Off-Topic: A Note on Gradkowski

October 9, 2006

I know, I know, it’s another Bucs post, but I figure if I talk about Chris Simms going out and Bruce Gradkowski replacing him, I should at least mention something on how the rook did.

As it turns out, he did just fine. Statistically, he had an excellent day, going 20/31 for 225 yards and 2 TDs. He did have one major bad play, a fumble that the Saints would convert into a touchdown of their own. Still, for a 6th-round draft pick making his first career start in his rookie year, and on the road to boot, that’s excellent. He even showed some mobility that caught the Saints by surprise a little bit, though it won’t take long for defensive coordinators to see it and catch on.

“There is a lot of promise in that young guy. He played his brains out,” Gruden said. “I like everything about him.”

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” Gradkowski said. “There’s a lot of good that came out of this game. Guys made great plays, the receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen were blocking their butts off … running the ball well.”

The Cadillac finally got back on track, and Gradkowski made some plays, but a Reggie Bush punt return ended up winning the Saints the game. The AP writeup for the game, which is where the above quotes come from, spent most of it fawning over Bush, and that’s fine because most of the coverage of the game did. Lost in all of that though was a rookie quarterback who made a very impressive debut and, if he can keep it up, looks to have a very long career in the NFL.

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Polls and Room for Improvement

October 9, 2006

I was somewhat surprised to see Florida 2nd in the AP poll. I know that a lot of people, sportswriters especially, saw the LSU game as a “prove it” game for Florida. The Gators came out on top with a 23-10 win and proved that they belong in the national title discussion. I still think Ohio State is the only team you can reasonably pick for number one because of how the Buckeyes dominated Texas and Iowa both. They’re the only sure thing. After that, it gets blurry.

Florida probably should be number two since they are undefeated and have beaten Alabama, LSU, and a Tennessee team that is looking better and better by the week. The fact that the UT game was in Knoxville and a fourth quarter comeback win makes it look even better. Other contenders include USC, whose only victories of note are Arkansas, who really isn’t that great despite the Auburn win in a look-ahead game for the Tigers, and Nebraska, who was undone by ultra-conservative coaching. Plus, the Trojans looked very beatable against the Washington schools. Michigan gets all of its prestige this year from one win, the Notre Dame blowout. Granted, that’s a great win, but after that the Wolverines have played only middle-of-the-road Big 10 teams like Wisconsin and Minnesota. West Virginia has looked good, but hasn’t played a ranked team.

ESPN.com (who also has UF at #2) says that Florida could be number one if it wins at Auburn. I’m not so sure about that since, though Florida will have had the toughest schedule by far, they aren’t dominating like OSU has been. The Gators’ pass defense fell from 64 to 70 nationally after the game. Granted interceptions don’t count in that, but if JaMarcus Russell makes better decisions and doesn’t throw so many INTs, may LSU wins that game. SI.com praises Florida, saying it is a team on the rise and that Tim Tebow is one of its three Big Men on Campus for the week, but then promptly picks Auburn to win 17-14 (all in the same article!).

Coach Meyer of course downplayed the importance of the rankings, and really, he should. With Florida’s schedule, as long as the Gators win out, there’s no way they could end up out of the top two. He also needs to keep the team focused because after a scare at South Carolina and a collapse against Arkansas, Auburn will be playing to save its season this Saturday. If Auburn loses this one, it’ll take three losses by the Pigs (out of South Carolina, Tennessee, Miss State, and LSU) for Auburn to go to Atlanta. All but MSU at least potentially could be losses, but I wouldn’t count on it during one of Houston Nutt’s classic I-gotta-save-my-job years.

Then again, LSU was pretty much playing for its season and Florida still won by two touchdowns. The game is at Auburn though, which gives the Tigers an advantage. Florida did win at Tennessee though, and Neyland Stadium gets more riled up than Jordan-Hare ever does. As you can see, there’s a million different ways to look at this game. While SC and Arkansas exposed a lot of flaws in Auburn’s defense, the WarPlainsTigers are not going to roll over and die just because the Mighty Gators roll into town and tell them to. No one will be intimidated this weekend on either side of the ball.

Tommy Tuberville is too good of a coach to let Auburn pull an LSU this weekend. At least, I think he is. He’s only been untouchably good once, and that was when he had Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, and Jason Campbell all as seniors. Before that year, the school was ready to fire him for Bob Petrino. He also had the bad karma of complaining about possibly being shut out of the national title game working against him. Now, they have to win or they’re out of both the SEC West and BCS bowl chase.

Still though, it feels very good to get validated with national rankings. Gator Growl got everything amped up, between the highlight clips set to music from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (which is highly effective) to Urban Meyer’s best speech to fans yet. Then, the ESPN College GameDay guys showed up for the first time in three years and were rewarded with the loudest crowd in GameDay history (no joke, and well done to all in attendance). Finally, the Gators went out and won a game by 13 that most national pundits picked them to lose. It was one of the best Gator football weekends in years.

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Now that the excitement has worn off to some degree, it’s time to take a good look at the team. The offensive line has improved drastically in its pass coverage over the year. The running game still seems to be limited to DeShawn Wynn and Tim Tebow. The secondary keeps giving up lots of yards but somehow ends up with timely interceptions over and over. I said this above, but it bears repeating: Florida’s vaunted defense is 70th in the country in passing yards surrendered per game.

That’s the most exciting thing from this weekend: Florida looked that good but still has a lot of room for improvement. If DeShawn Wynn won’t be at 100%, someone else is going to need to step up. Getting a healthy Percy Harvin will help tremendously too. His first catch of the LSU game illustrated why perfectly: he took a nondescript and well-covered screen pass and turned it into a 14 yard gain. Chris Leak is going to need to stop throwing it away so much when a receiver is open and also stop underthrowing Andre Caldwell on his deep post routes (he did just that twice against UCF too). The coaches are also going to need to get more decisive on the rotating QB thing, since Florida has been wasting about two timeouts a game solely because of the play clock running low due to them deciding to switch quarterbacks with 15 seconds to go.

Having Marcus Thomas back was a huge help too, as he played a lot more and a lot better than most people, myself most of all, had expected. The line got some pressure on Russell but didn’t come away with as many sacks as it should have. Now, I heard today that Auburn has a smallish offensive line, so that presents a prime opportunity to cause some havoc this weekend. Having Thomas there the whole week at practice should help too.

Special teams is one area that is looking pretty solid. The coverage was excellent on the whole, and Riley Cooper’s hit on Early Doucet to cause the fumble that ended up a safety was amazing for a freshman wide receiver. Brandon James is fine on returns when he actually gets to return it. Eric Wilbur had a fantastic game against LSU, making a huge difference in the field position game. Florida will be in great shape if he can keep it up on the Plains. Chris Hetland, meanwhile, still can’t make a field goal and Meyer said he might look into letting Eric Nappy try some. Hetland apparently has been hitting them well in practice, so he hasn’t for sure lost the job. The fact that they got the extra point problems solved means things are going in the right direction, and Florida has been fortunate this year that the lack of field goals hasn’t come back to bite them.

The biggest thing to look out for is an emotional let down after this past weekend. Auburn is still a very, very good team, and they’ll be plenty motivated at home. They’ll come out fired up and probably score quickly, like everyone but UCF has done to UF this year. I expect it to be more like the Tennessee game than LSU. It’ll be hard-nosed, defensive SEC football, and as long as Meyer isn’t so fixated on “out-toughing” Auburn to the point of rushing Wynn up the middle for no gain 14 times, Florida should be fine. We shall see.