The Monday Morning Quarterback: Time for Driskel to Ride the Pine

Jeff Driskel struggled mightily against Alabama. Perhaps it's time for him to sit? (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Jeff Driskel struggled mightily against Alabama. Perhaps it’s time for him to sit? (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Florida Gators starting quarterback Jeff Driskel came in as the number one rated high school qb in the nation. A camp superstar, he had all the measurables. Great size at 6-4 235, a cannon arm, good foot speed in the run game and elusiveness in the pocket.

Every school in America was recruiting him and despite committing to former head coach Urban Meyer, Driskel kept his commitment to Florida and since then has been Will Muschamp’s first choice for starter almost from the day he arrived on campus. Since taking over for John Brantley, he’s been given every opportunity to lead the Gator offense.

Now The Monday Morning Quarterback believes it’s time for him to sit.

Sit for the good of the Gator program.

Sit for the future of Will Muschamp at Florida.

And make no mistake, Muschamp’s job is tied specifically to the production of the Florida quarterback this season. But we’ll get to that later.

For now let’s get a little perspective. Historically, Florida’s fortunes have always been tied to the play of their quarterbacks. Every great team has had great quarterbacks. Spurrier, Reaves, Bell, Matthews, Wuerffel, Grossman, Leak, Tebow, et al. When Florida’s quarterback play has suffered, so have their fortunes.

It’s no surprise then that the Gators have struggled since Tim Tebow left. You can blame line depth, lack of skill position talent, or archaic offensive systems, but realistically it’s been the poor performance of Gator quarterbacks that lie at the root of their struggles.

And so here we have Driskel. This was supposed to be his year. New system installed by new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper that was supposed to better fit his skill set as an athletic quarterback. A spread attack which allows him to make quick reads and quick throws getting the ball to his playmakers in space.

But, new season, new system, new offensive coordinator… same ole Driskel. Sure he’s a camp monster. Big arm, nice wheels, great size. Apparently, he’s a practice monster as well. Why else would Muschamp stick with him through thick and thin? However, it just hasn’t translated to game play.

His biggest problem is that he hasn’t progressed.

He still stares down his receivers, struggles to get through his progressions, and misses open receivers frequently getting the ball off late. These are problems that a fourth year quarterback shouldn’t be having. Five times against Kentucky he missed wide open receivers on deep throws. He missed a few more on Saturday at Alabama. Driskel is 0-fer on deep throws on the season.

Conversely, his backup, true freshman Treon Harris is 2-2 for 178 yards and 2 touchdowns on deep throws. Yes, they were against Eastern Michigan but Driskel missed his against the same team and realistically does it matter who they’re playing? An open receiver is an open receiver and a good quarterback, especially one starting for the University of Florida should be able to hit wide open receivers. Harris’ throws were on time, on target, and dropped into the receiver’s hands so softly they couldn’t be dropped.

There really is no excuse for Driskel’s struggles at this point in his career. He’s had tons of coaching and practice as well as all the meaningful snaps in 19 career games at Florida. Most qb’s in the NFL don’t get 19 starts while struggling to complete passes like he has. Why Muschamp continues to pin his career aspirations on the arm of Driskel is a mystery to the Monday Morning Quarterback. Perahps it’s the fear of the unknown, perhaps it’s a dogged determination to be proven right about him.

One thing’s for certain: Driskel must show significant progress and do it now if he hopes to salvage this season. The schedule doesn’t get any easier with the likes of Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida State all looming and all with stout defenses in their own right.

Sometimes you just got to shake things up.

Steve Spurrier never hesitated to bench a starting quarterback who was underperforming even famously rotating qb’s on each play against FSU in 1998. Perhaps Muschamp should take a page from Spurrier’s play book.

Will Muschamp, for the record, has stated he is sticking with Driskel as the starter because he “gives them the best chance to win”. The Monday Morning Quarterback watched the game on Saturday and he’s not really sure what game Muschamp was watching. The Gators had ZERO chance of winning that game with Jeff Driskel as quarterback. If he’s their best chance at winning then maybe they should scrap this season and prepare for the future.

Or perhaps, they should just see what they have in Harris. Gameplan a few series for him. Or if Driskel struggles again against Tennessee like he did against Alabama, let Treon take a shot at leading this team in real time. What would have happened to the New England Patriots if Drew Bledsoe hadn’t gotten hurt? We may never have known how good Tom Brady really could be. He was a 6th round pick that had an up and down career at Michigan known mostly as the guy who played ahead of prep phenom Drew Henson. Sometimes you don’t really know what you got until you make a change.

Realistically, what’s the worst that could happen? The Gators might lose? They might get blown out? Seriously, it can’t get any worse than it was on Saturday. Sure, he could throw some bad picks but realistically, would that be any worse than what we saw on Saturday. That offense had no shot at maintaining any consistent drives. And it’s not because the offense line couldn’t block. They were tested for sure but held up pretty well.

It’s not because the running backs didn’t come to play. Both Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor ran the ball hard and did what was expected of them. They simply didn’t get enough touches because the passing game couldn’t convert third down throws.

Yes, the receivers once again had a couple of drops but more often than not it was Driskel’s errant or late throws that were the bigger problem. Besides, perhaps the drops are as much a result of Driskel’s erratic throws than a lack of concentration by the receivers? The passing game is a rhythmic excercise and when the ball gets there, what kind of touch is put on it, and where the quarterback puts the ball are all important aspects of completing passes.

The biggest issue the Monday Morning Quarterback has seen with Driskel is all too often he puts the ball in the wrong spot for success and tends to throw a difficult ball to catch. And it hasn’t gotten any better with time.

Past performance is often indicative of future performance.

In my day job in retail leasing and collections we have many great customers who pay like champs on time and there are no issues. There are also a percentage who don’t pay as agreed and we have to chase them and baby sit them to get paid. I tell my sales team all the time that with new customers we don’t always know what we got so dig deep and utilize all resources to make good decisions. But past or current customers we do know. We have a track record and that should be considered before extending further lease opportunities as people rarely change. In other words, past performance IS indicative of future performance.

With Driskel, we have a known commodity at this point. A hot shot camp skill guy and practice performer who cannot seem to duplicate that success in live game action. We certainly have enough evidence that he’s a sketchy leader. What we don’t know for sure is what we have on the bench. The staff brought in two top rated quarterbacks in the offseason and gave both an opportunity to compete for the back up job during fall camp. After a too close for comfort competition the staff made the difficult decision to redshirt Will Grier and keep Treon Harris as the back up.

Benching Driskel or at least giving Harris some early game opportunities will hopefully serve two purposes. Get some solid game experience for Harris and perhaps put a fire into Jeff Driskel. Sometimes the prospect of losing one’s job might push you to not play scared. Maybe the light will finally come on for Jeff.

And maybe Muschamp might find out that he has Tom Brady sitting on the bench. He might not ever know as long as he continues to hold a candle for Driskel. Treon might not be the answer but one things certain at this point: Jeff Driskel is not the answer either.

Leaders lead, winners win.

If there’s a choice between a guy with great leadership skills and a guy with great physical skills, take the leadership. Tim Tebow’s poor passing skills have been famously dissected by anybody connected with the NFL or ESPN. However, in spite of those defects, Tebow won a Heisman and helped lead the Gators to two national titles. How did he do it? His leadership.

He refused to lose, never gave up, and willed his team to victory on many occasions. Guys wanted to play for him and with him. His leadership helped lift the level of play of his teammates.

With Driskel, you don’t get the same feel or vibe. I’m not saying his teammates don’t like him or respect him, it’s just that you don’t get the sense that he inspires his teammates or that they are excited that he’s their quarterback.

There has always been question marks as to just how much confidence he instills in his teammates.

Two years ago there appeared to be some locker room controversy over who the players felt should be the starter, Driskel or former teammate Jacoby Brisset. When Brisset transferred out after the 2012 season that controversy died down, but after Saturday’s poor performance against Alabama, there might be another controversy over whether or not Treon should start in place of Driskel.

Sometime after Saturday’s game, top wideout Demarcus Robinson reportedly had retweeted a fan tweet about making a change at quarterback before quickly deleting it and then tweeting that he has faith in all the Florida quarterbacks.

Not so fast my friend.

The Monday Morning Quarterback believes there is some controversy in the locker room, maybe not spoken but perhaps quietly.

Either way Driskel’s leadership skills are lacking and maybe it’s time to see what kind of leadership Treon Harris can bring.

After all, all he’s done is win at every level.

He was a two-time state champion at powerhouse Miami Booker T Washington high school and won a mythical national championship his senior year as his team finished atop every major national high school poll.

One thing about athletes, particularly quarterbacks, is winners are winners. They find ways to win. They have a knack for winning. They’re winners.

I’m reminded of Tommy Frazier. Coming out of high school where he couldn’t be stopped he wasn’t recruited as a quarterback by most major programs including Florida.

He didn’t have the measurables, the passing skills necessary to win at the FBS level.

Or so most coaches thought.

He ended up signing with Nebraska, the one school who gave him a shot at qb and all he did was win back to back national championships in 1994 and 1995 and was the only player ever awarded an MVP award in three national championship games.

Of course, Gator fans remember him running up and down the field against the Gators in the 95 title game. But here’s a guy with a questionable skill set that succeeded at the highest level.

Leaders lead and winners win. At this point, Driskel’s leadership skills are questionable at best.

Where there’s a Will there’s a way?

One other thing that is certain is that Will Muschamp’s job security at the University of Florida is uniquely tied to how well his quarterback plays this season. Coming in to the season, Muschamp might have been sitting on the hottest seat of any coach in the FBS. After almost losing to lowly Kentucky at home and then laying an egg on the road at Alabama, his coaching seat is absolutely on fire.

He did everything he needed to do in the offseason to buy him a little time. He fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and the plodding run first offense and brought in spread guru Kurt Roper to install a fast paced offense designed to utilize Driskel’s strengths. He brought in a host of skill position talent for Roper to utilize. With Roper’s offense designed to spread the field and get the ball to playmakers in space and allow them to use their athleticism to move the football, the Gators are missing one thing and one thing only: somebody to GET THE BALL TO THE PLAYMAKERS.

With the young Gator defense poised to take their lumps this season as they learn on the fly, the offense absolutely MUST be able to sustain drives and score. A lot. How well the quarterback is able to make this happen will most definitely determine if Muschamp lives to coach another season or is unceremoniously dumped after this one.

The Monday Morning Quarterback believes that if Muschamp hopes to stick it out in Gainesville he must bench quarterback Jeff Driskel in favor of the young phenom Treon Harris who is the future at the position. And the time to do it is now, while the season is still salvageable.

Even former players like Emmitt Smith are calling for him to be benched.

It’s one thing for fickle fans to call out the starting quarterback when he struggles. Fans are that way and the old adage rings true that the favorite player on the team is always the back up quarterback. However, when former players who’ve been there done that and know the nuances of playing the position start jumping off the bandwagon, perhaps it’s time to take heed.

Players know that guys have bad games once in a while. They know that one isn’t always at the top of their game. They know how difficult it can be for a young back up to come in and perform at a high level. For this reason, they’re likely to remain much more patient than the average fan. However, even their patience only goes so far and they understand when a player just doesn’t have it, he just doesn’t have it.

It’s looking more and more as though Jeff Driskel doesn’t have it.

So let’s let him sit down and watch for a little while and give the true freshman a realistic chance to lead this team and see where it takes us shall we? It can’t be much worse than it already is and perhaps it will salvage their season.

I am the Monday Morning Quarterback and I’m out.

 

Upon Further Review: Bama Trucks Gators, The Not So Ready For Primetime Players

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel had a tough day against the Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoon. (Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel had a tough day against the Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoon. (Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)

Hey Gator Nation, did anyone get the license plate number of that semi that just flattened the Gator football team?

Coming into yesterday’s match up with #3 Alabama, the consensus opinion was that the game would be a good measuring stick for the Gator program. If so, then the Gators showed they don’t measure up. If not for some mistakes handling the football by Bama, the Gators might not have even scored. This was a slow demolition but it was sound and sure.

Upon further review, what did we learn about the Gators yesterday?

This is a young team which has a long way to go to compete for any championships.

There isn’t one or two things that fans can point to and say “there’s the problem” or “the Gators need to work on that”, it was pretty obvious from Saturday’s road nightmare that this team has issues throughout the lineup on both sides of the football.

Don’t get me wrong, they do have talent and they did show some resolve. Let’s not totally throw the baby out with the bath water. But for every good play on Saturday, there were two or three more bad plays. This team is certainly a work in progress, one that will require patience from impatient fans.

This is a rebuilding year, particularly from a defensive standpoint, and any notion that this team might overachieve and compete for an SEC title was certainly premature. They are exactly who we thought they were: a young, talented team which will take it’s lumps along the steep learning curve that is SEC football.

 The defensive secondary is far from a polished product.

After replacing three of their top four corners and their most experienced safety after last season, the Gators faced an uphill battle in maintaining the level of success of the past few seasons. We knew this coming into the season even if we remained in denial about the full truth of this fact. We cannot remain in denial any longer.

The Gators were burned early and often, giving up an 80+ yard touchdown on the Tide’s first offensive play from scrimmage and later giving up a 70+ yard touchdown to the best receiver in America on a busted coverage. The Gator secondary was burned to the tune of 449 passing yards and the defense as a whole gave up 645 yards, the most in school history.

Of course, it wasn’t all on the secondary as the defensive line struggled to get any kind of consistent pass rush on quarterback Blake Sims who pretty much looked as though he had no rush to contend with all night. Even in my drunken state (I watched the game with a house full of Bama fans so I felt the need for serious imbibery) I could tell that if you don’t get a hat on this qb or at least get a hand on his jersey or in his face, he’s going to pick you apart like Peyton Manning in passing drills.

But be that as it may, however, the defensive line didn’t give up the long scores and consistently make coverage mistakes, it was the defensive backfield that was responsible for that. For all the good things they did, stripping footballs and getting turnovers, they made many more errors which cost the Gators any shot at victory.

Again, not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, this defensive backfield has talent, they just are a long ways from where they need to be right now and it’s quite obvious that like the 2007 and 2011 Gators this team will take it’s lumps in pass defense and will need to score some points if they hope to have a winning record this season.

Jeff Driskel is still not ready for prime time.

OK Gator Nation, here’s your chance to pile on. The doubt among much of the Gator Nation faithful in Driskel’s ability to lead this team successfully was quite high coming into the season. After Saturday night, it’s almost universal. Even former Gator greats like Emmitt Smith are calling for the relief pitcher.

Now I realize the old adage that the backup quarterback is always the most popular guy on the team when a quarterback struggles, but Driskel isn’t a young quarterback. This is his fourth season on campus and he’s in an offense tailor made for his skill set.

Besides, his issues aren’t situational or system-related. They’re the same problems he’s had from day one. He struggles to go through his progressions, he often telegraphs where he’s going with the football, his accuracy is erratic, and he’s late throwing the football. Pressure or the appearance of pressure forces him into poor throws or worse, poor decisions.

Against Alabama, Driskel was not only horrible, a large part of the blame for this loss can be place squarely upon his shoulders. The lack of offense, mostly attributable to his errant throws to open receivers left the defense on the field for much of the game and took away any opportunity the Gators might have had to keep it close into the fourth quarter.

The quarterback position is as much about leadership as it is about skills. While pondering about this post I watched some NFL football and analyst Phil Simms, who knows something about leadership from the quarterback position, made an interesting quote about Denver trying to beat the defending Super Bowl Champs Seattle Seahawks.

“It takes great plays to beat a team like this,” Simms said.

Great plays are made by great players and that usually starts with the quarterback position. Quarterbacks have to be fearless. They have to take the team on their back and will it to victory. That’s obviously not Driskel’s forte. And it’s killing this offense and this team.

For what it’s worth, head coach Will Muschamp says he’s sticking with Driskel as the starting quarterback because “he gives the Gators the best chance of winning.” Maybe he does or maybe he doesn’t but I can assure you that a pretty large consensus of Gator fans feel like he’s more of a liability than a leader right now.

Will Muschamp’s seat is getting hotter and hotter.

This is what happens when you put up Ron Zook-esque winning percentages. It’s also what happens when you preach all off-season about this being the most talented team you’ve had and then proceed to struggle at home against a young Kentucky team and then lay an egg against Alabama.

Certainly all but the hardiest Gator fans expected this team to lose on the road at Alabama. What we had hoped to see though was a competitive team. We wanted to see a team that could move the football, score some touchdowns, and stay within reach into the fourth quarter. What we saw was a team that was consistently beaten along the line of scrimmage, was often out of position, and dominated by a team which neither did anything out of the ordinary nor anything overly complicated. The Gators were simply outplayed and outcoached from start to finish.

Say what you want about the young secondary, the lack of depth along the lines, or the poor quarterback play, this was on the coaching staff number one. If Muschamp hopes to remain as the head coach at the University of Florida for the forseeable future than the staff had better work overtime to better prepare these players and hide their disabilities. They were obvious and easily exploited by Bama and you had better believe every coach on the Gators schedule will see this tape and salivate.

Recruiting might take a hit.

Coming into this recruiting cycle, fans who follow recruiting were told how deep and talented this class was in Florida at key positions the Gators need to load up on, particularly at linebacker, running back, and receiver. Through spring and summer, recruiting was very slow for the Gators as many of the top recruits on the Gators board were taking a wait and see approach hoping to see how the Gators played out after last season’s 4-8 debacle.

After watching Saturday’s demolition first hand on an official visit to Alabama, one Gator commit, linebacker Adonis Thomas, appeared to be taken aback and might be reconsidering his commitment to the Gators.

He then followed that tweet up with another one.

Will he or won’t he decommit and flip to the Tide? That remains to be seen but keep in mind the Gators have a lot of top guys who appear to be Gator leans that are most certainly watching to see how this season plays out. If they Gators don’t show more heart and ability than they showed against Alabama it might slim pickings come signing day 2015.

After reeling in back to back top ten recruiting classes the last two cycles, the Gators are poised to bring in another one if they can keep what they got right now and add the majority of those they are expected to land. But if this team doesn’t show a better product on the field it’s quite possible the Gators could go 0-fer and the program could take a major hit as a result.

 

Stay tuned to Swamp Music for the latest in news and analysis on Gator sports and follow us on Twitter @Swamp_Music2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Keys to a Florida Gator Victory

The young Florida Gators football team is on the road today in Tuscaloosa to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium. While not many outside of Gator Nation believe Florida can come out with a win, a victory is a distinct possibility.

Let’s take a look at three keys to a Gator victory today.

1) Offensive line must be able to pass block effectively and do it consistently.

Sounds pretty intuitive but this an area the Gators have struggled the last few seasons. Against Kentucky last week with yet another patchwork lineup the Gators had several miscues and missed assignments that left quarterback Jeff Driskel rushing throws and making mistakes. They got away with it against a young but talented Wildcat defensive front seven, barely.

Alabama, however, is deep and experienced and a much taller order than last week and the Gators cannot afford any breakdowns. Driskel has all the skills necessary to lead the Gators to an upset but only if he has time to go through his progressions and spread the ball effectively. When hurried Driskel’s accuracy drops dramatically.

2) The Gators must establish the run.

Again it’s pretty intuitive but in big games, particularly in the SEC usually the team that wins the rushing battle wins the game.

On the road against arguably their toughest opponent, the Gators must avoid being one dimensional getting themselves in bad down and distance situations. If the Tide defensive line can tee off on Diskel, it will be a long afternoon for the Gators in Tuscaloosa.

The Gators’ stable of talented running backs mostly Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor need to get cranked up early and often against the Tide. If they can it will open up tremendous opportunities in the passing game, particularly the deep ball.

With Demarcus Robinson, Quinton Dunbar, and Andre Debose able to stretch the field vertically, the Gators must pressure the safeties and corners into peeking into the backfield and force the linebackers to make decisions opening up the play action.

If the Gators can rush for over 150 yards today that should bode well for their chances to come out with the upset today.

3) The Gators must be able to generate a significant and consistent pass rush.

Again, pretty intuitive right? Well this is another area the Gators have struggled recently and did so for much of the second half against Kentucky where the lineman appeared to be gassed and lose their legs a little bit.

Against Alabama they’ll need to be effective throughout at getting pressure in quarterback Blake Sims. This far, Sims has faced little pressure and has looked good running the Tide attack. The Gators will need to find a way to disrupt the rhythm and timing of the quarterback and wide receivers to take some pressure off the young secondary which showed that it is very vulnerable and has a long ways to go to reach the level of previous Gator secondaries.

If they cannot effectively pressure the quarterback, Sums and company will have a field day and the Gators will be hard pressed to pull off the upset today.

Flora-Bama Fever: Florida Gators vs Alabama Crimson Tide Preview

Florida Gator running back Matt Jones will lead the offensive attack against Alabama.

Florida Gator running back Matt Jones will lead the offensive attack against Alabama.

Just over a month after country music star Kenny Chesney played a free concert at the world famous Flora-Bama Lounge, Flora-Bama fever is high again. This time it’s another match up of the top two teams in the SEC since 1990, Florida versus Alabama that has created a circus like frenzy.

At first look it appears to be an evenly matched game, but popular perception is that it should be a cake walk for the Tide who have been the class of the SEC since beating Florida for the SEC title in 2009. The Gators, on the other hand, are seeking a measure of revenge after suffering through a 4-8 season a year ago due in large part to 17 season ending injuries overall.

Both teams have had one tough match up in the season’s first three weeks with Alabama overcoming a sluggish start to beat West Virginia 33-23 in week one and the Gators overcoming dropped passes and mental mistakes to outlast an up-and-coming Kentucky Wildcats team last week in Gainesville 36-30 in 3 ots.

On paper, the two teams appear to mirror each other. Offensively, the Gators, behind 4th year quarterback Jeff Driskel, are ranked 6th nationally overall at 593.5 yards per game (ypg) while the Tide are ranked 12th at 563.8 ypg. Defensively, the Tide are 10th nationally at 267 ypg and the Gators close behind in 15th place at 287.5 ypg.

The Gators, after only two games, look good running a new spread offensive attack installed by new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Driskel (56-88, 543 yards, 4 tds, 1 int), despite some apparent issues in the first half against Kentucky, looks more comfortable in this offense. He should be with a bevy of skill position players at his disposal which the Gators have lacked the last few seasons.

Nobody is more important right now than sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson who had a coming out party of sorts last week tying a school record with 15 receptions and finishing with a career high 216 yards.

Senior tight end Clay Burton has played well also with 9 catches in two games which is important considering the Gators had only 3 receptions from the tight end spot all last season.

With Virginia transfer Jake McGee out for the season with a knee injury it’s important for Burton, previously more of an end-line blocker than pass receiver, to step up and make some plays, especially on third down, in the red zone, and in short yardage situations. He’s a big target for Driskel to find and for defenders to cover. The Gators will need to get him involved early and often against a strong defense such as Alabama.

Alabama will counter with a strong combination of senior quarterback Blake Sims (48-64, 646, 4 tds, 1 int) who is 12th nationally in pass efficiency and wide receiver Amari Cooper, currently the number one wideout in the nation with 33 receptions for 454 yards. Robinson, incidentally, is 3rd in the nation with 21 in two games.

The all-pro match up that fans and media are univerally talking about is cornerback Vernon Hargreaves against Cooper. Its not hyperbole to say that these are two of the top players in the nation regardless of position and that both are likely future first round NFL picks. The winner of their individual match ups could go a long way to determining which team wins this game.

Cooper has the size advantage at 6-2 210 vs Hargreaves 5-11 195 but Hargreaves is likely the most polished corner in the college game with great technique and solid ball skills. Hargreaves will certainly have his hands full against Cooper.

“Well, again, he’s a guy that can stretch the field vertically,” according to Florida head coach Will Muschamp. “They do a nice job in the run game of getting the ball to him in a lot of what I call quick situation, of seeing a bad box, getting it out to him on the perimeter, creating some one-on-ones. They move him around a little bit and we’ve got to make sure we identify him and know where he is. He’s been targeted a bunch in their first three games, so there’s no question he’s a playmaker.”

However, there’s another match up that could be just as important, Demarcus Robinson against Cyrus Jones. Robinson is a big target at 6-2 200 with great hands, good speed, and great athleticism. Gator fans finally caught a glimpse last week against Kentucky of what the staff and players have raved about since Robinson first set foot on campus.

“He’s a tough matchup just because he’s got really good vertical speed,” Muschamp said on Monday. He can run through contact. He’s stronger. He’s a 6-2, 200-pound kid. A young man that catches the ball well. There’s no question it’s a huge something you’ve got to account for as a defensive coordinator.”

Last week against Kentucky he had a career night because he had a career number of targets. That was due in large part to how Kentucky played the Gators. The staff felt good about the match up the had against Robinson and took advantage of it.

“How many one-on-ones are you going to create for him, and they (Kentucky) created a bunch,” Muschamp said. “That’s why we had some matchups and some situations we liked. They did a nice job with their pressure package, and I felt like as the game wore on we did a better job identifying it and getting the ball in the right spots.”

The match up versus Jones may very well be the Gators best match up in this one too. If so expect to see a heaping helping of Robinson getting the ball in space in this one. Jones and the Tide defense will certainly have their hands full against Demarcus.

Defensively, both teams have been inconsistent against the pass. Alabama gave up 365 passing yards to West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett while the Gators were rather porous last week against Kentucky, particularly in the second half while allowing first year starter Patrick Towles to complete 24-45 for 369 yards and 3 touchdowns.

For Alabama, the secondary issues are not new as they have tended to struggle against spread passing attacks in the past like West Virginia and Auburn. Florida should present similar challenges for the Tide secondary. For the Gators, the issue is simply youth.

The Gators had to replace three of their four top corners from last season (Watkins, Roberson, and Purifoy) as well as senior safety and swingman Cody Riggs who transferred to Notre Dame to pursue graduate school opportunities. The result is that, while talented, they are extremely young and have typical issues in play and formation recognition as well as on-ball technique particularly defending the slot.

“I felt like there were just some fundamental, technique things in the slot,” Muschamp said. “We didn’t play in the slot very well. What happens, a lot of times, and I’ve been doing it a long time, when you have a guy that gives up a play, you start playing a little cautious instead of playing aggressive. You get tentative in your techniques and that’s what happened to us a little bit, especially late in the game coming off the goal line. We just have got to make a play on the ball in those situations and go play the ball, be aggressive and keep that same mentality regardless of the situation and understand that you’ve always got to stay aggressive on the back end.”

One key player to pay attention to in the Alabama secondary will be junior safety and nickelback Landon Collins the brother of Florida true freshman defensive end Gerald Willis. Collins is a hard hitter who will be kept busy trying to match up with the slot receivers and tight ends for Florida while still trying to provide adequate run support.

Linebacker and defensive captain Trey DePriest is still trying to work back into shape from missing time in summer camp due to a knee injury and a suspension for the opener against West Virginia. His importance to this defense was evident against the Mountaineers as they gave up over 400 yards of offense and appeared to have significant communication issues.

Overall, both defenses face a difficult challenge against Blake Sims for Alabama and Jeff Driskel for Florida.

While the passing game might get the headlines coming in with Cooper and Robinson, it’s the running game that may yet determine a winner in this one. Both teams come in with balanced offenses and a good stable of running backs. Alabama is currently 17th in the nation averaging 270 ypg while the Gators are close behind at number 24 nationally at 248 ypg.

The Tide are led by two prototypical Alabama big backs in T.J. Yeldon who has rushed for 225 yards and a td and Derrick Henry with 209 yards and 2 tds. The Gators counter with the 1-2 punch of Matt Jones (221 ypd, 2 tds) and Kelvin Taylor (132 ypg, 2 tds).

After missing all of summer workouts and the first two games of the season last year, Matt Jones barely got cranked up before going out for the season with a knee injury. Last week’s game was his most sustained action since Florida State in 2012. He looked very good against Kentucky rushing 29 times for 156 yards and a touchdown.

“I think anytime you have something that’s really, really important to you, and football is extremely important to Matt Jones, you have something taken away from you, and Matt went through a tough time last year,” Muschamp said of Jones’ return from injury. “He really did. I remember him coming into my office and we had a lot of talks and things about life and what happens and dealing with adversity in life and all of those things. But Matt, there is no question. I don’t know if I would say motivated because he was motivated before, but when you have something taken away from you that’s really important and then to get it back. I’m just really proud of him and happy for him.”

Defensively, Alabama counters with the nation’s number one rushing defense giving up an average of only 47 ypg although they really haven’t faced a running offense yet the likes of Florida. Florida has been equally tough against the run at number 12 nationally giving up 80 ypg. Similarly, they have yet to face a rushing attack like the one Alabama employs.

Like the epic battles between Florida and Tennessee in the ’90’s where the winning team won the rushing battle virtually every time, this game sizes up to be very similar. Both teams have balanced offenses and will seek to throw the ball all over the field and take shots downfield but the team who successfully establishes the run will likely end up the victor in this one.

On that note, one area of concern for the Gators is along the offensive line where the Gators are lacking in depth and looking at the second consecutive game without starting left tackle D.J. Humphries who is out with an injury. In his place, Chaz Green moved over from right tackle and he was replaced by redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson.

As a result, the Gators suffered some breakdowns in pass protection especially in the blitz pick up. They will need to clean up the mistakes heading into this matchup against the Tide which has done a better job in pressuring the quarterback since the West Virginia game if they hope to have a chance.

Special teams is another area that both teams excel. Florida punt returner Andre Debose is ranked 7th nationally at 24.3 yards per return (4 for 97) while the Tide have Christion Jones who is equally talented although he has yet to get cranked up this season (4 for 20 yds). Jones is, however, ranked 22nd nationally in kickoff returns at 26.2 yards per return. Debose needs only one more kick return for a touchdown to set an SEC career record (currently tied with Georgia’s Brandon Boykin with 4).

Field position is always huge in tight conference match ups and this one should be no different. Florida’s Kyle Christy has returned to the form that made him a Ray Guy Award finalist in 2012 after suffering through a tough season last year eventually losing the job to true freshman Johnny Townsend. After two games, Christy is 5th nationally with a 48.6 yards per punt average helping the Gators to a number 8 ranking in net punting at 44.1 yards per punt.

The Tide is slightly better at 45.3 net yards per punt good for 5th nationally although they have only punted three times on the season.

Alabama’s kicker Adam Griffith is a perfect 7-7 on the season good for 5th nationally at 2.3 field goals per game while the Gators Francisco Frankie Velez is 6-7 and tied for first nationally at 3 per game. The Tide have famously had some difficulties in the kicking game particularly in big games at crunch time and the Gators have struggled finding an adequate replacement for the school’s all time leading kicker Caleb Sturgis who graduated after the 2012 season.

With both teams being very evenly matched and strong defensively, this is certainly an area that bears watching. Scoring will be at a premium and if either team struggles converting field goals it could be a long day for them.

Overall, the two teams statistically are fairly evenly matched. Talent-wise they both appear to be pretty even as well. The difference might be a slight edge in experience by Alabama in the defensive secondary and at receiver and depth on the offensive line. The Gators have a very slight edge in experience at quarterback and talent along the defensive line. This one figures to be a barn burner and closer than many expect.

Despite few giving the Gators a chance, they’re as much as 17 point underdogs, Alabama head coach Nick Saban isn’t sold on the idea that the Tide will roll on Saturday.

“This (Florida) is a really, really good overall team,” Saban said. “It will be a challenge for us.”

He added, “They have a lot of really, really good football players and they’re showing great balance on offense and really playing well on defense, like they typically do.”

The Gators certainly do have the talent to pull the upset but in the end the Gators youth might be a little too much to overcome on the road in Tuscaloosa.

Game time from Bryant-Denny stadium is scheduled for 3:30 pm eastern and will be broadcast live on CBS. Check back with Swamp Music for further insight and analysis of Gator football and follow us on Twitter @Swamp_Music2 for live tweets during the action on Saturday.

 

The Monday Morning Quarterback: Top Six Reasons the Florida Gators Must Stay the Course with Will Muschamp

Florida Gators head football coach Will Muschamp is on the hot seat this season.

Florida Gators head football coach Will Muschamp is on the hot seat this season.

Survey says…

But seriously folks.

The Florida Gators played a sloppy, gut-wrenching, face-palming game against Kentucky in the Swamp Saturday night but in the end eked out a way too close for comfort 36-30 victory over Kentucky in three overtimes. Gator fans hungry for redemption after last season’s 4-8 train wreck were restless as the Gators allowed the Wildcats to hang around throughout and almost pull out the victory.  In the end, the Gators were able to continue the nation’s longest active consecutive win streak by one team against another at 28.

In spite of the thrilling 3 overtime victory, fans were moaning and groaning throughout, most calling for head coach Will Muschamp to be fired. Twitter and sports message boards lit up with tweets and posts criticizing the Gators effort and the job done by Muschamp. Needless to say, the close victory did nothing to cool the head coach’s seat. At least not in the eyes of impatient, fickle fans.

The Monday Morning Quarterback, however, believes that fans should calm down and stay the course with Will Muschamp.

Why?

1) Clamoring for Muschamp’s job after essentially one real game is premature.

Considering the Gators opener was scrapped due to weather and last week’s Eastern Michigan game was merely a glorified scrimmage, Saturday’s game against Kentucky was the Gators first real game. Certainly their first real test. While it’s true it was only Kentucky, this was not the same ole Kentucky team that showed up in the Swamp Saturday. Head coach Mark Stoops has seriously upgraded the talent level particularly on defense but also at the offensive skill positions.

Sometimes the most dangerous team is a young, talented team who doesn’t realize they’re supposed to lose. That’s the type of team that showed up on Saturday night. This Kentucky team is talented and is going to sneak up on a lot of teams this season and realistically every team on their schedule should be on upset alert.

So considering that this was the Gators first real test, and considering the talent level this Kentucky team has, the fact that the Gators won in spite of adversity should be viewed as a positive for Will Muschamp’s performance rather than a negative.

2) Muschamp has proven he can win with your players.

Well, that is, he can win with Urban Meyer’s players. Fans long have been known to have poor memory. For Gator fans the amnesia tends to be even worse. Heck, even after winning two of three BCS titles fickle fans groaned through the next season as the Gators went undefeated in the regular season but weren’t winning convincingly enough to satisfy them.

For Muschamp, who went 11-2 two seasons ago and led the team within a play or two of competing for the SEC title, it’s a case of damned if I do, damned if I don’t. What’s lost in the translation is the masterful job Muschamp did guiding a team with some premier talent but sorely lacking in depth to that solid season while fitting square pegs into round holes and next to no talent at receiver. The job he did in 2012 gets overlooked by fans but shouldn’t be.

3) Will Muschamp has been stockpiling talent.

For all the criticism of Muschamp, no one can argue with the fact that he’s upgraded the talent base bringing in two top ten recruiting classes and is poised to reel in another one this cycle. Meyer stockpiled talent but much of it was of questionable character and many left when Muschamp arrived because they didn’t want to get with the program. The Florida Gators football program hit a rock bottom talent/depth wise in 2011 with much of Meyer’s last class not panning out and Muschamp’s first two classes being busts.

Contrary to popular opinion the program didn’t hit rock bottom with last season’s debacle. That was more due to a once in a lifetime series of season ending injuries and the ill-timed loss of the only experienced and arguably talented backup quarterback.

Last season was actually the beginning of the Gators climb back to prominence as a rebuilding year but became a lost season when many players gave up after losing so many starters to season ending injuries. That makes this season even more important. But keep in mind this is also a rebuilding year as the Gators have well in excess of thirty underclassmen on their two deep roster and making significant contributions in game action.

4) Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The biggest argument I hear from Gator fans on message boards is how other coaches, including Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, are able to retool a roster and show marked improvement in a couple of seasons, so Muschamp has had plenty of time and he’s obviously failed so get rid of him.

This argument is specious at best. While certainly some coaches are able to flip a roster quickly, again keep in mind Will Muschamp went 11-2 in his second season. I’d say that’s marked improvement.

What we’re dealing with now isn’t a quick flip of a roster, it’s growing pains of flipping a program.

Right now the Gators aren’t thin on talent, they’re thin on experience.

There’s a huge learning curve adapting from high school to SEC football. Guys mature at different rates, that’s natural.

Very few guys come in and compete at a high level as true freshman. While players learn technique and strategy on the practice fields and meeting rooms. They learn a lot on the playing field in meaningful game action as well.

This team will as well but there will be lots of growing pains and close games for these youngsters. The key is how well they keep their composure, stay the course, and learn from their mistakes.

After last season’s debacle where players gave up it will be easy for them to fall back into that this season when things don’t go their way. It’s important they understand that they have to play through adversity, get better, and control what they can control.

This staff has proven they can get players to buy into that mentality with the 2012 team which famously clawed back from early deficits to control the second half and, in particular, the fourth quarters of games. While every team’s different, Muschamp has already proven he can coach these guys up mentally and physically and must be given an ample amount of time to make it happen.

5) The long term plan for the Gator football program under Will Muschamp is on track.

What many fans do not understand is the long term plan given to Muschamp wasn’t simply win games and recruiting battles. It was to change the culture of the program which had suffered under Urban Meyer. Their was an air of entitlement in the locker room with superstars doing as they pleased.

Many of Meyer’s recruits had questionable character, Tim Tebow not withstanding. Muschamp was tasked with changing that. Ridding the program of the malcontent’s and rule breakers. Bringing in high character recruits that could compete not only on the field but in the classroom as well and would represent the Gator program with class.

Will Muschamp has done that. If you follow recruiting at all, it’s apparent the Muschamp has passed on a large number of highly talented players who they likely could have gotten and who could have helped this team out on the field as well because they were questionable people.

Fans scratch their heads wondering why the staff doesn’t pursue this guy or that guy but recruits have to fit a rigorous checklist in order to receive a commitable offer from this staff. Every year we see a few guys who commit but later fall of or decommit and fans wonder aloud what happened. Muschamp gives each kid a list of priorities that he must complete or abide by in order to sign a letter of intent and these guys just don’t measure up so the staff drops them.

Academically, the players must make the grade as well and make regular progress toward a meaningful UF degree or face sanctions from Muschamp, He’s upgraded not only the character of the roster but also the academic prowess as well. These are things fans rarely even think about but are a part of the plan and a part of what athletic director Jeremy Foley uses to judge the job Muschamp is doing.

6) Jumping ship now will only do more harm than good.

With two top ten recruiting classes under his belt and a third almost guaranteed this cycle unless this team tanks like last season’s, only a fool would consider anything but a vote of confidence for Muschamp. At least until after this season plays out.

The Monday Morning Quarterback understands that there is every opportunity for this team to tank and Muschamp to be fired after the season. They call it a hot seat for a reason and Muschamp’s has been smoldering ever since losing to FCS foe Georgia Southern.

However, fan’s clamoring for Muschamp’s head do nothing to instill confidence in recruits considering the Gators. In fact, it only helps spur the negative recruiting from other coaches. No matter how many times a recruit says they pledged to a school not a coach, that’s true only in a few small cases. The reality is recruiting is about relationships and that can’t be built in a month or two by a new coach on the fly.

With the level of talent that are leaning toward the Gators right now, fans need to circle the wagons and show some unity and solidarity among themselves and for Will Muschamp. For most recruits, they’re not so much waiting to see if the Gators win this season as waiting to see if Muschamp survives.

If he’s fired, it’s not only some top talent they figure to lose. The last thing the program needs is more uncertainty after going through three different offensive coordinators in four years. A change in staff will only extend the process of getting back to the championship level to which Gator fans have become accustomed.

So, overall, it’s still too early to judge this team and head coach Will Muschamp. The Monday Morning Quarterback believes that Muschamp has proven enough on the field, in recruiting, and in program flipping to earn the right to continue captaining the Gator football ship. Good times are ahead for the Florida Gators, even if it’s not readily apparent to fickle Florida fans.

I’m the Monday Morning Quarterback, and I’m out.

 

 

Upon Further Review: Florida Gators Eke Out 28th Consecutive Victory Over Kentucky

Demarcus Robinson has a coming out party for the Gators against Kentucky.

Demarcus Robinson has a coming out party for the Gators against Kentucky. (Rob Foldy/Getty Images )

Every week during the football season, Swamp Music will provide insight and analysis after reviewing the previous day’s game. Florida opened its SEC schedule on Saturday in the Swamp versus Kentucky and needed 3 overtimes to dispatch a spirited, talented, and determined Wildcat team looking to end their 27 game losing streak to Florida.

Jeff Driskel played a good game.

While fans continued their calls for Driskel’s benching during and after the game, upon further review, those calls might be misplaced.

First, Treon Harris will not see anything more than mop up duty this season barring injury to Jeff. The Gators offensive hopes are pinned to Jeff Driskel this season period. Not to say that Harris won’t eventually be the guy, but as a true freshman he’s far too green to expect him to lead this team to a championship right now.

Second, Driskel played better than fans are willing to give him credit for. He recovered from a tough first half start to finish a solid 25-43 for 295 yards and three touchdowns with one ugly interception. If you had told me those stats prior to the game I would have said the Gators win going away.

While he did make some mistakes and continues to have blitz recognition issues as well as continues to make poor decisions when pressured, overall he did what he had to do to get the victory. In the SEC, any victory no matter how ugly is a good one.

Driskel was victimized by dropped passes, poor blitz pickup, and continued poor offensive line execution at critical times. In an offense predicated upon rhythm throws and tempo, mistakes are killers. They ruin the flow of the offense particularly in the play calling, they allow the opponent to rest, substitute, and sideline coach and puts them in difficult down and distance situations.

Make no mistake this offense is a dink and dunk short passing offense which takes occasional shots down the field and similar to a three yards and a cloud of dust rushing attack they cant afford to be in third and long situations. Giving Driskel adequate protection and solid rhythmic play calling will set him up to be a winner.

That having been said, however, the one glaring thing I noticed last night was Jeffs inability to hit the deep ball.

I counted 5 deep shots and on every one the Gator receiver had one or two steps on their man and would likely have scored had Driskel been able to get the ball to them. On one, a deep sideline throw to Dunbar, I think the receiver messed up laying out and getting airborne when I think he should have continued to run under it, but on the others Driskel simply missed the receivers.

For the Gators to be successful offensively, Driskel will have to be able to hit those in stride when they’re open.

Demarcus Robinson is a star in the making.

What can you say about D Rob except welcome to Gainesville buddy, where have you been? 15 catches 216 yards and two touchdowns, now that’s what I call a coming out party in Gainesville.

This is the guy fans drooled over during his flip-flop recruiting process. This is the receiver Will Muschamp raved about on signing day. This is the one that fans have heard so much about during two off-seasons but had yet to quite see it in game action. Until now that is.

Robinson has the rare combination of size, speed, and athleticism that Gator fans have been clamoring for for many years. A big receiver with great hands and the ability to not only make people miss and cut on a dime but also to get down field after the catch and make plays. Exciting plays.

Expect to see Roper and Driskel continue to feature D Rob and find ways to get him the ball in space. Those short throws will set the defense up for them to be gouged by the deep ball allowing him to showcase his speed on the outside. Late in the first half with Kentucky playing press coverage and keeping guys in the box, the Gators almost had a huge touchdown play as Robinson got two steps on his man down the sideline and if Driskel could have hit him in stride in bounds it would have been an easy walk-in score.

Matt Jones carries for 156 yards and a td against Kentucky.

Matt Jones carries for 156 yards and a td against Kentucky.

Matt Jones is the man.

While fans were welcoming D Rob to Gainesville, it was a welcome back party for Matt Jones. After missing the whole of summer workouts and the first two games last season when he was expected to ably step into the shoes of 1,000 yard rusher Mike Gillislee, Jones showed out yesterday.

Unfortunately, his fantastic stats were lost in the shuffle of fans complaining about Driskel and raving about Robinson. Without a doubt, while Kelvin Taylor may have the namesake and the high school records, Matt Jones is the best running back on this team. He showed it last night running for 156 yards on 29 carries and one touchdown.

Jones is big at 6-2 235 and fast. He has the size and strength to break tackles and run through tackles and get the tough yards in short yardage situations. He also has the speed, vision, and agility to take it outside, make the cut back, and get to the next level often punishing defenders when they attempt an open field tackle.

Perhaps his best attribute is that he is a one cut runner. He doesn’t dance around, he finds a crease, makes the cut, and gets north quickly and with authority. And, fun to watch once he gets a head of steam built up, he’s a bruiser, running over guys and delivering a blow. His style bodes well for the fourth quarter.

And while I’m on the subject, is it me or did the Brent Musberger spend far too much time talking about Braylon Heard? You’d think Heard was Todd Gurley listening to Musberger. He carried the ball 12 times for 39 yards. Hardly deserving of the praise he received from Brent. Matt Jones was the best running back on that field last night and it wasn’t even close.

Offensive Line depth could end up being the Gators Achilles heel this season.

Since Will Muschamp began his career as head coach at Florida he has repeatedly stressed the point that the SEC is a line of scrimmage league. Hes right and it was on display last night.

For a team like Kentucky that won 2 games last season to come into the Swamp and hold the point of attack and dominate at times against an experienced Gator offensive line tells volumes about the SEC and its defensive lineman.

Unfortunately, this is also an indictment against the Gator offensive line. While experienced and talented, they’re certainly not deep and continue to have breakdowns and uncalled for penalties and missed assignments.

With the line lacking depth, losing starting left tackle D.J. Humphries for a couple weeks hurts. The lack of depth forced guys to move around and change positions leading to mental mistakes which hurt the offensive continuity.

Right now this unit is merely ok. They have some individual talent but its time for them to show some consistency and establish some dominance against lesser opponents.

Right now the offensive line is the weak link for this offense and must improve if this team is going to beat better teams in the SEC.

Florida’s not very good when they only rush three guys.

Here’s where I might get some flak. Florida has two good pass rushers in Dante Fowler and Neiron Ball but only when the Gators scheme to get them free. When the Gators sit back and rush three guys they get zero pressure on the quarterback and if you give any quarterback time they’ll find an open receiver eventually.

The Gator defensive backfield is talented but young and not quite up to the standards of previous teams. The staff will have to find ways to pressure the quarterback to help these young corners and safeties out until they get their feet underneath them.

Top to bottom this is likely the most talented defensive backfield in Gainesville in many years but they are still too green to be expected to cover good passing attacks without a consistent pass rush.

Don’t jump off the Will Muschamp train just yet.

While I understand fan angst, I am one of them, its important to understand progress is taking place even when it doesn’t appear to be.

Did the Gators look a lot like last season last night against Kentucky?

Absolutely.

However, there are over 30 underclassmen on the two deep who are contributing. They’re bound to make mistakes.

Keep in mind, Muschamps first two seasons he was playing with Meyers players. Now he has a roster full of his players ripe from two full top ten recruiting classes. It takes time for these guys to mature.

Last season was a lost season. This season the rebuilding continues. Fans expecting the Gators to compete for an SEC championship are simply fooling themselves. These guys are talented but they have a long learning curve and fans should accept the reality that this will be another maalox season for them.

Watch the nuances. Look for the subtleties in improvement rather than focus on the mistakes. Check out the young talent and rest assured that this program will be back to compete for championships under Will Muschamp and soon. Just probably not this season.

Firing him now will only set the program back even further. Continuity on this staff is of utmost importance to the Gator program right now.

The Gators have got to clean up the mistakes before playing Alabama.

While that seems obvious it cannot be stressed enough against a team with the talent and discipline of Alabama. Dropped passes are killers any time but on third down their drive killers for sure. Silly penalties and missed assignments are drive killers as well.

In football as in life the difference between winning and losing or being successful and not is simply taking advantages of opportunities when presented. In a football game a team only gets so many opportunities and its success percentage in those situations needs to be very high. It wasn’t last night.

If Pittman makes the third down catch on the first possession, if Robinson makes the third down catch later in the first half down inside the Kentucky 20, if Dunbar makes the deep sideline catch this is a different game entirely. Allowing these guys to hang around tied at 3 at halftime gave a young team all the confidence it needed. A stirring speech and some halftime adjustments is all it took to give them the confidence that they could play with these guys and win this game.

They almost did.