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I Wanna SEC You Up: A Cursory Glance at the Florida Gators

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Hindsight

 

I didn't pick any of last year's games for Florida, but did have these amusing thoughts while looking at their schedule:

 

The two most intriguing games on the schedule are, of course, at South Carolina and vs Florida State. South Carolina will be a strong team this year, and a blocked kick was the only thing that kept Spurrier from being 2-0 against his alma mater. Florida State's upgraded coaching staff will also pose a big test for the Gators after they won in Tallahassee last year by a single TD.

Florida won those games 51-31 and 45-12, respectively.

 

...the best case scenario for the Gators would be a 10-2 finish to the regular season with losses to UGA and LSU...

Got those right, anyway...

 

..while the worst case might find the Gator D on the receiving end of some big yardage games against Auburn, LSU, Kentucky or Vandy, UGA, and South Carolina.

They gave up 391 yards to LSU and 413 to Georgia (and a combined 70 points), while Kentucky and SC also scored over 30 points against the Gators D. Even Auburn, who weren't particularly effective offensively against anyone, and Vandy, likewise, dropped at least 20 on them.

Offense

I'm tempted to post a picture of Tim Tebow here and move on to the defense, but that would actually be doing quite a disservice to a lot of exceptionally talented players. Excepting the loss of Andre Caldwell, UF's all time leader in receptions, to graduation and Jarred Fayson, who transferred to Illinois after catching 12 for 148 last year, Florida has ridiculous depth and talent at both the WR and TE positions and more than enough creative ways to make use of them.

Fear + Awe=Percy Harvin Highlights

Percy Harvin is, of course, the inevitable start to any discussion concerning the Florida receivers, but considering he's second on the team in rushing yardage as well with an impressive 764 yards and 6 TDs on 83 attempts (9.2 ypc, for Pete's sake!) it's difficult to really consider him as a receiver or tail back, and I whole heartedly endorse renaming a position for him, like the Percy-Back or Slot-Harvin. I'm just saying. Aside from the rushing yardage, Harvin led the team in receptions as well with 59 for 585 yards and 4 TDs, and should very easily replicate those numbers if he comes back 100% after offseason heel surgery. From all accounts, he's back to full speed and should be ready to go come the start of fall practice. Lining up wide with him in place of Caldwell is Louis Murphy, a SR who accounted for 37 catches, 548 yards, and 5 TDs (third best on the team), and a mixed lot of returning talent and highly touted recruits. Riley Cooper and David Nelso, two juniors with three starts between them, look to make an impact this season, while Carl Moore, the #1 JUCO player in the country, should be able to step in and provide immediate help. Also effective in the passing game are the TE tandem of Cornelius Ingram and Aaron Hernandez. Ingram, a former QB, finished fourth on the team in receptions last season with 34 catches and tied Caldwell for most TD catches with 7. Hernandez started two games last season as a true freshman and accounted for 151 yards and 2 TDs himself.

With pass catchers covered, finding a reliable rushing threat not named Tebow is a priority for the Gators. Meyer has been so disappointed in his running backs since he arrived in Florida that he's often foregone a backfield altogether, instead relying on his QBs and wideouts for rushing yardage. While Tebow will still be a considerable rushing threat (he led the Gators last year in yards with 895, TDs with 23, and attempts with 210) by design, taking some of the short yardage power running burden from off of his shoulders will be key to keeping him healthy and the Gator offensive attack humming. Kestahn Moore led all running backs last year with 580 yards (5.6 ypc) and 6 TDs, while splitting time with Brandon James and Chris Rainey, who ultimately missed most of '07 due to injury. Also lost to injury was Mon Williams, another highly touted recruit brought in by Meyer specifically for his system that has yet to make an impact. With Rainey and Williams healthy, plus the addition of USC transfer Emmanuel Moody (who started four as a true freshman for the Trojans and rushed for 459 yds), Meyer should finally be able to find a back or two consistent enough to earn a secure spot in the backfield to add yet another dimension to his complex spread option attack. But offense isn't something Gators fans really need to worry about with 8 starters back from a team that led the league in total and scoring offense and were in the top four in every other meaningful category. What they have to worry about is...

Defense

 

Brandon Spikes

As potent as the offense was last season, the defense was woefully inadequate and likely cost the Gators a return trip to both the SECCG and possibly the National Title Game. In pass defense they finished dead last in the league allowing 258.5 yards per game, while also finishing 8th in scoring defense and seventh in total defense. The biggest bright spot, though was a stout run defense, which was tops in the league, allowing only 103.3 ypg. How much of that was really the work of the front seven or the fact that opposing offenses knew they could throw all over them and didn't bother trying to run it, though, is up for debate. Only Vandy (412 att) and Georgia (439 att) had less runs attempted against them (Florida had 442), and both were generally poor in pass defense themselves (UGA finished 8th in the SEC and Vandy finished 5th). Whatever the reason for their success against the run, though, having an intact linebacking corp returning, plus two of four on the line is always a good thing. DT Justin Trattou had one start as a true freshman last season and is second among returning players (third on the team) in sacks with 3.5, while DE Jermaine Cunningham started all 13 last year and had 6.5 sacks himself (second on the team, best among returning players). Carlos Dunlap will likely start opposite him after seeing backup time as a true freshman last year along with Torrey Davis, another true sophomore that saw time last season will lineup next to Trattou at tackle. Also expected to contribute greatly is true freshman Omar Hunter, the #2 DT in the country that Meyer landed despite an early commitment to Notre Dame. The 6'0" 322 lb Hunter is expected to give the Gators the big run stuffing tackle they lacked last season.

 

Meyer hearts Omar Hunter

At linebacker, all three starters return including 1st Team All-SEC selection Brandon Spikes. Spikes led the team in tackles last year with 131 tkls and tackles for loss with 14.5 tfls, and also had 7 pbus (second on the team). Dustin Doe, the second leading tackler on the team with 85, started 12 last year and resumes his spot on the weak side. At strong side, AJ Jones looks to build on his 9 starts and 36 tackles from last year.

With the front seven reasonably set, it's pass defense that has to improve from it's miserable showing last year. Youth and inexperience were the major culprits as two true freshmen and a redshirt freshman held down the corner and free safety positions at times. Joe Haden and Jacques Rickerson will hold down the corners, with Wondy Pierre-Louis providing experienced depth. Haden started 12 last year as a true freshman after switching from QB, and earned a spot on the SEC All-freshman team after recording 63 tackles and 12 pbus (best on the team). Rickerson started two as a redshirt freshman, recording 20 tackles, and he'll likely split time with Pierre-Louis, who started three last year as a sophomore, or even some of the highly touted incoming freshman if neither can show they've improved on their consistency issues from last year. Major Wright, who started 7 last year as a true freshman, finished third on the team with 67 tackles, also returns. The biggest question mark is at SS after Dorian Munroe, who started two games last year and was expected to start this season, tore his ACL during the offseason and will be forced to sit this year. Incoming freshmen will likely compete for the spot, including the #1 safety in the country, Will Hill, so youth and inexperience will still plague at least one position in the defensive backfield.

The Schedule

 

Date Opponent
08/30 vs Hawaii
09/06 vs Miami
09/20 at Tennessee
09/27 vs Ole Miss
10/04 at Arkansas
10/11 vs LSU
10/25 vs Kentucky
11/01 vs Georgia
11/08 at Vanderbilt
11/15 vs South Carolina
11/22 vs The Citadel
11/29 at Florida State

The Gators get a pretty easy two week stretch to open the season, hosting the Warriors of Hawaii and arch enemies Miami. Hawaii should have a significant drop off this season with the losses of QB Colt Brennan and, more importantly, HC June Jones, while Miami is still rebuilding and unlikely to put up enough offensive firepower to take advantage of Florida's defensive weaknesses. After a bye week in week three, they get a dangerous stretch, with a road game at UT, a visit from Ole Miss, a road swing to Arkansas, and a visit from LSU. UT is looking for revenge after a horrendous 59-20 beatdown in the Swamp last season, while Ole Miss gave the Gators all they could handle in a 30-24 thriller that saw the Gators lucky to survive their trip to Oxford. Arkansas will still be getting used to Petrino, while LSU will have had five weeks to settle any offensive consistencies and could make a case for a return trip to the title game with a win in Gainesville over what should be an undefeated Gator team. The rest of the season shapes up pretty well, with Kentucky as homecoming fodder (if they couldn't beat the Gators last year, will they ever?), the always crucial Georgia game, and only SC and FSU to really challenge them down the stretch. Best case scenario for the Gators? They head into the cocktail party undefeated and are playing enough defense to survive the Dawgs, catapulting them into the driver's seat for the SEC and a return trip to the national title game if they can take care of business and win the conference. Worst case scenario? LSU is still equal to the Gators as far as raw talent goes, and the Tigers best them again, while Georgia, and improved SC, and what should be an improved FSU end the season on a down note, leaving the Gators at 8-4 and staring at their first non-New Years Day Bowl under Meyer. As always, the truth lies somewhere in between, and I feel comfortable calling a double digit win regular season for Florida and a very possible return trip to Atlanta to compete for the SEC, with LSU and UGA being the likely candidates to spoil a perfect season and possibly another National Title shot.