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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.