The Monday Morning Quarterback: Gator Nation Step Away From The Ledge


As the Florida Gators were clinging to a closer than expected 19-0 lead against North Texas State late in the third quarter of Saturday night’s game, Gator Nation let out a collective gasp when starting quarterback Luke Del Rio went down with an apparent knee injury.

While Del Rio lay on the turf in obvious pain and trainers tended to his injury, fans were left watching replays of a low hit by Mean Green defensive end Josh Wheeler that would take him out of the game for good.

From Gainesville to Seattle fans were groaning with sighs of “here we go again.”

Backup quarterback and grad transfer Austin Appleby was left to replace Del Rio and speculation began almost immediately as to what would happen to the Gator offense which had finally been showing some semblance of what fans hoped for when Jim McElwain was hired to replace Will Muschamp.

The Monday Morning Quarterback says relax Gator Nation and step away from the ledge. 

I know, I know, your tired. 

Tired of watching Gator starting quarterbacks go down or go out.

I feel your pain.

I know, you’ve seen this act before and it always seems to derail a promising Gator season. 

I know you follow Gator Twitter and you think Austin Appleby is trash. He’s a washed out Purdue retread. He couldn’t make it as a starter in the Big Ten, how’s he going to do in the SEC?

Well forget what you heard. 

To steal and paraphrase a line from Lord of the Rings: there may come a time when the mighty Gators lose to Tennessee, but it is not this day.

Here’s three reasons why The Monday Morning Quarterback believes you have nothing to fear but fear itself.

1) This is why they brought in Appleby.

“Trust the staff” has been a big motto on social media and message boards. If nothing else they’ve proven that they have a plan and make solid decisions to execute it.

When Will Grier went out last season they knew what they had in Del Rio and knew that they would need a capable backup just in case. 

They also knew Treon wasn’t the answer. When they brought in Appleby they weren’t just bringing in a warm body they were bringing in an experienced, capable quarterback with a strong arm and good smarts.

He wasn’t brought in to compete for the starting job, he was brought in to run this offense in the event Del Rio went down allowing the two freshman quarterbacks to sit for a year while they learned to play the position at this level. 

So here we are. Del Rio is down for at least two weeks and with a huge road game coming up next week at Tennessee, the staff is confident in their decision to bring in Appleby.

The Monday Morning Quarterback believes you should be too.

Trust the staff. It’s not just a motto.

2) History favors the Gators 

They have beaten the Vols eleven straight times. In many of those games the Gators came in with much worse teams than what they will field on Saturday and and still left with a victory.

There is precedent here for backup quarterbacks having success against this Tennessee team.

Twice in last three years they beat the Vols with back up quarterbacks leading them to victory including two years ago at Tennessee with Treon Harris coming on in relief of an ineffective Jeff Driskel.

The year before it was Tyler Murphy relieving the injured Driskel to lead the Gators to victory.

Both times the backup had to come in mid-game with no preparation.

This year the staff has a full week to get Appleby prepared.

I like the odds.

The Monday Morning Quarterback believes you should too.

Heck even the much maligned Driskel beat them in Knoxville in 2012 in Muschamp’s pedestrian offense. 

This is a much more potent offense AND defense the Gators will walk into Neyland stadium with on Saturday afternoon.

Better than any Gator team since 2009. 

And, they have a chip on their shoulder feeling slighted by the media with all the preseason prognostications of Tennessee being the favorite in the SEC East and being sleeper picks for the national title.

3) The matchups favor the Gators.

The Gators defense leads the nation in total defense giving up only 389 total yards in three games an average of only 128.7 yards per game.

Conversely the Tennessee offense is ranked #101 in the nation in total offense averaging only 351 yards per game, a full 115 yards less per game than the Gators (466).

That’s the million dollar matchup. 

Coming in to the season, popular opinion was that the Vols were the SEC East favorites largely on the strength of an improved offense that features the dual threat Josh Dobbs at quarterback along with running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara.

But three games in they’ve been less than stellar. While the rushing attack hasn’t been bad averaging 189 yards per game, the passing attack has. They limp into this matchup #109 in the nation averaging only 162 passing yards per game a full 103 yards per game less than the Gators.

While the three headed Volunteer rushing attack appears to be their strength, the Gators come in even stronger at #2 in the nation against the run having given up only 127 total rushing yards in three games a 42.3 ypg average.
Perhaps even more interesting is that the Vols have given up 25 more yards per game (152.7) than the Gators have given up overall (127). While the Gators rushing attack has averaged 202 yards per game. 

On third down, money down as they like to call it, the Gators are third in the nation converting 58% of their attempts (29-50) while their defense has limited opponents to a paltry 7-36 (19.4%) conversion rate.

While Tennessee’s defense has been ok on third down (15-46, 32.6%) their offense hasn’t been very efficient at all (17-43, 39.5%). 

All signs point to this being a different game than last year when Dobbs and Hurd had a field day. The depth and talent of the Gators front seven look to be too strong and the running lanes look to be closed as the Gators biggest defensive strength appears to be their gap soundness and sideline speed.

What does it all mean?

The Gators likely won’t need Appleby to be a hero. 

I know, that’s crazy, right?

But, realistically, if they can continue to run the ball effectively and the Gator defense can shut down the Tennessee running game, and odds are Dobbs can’t beat them with his arm, they should have no problem walking out with consecutive win number 12 in the series.

Which means, Gator Nation, that you can step away from the ledge, take the noose off your neck, and relax in spite of Del Rio’s injury.

The Gators should be just fine.

I’m the Monday Morning Quarteback and I’m out!

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Grading The Gators: Defense Pitches Shutout, Offense Loses Del Rio


On a night when the Florida Gators defense set a record and pitched a shutout, it was the loss of quarterback Luke Del Rio that stole the headlines.

The defense played inspired holding the North Texas State Mean Green to a school record 53 yards of total offense en route to a 32-0 victory, the Gators first shutout since a 65-0 win over Eastern Michigan in 2014.

But it was the loss of Del Rio to a knee injury on a low hit by Mean Green defensive end Josh Wheeler that kept Gator Nation abuzz well into the night.


There was no immediate word on the extent of the injury but in postgame comments by head coach Jim McElwain he mentioned that De Rio will likely miss some time heading into the Tennssee game next weekend.

“He’s getting his leg looked at right now, it doesn’t look great, so you know what?  We’ll do whatever, somebody else will play, we’ll get some guys ready, move forward, and get ready to play next week.”

Prior to the injury Del Rio had played well enough to lead the Gators to a 19-0 lead but he was still somewhat inconsistent much like he was in the opener against UMass.

He was 14-25 for 186 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. He made a few poor decisions throwing into coverage and missed on some open routes but still played solid enough before the injury.

So now the Gators will head into the SEC East showdown in Knoxville next Saturday without Del Rio and may have to rely on grad transfer Austin Appleby for a few weeks.

**UPDATE**

It was reported Sunday afternoon that Del Rio suffered a knee sprain and should only be out 2-3 weeks.

On to the the grades.

DEFENSE- A+++

In 39 years of following Gator football I’ve seen a lot of dominant defensive efforts. None quite compare to Saturday night.

The Gators had 7 sacks, one interception, and held the UNT offense to the aforementioned school record 53 yards of total offense. UNT was only 2-13 on third down and 0-2 on fourth down. 

Most of their yardage came on three plays for a total of 55 yards. They had -2 on all other offensive plays. In fact, UNT gained almost twice as much yardage (97) on Gator penalties as they did on their own.

But perhaps the most impressive play was 2nd down from the UNT 7 yard line on the Mean Green’s first series when DT Caleb Brantley and DT Joey Ivie bullrushed a dropping Mason Fine and sacked him for a safety almost immediately. Fine never even had time to get his feet set before Brantley covered him and Ivie helped take him down. 

Three and out in the first series?

Meh, lots of defenses do that. 

This Gator defense forced them into a two and out for two Gator points virtually before the tv announcers could even give out the UNT starting offensive lineup.

The Gator front seven, led by LB’s Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone, continue to make the case for being the best not only in the SEC but also in the nation. 

They are deep and talented with a good mix of experienced veterans and young up and coming pass rushers in Jabari Zuniga, Jachai Polite, and Keivonnis Davis. All three had a sack in the first four UNT possessions.

The front seven completely shut down the UNT running game holding them to -14 yards rushing on the night.

The Gators defensive backs continued their stellar play once again living up to the DBU moniker with corners Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson blanketing UNT receivers limiting them to a paltry 66 yards passing. 

The Gators safeties also had a huge game. Marcell Harris grabbed the first interception of his career while Duke Dawson and Nick Washington were active repeatedly punishing UNT players with jarring tackles and big hits.

If the defense can continue at its current pace, they could very well end up as the best in Gator history. 

Certainly they haven’t played any offensive juggernauts through three games but you’ve got to be impressed with their focus and intensity and how they’ve approached each game not playing down to the name on the front of the jerseys.

The only negative for the Gator defense was penalties. Offsides and some ticky tacky pass interference calls on corners Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson gave UNT some unearned yardage and first downs. The only reason I don’t knock them down for this is the PI’s could have gone either way and they played so well, it didn’t hurt them. If anything it made them even more motivated to shut down the UNT offense. 

OFFENSE- B-

Struggled with this grade.

Started post game from a C- mostly due to Del Rio’s seeming inconsistency and offensive line struggles in the red zone.

Watching the game on DVR, however, offense looked much better than it seemed in-game.

Negatives

Del Rio continued to be streaky starting the game 0-4 before going on a 6-7 run for 108 yards. 

He still seems a little slow in his progressions at times, locking on to the primary route for too long and missing some guys coming open. 

It caused him once again to make some late throws and have to throw under duress as the pass rush got to him at times.

He missed on some open deep balls early before hitting true freshman Josh Hammond in-stride on the Gators third possession. 

It wasn’t all on Del Rio, however, as the Gators offensive line once again struggled to get a push in short yardage situations and continued to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties, particularly in the red zone.

A missed block on fourth and short led to a turnover on downs for the Gators at the 5 yard line on that third drive.

Penalties once again continued to haunt the Gators as they had a season high 9 for 97 yards.

Some of those were huge calls against the defense but this far they’ve been able to overcome them. The offense, though, has been getting them at inopportune times and they are killers for this unit.

Positives

The running game continues to look like a team strength. They rushed for 255 yards on 43 carries, a whopping 5.9 yards per rush. 

Led by Mark Thompson with 11 carries for 85 yards the Gators continued their running back by committee approach rotating four backs throughout the game.

They all ran hard and all four scored a touchdown on the night as well.

At this point, it’s obvious that the Gators certainly have the deepest running back corps in the conference if not the most talented overall as well. 

All four backs, while having different styles, can run inside or outside and can make plays on the passing game as well. 

This is important moving forward with Del Rio out because it not only provides balance but also sets up the play action and what they try to do in the downfield passing game. 

Speaking of the passing game, it continues to be a work in progress but still shows positive signs. They continue to play the high low game mixing in the short passing and outside screen game while continuing to attack downfield with play action. 

While Del Rio missed some throws and missed seeing some open receivers it’s encouraging to continue to see guys running open.

While the Gators qb’s didn’t exactly light up the night finishing 16-29 for 216 yards and no TD’s they did spread the ball around well with nine different players catching passes. 

SPECIAL TEAMS-A

Fan favorite placekicker Eddie Piniero was perfect on the night hitting his only field goal attempt from 22 yards and making all three of his PAT’s while consistently putting the ball to the endzone on kickoffs.

Punter Johnny Townsend was his usual consistent self punting four times for a whopping 55.3 average with a long of 59 and keeping UNT back in their own territory.

Other than that not much to talk about as the shutout limited the Gators to only one kick return and UNT’s rugby style punter basically prevented the Gators from doing much on punt returns.

Overall it was a solid effort for the Gators but once again they need to continue emphasizing limiting self-inflicted wounds with penalties.

Swamp Privelege: It Means Something To Be A Florida Gator

“This is such an unbelievable place for a football game and it’s a place that, no matter where you’re at, people kind of know about the Swamp. I look at it as more so not a right but more so as a privilege to be able to play in the Swamp. To able to be a part of that history of what a great place it is.”

Privelege.

It’s a word thrown around a lot these days. Most who toss it out have no idea what it means.

Being a Florida Gator football player is a big deal. Playing in one of the loudest stadiums in college football in front of 90,000+ fans is a big deal. 

They don’t just let anybody suit up in the orange and blue. If you follow college football recruiting at all, one of the first lessons you learn is that they can’t get everybody.

But that works both ways. Not everybody can be a Florida Gator either.

Dozens or more in-state recruits every year who may have grown up Gator fans or simply want to be a Gator get turned away every year.

Just like thousands of prospective Florida Gator students get turned away each year as well.

Being a Florida Gator student athlete is a privelege just like being selected to be a Florida Gator student. 

It’s certainly not a right. 

Think about how many high school football players claim a Florida offer each year. The actual number who have an actual commitable offer is much, much smaller.

Hundreds of really good high school football players each year never get the chance to play in that stadium in a Gator uniform.

Donning the Orange and Blue and playing in the Swamp isn’t a right, it’s a privelege.

When they put on that uniform, they’re not just representing themselves and their team, they’re representing all the great, hardworking Florida Gators before them.

Jack Youngblood, Carlos Alvarez, John Reaves, Steve Spurrier, Kerwin Bell, Neal Anderson, Wilber Marshall, Emmitt Smith, Louis Oliver, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes, and the list goes on ad infinitum. 

So many great Gators who played on that field went on to have successful careers not only in the NFL, but in all walks of life.

“Gator Nation: it’s everywhere” is not simply a marketing slogan. 

It’s the truth!

Keeping it real.

💯👊

It means something to be a Florida Gator and it means something to be a Gator student athlete.

When Urban Meyer left and Will Muschamp took over everyone talked about a broken program.

Want the know why it was a broken program?

Somewhere along the way it stopped meaning something to Florida Gator football players to be a Florida Gator.

Somehow, the name on the back of the jersey became larger than the name on the front.

That’s a problem.

I’ve been following Gator athletics since 1977 and I can honestly say that even in the midst of an 0-10-1 season in 1979, the players on that Gator team took pride in that uniform and pride in coming out of that tunnel many years before the stadium was given the Swamp nickname.

It meant something to be a Florida Gator and it still does. 

When a Gator football player walks on to that field on game day they owe it, not only to themselves, but to those who came before them to give everything they’ve got for the orange and blue.

If they take for granted playing on that field, playing in that uniform, then they have no business being on that field or in that uni.

The Head Ball Coach used to say about recruiting, “if they don’t want to be Gators that’s fine, we’ll go find us some who do want to be Gators.” 

Those are the kind of players who understand that it’s not a right but a privelege to play on that field. 

With all the talk about new facilities, perhaps the biggest deal of all was announced by coach McElwain on Thursday’s Gator Talk radio program.

“(We’re) putting in a spot that is a former Gator locker room,”McElwain said. “A place that they (former Gator players) can come back here and work out and know that it’s home, and in turn now they have an opportunity to show the guys that are here working out what it’s like to be in the National Football League.”

“I’m one of these guys that wants them back here as much as possible because this was home for them and such a big place for them moving on to the next level.”

“You know what’s also really cool?” McElwain asked. When they make a play and chomp.”

That is really cool because it’s all part of building the Gator brand but it also shows how much respect they have for that uniform and for playing on the field. 

And having former players walking through that locker room will be a constant reminder that they’re playing not just for themselves but for those that came before them.

What better way to learn that playing in the Swamp is a privelege? 

And what better way to teach them that it actually means something to be a Florida Gator? 

Thirsty Thursday: Florida Gator Notes and Quotes


The staff decided to mix things up at practice on Wednesday to see how the team responded to “chaos”.

“We did some things different today to handle some chaos,” McElwain said. “Kind of threw the pratice schedule up and then jumped around a little bit period-wise to see how are guys handled that kind of thing.”

After calling out the special teams unit after Saturday’s huge win against Kentucky, coach Mac put the focus on that unit early in Wednesday’s practice in order to “clean up some things”. 

“We needed the emphasis obviously on special teams,” Mac said. “We wanted to start out with that early today and get an opportunity to get some guys in there to understand the importance of what it is to do your job to help us be successful. And more than that, don’t be lazy and take stupid penalties. I thought we got that accomplished pretty well.”

Injuries 

-True freshman LB Jeremiah Moon “did something to his thumb” which will put him out of action indefinitely.

    “He was doing a heck of a job for us not only at the ‘backer spot but also really on special teams,” Mac said. “He really did a great job.”

    -WR Dre Massey had surgery today to repair his knee that he injured against UMass. The surgery went well according to coach Mac.

      -Center Cam Dillard suffered an elbow injury on Wednesday but Mac said he should be ok.

      -CB Joseph Putu suffered an ankle injury

      “Rolled up- probably be a high leg not a low leg”
       

      Translation: High ankle sprain

      -True Freshman WR Tyrie Cleveland out with hamstring injury

      “He’s done a great job with the rehab piece.” Coach Mac

        -WR Antonio Callaway listed as doubtful with what appears to also be a hamstring injury. Mac said he responded well to treatment in the morning but it tightened up during practice.

        “Callaway went bits and pieces, I would say he’s highly questionable/doubtful”

        -RG Tyler Jordan is out at least a couple weeks with an eye issue which will require treatment. Not sure if it means surgery but he’s definitely out at least a couple of weeks.

          Richard Desir-Jones and Fred Johnson likely to replace him at right guard while he’s out.

          Quotes 

          “I thought we were pretty good (in Wednesday’s practice). I was really happy with Tuesday. And then today, on purpose, created a bunch of different things for them. And not only that but did it for the coaches as well, people in the organization that were running practice, to kind of keep an edge. I’m excited to see how these guys play on Saturday and see if we’re going to be a different Gator team or not.”

          “To me, I don’t know how you can ever do anything and not go out and do it your best.”

          “Really the one that didn’t get mentioned as far as guys back is Duke Dawson. He only played seven plays in that first game. He had a heck of a game at the nickel spot.”

          “How can anyone give 110 percent, you only have a hundred?”

          On a redshirt freshman replacing Tyler Jordan at right guard:

          “Richard (Desir-Jones), the thing he does is he gets on you quick. I’m excited for him to play. He graded well in the last game. He got a lot of snaps in. This will be a great opportunity for him.”

          Gators lead SEC in sacks through two games with 9

          “The biggest thing is their discipline in their pass rush lanes. The nine sacks are great, but then again the discipline in the pass rush lanes. There again the guys that don’t show up in the box score, by being disciplined, keeps the quarterback there that maybe someone else can get him and you don’t create those big gaps for those long quarterback runs that you see sometimes when guys are getting out of their lanes. So I credit that to the front playing unselfished, really playing disciplined and doing their jobs.”

          Asked about the proverbial “trap game” and if he does anything different to try to avoid that:

          “I just think there’s a certain way you go about your business no matter what it is. I think you can get too up for rivalries and that sort of stuff. What I would hope is that they have enough personal pride to go out and do their job at the highest level that they can knowing they can’t be perfect.”

          On defending the Swamp:

          “This is such an unbelievable place for a football game and it’s a place that, no matter where you’re at, people kind of know about the Swamp. I look at it as more so not a right but more so as a privilege to be able to play in the Swamp. To able to be a part of that history of what a great place it is.”

          Mac n Cheese

          Did you ever get an ass-chewing from coach Saban while you were there?

          “Oh, all the time! It was awesome!”

          Asked about the 2017 schedule coach Mac feigned ignorance.

          Reporter:”Texas A&M is coming here October 14th next year. First time since 1962.”

          “Oh, the year I was born,” Mac responded. “It was a hell of a year!”

          His thoughts on facility improvements:

          “The vision for the future is really exciting and obviously what we’ve done in this short time facility-wise. I kind of laughed when I had coach Spurrier last spring come and speak to the team and he walked into the team room and looked around and he says ‘yup, nothing’s changed around here’. I don’t know how long ago that was and I thought ‘yeah that’s a telling sign’.”

          The Gators take on North Texas State at 7:30 pm Saturday September 19th.

          The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

          Coach McElwain’s Blueprint For Success: Just Do Your Job

          “I think the best thing that really occurred in that, when you talk about a common goal, some guys not worrying about the individual stats piece. Because these guys got a lot of people in their ears telling them they’ve got to have this and that but ultimately the people that make the decisions, when you talk about the next level, actually look at how you do your job. And the guys up front, Ivie, Brantley, Cox, some guys just did an outstanding job of doing their job, taking care of their responsibilities, and it allowed some other people around them to really, really play good.”

          Florida Head Coach Jim McElwain

          Do your job.

          Pretty simple, right?

          Sounds like it. Seems like common sense.

          But is it really THAT simple?

          I’ve had the good fortune to work in a number of industries over my career. I’ve owned a construction business, I’ve managed restaurants, bars, retail stores, car rental agencies, and even spent some time in sales management.

          One of the most common themes I’ve preached throughout was to simply do your job. 

          Nowadays, everyone’s got a formula, an action plan, tricks of the trade, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda. Companies inundate employees with volumes of paperwork designed to achieve objectives, track performance, map out goals, etc…

          Not to downplay any of that because certainly all that is useful, right? Why would they invest so much money, time, and energy if it wasn’t?

          But I’m old school. 

          My favorite phrase has always been “just do your job.” You can get lost in all of the glitz, the glamour, or the sheer volume of noise in the system and make the first and biggest mistake: you forget to just do your job. 

          Want to be successful? Just do your job.

          Easy enough.

          Just… Do… Your job!

          Where am I going with this?

          Well coach Mac made a point to open his Monday media season after a blowout victory over Kentucky with that speech. The big picture was that he was talking about his offensive and defensive units feeding off each during that victory because both units played with a common goal. 

          And he got down to the root, the most basic aspect of it, and that was players simply doing their job.

          “That’s kind of how this thing works,” McElwain said. “Until we get that consistently-that’s when we’re going to have a good football team, when that giving of yourself for the benefit of others, that thought, playing with a common goal, a team goal.”

          Football is a team sport. Much like any organization it is made up of various parts which, in turn, are made up of people who are all working towards a common goal. In order for that team or organization to be successful, it needs everyone to do their job.

          Sometimes in sports as with organizations, you have people want that maybe want to be the superstar. They want to make the play, or grab the attention and rather than doing their job they step out and do something else that maybe isn’t their job. 

          What happens?

          The organization breaks down. 

          Everybody has a particular role that they play and that role is important even if they don’t get the attention maybe they wish they did.

          Everybody can’t be the superstar, everybody can’t make the play, everybody can’t score the touchdown. Some people, their main job is to set up the play, to block downfield, to pass protect, to eat up blocks on the line, etc… Those jobs are just as important whether they get recognition or not. 

          Everybody remembers Antonio Callaway’s huge catch and run to beat Tennessee last season, but what was more important was the huge block by Brandon Powell that took out, not one, but two Tennessee defenders. Without that block Florida possibly loses that game and doesn’t go to the SEC championship game.

          One of the hardest things to teach wide receivers is to block. Not necessarily how to block but to have the desire to do it. 

          Most come out of high school as the superstar at their school and they have to learn to be unselfish. They have to learn the mindset of giving of oneself for the benefit of others as coach Mac said. 

          That’s working toward a common goal. Give of yourself for the benefit of your team’s goal.

          On Saturday against Kentucky, one of the biggest things that stands out on tape is how well the defensive line did at standing their ground and taking out blockers, allowing Alex Anzalone and others to use their athleticism to make plays.

          Yeah some other guys looked good to the fans, got their name called out by announcers, but the unselfish job by those lineman was as important if not more important. 

          That’s giving of yourself for the common goal, the team goal.  

          The best way to do that?

          Just do your job!

          High, Low: Which Florida Gator Team Will Show Up?

          “Kind of the M.O. of this program has been you play high, you play low, and not consistently.”

          Florida Head Coach Jim McElwain

          Two games into 2016 for the Florida Gators and it’s already been a tale of two seasons.

          In this case, however, they played low and played high.

          The first game against lowly UMass the Gators played low. They couldn’t get any consistency offensively and went into the fourth quarter clinging to a 10-7 lead with nervous fans fearing the upset.

          It was the usual suspects once again for the Gators. 

          The offensive line got little push in the run game, and had difficulties in pass protection. The rushing attack was virtually non-existent. Meanwhile, sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio, playing in his first collegiate start, looked the part often missing open receivers and seemingly playing tentatively while suffering form numerous dropped passes.

          For the most part, though, they were simply inconsistent, particularly in the red zone and on third down.

          Eventually, however, the Gators were able to pull out a late 24-7 victory but overall it was a very lethargic effort.

          “To be honest I don’t think they’re real proud of what they did (against UMass),” McElwain said. “They played ok in that first game. That’s what it was, it was just ok.”

          Against Kentucky, however, the Gators were anything but lethargic. They came out from the opening kickoff fired up, composed, focused, and ready to play a physical game.

          They appeared to get the message that coach Mac was preaching all week.

          “You can’t just go out and be ok, and that’s…a good thing,” McElwain said. “I thought that they took that to heart and they played well this last game.”

          “Played well” could be an understatement. Going into the game popular sentiment seemed to be that Kentucky might finally break a 29 game losing streak. 

          They didn’t. 

          In fact, Kentucky was never really even in the game. The Gators cruised from start to finish and laid a 45-7 whipping on the Wildcats and it could have been worse. 

          Gators kicker Eddie Piniero missed two field goals and the Gator defense pitched a shutout holding Kentucky to 78 total yards until a late scoring drive during scrub time.

          So now the Gators face a North Texas State team who should come in as huge underdogs.

          Which Gator team will show up?

          “I think that the challenge moving forward is to see how this team is going to respond-see how this Gator team is going to respond. Kind of the M.O. of this program has been you play high, you play low, and not consistently. This will be a huge week for us as far as our guys understanding that never, ever let an opportunity pass you by. And this another opportunity for us to go out and get a little bit better.”

          Will the team that showed up against Kentucky arrive at the Swamp on Saturday?

          Or will they go back and play down to their opponent as they have for several years now?

          “Great teams they learn how to prepare and go out and be proud of how they play and realize you’re only given so many opportunities to go do this. For us, I think we need to really focus on the now, focus on the things that you’ve got to do to go out and be proud of what you do.” 

          And that is really the crux of the issue. 

          Often fans who love to complain about lackluster efforts against overmatched opponents will actually go and try to rationalize it.

          “Oh it was just UMass”, or in the case of Tennessee fans, “that App State team is better than everyone gives them credit for,” or “App State could compete in the SEC.” 

          Do they actually listen to themselves?

          Forget the BS. 

          Every game is an opportunity to get better as coach Mac says. It’s important for the team to take advantage of each and every opportunity to get better. Sure, the final score only matters to bookies and bettors as long as they win, but playing fundamentally sound football and learning against opponents who aren’t your teammates and are actively trying to beat you is of the utmost importance down the road.

          When the Gators play Tennessee, or LSU, or Georgia, they’ll perform with the same habits they created against UMass, Kentucky, and North Texas State. The more fundamentally sound they are in those games, the more fundamentally sound they’ll be against the big guys.

          So North Texas State will arrive in the Swamp on Saturday with big eyes and and bigger ambitions, but the Gators need to arrive themselves with even bigger ambitions understanding, as coach Mac preaches, that they only get so many opportunities to get better.

          This is one.

          And they get less and less each and every game.

          Will the Gators be proud of what they put on tape?

          The Monday Morning Quarterback: The Chomp Is Back In The Swamp Or Have We Seen This Act Before?


          One week after the Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier returned to the stadium he nicknamed The Swamp, the Florida Gators put the Chomp back in the Swamp with an old fashioned stomp over the Kentucky Wildcats.

          For longsuffering Gator fans it was a welcome relief as the Gators put on an offensive display reminiscent of the old days of the Fun n Gun.

          No play exemplified that better than on first down from the Gator 22 yard line after a huge interception by Quincy Wilson, quarterback Luke Del Rio dropped back on a play action fake and hit wide receiver Antonio Callaway in stride for a 78 yard touchdown.

          It was the same play they opened with last week against UMass but this time Del Rio put the ball inside and made the connection and Callaway did the rest.

          The Head Ball Coach had to be proud!

          Fans in the Swamp certainly were.

          Loud and Proud!

          The Chomp is back in the Swamp!

          Or is it?

          The Monday Morning Quarterback wonders if the Chomp really is back in the Swamp, or have we seen this act before?

          After all there was the Ole Miss game last season where redshirt freshman Will Grier lit up the Ole Miss defense to the tune of 271 yards passing and 4 touchdowns as the Gators cruised to a 38-10 victory.

          We all know what happened after that. 

          Was Saturday’s demolition proof that head coach Jim McElwain’s rebuilding project has finally started to mature? 

          Or was it simply an anomaly due to an overhyped, overmatched opponent?

          Well, The Monday Morning Quarterback believes it was a little of both.

          After all, that wasn’t an Alabama defense, or offense for that matter, that the Gators faced on Saturday.

          It wasn’t Little Sisters of the Poor either but let’s be realistic: Little Sisters of the Poor might have a tougher defense.

          But seriously, that was the same Kentucky defense that gave up 27 unanswered second half points last week to blow a huge half time lead and the game to lowly Southern Miss.

          A good SEC defense doesn’t allow Southern Miss to score 42 points.

          Ever.

          Period.

          Regardless, that defense was manna from heaven for the Gator offense on Saturday.

          Good, bad, or ugly, the Gators and Luke Del Rio needed a game like this to gain some confidence. To show themselves and the fans what they’re capable of when everybody does their job.

          In particular, Del Rio had high praise for the job his much-maligned offensive line did after the Gators first series.

          “I don’t know if you guys noticed,” Del Rio said postgame. “But I didn’t get touched after the first possession, literally did not get touched. Not hit, I did not get touched, so tremendous, tremendous job by them. They deserve all the credit. They opened the running lanes for the running backs, and it’s really easy to play quarterback when you’re back there and there’s no pass rush.”

          Head coach Jim McElwain wasn’t quite so effusive in his critique of the line play, however.

          “They did OK. We’ve got to create some more creases and yet our protection was much better,” McElwain said. “So bits and pieces. We put some dents in them today. We’ve just got to work on keeping our feet moving, playing low to high and playing with a never-say-die attitude up there.”

          But considering the Gators gave up the most sacks in the country last season and struggled once again against UMass, the line play against Kentucky was a welcome sight and is encouraging for fans moving forward.

          Another good sign is the play of the running backs. From a committee of one last season to four this year, the backs looked pretty good against Kentucky. 

          The Gators rushed for 244 yards led by true freshman Lamical Perine’s 105 yards on 17 carries.

          The Gators were determined to run the ball inside after Southern Miss gashed them inside for over 200 yards last week.

          All four backs Mark Thompson, Jordan Scarlett, Jordan Cronkrite, and Perine ran hard all night pushing piles, fighting for yards, and playing physical.

          The tough inside running really helped the passing game by slowing down the pass rush and setting up play action.

          Then there’s Del Rio.

          While many felt he was a step down from Grier, he sure didn’t play like it on Saturday. His calm demeanor, accurate throws, and command of the offense was nothing short of spectacular. 

          For a guy making only his second collegiate start and first SEC start, he put on a show reminiscent of a more highly rated recruit like Chris Leak. 

          Like any other quarterback he had a few throws he’d like to take back, but for the most part, he made good decisions and accurate throws, and managed the offense effectively going through his reads and hitting open receivers. His only turnover of the game was off a tipped pass caused by a bad route more so than a bad throw.

          Big boy football indeed. Folks, the Gators may just have a quarterback.

          The defense, long a staple in Gainesville, looks faster and nastier than last season. With a deeper line and the addition of LB Alex Anzalone who is finally healthy and looking like the 5 star prospect he was coming out of high school, the Gators played fast and furious throughout. They completely shut down Kentucky’s running game and harassed quarterback Drew Barker throughout. 

          On Kentucky’s first series Anzalone almost singlehandedly held them to a quick three and out.

          On first down, he sacked Barker on a well-timed blitz for a five yard loss. On second down, he dropped into coverage and stopped his man for only a two yard completion. On third down, he showed his athleticism tripping up a scrambling Barker literally by his shoestrings as he stretched completely and got just enough to take out Barker’s feet.

          The defense had four turnovers on the night including three interceptions.

          With All American Teez Tabor back from his one game suspension and Quincy Wilson looking like an All American himself, the Gators defensive backs picked off three Barker passes and blanketed the Kentucky receivers all day.

          For certain the Gators are better and deeper at almost every position this season. In fact, this might be the most complete Gator team since 2009. 

          Whether or not that translates to wins against the better teams on their schedule, however, remains to be seen.

          But, for one night, the Chomp truly was back in the Swamp!

          I’m The Monday Morning Quarterback and I’m out!