The Florida Gators take on the Lousiana Ragin Cajuns tomorrow at noon in the Gators annual homecoming game. In what should amount to the first of two consecutive tuneups leading up the FSU game, there are five interesting matchups to watch.
With three of the top specialists in the nation playing in this game, this is one area that should be fun too watch. Two of the semi-finalists for the Lou Groza award which goes to the nations top placekicker will suit up in this one, Caleb Sturgis for the Gators and Brett Baer for the Ragin Cajuns.
Sturgis is 15-18 on the season and all three misses were blocked or partially blocked. Additionally, this season he set a school record for field goals from 50+ yards with eight in his career. This actually ties him for the lead in that department among active kickers as well. Will Muschamp spoke of his value to the team,
“There’s no question (Sturgis is) a game changer for us.”
“You know if you get to the 35-yard line, you’re kicking a field goal. It changes the game dramatically for us.”
Baer, who has a shot at setting an NCAA career record for accuracy held incidentally by Florida’s Bobby Raymond, is 13-16 on field goals this season. He’ll need only two more attempts to qualify.
“The Groza Award is about kicking excellence and considering all that he has accomplished on the field, Brett is truly deserving of this honor,” coach Mark Hudspeth said.
“He came into the year totally committed to having a great final year and his performance on the field has been spectacular.”
Usually Florida has a dominant edge in special teams particularly in the punt game with Kyle Christy’s booming punts and ability to drop them inside the twenty. But in this one they’ve certainly met their match. Brett Baer is also the Ragin Cajun punter and is currently ranked 26th in the nation with a 42.77 yard per punt average.
Christy, named today as a semi-finalist for the Ray Guy Award which goes to the nation’s best punter, is currently ranked fifth in the country with a 46.74 yard per punt average. However, it’s his hang time and accuracy at dropping punts deep that really sets him apart. Florida is currently ranked second in the nation in net punting averaging 43.5 yards per punt due to the strength of Christy’s leg and the speed of the punt coverage team. Additionally, Christy has had only four touchbacks on punts all season.
Not far behind in net punting is Louisiana who is currently ranked tenth in the nation at 40.61 yards per punt. Amazingly, Baer has only had one touchback on punts all season.
This game should be a special teams delight and a great field position battle between three top ranked specialists.
FLORIDA PASS DEFENSE VS. LOUISIANA’S PASS OFFENSE
One of the more interesting story lines will be this strength versus strength match-up.
Louisiana runs a quick passing, up-tempo scheme similar to what Missouri ran last week. They can be very potent in the passing game and that is the strength of their offense.
“You know this is another offense that we are going to see a lot of three and four open receiver sets.” defensive coordinator Dan Quin said.
“We have a lot of respect for their offense and the play-makers that they have.”
The Ragin Cajuns have passed for 2116 yards on the season with sixteen touchdowns and only six interceptions. Starting quarterback Blaine Gautier went down to injury three games ago. In his place, Terrence Broadway, an athletic dual threat qb, has played well. Last week against Louisiana-Monroe, Broadway passed for 373 yards going 23-32 with four passing td’s and adding 87 yards rushing with one td on the ground.
Florida, of course, counters with a stifling pass defense currently ranked number one overall in the nation in passing efficiency. They’ve been very effective in turning the ball over as they are currently second in the nation with 15 interceptions.
“As far as them taking the ball away, Quinn said, ” Sometimes you get what you emphasize, and we’re continuing to emphasize that in some of the different ways that we do it.”
“We’re getting some of those results, so now maybe maybe there’s where you can see how some it is relating directly to it when you see some of the takeaways.”
“We’re certainly pleased with their effort and the way they’re playing, I think there’s very good competition back there.”
They play great tight man coverage and are equally adept in a zone keeping plays in front of them and tackling in space rarely allowing receivers to make extra yardage after the catch.
The coaching staff is equally deadly in their adjustments. Last week, when Missouri was getting first downs in the first half on quarterback scrambles while the Gators were in man coverage and blitzing, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn switched up at halftime going to zone coverage with a four man rush. As a result, they kept Franklin in the pocket and pressured him into throwing four interceptions keeping the Tigers off the scoreboard and winning it with a walk-off pick by Josh Evans in the end zone.
Keep a close eye on this battle as it will be interesting to see if Louisiana is able to move the ball through the air or if Florida will continue their recent trend of turning the ball over in droves.
FLORIDA’S PASSING OFFENSE VS. LOUISIANA’S PASS DEFENSE
Conversely, this battle will be weakness versus weakness. Florida’s passing offense has been pedestrian at best currently ranked 114th in the nation averaging 140.11 yards per game and a paltry 1261 yards total. Louisiana’s pass defense has been equally poor currently ranked 114th in the nation as well giving up almost 2400 yards passing this season.
Florida’s struggles passing the ball have been well documented this season. A combination of a young quarterback, a dearth of play-makers at receiver, inconsistency in blocking execution, some ill-timed penalties, and a lack of communication and rhythm have all contributed to holding the passing game back. Playing against defensive lines with future NFL stars week after week hasn’t helped either.
So they continue to try and find ways to get the passing game going and one area they’re working on is the screen game which has been somewhat successful for them the last couple of games.
“We did some (screens) the other day,” offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “There’s more potential for it to be a bigger play.”
“It comes down to making blocks, but running the track consistently, getting into the window where you catch it and go. you break one tackle and you’re clear into the secondary in open space. ”
Pease added, “blocking’s been pretty good it’s just the timing and rhythm of it.”
Louisiana’s poor showing against the pass is a simply the result of youth, a lack of top level talent, and a schedule that has had them playing against a lot of good passing offenses in the Sunbelt Conference.
If there’s a good week for the Gators to open things up a little and work on timing and execution in the passing game this one should serve that purpose. As bad as the Florida offense has seemed this season, the receivers and offensive lineman should have the advantage this week. So there should be no excuses for them for not getting it done against these guys.
They have been working on the no-huddle this week as well. Last week they opened with it in the first two series. While they didn’t score, they did make some first down’s and appeared to get into a rhythm with it. If not for batted passes and an ill-timed drop by freshman receiver Raph Andrades they may have been more effective. Pease mentioned this week that they will likely use that a little more as it has seemed to help them get into a rhythm but cautioned that they will use it in spots as the opportunity presents itself so as not to put the defense in tough situations.
Regardless, it will certainly be interesting to see if the offense can finally get the passing game untracked, make some downfield throws, hit some third down passes, and move the chains effectively.
After having their hopes of an SEC East title dashed by the loss to Georgia, Gator fans were slow in filling the stands last week. Twitter was abuzz at the start of the game with pictures of empty seats and tweets wondering where all the fans were.
When the game got underway and pretty much throughout the first half the fans that showed up seemed unusually subdued for an SEC matchup. Sure it was Mizzou and these schools have no history between them, and sure the Gators fell out of control of the SEC East after the Georgia loss, but it’s unusual for the Swamp to be so quiet for a big SEC game.
With a seemingly overmatched Lousiana team coming to town this week, homecoming festivities taking place, and the Gator basketball team opening their season tonight in Jacksonville, it will be interesting to say the least to see how well fans fill the Swamp tomorrow.
While homecoming alone should help with attendance, you never really know what Gator fans are going to do and this should be interesting to see.
GEORGIA VS. AUBURN
O.K. this has nothing to do with Louisiana versus Florida directly but with this one expected to be a cakewalk, the Georgia-Auburn game looms large as it will determine who wins the East and goes to Atlanta for the SEC title game and it will be interesting to see if it affects the play of the Gators.
With Florida’s loss to Georgia, the Bulldogs own the tie-breaker against the Gators and only need to win versus Auburn to clinch the SEC East. This game will certainly be in the back of the Gator players minds as they take on the Ragin Cajuns and hopefully it won’t be a distraction and cause them to have any kind of letdown against over-matched Louisiana.
The Ragin Cajuns may not have the horses to compete with the Gators on most days, they can pull an upset if the Gators are not focused. Coming off a tough game against Missouri, with another cakewalk coming next week, homecoming distractions, and, of course, Georgia in the back of their minds it will be interesting to see if they come out with the right amount of intensity against Louisiana or if they seem flat.