After a tough loss to bitter rival Georgia Bulldogs last weekend, the Florida Gators get a chance at redemption today against conference newcomer Missouri. Unlike baseball and basketball who get to follow a loss with a quick turnaround game that helps to get the bitter taste of defeat out of their mouth quickly, football teams have to wait a week to get their feet wet again.
So after a long, tough week that saw a flu bug run through the team disrupting practice and preparation for this game, the Gators get to finally jump back in the saddle again today at 12:00 eastern time in The Swamp for the last conference home game of the season.
Coaches often like to say that you learn more about a team after a loss than you’ll ever do after a win. So on that note here’s five things to look for in today’s game.
- Ball Security
- Offensive Line Play
- Play Calling
- Running Game
Right off the bat from the time they come out of the tunnel for warmups, to the opening kickoff , to the last whistle it’s important that these Gators show up inspired with intensity, emotion, and desire. Not that they didn’t do these things last week, it just seemed they were a step behind. Just like in basketball, the aggressive player gets the rebounds, loose balls, and jump balls, it seemed like Georgia defensively was a step ahead of the Gator offense in intensity and emotion last week.
With football being a game of aggression, it’s very important that guys play loose, thinking less, and letting natural ability take over. At times last week they seemed tight, thinking more about assignments especially on offense and they became careless with the football. They need to relax this week and play fast, loose, and physical.
It will be important that these guys show up ready to compete at a high level like they did against South Carolina and LSU and not just take these guys for granted. Even though Missouri only has one conference win in their history doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of beating the Gators. The Gators have to play to win from the opening kick or they may be looking at the Outback Bowl, again.
After only coughing the ball up four times all season coming into the Georgia game, they turned it over six times in that one. All the media focus in the week before Georgia about “violators”, the term Dan Quinn coined to describe opposing players who are careless in how they carry the football, it’s ironic that the Gators were the violators last week. As a result, they focused hard this week on securing the football better and not being careless in how they handle it. From center-quarterback exchanges to hand-offs and pitches they’ve worked hard to ensure they’re sound in every aspect of handling the football.
Turnover’s are killers for your team because they create extra possessions for the opponent while limiting your offensive possessions, put you behind the chains in the field position battle, give the opponent unnecessary momentum, and obviously can lead to easy scores. Take away the turnovers last week and Florida at the minimum wins a close one but likely wins going away. They also put extreme pressure on your defense by putting them on short fields, forcing them back into action quicker, and keeping them out there longer making them less fresh late when close games are decided.
OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY
As much as Gator faithful, at least the message board version of them, have complained about the offensive line this season, they actually had played fairly well throughout SEC play considering the talent of the defensive lineman they’ve played. That is until last week. Georgia came out from the start with a great gameplan and with great intensity. The plan was to load the box on rushing downs putting the Gators into obvious passing situations and then using stunts, blitzes, and Jarvis Jones to overwhelm the pass rush and make it difficult for Driskel to beat them with his arm. That plan worked to perfection.
Florida showed a weakness at both handling the edge rush of Jones as well as handling the inside stunts and well-timed blitzes and as a result Driskel had little time throw and even when he did he was so bothered he was unable to go through his progressions properly and that led to turnovers and mistakes.
The offensive line knows they played their worst game of the season and had multiple break downs in communication and cohesiveness and admitted as much this week. They worked very hard to correct those mistakes in practice this week and that should be one of the interesting keys to watch this week. Can they protect Driskel well enough to make some downfield plays and can they move people enough to create holes and seams for Gillislee?
That leads us to the bigger question of how effective the running game can be this week. Will Muschamp made it no secret coming in to the season that his goal was to be tough downhill running team. He has been hardheaded about it to say the least and almost OCD about it at times. An effective running game is key to Will Muschamp’s program. By effective I don’t mean they have to rush for 300 yards every game, they only need to be able to keep the offense in manageable 2nd and 3rd down situations to take pressure off a young quarterback, be able to win short-yardage battles on 3rd down and in the red zone, and they need to be able to draw defenders into the box in order to create play actions situations which give Driskel a better chance of success in the passing game.
Earlier in the season the running game was highly effective. Gillislee was getting 3- 4 yards per carry on first or second down in the first half of games keeping them in 3rd and short situations giving Driskel a high chance of success on 3rd down. Then they were able to wear opposing defenses down in the second half making 3-4 yard gains become 7-8 yard gains moving the chains more easily and taking over games in the 4th quarter.
Ever since the LSU game, however, when they used jumbo formations in the second half to overrun one of the best rush defensive lines in college football they’ve found it to be much more difficult to rush the football and as such their running game has been much less effective.
Against Vanderbilt, the inside run game was shut down completely but they were able to use Driskel’s athleticism and the defenses tunnel vision to get to the edge and scored multiple long td’s out of the zone read play to win that game. Against South Carolina they used turnovers, short fields, and play action in the red zone to overcome their ineffective running game to win big. Last week, however, they had neither of the above to help them out and the lack of an effective running game reared it’s ugly head in terms of multiple 3rd and long situations that resulted in turnovers and points for Georgia and ultimately led to a loss for the Gators.
So it will be interesting to see if they can get the inside running game back on track this week. Sheldon Richardson the Missouri defensive tackle is another SEC defensive beast as he leads his defense in tackles, a rare feat for a defensive lineman. They will have their work cut out for them trying to scheme ways to account for him and get the running game untracked in this one.
Finally, fans and media alike were abuzz this week with the one word every offensive coordinator hates to hear, the dreaded “P” word: PREDICTABLE. Yes, folks, surprise, surprise, the Gator offense is predictable. Running on 78 percent of their first downs for the season, fifth most in the country and barely behind Georgia Tech a team that has totally forgotten about the forward pass, the Gators tendencies caught up with them against Georgia. They were able to successfully load the box on first down bringing more than the Gators could block, keeping Gilllislee’s first down gains to 2 yards or less and repeatedly putting them behind the chains.
All season Muschamp and Pease have talked about the need to be more balanced, and I agree it’s important to bring a little more balance to the offense. However, what is even more necessary is for them to be simply less predictable. Change up the tendencies, run play action on first or second down, throw some first down screens, run some draw plays on third and medium or third and long. Just change it up so defenses can’t key and try to catch them out of position. While it is necessary for guys to just do their job and beat their man it’s obvious this team can’t do that successfully consistently, so the offensive play calling needs to be creative enough to help them out a little.
Whatever they do they need to stick to what brung them. All season they played safe conservative football on 3rd down, choosing to rely on the nation’s leading punter, one of the nation’s best coverage teams, and it’s top 5 defense to keep the game close and allow this team to win in the fourth quarter. I think they got away from that a little last week.
After being shut down on 1st and 2nd down, they tried to make plays in the passing game on 3rd and longs with the nation’s best pass rusher bearing down on Driskel and it led to turnovers, short fields for Georgia, easy scores, and eventually a loss. They had 6 turnovers and only 3 punts in that game. That can’t happen. Muschamp wants the worst thing to happen is to punt. To be effective this team needs 5-6 or more punts per game. Sounds nuts but Kyle Christy is one of the best weapons on this team and helps keep the Gators in good field position and should be relied on more than Driskel’s arm to win this one.
Last week was tough, not only because of who they lost to, but how they lost, and what it means for the season. Missouri presents the opportunity for this team to get back on track and salvage the season. They still have an opportunity to complete their larger goals, they just no longer control their own destiny. This week they need to control what they can control and that’s beating a weaker Missouri team that is capable of the upset. It will be interesting to see if they are able to get untracked and get back to what got them in position to be champions.