The Gators improved to 5-0 this weekend by putting the beating on Towson that they paid good money to put on them. Now, things are about to get tougher.
But before we move forward, let’s dive a little deeper into what went down on Saturday.
1) Florida still doesn’t have a running game. Or at least not a very good one. And now the Gators are out of time to find one. Dameon Pierce looks like the best back Florida has, but he’s handcuffed by a very shaky right side of the offensive line. Making matters worse, for whatever reasons you want to attribute this to, Malik Davis and LaMical Perine just don’t look the same as they did in previous years. The good news is, John Hevesy has finally begun playing around with different starting offensive line combinations by giving Richard Gouraige some reps against Towson. But I’ll put this very bluntly: if Florida is to have any chance whatsoever to beat Auburn, they’re going to need to magically transform their ground game from nonexistent to competent in one week.
2) Florida’s defense misses Jabari Zuniga and CJ Henderson more than they probably want to admit. Marco Wilson is a fine/very good/above average/solid/whatever other label you want to give a fringe B+/A- cornerback. And Jonathan Greenard is a true baller wherever he lines up. Two players do not make a defense, though, and Florida really misses having two high level options up front and in the secondary instead of just one. Towson’s offense is very good by FCS standards, so it would be expected for them to make some plays here and there against the Gators, but there’s no excuse for them to storm down the field against a Florida defense that, even with Jim McElwain, recruited at an exponentially higher level than Towson did, on each of their first two drives of the game. The hope is that getting Zuniga and Henderson back against Auburn will help.
3) Dan Mullen displayed some well calculated anger to keep his team emotionally balanced. The point of scheduling an FCS team like Towson was to make everybody feel good after smashing them, but Mullen also knows not to let his team get too high mentally. So he ripped into his team at several different points in the game, chewing out the defense for getting run over on Towson’s first two drives and screaming at the offense for a rather ugly miscommunication that very nearly resulted in an interception. He let the players have some fun after the game, but he also made sure the kids stayed grounded with Auburn coming next week.
4) Whatever doubts that remained about Kyle Trask being an upgrade over Feleipe Franks are now gone- and that appears to be Mullen’s first true mistake at Florida. Now, fair is fair: I’ll grant Mullen that he watches every rep in practice and I don’t. I know that. And I’ll also grant Mullen that he did open up the QB competition last year- for real, not just as coach speak in a press conference- last year after the Missouri debacle. I know that, too. But I also know that Florida’s FPI win probability against every remaining opponent other than FSU is at least a full 2% higher than what it was two weeks ago today, when Trask officially took over for Franks. That means I’m not the only one who thinks Trask passes the eye test better than Franks; the boys in Vegas do, too. Whatever goes on in practice, there’s something to be said for Trask being a gamer, and however you want to slice it- when you subtract the end of 2018 when Trask was injured and add the first two and three quarters of game action from this year to the equation, as well as two full offseasons- Mullen missed a lot of potential reps for Trask to get that additional game action and begin his learning process earlier than he did. I still love Mullen, still believe in him and no, those of you who jump the gun, this does not warm his seat in the slightest bit- but it’s a mistake on his part. We all make them.
5) The youngsters endured some growing pains. Better for the rookies to go through their freshman moments against this set of Tigers than the next three. True freshman Jaydon Hill dropped what would have been a sure pick six on the left sideline. Redshirt freshmen Emory Jones and Jacob Copeland narrowly missed what would have been an electrifying touchdown hookup late in the game, with Jones just under throwing Copeland by a few inches, and Copeland not being able to adjust and make what would have been a great catch. Even Trask, the newly minted starter, had a scary moment in which he nearly threw an interception directly to a Towson cornerback.
Verdict: For better or worse, we’ll know what the Gators have in a week from now. Florida has shown a lot of promising signs- the game to game improvement of Marco Wilson, the addition by subtraction at the quarterback position and the tenacity of Jonathan Greenard- but they’ve also displayed a lot of things to be concerned about. I objectively believe Dan Mullen can and will outcoach Gus Malzahn, but Florida has a lot of work to do with its running game and third down defense to close that gap enough for it to make a difference.