Muschamp To Stick With Driskel For Tennessee Game

Despite the heavy criticism that has been flung at both himself and Jeff Driskel, Will Muschamp is going to give him another shot against Tennessee.

If you are in the Treon Harris camp, you may pause to scream.

I know, I’ve defended Driskel in the past. Then came the Alabama game. Driskel’s performance suggested that at the very least, Treon Harris deserves a fair shot to win the job. But at least for this week, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. And that really makes me nervous.

Even more disturbing was the Gators247 article that said Treon Harris wasn’t getting any of the first team reps. That crosses the line between sounding bad and being bad. It’s one thing to keep quiet or lie about a certain player’s status to try to throw off the opposing team. While maybe not the most ethical thing to do, that’s football. That’s how it goes. But not giving Harris a single snap with the first team offense makes me believe that Muschamp is being honest- he’s really going to stick with Driskel despite his obvious inefficiencies and confidence issues.

I don’t think there’s any possible way to get around this, and I know we’re all thinking it, so I’m just going to put it out there: if Driskel fails, it’s going to cost Will Muschamp his job.

Last week, Neil Blackmon wrote this outstanding piece about how Muschamp has to turn to Treon Harris for the sake of the program. I very much enjoyed reading it, and agree wholeheartedly. Since Muschamp is not going to listen to NWB, myself, or the thousands of others who agree, he’s apparently made up his mind to rest his entire coaching career on the strong but very inaccurate arm of Jeff Driskel. Should Florida lose, even if Driskel doesn’t do horribly, it’s going to end Muschamp’s days at Florida. Whether or not he’s fired on the spot remains to be seen (and we all know what I think, so please don’t ask again- he should have been fired after losing at home to Vanderbilt last year), but it’s as close to a certainty as anything in the uncertain world of college football that he will not be back in 2015.

Muschamp’s Stubbornness, Refusal to Change Tactics Will Be His Downfall

We all know what I think about Will Muschamp. He’s a nice guy who’d make a good defensive coordinator, but he’s simply not head coach material. As it is, his job is currently on life support. But it was one trait- one characteristic of his- that led to making the exact same sort of mistakes time and again.

He’s a proud man. Actually, let’s spin that a different way. He’s a stubborn man. And his inability to realize when he’s wrong and make a change has led to countless tactical errors that will probably be what ultimately drives him out of Gainesville. The worst part? Florida’s current QB situation is the least of it. And I’m not talking about in game adjustments. I’m talking about long term changes.

Where to start?

He refused to fire offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis long after it was glaringly apparent to even the casual fan that they were incompetent. He can’t bring himself to realize that some games (Sugar Bowl, final games of Auburn and Miami rivalries and FSU/Georgia rivalries) mean more than others and refuses to prepare any more for them (Muschamp is 1-8 in those games. Coincidence?) than for Kentucky. He refuses to acknowledge that his Gators have had a major problem with beating themselves since he got there, and dismisses each self destructive performance with “we’ll fix it next game”. And now, he’s sticking with Jeff Driskel at QB despite Driskel’s obvious woes as Florida’s starter, and refuses to give Treon Harris a chance.

Notice one word a lot in that last paragraph? Refuse, refuse, refuse. There you have it. Muschamp refuses to believe that he’s ever wrong. Thus, I refuse to believe he’s long for his current job.

Let’s explore each of those examples in greater detail.

Miami’s 21-16 win over Florida was my first clue that the Gators were not in fact learning a whole new offense in 2012, and that Brent Pease did in fact simply suck at his job. With each game after that, the offense just got worse. By mid season, despite the laundry list of injuries, it was obvious that Pease didn’t know what he was doing. No need to go into that again; all that does is drive up our blood pressure. Let’s save that for issues that are still pertinent. But the fact is, Pease and Davis needed to go long before the end of the 2013 season, and Muschamp refused to do it.

I’ll take you back to right before the 2013 Florida-Georgia game. Florida was floundering, and I was warning Will Muschamp that a third straight loss to Georgia, and he deserved to be fired. And no, I wasn’t the only one saying that. Muschamp’s seat was already on fire. So what was wrong with giving Brian White or Joker Phillips a trial run as the offensive coordinator? At that point, the season was already lost, so why not go with something different to see if it worked? After all, letting Pease run the show (into the ground) clearly wasn’t working; what made Muschamp think it would work for the biggest game of his coaching career? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, so it’s fair to say that Will Muschamp is insane for letting Pease continue to call the shots, right?

It was only after Florida finished the year 4-8 that Muschamp got rid of the two buffoons, and I honestly believe Jeremy Foley forced the issue. Had Muschamp, at any point in the season, given Joker or White the chance the call the shots for a day, I don’t think he’d be in quite as much trouble as he’s in right now. Because at least that would have shown an interest to do his job as a head coach. Even if it was for just one game, against FSU at the end of the season, removing Pease from his OC duties would have proved a good faith effort in trying something different. It would have made fans think, “OK, there’s a lightbulb going off in the guy’s head”. Something that proved that he was trying to prepare for 2014. But no. That’s not Will Muschamp.

I mentioned the other day that Will Muschamp can’t win a big game if his life depended on it. OK, that’s not entirely true. He did win at Florida State. But that game is an anomaly. Check out these stats: 0-3 against Georgia, 1-2 against FSU, 4-12 against ranked teams, 0-1 against Auburn, 0-1 against Miami and 0-1 in BCS Bowls. While that number comes out to an appalling 5-20, you may be asking, “Well, how does this relate to Muschamp’s stubbornness?” The answer is because Muschamp proudly stated on BCS Countdown in 2012 (in response to how he was going to try to get a win in the Florida-Georgia rivalry) that he and his coaches donn’t work any harder for rivalry games than any other week. (Which I totally believe, because Florida looked equally as horrible against Georgia Southern and Vanderbilt as they did against Miami and Georgia.)

But Urban Meyer’s 22-3 record in BCS Bowls and SEC Championships plus games against Georgia, Miami, FSU and a Tennessee program that was leagues better then than it is now show what happens when you do put in more time for bigger games. It simply came down to Meyer realizing, “OK, I simply HAVE to win this game,” and the subsequent additional effort and work that he put in. Throw in the fact that Meyer is a really good coach, and there’s how you get that kind of record.

Muschamp? Nah. He doesn’t give a damn who the opponent is. Each game is the same, and doesn’t require any more work than any other. And that’s why he’ll always lose big games, because the opposing coaches realize the magnified importance of the game and outwork him. He’ll lose to Georgia for the fourth straight time, and it’ll be because the Dawgs will do something that catch the Gators off guard and burn them. Watch.

Then there’s the problem of self destruction. Penalties and turnovers have KILLED his teams since he got here. I’ve gone through the examples before, but I feel like I have to do it all over again. Penalties and turnovers have directly cost the Gators the following games:

-2011 Auburn (3 fumbled punts, 6 penalties)

-2011 LSU (2 turnovers, 12 penalties)

-2011 Georgia (2 turnovers directly leading to Georgia points and 14 penalties)

-2011 FSU (4 turnovers, three of which lead directly to FSU scores)

-2012 Georgia (6 turnovers, 10 penalties)

-2013 Sugar Bowl against Louisville (3 turnovers, 9 penalties)

-2013 Miami (5 turnovers, 10 penalties)

-2013 Missouri (3 turnovers, 8 penalties)

-2013 Georgia (face mask giving UGA the game winning first down)

-2013 Vanderbilt (4 turnovers, 11 penalties)

Then the Gators turned it over three more times against Alabama last week.

Don’t you think- at some point- that Will Muschamp would instill the discipline into his team not to turn the ball over and commit silly penalties? It’d be one thing if this was his first year, but it’s not. We’re in the fourth year of this experiment, and we’re still seeing penalties and turnovers being committed at an incredibly alarming rate. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, WILL. Recognize that this is a gigantic problem, enforce strict punishments on those who do it, take the team out for ice cream if they play turnover free ball, take them to a strip club if they play turnover and penalty free ball, I don’t care. Just do something- anything- that shows a legitimate effort to get rid of this self destructing epidemic. Any of that is better than what you’re doing now; rephrased to mean whatever you do to try to erase it can’t possibly be any worse.

And now we come to the issue that currently has Gator fans in a frenzy: Jeff Driskel vs. Treon Harris.

I like Jeff Driskel. I think he’s a nice, smart kid who makes good decisions in life and has a ton of natural talent. But that talent is not showing up on the field, and his confidence has been shot and killed somewhere along the way. That may well have been Brent Pease’s doing- screw you Pease for that- but the fact is, he is simply not an adequate quarterback right now. His decision making is not very good, his arm scatters passes everywhere, and he just doesn’t seem to have the leadership abilities to guide this team to win games.

Now allow me to ask the same question I asked about Brent Pease: why stick with somebody who’s clearly incompetent? Why not give somebody else a trial run? Does Muschamp not recognize that Driskel is not an effective QB? Is he blinded by Driskel’s 14-4 win loss record as a QB that doesn’t accurately depict Driskel’s level of success? Is he afraid to start a true freshman even though Clemson is doing just that after realizing that their veteran QB is not the best fit for the program? He’s put a lot of stock into Driskel. His undying faith in him- and refusal to give his backups a fair shot to beat them out- has caused Jacoby Brissett and Tyler Murphy to leave the program. So, going back in time a little to make this statement: his hunch that Driskel was really the best of them all better be right. Now fast forward to the present: guess what? It wasn’t. And now I believe he’s ultimately screwed.

Here’s what I’m really driving at: Muschamp has survived this far despite his pride and stubborn decision making. But he can’t survive much longer by continuing to stick with what doesn’t work. If Muschamp starts Driskel against Tennessee and Florida loses, I can’t imagine he’d be back in 2015 because it would show that he’s still too stubborn to admit when he’s wrong and make changes. If he starts Treon Harris and Florida loses, though, I would think he’d still have a chance to right the ship for the rest of 2014, because it’d be Harris’s first start, nerves, inexperience, etc.

But who am I kidding? That won’t happen. He’s going to stick with Driskel against a Tennessee team that’s craving blood after nine straight losses to Florida. Guess what else? Butch Jones is well aware of the importance of this game because of said nine straight losses to Florida, and is going to put in extra time in the office. Will Muschamp? Nah. It’s just another game to him. He won’t put in any extra time despite the fact that he’s likely out of a job if Tennessee wins next weekend. Florida will turn it over a bunch of times just like they always do in big games. And Florida very well may lose.

Am I wrong, Will? Is all of this not going to play out like that?

OK, then. Prove me wrong. Do something different. Make some changes. If you use this bye week to recreate the Florida Gators, eliminate the penalties and turnovers, give Treon Harris a chance at some point in the game (either start him or pull Driskel at the first sign of trouble), and win this game. Do all this, admit you were wrong to stick with Driskel for this long and I’ll admit I was wrong, too. Fair?

I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face. I believe Muschamp is a really good guy off the field, and a great defensive coordinator on it. But unless he realizes that he’s not always right, and then goes about fixing the problems, he won’t survive another month.

Why Florida QB Jeff Driskel should be on a “short leash” for the rest of this season

Jeff Driskel, as we are all well aware of, has been the most highly criticized quarterback in the Southeastern Conference the last 3 years. Even after helping lead the 2012 Gators to an 11-1 regular season record and a BCS Bowl game appearance.

His struggles have been well documented and analyzed by many. But the question is, have they been fairly criticized with actual merit?

My answer is: YES.

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Let me first start off by qualifying myself. I played football growing up, starting at age 5. Played quarterback and wide receiver in high school. I have coached youth football on and off for the last 4 years. My father was a quarterback in high school and state champion his senior year. My father put a football in my hand in my crib when I was several weeks old (that is a true statement). I have broken down game film of quarterbacks and have studied the position since I was a youth.

With that being said……

I ask you to rewind to both the Alabama game on Saturday and the Kentucky game from 2 weeks ago.

There are 3 things that quarterbacks should have running through their minds after each snap.

  • A mental clock on when to get rid of the ball before the pass rush arrives
  • The progression of receivers that will be running routes on the play (usually by 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and checkdown options)
  • The route patterns of each receiver on the play

One thing I notice with Driskel is, he struggles to find his 3rd option or beyond when going through his progressions. Very rarely will a defense be so bad that your first option is open on every play. If you break down game tape of the last game, it is very clear to see Driskel forcing the ball into his first or 2nd progression when his 3rd or 4th option is visibly wide open. Could it be nerves (especially after the gruesome injury he suffered last year)? Of course it can be. But I have also noticed that problem previous to his injury.

Driskel has a bad habit of staring down his receivers on many plays. Defensive backs feast on quarterbacks with that trait. It is a tell that they will recognize in film study and abuse it when it comes time for the game. On 1 of Driskel’s 2 interceptions on Saturday, he stared at his receiver for 20 yards before he threw it. And then the ball was intercepted by Alabama’s Landon Collins.

Driskel also has a lack of “feel for pressure” in the pocket. When Kentucky’s defensive line was coming at him, I noticed 3 times where he was inches away from having been stripped in his throwing motion. And this has been a problem of his for several years. Most quarterbacks can “sense” pressure from their blindside and can instinctively shuffle their feet to avoid the oncoming pressure or “escape the pocket”. This is where I believe Driskel needs to adjust his mental clock. He needs to count the play off in his mind and “sense the pressure” to avoid costly turnovers and/or sacks.

Fortunately the Gators offensive line was one of the few bright spots on Saturday or Driskel could have had several more turnovers.

Now without sounding like I am being a “Driskel basher”, do I think these issues can be corrected? Yes, of course. But I am concerned about if they actually will be corrected considering Driskel is in his 4th year at Florida and has showcased these blunders for a bulk of those 4 years.

Now, to get to my point.

If Driskel feels pressure from behind him and knows his job is not safe for the remainder of the season….

One of two things will happen…

Either he will adjust accordingly and should improvement or he will fold as he is expected to do and then Gator Nation can move on from him.

Let me clear my stance up a little…

Do I believe behind Driskel is Superman? NO. Do I believe it is the “savior of Florida Football”? NO. Do I believe it is the second coming of Timothy Richard Tebow? HECK NO. It might not even be an improvement. But what it is, is a change.

A change that could spark a team that has great potential if coached properly. the talent on this Florida roster is being wasted with each pathetic performance. If true freshman Treon Harris can come and provide a spark for this talented young team, then that is what is needed. Clemson was putting along with veteran QB Cole Stoudt against conference rival Florida State on Saturday night. But then enter freshman phenom Deshaun Watson and the Tigers looked like a different team. They were energized, they believed and nearly won if not for their head coach making a huge blunder in overtime (but that is a different story).

I am rooting for Jeff Driskel! Trust me, I am! When he was selected to start over Jacoby Brissett in 2012 (which angered many fans and players according to reports) I was excited. I was one of the lone voices at that time showing my support for Driskel. But let me be honest, I feel burned a little bit. I stuck up for a kid that I had high hopes for and most did at one time. But over the last 2 years, I have seen nothing to warrant improvement. I have seen the same mistakes, the same bad decisions, the same Jeff Driskel.

 

For Sake of Program, Muschamp Must Turn To Treon Harris

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Florida wasn’t supposed to beat Alabama. But let’s just come right out with it: If Will Muschamp wants to remain the head football coach of the Florida Gators, he needs to use the bye week to prepare Treon Harris as the starting quarterback for Florida’s season-defining game at Tennessee on October 4th.

Any other decision, and there are various permutations and possibilities, delays the inevitable, stalls the forward progress of the program with or without Will Muschamp, and probably means Florida loses at least one more game than it should at some point this season. And despite the fact that journalists and fans alike are having the debate about whether Jeff Driskel should remain Florida’s starting quarterback, the answer, with even a semi-deep look at the numbers and a memory’s look at the film, is extremely clear.Jeff Driskel is not a championship quarterback. Some have known it all along. Some are just realizing it, all while still apologizing for him. But the reality is this: Jeff Driskel’s ceiling, regardless of the original recruiting projections, is not that high. He’s had four years to get better. He hasn’t. He will never grow into a championship quarterback. And elite programs end goal is to win championships. So it’s time for the Gators to try someone else. What’s the Jeremy Foley philosophy: “If something has to be done eventually, why not do it immediately?” That applies to quarterbacks as much as coaches. And it applies to Jeff Driskel.

This isn’t a “drumbeat.” It’s a move that must be made for the program’s sake. Forest through the trees stuff. The long-term matters.

Let’s get the counter arguments out of the way at the top. We’ll call this “seeing the whole field.” Or if you’d prefer, “reading the progression.” We know Jeff Driskel can’t really do those things. We’ll try anyway, in no particular order.

 

1) You can’t blame Driskel for Saturday. Florida was comprehensively beaten in all facets of football except punting, and surrendered a school record amount of yards. Not even Tommie Frazier bulldozing his way through seven Gator defenders felt that bad, and that was (previously) the worst…

 

Yes, Florida’s defense had a terrible day. A record breaking kind of terrible day. Yes, the Gators made untested Blake Sims look like Drew Brees. Yes, Florida missed thirty tackles. And yes, Will Muschamp has always had his defense. Until Saturday. But here’s the reality: Alabama needed 87 plays to gain that many yards. A handful of broken coverages accounted for about 300 of those yards in the air. And while that’s not an “excuse”, it is more reasonably in tune with what more sober Gator fans should have expected from this defense when the year started: a young secondary that would struggle, similar to the 2007 secondary, but had the talent to get better.  Point being- some defensive letdown was inevitable.

And yet– Florida forced four turnovers, and it would have been five had Brian Poole not dropped an interception (more on that in a moment). Florida forced punts at critical times, including one that gave the offense a very short field (Florida fumbled). And despite the woeful third-down defense (more than half of Alabama’s yardage came on third down!), Florida did an admirable job against the run until late in the second half.

So if your takeaway from Saturday was to blame the defense– we watched largely different football games. That Florida lost the time of possession battle is to be expected (tempo teams concede that statistic and are part and parcel the reason people think it doesn’t matter anymore). That Florida’s defense spent two-thirds the football game on the field had a great deal to do with the fact that its offense couldn’t move the football. There was a point in the game where Florida trailed seven points in the third quarter and had six first downs. Six. That’s mind-boggling stuff. Factor that in when you think about Brian Poole dropping an interception. If Florida’s offense is sustaining drives and scoring points, does Poole drop that ball if he’s not already trying to run to the Alabama endzone? Ditto Dante Fowler’s fumble recovery turned fumble turned fumble recovery. Does Fowler fall on the ball if he thinks Florida can drive seventy yards for a score? I don’t know if it is cruel or telling that Florida failed to score after that sequence regardless, but it’s reality.

2) Jeff Driskel is on his third offensive coordinator and coming off a knee injury. He didn’t get the Idaho game to work out the kinks in a new offense, and the bye week will do wonders.

Nice story. But Chris Leak had multiple offensive coordinators. All he did was lead the SEC in passing efficiency and win the BCS National Championship MVP with his third coordinator. He didn’t have an injury? Okay. Fair. But that’s football. They still play tackle in the age of targeting. If you are afraid to get hurt, get off the field. By the way: Tim Tebow had multiple offensive coordinators. He was pretty good. Rex Grossman had multiple offensive coordinators. He should have won the Heisman under one and beat an undefeated Georgia on a sprained knee with only one decent WR with the other. He was pretty good. AJ McCarron had multiple coordinators. He won championships. I could go on. The bottom line is Driskel is a fourth year player and he’s actively regressing: the accuracy problems we’ve seen against Kentucky and Alabama aren’t particularly noteworthy when you evaluate his freshmen year. And this in an offense we were told all summer he was born to run.

3) Your standards are too high, or “the backup quarterback is the most popular guy in town.”

They should be. It’s Florida football. John Reaves, Wayne Peace, Kerwin Bell, Danny Wuerffel, Rex Grossman, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow played quarterback here. They were pretty damn good. And before them, Steve Spurrier played quarterback here and won the Heisman Trophy. He was the face of Florida football when all it had done was fall on its face. So Florida fans expect greatness from their quarterbacks. And they should. That’s the identity of the football program. And the university has spent a ton of money on statues for Gale Lemarand Drive that say I’m right.

And the backup quarterback is the most popular guy in town cliche is a cliche because sometimes, it’s true. Was it stupid for Gator “fans” to boo Chris Leak when he was a senior and leading the SEC in passing efficiency? Of course it was. But there are plenty of examples of ineffective starters who have to yield to effective starters. Todd Helton yielded to a young Peyton Manning at Tennessee. Clint Trickett yielded to Jameis Winston (yes, that happened). Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow.

4) Jeff Driskel gives Florida the best chance to win aka “The Muschamp” Argument.

Let’s be blunt again: no he doesn’t. If you want eloquent, read Nick De La Torre’s piece at Gator CountryI’m here to deliver more facts. Here’s Jeff Driskel’s numbers against teams that have qualified for bowl games in his tenure:

2012

@ Texas A & M 13-16, 162 yards, 0 TD,  0 INT (Win 20-17 vs. Johnny Manziel, also making first start)

LSU 8-12, 61 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT (Win 14-6)

@ Vanderbilt 11-20, 77 yards, 11 carries, 177 yards, 3 rushing TD’s, 0 passing, 0 INT (Win, 31-17, probably his best game as a Gator…)

South Carolina 11-16, 93 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT (Win, 44-11. Only player in modern SEC history to throw 4 TD’s while passing for under 100 yards)

Georgia 15-27, 191 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT, 13 carries, -4 yards (Aaron Murray was worse. But both had QB ratings under 15!!!, and UGA won, 17-9)

Louisiana Lafeyette 13-16, 98 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 12 carries, 76 yards—Florida trailed 17-13 at home when Driskel left game, Jacoby Brissett rallies Gators to avoid embarrassing defeat)

@ Florida State 15-23, 147 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 11 carries, -20 yards (Managed the game. Last time FSU lost in tackle football)

Sugar Bowl:

Louisville 16-29. 175 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 10 carries, 4 yards (Pick six on opening play set tone for upset loss)

2013

@ Miami 22-33, 291 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 9 carries 19 yards (2 red zone interceptions crushed Gators hopes of confidence-building victory, ruining career high passing day)

2014

Alabama 9-28, 93 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 11 carries, 59 yards, 1 TD (Alabama rolls Gators 42-21 despite four turnovers and great field position for Florida for three quarters)

PASSING TOTALS: 122- 220. 1388 yards, 9 TD, 8 INT

RUSHING TD: 4

TOTAL TD: 13

GAMES WHERE THREW FOR UNDER 100 YARDS: FIVE—That’s staggering!!

GAMES WHERE FLORIDA SCORED MORE THAN 21 POINTS: 5 (Though it should be noted the last TD vs. Louisville came in garbage time and Brissett was in the game for Florida’s final offensive TD drive of that game, so realistically—THREE. Also staggering!!)

W-L: 6-4 (Really 5-4 but bailed out by Brissett and Jelani Jenkins vs. Louisiana-Lafeyette)

AND, For what it’s worth…Games Won, Memorable Heroes:

Texas A & M: Defense, Mike Gillislee

Vanderbilt: Driskel

South Carolina: Defense, Louichez Purifoy

LSU: Matt Elam, Mike Gillislee, Offensive Line

Louisiana-Lafeyette: Fans that didn’t leave, Jacoby Brissett, Jelani Jenkins

Florida State: Matt Elam, Mike Gilislee, Antonio Morrison, Offensive Line

By my count, that’s ONE football game- at Vanderbilt in 2012– when Jeff Driskel looked the part of the nation’s #1 QB recruit and played the part of guy who won Florida the football game. On that night, without Jeff Driskel, Vanderbilt probably wins.

The problem with that is simple arithmetic. How many of the other games, won or lost, would Florida have won with Brissett? Or with Tyler Murphy? Or with any other potential replacement quarterback? You might argue they’d have won less. But if that’s your argument, then you are suggesting Florida desperately needed Driskel and his less than 150 ypg average, or his 1 TD pass per game (with four of those on one day!). That’s a pretty untenable position.

Driskel has had four years to deliver on his recruiting promise, and has instead morphed into the following: a game manager who is inaccurate, consistently throws for under 100 yards against quality opposition and has a penchant for red zone interceptions. He went 11-2 with 12 NFL players on his defense. And the two games he lost that season- Georgia, Louisville– both involved him making disastrous throws at dreadful times. In fact, as painful as the Georgia game was, you could argue the Louisville game was more of a testament to his inability to win games: the one time his defense needed him that season, he couldn’t deliver.

It is time to move on. And it isn’t just about the future of the program. Benching Jeff Driskel helps Florida win now.

The Gators young secondary is going to have tough days this fall. The answer, of course, is sustaining drives and scoring points. Kurt Roper was paid handsomely to come to Florida to accomplish those goals. The longer the Gators possess the ball, the longer the secondary is coached on the sideline. The longer they are coached, the less likely the coltish breakdowns. The more points Florida scores, the more bend the Gator defense can show. These things go hand in hand. Anyone who watched Florida win 9 games thanks to Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin in 2007 understands something of what I mean. And no- I’m not suggesting there’s two talents on that offense like them: simply suggesting that when you have a poor/young secondary- you better be able to score. And keep in mind that secondary lacked the nation’s finest cornerback. They had to wait a year for Joe Haden to become that.

Benching Driskel helps Florida win now because Driskel, with a large sample size, has shown he isn’t the quarterback to do much more than manage a game with some mediocrity. Florida needs a quarterback who can make plays.

In my view, Treon Harris is that player. And if he isn’t, Will Grier could be. Doesn’t matter. We know Driskel is not.

Any Gators who painfully watched Florida State survive Clemson Saturday night may have missed an illustrative irony if they weren’t paying attention. Three possessions into the game, playing on the road, Dabo Swinney benched his senior quarterback, a kid who had waited his turn and shown great personal triumph over adversity, for a talented true freshmen everyone wanted named DeShaun Watson.

For his part, Watson played brilliantly, only to be let down by a veteran offensive lineman who snapped the ball over his head and a veteran running back who breadbasketed the ball and fumbled while Watson was leading the team down the field for the winning score late in the fourth quarter. This week, Coach Swinney made the switch to Watson permanent.

It was the kind of move that a coach coming off a BCS bowl win and a nice contract extension can make, I suppose. But it was also a move that will reap dividends for Clemson long-term. As a Gator fan, it was hard not to take notice. You recruit the high-school superstar to play the high-school superstar. If the former high school superstar is no longer a star, you play “next man up.” As next man up, Watson was ready.

The irony, of course, wasn’t that Swinney had the guts to play his true freshmen at the defending national champions and Muschamp didn’t have the guts to put one of his freshmen in at a team that was Champions of nothing last season and breaking in a new quarterback themselves– but rather that FSU was playing Sean Maguire at quarterback for the suspended Jameis Winston, and this was entirely out of necessity. And that was because of Will Muschamp.

You see, Muschamp closed like crazy on Treon Harris, a coveted quarterback who he flipped from Florida State to the Gators at the last minute. In an alternate universe, there’s a scenario where Harris is the starter for FSU Saturday night, playing in Winston’s stead and facing off with Watson. Instead, Harris stood on a Tuscaloosa sideline, and Jimbo Fisher was forced to play the very limited Maguire, who turned in a performance Driskel would dream about. Agonizing irony.

With a bye week to prepare for a game I think realistically will determine his future in Gainesville, Will Muschamp should pull a Dabo Swinney and turn to his freshmen superstar, Treon Harris.

Harris is the son of a legendary coach, Ice Harris, who won multiple state championships at Booker T. Washington in Miami before departing after Treon and he won another last December, crushing longtime power Jacksonville Bolles in the state championship. So Harris is used to winning. Driskel’s teams never advanced beyond regionals.  Coaches sons tend to do pretty well running and playing for athletic teams in Gainesville (see, Green, Taurean; Wilbekin, Scottie; Hargraeves III, Vernon, among others). Harris certainly won’t suffer from being unprepared. He arrived late– but still managed to beat out early enrollee and more highly-touted quarterback recruit Will Grier in summer ball. So we know Harris will compete. Driskel sometimes appears as if he’s given up. And Harris played football against the big boys in Miami. It’s amazing how much that matters with young players. It was the reason Charlie Weis valued Jacoby Brissett over Driskel to begin with and the reason longtime recruiting savant Larry Blustein once told me he’d take “a three star from Miami Northwestern over a five star from a random private school” most days of the week. Harris is the best of both worlds: a highly-touted player from a perennial power who happens to be a coaches son and who a quarterback whisperer named Jimbo Fisher had tabbed to be his next quarterback.

You win the recruiting battle to play him, Will. You win the recruiting battle because you think he’ll help you win games. And now you know the old guy can’t win you enough games. So it is time to move on, coach.

For the program’s sake.

 

 

 

Will Muschamp’s Job Is On Life Support

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There are a few things I feel I should clear up, before I start this post:

-Alabama is really, really good. It’s tough to beat them. It’s even tougher to beat them on their home field. That’s not why I’m writing this. It’s vastly unfair to call for a coach’s firing using a loss at Alabama as your reason.

-Jeff Driskel is obviously not the second coming of Tim Tebow the way we once thought he was, and the offense was bad on Saturday. Really bad.

-Believe it or not, the Gators have several other, more chronic big-picture problems than Jeff Driskel and the offense.

-Those problems that are more chronic and big-picture than Jeff Driskel and the offense are the fuel behind this article.

-This article is intended for any Gator fan. But regardless of whether you’ve called me out in the past or not, if you agree even somewhat with me right now, the shots I take at fans in this article are- and this requires bold italics- not directed at you. They’re solely intended for those fans who still vehemently defend Will Muschamp and still believe he’ll be Florida’s next great coach (which is admittedly a rapidly shrinking number).

-To sum up and restate all that: I acknowledge that Jeff Driskel was not very good Saturday, and I acknowledge that Florida lost to a very good team on the road. Neither of those are why I’m writing what I am.

Lots of fans love Will Muschamp because of his mix of good ole southern boy personality, and ability to light a fire under his team. Neither of those are necessarily incorrect, make no mistake. But in the aftermath of Florida’s 42-21 loss to Alabama on Saturday, Paul Finebaum sent this tweet:

There it is. The consensus among the few supporters Muschamp has left has spoken. They’ve admitted that he’s a dead man walking. I know, it was Alabama. They’re good. I want to reiterate: I’m not writing this because we lost; I’m writing this because of the way we lost. The self inflicted issues in a game that was far more lopsided than the score suggests has me convinced of one big thing: this job isn’t for him. Things that you’d expect to see from a first year coach’s team are happening in Muschamp’s fourth year, and worse, new problems that are even more disturbing- like a porous defense that surrendered the most yards in school history- are beginning to appear. He’s not done yet, but he should be- and will be- with the next Gator loss outside of a possible SEC Championship Game or high profile bowl. And unfortunately for him, the chances of avoiding that loss are less than slim. Go look at the Gators’ schedule.

Hence the title of his article. His job security is on life support. We all know my opinion on this topic. I first began to develop suspicions when his team played dead in the Sugar Bowl two years ago. Those suspicions intensified when he couldn’t get his team ready to play the final game of the dying Florida-Miami rivalry. Then I officially wanted him gone after Florida lost to Georgia for the third straight time (more on that later in the article), and lost any shyness about publicizing these feelings after losing to Georgia Southern.

Why, you may ask? Seems you called for his head a bit too early, you may claim. No. I saw wide spread issues of self destruction and told you that if they weren’t fixed by now, they never would be. And guess what happened on Saturday? Florida’s self destruction cost them a football game. You know, kind of, sort of, EXACTLY like I said it would last year. Guess what happened last Saturday? Florida was about .01 seconds away from their self destruction costing them that game, too. Muschamp isn’t getting this stuff fixed. Who are we trying to fool?

Don’t get me wrong. I like Muschamp. I think he’s a good dude off the field who ultimately cares about his program’s welfare, and when not overloaded with the responsibilities of being a head coach, I think he’d be an excellent defensive coordinator for Florida. Unfortunately, his decision making has proven to be less than stellar, the most obvious examples of which are his coaching hires (his first two offensive coordinators) and now his QB selection. And because he has an ego (what coach doesn’t?) and is way too slow in making changes, he’s ultimately going to lose his job unless the Gators either go undefeated in the regular season, or lose once to a really good team (not Georgia, though) in a much less infuriating manner.

I won’t even go into the defensive and QB issues. I know that Muschamp is a defense first coach, and his defense surrendered the most yards in program history. But generally speaking, his defenses at Florida have been very, very good. So citing one bad performance from his defense as a reason to fire him isn’t really fair. And his QB selection isn’t always the main factor in Florida losing games (though I’ll be honest, Driskel did not play well at all against Alabama, and the defense suddenly sucking is a legitimate cause for concern). I’m looking for trends here. I’m looking for things his teams have done since the day he got to UF that have killed them. Not sporadic issues, one time deals, or even occasional but repeated problems. I’m looking for patterns of botchery that have no place in a winning football program.

So what are they?

For one, his team has got to cut the costly penalties out of their repertoire. And I’m not talking about late hits, pass interferences or anything else that stems from hustle. I’m talking about delay of games, false starts, offsides, grabbing face masks when you’re right there and have plenty of other (better) options to go about tackling the runner. These types of penalties drive me absolutely insane. I don’t doubt that Darious Cummings gives 100% effort every day in practice and on game day, but he averages about one unnecessary face mask penalty per game. Against Kentucky last week, the Gators were called for delay of game penalties twice when they were about to punt and pin the Cats as far back as they could. Getting snaps off in time didn’t cost Florida the game, per se, but it almost did: Jeff Driskel’s touchdown pass in the first overtime came after taking the snap with maybe a hundredth of a second left on the play clock.

Then there are the turnovers. The Gators committed three really bad ones against Alabama, including Jeff Driskel and Matt Jones forgetting that when you let go of a solid object, like a football, for example, it tends to fall to the ground a lot of the time. Thanks to the great field position, Alabama was in the end zone six plays later, and Florida never had the lead again. Driskel also overshot his receiver by about 20 feet once (well, several times, but more on that later) and was picked off by JaBriel Washington deep in Alabama territory. You cannot commit these kinds of turnovers if you want to win. You just can’t.

But again. This is nothing new. It’s not a surprise. I’ve been saying the same thing since 2011, when the Gators messed around against FAU to the tune of nine penalties and three turnovers. At the time, I ultimately gave Muschamp a pass for it because Florida crushed FAU (and it was the first game), but did warn people that these issues could not continue if Florida wanted to win. Well, guess what? They’ve continued, and gotten worse. It’s year four now. Again, who are we kidding? These things aren’t going away.

To all those who still criticize me (and my viewpoint): go ahead, bring up Alabama. They turned it over more times and were penalized more times on Saturday than Florida. Let’s fire Saban, say my smartass critics. OK, I’ll play along. You know why Saban won’t get fired? Because his teams do something that you, my critics, are not familiar with. It’s called… ready? …WINNING BIG GAMES.

Let’s tick off Muschamp’s stats: 0-3 against Georgia, 1-2 against FSU, 0-1 against Miami and Auburn each (two of Florida’s dead rivalries- since they’re never played anymore, you’d think a coach would get his team up and ready to play their best game), 0-1 in BCS Bowl games, and 4-12 against ranked teams. Muschamp couldn’t care less who the opponent is; he treats all games the same. By contrast, Urban Meyer treated games that meant more differently. His 17-2 record against Florida’s four biggest rivals (Georgia, Miami, FSU and a Tennessee program that was far better than the one Muschamp has beat up on is), 3-0 BCS bowl record and 19-10 record against ranked teams are proof of that. Hell, even Ron Zook did better than Muschamp in big games. Zook went 2-1 against Georgia and beat Auburn in the final game of that yearly rivalry. He also went 6-11 against ranked teams- not fantastic, but certainly better than 4-12, and exponentially more so when you realize that five of those wins were against top ten teams.

But let’s go deeper. I invite those of you who do not believe me to do some research. Go year by year through Florida football, and combine the coaches’ records against Florida’s rivals, big bowl games and against ranked teams. Use whatever source you want. Hell, you can use Wikipedia for all I care. Done? Good. So let’s agree that Will Muschamp is the worst coach since Raymond Wolf- who coached in the 40’s- at winning big games. Each coach since Wolf (Bob Woodruff, Ray Graves, Doug Dickey, Charlie Pell, Galen Hall, and then you know the rest- Spurrier, Zook and Meyer) all did at least one of those things significantly better than Muschamp. Woodruff was 6-4 against Georgia, Graves was 6-3-1 against Georgia and 7-2-1 against FSU, Dickey was 7-2 against FSU and 7-2 against Miami (the Canes were Florida’s big in state rivalry at the time), Pell was 6-9 against ranked teams, and Hall was 11-13 against ranked teams.

You can’t please fans, and your school’s AD, if you don’t win games that they want to win most. Muschamp’s failure to understand that some games mean more than others will ultimately be what dooms him.

Which leads me right to the thesis of this article. Florida’s got a big game, really big, against Tennessee in two weeks. I have not hesitated to let him- and everybody else who may still be wondering- know that:

Thus, the phrase “life support”. You don’t get off life support with one break, or one win. But the plug can- and will- be unceremoniously yanked out of the wall with the next loss (again, unless the nest loss is in the SEC Championship or a big stage bowl game, or MAYBE to FSU if they turn out to be really good in the end. But they have not been impressive in their first three games). That loss could be next Saturday to Tennessee, it could be at home to an LSU team that’s been exposed as one of Les Miles’ weakest teams with a 34-29 loss that was far worse than the score indicated to an unranked Mississippi State team at home, or it could be to Georgia in Jacksonville for the fourth straight time.

You also don’t just wind up on college football coaching life support in a split second. It has to be a gradual decline over a long enough period of time to determine that things will never get better. I’d say that the slow deterioration from a yearly SEC East contender under Urban Meyer to a 4-8 team that lost at home to a Georgia Southern team that was even more banged up than we were qualifies as that “gradual decline”.

And I’ll say it again to beat it into my critics’ heads: on a personal level, I like Muschamp. I really do. He knows defense, despite what happened on Saturday, and I think he’s a fantastic personality to have as the face of your team’s program. But once we lost to Georgia Southern, I knew he was done. I wasn’t sure if it would get rid of him immediately or if it was the introduction to a longer, slower death to his coaching career at UF. But since he wasn’t fired on the spot, he’s been put in the position of having to do more than he’s capable of doing. He’s been forced to make the Gators a national title contender with one of the most brutal schedules in the nation.

I said before the year that Florida had to either go 10-2 with a win over Georgia or 11-1 with a loss to keep his job. Sound unreasonably tough? Sure it is. But guess what? That’s the mess that 4-8 causes. Welcome to the University of Florida, where losing more games than winning is not acceptable.

I’ll save the official calls to fire Muschamp until Florida actually loses another game. Let’s be fair here, his team only has one loss so far. But one more loss to a team that’s not ranked in the top 10 or so, and he should be gone.

The time for fixing the turnover/penalty issue is now. More importantly, the time for winning is now. At this point, the Gators can play a completely clean game and still lose to Tennessee, and it’s going to cost Muschamp his job. I’ve long cited weekly self destruction as my reason for wanting Muschamp gone, and of course, there were some people who (almost smugly) pointed out after losing to Georgia Southern that Florida didn’t turn it over once and only committed two penalties. But in a way, that’s even worse. You’re telling me that a banged up FCS team was simply better than us? On the same note, if we lose to Tennessee without self destructing, that’s going to imply that Tennessee is better than Florida. With the way we’ve recruited over the last decade or so, is that something you’re willing to accept?

But then again, the time for delving into the X’s and O’s to explain why Florida loses games is over. I don’t particularly care about how it happens, he’s one loss away from being done.

Muschamp has dug his grave and written his epitaph. The next loss will pull the plug from the wall.

Alabama 42, Florida 21: Tidesmen Double Up Gators in T-Town

Considering that Alabama’s a great team, and Florida appears to be on that good, not great level… honestly, is anybody surprised by what ultimately happened?

Florida actually did much better than I thought they would in some respects. They forced a few big turnovers, moved the ball a bit early to weather the initial storm, and hung in with what could very well be a playoff team until deep into the third quarter.

But in the end, Alabama was just too much. The Crimson Tide racked up 645 yards on Florida, including passing touchdowns by Blake Sims of 87 and 79 yards, and their defense pressured Jeff Driskel into several major errors. It all added up to a 42-21 win…

Actually, no, I can’t write that with a straight face. I don’t work for the AP. Let’s try that again; the defense gave up the most yards in program history. Yes, Florida, a team that has existed since 1906, surrendered the most yards in the history of the program. And Jeff Driskel wasn’t really pressured; he was really just plain bad. No, that’s not enough; Driskel was absolutely horrible, erasing any confidence in him left over in my mind from his winning at Texas A&M and at FSU in 2012. Sure, Alabama has a great defense, but the offensive line (for once) did a pretty good job blocking for him. But his decision making was just not at an acceptable level for a Florida Gators’ QB.

I knew Florida was in trouble the moment Kenyon Drake burned us for an 87 yard TD to start the game. And I was right; even though Florida battled back, and actually took the lead at one point, they really were in for a long day. When the defense wasn’t giving up big bombs to Amari Cooper, they were getting gashed for long, slow, methodical touchdown drives. When Driskel wasn’t making bad tactical decisions, he was shotgunning errant passes that even Tim Howard had no prayer of getting his hands on.

There’s so much more to go into, and I’ll get into it tomorrow in greater detail. But for now, just take away one thing: Alabama is really good. But they’re not as good as they have been. And the fact of the matter is, they didn’t win by nearly as many points as they could have.

Go ahead. Vent. I’ll steal Andy Hutchins’ idea and make this the vent thread. No rules, except for the obvious ones: no racial/homophobic slurs, no C words, and no wishing death or injury on any player, coach or fellow commentor. After that, anything goes. So have at it.

The Formula For Beating The Alabama Crimson Tide

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As Florida’s third game of the season approaches, there are undoubtedly some Gator fans who have serious questions about whether or not the Gators can remain undefeated.

Now, admittedly, part of that is because the Gators looked less than fantastic against a Kentucky team that’s certainly better than it’s been in past years, but nowhere near a contender for Atlanta. But a much bigger part of this skepticism has to do with Florida’s next opponent… the Crimson Tide of A-a-a-a-a-labama.

OK, so they’re good. Really good. Averaging 12 wins a year since 2008 in the rugged SEC will give you an aura of invincibility that not even Superman can touch. With each win, the name Alabama commands more and more respect and fear from opponents. Even when they look less than impressive on the field (like they did against West Virginia), they’re given tons of respect in the polls, which of course continues to boost the prestige of their program.

Having said that, there is a kryptonite for college football’s Superman. With the exception of Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, each team to beat Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide since 2008 has done so by following a distinct blueprint, which I’m about to lay out for you.

Before I do, though, one quick note about Utah: what they did to defeat Alabama would never work again in a million years.

For starters, Alabama wanted no part of that Sugar Bowl after getting their hearts broken by Tim Tebow and Florida in the SEC Championship. But on a more x’s and o’s note, Saban and his defensive coordinator Kirby Smart have since figured out how to stop the wacky machine gun offense drawn up by Kyle Whittingham that Brian Johnson rode to glory that night in Cajun Country. Not since that evening in early January in 2009 has Alabama been defeated by a downfield passing attack. Sure, there have been individual plays, such as John Brantley’s bomb to Andre Debose in 2011. But as games wear on, Alabama settles in and your surprises have been used, big plays like that disappear. Note how after that opening play, Florida only ran four more plays that gained 10+ yards the rest of the night.

We’re looking for what my high school calculus teacher calls a p-a-t-t-e-r-n. A trend. A method. A formula. Not a fluke, or a one shot deal like Utah in that Sugar Bowl. The other eight teams to beat Alabama since 2008 were: Florida (2008), South Carolina, LSU, Auburn (2010), LSU (2011), Texas A&M (2012), Auburn and Oklahoma (2013). They all used a similar five piece game plan to defeat the Tide.

So here it is:

-Consistent great, playmaking defense

If you can’t play defense, especially with the way Alabama has run the ball under Saban- and will again this year with TJ Yeldon, Kenyon Drake and Derrick Henry- you’re going to get walloped.

To stop the three headed Bama running game, you need an army of players on defense capable and willing to apply the boom on any given play. You can force a three and out on one, two or even five straight possessions. But Alabama’s just going to keep on coming at you with any of their three dangerous backs, and your defense better be ready to keep taking those body blows, and better yet, be ready to deliver counter-body blows. Because if your defense plays three great quarters, but you’re locked in a 10-10 tie at the end of the third, and then you get tired… well, the Tide’s going to roll. It doesn’t matter when it happens; if your defense caves and wears down before Alabama’s offensive line and their running backs, you’re going to lose.

This defense also requires a shutdown corner in case Bama decides to throw the ball with the eight guys stuffing the box that you have. It only takes one play, one busted coverage for the 10-7 lead you’ve been nursing for a quarter and a half to become a 14-10 deficit. In the same way your front seven cannot break, your secondary must be alert and not give up the big play at any time.

But limiting how many times the Crimson Tide score or even hit big plays is only half the battle. The other half is making positive plays yourself. Sacks, forcing fumbles and intercepting passes are key in beating Alabama. Chances are, they can run all day at you; tiring them out, even for a staunch defense like Florida’s, is a tough chore. You as a defense have got to be able to give yourself a break now and then by making big plays, and thus ending drives before Alabama wants them to end.

The only team of the aforementioned eight that didn’t really have this great, playmaking defense was Oklahoma. Yet in the end, it was their defense that slammed the door on Alabama with the strip-sack of McCarron and ensuing scoop-n-score by Geneo Grissom. That was the final of five turnovers forced by the Sooners’ defense that night, and those five takeaways more than excused the 31 points they surrendered.

And yet that was arguably the worst defensive performance that beat the Crimson Tide. Let’s look at how many points Alabama scored in their other seven losses since 2008: 20, 21, 21, 27, 6, 24 and 28. OK, so Auburn giving up 27/28 in 2010 and 2013 isn’t exactly great, consistent defense. But in their 28-27 win in 2010, Auburn’s defense allowed just 3 points in the final 38 minutes after being shaky early. And in the 34-28 win in last year’s Iron Bowl, Auburn’s defense made a gigantic stop on fourth and one to stop a fourth quarter Alabama drive deep in their territory. In addition, Texas A&M’s defense wasn’t lights out in their 29-24 win in 2012, but they did force three huge turnovers, including a game saving interception in the end zone by DeShazier Everett.

So in some fashion or another, a great defense is an absolute necessity. The rest of this blueprint will focus on the offensive side of the ball. But if you don’t have a defense that causes Alabama trouble, you won’t win.

-A dual threat quarterback

This isn’t to say that your quarterback has to have Usain Bolt type speed. But at the very least, you have to have a QB that isn’t afraid to run and can pick up a minimum of six yards on the ground. You simply have to, or you will lose.

Why?

The short answer is that it gives the defense an 11th man to have to worry about. A strictly pocket passer- even a very good one- can be stopped by simple coverage schemes and blitz packages. But add that element of being a threat on the ground, and it completely alters a defense’s game plan- and can lead to major confusion, and thus mistakes.

A quarterback that can run and throw (not or) will force Alabama to play cautiously on defense. Every single player on that Tide defense, who has been given a responsibility for each play, now must add “babysitting the QB” to his list of potential duties. You could put a single cover corner on a receiver who completely locks him down for the entire game, but should he turn his back to the QB and allow him to pick up a chunk of yardage… well, that’s no better than getting beat by the receiver he’s supposed to be covering. After all, yards are yards, and they all count the same, no matter how you get them.

So once you’ve forced Alabama’s defense to pay attention to the QB at all times, they’ll start to tone down the aggression, and every move they make in terms of dealing with the QB will be in carefully calculated measures. Send a lot of guys on a middle blitz, but fail to contain on the edges, and the mobile QB will beat the defense on the outside and take off down the sideline. Send too many defenders to blitz wide, and it just takes one good block by a tailback to spring the QB for a huge gain on a QB draw right up the middle. Crowd the box with eight defenders but fail to get the QB quickly enough, and you give him his pick of one on one match ups (this is why he has to be able to run AND throw, not just run) to choose from.

These second guesses and cautious moves by the defense will ultimately create small holes somewhere on the field. Where the hole is exactly depends on what Kirby Smart does, but they will exist the moment the QB takes one step toward the line of scrimmage to even feint a run. Each player on defense will then pause with an understandable dilemma: forgo my given assignment, go after the QB and risk a big play via the hole that my change of plans caused, or stick with my assignment and risk a scramble that results in more yards than the original play was designed to get?

That split second is all the dual threat QB needs. The tiniest moment of hesitation puts each and every player just one step behind where they’re designed to be, or want to be. That’s all the great dual threat QB’s need. Consider the list of QB’s that have beaten Alabama since 2008: Tim Tebow, Stephen Garcia, Jordan Jefferson, Cam Newton, Jordan Jefferson again, Johnny Manziel, Nick Marshall and Trevor Knight. Of those guys, Knight was arguably the least dangerous with his legs, but he still put up 438 rushing yards in the seven games he played in 2013. Anyway, all presented the threat to beat the Crimson Tide in multiple ways.

And all did.

-Don’t lose the turnover battle

As mentioned earlier, turnovers go a long way in pulling off the victory against Alabama.

In two of their eight losses (not including Utah) since 2008, Alabama won the turnover battle. That means in the other six, they were either tied or lost the turnover margin- good enough for me to consider this a trend. Some turnovers were more costly than others, but the fact of the matter is, you cannot turn the ball over against Alabama without your defense forcing a turnover right back. It gives their offense more chances to land body blows with their stable of backs, and gives their defense a rest so they can come right back at you having caught their breath.

It’s also worth noting that in four of those eight losses, turnovers were the final nail in the Tide’s coffin. I mentioned two of them earlier in separate contexts, but I’ll bring them up again here because they’re relevant for this context, too: DeShazier Everett’s pick at the goal line and Geneo Grissom’s fumble recovery for a touchdown. Throw in Joe Haden’s interception to seal the deal in the 2008 SEC Championship Game, and Drake Nevis’s strip sack of Greg McElroy that allowed LSU to bleed clock and kick the field goal that put the game away in 2010, and you’ve got that p-a-t-t-e-r-n.

Historically speaking, when games are coming down the wire and Alabama loses, half the time it’s directly due to a costly fourth quarter turnover.

-Great offensive line play

This one is very simple.

In order to give your dual threat QB enough time and space to cause the defenders to freeze, you as an offensive line unit have to be able to consistently keep defenders out of the backfield for three seconds. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three, and then you’ve done your job. That’s all that guys like Newton, Tebow, Manziel and Marshall needed, and that’s really all you can ask from your line against what’s always certain to be a ferocious Alabama defense.

I’m not asking for pancakes here, or for the QB’s jersey to remain as brightly colored as it was before the game started. All the line needs to do is give the QB a clear window to make decisions on 90% of the plays. Every now and then, sure, somebody will miss an assignment and somebody will come running through. That’s where the dual threat quarterback is able to escape and avoid disaster, either by throwing it away or by making something big happen with his arm or his legs.

The other piece of this is run blocking. You’ve got to consistently open up creases for your running backs to pound through. I don’t expect to open up gigantic gaps, but you have to give your running backs at least a hint of daylight. Moving the chains and keeping your defense fresh by putting together drives that span at least seven or eight plays is absolutely vital. This cannot happen without consistent running room for the tailbacks.

The fact of the matter is, you can’t beat Alabama without having an offensive line that dominates the line of scrimmage for the majority of the game.

-Dominant Special Teams

This one is sort of a wild card, but it’s a necessity.

Simply put, Alabama’s special teams have been woeful since Nick Saban took over in 2007.

Special teams errors have directly led to their demise in three of their eight losses to teams not named Utah, and contributed to at least three others, and maybe four depending on your personal opinion. We all remember the “Kick Six” episode in last year’s Iron Bowl and their major field goal kicking issues in a 9-6 loss to LSU in 2011. Various other problems, including Cody Mandell’s 33.5 yards per punt average against South Carolina and 33.8 average against Auburn in 2010, have proven that special teams isn’t exactly Alabama’s strong suit.

Basically, what this is saying is one big thing: do not screw up on special teams, and if you do what you’re supposed to do on special teams, you’re in good shape if you have the first two components listed. Or let’s be more positive for a moment, as opposed to not being negative. Think about this. Nobody blows Alabama out of the water; all victories against them are close, hard fought battles that come down to the final minutes. A blocked kick or a punt, a big kick or punt return, or a successful fake kick or punt could be the difference.

 


Does Florida have these five things, or at least the capability to have them checked off?

Let’s see:

-Great defense

Uhhh, check. The Gators have been in the top ten nationally for total defense in each of Muschamp’s three years, and though it’s a little too early to tell, this may be his best one yet. Their front seven is nasty, and Vernon Hargreaves is that shut down corner.

-Dual threat quarterback

Check, though somewhat reluctantly. We know Jeff Driskel is fast, we know he has a big arm and we know he can win in big environments. But he’s shown some poor judgment at times, and sometimes overestimates these skills, which can lead to disaster. Driskel doesn’t need to be Superman; Clark Kent will do just fine, thank you very much.

-Don’t lose the turnover battle

Put a question mark by this one. It’s easily the most important non X’s and O’s part of the game. I’ve ranted about the Gators’ chronic turnover woes under Muschamp many times before. They’d better not make an appearance in Tuscaloosa, or this game could be over by halftime. I’m more worried about Florida’s offense not committing them than their defense forcing them.

-Great offensive line play

Does Florida have this line right now? Absolutely not, though they’re closer than the various missed blocking assignments against Kentucky would suggest. There’s a lot of work to do for Saturday up front, but I’m certainly not ruling out the possibility of this offensive line getting their shit together for Alabama when they know they have no choice if they want to win.

-Dominant special teams

Check, though I’ll admit I close my eyes and turn away from the TV whenever Florida attempts a field goal of more than 40 yards. But with Andre Debose lurking back there on kicks and punts, plus the decreased but still legitimate potential of a blocked kick/punt thanks to all the speed on the kick/punt block team, you have to think Florida’s chances of a big special teams play are better than most other teams’. Oh, and Kyle Christy has returned to his 2012 form.


So what does this mean?

Florida has a chance. I’m not promising an upset, but I will say they have a chance. They have many of the ingredients the formula for beating Alabama calls for, and I wouldn’t put it past this team to quickly get the others. They definitely have the two most important ones, a great defense and a QB that can hurt you in two ways. Now, if they can win the turnover battle, block better than they ever have before and win the special teams battle?

We might be talking about the rebirth of a program come Monday morning.

 

Jameis Winston Suspended For 2 Quarters vs. Clemson

In case you haven’t heard, Florida State’s Jameis Winston will be suspended for the first two quarters this Saturday when twenty-second ranked Clemson makes their way to Tallahassee to take on the first ranked Seminoles.

Why is he being suspended, you might ask?

For screaming an obscene statement (that I will not post on here, but was highly offensive to women) on campus in a large crowd.

To let you know, I am someone who doesn’t normally trash Florida’s rivals 24/7, but this is just absurd and I’m not going to hold my tongue about Jameis Winston anymore, because this situation has now officially become embarrassing.

I like to be level-headed as much as possible when it comes to football, or any sport that the Gators are involved in because I absolutely LOVE knowledgable conversations with opposing fans. Sure, I have encounters with complete morons that are homers, but there are a good group of fans from each team that make talking football fun and enjoyable for me. I commend the logical fans from all of our rival schools. This is my opinion.

Jameis Winston is a complete moron when it comes to making off field decisions.

I mean, come on man. You just got off the hook with alleged rape charges. Granted, they didn’t have the proper evidence for trial, but still, someone who just escaped such allegations should not be screaming something highly offensive to the opposite gender.

Even worse, this is just the latest silly act by FSU’s Heisman winning QB. Let’s take a look at Famous Jameis’ track record of stupidity:

– Jameis Winston and teammate Chris Casher were detained by Florida State University police for both carrying a long barreled handgun on a bike trail on campus. Both Winston and Casher were investigated for $4,200 worth of damages to their apartment complex that they were living at the time because of a BB gun fight that broke out between the two.

– Jameis Winston was accused of rape. According to Winston, the sex between him and the alleged victim was consensual and he was let off of the hook. No one will ever know the truth behind this.

– Jameis Winston stole $32.72 worth crab legs from Publix.

– Jameis Winston was accused of stealing soda from a local Burger King.

– Jameis Winston was suspended by Florida State Head Football Coach, Jimbo Fisher for one half against the Clemson Tigers for screaming a very obscene statement in public on Florida State’s campus.

To everyone who is saying that Jameis Winston is a 20 year old college kid: that doesn’t change the fact that his behavior is completely unacceptable. I get that people make mistakes, but how many mulligans is someone allowed to have when they have constantly made their university look terrible? Suspending Jameis Winston for one half against Clemson is a joke and Jameis won’t learn anything from sitting out for two quarters of a game that they’re favored to win by 19 points.

People have asked me “Well, what if you were suspended you from UF for saying some of the things you put on Facebook or Twitter?”

There are other people out there that have posted way worse things than I have even thought of. I’m not going to lie, I would be very upset if I were suspended for saying whatever I wanted to on social media, but that will never happen. The situation is different. The fact of the matter is I am not a starting quarterback for the number one team in the country. I am not someone who gets a full ride scholarship to go to school. But despite having far less responsibility to be Mr. Goody Two Shoes than Jameis, I’d never be caught dead doing what Winston did.

Or take this site’s editor, Neil, for example. He plays college tennis, and thus has some obligation to represent his school with dignity. He makes lots of people laugh with his jokes, and there’s nothing wrong with that despite a small percentage of people frowning at them. He’s 20, same as Jameis. He’s supposed to have fun, be himself and enjoy himself. And yet if I know him at all, he’d never be caught dead saying something that obscene on a public platform, either.

Winston gets a full ride scholarship to play Division 1 football for (this makes me want to vomit for saying this) “one of the best football programs in the country.” You are a STUDENT ATHLETE. You are suppose to show up to class, play football, and graduate with your degree, or if you are good enough, go to the NFL if you are given the option. That is what you are suppose to do.

Sure, college is about enjoying your social life by meeting new people, going out, or doing whatever you prefer to do with your spare time. College is suppose to be fun. I’ll tell you what college isn’t about, and that is making a complete fool of yourself when you are obviously one of the biggest names in one of the biggest sports in football. When you are the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, ACC Champion, and NCAA Champion, you are going to have a very, VERY bright spotlight on you when it comes to being off and on the field. People notice everything that you say and do.

Here is the mission statement straight from the Heisman Trust Fund:

“The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. The Heisman Trophy Trust ensures the continuation and integrity of this award. The Trust, furthermore, has a charitable mission to support amateur athletics and to provide greater opportunities to the youth of our country. Our goal through these charitable endeavors is for the Heisman Trophy to symbolize the fostering of a sense of community responsibility and service to our youth, especially those disadvantaged or afflicted. All assets of the Trust beyond the expense of maintaining the annual presentation of the Heisman Memorial Trophy are reserved for such charitable causes. The Trustees, who all serve pro bono, are guided by a devotion to college football and are committed to community service and the valued tradition which the Trophy represents.” – Heisman.com

From what Jameis Winston has done or been accused of, do you think he really portrays the traits of a true Heisman winner?

It’s not all about having integrity on the field. It’s about having integrity off the field as well, and in my mind, there is no doubt that he is screwing his legacy for being careless and selfish.

I would want that player to be suspended if he was a Gator. I don’t care if it’s my star player or not. People might say, “Well that’s easy for you to say because that isn’t your team,” but in all honesty, I have high standards and I want blue collared players that are going to keep their mouth shut, do well in the class room, and give everything they have on the football field, not make my university look bad, or look like a joke.

All in all, whether he wants to or not, Jameis Winston needs to hold himself accountable for all of the things that he has done. He needs to hold himself to a higher standard because he is a a holder of one of the most important individual accolades in college football history. Jameis Winston is slowly but surely tarnishing his Heisman legacy.

FSU fans should be embarrassed from what has taken place.

Florida 36, Kentucky 30: Was Kentucky That Good, or Florida That Bad?

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First, sorry about not getting the game recap done quickly. They’ll usually be done within an hour or so after the game, for future notice. It was just very late on Saturday night, and I had an all day tennis tournament on Sunday (which I’m happy to report I did very well in), and by the time I was done, I’d played four matches and was ready to hit a wall.

But anyway.

Yes, the Gators did pull out a triple overtime win over Kentucky at home, thanks in part to a huge game by DeMarcus Robinson. The Gators really did win. The streak of 27 wins over Kentucky is still alive, and is now 28. Will Muschamp has survived to see another week as the Gators’ head coach (and yes, to answer that question, a loss would likely have cost Muschamp his job).

The close call against a team that Florida had outscored 195-29 in the last five games in the Swamp raised an interesting question after the shock of being in a 3OT game with a team that hasn’t beaten Florida since 1986 wore off. Was Kentucky that good? Or was Florida that bad?

The short answer is, “both”.

Obviously, Kentucky is a much improved football team. The Cats played sound fundamental football for the majority of the game. Their offense moved the ball against Florida better than they have in any game since 2007, and their defense is much improved from even last year.

Patrick Towles threw for more yards against Florida than any QB has against a Will Muschamp led Gator defense, beating Jameis Winston by some 40 yards. Part of that was Florida’s secondary screwing up their coverage assignments, but he also made some really nice throws that Kentucky QB’s of past seasons don’t make. Only Andre Woodson has thrown for more yards against Florida in my lifetime (in 2007), and that was against a porous defense with more youth than a preschool (which is only a slight exaggeration, that’s the funny thing).

 

When coming after the QB in previous years, I’m convinced the Kentucky defensive linemen decided on which gap to shoot by rock-paper-scissors, or some equally random method that led to two of them running into each other and effectively giving an offensive lineman a play off. I remember a play in 2010 where two Kentucky linemen had only one offensive lineman to beat to get to John Brantley. They both tried to beat Mike Pouncey on his left side, but from slightly different angles, and wound up crashing into each other and laying each other out. That kind of “Kentucky thing to do” is a thing of the past. Every Cats rusher came after Jeff Driskel with a purpose, and it made the Gators’ offensive line have to work. And more than once, it led to confusion and a free shot at Driskel, such as the time Rod Johnson totally struck out trying to pick up DE Bud Dupree, who laid him out with no resistance.

The entire Kentucky team has a new and improved attitude about them, one that I think will carry them to a bowl game this year. Mark Stoops will get this team out of the SEC cellar, and may even pull off an upset or two against a Georgia or South Carolina type team. I’m convinced that at the very least, his team will die trying.

But the Gators did not play well at all, and any player would be the first to tell you that. Jeff Driskel was not particularly accurate for much of the night, his receivers dropped passes, and the offensive line missed several assignments. Florida probably doesn’t win the game if not for one gigantic error by Kentucky. On a second and nine just inside UK territory, all Cats DB Fred Tiller had to do was cleanly catch a terrible pass from Driskel that hit him right in the chest for the easy interception, and then take it down the vacant sideline for (probably) a pick six that would have put Kentucky up 17-6. Instead, Tiller deflected it right to DeMarcus Robinson, who took it down to the Kentucky 10. Two plays later, Driskel hit Tevin Westbrook for the touchdown and the lead.

Even the defense was off, a rarity for a Will Muschamp team. The Gators twice got burned down the right sideline by Garrett Johnson for touchdowns. On the first one, Patrick Towles made a great throw that Johnson caught at the 30. OK, so even the best DB’s get burned sometimes. And Jabari Gorman was beaten by a step when Johnson made the catch at the 30, but here came Keanu Neal, presumably with the intention to push Johnson out of bounds somewhere around the 26 yard line. But Johnson made them both whiff and trotted the remaining 20 yards to the end zone for an easy touchdown. The second one was even worse. The picture fuzzed out on me so I couldn’t see who it was, but a safety bit and Johnson was open by 10 yards when he caught the touchdown.

But the worst mistake of all was in overtime. Stanley Williams took a screen pass on the first play and went right. The play should have been stuffed for a minimal gain, if not a loss, but Gators totally over pursued, and when Williams decided to reverse his field, there was nobody back to contain it. In actuality, he may have been out of bounds at about the one foot line, but still… that’s a 24 yard gain on a play that should have lost a couple.

Then there were the self inflicted issues that made we want to scream. Again. The Gators committed eight penalties, a few of which were understandable, but the majority of which were totally inexcusable. What excuse is there for two seperate delay of game penalties when you’re about to punt and pin Kentucky back as far as possible? Then there was the face mask penalty on Darious Cummings on a 3rd and 15 in overtime- a play that would have been stopped far short of a first down- that led to a much easier field goal for Austin McGinnis, and allowed the game to continue.

And it’s true, Florida only turned it over once, but that stat makes it easy to forget that Driskel nearly threw a pick six to Fred Tiller- a ball that he most definitely should have caught. I’ll reiterate: if Tiller makes that play, Florida probably loses the game, and Muschamp probably gets fired. But because Tiller not only didn’t catch it, but turned what should have been a gift for Kentucky into a gift for Florida by tipping it right to Robinson, I don’t get to write about how turnovers once again screwed this team in the end (which I don’t like doing, contrary to what Muschamp apologists think, but it’s become a pattern).

Where have I heard of these types of self inflicted wounds before? Oh, that’s right; I wrote about this issue three years ago when this site was on its first life. That link was my write up of the Florida Atlantic game in 2011, Muschamp’s first game as head coach. Why am I still writing about the same problems in his fourth year? I also continually mentioned this team’s propensity for silly mistakes throughout the 2013 season, and wondered, week after week, when Muschamp would get rid of these mistakes. There’s still time, of course, and it’s very possible that it gets cleaned up next week in Tuscaloosa.

So, to sum it all up: that wasn’t a terrible Kentucky team Florida beat on Saturday. It wasn’t a national title contender, but it wasn’t a bad team at all. If you want a comparison, think of 2011 Vanderbilt, in James Franklin’s first year. New attitude, new mindset… and much better execution on both sides of the ball by players that are modestly talented but extremely confident (in the right way) about what they can do. That said, Florida has a lot to clean up if they want even a puncher’s chance to beat Alabama. Can they do it? Sure. Alabama looked quite vulnerable against West Virginia, and though it is in Tuscaloosa, I believe the Gators will not be scared of the hostile environment. Jeff Driskel boasts wins at Kyle Field and Doak Campbell Stadium, easily two of college football’s ten rowdiest places to play. But he and his teammates didn’t make too many major mistakes, either.

Oh, and one more thing: the Gators did win the game last Saturday, and remain unbeaten. And they’re alone atop the SEC East. So these issues have not cost Florida anything yet.

Florida/Alabama Preview and Predictions

Florida’s 28th win in a row against the Kentucky Wildcats might be the ugliest win I have ever seen (Okay, that’s a stretch. Almost losing to University of Louisiana-Lafayette in 2012 in The Swamp might take the cake there).

A win is a win, and that is one thing that the Florida Gators needed as they get ready to hit the road to Tuscaloosa later this week to face the Alabama Crimson Tide.

3 Keys/Questions To The Game:

– Can this Florida offense move the ball against the stingy Alabama defense?

Yes, if Jeff Driskel can find consistency.

During the first half of the Florida/Kentucky game, which was a 3-3 game going into half time, I could only sit in the front row of The Swamp with my head in my hands as I had flash backs of the anemic offense from 2012 and 2013.

Then all of a sudden, Jeff Driskel, with the help of Matt Jones, brought this offense to life and was able to counter back at Kentucky when they scored.

In overtime when he threw the game saving touchdown to Demarcus Robinson (who had one hell of a night receiving, if you didn’t know) on 4th and 7 as the play clock was expiring, plays like this show that he can be very successful and demanding of the offense.

If Florida starts off slow against Alabama, I am afraid they might not be able to claw their way out of it like the could with Kentucky.

Jeff Driskel must start off by making the short, accurate throws to the receivers. That will be able to give him the confidence to make throws at the second level and give him confidence to make the deep throws.

Florida has probably had at least 10 deep ball looks against both Eastern Michigan and Kentucky combined, but only connected on one explosive play during both games.

If he doesn’t take advantage of the deep ball throws, they could haunt the Gators later on in the Alabama game.

– Will this Florida secondary be able to improve before the Alabama game?

I think the Florida defense will have a much easier time against the Crimson Tide then they did against Kentucky.

You might be thinking “Aren’t Alabama’s receivers head over heels better than Kentucky’s?”

Yes, they are, but one thing that I have noticed is Florida is very, very weak when it comes to defending a Spread Offense or an Air Raid offense.

Teams with that style like to give their playmakers a chance in space to make plays and gain yards on short passes.

Alabama has a much more traditional, hard-nose style of offense where the quarterback only has to turn and hand off the ball.

Their style might change this year a little bit because of their new starting quarterbacks, Blake Sims, ability to scramble.

– Is there anyone else that can make plays at Wide Receiver other than Demarcus Robinson?

Well, there is Quinton Dunbar and Ahmad Fullwood, but both have been very quiet in UF’s first two games.

One player than needs to be used more in the offense is Andre Debose.

This offensive system is the perfect fit for Andre. He can be a threat in the vertical passing game. Last time Andre Debose was a threat, was against Alabama in 2011 when he caught a 65 yard bomb on the first play of the game.

How sweet would that be to see him catch another bomb on the Alabama secondary?

Not only could he be a deep threat for this Florida offense, but if we could dish the ball off to him in the short game and get him into space with a one-on-one match up, he has the speed and ability to score every time he touches the ball.

I really wouldn’t be surprised if Kurt Roper has a certain package for him up his sleeve for the Alabama game. I feel like a jet sweep package would be ideal and I think that would give the Alabama defense something else to worry about, other than our rushing attack.

Predictions

If Florida wins: 24-21

This Florida team has the fire power to score on offense against this Crimson Tide defense. I think that Florida is capable of putting points on the board against anyone in the country. It all comes down to Jeff Driskel’s decision making, the offensive line, and the special teams.

If Driskel has the time in the pocket to make the necessary throws, then Florida will be able to move the chains. Kentucky provided a ton of pressure to Rod Johnson’s side of the offensive line and that forced Driskel to throw the ball away sporadically.

The special teams need to come in clutch for Florida in this ball game if they are going to have a chance to win this ball game.

Kyle Christy was able to flip the field multiple times for Florida, and that is going to come in handy if he keeps that kind of play up during the Crimson Tide.

Frankie Velez has only missed one field goal this year. If Florida can get in Frankie’s range, he has to be able to produce points.

If Florida loses: 34-17

I know I am not the only one that isn’t afraid to admit that Florida is the inferior team going into the this match up.

Florida’s secondary looked absolutely terrible against Kentucky. If the safeties aren’t able to step up, Blake Sims could have a field day throwing to Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard.

Florida also had a lot of miscommunications and a lot of flags thrown on them against Kentucky.

The Alabama offense will make Florida pay if there is a flag thrown. It is crucial that Florida avoids all stupid penalties and mistakes at all costs.

I am very stoked to see this match up, as every Gator fan should be.

We will know what kind of team Florida will be after next Saturday’s game in Bryant Denny Stadium.matt jones