Urban Meyer said yesterday that while watching the games this Saturday, he realized that what won teams games was playmakers making plays. This “revelation” of sorts means that Florida will be putting more spread back into the offense rather than a lot of the up-the-middle stuff that they had gotten into the habit of doing this year.
This is good. I have been saying that the “we’ve got to out-tough teams” mindset, while useful, is not what will win games for Florida. Last year, they had to take some of the spread parts out of the offense and go with a more power scheme since the playmakers were out injured or playing hurt. This year, there’s more playmakers on the team, and none have had serious injuries. It was appropriate to get more conservative then, it is appropriate to get more aggressive now. The two leading rushers for Florida against Auburn were Percy Harvin and Andre Caldwell, and it was frustrating to me at least watching the Gators go away from that kind of play as the game wore on.
* * *
So a lot of people did mid-season report cards, and I didn’t. Partly, it was because I was exceedingly busy at the halfway point, and partly because it didn’t make sense to do it at that point for a number of reasons. It didn’t occur during an off week, and also it was still inside the three-week run of SEC West teams.
The offensive line has been good, but not spectacular. It has led the way for multiple games with a 100-yard rusher, but it was as big a factor in the second-half letdown at Auburn as any unit on the team. The running backs all complement each other when all are healthy. The receivers have been inconsistent in that you don’t know who’s going to step up in a particular game out of the lot of them, but so far someone has in every game except Auburn (note the common thread throughout this). As far as the quarterbacks, I think I’ve beaten that horse enough over the past weeks that I don’t need to rehash it all again right now. The offense gets a B+, since sometimes it was the coaches going too conservative that held them back.
The defense has been great for the most part. The defensive line was hampered by not having Marcus Thomas for three games, but it otherwise has been one of the strongest positions on the field. The linebackers have been great too, though as many have pointed out, they over-pursued everything at Auburn. The coaches have them blitz too much which hampers their effectiveness, but I don’t hold that against them. The secondary has been a paradox. They give up too many yards, and can’t make enough stops. When opposing teams convert on third and more than two, more often than not it’s on a quick screen or slant because the cornerbacks are lined up 5 to 10 yards off the line. I understand that the coaches put them there, but they have too because only Reggie Nelson is a top-tier player back there. If you take away the some of the rather fortunate interceptions they’ve been getting, Florida is not 6-1. Overall they get a B as well, but I don’t know how it can improve that without taking more risks and getting more timely stops.
The special teams has been a mixed bag. At first they couldn’t get convert an extra point on a regular basis, and it took until Game 7 to get a field goal (for a variety of reasons, some not their fault). The return coverage had been decent until Auburn, and the return game still has not scored a touchdown in years. I give them a C, but that may be somewhat generous. There is a lot of room for improvement here.
I may be a bit harsh, but I would give only two teams in the country an A on offense, and that’s Ohio State and West Virginia. I may seem odd that a consensus top-ten team would be B, B, and C on its assessment, but that’s the truth. And, this year, that’s all it takes to be a top-ten team. This Florida team is good compared to a lot of other teams this year, but the 1996 Florida team would destroy this one. The 2006 Florida secondary is too weak, and the offense is too inconsistent.
Still, all they have to do is beat three teams that are inferior to them and they go to Atlanta for the first time since 2000. That’s a good feeling.