmage.
I would expect the Gators to get back to more of their traditional attack. That means more of Wynn, Baker, Caldwell, and Cornelius. I don't understand why Baker, Cornelius, Casey, and Ingram weren't utilized more often last Saturday, but hopefully it was a lesson learned. The staff almost outsmarted themselves to a fault, so to speak. Hopefully, they'll also utilize more of Tim Tebow in passing situations. Meyer has said in recent weeks that Tebow is able to run more of the spread. So, let's see it.
The Vanderbilt defense has allowed 4.1 yards per carry (ten touchdowns on the ground) and 11 touchdowns through the air. This is a pretty good defense, but simply doesn't compare to what the Gators experienced against LSU.
Vanderbilt will keep guys back to prevent Florida from torching them with the big play. That proved pretty effective against Georgia and South Carolina. Leak and Tebow will have to throw underneath. Obviously, the strong running attack will help.
Analysis: Vanderbilt is a much improved program under fifth year coach Bobby Johnson. There is no way that Florida comes in over-confident in this game. The Commodores gave them all they wanted last year and more last year. The Gators haven't forgotten either.
The Florida offense is looking for answers as regards to their lack of continuity. When comparing the Gators offensive numbers against teams who won't soon rank among the Top 25 defense in the land (Southern Miss, Central Florida, Tennessee, and Kentucky) versus those who hold that distinction (Alabama, LSU, Auburn, and Georgia) the one glaring weakness is found on third down. Florida averaged just 29.5% compared to 59% against the also-rans.
Field position and penalties have hurt the Gators too often this year. That must be avoided on the road. Those penalties have placed them into those third down situations too often.
The Gators have the personnel to move the football against Vanderbilt. They'll have to take care of the football as Vanderbilt has 21 takeaways on the season, second most in the conference. They'll also have to play with more discipline and stay out of third and long.
The Gators will pound the Commodores with DeShawn Wynn and gets the ball into the hands of Baker, Caldwell, and Cornelius more often.