Inconsistent Gator squad tops the Demon Deacons

Coming off a three game winning streak as the Florida Gators near the middle of the regular season, the team had a lot to prove at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida for the Orange Bowl Classic against the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. With high hopes (and rankings) coming into the 2014 season, the Gators performance has been quite disappointing, with a 6-4 record laden with close wins against sub-par competition. A starting lineup of young guys that haven’t had adequate in-game experience may be to blame, and that showed during today’s game, regardless of the score.

The Florida Gators came out of the BB&T Center with a 63-50 victory, but it wasn’t a pretty one. During Donovan’s pre game interview, he stated multiple times that this game would “come down to who wins the paint” and stressed this during the five days of practice leading up to the Orange Bowl Classic. Though the Gators knew Wake Forest’s plan of action coming into the game, the rebound battle was a struggle, with Wake Forest gaining a +4 advantage in the margin. During the game, the Deacons stuck to their game plan of controlling the paint, as it was obvious that Wake Forest was trying to force Florida to the outside rim of the court to run down the clock and force an uncontested long shot; a game plan that worked (relatively well) as Florida was only 6-23 from beyond the arc.

Defensively, the Gators have shown trouble with transitioning to their defensive assignments smoothly and quickly, which came back to bite them multiple times. Throughout the game there were many situations in which a deep rebound led to a fast break by the Deacons that the Gators just couldn’t defend. If there is more time for the team to set up their defensive scheme, the Gators have a lockdown defense that produces a fair amount of turnovers, forcing 24 during this Saturday’s game. However, the young team lets their experience show through during the pivotal fast break plays. Had the Demon Deacons been able to speed up the pace and force a fast transition more throughout the game, there may have been a vastly different story to the Orange Bowl Classic.

On the offensive side of the ball, the team is facing some major issues with consistency. The first few minutes of the game were littered with miss after miss followed by rebound after rebound. The Deacons and the Gators battled it out for a bit in the beginning of the first half until Florida’s offense decided to wake up, as they went on a 13-0 run which helped Dorion Finney-Smith put up a good portion of his 16 points during the game and effectively shut down Wake Forest for over four minutes, a dry spell that only came to an end at the free throw line. Up 22-10 almost midway through the first half, the Gators revealed ebb-and-flow tendencies once again, as the Deacons scored 7 unanswered points while the Gators offense missed over 10 shots in a row and were scoreless for almost four minutes as well. The remainder of the game seemed to follow this pattern, as the Gators seemed as if they were about to pull away until the Deacons came back to stay in the fight. The game ended in a 13 point win for the Gators, but the final spread doesn’t accurately depict the battle on the court.

There were a lot of blood, sweat, and tears shed in this battle. Literally. Midway through the first half, Michael Frazier was attempting a three-point shot and collided with a Wake Forest defender, opening up a fairly large gash in Frazier’s head that would send him out of the game for medical assistance. Fourteen stitches later, Frazier was back in the game to finish the job against Wake Forest sporting a large bandage for the remainder of the game.

This game has depicted what, in my opinion, will be the story of the 2014 Florida Gator basketball team. A team full of extremely talented, young guys who just don’t have enough in-game experience to get through the game on a mental level. Against teams like Wake Forest, pure talent may be able to bring you out victorious, but as we have seen earlier in the season, the Gators have lost very winnable games against Miami, Georgetown, North Carolina, and Kansas that were simply lost due to lack of mental discipline. It is refreshing to see young players such as Kasey Hill and Alex Murphy get adequate amounts of playing time, as in-game experience is exactly what they need in order to take their game, and the team, to the next level. Hopefully the team will begin to mesh together and use their talent to take the team back to the standard of Florida Basketball.

What to expect from Jim McElwain’s “Humane Society” Offense

During new head coach Jim McElwain’s introductory press conference, a reporter asked Coach Mac… “Are you going to bring the Fun N’ Gun offense back to Florida”; Mac’s response: “I don’t know what you call it but it’s going to be fun to watch.”

After watching tape of Alabama’s offense during the 2009 and 2011 BCS National Championship games and studying some game tape of Colorado State this past season, I believe that Florida can have an explosive offense in McElwain’s first year. Many folks proclaim McElwain’s offense to be “Pro-style” offense. It is, but it isn’t either. I would describe it as a “multiple” offense.

The first thing that jumped off the screen is how big Mac’s offensive lines are. He stacks his line with NFL caliber linemen to give his quarterback the best protection imaginable. Listen to just a few of these names under Jim McElwain’s offense at Alabama: Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones, Cyrus Kuandjio, DJ Fluker, James Carpenter, and Andre Smith. Alabama was practically a factory of offensive line talent from 2008-2011. Look for Mac to not only emphasize recruiting big linemen, but linemen that will project to be NFL talent.

Second thing to look for: Mac’s running backs are his go-to playmakers. Mac used Dee Hart at Colorado State like a Swiss Army knife. He was not only running counters and zone reads with Hart, he was also catching passes on wheel routes, swing passes in the flat off of play-action and bumping off of blocks for short screens. While at Alabama, coach Mac had the luxury of having Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy all back-to-back-to-back. One could argue these were some of the best running backs to ever play at the University of Alabama.

Third thing to look for is, heavy tight end usage. Gator fans aren’t used to hearing the words “Tight End” and “Use” in the same sentence. But brace yourself Gator Nation, its going to happen and happen often. Mac loves having 2-3 tight ends on the field at one time. It confuses the defense into thinking run heavy package and then BOOM, play-action to a receiver that is covered one-on-one to the outside. And if that receiver is just a “decoy” or that read isn’t there, it gives the quarterback options to check it down to any of the tight ends or the running back coming off of his block.

Fourth thing to watch is how much pistol formation there is. This confuses the defense and opens up running lanes for the back. Mac will spread 4 receivers wide on a “down and distance” play and then run out of the pistol, leaving only 6 defenders near the line of scrimmage. This allows the offensive line to get a massive push up front and the running back to either get outside the tackles or look for a crease in the A and B gaps.

The fifth and most important thing to look for in this “multiple” offense is how the quarterback benefits along with his receivers. Mac was a quarterback at Eastern Washington and has the mentality of a quarterback when coaching. He simplifies the game for his QB’s which means limiting mistakes, higher efficiency throws, and more opportunities for his receivers to get open and the quarterback a chance to get the ball to them. The most important thing a quarterback has is his confidence. Once that is gone, the quarterback has no effectiveness in the game. Mac will get Florida’s QB making confident throws and will allow him to develop a rhythm which will keep the offense on the field and the defense on the sidelines (mind blown, right?).

This should be a fun time to watch Florida Gator football again. Once the Gators get the talent on offense to be successful in Mac’s system, I believe that Florida will be in control once again of the SEC East division.

 

Memo to Will Muschamp: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, here’s why

Florida fans have good reason to be mad at Muschamp for what his teams did on the field alone. But after what’s gone down the last few days, Gator fans appear to like him even less. However, it seems to me that people are angry at him for the wrong reasons, which is why I’m writing this. Of course, what he said is still very, very foolish…

Anyway, these are the facts:

After Jeremy Foley fired Will Muschamp from Florida, I had this to say about him as a farewell statement:

“I still like Muschamp very much personally, and wish him the best wherever he goes after this. He is a smart, talented defensive mind and a solid recruiter. I hope somewhere down the road, he finds success as a head coach. He’s a likable man and a hard worker and I think he deserves success somewhere.”

However, that was before Muschamp started running his mouth about his former team.

A few days ago, Muschamp was introduced at Auburn, and wasted no time taking shots at Florida. First, he said that he would “rather come to Auburn and win championships.” Well, who was the genius that made Florida not win any championships? But OK, I can shrug that off as him wanting to please the Auburn fans. Kind of like how I pardoned Lane Kiffin for saying he wanted to sing Rocky Top all night long after beating Florida.

Like Kiffin, though, Muschamp couldn’t stop there. He then took this shot at Florida’s facilities:

“To see all the facility changes and all the nice things that have happened, ugh, within, ugh, this campus is awesome to see. I see the wellness center, and I know the student on the recruiting trail all the kids that would come to Florida and come to Auburn, they’d tell me how nice the housing was here, so that’s good to be on that side of it now. I’m excited about that.”

I don’t have a problem with a coach wanting to make a strong initial impression on his new school’s fans, even if it’s his third stint there, nor do I have a problem with showing some swagger after being fired from your previous job to show people that you’re always willing to bounce back up and go at it again with the same intensity. I also don’t have a problem with a fan, or a current coach, pointing out that Florida’s facilities could use an upgrade- because they do (and will soon get one).

But I can tell you, Muschamp, that virtually nothing good will ever come out of one of the worst coaches in Gator football history insulting any part of the Florida Gators’ football program, particularly when that program is paying you more than $6 million to basically get the hell out of there. In particular, delivering an insult to a set of facilities that’s a few months away from an upgrade (Florida is looking to get an indoor practice facility in July) when you yourself weren’t good enough of a coach to stay at that school long enough to see that upgrade take place is mind boggling. Sure, there’s an emotional component to this- Muschamp made Florida football extremely frustrating to watch, I wanted him gone and out of my mind after the Vanderbilt loss in 2013 and now here he is taking direct shots at Florida’s facilities…- but I took a day or so to sit back and look at this as objectively as possible. And when I do, I can’t find a single bit of logic behind it.

My initial reaction was something along the lines of, “Well, Muschamp didn’t seem to think the facilities were so inferior when he was Florida.” Which as far as I know is fact; Muschamp coached at Florida for three full years before talks to upgrade the facilities began. Maybe he saw it as a challenge to himself to lead Florida to their worst season since 1979, have lower level facilities and see how highly ranked of a recruiting class he could bring in. I don’t know. I can also understand not being in a position to walk into your boss’s office and demand that he spend millions of dollars on an overhaul to the facilities after going 7-6 in your first year. But after his only somewhat decent season- 11-2 in 2012, with some promise going forward- Muschamp was hailed as a genius and fans loved him, myself included, even though the Sugar Bowl had me sort of questioningly tilting my head. If he really thought the facilities needed an upgrade, THAT was the time to do something about it.

If Muschamp had gone into Foley’s office in the winter or spring of 2013 and told him that he really felt the school’s facilities needed an upgrade, there’s little doubt in my mind that Foley would have done something, considering how much he loved and trusted him. He would have been pointing out the same thing that he did in his Auburn press conference, but he would have been doing it in a respectful way as a respected employee, as opposed to using it as the negative side of a comparison to his new school as a disgruntled former employee. That’s the main problem I have with him dissing Florida’s facilities.

It’s pretty clear at this point that Muschamp doesn’t care what Florida fans think of him (not that he necessarily should), which is fine, in a vacuum. However, the fans aren’t the ones who hired him to replace Urban Meyer, nor are they the ones paying him $6.3 million to go away. By going out of his way to diss Florida, he isn’t really insulting the fans as much as he is the men who actually did hire him- Bernie Machen and Jeremy Foley. The facilities are owned by those guys, not the fans, and those guys treated him better than you could ask for.

Everybody knows how badly I wanted Muschamp gone throughout this past year; we’re not going there again. What I will say is that I was far from the only one, and yet Foley stuck with him through times that were worse than anything Zook brought us through. Chants of “FIRE MUSCHAMP” rang out through the crowd during the Missouri game, which is an obvious threat to hit Foley in the wallet by not buying tickets for future games, yet even that (nor the coinciding blowout Florida suffered) didn’t change Foley’s mind. And when Foley finally did recognize that Muschamp had to go, he was kind enough to allow Muschamp to script his own exit by “stepping down” at the end of the season. He was loyal to the end with Muschamp, and this is how Muschamp repays him?

The other part of what makes his comments foolish is something I’ve brought up twice, but is worth another mention: Florida is looking to improve on the facilities before the 2015 season. So yes, they may have slightly inferior facilities now, but they acknowledge this and are taking steps to better them. Muschamp of all people had to know that improvements were in the works, since he was the coach of that program when talks were underway. To condescendingly point out a flaw in the Gator program that the UF brass has admitted to having and is on its way to being fixed- in answering a question that had nothing to do with Florida, mind you- suggests that Muschamp was simply looking for a reason to diss his old school. Otherwise, why bring it up? Why mention it? Or looking at this from another angle, if the facilities are really so bad that they merit a public scolding, why didn’t he call them out when he was actually at Florida and could have done something to fix them?

So if you’re going criticize Muschamp for these comments, that’s fine, because he deserves it. Be my guest. But make sure you understand why saying what he said warrants criticism. Muschamp doesn’t qualify as a disgruntled employee for pointing out that Florida doesn’t have the world’s best facilities. He qualifies as a disgruntled employee because of how and when he did it. It’s the “how” and “when” that have napalmed any warm feelings I still had toward him. And it’s the “how” and “when” have assured you, Muschamp, that I will never root for you again.

Except maybe against Georgia.

Breaking down a Geoff Collins coached defense

Yesterday, Florida hired Geoff Collins to be their new defensive coordinator. Jim McElwain was able to grab him away from Mississippi State, where he quietly employed one of the fiercest defenses in the country.

In order to get to know him better, I’ve watched some film of his defense at Mississippi State, and I’ll be honest- I was very excited in what I saw. So I’ll introduce you to Collins’s defense by breaking down a defensive series that exhibits both the strengths and the weaknesses of his unit, but one that impresses overall. The following is a drive by LSU late in their game against Mississippi State in Death Valley.

1st and 10

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 3.09.59 PM

It’s 1st down and 10 for LSU at their own 9. The Tigers are down 34-16 late in the game, so Mississippi State knows that they could take a shot downfield. Hence the four man front that Collins has thrown out there. The other seven defensive players will drop back into coverage.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 3.20.18 PM

Make that eight. Christian Holmes, the OLB, backs off and drops back at the last second, making it a three man front. You’d think that down by so much so late in the game, LSU would be taking deep shots. That’s certainly what Collins is thinking with the way he’s positioning his defense. But instead, LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron calls a screen pass to Leonard Fournette. Watch how the defense reacts to it.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 3.10.21 PM

Meet Richie Brown, a second string middle linebacker for the Maroon and White. Before LSU QB Anthony Jennings has even begun to roll out to dump it off to Fournette, Brown reads the play and knows exactly where the ball is going. So before Jennings has even thrown the ball, Brown is on his way to meet Fournette.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 3.10.35 PM

Brown has read the play right. That’s good teaching by Collins. But now there’s the matter of tackling Fournette, the first piece of which is catching him. Brown runs about a 4.5 40, which is tremendous for a linebacker, but he still might need help.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 3.10.50 PM

 

It turns out that Brown does catch Fournette. But check out the next frame to see what would have happened if he hadn’t.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 3.10.59 PM

The outside linebacker I’ve highlighted is Christian Holmes, who also plays some tight end for the Bulldogs. You saw him in the first frame as he threatened a blitz, and then in the second as he backed off to play some coverage. The ESPN cameras didn’t do a great job of following him, but he was never more than ~12 yards past the line of scrimmage. He, too, recognizes that it’s a screen, and puts himself right in the perfect position should his teammate, Brown, miss the tackle on Fournette. The result of the play is a measly one yard gain. Fournette is the better athlete, but Collins out coached LSU on this play and sniffed it out.

2nd and 9

That first play was really detrimental to the Tigers. It didn’t get much and it killed a lot of clock. So now it makes sense for them to throw it again, says Collins.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 3.50.13 PM

Thus, Collins again plays with a three man front, and drops eight back into coverage. But this time, there’s no tricks. It’s just SEC football. The receiver highlighted in yellow, John Diarse, is going to run a fairly simple comeback pattern, but one of the weaknesses of the Mississippi State defense- the secondary- is going to show up here by busting a coverage.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 3.50.29 PM

It’s a fairly harmless busted assignment- look at the score, the spot on the field and the game clock- but it’s a busted assignment nonetheless. That’s exactly the type of pass LSU is expecting to complete time and again during what’s basically a low stakes two minute drill. However, the two defensive backs, Tolando Cleveland (DB 1) and Jamerson Love (DB 2) give Jennings a decent window to complete the pass (that’s really bigger when you watch the play through as opposed to frame by frame). Luckily for MSU, Diarse drops the pass.

3rd and 9

Again, it’s desperation time for LSU on 3rd and 9, so the obvious call for Cameron is a pass.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 4.13.18 PM

 

Collins decides to add a fourth man in the box for this play. So LSU’s offensive line is thinking it’s five on four. The two interior linemen (2 and 3) are heading straight up the middle, while the fourth- Richie Brown- is going to make a push from the left, which is Jennings’ blind side while the DB, Tolando Cleveland, appears to be busy with a coverage assignment, so Collins ignores him. In any case, it’s the responsibility of the left tackle, La’El Collins, to protect his blind side. Just like we all saw in the movie about Michael Oher. Right?

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 4.18.53 PM

 

Surprise! Cleveland does a great job of not tipping his hand, and once the ball is snapped, rockets out of his stance and makes a beeline straight for Jennings. Collins, the lineman, doesn’t even notice this, as his focus is on Brown, who Collins, the defensive coordinator, drew up to be a decoy on this play.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 4.21.40 PM

Not that there was any doubt about Cleveland’s intentions on the play in the previous frame, but this is the point where La’El Collins finally notices Cleveland, and faces the classic prisoner’s dilemma- who do I block, and what are the potential pros and cons of blocking each guy? The problem is, there’s no time to weight the options, as Cleveland, who runs a 4.48 40 yard dash, now has Jennings dead in his sights.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 4.27.03 PM

The fact of the matter is, Cam Cameron’s offensive line has been beat. Geoff Collins has out coached Cameron, and Cleveland has executed his nasty little trick to perfection. He’s past La’El Collins now, and has a free shot at Jennings.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 4.29.17 PM

Which he gleefully takes.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 4.30.08 PM

The result is an Anthony Jennings sack lunch, and a three and out by the Mississippi State defense late in the game.

 

Gators hire Mississippi State’s Geoff Collins as defensive coordinator

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 12.47.14 PM

The Gators may not have snatched the Mississippi State head coach away from Starkville, but they did get his top assistant.

Jim McElwain has hired Geoff Collins, the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator, as the Gators’ defensive coordinator. Collins, who was a finalist for the Broyles Award (nation’s best assistant) won’t even coach the MSU defense in the Orange Bowl; he’ll head straight to Gainesville and get to work for Florida.

The Bulldogs’ defense has been generally outstanding this year, particularly in the front seven, and the few problems they’ve had in the secondary have been blown out of proportion due to giving up a few big plays here and there. Mississippi State’s defense ranked tenth in the nation with 19.4 points allowed per game, and was especially dominant in the red zone, allowing points on just 24 of opponents’ 40 red zone trips.

Collins runs a defense that could be quite effective at Florida. He lets his corners play lots of man coverage while dominating the line of scrimmage by sending seven or eight guys. This was a problem at MSU because the Bulldogs don’t have All-American caliber cornerbacks, but luckily, the Gators do. Collins will be relying on Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor to lock down on their receivers, and will unleash a front seven that should still be outstanding to terrorize the opposing offensive line on every play. Florida’s secondary was a problem this year, but next year, they’ll be a year older, and better. Plus, Collins doesn’t recklessly play around with safeties like Muschamp did, so I feel confident that the busted coverages will be minimized.

So yes, personally, I think it’s a great hire. The “Minister of Mayhem,” as he’s called, is a fantastic recruiter in addition to being a great x’s and o’s coach. He’s a sure bet to be a head coach at some time in the near future, and since Dan Mullen clearly didn’t appreciate him, it showed that McElwain is able to strike quickly and effectively when going after highly touted assistants.

Now let’s see how quickly and effectively McElwain (and Collins) can strike in recruiting. National Signing Day is only two months away, and it’s up to Collins to help save the class. That’s his first test.

Gators start slow, but destroy the Jacksonville Dolphins 79-34

After disappointing losses, the Gators have now won three straight. Granted, the competition isn’t quite as strong (Yale, Texas Southern and now Jacksonville), but hey, wins are wins.

Dorian Finney-Smith set career marks with 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including five 3-pointers and the Gators destroyed the JU Dolphins 79-34.

Finney-Smith also grabbed a game-high eight rebounds and Michael Frazier II added 22 points for Florida, which won its third straight game after a shaky start. Jon Horford had 12 points and eight rebounds and Jacob Kurtz contributed eight points and three rebounds off the bench for the Gators, who beat Jacksonville on the glass 41-20.

On the other wise, the Dolphins’ Kori Babineaux’s 10 points led the offense for JU, who have lost five straight games and are 0-7 away from home. J.R. Holder provided eight points off the bench for Jacksonville, which shot 31.1 percent from the field and made only six trips to the free throw line, converting two attempts. The Dolphins kept things close for much of the first half, trailing 18-17 after a Babineaux jumper with 9:21 to go until halftime.

But that was where the fun ended for Jacksonville. The Gators used a 16-7 run to pull away, capped by a jumper from Finney-Smith at the buzzer and went into halftime 34-24. After the break, the Gators were even more dominant, starting the second half on a 22-4 surge that included 3-pointers from Finney-Smith and guard Eli Carter and a pair from Frazier. Jacksonville stopped the run with a 3-pointer from Josh Adeyeye with 11:35 remaining but was unable to gain any momentum as Finney-Smith struck from 3-point range again on the next two possessions, and Florida cruised the rest of the way. Gators guard Kasey Hill managed only three assists after averaging 8.3 in his previous three games.

With the win, the Gators improve to 6-4. They next face Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl Classic on Saturday in Sunrise, Fl.

More content, updates coming soon

Hey guys, sorry about the lack of stuff from us lately. I’ve been busy with finals, as has Rylan Romano, and I believe NWB and Joey have been busy with their own stuff as well.

But now that I’m done, I can promise you that we’ll soon be ramping our coverage of everything Gators right back up. We’ve got a bowl game and a Gator basketball team that’s won its last two to talk about, recruiting is starting to really heat up, and we’ll be discussing our new head coach and what he does to make him so successful as both an offensive mind and as a recruiter. This will all resume on Monday. So keep your eyes peeled and you’ll start to see a lot of new stuff from all four of us very soon.

I can assure you one thing, reading articles about the Florida Gators is about to become a lot more fun now that Muschamp is finally gone and we now have some real promise for the future.

The Beginning of the McElwain Era

The last two years have shown the Gator nation one thing: the Florida Gators don’t accept failure. Unfortunately for Will Muschamp, “failure” is probably the best word there is to describe his tenure at Florida, and so he was relieved of his duties. The next step was to find a new coach, and after almost two days of negotiations with Colorado State University, Jeremy Foley struck a deal with Jim McElwain, who soon brought his family onto a plane back the Swamp to begin the next era of Florida Football.
As McElwain’s predecessors Zook and Muschamp have learned the hard way, it is imperative to win over the fanbase in order to keep your job. After the dust settled, Coach Mac sat down for an interview with the voice of the Florida Gators, Mick Hubert. After watching the interview, I got butterflies in my stomach because it seems as if Foley hit a homerun with Coach Mac.
On multiple occasions, Coach Mac referenced the fact that he knows the Florida Gator Football team is talented, but the way the talent has been assessed and employed hasn’t been successful. He stated that his approach to coaching the team will incorporate finding the talents of the players and using them to the advantage of the team- something that Muschamp never really did. Whether it was the wrong offensive scheme for the quarterback (John Brantley) or a lack of fit play calling for a certain style running back (Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Kelvin Taylor, and more.) Muschamp and his crew never seemed to get it right. The fact that Mac notices this and has accepted it as an issue gives me hope that there will be a change in coaching philosophies.
Any introductory interview can be laced with empty promises to a fan base, but Hubert brought to light one of Coach Mac’s most valuable (and tested) assets. Hubert mentioned how Coach Mac is familiar with the layout of the SEC. He replied “You don’t really know how to explain it unless you’re actually in it yourself”. During his tenure as the offensive coordinator at Alabama, he coached the Crimson Tide’s offense to two national titles. This shows that Mac not only knows how to play in the SEC, but he knows how to win in it. The effect this has on the Gators may be intangible, but it will definitely show in the success of the team.
Residing in arguably the most talented football state in the nation, Coach Mac mentioned his connections with the recruiting field in Florida. He stated “I was [involved in] recruiting in Florida during my time at Alabama, but I established my connections even before that when I was coaching at Michigan State and Louisville.” With a university stationed so close to the hub of college football recruiting, it is imperative to have a good figurehead at the forefront of our recruiting battle, and Coach Mac knows what he’s doing. With the previous experience he has had recruiting from the state of Florida, he shouldn’t have a problem reeling in some of the nation’s top recruits.
Though most every new coach is met with excitement and high hopes, Jim McElwain seems to be able to hold his own weight. His experience as Alabama’s offensive coordinator has given him crucial experience in the SEC, but his head coaching experience at Colorado State (HC experience that Muschamp lacked) shows that he knows how to take his coaching to the next level and still be successful, as his team is 10-2 in the 2014 season. His previous experience coupled with his recruiting abilities (he’s visiting three highly touted prospects in Tampa today) and his versatility when it comes to coaching to player’s talents gives me high hopes for the future.

And if my hopes for the future are realized, Gator football may be back sooner than we expected.

Gators to play East Carolina in Birmingham Bowl

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 6.14.27 PM

A disappointing season will conclude in Birmingham, AL, in the aptly named Birmingham Bowl.

Legion Field is where the game will be played, and Florida has a bit of history there- the Gators played in the first two SEC Championship Games. The stakes are a little lower this time around. Florida, led by DJ Durkin for this game, will play East Carolina (8-4) from the American Athletic Conference. The Gators and Pirates will also play a rematch next year on the second week of the season in the Swamp.

It’s the second all time meeting between the Gators and Pirates. The first one came in 1983 in Gainesville, which Florida won 24-17. Pushing the all-time record against ECU to 2-0 would give the Gators a winning season- oh, how the mighty have fallen to even be discussing that- and a winning bowl record. The Gators sit at 6-5 on the year, and have a 20-20 overall bowl record.

I had thought- and kind of hoped- that Florida would get a chance to play Miami in the Independence Bowl. I’m still a little bitter about what happened in South Florida last year, truth be told, and a win over an in state rival would have been just the type of momentum that this team could use. It made sense from the Independence Bowl’s perspective, too- the game would undoubtedly attract a gigantic TV audience, at least compared to what they’re used to, and though neither team would travel so far for such a low stakes game, there are only 49,000 seats to fill anyway. (And indeed, Miami will play in the Independence Bowl. Just not against Florida.)

But that’s not what happened, and now Florida gets to finish its season a lot closer to home against a team that’s a serious threat to beat you up and take your lunch money if you mess around. The Pirates won on the road at Virginia Tech, clobbered UNC at home- that’s 2-0 against the ACC- and nearly pulled out a daring nighttime robbery on the road against South Carolina, which is unheard of for non power-five conference schools.

In particular, the Pirates’ offense scares me. The quarterback, Shane Carden, played sparingly in their season opener (because it NCCU, a cupcake), but he only needed the last 11 games to throw for 4,000 yards. That’s eight games against AAC competition, two against ACC competition and one against South Carolina from the SEC. Their running game is just as good. Justin Hardy and Cameron Worthy have combined for well over 2,000 rushing yards on the season, including an incredible 224 from Worthy against Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech defense.

It’s true, Florida has a good defense, and should be able to contain Carden, but remember what happened in the Sugar Bowl two years ago. Florida had no interest in being in that game after being left out of the national title game, and allowed a Louisville team that had lost to UConn and Syracuse (combined for 13 wins) to roll all over them. Much has changed in the Big East, including the name, but ECU is from that same conference.

Here’s the bottom line. If the Gators don’t show up (particularly on defense), they will be embarrassed. And while I’m not going to write the team off right this minute and say they won’t care and our season is over, I will admit that this is a possibility, and thus I’m a tad nervous for the game. We will never hear the end of it from FSU fans if we lose this game, even if Oregon clobbers them in the Rose Bowl, and let’s face it- that’s what our season has been reduced to. Other than a slight recruiting in with North Carolina kids, a win in this game holds no rewards other than momentum and finishing the year strong.

So let’s do that.

Gators wither in the second half and lose to Kansas 71-65

This is starting to become a pattern.

Just like the Miami game, it was basically a “tale of two halves” between Florida and Kansas. Just like against the Canes, the Gators blew a huge lead against the Jayhawks at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, to lose 71-65. This time, though, there was no Kansas player who got red hot late like Angel Rodriguez did for Miami. Instead, the Gators went went ice cold down the stretch, scoring a measly 13 points over an 18 minute period from :55 left in the first half to 3 minutes to go in the game. Part of that included a seven minute stretch without a single bucket from the floor.

Freshman Devin Robinson led the way with 13 points before fouling out for Florida, which saw its school-record nine-game winning streak in true road games snapped. Sophomore Chris Walker added a career-high 12 points while transfer Jon Horford and junior Michael Frazier II contributed 10 points each for the Gators.

On the other hand, Jayhawks’ freshman Cliff Alexander logged his first double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds for Kansas, which outscored Florida 44-20 over the final 16:40 to dig out of an 18-point hole. Perry Ellis added 10 points for the Jayhawks, and Wayne Selden Jr. scored 21 points- 14 of which came after the intermission.

Kansas led 14-10 with 13:42 left in the opening half before the Jayhawks missed nine of their next 10 shots and the Gators used a 14-0 surge behind five points from Dorian Finney-Smith, while Horford’s bucket in the lane off a drive from Kasey Hill with 2 minutes left widened the gap to 17. The Gators connected on three of their first four field goals and increased their lead to 45-27 less than 3 minutes into the second half.

Florida held a nine-point lead with 8:40 left following a 3-pointer from Robinson, but missed its next 10 shots while Selden and Alexander combined to score 12 of the next 13 points for Kansas, which finished off a 33-7 run on a jumper from Ellis with 3:21 remaining. Hill ended the Gators’ 7 + minute field-goal drought with 1:09 to go, but Kansas hit 11 consecutive free throws down the stretch to preserve the win.

This is the first time the Gators have had a losing record since the 1997-1998 season. This team is in serious trouble if it doesn’t figure something out quick. Florida is facing a Yale team that just knocked off UConn on Monday night at The O’ Connell Center.