Tebow is Returning

January 12, 2009

With these words, Tim Tebow announced his intention to return to campus next season. It wasn’t as dramatic as the 04s’ return announcement where they dropped and broke a fake crystal basketball trophy, but it will do.

The immediate reaction has been to already name Florida as next season’s sure preseason No. 1 pick. Given that it took months for the consensus to form around Georgia as 2008’s preseason No. 1, it’s a bit hasty. However when at least 10 starters on defense, most of the offense, and the Heisman-winning quarterback are all coming back from a national title winning team, it makes sense to go ahead and call it now.

Tebow dropped hints all along the way that he would come back, the first probably before he even thought about 2009. During his famous speech after the Ole Miss game, he said that his goal for the season was to go undefeated, something that had never been done before at Florida. That signaled to me that no matter how the year ended, he’d have that unmet objective in the back of his mind.

Then of course throughout December he was asked about staying or leaving. The whole time he did an admirable job of making it sound like he was going to give the NFL a fair shot, but you could hear in his voice and read between the lines that his heart is not with the pros yet.

Percy Harvin hasn’t decided his course of action yet, but he meets with Urban Meyer today to help make up his mind. It’s encouraging that he said he’s leaning towards coming back, but honestly I’d tell him to leave if he asked me for advice. He’s been hurt so often, why risk another bad injury when you’re not getting first round money for it?

Ryan Stamper says that on the plane back from Miami, Brandon Spikes told him he’s coming back. I wish I still had the links (sorry), but I’ve seen one place where Spikes said Tebow’s decision would influence him greatly, and another where Charlie Strong said his advice would be to stay. Strong’s rationale was that Spikes might grade out a second or third round pick by the NFL draft report, and that the coaches only tell players to go if they grade out as first rounders.

Only one other Gator asked for a draft evaluation, and that was Brandon James. He has no intention of leaving early, but he desires to play in the NFL and wanted to know what he needed to do to get there. Makes sense.

I always try to control my expectations for this team, but I can’t this time. There is no reason to think that Florida shouldn’t be the national title favorite (catastrophic injuries not withstanding) with so many people coming back from a title-winning squad. I felt the same way about the 2006-07 basketball team, and the same applies with these guys.

How long is it again until September?


National Champions

January 9, 2009

You don’t gotta win pretty, you just gotta win. National champions, twice in three years.

It’s like the 2008 team was magically transported to 2006 where they beat the Buckeyes like they did all season, and the 2006 team showed up tonight to win a tough, gritty, and close game.

Yes, Urban Meyer can win with his own players.

Yes, Percy Harvin is the best skill position player in the nation.

Yes, Tim Tebow was the best quarterback on the field tonight.

And yes, Florida is rightfully named national champions.


BCS Title Game: 7-7 at the Half

January 8, 2009

My brother texted me not long ago to say that we’re lucky it’s not 21-7 at the half. I don’t fully agree with that because letting teams gain yards but then stiffening up in the red zone is what the defense has done all year. Nothing new there.

Tebow is not having a good game on his handoff/keep reads though. On a couple of the 4-9 yard losses, Tebow should have kept it instead of handing it off. The two INTs don’t help his cause much either,  but he’s been pretty sharp throwing the ball except for those.

In short, the Florida offense is not executing very well. The Oklahoma offense is executing very well, but the Florida defense is stopping them when it counts.

If Florida’s offense can step up the execution and the defense can keep it up, we should be in good shape. We’ll see.


One Last Look at the Defenses

January 8, 2009

The relative value of the two defenses in this BCS title game has been the most pervasive and contentious debate. It’s what both teams have been mouthing off about the most, and it also is perhaps what has inflamed message boards the most (other than the generic Conference Wars woofing).

Something I’ve see brought up a lot in recent days is that one reason why Oklahoma gives up more points and yards than Florida does is because of the fast pace of its games. More plays per game means more points and yards allowed, you see. Another thing I’ve heard is that Oklahoma tends to give up a lot of points when the game is out of hand, skewing their numbers.

I went through the play-by-play of each teams’ games (throwing out each’s game against a I-AA opponent) to see how much this was true.

I counted up how many full drives each faced. I threw out any drives that ended halves with something other than a score or punt from the drive count totals.

I also counted up how many yards and points each defense surrendered. Defensive penalty yards were included in the yardage count because it would have taken too long to pull them out. Plus those are yards the defense allows the offense to move, so they are relevant in that sense.

The twist is that I recorded what the point margin in the game was at the time the yards and points were given up. That way, I could draw some sort of conclusion on the part about Oklahoma giving up a lot of points when the game was out of hand. For points, I recorded the margin before they were scored. So for example, if a touchdown was allowed when the game was 14-0 in favor of OU or UF, the recorded margin goes down as 14.

What makes a competitive game is subjective of course. However, in my casual observation I have noticed that teams generally don’t change their strategy until the opponent’s lead is more than 14 points. That can change as the course of the game goes on, but they certainly do change strategy when the lead is more than 21. Those became the two benchmarks for the “out of hand” analysis.

Here is a handy table organizing my findings:

Defense, Oklahoma and Florida
Oklahoma Florida
Drives 156 136
Points 301 153
% Drives Scor 29.5% 18.4%
% Drives TD 24.4% 9.6%
Yards/Drive 31.27 23.29
Points/Drive 1.93 1.13
% Pts, 14 & under 45.8% 45.8%
% Pts, 21 & under 52.8% 56.9%

So it was true that Oklahoma had to defend more drives than Florida did. Twenty more, to be precise. You can see in the yards and points per drive what happens when you smooth out the difference in drive count. The yardage difference is there but not great, but the Sooners allow almost a full point per drive more.

We can also see that Oklahoma allowed its opponents to score on almost 30% of their drives, as compared to Florida’s defense allowing opponents to score on just 18% of their drives. You can also see in the next row that OU allows touchdowns quite a bit more often than Florida does. That fact is something that can be attributed to the Gators’ incredible red zone defense and its propensity to hold teams to field goal attempts.

The real juicy stuff comes on the last two rows. Each team allows the same proportion of its points when they lead by 14 or fewer points, and the difference when the margin was 21 or less is only very slight.

So while Oklahoma gives up a good number of its points when the game is out of hand, Florida basically gives up the same percentage of its points when the game is out of hand too. Because of that fact, you then have to go back to the chicken-or-egg fight about offensive and defensive strength in the two conferences to settle this one once and for all. That battle is not something I intend to get into here, because there is no ultimate, satisfying answer.

The Sooner players have done an admirable job at defending their defense, and some others have brought up some interesting points about game pace and the timing of when points
are given up.

However, those arguments don’t cut it when it comes to explaining why Oklahoma gave up more points than Florida did this season.

Appendix

If you prefer graphics and pretty colors, here are pie charts for what the margin is when these two teams give up their points.

ou-points

florida-points


A Preview of the Game

January 8, 2009

I volunteered to write a few bowl previews for Bleacher Report, and the final one for tonight’s game is here.


Time for the DEs to Step Up

January 8, 2009

Watch these highlights of Texas DE Brian Orakpo against Oklahoma:

The left tackle he’s often going against is Phil Loadholt, a 6-8, 337 lb man/mountain. Even with Orakpo’s freakish strength, going through Loadholt is not something that is going to happen consistently.

What you do see in that video is that you can go around him if you’ve got the speed to do it. Something that Kirk Herbstreit gets cut off from mentioning is that Loadholt doesn’t have the best lateral speed/quickness, an understandable condition for a guy his size.

Sam Bradford leaves games without once hitting the turf more often than not. If Florida is to get the pressure it craves, the ends are going to have to create it because clearly it’s possible.

Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Trattou, and Carlos Dunlap all need to have good games. The success of the defense as a whole could depend on getting some heat on Bradford, and they’re the guys who will need to do it.

(video via Dr. Saturday)


What I Learned From Watching an Oklahoma Game

January 7, 2009

Back in November I recorded the Oklahoma-Texas Tech game on my DVR both in hopes of capturing the career-defining win for Mike Leach (so much for that), and just in case Florida ended up playing either of them in a bowl. I figured it would be good to have a game in which both played another top team to get some good studying in.

As it turns out, Texas Tech’s threat to win the game was about as real as the cherry flavoring in Diet Mountain Dew Code Red. The entire team, and Graham Harrell especially, just plain had a bad game. As a result, it didn’t turn out to be that great of a game for study. I should have saved the Red River Shootout instead, but I forgot to record it that weekend. Such is life.

Despite that issue, I was still able to pull some nuggets of wisdom from the game after re-watching it yesterday evening after work.

The Fox telecast on Thursday might end up the worst sports broadcast ever.

The Fox cameras had trouble at times keeping up with the pace of the Texas-Ohio State Fiesta Bowl. With the up allegro tempo that the Sooners sometimes run their offense, the film crew could fall hopelessly behind. We might never see the Sooners’ formation for more than a second before the snap.

But seriously folks, the Sooners’ fast break is a variable speed machine.

The fast pace of the Sooners’ offense has enabled them to set a scoring record despite the new clock rules slightly reducing the number of plays per game over last season. They seldom snap the ball with less than 15 seconds to go on the play clock and often hike it with more than 20. By contrast, you almost never see Florida snap it with more than 15 seconds to go.

The fast paced OU machine is not a consistent thing though. The farther away from the opposing end zone they are, the generally longer they take in between plays. I guess the idea is to be more careful so as not to get any turnovers close to the opponents’ goal.

When they were within their own 35 or 40, they generally snapped it with 13-18 seconds to go. From about their own 40 to the Red Raiders’ 30, they hiked with about 19 to 25 seconds to go. From there in, the pace got up to a breakneck speed that’s faster than most teams run their hurry up, two minute offense.

So yes, they do go fast. Ricky Bobby fast, even. However, they do have more nuance to it than most give them credit for.

This Bradford guy looked awfully familiar…

It was bothering me for more than a quarter. You know what it’s like, when you see someone and you know they remind you of someone else but you can’t quite place it.

Eventually I got it. Sam Bradford reminded me a lot of Georgia’s Matthew Stafford. It wasn’t so much in his delivery, and he didn’t make as many bad decisions as Stafford generally does over the course of a game. However the way he stood in the pocket, handed off, and threw down field gave me flashbacks to watching the Bulldog signal caller play.

It is true that Florida’s defenders haven’t seen an offense as prolific as OU’s, but they have seen a pocket quarterback with an excellent arm. Bradford almost certainly won’t be gift wrapping any interceptions though, and that makes the task that much tougher.

Gresham will be a problem.

Jermaine Gresham is by far the best tight end Florida will have seen all season, and he’s the biggest pass-catching target too. The Gator secondary has seen a 6-6 receiver in FSU’s Greg Carr and it did just fine against him, but Gresham won’t be running jump ball routes all game as Carr does. Plus, the Sooner tight end outweighs Carr by 50 about pounds.

I can’t say enough about how well the Gator secondary has played. They surpassed all of my expectations. However no one is especially big, and bringing down Gresham in the open field one-on-one will be perhaps the toughest task they face.

Zone defense is choosing death against Oklahoma.

I like Florida’s defensive line, but it is not the 2006 unit. Oklahoma has a monstrous offensive line, and I have a feeling the Gators up front will have even more trouble getting pressure than they did against Alabama. Any pressure will probably come from the ends or blitzers, but it won’t come as often as it did in Glendale against Troy Smith. The result is that Bradford will have some time to go shopping for receivers.

Texas Tech played a lot of zone, and Bradford picked them apart. Given the protection he had, there was always time for someone to get open in a hole in the zone.

Fortunately, Florida doesn’t play much zone. They don’t play strict man coverage, something that allows guys like Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins some freedom, but they cannot stray too far. If Florida is to get many sacks, they are going to have to be coverage sacks.

Oklahoma will miss DeMarco Murray.

I know the guys behind Murray are great backs and they’ll be productive. Neither of them appeared to be able to bring as much to the table as Murray does however.

The more things a single player can do, the more dangerous he is. If you have to use more than one guy to replicate someone you’re missing, then you’re going to be under your peak potential. That’s just the way it works.

The Sooners will need to embrace the blitz.

In general, Texas Tech’s offensive line did a good job of protecting when OU only rushed four players. Far more often than not, no blitz meant that Harrell had time to set his feet and throw. The problem was that he just plain missed his receivers too often to mount a credible counterstrike to the Sooners’ offensive onslaught.

The trouble came whenever an extra defender or three went after the quarterback. The Tech blockers often became confused with the creative blitzing schemes and that is usually what got Harrell into hot water.

Florida’s offensive line has been a huge part of the post-Ole Miss turnaround, even to the point that Urban Meyer says its the main thing that makes the offense go. From what I saw in this one game, I’d say that the Gator O-line will be able to handle the Sooners’ front four well enough to allow Tebow’s Flying Circus to do almost anything they want to.

I have no doubt that Brent Venables has been cooking up some new wrinkles for bringing some extra heat. His crew is going to need it because Florida has a great O-line this season.

There are some possibilities for running against them.

It’s one thing to look at numbers all the time, and something else entirely to see a team play. It may have something to do with how pass-heavy the Red Raiders are, but the Oklahoma run defense didn’t appear to be that fearsome. They missed some open field tackles that I would have expected them to make.

The Sooners did a good job of stopping the screen pass game, which Tech often uses in place of a traditional run game. On the other hand, the Red Raiders enjoyed some success in traditional rushing with RBs Shannon Woods and Barron Batch going for 4.9 and 5.9 yards per carry respectively.

Woods and Batch are nice backs, but they do not have the speed or explosiveness of Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey, or Jeff Demps. Emmanuel Moody is probably an upgrade too. Florida will have a lot a success running the ball if Oklahoma hasn’t shored up its rush defense in the time since.

The best defense is a good offense.

You’ve heard this phrase a million times, but in this game it was true. Texas Tech didn’t score until the second quarter, but it moved the ball well enough to have it for a little over half of the first quarter. With the Sooners’ offense on the sideline more often than not, it was only able to manage a single touchdown.

When the second quarter came around, the Red Raiders ended up having the ball for only about a third of it. Thanks to some turnovers and a downturn for the offense, Oklahoma exploded for 35 points in that second period alone. It was the knockout blow.

This may seem like a cliche (because it is) and fairly obvious (because it is), but it is relevant because Florida’s offense can chew up clock with the best of them. UF is understandably known for long runs and big plays, but the power running and short passing game can grind out yards too.

Don’t be surprised to see the Gators come out and try to run between the tackles early and not just because the mini Woody Hayes in the back of Urban Meyer’s mind tells him he must at the beginning of nearly every game. It will also be to keep the offensive Sooner Schooner parked in neutral.

Conclusion

Watching for details in a 65-21 blowout reveals all kinds of things you would normally miss as you dismiss the game as not worth watching anymore. I have an even greater appreciation for how effortless Oklahoma can make offensive football look, and it can do it to a degree not even this year’s Florida team can match.

I cannot wait for this game to come to see how everything turns out.


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