Monday, October 06, 2014

Week 6: Suspension

I was literally about to hit "Publish" on the Report that was to be titled "Treon Takes On the Corndogs" when my phone exploded with texts/tweets/emails/calls about Treon's legal problems. Instantly, all of the joy from beating Tennessee for the 10th straight time and my hope of our turning the corner on offense evaporated.  With so much unknown at this point, I'm going to keep this extremely brief.

First let me say that, as a father of two wonderful daughters who I hope attend my alma mater one day, any man who commits a violent act on a woman gets no second chance with me. It is an unforgiveable act and somewhere there is a father having to talk to his little girl who thinks she was sexually assaulted by Treon Harris early Sunday morning. Unless it is proven that she made the entire thing up, I hope that kid never spends another minute on the UF campus and I applaud the University for stepping in to show that this behavior will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

Second, while Jeff Driskel has not shown himself to be a good quarterback, he has not brought any shame on our program with his behavior off the field and our fan base at least owes him the respect due to someone who is trying to win. With LSU coming to town with it's own problems at quarterback and a porous run defense, I think Saturday's contest will be more about Matt Jones than Jeff Driskel or Treon Harris anyway, but when #6 trots on to the field Saturday I will be rooting for him. If a few of his receivers could actually show up and make a play for him, that would be extremely helpful.

Lastly, I thought Ron Zook was the unluckiest coach in Florida history, but the crown has been wrangled away by Will Muschamp. Between injuries last year and Treon this year, I just don't see this working out. I really don't.

So with all that said, remember when I started the year saying this was going to be the year that fun returned to the Gator Football program? That hope, like the one I had for our offense after the fourth quarter on Saturday, is now gone. Until I feel otherwise, until Florida football is fun to watch again, I'm taking a break from The Report. Here's my forecast for the rest of the road this season-

LSU- This is the worst LSU team in over a decade. They're a mess at QB, they have no run defense up the middle. I was picking a 24-16 final before this morning's events. Presuming no amazing developments with regard to personnel, now I'll say LSU 16-UF 13.

Mizzou- I think Mizzou is the best team in the East and will beat Georgia this weekend before coming to town and pounding Florida. Maty Mauk and his skill players are a matchup nightmare for our secondary. Worse, the pass rush they generate with their front 7 will eat us alive. Mizzou 31-UF 13.

Georgia- Georgia's defense is awful. How else can you explain that Tennessee scored 32 points on them and South Carolina beat them? I think we can keep their running game contained for at least a half but eventually Gurley busts one or two big plays on us. Georgia 20-UF 13.

Vandy- We will beat Vandy. UF 13-Vandy 9.

South Carolina- Carolina just gave up a two score lead and lost at Kentucky. I'm just grateful we don't have to play Kentucky again. UF 13-South Carolina 12.

Eastern Kentucky- UF 13-EKU 0. Ok, we'll score more than 13 in this one, but I've got an unlucky theme going here.

FSU- There's a fairly decent chance that Jameis runs afoul of the law again between now and then. However, there is very little chance that FSU will suspend him for this game as a result. Jameis will have a career day in what will hopefully be his last game against Florida. FSU 42-UF 13.

I'll be back as soon as something changes for the better. Go Gators!


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Week 5: The Crossroads on Rockytop

Hello, Gators. We'll keep this Report pretty brief as there's no game to review last week and our flaws remain what they were a week ago. No need to review those. The question is whether we've spent the bye week making changes and improving, and we won't know that until noon on Saturday.

Our trip to Rockytop will feature the best Tennessee team since the Fulmer era. Obviously, the Vols came up short between the hedges this past Saturday, but they looked good doing it and I'm sure they have the full attention of the Florida coaching staff. I think that had their quarterback not been knocked out for a few series, UT likely would have won that game, and I expect them to be confident come Saturday.

Tennessee last beat Florida in 2004. Since that game, the Vols are on their 4th head coach, Florida is on it's third, and none of the players remember anything about the Dallas Baker personal foul call that cost Florida the game (clearly, I do). Tennessee's quarterback, Justin Worley, had an outstanding game against Georgia and has a solid stable of receivers, led by "Pig" Howard and Marquez North. Their freshman running back isn't terribly fast, but Justin Hurd is 6'3, 230 pounds and runs hard. Their O line is completely new from last year but has played ok so far, though their yards per game average is only 378 whereas Florida averages 462.

On defense, they're replacing the entire D line from last year and their strength seems to be their linebacking corps, led by AJ Johnson who will be playing on Sundays soon. They have 2 more sacks (8) than Florida (6) on the year, which puts both teams near the bottom in the conference in that category, but Florida has only played 3 games. Both teams have 5 interceptions. They gave up 289 yards rushing against Georgia which gives me some hope that Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor could have a good day come Saturday.

On special teams, the Vols are averaging under 40 yards per punt and have made 5 of 7 field goals. They average 22 yards per kick return and 9 yards per punt return and give up less than those numbers on average to their opponents, so they're solid but not great on special teams.

In terms of the atmosphere, I expect Rockytop to be rocking in spite of the nooner kickoff time. They're planning on wearing their special "Smoky Gray" uniforms and have asked the fans to wear either white or orange according to their seating section in a planned "Checker Neyland" event. You have to believe that the Vol Nation desperately wants a win over Florida after 9 successive losses, and if Butch Jones wants to prove that his squad is on the road back to relevancy, they have to leap frog Florida at some point. That said, Florida should be the fresher squad coming off of a bye while Tennessee has to get over an agonizing loss.

In my mind, this game is all about Florida. If we can't come out and play with pride after the beating at Bama, then all is lost. Like I said last week, I think that starts with getting your playmakers involved, even if they've hardly touched the ball this year. I get that starting a true freshman at quarterback at Neyland Stadium isn't going to happen, and I truthfully agree with that approach. But Treon Harris needs to play and Brandon Powell needs some touches. I expect we'll try to establish the run early and I hope that Driskel is part of that running attack. Demarcus Robinson needs to be involved early as well and we can't be afraid to take chances down field even though Driskel has had accuracy issues in that department. If we let them stack the box and become one dimensional on offense this game is over. On defense, we have to get a pass rush established. The Vols showed vulnerability to blitzing against Georgia and Oklahoma and we simply can't expect pressure on the quarterback from our front four alone. We have to be sound tacklers and not let their running game get more than 100 yards. If the coaches haven't made some major corrections in the secondary then this will be a long day for those of us dressed in blue in the stands on Saturday.

I don't feel completely confident in the pick, but I'm taking Florida to win it's tenth straight over the Vols. Part of the reason is I just don't want to think about how bad it could get the rest of the way if we can't get it done on Saturday. Gators 31-Vols 24.

This is an outstanding weekend in the conference and part of me wishes I was going to be at home to see it all. Hopefully I feel different when I'm celebrating a Gator win at the tailgate around 4pm Saturday.

Auburn v. LSU- Auburn is a tough of a place to play as anywhere in the country, and in spite of average performances the last two weeks by the Tigers/War Eagles, I don't see enough offense from LSU to be able to keep up with Auburn for a full game. War Eagle 35-Tigers 20.

Ole Miss v. Bama- Gameday will be in the Grove Saturday and I can only imagine the excitement among the Hoddy Toddy Faithful. That said, based on what I saw last weekend the Tide has it going on both sides of the ball and there isn't enough talent in Oxford to win this game. Roll Tide 38-Rebs 17.

Mississippi State v. Texas A&M- The Aggies were given an early Christmas gift by Arkansas this past Saturday and looked shaky throughout the afternoon. The Dirty Dawgs had the weekend off and are riding sky high after their win at LSU. Call me crazy, but I'm going to pick the Dawgs in the upset. More Cowbell 27-Aggies 24.

South Carolina v. Kentucky- That was a huge comeback by Mizzou on Saturday night which had to leave the HBC and his squad crushed with two early conference losses. I said that the Cats would catch somebody along the way, and I'm calling for it to happen this weekend. Cats 27-Cocks 23.

Don't give up hope on your Gators yet folks. There is plenty of football left and a win Saturday puts us back on the right track with huge ballgames to follow at home this month. I know that sounds ridiculous given the hangover from Tuscaloosa, but hopefully our players show themselves to be more resilient than their fan base.

Go Gators!


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bye Week 1: Torment in Tuscaloosa

Well Gators, now we know. Saturday was a test to see how we could fare against an elite power. And yet the 42-21 result simply served as another humbling reminder of how far we've fallen in five years. Bama remains the elite program that beat us on December 5, 2009. On the other hand, we are an empty shell of the team we used to be. I said last week that we had to play perfect and Bama had to hand us some gifts. They did their part, we simply didn't do ours.

Offense- I keep saying that this team will go as far as Jeff Driskel can take us. I now know I was wrong. Driskel went 9 for 28 with two picks against an elite defense on Saturday. It wasn't all his fault, and the drive killing drops by Dunbar and Burton and the fumble by Matt Jones didn't help. But it is time to at least try something else on offense in terms of our quarterback. Clemson didn't win on Saturday, but they at least had the courage to trot out a talented freshman quarterback to try something different when their veteran QB wasn't producing. I have no illusions that Treon Harris will throw touchdowns every play, and Driskel unquestionably has a better command of the offense than any freshman could, but the bottom line is he can't hit open receivers he can't play quarterback at Florida if we want to beat good teams. We know who Driskel is by now. If Coach Muschamp wants to be here in 2015, he owes it to the fans to at least show a willingness to try something different. And it doesn't stop with Driskel. We have to start getting touches to guys who might be able to make dynamic plays. Quinton Dunbar has proven he isn't that guy. I don't know if a guy like Alvin Bailey might be better, but I'd like to at least see him get the shot. Bama's first play went for a 87 yard touchdown to a dynamic running back. We've got a true freshman named Brandon Powell who showed some wiggle in Game 1 but hasn't been seen since. We've got a bowling ball of a tailback in Adam Lane and his next touch will be his first in 2014. Young guys like Bailey, Powell, and Lane are given opportunities in other offenses, but are shelved in ours and it is positively maddening.

Defense- In his first 3 years Muschamp always could rely on a great defense. This secondary is lousy and I'm as shocked as anybody. But we survived the two long touchdown throws in the first half. What killed us was the inability to stop Bama's power running game in the second half. You simply can't give up a third and 23 on a screen pass. I get that we were gassed because the offense was anemic in the second half, the two units are inextricably interrelated and I lay 75% of the blame for this embarrassing failure on the O, but the inability to get off the field on third down is now a two season issue and the defense is not without blame. Bama was able to easily neutralize our best receiver while we allowed Cooper to have 201 yards and gave up a record 645 yards of offense. That's pathetic defense and Boom can't survive with a lousy defense.

Special Teams- Thank goodness that Kyle Christy is back. Without him, that game would have been out of hand sooner. Bama even spotted us a missed field goal. But the kick returners looked hesitant to me and that lack of aggressive running is unacceptable.

That game couldn't have started worse and but for Bama's turnovers could have been a 65-0 outcome. We've got better talent than that. The question that Boom needs to answer going forward is whether he's willing to make some major personnel changes to try and utilize some of that younger talent. Like I said before, I'm ok with losing games going forward, but I want us going down fighting rather than rolling with the exact same cast of characters and hoping for a different result. He's yet to demonstrate that he's an outside the box kind of thinker, so my guess is I'll be disappointed on this point. But that disappointment won't last beyond this season because he won't be here next year if he doesn't shake things up.

To put a bow on the Gators through the first third of the season, I think we can still contend in the East if we get better on offense. But that is going to involve seeing some fresh faces in the lineup starting in two weeks up on Rockytop.

This was the lone game I won't see in person this year, which means I was actually able to see some other teams play-

- As a Gator fan, you couldn't ask for a better College Gameday setting than Tallahassee this past Saturday. It was a two hour infomercial on how bad FSU botched the handling of Jameis's most recent epic PR failure. For my money, I just can't name a college football superstar with less environmental awareness than Jameis Winston. In spite of his past run ins with the law and rape allegations (for which he's still being evaluated by FSU's student conduct committee), and all of the noise coming from the NFL regarding domestic violence, he decided last week would be a good one to publicly demonstrate his regard for the fairer sex. FSU couldn't have handled it worse, and Gameday held their feet to the fire. Amazingly, however, he still thought it wise to come out in full pads for warm-ups. What kind of raving psycho is this guy? And is there no grad assistant in charge of watching him on a full time basis now? Did nobody see him suiting up prior to warm ups? It was nothing short of amazing and an absolute demonstration of how tone deaf he is to the shitstorm that he's created. But hey, the Noles won so everything is cool now, right? I can't wait to see what he does next, and the lone solace I take is that he's costing himself a truck load of money and making his school look ridiculous in the process.

- My apologies to Missouri. Apparently, The Gator Report has now accumulated the power to single-handedly derail otherwise sound football teams by simply expressing admiration of their past performances. It happened first with USC and Georgia, then Missouri became the latest example. Look out Bama, you're probably next.

- Congratulations to Dan Mullen and his Dirty Dawgs who took care of business in Tiger Stadium on Saturday night. They were shaky playing with the lead late, but anytime you can pull yourselves ahead of LSU in the West is a good night. They've got the week off and then host Texas A&M the following week for another shake-out Saturday in the supremely talented West.

- Hats off to Vandy as well. South Carolina was obviously still basking in the joy of the win over Georgia when they found themselves down two TD's early against the Dores. They won, but in giving up 34 points to a formerly awful offense the Cocks showed that they're clearly vulnerable atop the East.

- Ohio State had the week off and Urban apparently spent it doing an interview with HBO about his near death experience coaching Florida in 2009. I totally get it. It must have been hell trying to coach a team with that much talent. Good thing he's at OSU now and won't have to worry about managing that many superstars anymore. By the way, Virginia Tech lost again.

Tomorrow I'll celebrate my 40th birthday and am grateful that next weekend will feature a couple of games to enjoy without the stress of watching Florida play offense. Here's what I'm looking forward to seeing-

Arkansas v. Texas A&M (Arlington)- Arky has it going on the ground and it will be interesting to see if the Aggie defense can stop their power running game. It will also be interesting to see if Arky can stay with their game plan if the Aggies' offense builds an early lead. It is amazing how far a little success can elevate a team's confidence and I think Arky will give TAMU all they want. Aggies 42-Hogs 24.

Georgia v. Tennessee- The Vols had the week off to heal after Oklahoma's defense hammered them the week before. Georgia essentially had the week off in their 66-0 pasting of Troy. I was amazed at the number of starters still in for Georgia in the second half, you'd think Mark Richt would learn about risking injuries at some point. I think UT is definitely improving, largely because they've committed to playing so many young guys, and you can bet that the Vols will have Georgia's full attention after last year's close Georgia win (34-31 in OT). But I think Todd Gurley is a weapon that the Vols simply don't have an answer for. Dawgs 34-Vols 17.

South Carolina v. Missouri- This is probably the most interesting matchup of the weekend in the conference because of so many unknowns. Mizzou has to get off the mat after an embarrassing loss to an Indiana team that they should have hammered. South Carolina better find some answers defensively after their showing in Nashville because they're hosting the best quarterback they'll see all year in Maty Mauk. This game went to double OT last year before USC pulled it out, I expect a similarly close game this year and am going against my gut and picking the Head Ball Coach to come up short in this one. Tigers 33-Cocks 27.

Like I said, I'm grateful to have the week off from Florida football, but I'm still looking forward to the trip to Rockytop in two weeks. I think it is pivotal game of the season for Florida. With a win, we still have all of our goals ahead of us and host the rest of the October slate in Gainesville. Lose, however, and the fragile psyche of this team may be lost along with any hope of Boom returning in 2015. I'm hopeful the coaches spend the next two weeks figuring out preventing the deep ball on defense and getting Harris ready to play early at quarterback. If we keep trying the same approach and expect a different result, we're simply defining insanity.

Go Gators!