New Digs

After less than a month at the helm of Swamp Music I’m happy to announce I have taken an opportunity to occupy some new digs.  I have decided to take over editorship of the Florida Gators Fansided network site HailFloridaHail.  You can still find my work, just at a new location.

This opportunity not only allows me an opportunity to showcase my opinions and analysis in a much nicer setting with more back-end support, it will also allow you the reader a one-stop shop for Gator news and analysis as well as links to major news and opinion sources across the spectrum.

Please check out my site http://hailfloridahail.com/ and by all means share with your friends.  You can follow us on facebook at HailFloridaHail or on twitter @HailFloridaHail.

And as always, Go Gators!

 

We are the Boys of Old Florida

We are the boys from old Florida
F-L-O-R-I-D-A
Where the girls are the fairest,
The boys are the squarest
Of any old state down our way

We are all strong for old Florida
Down where the old Gators play
In all kinds of weather
We’ll all stick together
for F-L-O-R-I-D-A

We are the Boys of Old Florida, the fight song of the University of Florida Gators sung traditionally before the start of the fourth quarter of every home game.  After a tough loss to bitter rival the Georgia Bulldogs, it’s probably a good idea for Gator fans to remember the words to this song.  The first thing fans want to do after a stinging loss is head to message boards and call-in shows to whine, complain, and moan about “what went wrong”.  Everybody’s got an opinion of why they lost and what “needs to be done”.  From fire Muschamp (no really I actually saw such a thread on a message board yesterday), to benching Driskel, to packing Pease’s bags back to the WAC ( I know they are in the Mountain West but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good bitch session), to “oh no we suck again”.  Armchair quarterbacks and and armchair coaching staffs alike giving their two cents about why all is lost and the “season is over”.  And don’t dare call them out.  Oh my lord, how dare you, you… you… you sunshine pumper.

Some have questioned Will Muschamp’s loyalty after the Georgia upset

The word fan is derived from the word fanatic which roughly equates to one with an extreme enthusiasm or uncritical devotion.  So you can excuse them if they appear to be ready to jump off a cliff after a tough loss by their favorite team.  And message boards or call in shows are great outlets to vent one’s frustration with their team’s poor play.  At some point though Gator fans need to understand that “through all kinds of weather, we all stick together”.

What does that mean?  It means win or lose we stand behind the team and together for the University of Florida Gators.  In the game of football there are winners and losers and, like it or not, odds are these guys are going to lose one along the way.  It’s how they respond to a loss that determines their season.  As fans it is wise to understand that and respond appropriately ourselves to a tough loss.  Believe me I’d rather eat chopped liver every night than deal with a loss to the Georgia Bulldogs.  But like it or not we have to deal with a loss in this game for the second year in a row.

So what does need to be done?  In my mind not much.  They don’t need to change quarterbacks, change philosophy, or “throw the baby out with the bathwater” as they say.  What they need to do is refocus on who they are and what got them here.

Gators need to refocus on the basics

Running the football.  This is who they are.  They are a run first team that must find ways to move the football on the ground.  The passing game, while not non-existent like many want to proclaim, is certainly a work-in-progress.  They lack consistency in pass blocking and wide receiver execution and Jeff Driskel is not going to light em up any time soon.  I’m reminded of the old quote from John Mckay when asked about his team’s execution he responded, “I’m all for it”.  All joking aside, though, the focus needs to return to the ground game and what it takes to move the chains when they load the box.  Whether that means schematic shifts in blocking or just pushing the guys to get better at getting a hat on a hat and moving their guys, that’s where the focus needs to be in the next couple of weeks.

Taking care of the football.  Sounds simple and every coach preaches it.  However, coming into the Georgia game they had 4 turnovers on the season so they were doing something right.  It’s inexplicable to me how they could cough it up 6 times in one game.  As bad as some offenses have been in my 35 years of watching Gator football I can’t remember the last time they gave it away 6 times in one game.

I do think their lack of intensity played a roll.  When a team is flat and unemotional sometimes they lose focus on the mechanics of what they are doing because they focus too much on the other teams intensity.  I think the staff got a little careless in the play-calling as well.  Just like players who try too hard to make a play and make mistakes, I think the coaches tried to force some downfield plays trying to take advantage of the loaded box rather than play it safe and play field position football like they have all season up to this game.  Too often Florida started deep in their territory and they tried to pass their way out rather than play it safe, use the nation’s leading punter to flip the field, and rely on the fantastic defense that kept Georgia stifled for 54 minutes on Saturday.  Kyle Christy had only 3 punts in this game and that alone was one of the bigger stats from Saturday’s game.

Finally, they have to find ways to eliminate penalties from their game.  Again every coach preaches it and it sounds simple but for some reason this team cannot seem to do it.  Every time Florida got a big play on 0ffense and a little momentum or a big stop on defense, they seemed to get a stupid penalty.  By stupid penalty I mean mental errors, not aggressive errors.  False starts, too many men in the huddle, offsides, or unsportsmanlike penalties that put your team in negative down and distance, a killer for a run-first offense, or which extend drives for the opposing offense have to be dealt with immediately.  This team does not have the capability to overcome them.  Whatever it takes, they have to find a way to eliminate these silly, momentum killing mistakes.

So it’s obvious to me that all is not lost, and the response to this loss doesn’t have to be earth-shaking.  Refocus, bear down, dig up some pride and move forward.  This team still has all it’s goals ahead of it, they just no longer control their destiny.  If Georgia hiccups against one of Ole Miss or Auburn, Florida wins the East with a win next weekend against Missouri.  I realize that’s a tall order and Georgia will be big favorites against both, but remember it’s tough to get up the next week after a big conference win and Ole Miss is a much better team this season than many people realize.

Even if they don’t win the East, they still have tough games ahead against Missouri and the other rival FSU.  Assuming they win out there is still the possibility they can back into the BCS Championship Game if things fall their way like they did in 2006 and 2008.  Short of that they are still playing for a potential BCS game berth in the Sugar Bowl.  Any of those scenarios is a far cry from where most fans and analysts thought they would be when this season began.  So, that having been said, it’s smart for Gator fans to not jump off the Gator Train just yet.  This was just a pit stop along the way and right now it’s “all aboard that’s coming aboard”.

Regardless of what happens, Will Muschamp is our coach, these players are Gators and they are this season’s team.  If you are a Gator whether a fan or alum remember We are the Boys of Old Florida, and through all kinds of weather, we all stick together… for F-L-O-R-I-D-A!

Go Gators!

Upon Further Review…

We’re now approximately 24 hours removed from the toughest loss for the Gators since the Noles loss last season.  Sadly, this one resembled that one in many ways.  Like that fateful day last year, the Gators were the better team they simply could not match the intensity of their opponent and that ultimately led to their defeat.

Defensively, they controlled the running game and kept Aaron Murray in the pocket forcing him to try to beat them with his arm which, for 54 minutes, he could not do.  It’s a rare day a team holds an opposing offense to 1 for 10 on third down with three turnovers and come out with a loss.  Realistically, if not for a highly specious, questionable, some might say biased, but definitely curious defensive holding call against Dominique Easley when he blew up a third down screen pass, Georgia would have been 0-fer on 3rd down.

Muschamp like most Gator fans was not happy with the referees against Georgia

Offensively, while admittedly they had trouble handling Georgia’s blitz and stunt packages, they actually moved the ball throughout the game.   Up until the last Bulldog drive inexplicably extended by a referee call, the Gators offense outplayed the Georgia offense.  Except for one thing: they put the ball on the ground.  While turnovers definitely ended up costing the Gators the game, upon further review,  a closer look reveals the blemishes that had been somewhat covered by the Gators 7-0 start were exposed yesterday.

We’ll start with pass blocking.  It’s not just the much maligned offensive line, it’s everyone.  This team has shown repeatedly week in and week out that it cannot handle elite edge rushers in this league.  That is the one thing that separates this league from the rest of the nation, almost every team has elite, future NFL ends and outside linebackers who can get to the passer.  The Gators are surely not the only ones who struggle against these players but I think they struggle more than any of the elite teams in the league which they are supposed to be.  The Gator offensive tackles and tight ends are just not talented enough, either in quickness of foot, hand play, or in sheer strength to match up with Jarvis Jones or any of the others like him and it shows.

Another area they struggle is recognizing where the rush is coming from.  Too often fans see Driskel sacked or running for his life not because there are too many rushers for the  protection but simply because one or two guys in the protection do not see the rushers and they get an open lane to the qb.  Simple defensive packages like stunts, delayed rushes, or overloads cause major problems for this team and that made them easy picking for Georgia.  It’s not just the lineman, running backs and fullbacks seem to miss too many blocks or “chips” as well and it is a major problem.  The passing game is all about rhythm and unaccounted for pass rushers disrupt that timing and shut down drives.  Week after week, and we saw it again yesterday, there were open receivers downfield but rather than a big play we say Driskel scrambling or sacked due to breakdowns in protection.  Protection issues were directly responsible for a couple of the turnovers yesterday.

Another glaring problem in the passing game is a sheer lack of playmakers in the receiving corps.  It’s easy to blame the line or protection or schemes when you see Driskel scrambling, throwing the ball away, or taking a sack, but many times it comes from a lack of options.  In this league with the great talent on the defensive lines there is a small window of opportunity to make a play passing the ball before it’s time to throw it away or tuck it and run.  Therefore, in order to be successful a team has to have receivers that can get open.  Sounds simple enough, but realistically this league is full of talented defensive backs as well.  So you need players who are not just talented at running and catching, but who understand coverages , know how to confuse defensive backs, and can find the open spots in coverage.  I’m convinced that, other than Jordan Reed, and occasionally Quinton Dunbar these guys are just not very good.

Jeff Driskel still has a long way to go on his learning curve

Finally, Jeff Driskel is young.  While that is no news flash it is important to consider.  After leading 2nd half comebacks on the road against TAMU and Tennessee, we as fans were lulled into thinking Driskel was more mature than he really is.  By mature I don’t mean calmness or confidence, I mean knowledge.  There is a large learning curve for a quarterback from high school to college and even more so in this league.  There’s sophisticated offenses to learn, defensive coverage and rush schemes, technique from throwing to audible to cadence and snap count, and all this at game speed.  Game speed from high school to the SEC is like going from go cart racing to NASCAR.

Consider this, Jeff played at a school that had little talent surrounding him where he had to make plays on every play whether with his arm or with his leg. That is not ideal for learning the nuances of dropback passing because you’re using your athleticism more than technique.  Additionally, as a military brat he moved around a lot and probably didn’t get near as much top level coaching that some guys get and he didn’t play a ton of football coming  into UF.  In other words, he started way down the learning curve.

The staff made it clear when they chose Driskel to be the starter that the choice was made due to his athletic ability.  That alone is key to understanding that the staff felt going in this team would struggle throwing the ball and they needed the one who could make plays when they were unable to throw it.  So it should not be a surprise to anyone they are where they are right now with the passing game.

The Gators couldn’t seem to match Georgia’s intensity

Finally, I’ve not been one to criticize this coaching staff this season, but I truly believe they dropped the ball this week in one area:  they failed to understand the intensity needed to compete successfully in this game.  Don’t get me wrong I love this staff.  Deep down I think this staff has done a masterful job of coaching these players up, of getting them prepared for this season as well as each game, and of making adjustments in game and at halftime.  However, this game is different in one major way, it’s THE rivalry game.  I think Muschamp erred greatly in the week leading up to the game trying to stick to the one game mantra.  While I understand what he’s trying to instill in the players preaching that each game is one game and each game means the same, rivalry games and THIS rivalry game, in particular, is different.  It’s different to the alumni for sure and should be different to the staff and players.

As has been p0inted out repeatedly in the week leading up to the game, Georgia was always the bully on the block stealing the Gators lunch money.  Spurrier, having played here and having had his own bitter Georgia memories, understood that this week is different.  When he became the head ball coach here he instilled in this program the idea that this week is different.  If you can’t get up for this game you don’t belong here. As a result, the Gators only lost once under Spurrier.  Urban Meyer when he took over understood this game was a big one and kept up that intensity and never lost to them.  Even Zook as bad as he may have seemed to Gator fans kept it up for the Gators.

Muschamp is now 0-2 against the most hated rival and it probably is important that he understands if he wants to have a long career here, no matter what he does with the won-loss record, he might want to circle this one on the calendar each year and have a winning record against Georgia.  Losing to Georgia is not acceptable.

That leads us to the one thing that stood out to me the most yesterday: intensity.  Football is a game of aggressiveness, intensity, and emotion.  Usually when two teams are somewhat evenly matched the more aggressive or intense team wins the game.  We saw that yesterday.  In every game, but especially in close rivalry games there are a handful of plays that make the difference in the game and usually the more aggressive team makes those plays successfully.  The Gat0rs came out flat yesterday and never seemed overcome that lack of intensity.  Georgia, on the other hand, seemed aggressive from the start and never lost that edge.  It was the difference in the game.

Football being such an intense, emotional game, it is very hard to get up week after week with the same level of intensity needed to compete at a high level.  It’s even harder to do that in back to back “big” games.  We saw that after the big win against LSU when the Gators were flat against Vanderbilt.  They were able to overcome that because they were more talented than Vandy but still could have lost that game.  We saw it again when South Carolina came out flat and laid an egg against Florida the week after a big win against LSU.  So it should be no surprise that Florida came out flat against Georgia after their big win against South Carolina.  Rather than being the aggressors getting all the loose balls like they were against the Gamecocks, they were the ones losing the football and getting hammered by the Bulldogs.

The funny thing is in the week before the game Muschamp explained that they didn’t want the players to peak before the big game when referring to not making this game a big deal, but somebody forgot to tell the players you don’t want to wait til after the game to peak either.  All kidding aside, though, the Georgia staff or players did a better job getting them ready for the intensity of the game and that alone was the difference in this one.

So, upon further review, the blemishes that had been masterfully covered up during the Gators surprising 7-0 start were exposed for all to see yesterday against Georgia.  Are they as bad as they looked yesterday?  Certainly not.  They have definite weaknesses that the staff and players will need to address if they want to regroup from this bitter loss.  Their goals are still ahead of them they just no longer control their destiny.  It’s time to remember the words of the Florida fight song, “in all kinds of weather, we all stick together, for F-L-O-R-I-D-A”

Go Gators!

Give it Away

Give it away, give it away, give it away now…

Give it away, give it away, give it away now..

Give it away, give it away, give it away now…

Can’t tell if I’m a kingpin or a pauper…

The Chili Peppers

Jeff Driskel watches as the football and the Gators championship hopes are fumbled away

In case you just crawled out from underneath a rock or woke up from a drunken stupor, there was a football game in Jacksonville today and, sadly, a game of hot potato broke out.  The Florida Gators won the game of hot potato, but unfortunately lost the game of football.  They came in kingpins, 60 minutes from a trip to Atlanta and the SEC Title Game but left paupers having to pick up the pieces of the shattered egg they laid against the Bulldogs.  So they’re left with the question of what happened?  Better to start with what didn’t happen.

They didn’t take care of the football.

“Give it away, give it away, give it away now..”

They didn’t take care of the football

“Give it away, give it away, give it away now..”

Did I mention they didn’t take care of the football?

“Give it away, give it away, give it away now…”

6 times they didn’t take care of the football.  I know what you’re thinking, it was more than that, right?  Right, but please don’t remind me.  They gave it away 6 times and that’s more than enough for me.  More than enough to give away an SEC Eastern Division Championship.  More than enough to give away an undefeated season.  More than enough to bring down everything they’ve built to this point.  More than enough to give the hated Georgia Bulldogs bragging rights for another year for the second consecutive season.  The last time that happened Bush was still in office.  Papa Bush.  H.W.  Fox was still a fledgling network with no sports.  MTV still played music.  Spurrier had yet to coach a down in the SEC.

Enough already, right?  OK one more, The Chili Peppers were still known as the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Give it away, give it away, give it away now.

OK, so they didn’t take care of the football, but what else didn’t happen?  They didn’t stick to the plan to win, they didn’t focus on the things that got them to this point, they didn’t remain efficient in the red zone, they didn’t win the fourth quarter, but mostly, they didn’t take care of the football.  In spite of the first 5 turnovers, in spite of the myriad of penalties that kept Georgia in the game, in spite of the multitude of mistakes in the red zone, they still had a chance.  They still had the opportunity to tie or win the game late in the fourth quarter.  They still had a chance to punch that ticket to Atlanta.  So what happened?

You guessed it, they didn’t take care of the football.

Give it away, give it away, give it away now…

Jordan Reed goes from hero to zero as ball is punched out of his hands near the goal line

On the most telling play of the night, as the Gators are driving towards a potentially tying score, Jordan Reed catches a pass; breaks some tackles; sees the green of the endzone; sees the Gators season hopes and dreams before him; his will to score, his will to win cannot be denied; he leaps over a tackler heroically bounding for the endzone, and… doesn’t take care of the football.  The player of the game for the second year in a row, Jarvis Jones, knocks the ball out of Reed’s hand into the endzone to be recovered by a Georgia player and with it all of the Gators wishes and desires lying dormant on the endzone grass.

Give it away, give it away, give it away now…

All week the media was abuzz with this talk of “violators” a term Dan Quinn the Gators defensive coordinator uses to describe players who don’t take care of the football and, as such, are the subject of strip attempts.  Today the Gator offense was the violator and the Dawgs made them pay for their crimes.

Give it away, give it away, give it away now…

Football is a funny game.  The only sport with a ball that is not round.  As such it’s known for the funny ways that the ball bounces.  Interesting, yes.  But what’s more interesting is the ball doesn’t bounce funny unless you don’t take care of the football.  If you hold on to it as you’re supposed to it does not bounce, and if they held on to it in this game they would not have lost.

The defense played a whale of a game.  They controlled the Georgia running game, they kept Murray in the pocket forcing him to try to make plays with his arm and for most of the game he did not do that.  He missed receivers and made multiple mistakes.

The offense actually played better than they looked.  They moved the ball on several long drives, they completed passes, they just lost their mind in the red zone and continued to make silly mental mistakes with penalties, and, of course, as we know by now they didn’t take care of the football.

Give it away, give it away, give it away now…

If you would have told me Murray would give up three turnovers and the Gators would have multiple red zone opportunities I would have told you the Gators win this game.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought they would have given it away 6 times.  They only had 4 giveaways on the season coming in.  They now have 10 and 1 agonizing loss.

Give it away, give it away, give it away now…

Georgia on my Mind

Georgia, Georgia

The whole day through

Just an old sweet song

Keeps Georgia on my mind

Great song made famous by the late, great Ray Charles.  Lately, though, Georgia’s been on my mind as well.  Why?  Well for starters it’s Georgia week.  The annual clash in Jacksonville between my beloved Florida Gators and the hated Georgia Bulldogs.  But mostly because that’s where the SEC Championship Game is played.  And if the Gators get by the Bulldogs this weekend they will clinch the SEC East and will compete against the West winner in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on December 1st for the SEC Title.  This would be their first trip to Atlanta since 2009 when the previous number 15 (not name Loucheiz Purifoy) was leading the Gators.

The annual Georgia-Florida clash this Saturday should be a classic

This week’s game has the makings of a classic.  Georgia’s high octane offense versus Florida’s stout defense.   Georgia’s talented defense against Florida’s tough grind it out offense.  Last year the two teams played a 24-20 thriller won by Georgia on the strength of two fourth down TD passes and a final drive that ended with Georgia taking a knee on the Gator 1 yard line as time ran out.  Florida had plenty of chances to win that one but could not get a play or a stop when they absolutely needed it.  Make no mistake the Florida players remember that game well and are not expecting a repeat this year.

All season the M.O. for the Gators on offense has been to open with a tough grind it out inside running game complemented with minimal safe pass plays, some zone read, and some jet sweeps.  Then at halftime they make adjustments based on what the defense is doing going with what’s working and running fakes and misdirection off what isn’t working.  I don’t see that changing much this week.  Running the traps and counters with Gillislee is the basis of what they do and sets up the rest of their offense.  INSERT JOKE HERE.  I know what your are thinking.  What rest of their offense?

While it’s true we haven’t seen much from the passing game this year other than some good YAC plays against TAMU, Tennessee, and Kentucky, it’s not because they can’t pass.  With a young quarterback and a solid senior running back this staff is not going to pass just to pass.  If they can run the ball effectively, move the chains, and score then that’s what they are going to do.  It controls the clock shortening the game for the opponent, it keeps the defense rested, and it wears the opposing defensive line down so that the pass rush is less effective late when games are won and lost.  The running game is like a body blow in boxing.  A good boxer knows you don’t just come out swinging wildly trying to get the early knockout (pass, pass, pass) because you leave yourself open to tough punches and knockouts as well (turnovers, easy opponent scores).  A wiser plan is to take your shots when they are there but continue to work the body wearing your opponent down for later rounds and increasing the likelihood of getting the knockout late in the fight.  The Gators have executed this plan effectively in every game this season dominating the second half of games outscoring opponents 121-28, and holding a 61-13 advantage in the 4th quarter.

While I do expect another 75-25 percent ratio of run to pass this week, I suspect we will need to see some effective passing from the Gators this week to win the game.  The Gators have been one of the better teams running the football this season but lately opposing teams have seemed to catch up to them.  Since they pounded the ball down the throat of the LSU defense, much has been written about the Florida running schemes and defensive coordinators have been better at devising ways to stop those plays.  This is where the focus on the running game helps the passing game become more effective and efficient.  While last week the Gators were set up on short fields which didn’t allow them to build strong offensive stats, the focus by Carolina on stopping the short game allowed them to use play action to knock the Gamecocks out early with some quick scores.  Expect to see more play action this week.

Once again the Gators face another future NFL pass rusher in Jarvis Jones who had a monster game last year against the Gators where it seemed like he broke the huddle with them on every snap.  It’s crazy how many great defensive lines the Gators face week in and week out.  Be that as it may, one of the best way’s to slow that pass rush down is with the running game.  Florida’s run game does that effectively because on every snap they have an option of handing inside to Gillislee, running the quarterback keeper, or hitting the jet sweep with Soloman Patton as well as dropping back to pass.  That forces pass rushers to have to think and recognize where the ball is actually going rather than just taking off upfield after the quarterback.  Running at the pass rusher forces him to play a strength game where he is being pushed backwards rather than a speed game where he’s moving forward which wears him down for the second half.  Most importantly, it draws the defense down into the box which of course opens up the play action.

If ever there were a week to go over the top with play action this is it.  Georgia’s defense has been susceptible all season, they can’t seem to defend both the run and the pass successfully.  If Florida is able to run early Georgia might be doomed, but even if the Bulldogs shut it down we’ll likely see some play action shots leading to some big plays for the Gators.  Last week the Gators used play action to throw downfield a few times completing one which was called back on a penalty and should have hit another to Purifoy but he was interfered with and didn’t get the call.  Expect three to four play action deep shots this week with at least one going to Purifoy one of the fastest straight line runners on the team.

Defensively, this team has been one of the best in the nation but has been playing better and better each week.  They’ve consistently shut down the running game making teams one dimensional forcing them to pass where the defensive lineman have been able to tee off on the quarterback for drive killing sacks and the defensive backs and linebackers have been able to create some game changing turnovers.  This week they should be licking their chops.

Georgia presents the best quarterback play they’ve seen all season and overall the best passing game.  Aaron Murray is the 2nd rated passer in the SEC this season with a rating of 168.6 completing 65% of his passes for 1914 yards and 16 touchdowns.  Remarkably, he’s only been sacked 12 times all season, due mostly to the fact that he is a mobile quarterback who moves around well in the pocket.  This facet is where he is most dangerous.  While he is quick and can scramble effectively, he can slide in the pocket away from the pass rush while continuing to look downfield and can find options when receivers break containment or defensive backs step up to stop the quarterback scramble.  The Gators must continue to do what they did against Connor Shaw and use a controlled pass rush with good gap and end containment and use their hands to bat down balls which he has been very susceptible to due to his height, listed at 6’1″ but probably a short 6′.  Defensive backs must continue their strong play of tight man coverage with good deep rotating safety action.

In the running game, Georgia presents a couple of good freshman running backs in Todd Gurley who has 622 yards on the season and Keith Marshall who has tallied 488 yards this year.  Both backs are big and strong and have the speed to get to the edges.  They present a tough matchup for the defensive ends and outside linebackers who must be sound in sealing the edges forcing plays back inside.  The Gators must continue their success at stopping the inside game early as that opens up their play action to tight ends in the seams and wide receivers deep.

Florida special teams led by The Punisher Loucheiz Purifoy may be the difference this week against the Bulldogs

Finally, special teams is where I feel the Gators have the biggest advantage in this game.  Georgia’s specialists will not be on any All-American lists nor will their returners.  Their punter Collin Barber is averaging under 40 yards per punt this season and their return game has done nothing special this year.  Their kicker has been effective hitting 5-6 field goals with a 52 yarder and can be counted on if they are needing a game-winning field goal but his kickoffs are returnable and that is one area Florida has shown promise in the return game this year.  Of course, by now everyone has heard about how special the Gators special teams have been this season with Kyle Christy leading the nation averaging over 47 yards per punt and Caleb Sturgis has been Mr. Automatic with only two misses on the season both of which were partially blocked and setting a Gator record with 7 field goals in his career over 50 yards.  The coverage team led by by budding superstar Loucheiz Purifoy has shut down every return game they’ve faced this season including the Gamecock’s last week featuring Mr. Electric Ace Sanders.

Overall, I feel this one may be closer than many Gator fans expect.  A lot of college football analysts are actually calling for the Georgia upset.  I’m not one of them, of course I am biased.  Realistically, I think the maturity of the Georgia passing game along with their strong inside/outside running game is going to present some problems for this Gator defense.  I don’t see them holding Georgia to field goals like they did against LSU and South Carolina.  I do see the Gator offense, however, matching up well against the Georgia defense and having a major edge in special teams and field position.  I think the Gators will run the ball better than they have the last two games and will open up the passing game more than they have all season.  Ultimately, I see turnovers and special teams being the difference in this one with Murray making some mistakes, the Gators getting a few turnovers, and Florida making some big plays on special teams.

While I have Georgia on my Mind, I see the Gators having Atlanta in their sights,  and they take this one 31-24.

Go Gators!

Business as Usual

In case you hadn’t noticed it’s Georgia week.  Otherwise known as Florida-Georgia week.  It’s the week of the game formerly known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party“.  For obvious reasons both schools are trying to downplay the long-time moniker hoping to reduce the excessive alcohol imbibing and the subsequent alcohol related incidents and arrests that had marred this game for many years.  You are forgiven, however, if you hadn’t noticed that it’s Georgia week.

In spite of Will Muschamp’s fiery image on the field, going into Georgia it’s all business as usual

For the first time in a long time there is a quiet calmness on the Gator side this year.  Fans seem somewhat subdued compared to years past, almost a business as usual approach.  Not so much out of fear or apprehension that we’ve seen so often, but more due to a quiet confidence this team has instilled in the fan base.  Business as usual.   As long as I can remember this week has been filled with tons of vitriol, tasteless jokes, and downright Bulldog hatred on the part of fans.  While there has been some of the usual Gator message board Dwag fodder (Dwag the official Gator spelling of the popular Georgia fans moniker) it’s still not quite the same this year.  That automatically begs the question of why?   This week not only is the favorite stop on the schedule of old Gators everywhere, this year it’s for an SEC East title, and it’s the revenge game for last year’s debacle won by UGA on the strength of two 4th down td passes thrown by Aaron Murray.  So why does it seem so quiet on the Gator side of the stadium?

For starters, the Gator football team is deafeningly quiet this year.  No bulletin board material about revenge for last year’s game.  No wild responses to a Georgia players tweet about rushing the field on Saturday after the first Georgia TD ala 2007’s Gator stomp game.  No statements about how much these guys hate Georgia and their mothers.  Nothing.  Sportswriters ask the usual questions about the rivalry, the potential for winning an East title, what this game means to them and they get the same responses from the head coach on down:  it’s just another game.  They all count the same.  Our approach is the same from week to week.  Really?  Not one ounce of hatred?  Not one smirk that belies the calm, candid answers to the rivalry questions?  Coachspeak?  Nope, I have a feeling these guys really believe that mantra.  It’s business as usual.

Next, from a fanbase that began the season much like they ended it last year: whining, crying, moaning, and groaning; the steady, calm, straightforward play  this team has exhibited through the season has finally rubbed off on them.  I get the feeling the players, who are completely vested in Will Muschamp‘s philosophy, have a calm confidence going into each game that they will be prepared completely to win the game.  At this point in the season the fans have bought into that confidence.  Any natural born apprehension they may have melts away in the knowledge that they have seen it all this year.  Early deficits, turnovers, penalties, long drives, dropped passes have all befallen this team particularly in the first 30 minutes of games.  They’ve been shut down, put down, seen everything but a hoedown and they’ve overcome it all week after week after week.  This week seemingly should be no different.  At least that is the mood of Gator Nation right now.  It’s business as usual.

Sadly, I feel the game has lost it’s luster to some of the younger Gators who grew up watching the Gators dominate this series.  For us older Gators who remember the Dwags dominating this series in the 70’s and 80’s this game will always be personal.  Like Spurrier, there will always be a bad taste in our mouths when the name Georgia or Bulldogs is mentioned.  This ain’t the civil war, this is the cold war.  The Bulldogs are communists.  Better dead than red.  But alas most younger Gators no more understand that statement than understand the proper hatred a true Gator should have for the Bulldogs.   The Gators have so dominated this series since the Ole Ball Coach brought his brand of Georgia hate and quick witted quirps back into this matchup that a lot of fans probably don’t even see this as a rivalry anymore.  After all you have to win more than once every five years for it to be a rivalry right?  Hopefully in that regard it will be business as usual.

The best part for me is that the last time the Dwags won two in a row in this series Skid Row was cranking from cassette decks.  Remember those?  If you don’t then you probably don’t remember the Gators losing in consecutive years  in this series either.  Hopefully this will not be the year they break through in that regard.  My gut feeling is that they will not.  I’m feeling that quiet confidence that the team and Gator Nation exudes and I think the Gators will survive any gut checks the Dwags may come out throwing and then pull away in the second half as they have all year.  After all, it’s business as usual.

Yup, it’s Georgia week,  The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, time to hate the black and red and tell every joke that involves bulldogs and inbreeding but for these Gators young and old, head coach to strength coach it’s simply Business as Usual.

Go Gators!

 

Will’s Plan to Win

The plan to win.  It was a term used often by Urban Meyer when he was the head coach at the University of Florida.  Every coach has one, though they may refer to it by a different name.  I like this term for it’s basic descriptive functionality.  It represents the blueprint for success, for winning football games.  It’s the philosophy of the head coach that is instilled in the team from day one that the coaching staff stresses to each player going into every game.

While much ado has been made about the merits of this team and their deserving of their number two BCS ranking by media and fans alike, realistically this team is right where Will Muschamp wants it to be.  This IS the identity that the head coach has spoken of since day one.  Despite the poor showing last year on the scoreboard, this year the Gators have followed Will’s plan to win point by point game by game and that is the reason they are 7-0 right now with a chance to clinch the SEC East this week against Georgia.

Everyone, media and fans alike, love to get into the x’s and o’s of football.  They like to talk offensive philosophies and defensive styles.  Spread option versus pro style, 4-3 defense or 3-4 defense?  I formation, pistol, 5 wide, two deep zone, man to man press coverage, etc…  All of that is great for debate and certainly is important in the success of a particular team.  The plan to win, however, breaks the game down into basic concepts that determine the success or failure of a particular team.

Will Muschamp leads the Gators out on the field before the Orange and Blue debut

Will’s plan to win is simple: focus on the running game,  be efficient on third down and in the red zone, win the turnover battle,  play field position football, and win the fourth quarter.  Sounds simple right?  Last year, they didn’t do that consistently and, well, we all know how that turned out.  Let’s break down the break down.

The focus on the running game is twofold. Running the ball successfully on offense and stopping the run on defense.  Running the football is a simple concept.  It’s the oldest of offensive philosophies as that was all there was before the invention of the forward pass.  Of course there are many philosophies of how to run the football.  Under Meyer, running the football meant handing off to a small, quick back running horizontally along the line of scrimmage and letting them find a crease to take off through.  It worked well for a while, but the SEC is full of fast defensive lineman and backers who can run sideline to sideline.  With this philosophy you get a lot of no gainers and lost yardage plays waiting for the big one to break.  Muschamp’s concept is a downhill, vertical running game.  He wants to be able to pound the ball inside with traps, counters, and powers and then complement that with the zone read or jet sweep.

To this point of the season they’ve been highly successful currently third in the SEC in rushing averaging 212 yards per game.  The importance of running the football, however, isn’t just in the number of yards per game.  It’s in what focusing on running the football does for your team.  First it sets the tone for your offense.  Run blocking requires toughness, strength, and a desire to beat your guy.  If your going to run the ball EVERYONE has to have the mentality that they are going to move their guy backwards.  One guy missing a block and the play is doomed.  Secondly, running the football helps a young quarterback get his wheels beneath him.  It minimizes the  impact he is required to make , taking the pressure off him to make plays and as such helps to minimize mistakes.  Third, it helps to control the time of possession.  While that stat is often the most misunderstood and misused stat in football, in Florida’s case it is absolutely one of the most important.  Controlling the football shortens the game meaning less possessions for the opponent, keeps the defense off the field allowing them to be more rested, and it puts more pressure on the opposing defense meaning they will be wearing down late in the second half when games are won and loss.

Defensively, the focus on stopping the run is equally important.  Stopping the run primarily on first or second down keeps the opposing offense in 2nd or 3rd and long situations making them more predictable on third down.  It forces them into more OBVIOUS passing situations which allow our line opportunities for sacks and our db’s opportunities for turnovers.  It takes coordinators and quarterbacks out of rhythm as they tend to get away from calling run plays when it isn’t working.  Play calling and good quarterback play is all about rhythm.  You want to call and execute plays that keep the defense off-balance giving them a good mixture so that they can’t predict what type of play is coming and giving the blockers an edge.  By disrupting offensive rhythm and putting the opposing team in 3rd and long situations you increase the likelihood of three and outs giving your offense more possessions to work with and keeping your defense fresh for the 2nd half.

That brings us to another important part Will’s plan to win which is efficiency on third down.  While every down matters, of course , third down IS the difference between extending drives for your offense or giving the ball back to your opponent.  Defensively, it IS the difference between getting your offense back on the field and resting or allowing the opponent to continue playing and giving them momentum.  While offensively, this is one area the Gators have struggled this year at 39.4 percent good for 70th in the nation, defensively they have excelled averaging 27.4 percent which is 5th in the nation.  So while the offense tends to struggle on 3rd down they are winning the third down battle overall and that has meant limited scoring  opportunities for the opponent while increasing the number of possessions for the Gators offense.

Similarly, red zone efficiency is equally, if not even more, important in Will’s plan to win.  A team gets only so many chances to score per game.  Most teams, outside of Oregon, are not going to bust a bunch of long td’s every game.  As such, the times they actually get into scoring position and their efficiency when they do is ultimately important to their success.  As an example, against Vanderbilt the Gators reached the end zone multiple times yet kept settling for field goals.  Had they scored touchdowns they might have put the game away early, but as such they kept the Commodores in the game giving their players momentum to keep playing hard.  Against South Carolina, as it has been pointed out all week, the Gators were limited offensively stat-wise against one of the best defenses in the nation.  They won big, however, due to turnovers and their efficiency in the red zone converting those turnovers into touchdowns.

Which leads us to the next part of the plan to win: winning the turnover battle.  Last year the Gators were one of the worst teams in the nation in turnover margin.  The problem wasn’t simply giving away the football on offense,  it was the failure to create them on defense that hurt them last year.  Turnovers do two things.  They create momentum when you get them often setting your offense up on short fields and they break momentum when you lose them destroying offensive rhythm and continuity.  Turnovers are exciting, they get the home fans into the game or they take them out of it.  They force the opposing defense back on the field before they may be ready and they give you quick scoring opportunities.  Last weekend, turnovers were the difference in the game and the primary reason Florida won big despite having less than 200 yards of total offense.

Next in the plan to win is playing field position football.  What that means is focusing on forcing your opponent to start drives deep in their own territory while keeping your offense in good starting position on the field.  The way you accomplish this is through strong special teams play and by limiting turnovers offensively.  The Gators this season have perhaps the best special teams unit top to bottom in the nation.  Kyle Christy the Gators punter leads the nation in punting average at 47 yards per punt and is equally adept at placing the football down inside the opponents 10 yard line.  Caleb Sturgis, the Gators kicker, while Mr. Automatic on field goals has a strong leg and consistently kicks the ball deep preventing returns and keeping the opponents from starting outside the 25  yard line.  Our coverage units, led by Loucheiz Purifoy and Trey Burton, consistently prevent returners from making big plays in special teams and have been good at creating turnovers themselves as they did against South Carolina.  Purifoy, in particular, has made a name for himself with his big hits and forced fumbles.  Finally, while our return play has been the weak link of an otherwise fantastic special teams, lately Andre Debose has been doing a much better job at keeping punts from hitting the turf unnecessarily which gives up valuable field position and has been a spark on kickoffs setting the offense up on short fields.

Equally important has been the coaching staffs tendency to play it safe on offense and not putting Driskel and Company in position to turn the ball over.   While there has been much grousing in the media and by fans alike about the lack of a big downfield passing game and the imbalance in the run/pass ratio, this plan has meant not giving the ball away on a short field, relying on that fantastic punting game, and winning the field position battle keeping this team in a position to win week after week.  It’s not sexy high-flying action like the Oregons of the world, but it is winning football and that’s what matters.

Finally, the ability of the players to execute the first four points of the plan each week has enabled them to execute the fifth and final point and that is winning the fourth quarter.  By pounding the ball in the first half and by controlling the time of possession the Gators have been successful at wearing down the opponents defense as we saw against heavy weights LSU and South Carolina.  This has allowed them to entirely take control in the second half and in particular the 4th quarter.  The Gators have outscored their opponents 121-28 in the second half this season and 61-13 in the fourth quarter.  That is winning football.  Of all the stats one can throw out there from this season that is the most amazing to me.  Last year we tanked in the second half and 4th quarter of games.  This year we have looked almost regrettable in the first half of games.  The ability to take over games in the second half and 4th quarter has got to be the biggest turnaround I’ve seen with this team and is a direct result of better conditioning and also a strong focus on the plan to win.

So it’s obvious that, while this team may not be media favorites, Will’s Plan to Win is sound and has carried this team to the edge of an SEC East title for the first time since 2009.  The focus and workmanlike attitude this team brings every week to execute the plan has kept them in every game and allowed them to achieve goals NOBODY thought possible coming in the season.  While watching your Florida Gators battle arch-rival the Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville on Saturday remember it’s not about how many yards Driskel throws for, and it’s not about how many yards Aaron Murray throws for, it’s about Will’s Plan to Win and how well the Gators execute it.

Go Gators!