Orange and Blue Game Wrapup

April 20, 2009

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to the Orange and Blue Game. That’s one of the few sucky things about living in Charlotte (besides all the ACC fans): I can’t just go to Gainesville whenever I want.

Anyway, my parents and brother did make the game. Rather than give a rundown of all the media coverage of the game, I’ll instead tell you what they told me.

My brother was very disappointed that Tim Tebow didn’t do any downfield throwing. He said Timmy mostly was tossing swing passes, though he did run around a bit. That is, of course, until he got tagged by a defender. Ultimately though, this day wasn’t really about him.

It was John Brantley’s day. Urban Meyer has raved about Brantley’s performance in recent weeks, and for the most part he came through. My parents said his favorite target was Frankie Hammond, who had no trouble getting behind the reserve DBs according to my brother.

They also said that Tebow was conversing with Meyer the whole time while Brantley was playing, almost as though he was an assistant coach. That wouldn’t surprise me at all, and there’s precendent for it. Meyer made Chris Leak a big part of game planning in 2006, even letting Leak script the first 10 or 15 plays of the national title game himself.

My brother said one thing that stood out to him that few of the media reports mentioned was that there were some issues with shotgun snaps. Redshirt freshman Sam Robey is said to have won the starting center role not so much because he outplayed Maurkice Pouncey (because he didn’t), but because he played well enough to move Maurkice back to guard where the coaches want him. Robey apparently had issues with snapping it right into Tebow’s hands, but theoretically an off season’s worth of practice ought to straighten that out by the fall.

Walk on RB Christopher Scott ran hard and was productive, they said. Whether he’ll play much in the fall remains to be seen, but think about this for a second. The Gators now have a walk on who is behind three or four (depending on incoming freshman Mike Gillislee) other guys who is able to be a productive back against the defense. Compare that to the situation in 2005-06 (run it Wynnside!) and be grateful. Oh, and Chris Rainey still has the best moves on the team.

With all of the defensive starters injured or taking the day off, the offense was able to move nicely. Even so, there were still starter-caliber guys like Dorian Munroe available and playing. My guess is the backups are probably still a top-50 defense in the country, so it does at least give an indication that the offense progressed through the spring.

My parents are going to Meyer’s upcoming speaking engagement in Orlando, so if he says anything interesting I’ll pass it along.


BCS Title Game Preview, Part 1

January 8, 2007

Today is the first day of classes at UF. If something smells funny about that, it would be because the same institution that sold student tickets for tonight’s game in Arizona also expects students to be in class today. It doesn’t matter for me as I am a graduate student now, and the grad school sets its own calendar, but there is just a hint of hypocrisy about this. In any event, this will have to be in parts because of that and I don’t know how many parts there will be.

Overrated Media Stories

1. Jim Tressel is Conservative but Urban Meyer is Crazy!

In the past, Jim Tressel coached football like he was in the 1960s SEC. This year though, he’s had far too many good wide receivers not to spread the field. Ohio State’s spread is more conservative than Florida’s is, but it’s not like Tressel goes into run-out-the-clock mode with a lead in the second quarter. He knows the Florida defense is good, and I expect to see him call some tricks as a result.

2. Holy Cow! Percy Harvin vs. Ted Ginn!!!

Yes, both are dynamic talents, but it’s not like they’re going to be playing directly against each other. There are some similarities, but there are also some differences in the way that they are used, namely that Ginn is used as a return man and Harvin takes handoffs in the backfield. Ginn also is more elusive in traffic, whereas Harvin is more of a one-move-and-blow-by-you kind of guy. Are they important guys for their teams? Absolutely. However, the quarterback, linebacker, and secondary play for both teams is far more important than these two guys. They’re momentum swingers at best.

3. Florida Can’t Run the Ball

Um, yes it can. Florida averaged the same yardage per rush as Ohio State did, and averaged 160 yards rushing per game in a conference where “Stop the Run!” is the motto for 11 of the 12 teams (I’m not sure that Vanderbilt has a football motto). Ohio State has the more traditional run game, with a workhorse back and a burner for a change of pace. Florida has done it by a committee approach with a mix of running backs and receivers, with Tim Tebow for short-yardage situations. Tebow has shown in some instances that he can run for big gains, but he’s unlikely to have such plays called for him this game.

The biggest factor for Florida here is that DeShawn Wynn is healthy again. He showed he can carry the load against Tennessee, but the coaches have also shown that they can forget about him entirely, such as in the FSU game. If Florida plans on running the ball effectively against Ohio State, it will have to do it at least in part by using Wynn effectively. This reeks of potential redemption game for him.

That’s all for now, more to come later.


The Offense

October 30, 2006

Okay, enough of being a homer. Let’s face it – Florida is somewhat fortunate to be 7-1 with an offense that sometimes lacks cohesion, and absolutely lucky to be ranked 4th in the BCS under those circumstances. Every week it’s something different; sometimes the scheme is good but the execution is not there, other times the execution is pretty good but the scheme is puzzling at best. In the case of the Georgia game, both execution and scheme were bad.

In some ways, it seems like the coaches get stuck up on things that are good in theory rather than focusing on what goes on in the games. For instance, they are very big on getting players “touches.” I’ve always hated that term because it subtly implies that a player will excel simply by placing his hands on the ball. Just get this guy X number of touches per game, and things will be great. A case in point was the one play the coaches ran for Jarred Fayson on Saturday. He came in on one play and had a pass underthrown to him, as if the coaches suddenly thought “Oh no, we need to get Fayson a couple of touches this game,” and threw him in to catch a screen. He then disappeared for the rest of the game.

I prefer more of a basketball style approach – find the open man, and feed the hot hand. Just run good plays and let the fourth-year starter at quarterback decide who gets the ball. It’s like Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen are micromanaging the offense rather than letting it flow. There’s more to it than throwing either the occasion deep bomb to placate the fans and sideways screen passes. Georgia played a lot of zone, and as anyone who knows football well knows, you attack the zone with someone, usually the tight end, going over the middle. Andre Caldwell got his 40-yard touchdown doing just that. Why they didn’t “feed the hot hand” by going back over the middle in the 10 – 15 yard range is beyond me.

Part of micromanaging also is overthinking things. According to a quote from Meyer in today’s Alligator, it took DeShawn Wynn getting in Meyer’s face in the third quarter in order to get him carries. Urban said that did change his mind. Why he decided in the first place that a guy who ran for more than 100 yards on Tennessee was not fit for carries against Georgia raises plenty questions. Meyer spent some of his post game comments talking about how displeased he is with the drop back passing game since Chris Leak doesn’t get enough protection. I would think that using Wynn early to open up the pass would be a good way to buy Leak more time. I’m not advocating the Auburn game offense of Wynn up the middle nearly ever down, but Wynn is a better option between the tackles than Percy Harvin is (and yes, they did run Harvin up the middle in the first quarter). It’s about balance.

Now, part of the offensive struggles may have had to do with Leak and his not-concussion/headache/whatever it was that plagued him from late in the second quarter. Urban said Leak used three unnecessary timeouts after getting a particularly bad hit. It also seemed that some of the penalties could have come from miscommunications dealing with that. I don’t know, but I do know that the penalties need to stop. They kill momentum and disrupt the offensive game plan. Turning third-and-shorts into third-and-longs has been a specialty for the Gators this year, and they will not beat Auburn or Arkansas in the SEC title game if they get penalized as much in that game as they have all season.

One interesting thing I gathered from the morning and midday talk shows today is that there is somewhat of a Tim Tebow backlash starting up. I never thought I’d even get a hint of that this year, but it’s starting. I think his key fumble that led to a Georgia touchdown and his general ineffectiveness (aside from a couple of plays) has reminded people that he is fact a freshman and that he is not Superman. The St. Timothy image I talked about early in the season is fading. Some complain that using Tebow disrupts Leak’s rhythm and that the switching of quarterbacks leads to some of the false start penalties. They decide that for those reasons, Tebow may be better off left on the bench, almost that he’s more trouble than he’s worth now that defenses know that he’s going to run off-tackle left nearly every time.

I think that’s a fascinating development. Even the hits for this site from people searching for Tebow’s name have fallen off and nearly disappeared in the past three days. I think people are realizing that Tebow cannot yet run the offense, that trying to run two different offenses concurrently won’t always work, and that Chris Leak really is the best option for winning this year after all. Now, all it probably will take is a 30-yard run against Vanderbilt for the Tebow madness to start again, but for now there are at least a few fans who are deciding that picking Chris Leak as the quarterback and sticking with him is the best option for success.

It also may be that, just like with Leak and th booing nonsense earlier in the season, that they are not upset with Tebow as much as they are with the coaching staff. The coaches definitely deserve some criticism after that game since Georgia is clearly rebuilding this year and Florida can be an elite team when it wants to be. That game should not have been close. I wonder if the players slipped back into a Zook-era trademark move of relaxing when they get a big lead. Not only is the Meyer regime trying to get by with players recruited for a different scheme, it also has to deal with the culture of complacency that grew up in Ron Zook’s three years. Losses were bad and “not acceptable,” but there were never any consequences really, since they were “getting better and better every week.”

Do not get me wrong here, I am not blaming Ron Zook for anything. His direct influence doesn’t pass the limits of Champagne, Illinois these days. However, even Steve Spurrier in his last couple of years tended to whine a lot more than he did when he first started. I do question the mental toughness of Florida football, and that includes the fans too. We were all spoiled in the ’90s, and it seemed like Florida could do whatever it wanted to simply by showing up. The Tennessee loss in 2001 ended for good any thought of that since Spurrier owned Phil Fulmer, the SEC East was on the line, and Florida still lost.

This year, a lot of good fortune and bad turnovers by opponents in critical times has propelled Florida to where it is now. As I mentioned before, Florida has yet to put together a full game, but neither has any of UF’s opponents. Auburn’s second half was the best half of football played against the Gators, and if not for two uncharacteristic and costly turnovers by Chris Leak late, it still might not have been enough to beat the Gators. There is something about this team that is a double-edged sword – it keeps them from playing sharply, but also keeps the opponents from doing so either.

In the end, the Gator defense has been winning the games week in and week out. The front seven has been excellent in stopping the run outside of the Auburn game, and the secondary has getting a lot of big plays (once again, except for the Auburn game) while letting the smaller plays go. Reggie Nelson in particular has saved the secondary many times, at least when the coaches don’t have him playing 30 yards off of the line of scrimmage (just like in – get this – the Auburn game). Florida has the luxury of playing around with all sorts of things on offense since the defense has been so adept at keeping opponents out of the end zone. They haven’t been perfect, but they’ve been tremendous.

So what about this week? It’s just Vandy right? Well, Vanderbilt beat Georgia and has been very well-coached under Bobby Johnson. Using well-coached and Vanderbilt is not a common occurrence, so that should tell you something. Sure, Jay Cutler is gone, but there were plenty of other guys besides Cutler working to take Florida to double overtime in a game that Florida very well could have lost in regulation if not for a suspect celebration penalty on the Commodores. Florida has better size, speed, and talent all over the field, so the Gators should absolutely win.

As we know, though, Vandy doesn’t make things easy for anyone. They played Michigan to a closer final score than Notre Dame did. Florida should win, but it won’t be a cakewalk.


10:46 pm Saturday night

October 29, 2006

I’m a happy Gator tonight.

It was not the prettiest or the most satisfying win today, but anytime you can return from Jacksonville with a win, you take it. It was a clear, windy day with a slight chill in the air. By the end, just about all Florida fans were wearing jackets or sweatshirts of some kind. The final score, 21-14, did not really reflect how the game went. It’s hard for a score to reflect a game like that.

The Gators were in full control in the first half, finishing with a 14 point lead at halftime. It should have been a larger lead, but Florida kept killing its own drives with penalties, dropped passes, and other execution problems. Both teams played sloppily, which seems to be a hallmark of Gator games this year. Neither team in any of their games has been particularly sharp. I can’t remember the last time a season has been like that.

Anyway, Florida came out and got a touchdown right away to go up 21-0, and it seemed like the game had been put away. Florida’s side of the stadium was rocking, Georgia’s was demoralized, and it seemed an insurmountable lead with a shaky freshman quarterback trying to run the Bulldogs’ offense.

Then a funny thing happened. Florida couldn’t put drives together anymore. The secondary playing so far off of the receivers allowed Matt Stafford to get in a rhythm and comfort zone. Tim Tebow, to the utter shock and disbelief of Florida fans (most of whom refuse to admit that he is just a freshman) fumbled, and then it was a game again.

Fortunately, Florida’s defense tightened up, Florida got a couple of first downs (one only because of a Georgia facemask penalty), and then they were able to take a couple of knees and run the clock out. Shortly after it went final, the public address announcer (who, along with the scoreboard operator, had a really bad game) announced that Oregon State had held on to beat USC. It was a win for Florida, and any win is a good win, but it was not terribly satisfying.

For the second straight week, Florida did not score an offensive point in the second half. Today, the Chris Hetland missed two field goals in UF’s only scoring opportunities after halftime. Urban Meyer definitely adjusted the offense to get Percy Harvin, Andre Caldwell, and Tim Tebow in the game, and all three had mixed results. Caldwell played the best of the three though. The offense did become predictable in a way, and it showed in the second half. He went too far the other way with the offense, and they definitely underused DeShawn Wynn.

There’s give and take with everything, and it’s hard to complain too much when you leave with a win. The intensity for the game was lower than normal before the game, with Georgia fans not giving their team much of a chance. There were plenty of Bulldogs who left before or at halftime as there were small but noticeable amounts of teal in the red and black across the way. Once Georgia got some things going in the second half, they definitely woke up and started to believe until Florida polished off the game in the end.

This was not a typical Florida – Georgia game, but few things are ever normal at this game. The important thing is that UF survived and won, moving to 7-1 overall, 5-1 in the SEC, and to about 7th or 8th in the polls. This was especially important with Southern Cal losing. Florida still needs more help in the national title picture, but they still control the SEC. Now, it’s time to go up to Nashville and take care of Vandy. It won’t be a cakewalk though, as our vanquished opponents today could have told us.


Florida – Auburn Preview

October 14, 2006

I’m been procrastinating as long as I could, but it’s time to write this.

One the one hand, a lot of things are lining up for Auburn. It is a night home game for them, and they had College GameDay there this morning which always gets the fans fired up. They are coming off a loss to Arkansas, and good teams (like Auburn is) rarely lose two games in a row. In addition, Florida traditionally has never played well at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn is essentially playing for its season here, since with a loss it’d be unlikely for them to get to a BCS game and they’d need Arkansas to lose three conference games to go to Atlanta. Plus, Arkansas beat them with size and brute strength, and that’s not how Florida generally wins games.

Florida, on the other hand, has a lot going for it. UF has won eight in a row, and has already won a big night game in Knoxville in front of probably a louder crowd, and quite possibly against a better team. Chris Leak is as steady as they come, and he’s won games in Baton Rouge, Knoxville, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee before. The Gators are coming off of a big win against LSU, and the two quarterback system is really gelling into something special. The defense has bent in every which way, but it hasn’t broken and now with a full week of practice with Marcus Thomas back on the defensive line will only make them better. The offense also gets DeShawn Wynn back and Percy Harvin should be about 100%.
Now the bad. Auburn has been listless the past two games, nearly losing to South Carolina and getting demolished by the Pigs. Brandon Cox is really beat up, and Kenny Irons has been merely average in big games this year. If UF punter Eric Wilbur does as well as he did against LSU, then Auburn will be faced with long fields and the proposition of going 70 to 80 yards on the Florida defense. The Tigers’ defense has had serious issues stopping the run lately, and now they face a healthy Wynn and they’ll also have to deal with Harvin and Tim Tebow busting out of the backfield for potentially big plays.
Florida’s biggest problem, besides history saying that they’ll struggle at Auburn, is what Urban Meyer calls the Florida Nonsense. It’s all of the buzz and the press about the team. There were dozens of stories about Tebow’s touchdowns, how Florida might run the table, how they are in the national title race, and how they might not be in the top two when the BCS standings come out. Well, Florida definitely will not be in the top two if it listens and starts getting a big head. The Gators are at their highest ranking since anyone on the team came to this school. Also, Florida has yet to put a full game together with bad penalties, sloppy play, untimely turnovers, and unfortunate timeouts marring their play.

I will not be surprised whichever team wins. I am going to pick Florida though, and not just because I’m a homer. The offense has been getting better, and with a healthy Harvin it will get even better. Remember after UCF when people were comparing him to Reggie Bush? He’s not Reggie Bush, but he’s a big play threat every time he touches the ball. Wynn is not as fast at the Arkansas backs, but if he is healthy and ready to go he could punish the Tigers’ defense. Auburn also does not have the corners to cover all of Florida’s receivers. It’s hard to describe just how much of an advantage UF has when comparing receivers.

Auburn having lackluster wideouts also mitigates the Gators’ biggest weakness on defense – the secondary. Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith have been great and good, but they still give up too many passing yards. Basically though, if you stop Kenny Irons you stop Auburn and Florida’s front seven (plus Tony Joiner blitzing most likely) will get to both Irons and Cox in the backfield.

I expect this will be somewhere between the Tenenssee game and the LSU game. I don’t think it will take a 4th quarter comeback, but the Gators won’t put it away early in the second half either. Still, I’m feeling something in the 24 – 16 range. We shall see.

One last thing – I’ve referred to Auburn as the WarPlainsTigers because they have three nicknames: the Tigers, the War Eagle(s?), and the Plainsmen. Alabama fans give all sorts of reasons why, but they have issues themselves somehow making the Crimson Tide into an elephant. The Plainsmen is the vestigial one of the three, rarely coming up as far as I can tell. Auburn fans yell “War Eagle!” to each other instead of something like “Go Gators!” and they have an eagle fly to the 50 before every game. Finally, the Tigers are what they generally go by to everyone else. I don’t get it exactly, but I’m sure there’s convoluted stories behind them all.


A Few News Items

October 13, 2006

According to the Gainesville Sun, both Percy Harvin and DeShawn Wynn should be ready to go tomorrow. Florida has been very fortunate with injuries this year in that they have not been serious or season-ending injuries like what hit Ray McDonald and Andre Caldwell last year. All of those injuries came in the preseason, which gave the coaches time to plan for life without them. Keeping clear of the injury bug is something that all elite teams in particular years do, so that’s encouraging.

I also heard some interesting things on the local radio programs today. In the past 59 games in the Florida – Auburn series, the teams are 29-29-1, with the home teams having a considerable advantage. In fact, it took until 1973 for UF to get its first win ever at Auburn. This is not going to be some kind of cakewalk tomorrow. Dave Revsine also brings up the fact that Auburn has beaten a top-five team at home six times in its history, and three of those six times were Florida. Yahoo! Sports does mention that Florida has won 8 of 9 against Auburn, but the loss was in 2001 at Jordan-Hare.

One of the remarkable things about this team is about how balanced it is. Not too many people stand out statistically because so many guys are playing productive ball. Foxsports.com has a reprinted midseason report from CollegeFootballNews.com listing accolades for the first half of the season, and while it predicts UF to win the SEC title game (curiously, it says over Auburn, which means they must think the Tigers win this weekend), no Gators made the best players list. Even more puzzling is SI.com’s midseason All-Americans which has only Reggie Nelson from the Gators on the first team (which makes sense) but has only Marcus Thomas on the second team, andhe’s been suspended three of Florida’s six games.

The most satisfying to see though was ESPN’s midseason hot/not report, as the first pairing was Florida being hot and FSU being not. The most important thing year in and year out is how the Gators do in the SEC, but beating the Noles is something that never does get old, you know? For all the crap I have heard from Seminole fans since 2001 (the only year I’ve ever heard them be humble about a game since they were having a down year and were completely terrified of Rex Grossman), it’s nice to see them put in their place some. I hope when Bobby’s done they promote Jeff. I really do.

I am however, intentionally not linking to Mike Freeman’s latest disaster of a column. He basically says that Urban Meyer is undercutting Chris Leak’s Heisman chances by doing “gimmick” plays with Tim Tebow. If you need analysis as to why that’s wrong, I’d like to invite you to return to WarChant.com or your Miami fan message boards or what other Florida-hating corner of the net that you slunk out of to end up here. I think now that Freeman is writing for a website and not a newspaper, he’s taking the John Dvorak approach of writing highly inflammatory things in lieu of reality to drive page hits. The sad thing is that it’s a strategy that works. Freeman probably picks on Florida because after spending a year in Jacksonville he knows how passionate and downright irrational Gator fans can get. Plus, a lot of the rest of the country hates Florida because of many Gator fans’ arrogance. I hope everyone can just agree not to feed the troll anymore and just ignore whatever else he might spew out between now and the end of the season.


A Couple Quick Things

October 13, 2006

Posting has been a bit sparse this week again thanks to having 3 final exams. All of my classes are modular, so they go half a semester, then a week off, then another half a semester. Module 1 just ended, so I had to study some non-football related things a lot this week.

Fortunately, the team really has been speaking for itself. I really don’t know how much more I can add right now. Of course, there’s plenty of people talking about the Gators now, and I’m going to get into that later today after work.

DeShawn Wynn was supposed to return to practice yesterday, so I’d imagine I’ll find out how that went on Brady Ackerman’s show this morning. He’ll be important, but Auburn’s real weakness is speed backs. Because of that, I expect to see more Percy Harvin (if his ankle is better than it was last week) and Jarred Fayson lining up with Chris Leak in the backfield. It also could be a big day for Kestahn Moore in that sense.

Also, tonight is Midnight Madness to kick off the basketball season, and of course I’m going to be there. There’s a volleyball game at 8 and then the basketball stuff begins at 10, so we won’t get a chance to see the new floor, though I expect that it will be painted the same as it has been in recent years. I won’t be at the volleyball since I’ll watching a couple friends perform “Carmina Burana” at the Phillips Center at 7:30, but I’m definitely there for the roundball at 10. What a great story they were last year, and they all came back too. I can’t wait.

Also, remember that basketball games are a great recruiting tool for football (and I mean beyond Cornelius Ingram). I met Ron Zook at a basketball game my freshman year, and he was there with about 30 recruits. The O’Dome was rocking, and we beat Tennessee by about 30 that night. Good times.