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

Florida vs. Kentucky: 25 Predictions

1) Jeff Driskel will throw for over 300 yards

2) A Florida linebacker will record an interception

3) Florida will throw the ball on at least 40% of their offensive plays

4) Kentucky will not rush for more than 80 yards as a team

5) At least three Gator running backs will rush for a touchdown

6) Kentucky’s average third down yardage needed will be six or greater

7) Kentucky QB Patrick Towles will be sacked at least four times

8) Top Kentucky WR Ryan Timmons will not catch more than three passes

9) The Gators’ offense will turn the ball over at least twice

10) Andre Debose will break off a punt return of at least 25 yards

11) Kentucky RB Jojo Kemp will be held to less than 30 yards on the ground

12) Treon Harris will throw a touchdown pass

13) Multiple Gator running backs will rush for 70 yards or more

14) A defensive lineman will strip sack Towles and force a fumble

15) Kyle Christy averages over 45 yards per punt

16) Five different wide receivers will catch a pass (not including tight ends, tailbacks, fullbacks, etc.)

17) Florida’s average touchdown drive takes less than four minutes

18) Kentucky will go three and out on at least a third of their offensive possessions

19) Clay Burton will accumulate at least 75 receiving yards

20) Florida’s defense will force at least four turnovers

21) The Gators’ defense or special teams will set up a drive starting inside Kentucky’s 20 yard line, if not scoring directly off it

22) Florida’s offense will hit at least four plays of 30 yards or more

23) Will Muschamp will pull the starters by midway through the fourth quarter

24) Kentucky will not get shut out

25) Florida will cover the 18 point spread

PRESEASON PREDICTION: Florida 35, Kentucky 6

FINAL VERDICT: Not much has changed, except that Kentucky RB Jojo Kemp has provided the Gators with some bulletin board material. That’s worth an extra field goal for the Gators, who put this one away by the time the fans lock arms and sing “We Are The Boys”.

PROJECTION: Florida 38, Kentucky 6

Freshman DB JC Jackson (Shoulder) Out For Season

This injury thing is starting to get really, really old.

Already down one starter (TE Jake McGee) and a five star freshman (DE Thomas Holley), the Gators have now lost cornerback JC Jackson, who will undergo shoulder surgery, for the season. Jackson had a labrum issue that dated back to his high school days, and though Will Muschamp said, “He possibly could continue to push through the season,” he ultimately came to the conclusion that, “with his young age, go ahead and try and get it fixed and move on.”

Muschamp spoke highly of Jackson, touting him as very helpful at special teams and possibly at cornerback. But this injury- at least by itself- will not impact the Gators’ secondary too much. Vernon Hargreaves remains one of the best cover corners in the game, and behind him, Duke Dawson has shown what he can do with a pick six against Eastern Michigan. After Dawson, there’s Jalen Tabor, who was equally highly touted. I’m not worried about our team with this injury alone.

But the continuation of guys getting injured is beginning to get worrisome. This appears to be a much better team than we saw in 2013, but injuries can derail even the best teams. And while right now, with the replacements Florida has found so far for Jake McGee (Clay Burton) and will find for Jackson, this team can still compete for championships. However, if this parade of injuries continues, I don’t know that that’s any longer the case.

Can this team stay healthy? The answer could- right or wrong- decide Muschamp’s future at Florida.

Florida 65, Eastern Michigan 0: We Learned Little From The Blowout

It feels good to win again, doesn’t it?

That was the ultimate goal of playing Eastern Michigan, as it was to play Idaho, Charleston Southern, the Citadel, Appalachian State, and yes, Georgia Southern. The purpose wasn’t really to make any conclusions about the 2014 Gators. And while I realize many of Florida’s not a national championship team because of one game, you can’t make assumptions of any kind based off a 65-0 nuking of a team UF paid $850K to come and take their beating.

The purpose of this post is to serve as a quick warning to Gator fans: we’re on the right track, but we haven’t really proven anything- good or bad- yet.

How can you make anything of an offense that scored 65 (OK, 58 plus a pick six) on a defense that was the sixth worst in the FBS last year? How can you assess the Gators’ line blocking well for Jeff Driskel against a team that was in the bottom 10% nationally last year in sacks? What is there to learn from Andre Debose breaking thousands of tackles and nearly scoring on a punt return against a highly undisciplined special teams unit that broke their lanes within seconds of the ball leaving the punter’s foot?

The defense, as always, was ferocious. The front seven set up camp in the EMU backfield, forcing several mistakes from the Eagles’ various QB’s. Past experience tells me that Will Muschamp’s defenses are always going to to be great. But shutting out an anemic Eastern Kentucky team that finished dead last in the MAC last year in total offense isn’t a point I would be so quick to bring up in a debate about the Gators’ defense.

So it’s really impossible to tell where this team is right now. They looked good, and it felt good to explode on the scoreboard, but lose back to back games against Alabama and Tennessee and suddenly, the 65-0 score is erased from our memories. This team will not be defined by its season opening performance (duh), which is why we as fans shouldn’t put too much stock into it and celebrate it more than we do any other win over a team we pay big money to come take a beating. Let’s wait until we win more games.

Having said that, we’re probably not going to learn too much about our team from the Kentucky game, either. As I’ve said before, Kentucky is a football team’s drug. The Cats have scored a grand total of 29 points in their last five visits to the Swamp (to the Gators’ 195 in those same five games). That’s not to say Florida isn’t going to have a better season, but beating a toothless Wildcat team for the 28th straight time isn’t proving anything, either.

So we won a game, which is great. Several new Gators, such as Duke Dawson, Treon Harris and Brandon Powell, got their feet wet in the Swamp, which is really great. But we have no real data to judge this team by. Not yet.

Gators crush Eastern Michigan 65-0 in 2014 season debut

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — This adventure against a team called the Eagles sure went better than the last one.

Florida junior QB Jeff Driskel passed for 248 yards and a touchdown as the Gators shut out the overmatched Eastern Michigan Eagles by a blowout 65-0 margin in a non-conference game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

matt jones

The 65 points for the Gators is the most for the program in a single game since the 2008 season, and the most scored during Will Muschamp’s tenure at Florida. And it’s Florida’s largest shutout pitched since a 65-0 defeat of Kentucky, which occurred back in 1996.

Driskel completed 31-of-45 pass attempts for the Gators, setting career highs in both completions and attempts. Treon Harris tallied 148 yards and two touchdowns on his only two pass attempts. Sophomore WR Demarcus Robinson caught six passes for 123 yards and a touchdown, and Kelvin Taylor rushed eight times for 68 yards and two touchdowns.

EMU QB Brogan Roback was one of three quarterbacks who took snaps for the Eagles, completing 5-of-10 pass attempts for just 29 yards.

Gators kicker Francisco Velez converted a 33-yard field goal to put the Gators on the board midway through the opening quarter.

Less than a minute later, the Gators recovered a fumble on defense and then the offense came on the field and sophomore RB Kelvin Taylor’s 31-yard touchdown run put them on top 10-0.

Florida Junior RB Matt Jones added another score with a 40-yard touchdown run with 4:48 left in the first quarter.

Early in the second, freshman RB Brandon Powell made it 24-0 after a 12-yard touchdown run. Francisco Velez made another field goal midway through the quarter, this one from 36 yards out.

Matt Jones caught a four-yard pass from Driskel for his second touchdown on the day, this one just under six minutes into the second half.

Late in the third quarter, Kelvin Taylor ran in his second touchdown, extending Florida’s lead to 44-0.

Freshman defensive back Duke Dawson intercepted Eagles backup quarterback Rob Bolden on his first pass attempt less than a minute later, and ran it back 36 yards for yet another score, making it 51-0.

In the first minute of the fourth quarter, true freshman and backup QB Treon Harris came in the game and on his first pass threw a 70-yard bomb to Demarcus Robinson for a touchdown. Harris then one-upped his first completion just over two minutes later by connecting with RB Mark Herndon on a 78-yard scoring strike.

Florida held Eastern Michigan to a measly 125 total offensive yards in the game, while the Gators compiled 655 total yards of offense in the crushing victory in new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s debut.

This win felt different then most do early in the season to overmatched teams that come into the Swamp to get taken to the woodshed. It felt like a huge weight was lifted off of the shoulders of a program that was in the midst of a dumpster fire.

The Florida Gators now look ahead to next Saturday night when it hosts an up-and-coming Kentucky Wildcats team (2-0) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on the SEC Network at 7:30 pm EST.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/09/06/4332526/recap-florida-vs-eastern-mich.html#storylink=cpy

 

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/09/06/4332526/recap-florida-vs-eastern-mich.html#storylin

What to expect Saturday against the Eastern Michigan Eagles

 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Well, the closest we have gotten to the Florida “new look offense” so far, was watching Jeff Driskel warming up with his receivers approximately 30 minutes before the storms rolled into Gainesville.

I was there. I experienced what felt like nothing would allow the Gators to put the past behind them. Valdez “Showers” ironically in a heavy shower ran back the opening kick-off 64 yards. And then the night was over.

While Eastern Michigan was busy bludgeoning concrete cinderblocks with a sledgehammer in their opener, Florida was busy dodging lightning and tropical storm type torrential downpours.

So… Here we are.

I fully expect Florida to come out fired up like never before. The players are hungry and ready to play. According to Gators QB Jeff Driskel, the first play of the game against Idaho was supposed to be an off-tackle run by Matt Jones. This time, I think you will see a play action  deep ball on the first offensive play. The Eastern Michigan defense is bad, really bad. EMU struggled to beat FCS foe Morgan State of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference last week. Morgan State put up almost 500 yards of offense on EMU’s defense and it took a blocked punt for the Eagles to pull out the win against Morgan State.

If there is a game under Will Muschamp where the Gators offense can score 50 points, this is that game. Muschamp told the media to expect the young guys to get plenty of playing time. True freshman Treon Harris will play quite a bit in this game.

Eastern Michigan’s offense is formidable. They are a run heavy team that features multiple backs. EMU will most likely rotate between Reginald Bell Jr. and Brogan Roback at quarterback.

I expect this game to be as ugly as the field was last Saturday night.

Gators win 45-7