Trick or Treat? Florida Gators Face Haunting October Gauntlet

  
Halloween doesn’t take place until October 31. 

For the Florida Gators, however, it begins this Saturday and continues throughout the month of October.

Yes, the SEC scheduling gods decided to play Trick or Treat on the Gators who face a terrifying gauntlet which includes #3 Ole Miss this Saturday in the Swamp, a trip to east division rival Missouri the following Saturday, #9 LSU in Baton Rouge October 17, and finishes up with #8 Georgia in Jacksonville on October 31.

On paper, this schedule looks to be a trick for the Gators but fans are holding out hope for a treat.

The Gators will likely be at least a touchdown underdog in every game except Missouri, but if they can navigate the difficult schedule victoriously, a top ten possibly top five ranking awaits. 

That would be huge for a team that was unranked to start the season and hadn’t been ranked in the AP poll for almost two years before sliding in this week at #25.  

I’m guessing, however, that fans would be happy if the team could at least break even for the month of October. Depending upon how they look in the games even a 6-2 record heading into November should be enough to remain in the Top 25.

Ole Miss looks like the most complete team of the four. They’ve had a strong defense for a few years now and are deep and experienced led by the Nkemdiche brothers. DT Robert Nkemdiche looks like a potential top pick in the draft with his size, strength, speed, and athleticism.

What this team has lacked is solid, consistent quarterback play. They’ve got that now with Chad Kelly the Clemson transfer. They’ve got perhaps the deepest wide receiver corps in the SEC with a two deep rotation where every receiver is 6-2 or taller. 

Wideout Laquon Treadwell was the nation’s top receiver coming out of high school and has played like it the last couple of seasons. 

It will be an interesting matchup with top CB Vernon Hargreaves. The two last battled each other as high school seniors in the Under Armor All American game at which Hargreaves was named an MVP.

The Gators’ deep and talented defensive backfield , one of the SEC’s and nation’s best units, will be supremely challenged against Ole Miss. It should make for an exciting strength versus strength matchup.

Of the four teams, unranked Missouri should be the Gators easiest matchup at least on paper. Starting quarterback Maty Mauk, who torched the Gators a couple seasons ago, has been less than stellar despite the promise he showed as a freshman. 

Mauk is suspended for this week’s game against South Carolina and the official word is his suspension will be evaluated after that game. So there’s a chance he won’t even play against the Gators. 

LSU is a typical LSU team, big and physical with a stout defense. Led this year by potential Heisman winner RB Leonard Fournette who looks like he could be a 2,000 yard rusher before season’s end, the Gator defense will have a 180 degree challenge from the Ole Miss game.

The Gators front seven, which lacks depth in the linebacker corps and has struggled to stop the run consistently, will be tested against LSU. They’ll need to do a much better job of tackling than they did against Tennessee.

If they thought Dobbs and Hurd were difficult to bring down, they’ll have a rude awakening trying to stop Fournette.

LSU and Ole Miss should battle for the SEC west championship and will be in the running for the national playoff.

The other SEC team in the running for the national playoff is east rival Georgia whom the Gators face on Halloween.

Despite winning this game easily in rather shocking fashion last season, the Gators will likely be decisive underdogs this season.

This Georgia team is probably the best since Mark Richt has been their head coach and it is led at quarterback by Virginia graduate transfer Greyson Lambert who has been the surprise of the SEC thus far in the season.

The Bulldogs have the best stable of running backs in the SEC and arguably in the nation led by the versatile Nick Chubb who has all the tools with size, speed, and agility, and he’s a solid receiver out of the backfield. 

If Mark Richt doesn’t get a national championship ring this season he may never as coach at Georgia.

The Gators will certainly be tested against the Bulldogs but as always in this game, paper victories aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

The biggest question will be what the Gators’ psyche is like after the October gauntlet. If they lose two or three will they be up for this game or simply ready to call it in for the season? If they somehow surprisingly win out, will they be able to handle success and the accolades that come with it.

Believe me, if somehow they’re able to navigate this crazy schedule they will be getting a ton of national attention which can be difficult for a young team to handle.

Regardless, October presents a Trick or Treat of sorts for the Gators. The haunting schedule is most likely a trick but could very well turn out to be a treat for fans and players alike. 
  

Quick Toss Tuesday: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly From Tennessee Vs Florida 

  
The Florida Gators dug down deep in the fourth quarter against SEC east rival Tennessee on Saturday to eke out a come-from-behind 28-27 victory making it 11 straight wins in the series.

For three quarters it looked like the streak might finally be broken with Tennessee pulling out all the stops using trick plays and some tough running to take a two score lead at 27-14.

The Gators looked all but dead before true freshman quarterback Will Grier led the Gators on a 6 minute 17 play touchdown drive which got them within six at 27-21 with under four minutes remaining in the game.

The home crowd which had largely been taken out of the game came alive after the touchdown and helped to spur the comeback effort.

After true freshman receiver Antonio Callaway scored on a 63 yard pass play, pandemonium ensued inside the Swamp.

It was a huge win for the Gators keeping the streak alive and moving the team to 2-0 in the SEC and 4-0 overall.

Perhaps, even more importantly, a young team showed resilience and resolve which certainly bodes well for the future.

However, it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns for the Gators.

Let’s take a look a quick look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from the Tennessee game.

The Good

Direct TV Will Grier

For three quarters, Grier was cable Will Grier who appeared more to be auditioning for Dancing With The Stars with his brother Hayes than quarterback at the University of Florida.

His happy feet and tentative play had doomed too many series to count and fans held out little hope of a comeback before Direct TV Will Grier showed up to save the day with ten minutes left in the game.

Showing guts and determination, Grier shook off his earlier tentativeness and stood tall in the pocket delivering several clutch passes while leading the Gator offense on a 17 play, 86 yard touchdown drive. 

Additionally, Direct TV Will Grier showed up on fourth down as well with the Gators going 5-5 on fourth down for 123 yards and and the game winning touchdown.

No word on how the coaching staff figures to get Direct TV Will Grier in the game sooner against Ole Miss.

Kelvin “Don’t call me Fred” Taylor

Not Fred, a third year junior, arguably played the most complete game of his career against the Volunteers.

He went the distance at running back finishing with 102 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns. He ran hard all afternoon showing patience and a quick burst through the hole setting up his blockers well and getting upfield quickly. 

His best run was a 47 yarder that set up the Gators’  (and his) first td. He snuck through a small crease at the line breaking a tackle and then juking a defender before showing some speed to get into the secondary.

But, despite his great rushing day, his best execution was in the passing game, repeatedly grading out perfect in blitz pickup, an area he had previously struggled mightily.

The staff said afterwards the plan was to let Taylor show what he could do and he responded perfectly.

Considering the brouhaha over Coach Mac’s sideline tirade at Taylor two games ago, it was a good sight to see Kelvin not only get the start but to finally play up to the level expected of him coming out of high school as a five star recruit.

The Offensive Line

The young, inexperienced, and oft-maligned Florida Gator offensive line came into the Tennessee game knowing it faced its toughest test to date with the talented and experienced Volunteer defensive front seven.

Sure enough they did have their hands full all game with the relentless pass rush and stiff run defense. But, despite a few issues, for the most part they played a very sound football game. 

And considering they played much of the game with three true freshman (Martez Ivey, Fred Johnson, and Tyler Jordan) the performance was nothing short of miraculous, particularly on the last two scoring drives.

Antonio Callaway/Brandon Powell

Callaway, only a true freshman, played like an upperclassman on Saturday finishing with five catches for 112 yards (22.4 YPC) and the game winning 63 yard touchdown.

However, it was Brandon Powell who made the play of the game springing Callaway on the touchdown. He broke off his downfield route and made a diving block that took out one defender directly, another indirectly, and slowed the third. 

From there, the speedy Callaway turned on the jets and won the foot race to the end zone a play that will haunt Tennessee fans and players for many years to come.

Powell had a good receiving night as well finishing with 5 catches for 64 yards, a touchdown, and a huge fourth down reception that set up the touchdown. 

Johnny Townsend

It’s not often we talk about the punter, but Townsend needs to be given his due here. He brought a silver lining to the inconsistent offensive play throughout Saturday’s contest by booming punts finishing with 7 punts for a whopping 49.6 yards per punt average.

His booming punts, including a couple of 60+ yarders and a 57 yarder, continuously flipped the field for the Gators and kept Tennessee behind the chains facing long fields all game long.

Beside the late game heroics of Grier, Callaway, and Powell, Townsend might have been the game MVP for his efforts. Certainly deserving of a game ball.

The Bad

Cable (First Three Quarters) Will Grier 

For all his fourth quarter heroics, Will Grier’s play prior to those last two drives was anything but heroic. On the first play of the game he missed an open Callaway and ended up going three and out.

In between that series and the Powell touchdown, Grier was average at best and terribly inconsistent. All too often he abandoned plays too early not seeing open receivers while trying unsuccessfully to make plays with his legs.

When he did stand in the pocket and throw, he often did so out of rhythm, double clutching throws, and missing open receivers. He did make throws here and there just not nearly enough. 

“You’re going to ask probably about the quarterback,” McElwain said of Grier. “He played ok. Did some good things, did a lot of things he needs to get better at. But the biggest thing there is he had the opportunity to learn what it means to play in an SEC game.”

His play was inconsistent enough to leave coach McElwain unwilling to end the quarterback competition and name him the starter as many expected with his comeback efforts and Treon Harris coming off a suspension.

He’s had literally every opportunity to win the starting job but has been unable to seize control. And considering Treon has seemingly done everything to lose the job with the suspension and less than stellar play in games, Grier’s inability to win the job outright is troublesome for the Gators.

Rush Defense

While the Gators pass rush continues to be a pleasant surprise, they’re second in the SEC with 14 sacks through four games, the front seven continues to struggle against the run.

The Gators gave up 254 yards rushing (5.0 YPC) to a Tennessee team which had been struggling in the run game.

In their defense, Tennessee QB Josh Dobbs and RB  Jalen Hurd were tough, slippery, physical players who both possess surprising speed and quickness.

Nevertheless, the Gators efforts to stop the run have been inconsistent all season. They’ve given up far too many long running plays on the season and continued that against Tennessee.

They’ll need to continue to correct mistakes before facing the better running teams on their schedule including Georgia and Florida State. 

The Ugly

Tackling

Coming into season all the focus was on the Gators deep and talented defense. Many felt they could rival some of the Gators best defenses including the 2012 and 2008 squads. 

However, oddly, one of the things that the top defenses do well that this one has struggled at is tackling.

And they got exposed against Tennessee. 

In Monday’s media session, coach Mac was asked if the staff had counted missed tackles during film study and he said of course they did before grinning and saying “next”. 

While he wouldn’t disclose the number they had counted, when the number 22 was bantered about, Mac replied saying it was much higher. 

Tackling issues haven’t been much of a problem this season but were a huge problem against the Vols.

While some of the struggles on Saturday were related to the surprising quickness and power of Hurd and Dobbs, a bigger issue all season has been an inability to wrap up. All too often guys are either trying for a big hit or to strip the football. 

“We’ve been really good tacklers the first three games then all of the sudden didn’t wrap up,” McElwain lamented. “Tried to strip the ball instead of grab cloth. All the things you teach every single day.”

Big hits are fun for the fans and turnovers are great for the team but in this league backs are too physical.

They can bounce off hard hits and can run through arm tackles and strip attempts. That big hit means little if the guy you hit is still running 20 yards downfield.

Third Down Conversion

Another season long issue that continued against Tennessee was third down struggles. 

The Gators wee a pitiful 3-15 on third down against the Vols and are 19-54 (.352) on the season, good for 100th in the nation.

In coach McElwain’s opening comments to his Monday press conference he brought up that going 5-5 in fourth down was nice, but the team needs to do better on third down so they don’t have to rely on a fourth down play.

“Offensively not having to wait until fourth down to make plays, go ahead and make them on third down… That’d be good.”

They’ve been fortunate so far facing teams with struggling offenses. They’ve been able to win in spite of their third down struggles. Moving forward, they’ll need to be much more efficient on third down if they have a hope to win.

Against Ole Miss they’ll need to control the football or they could find themselves in an insurmountable home early.

What does your good, bad, and ugly list look like?

 

The Monday Morning Quarterback: Florida Gators Grew Up Against Tennessee


Wow!

Did you see that?

The Monday Morning Quarterback saw it, and let me go on record as saying, I didn’t believe it could happen.

Well, actually, I had all BUT given up.

The Gators seemingly improbable come from behind win over Tennesssee on Saturday was a crossroads of sorts for this young talented Florida Gators football team.

A team that needed to learn how to win did just that in the fourth quarter Saturday night.

A quarterback who had been criticized for his happy feet and tentative play, played with poise and bravado with under ten minutes to go.

A much-maligned offensive line played perhaps their best game of the season against the best defensive line they’ve faced thus far.

A running back that had yet to put it all together and live up to his five star recruit billing, had the best all-around game of his career.

And, best of all, they found not one, but two playmakers on Saturday in the Swamp.

And, for good measure, a fan base that had lost faith finally found a reason to believe once again.

To dream the impossible dream…

That’s the situation the Gators faced with ten minutes to go and Tennessee up two scores 27-14.

That was what The Monday Morning Quarterback tweeted after Tennessee scored their last touchdown.

After hitting “send” I turned to my boss who had asked me if the Gators were going to lose. I responded,

“Maybe. Unless Will Grier can finally settle down in the pocket and make some throws. Then they have a chance. There’s been open receivers all day, Will just needs to calm down and find them. Let them go make plays.”

Sure enough that’s exactly what happened.

A quarterback that been “using his legs as a check down” according to head coach Jim McElwain, finally stood tall in the pocket, made his reads, and fired the football with authority.

A quarterback who had been playing tentatively to that point led the offense on a 6 minute, 17 play, 86 yard touchdown drive to get within six at 27-21.

To dream the impossible dream…

You’d be lying if you told me you believed the Gators would pull victory out of the jaws of defeat before that drive.

But then Grier saved his best for last hitting true freshman Antonio Callway for a 63 yard touchdown to take the lead for good with 1:26 to go.

Callaway was sprung by a huge diving block from sophomore receiver Brandon Powell who had broken from his upfield route after Callaway made the grab.

Powell took out one guy directly and slowed the other two just enough to give Callaway a step and from there his straight line speed took over and the Gators were able to pull out their eleventh consecutive victory in the series between SEC east rivals.

Powell and Callaway had break out games combining for 10 receptions for 176 yards and two td’s (Callaway 5-112-1 td, Powell 5-64-1)

Twelfth year TE Jake McGee (5-57) and junior Demarcus Robinson (6-48) also played well getting first downs and keeping drives alive.

While the offense continues to be inconsistent and very much a work-in-progress, it’s encouraging that receivers are getting open, making catches, and making plays in space.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen that in the Swamp.

Something else that may have gotten lost in the shuffle with the late game heroics of Grier and Callaway was the play of junior running back Kelvin Taylor.

The Monday Morning Quarterback believes Taylor played the most complete game of his career.

He finished with 102 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns.

His first touchdown was set up by a huge 47 yard run where he masterfully showed patience, setting up his blockers, making a quick cut, and showing good burst through the hole breaking an arm tackle to get down field and gash the Tennesssee defense.

As well as he ran, however, it was his pass blocking and blitz pick up where he really shined.

Oft criticized as a liability in pass protection, Taylor was money against Tennessee.

McElwain said after the game when asked why we didn’t see the two true freshman backs, the plan going in was to feature Kelvin. It was his game to show what he can do and he did not disappoint.

Finally, the young offensive line which got even younger mid-game as they rotated in three true freshman (Martez Ivey, Fred Johnson, and Tyler Jordan) played arguably their best game of the season.

While certainly not mistake free, there were a lot less of those assignment mistakes and silly penalties that doomed so many promising drives in previous games.

In fact, had Grier trusted his line a little better sooner, and made a few better throws, this one may not have even been close.

So a young team that could have folded didn’t. They dug down and found a way to win.

“Hell no (they didn’t give up when down 27-14),” Powell said afterwards. “They (Tennessee) were up 17-0 two weeks ago to Oklahoma. We keep fighting.”

This is a far cry from the team that always seemed to find a way to lose last season.

For fans who had all but given them up for dead it was a lesson that they can have faith once again.

“Everyone on the sideline’s demeanor changed when they went up two touchdowns in the second half,” linebacker Jarrad Davis said.”But we came back and we just keep fighting. We keep fighting.”

Yes, they fought and they won.

Just as importantly, they gave fans hope. And the fans responded.

“We used the energy from the crowd,” Davis said. “It’s crazy. You will not believe how much the crowd affected us.”

The grit and resolve Grier and the team showed in the fourth quarter bodes well for the future and a young team that has played like it to date, grew up a little on Saturday night.

You find a way to win when you refuse to lose.

“You just don’t lose to Tennessee and they didn’t,” said McElwain.

Simple enough.

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

Gators Steal Win From Tennessee, Slide Into The National Polls


After a thrilling come-from-behind victory over SEC East rival Tennesssee on Saturday in the Swamp, the Florida Gators moved into the national polls for the first time this season coming in at #23 in The Amway coaches poll and #25 in the AP.

The Gators looked anything but a ranked football team for the first 50 minutes of Saturday’s game. Missed tackles, inopportune penalties, and a moribund offense left the home crowd wondering if the Gators might even become bowl eligible this season.

That is until true freshman quarterback Will Grier channeled his inner Tom Brady and led the Gators to two long drives and two touchdowns in the last ten minutes to steal a 28-27 victory.

The win moved the Gators to 4-0 on the season and 2-0 in the SEC.

Apparently the fortitude showed by this young Gators team when almost everyone but themselves had given up hope was impressive enough to overcome the sloppiness of the first 50 minutes in the minds of voters.

The move into the polls certainly ups the stakes for next week’s inter divisional matchup with #5 Ole Miss.

Game time for this newly minted top 25 matchup in the Swamp is set for 6 PM central time and will be televised on ESPN.

Amway Poll

FULL RANKINGS
TOP 25 TEAMS, WEEK 5

RANK TEAM RECORD

1 Ohio State 4-0

2 Michigan State 4-0

3 Texas Christian 4-0

4 Baylor 3-0

5 Mississippi 4-0

6 Georgia 4-0

7 Notre Dame 4-0

8 Louisiana State 3-0

9 Florida State 3-0

10 UCLA 4-0

11 Clemson 3-0

12 Utah 4-0

13 Alabama 3-1

14 Oklahoma 3-0

15 Texas A&M 4-0

16 Southern California 3-1

17 Northwestern 4-0

18 Wisconsin 3-1

19 Oklahoma State 4-0

20 Stanford 3-1

21 West Virginia 3-0

22 Mississippi State 3-1

23 Florida 4-0

24 California 4-0

24 Oregon 2-2

*Hi/Low Rankings

AP

The AP Top 25 Poll

(###) Number of first place votes

1 Ohio State (45)

Record: 4-0

1,482 votes

2 Michigan State  (5)

Record: 4-0

1,397 votes

3 Mississippi  (10)

Record: 4-0

1,349 votes

4 TCU 

Record: 4-0

1,254 votes

5 Baylor 

Record: 3-0

1,196 votes

6 Notre Dame 

Record: 4-0

1,163 votes

7 UCLA 

Record: 4-0

1,156 votes

8 Georgia 

Record: 4-0

1,147 votes

9 LSU 

Record: 3-0

1,075 votes

10 Utah (1)

Record: 4-0

1,034 votes

11 Florida State 

Record: 3-0

888 votes

12 Clemson 

Record: 3-0

853 votes

13 Alabama 

Record: 3-1

850 votes

14 Texas A&M 

Record: 4-0

776 votes

15 Oklahoma 

Record: 3-0

747 votes

16 Northwestern 

Record: 4-0

566 votes

17 USC 

Record: 3-1

509 votes

18 Stanford 

Record: 3-1

486 votes

19 Wisconsin 

Record: 3-1

309 votes

20 Oklahoma State 

Record: 4-0

281 votes

21 Mississippi State 

Record: 3-1

211 votes

22 Michigan 

Record: 3-1

209 votes

23 West Virginia 

Record: 3-0

179 votes

24 California 

Record: 4-0

149 votes

25 Florida 

Record: 4-0

140 votes

Others Receiving Votes:

Toledo 68, Oregon 64, Arizona 48, Boise St. 38, Iowa 37, Texas Tech 36, Houston 23, Duke 18, Temple 17, Miami 14, Kansas St. 12, Memphis 11, NC State 10, Navy 9, BYU 5, Minnesota 5, Tennessee 4


The Monday Morning Quarterback: Time For Florida Gators To Choose A Quarterback

  

The quarterback battle  between sophomore Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier that has engulfed the Florida Gator football program ever since Jim McElwain took over and former starter Jeff Driskel decided to transfer has yet to be decided.

The first two games ended up as de facto extended scrimmages, an extension of fall camp for the qb’s and a chance for coach Mac and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to further evaluate the two passers.

Seemingly, neither quarterback has taken the job. Both have done some good things and done some not-so-good things. Neither has done much that would be considered great or has the “wow” factor.

Despite that fact, The Monday Morning Quarterback believes it’s time to name a “permanent” starter.

While it’s understood there is no permanence in a starting quarterback job, the backup is always the most popular guy on the team when the team struggles, it’s clear that somebody needs to be declared “The Guy”.

Why?

For continuity.

Plain.

Simple.

Continuity on offense is non-existent as long as they continue to rotate players.

The quarterback position is unlike any other spot on the field. He is not just an athlete who makes plays with his arm and his feet.

He’s a field general.

He makes the calls on the field, he makes decisions before and after the snap, he hands off the football, and he throws passes.

Huddle demeanor is important and every guy is different. Some guys are loud and vocal, almost a coach on the field. Some are quieter with a softer voice and hesitant nature.

The players around him are dependent upon the quarterback on every play to make sure they get the correct play call, are clear in where they line up, and understand their role.

Having one guy provides consistency for the offensive players. Rotating players creates a higher likelihood that mistakes are made in assignments and a different cadence can easily create false start penalties.

The handoff, which many take for granted as a mundane part of the offensive action, is highly important. It’s like a dance. It requires some level of coordination.

Where the quarterback meets the running back, where he places the football, how quickly the transfer is made, and the force applied all determined the difference between a successful handoff, which gives the back optimal opportunity to make a play, and a turnover.

The Gators turned the ball over against East Carolina in a QB-RB exchange on Saturday evening. While seemingly everyone but coach Mac placed the blame on the running back Mark Herndon, it shows the importance of getting that right and giving one guy the opportunity to play creates continuity in this area.

Finally every quarterback throws a different ball. His arm strength is different, his throwing motion is different, and he throws at a different trajectory, and he puts different touch on his throws.

For receivers, platooning quarterbacks forces them to get used to two different guys doing two different things in the areas mentioned above. This can be confusing and create issues for receivers.

A quick-out that might come in high on average by one QB might come in low or outside from another. A pass that might’ve been fired on a rope by one QB might float in an arc by another.

Quarterback-receiver play requires coordination. There’s timing and rhythm on every throw that determines success or failure. Naming a starter will create more cohesion on offense and more continuity.

It will also allow receivers to focus more on their routes and catching the football and create more reacting and less thinking.

That’s important.

Very.

So that leads us to who should be the starter.

It’s easy to say a starter should be named but at this point much harder to say who that should be.

For sure, both guys bring different things to the table.

Grier is taller with a stronger arm, is more decisive in the pocket, is quicker in his progressions, and is a better runner.

Harris plays safer, is more mobile in the pocket, throws a better deep ball, and throws better on the run.

Grier tends to lock in on a receiver missing better options at times and sometimes head-scratchingly makes bad decisions.

Harris holds the ball too long, is often late on throws, and floats balls that need more zip.

The Monday Morning Quarterback believes that Grier is the better QB long term and is the future for the Gators at the position.

As such, he should be named the permanent starter this week heading into the Kentucky game.

That’s not to say that Grier will light it up this season and lead them to a championship. In fact, with a problematic offensive line, Harris might very well give the Gators a better chance to win this season with his ability to throw outside the pocket and his penchant for playing close to the vest.

However, for all intents and purposes this is a rebuilding year. This team has zero chance of competing for a championship and, as such, they should prepare for the future. This means Will Grier should get the majority of first team snaps in practice as well as in live game action.

What say you?

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

Five Question Friday: East Carolina Pirates vs Florida Gators

  
Every Friday through football season Swamp Music will offer five questions pertinent to that week’s game.

1) This week the Gators are “flipping the script” from last week and giving redshirt freshman Will Grier his first collegiate start. Last week’s starter Treon Harris, of course, will split time just as they did last week. 

Will Harris and Grier continue to be as efficient as they were last week when they finished a combined 30-37 for 381 yards and 4 td’s with no interceptions? 

This week’s opponent is a major step up in competition from last week’s opponent New Mexico State and a team the Gators eked by in the Birmingham Bowl last January 3rd.   

For Harris to be successful he’ll need to speed up his decision making in the pocket, he was late on throws last week playing tentatively and had difficulty completing his progressions.

For Grier, ball security was an issue last week on the sack fumble sonething he’ll have to correct this week if he hopes to remain in competition for the starting job. His big arm, quick release, and decisiveness in the pocket, however, make him the odds-on-favorite to eventually win the competition.

2) How well will the young patchwork offensive line fare against a quality opponent like East Carolina?

Coming into this season the Gators had only one player (Trip Thurman) who had ever started a game at Florida after starting right tackle Rod Johnson was forced to quit football due to a congenital health issue.

The Gators received a boost when Fordham offensive tackle Mason Halter transferred in, taking advantage of NCAA graduate transfer rules. Sophomore David Sharpe is back at one tackle spot and is very talented as well as Antonio Riles, a converted defensive lineman, at guard who has been at Florida seemingly forever. 

Additionally the Gators will rely on a trio of talented freshman Martez Ivey, Tyler Jordan, and Big Fred Johnson this season. All are physically prepared to compete at this level although Ivey will sit at least another week before making his collegiate debut due to a knee scope to clean up prior issues which took place a couple of weeks ago.

The unit had some issues last week particularly in pass protection that they must clean up if the young quarterbacks have a chance to be successful.

3) Will the surprisingly disciplined Florida Gators team show up again this week?

The Gators had one, count it, one penalty against New Mexico State last week. The last time a Florida team only committed one penalty in a football game was back in the 70’s when Doug Dickey was the head coach.

If you’ve watched the Gators at all over the last three decades you understand that this team has long been one of the more penalized teams in the conference and in the nation. 

The one penalty game is a testament to how coach Mac and company coach the game. He’s a stickler for discipline and it showed last week.

For the Gators to be successful against a high powered offensive team like East Carolina they must control the football and the clock by sustaining drives on offense. In order to do so with a young team they must avoid costly drive killing penalties. 

4) Can the vaunted Gators defense shut down the high powered, quick tempo short passing game of the Pirates?

If so, they’ll have to get off to a better start than last week where they gave up 200 yards of offense and 13 points in the first half. Luckily they made some halftime adjustments and settled down to hold them to five second half yards and no points.

They cannot wait that long this week.

In the Birmingham bowl the Gator defense surrendered over 500 yards of offense and over 400 yards passing to the Pirates.

The good news? 

The quarterback who shredded the Gator defense is gone, replaced by a first year QB that was third on the depth chart, due to the expected starter going down with a season-ending knee injury.

Also, this is a different defense than the one that faced the Pirates in Birmingham.

Back is All-American corner Vernon Hargreaves, future first round defensive lineman Jon Bullard, and defensive captain and middle linebacker Antonio Morrison. 

But around him (Morrison) is a new set of linebackers including former five star Alex Anzalone who had stepped up his game considerably while Morrison was out rehabbing a knee injury of his own.

He showed last week why he was considered a five star recruit coming out of high school flying around sideline to sideline making plays and being a very vocal leader.

Bullard is also surrounded by a revamped cast of characters, all of whom are much improved, including Joey Ivie, Jordan Sherit, Caleb Brantley who has become a force on the interior, and Bryan Cox, Jr.

This unit will be tested by the up-tempo quick passing game of East Carolina and will need to rotate frequently as they’ll get winded chasing the quarterback.

Can they get to the quarterback? If they can it could be a long ride home for the Pirates.

The Gators’ secondary led by Hargreaves will be tested as well but the good news is they’ll get both Marcus Maye (suspension) and Keanu Neal (injury) back. They’ll need the depth as they will line up in nickel and dime coverage throughout Saturday’s game.

This unit is the deepest and most talented unit on the team and should match up well against East Carolina.

With Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson matching up with Hargreaves the Gators should be able to cover everything thrown their way this week.

5) Can the Gators receiving corps continue to catch everything thrown their way?

Considering how inept the Gators’ receivers have been the last few years, last week’s game was a welcome sight, where the only noticeable drop was Ahmad Fulwood’s gaffe.

Everyone expected the receiving corps to finally improve under this staff, particularly with head coach Jim McElwain being a former receivers coach, but it’s surprising how quickly their coaching has improved the play of the receivers.

In particular, the tight ends appear to be the strength of this corps with not one, not two, but three solid players at the position. The three 20th year grad transfer Jake McGee, sophomore DeAndre Goolsby, and redshirt freshman C’Yontai Lewis combined for 7 catches, 100 yards, and two Lewis td’s.

Keep an eye out for true freshman Antonio Callaway who secretly snuck into the starting lineup last week and was officially named there this week. The late steal in the last recruiting cycle came in prepared to not only play but play at a high level. 

Last week he had three catches for 26 yards, a speed sweep for eight yards, and one return for 19. Expect to see his level of involvement continue to increase moving forward. The kid is a flat-out playmaker.

East Carolina vs Florida: Pirates to Get Chomped in the Swamp

  

 The Mac Attack is back!

Game two of the Jim McElwain era is at hand.

Are you ready for some football?

The Gators came out of the gates strong last week in their season opener pasting New Mexico State 61-13.

This week they face a slightly more difficult test in East Carolina, the team they beat a little over 9 months ago in the Birmingham Bowl 28-20. 

In that one the Gators gave up 536 yards of offense including 427 yards passing by quarterback Shane Carden (34-66,2 td’s, 2 Int’s). 

Carden has graduated and third stringer Blake Kemp is the new starter after backup Kurt Benkert went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Kemp was efficient in their opener going 29-37 for 237 yards with 1 td and 1 int leading the Pirates to a 28-20 victory over FCS foe Towson. 

They didn’t ask him to do too much in his first start giving him an opportunity to settle in.

“Blake did a good job for a first game,” according to Pirate head coach Ruffin McNeal.”In any game, but especially first games, we give them what they can handle, not too much.”

The Gators defense will once again have their hands full with a quick-tempo, short passing game. They’ll need to have an effective plan to rotate lineman as the East Carolina tempo can wear down lineman and make it difficult to substitute players.

On that note, the Gators get back starting defensive end Alex McCalister from a game one suspension. They will need his speed off the edge if they hope to get pressure on Benkert.

Also back this week are safeties Marcus Maye (suspension) and hard hitter Keanu Neal (injury).

They will be needed this week as well as it’s all-hands-on-deck in the secondary with the Pirates penchant for passing. You’ll likely see the Gators in nickel and dime coverage most of the game.

For the Pirates, does the familiarity of meeting twice in nine months help at all?

Probably not as this is a much different Florida team particularly on offense.

“What we talk about is nothing last year counts,” Ruffin said. “Whether it was tackles, touchdowns or whatever you did. This is a whole new team.”

Indeed they are different teams on both sidelines. Florida has a new coaching staff, a new quarterback in Will Grier who gets his first career start on Saturday, several new receivers and a couple new running backs who all made their collegiate debuts last week, as well as a new pro-style offensive scheme installed by McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

This Gator team on paper at least looks to be much improved over the one the Pirates faced in Birmingham. That point is not lost on Ruffin.

“It’s an SEC team. They’ll be very talented,”Ruffin said. “They have a lot of NFL guys on that team. We know that. They have a great staff. Any experience you go through helps. You have to back it up and you can’t get lost. You have to re-frame this thing, stay focused on our team concept and never get away from that.”

Although Grier gets the start this week, last week’s starter Treon Harris will split time just as the two did last week.

Grier will likely start the first quarter or so and then Harris should come in during the middle part of the game and then back to Will. McElwain said they like to rotate them around 4 series blocks.

Last week the offense was efficient, not flashy but can they maintain that efficiency this week against a step-up in competition? 

Can the team as a whole continue their level of disciplined play? They only committed one penalty last week, something that hadn’t been done at Florida since Doug Dickey was head coach. 

Much has been written this week of the depth chart that listed potential first round receiver Demarcus Robinson as third string.  Apparently, this was the penalty for skipping a team meal. 

However, as coach Mac opined, don’t read too much into that. While DRob, as he is affectionately known, may not be on the field for the game’s first snap he will most certainly play early and often.

He’s their best receiver and best deep threat at this point. 

Expect to see a healthy dose of the running game with an improved Kelvin Taylor and two true freshman phenoms Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Scarlett. 

The trio led the Gators to a 224 yard rushing effort with each scoring a td.

The Gators tight ends, an area of renewed focus for the Gators under the new staff had a great game as well last week. The trio of Jake McGee, DeAndre Goolsby, and C’Yontai Lewis finished with 7 catches for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns by Lewis.

Expect that trend to continue against the Pirates.

Defensively, the Gators must get off to a better start than last week when they gave up 13 points and 200 first half yards, although one td was set up by a Will Grier fumble.

The Pirates fast tempo passing game will be a huge test for this defense, considered to be one of the nation’s best. If they come out flat and making communicating mistakes they could find themselves in a quick hole. 

I expect, however, that the staff has gotten their attention this week and they’ll come out with more fire and focus.

All in all, despite the step up in competition this week, the Gators, with an improved team over the one that eked out a victory in Birmingham, should cruise to victory.

I don’t see the Gators putting up 61 this week but I still think they get an easy victory in front of a raucous home crowd in the Swamp. 

Gators 45-17.