Sunday, November 22, 2015

Week 12: Night Game With the Semis

Greetings, Gators. I hope this finds you well and looking forward to a great Thanksgiving with your families followed by a rare treat: A night game with the Semis to close out the home schedule. Before discussing the scare against FAU and that impending showdown with the Noles, however, I want to announce that I've decided that this is the final season of The Report. Let's face it, I've been mailing it in for the last few seasons and I don't look forward to writing every week like I used to. I always said that as soon as this became more of an obligation than something I looked forward to, I'd hang it up. Truth is, had Boom not been a total disaster I would have concluded earlier, but this season with Coach Mac has been a great one and it seems like a good time to ride into the sunset. Besides, both of my daughters can read now, so I ought to shut this down before they find out that their Dad blogs about college football and drops the F bomb on occasion for the world to read.

All that being said, this past Saturday was almost a fucking disaster. FAU is a 2 win FBS team and doesn't have the talent to win in Gainesville, and yet we entered overtime at a distinct disadvantage because we have no kicker. Sure enough, we had another PAT blocked and it could have cost us a lot of the good momentum that Mac has built this year. Losing to FSU or Bama is one thing, losing to FAU sets you back. Thankfully, like we've done so many times this year, we managed to pull it out by playing outstanding defense, punting well, and squeezing out just enough points to carry the day. 10-1 against our schedule is nothing to sneeze at, no matter how gross we look on offense most of the time. I'm looking forward to see what Mac can do offensively once he finally gets a line and a QB on campus to run his scheme.

While we were struggling with the Owls, our other SEC Eastern brethren had similar issues. Mizzou is awful. South Carolina lost to The Citadel, and Georgia had to go to OT to beat Georgia Southern (something we'd have killed for a few years back). More significantly, Ohio State lost their season opener against an actual opponent and Urban's locker room splintered as a result. He's an amazing recruiter, but the knock on Meyer is that he gives preferential treatment to his stars, so much so that he loses control of them. The fact that his star tailback and former starting QB both announced they were going pro with their biggest rivalry game and post season still on the horizon tells you everything you need to know. LSU also failed to show up again for the third week in a row. If you'd have told me back in October that Les Miles would be on the verge of getting fired I would have thought you were mistaking him for Mark Richt, but there's enough noise coming out of Baton Rouge to make me think it might actually happen. I'd tell LSU the same thing I'd say to Georgia- Be careful. Tennessee fired a guy that won 9-10 games every year and they're still pointing to "next year" up in Rockytop and haven't sniffed Atlanta since Fulmer got the axe. The rumor I hear most often is that Jimbo would be the go to choice for LSU, but I think you'd have to be crazy to make a lateral move like that and pick up a significantly harder schedule. Note to Jimbo- If you can avoid playing Alabama every year, do it.

Turning to our friends from Tallahassee, they did what Florida was supposed to do against an outmatched FBS opponent and rolled through Chattanooga on Saturday. The Everett Golson experiment appears officially over and I've been impressed with Sean Maguire's arm. I think they're a far more formidable offense than they were with Golson. That said, if you're playing FSU you'd better first worry about #4. Dalvin Cook is an incredible talent and singlehandedly won games for FSU when they couldn't do anything through the air. Their O line isn't as good as last year, but Cook is so explosive that he doesn't need much. I'm not as overwhelmed with their defense as I've been in the past, but they are fast, talented and have good size up front. Typical FSU D. The biggest mismatch Saturday will be in the kicking game. Their FG kicker is a future NFL star, ours is likely never going to kick for points after this season.

In terms of good news, you'll recall that if Florida had any offense at all last year we turned Jameis over multiple times and probably could have pulled the upset against a Noles squad that was superior to this year's version. FSU has lost to a lousy Georgia Tech team, albeit on a fluke blocked FG, and a good Clemson team. They've beaten two Division 1 teams with winning records.  I think we have the better defense and, like it or not, Treon and the offense played their best game against the best team (LSU) we've faced since Grier was suspended. Plus, we get them at home and I predict the Swamp will be rocking after a long day of tailgating. 

I think one stat will tell the tale on Saturday- Turnovers. If we are positive on turnovers we'll win. If we turn it over and make it hard on our defense we'll lose. I'm assuming that the D will be close to full strength come Saturday night, and barring turnovers I think we hold them to scoring similar to their games against Clemson (they scored 13) and BC (they scored 14). Sean Maguire is an upgrade for their passing game, but this is the best secondary he's faced in his life and they don't have a legit weapon at wideout or tight end like they've had in the past. I don't know how in the hell we'll score more than 14, but I don't know how in the hell we've won 10 games with this offense, so I'm just going to trust that it will work out somehow. It has been a crazy season, but the breaks have gone our way and I don't think that stops in the biggest home game of the year. I think Florida wins 20-16 and Coach Mac goes perfect at home in year 1.

I'm traveling next week a good bit for work so I'm going to go ahead and give you my prediction for the SEC Championship game as well. Prediction 1- We're playing Bama. There's no way they slip up to Auburn. None.  Prediction 2- Our defense will keep us in it for the first half, but there's nothing we'll be able to do with our O line against their defensive front. I just hope Treon survives. Come the fourth quarter our D will have fought their hearts out but tackling Derrick Henry when the game is no longer in doubt becomes extremely difficult. Bama 30-Florida 13.

I'll give you a few picks this week and then talk to you once the bowls are announced-

Auburn v. Alabama- See above. This ends badly for Boom and the Tigers. Bama 35-Tigers 9.

Michigan v. Ohio State- This is going to be fascinating. I don't love Big Blue's talent level this year but Urban's got his work cut out for him getting this team to believe again and you know that Harbaugh has been looking forward to this one all year. That said, Urban's lost one regular season game in the Big 10 in four years. He's not losing two in a row. Buckeyes 24-Big Blue 18.

Nebraska v. Iowa- This is a great game for Friday. Nebraska is coming off a bye and Iowa now has the pressure of being the lone undefeated team in the Big 10. I think the world of Kirk Ferentz, but I have a feeling that if Ohio State can't run the table, then neither can the Hawkeyes. Big Red 28-Hawks 23.

Stanford v. Notre Dame- Stanford gets more love in spite of having two losses than any team in the country. I think Notre Dame is the better side, but if you haven't figured it out by now I'm rooting for complete chaos for the playoff committee. Cardinal 27-Domers 24.

TCU v. Baylor- TCU gave the Sooners all they wanted on Saturday night while Baylor handled OSU in Stillwater. This is another great Friday game but I like Baylor to outscore the Frogs and stay in the hunt for the playoffs. Bears 42-Frogs 33.

Oklahoma State v. Oklahoma- OSU won in Norman last year in overtime. I like them to get off the mat and find a way to give Stoops an 0-2 record in major rivalry games this year. Cowboys 38-Sooners 35.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. I hope to see many of you in God's Country come Saturday for what promises to be an extremely fun way to end the regular season. I'll be back talking to you one more time after the dust settles in Hotlanta.

Go Gators!


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Week 11: Bring on the Hooters

Hello, Gators. Just a quick Report this week on account of our opponent frankly not being very interesting. It was a great win Saturday in Columbia, cementing a perfect record in the East and finding just enough offense to keep things from getting too interesting.  It seemed to me that the plan on offense was to keep Treon in the pocket and try and create some positive plays against a lousy defense to build his confidence. He made some nice throws but positively lucked out on that one floater that Cronkrite stole away from the DB and turned into a TD pass. It goes without saying that we should expect different results against FSU and Bama if he throws another duck like that. His other awful throw of the day was the pick in the endzone at the end of the first half. You just can't kill scoring opportunities that way.  That being said, I thought the offense was better Saturday and the defensive front absolutely dominated SC all day. Hell, we even made a field goal. All in all, a great day on the road.

This weekend we have the 2-8 Florida Atlantic Owls visiting The Swamp. The only FAU game I watched was their first half against Miami where they actually looked ok but eventually lost 44-20. They need another win in their last 2 games to match their 3 win total from last year. They'd better plan on getting it at Old Dominion the following week. I expect we'll look sloppy for another nooner with two huge games looming on the horizon, but we're not losing to FAU. Hopefully we get to see a bunch of younger guys getting reps so the vets can take this one easy.  Gators 35-Owls 6.

In other news, the Big 12 is imploding, Missouri's AD may have the hardest hire in college football with all the turmoil going on in the other Columbia, and Ohio State is playing their first ranked opponent of the season. In week 11.

Our game won't be a great one, but there are a few of interest-

Ole Miss v. LSU- LSU Has lost two in a row and is positively reeling. Ole Miss had a bye week finally and I'm sure needed it after that miraculous loss to Arky. Neither team has a realistic shot at Atlanta or the playoff any longer (Bama is not losing the Iron Bowl. I take back all the nice things I said about Auburn last week), so it will be interesting to see if either team comes out with some fire. I like LSU's roster better and the Rebel defense has proven to be a great solution to struggling offenses this season. Tigah Bait 35-Hoddy Toddy 24.

Mizzou v. Tennessee- Word is that Missouri's defense is threatening to sit out the game unless Josh Dobbs grows eyebrows by kickoff. I think Mizzou shot their wad with the win for Pinkel against BYU, though if Tennessee gets up 14 or more you can't rule out them blowing it late. Vols 27-Tigers 17 (I apologize if any of the above was perceived as micro-aggressive in any way by my friends in Mizzou. I assure you that the phrase "shot their wad" by no means is a reference to a poop swastika).

Ohio State v. Michigan State- MSU, when healthy, was a stout test on paper for the Buckeyes. The problem is that they're banged up all over the place, notably their secondary and starting QB. Urban may be a lot of things, but he is also a tremendous big game coach. I think the Buckeyes finally have an opponent that will interest them which is bad news for Sparty. OSU 42-MSU 17.

Oklahoma v. TCU- This is tough to pick without knowing if Trevone Boykin can go. The Frogs hammered OU last year, 42-9. As Baylor just discovered, OU is better this year. Boomer Sooner 42-TCU 28.

Oklahoma State v. Baylor- I'm convinced that there's no way that Okie State runs the table. I'm taking the Bears to come back strong after a loss. BU 45-OSU 33.

Enjoy your weekend, Gators. It may only be FAU, but it is one of 2 remaining home games, the weather should be incredible, and it will be our first time obtaining our 10th win since 2012. Certainly worth savoring.

Go Gators!


Sunday, November 08, 2015

Week 10: The Beasts of the East

With one regular season conference game left, your Fightin' Florida Gators have already claimed the Eastern Division title. Now transport your brains back two months, read that sentence again, and tell me if you'd have believed me if I wrote that as a pre-season prediction.  Even the most optimistic fans would have laughed. It wasn't pretty Saturday, and this team's flaws are obvious, but Coach Mac has pulled off a first year miracle and we're back on top of the East. Unbelievable.

Here's what I saw this Homecoming weekend-

- Starting Friday at the parade, there were definitely more people in attendance (in spite of the heat) and the vibe was way better. People were excited to celebrate being back in Gainesville. That said, what passes for "floats" in the parade these days has gone redneck-tragic. Apparently you can just tow your boat and throw a few streamers on it and that qualifies. Sad. And more significant in terms of the health of this program, I heard from plenty of people who were actually looking for tickets, not exactly a common request for nooners last year.

- I've gone on record as not being a fan of special uniforms. I dig the old school white helmets that Spurrier wore back in the day, but these were gross. You can't go different decals on either side. It doesn't work for Maryland, and it didn't work for Florida, or the offense anyway. Just one man's opinion, of course, but I say pick a uniform and wear it. 

- On the field, it was apparent early that our coaches didn't feel that we could run the ball up the middle against Vandy, as we consistently opted for running plays around the edge. Sadly, it was also apparent early that we couldn't run the ball around the edge on Vandy.  What did work was the package of short drag routes that had been set up for Robinson. He had a great game, other than the fumble, but even prior to his coughing it up his ball security was awful. Here's hoping #11 tightens that up because he's a weapon if his head's in it.

- The offensive line was bad. We started 2 freshmen and had to shuffle around due to injuries, so guys were playing in different positions. Vandy has a solid defense, but when you start 6 of 12 drives in enemy territory you should yield more than 9 points. I got a bunch of Treon bashing texts during the game. Granted, his under-throw to Chris Thompson cost us a nice long TD pass, but the kid got his ass beat by blitzing linebackers all afternoon and got up each time. He's not a pocket passer, largely because he can't see over the line, but he's obviously all we've got so let's accept it and cheer the kid on. Hopefully the line gets healthy again and he stands a fighting chance not to get killed in the coming weeks.

- Heading into the game Florida ranked #2 in the country with respect to turnover margin (+13, Houston was +15). Obviously, we went -4 on Saturday so that ranking took a dive, but we were really fortunate to win. A team with an average kicking game would have tacked on another 3 field goals at a minimum and this is one of those obvious flaws I mentioned before. Since we've now resorted to an open try out on campus and are using a walk on that the coach simply refers to as "the dentist" for short field goals and PAT's (he's 0-1), I don't anticipate this getting better. But hey, we lucked out and made one that locked down the East, so give Hardin credit for that at least.

- The turnover stat got me thinking about how similar this team feels now, minus Grier, to 2012's 11-2 team. Great defense, spotty offense. And "spotty" is charitable. That year we barely survived each week including close ones down the stretch to Mizzou (14-7) and Louisiana Lafayette (27-20 thanks to a late blocked punt). I think you may see something similar this year. Sustained, systematic TD drives will not be the hallmark of this offense. To win we're going to have to live on a couple of big offensive plays each game and a great defense that turns the other side over.

- Speaking of a great defense, they were excellent Saturday. Vandy will never be confused as a good offensive football team, but minus the one run they busted for a score, Vandy was shut out and had 101 total yards. They had all of 9 passing yards before that last drive. There's no way we win without a superb defensive effort.

Again, it was ugly, it was against Vandy, but we won with a trip to Atlanta in the balance. This is not a national championship caliber team, but winning the East in year one should have the Coach of the Year locked up for Coach Mac. I think tickets will be hard to come by going forward thanks to him and his staff. Let's just hope we can keep most of them in town with the number of new hires that will be made across the country this off season.

Other Saturday observations-

- Clemson finally got over the hump with the Noles. For once, they actually have enough defensive talent to match FSU's. They should roll Syracuse and Wake the next two weeks and then will be favored heavily at South Carolina on November 28th. I think they win out and handle the other division's champion, likely North Carolina, in the ACC Championship game, but it IS still Clemson so you can't rule out a surprise choke at the finish. Meanwhile, the Noles lost again so that's always nice.

- The SEC West arms race gained some clarity Saturday with Ole Miss finding a way to lose to Arkansas in OT and Bama manhandling LSU. Memo to Les Miles: You can't beat Bama by playing Bama football. The Tide is built to destroy a power rushing attack with 5 star D linemen stacked up like firewood on the sidelines. They held Fournette to 31 yards on 19 attempts. That is astounding. Florida fans need to root hard for a surprise loss for the Tide as they're an awful match up for us in our present offensive condition.

Don't look now, but South Carolina has improved drastically the last several weeks since the HBC hung up his visor. They turned it over late in Tennessee territory to prevent the Vols from blowing yet another double digit lead and they barely lost to the Aggies the week before. It is another noon start and Florida has already secured their spot in Atlanta so the threat of us coming out flat on the road is real. Hopefully the fact that they've beaten us the last two years will keep our attention.

If our line was healthy I think we should be able to run the ball on their defense, which is the worst we've faced since Kentucky's. If we can stay even or positive on turnovers I think we win relatively comfortably. BUT, if we turn it over again and put our defense in a bad situation then we can absolutely lose. They've got a QB now that can scramble and Pharoh Cooper is a good receiver, but if we don't help them then I think our defense can hold them to around 13 points. The only question is whether we can score 14 or more. I think it is close. Florida 20-The Other USC 14. Note- We get 20 with no field goals, 3 TD's, two missed PAT's and one 2 point conversion.

Auburn v. Georgia- Another team that's improved dramatically the last few weeks resides in Auburn. Georgia handled Kentucky, but that's no major accomplishment from which to derive a vast amount of confidence so plenty of questions remain for the Dawgs. Georgia won 34-7 last year in Athens. In looking at the schedule, this may be the East's last chance to get a second win over the West (Florida's win over Ole Miss is the only win thus far). I've got a funny feeling on this one. War Eagle 23-Georgia 20.

Mississippi State v. Bama- Before the tragic car accident that killed an MSU freshman Keith Joseph Jr. and his father, a former Bulldog player himself, I thought that MSU had some mojo going. They were coming off a Thursday night pasting of Mizzou when the accident happened Friday night. Instead of spending the weekend resting and getting ready to make their season by beating Bama, they spent it mourning a teammate. That said, Bama is favored less over State than they were against LSU, so who knows. Dak Prescott is the best QB in the conference and is having a solid year. Bama ended MSU's run at #1 last year winning 25-20 in T-Town. You can bet that the cowbells will be ringing this Saturday, but do you really think Dan Mullen beats Nick Saban when a potential national title for the Tide is on the line? Me neither. Tide 31-MSU 20.

Illinois v. Ohio State- Just one more week before #1 Ohio State plays their first legitimate opponent of the season. I bet that's exciting for the Buckeyes. I'm sure JT Barrett will return a changed man having dealt with Urban's harsh discipline following his DUI arrest. OSU 42-Illini 13.

Baylor v. Oklahoma- Baylor survived a scare in the other Manhattan on Thursday and now also have their first marquee opponent of 2015. OU has been pasting opponents since they choked in the Red River Rivalry. Baylor rolled the Sooners 48-14 last year, I think this year it is much closer but I'll take the Bears at home. BU 38-OU 35. 

Enjoy the Eastern crown, Gators. It has been an unbelievable year so far and we've got at least 5 more chances to celebrate.

Go Gators!