An Oklahoma DB Falls Into the Trap

January 5, 2009

One side effect of the circus that perpetually surrounds Tim Tebow is that he doesn’t get to lead a normal life, or even a normal one for a football player. I am fairly sure most of his teammates like John Brantley and Janoris Jenkins get to walk around without getting noticed. Tebow hasn’t been able to do that since he first got to campus in January 2006.

Another side effect is that opposing defenders hear about him. A lot. They hear about him to the point of frustration, as though every mention of Tebow’s name is a shot at their ability and pride.

For Sooner CB Dominique Franks, the boiling point has come and gone:

“If you look at the three best quarterbacks in the country, they came from the Big 12…

With us being in Florida and playing against Florida, everybody’s going to think Tebow should have won the Heisman. But the right person won the Heisman, and we’re going to go out there and show everybody the reason why he won it…

Going into a game and knowing a quarterback’s going to throw the ball 40 times a game versus coming into a game and knowing he’s probably only going to throw it about 15 or 20… It makes it a lot harder to prepare for those [Big 12] guys…

Hopefully, he’ll throw me the ball a couple of times, and I can get my hands on it.

Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy also decided to say that Tebow “really knows what he’s doing, but I think we’re prepared enough that we’ll know what they’re doing as well as they know it.”

OU defensive coordinator Bret Venables did a nice job of backtracking, saying that Franks hasn’t watched enough tape yet, that Franks is confident in his teammates, and that the team as a whole is confident in their process.

That’s all well and good, but this bowl season hasn’t been kind on Big 12 offenses so far. Bowl games are never good enough evidence to outweigh a regular season’s lot of games, but Kansas has the only offense from the conference that has outperformed what would be expected given theirs and their opponent’s season averages (see calculation method here). Not only that, but KU did it against a reeling Minnesota team that was nowhere near as good as its stats would have you believe.

That fact would at least a little bit cast some doubt on the value of the Big 12 quarterbacks’ stats that Franks was touting. While I agree that Sam Bradford was worthy of winning the Heisman, I have a feeling the Florida team as a whole would take exception with how he stated that notion.

As for the part about preparing for pass numbers, he is quite a bit off. The way that Florida does its run/pass option plays is different than how anyone he’s seen does it, and Florida has probably the best set of run blocking receivers in the country. On top of that no quarterback in the country (much less the Big 12) matches Tebow’s power running game, so his unique usage by the Florida offensive staff would indicate he requires more preparation from opposing defenses, not less.

I also appreciate that Gerald McCoy believes his team will be ready. I’m sure they will be since Oklahoma has a great defensive staff. However FSU DC Mickey Andrews knew what was coming in his second attempt at stopping the Tebow-led offense, and UF put up 45 points. Georgia’s DC Willie Martinez in his second crack at it gave up 49 points. South Carolina’s Ellis Johnson, a widely-respected defensive coordinator in his own right, gave up 49 in his first attempt.

Knowing what’s coming and stopping it are two different things. Everyone knew what Alabama was going to do on offense all year, and only two teams stopped it well enough to pull out wins.

Finally, Franks probably doesn’t understand what he did in falling into the trap of publicly trash talking Tim Tebow. Big No. 15 and his teammates don’t take it lightly. Here are a few examples of what happens when people publicly run their mouths about him:

  1. In November 2007, LB Geno Hayes said before the UF-FSU game that Tebow was “going down,” and “the bigger they are the harder they fall.” Florida won the game 45-12.
  2. At Tennessee’s media day prior to this season, DT Demonte Bolden said, “Man, I don’t care about Tebow. Yeah, he’s an All-American, but he’s a regular player. Get him back on the field. You know what I’m saying. I made hits on him last year. This year, I’m going to get back to him a lot quicker.” Florida won the game 30-6, and only the two teams’ run-heavy offenses and the new clock rules kept it from being worse as Florida scored on six of its seven non-garbage time drives.
  3. No one from Miami called out Tebow by name that I could find, but the Hurricanes talked plenty of trash. C Xavier Shannon (head coach Randy’s son) said he wanted “to show [the Gators] the University of Miami still rules the state of Florida,” and S Anthony Reddick wondered, “[a]re they going to be able to match up with our defense?” Florida won the game 26-3, and Miami was fortunate to get the three.
  4. LSU DT Ricky Jean-Francois said this season that if he and his fellow linemen got a good look at Tebow, “we’re going to try our best to take him out of the game.” Florida won the contest 51-21 and Jean-Francois didn’t even travel to Gainesville for the game due to injury.
  5. South Carolina LB Eric Norwood promised Florida would not score 40 on his defense. He also predicted he’d get a sack and that it was “definitely going to hurt.” Norwood did get a sack, but it was his Gamecocks who got a hurting to the tune of 56-6.

It is not a trap that the Florida players or coaches set, but it’s a trap that Franks fell into. His temperament couldn’t take hearing about Tebow anymore, and he ran his mouth promising doom for the Gators’ signal caller.

We’ll see if he and his fellow defenders can back it up, but history is not on his side.

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The Game, in a Picture

December 1, 2008

sadsemi

The offense was great, and the defense was dominant. Tebow was tough, Hernandez stepped up, and Janoris Jenkins was hell on wheels. Even when FSU got a meaningless touchdown, the Gators blocked the extra point.

This was the kind of game I wasn’t sure could happen in Tallahassee. There is something about that place that has kept Florida from playing well throughout my lifetime and beyond. FSU even came into the game tops in the country in tackles for loss, one spot above Ole Miss, and there were plenty of distractions. You had the lingering Cam Newton situation, the Pounceys’ father being involved in a horrible accident, and other things.

However, stat gurus generally agree that home field advantage is worth about 3 points, and that was exactly the difference between last season’s 45-12 Gator win and this year’s 45-15 win. It was a thorough domination, and there’s no other way to put it.

The kickoff coverage, which had been shaky against the Citadel, was atrocious. Yes, Michael Ray Garvin leads the country in kickoff returns, but there was no excuse for giving FSU that good of field position all game.

Even so, it didn’t end up mattering. This was Florida’s night from the beginning, and now the Gators have won five straight over the Semis. Not a single player on that field in garnet and gold has ever beaten UF, and none of the seniors ever will.

Now, it is time for the SEC Championship Game. Alabama will not roll over in the second half as FSU did. It is good to celebrate this big win, but big things still wait ahead.


Non-Emotional FSU Preview

November 26, 2008

I hate FSU. No team gets me angrier, faster than FSU. However, it’s worth a look at where they are while stifling that as best I can. Here goes…

Before the season began, I made a prediction that FSU would be a six-win team in 2008. I caught a lot of flak for saying that from some of the Bleacher Report commentariat who did not read the article, but I clarified at the beginning that I was talking about wins over I-A competition.

The Seminoles are sitting at 8-3 right now, with two wins over I-AA schools at the beginning of the year back when they were trying to get around the full brunt of suspensions from last year’s academic scandal. In other words they have six wins over I-A competition, exactly where I saw them being. Since I expect to see a Gator win on Saturday, I think they’ll finish the regular season that way.

I didn’t get all the details of it right, though the end outcome was spot-on. For one thing, Christian Ponder has been a lot better than I thought he would be. On top of that, his mobility has helped FSU have a credible running game for the first time in years.

Some of that credit should go to offensive line coach Rick Trickett, since FSU’s offensive line is entirely freshmen and sophomores. Some should go to Jimbo Fisher for creating an offensive framework for success in the ACC. It’s a bit early yet to say it’s definitive proof that he’s the best guy to follow Bobby Bowden as head coach. It only proves that he’s a better offensive coordinator than Jeff Bowden was, and I don’t think that was ever in doubt.

Statistically, the Seminole defense has also been better than it was during the past two seasons’ 7-6 records. The strength of that defense has often been cited as the key for FSU having a chance to pull the upset win on Saturday.

However, we’ve heard this before. We heard how LSU, Georgia, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina all were going to slow Florida down with their tough defenses, and they all didn’t turn out to be that great at stopping the Gators. I’ll pull out the chart I made before the South Carolina game, updated to be current and including FSU both with and without its wins over I-AA teams included:

Defenses & the Florida Effect
Team Yds/Game Points/Game Yds/Game net UF Pts/Game net UF
LSU 320 25.45 304.5 22.9
Kentucky 328.45 21.09 316.7 16.9
Georgia 308.36 23.82 301.9 21.3
Vanderbilt 317.55 19.82 307.1 17.6
South Carolina 280.36 19.27 256.5 15.6
FSU 272.64 18.55 ??? ???
FSU, net I-AA 295.44 21.89 ??? ???

As you can see, FSU’s defense suddenly isn’t quite as fearsome when you remove their demolishing of not just two I-AA teams, but two bad I-AA teams. It really is similar to the SEC defenses that Florida has been shredding ever since the Ole Miss loss. I’ve seen where some FSU fans have tried to make the case that FSU’s defense has more speed than any other the Gators have faced, but I’d love to see them tell that to Rennie Curran’s face. It’d be awesome.

In short, no, FSU’s defense is not materially dissimilar to any of the others that Florida has faced. The biggest difference is that it has a Rhodes Scholar on it, but nothing else stands out.

The Gators, meanwhile, play a little defense themselves. Here is a handy comparison of the two teams’ defenses with the results of playing I-AA teams removed.

Defenses
Team Total Defense Scoring Defense
Florida, net I-AA 274.9 11.3
FSU, net I-AA 295.44 21.89

Florida is a full 10 points a game better and about 20 yards a game better. The first string defense hasn’t given up a touchdown since the LSU game back on October 11. The defensive line could be a little thin with starting DT Lawrence Marsh nursing a sprained MCL and backup DL Matt Patchan out, but the overall unit is very, very good.

If it sounds to you like I’m trying to make the case for another massive blowout, I’m actually not. For whatever reason, Florida never plays that well in Tallahassee. Steve Spurrier never won there, and even with FSU’s downturn this decade the best Florida has been able to do there is a win by seven. Under Urban Meyer, two nine-win Florida teams have won the games in Gainesville by scores of 34-7 and 45-12; in Tallahassee with an eventual 13-game, national title winner the score was 21-14.

I’m not closing the door on the possibility of a large win, as Florida has surprised me in just about every game since the Ole Miss loss in its ability to win and win big. The fact still remains that UF hasn’t won in Tallahassee by double digits since a 10-point win in 1984, and you have to go back to 1972 to find a Florida win there by more than 10 points.

I think Florida has an excellent chance to score its first win by more than 10 points since the final year of Richard Nixon’s first term because of they are focused on the task at hand. They are not looking ahead to Alabama, and they will be ready for this game.

That is important because I don’t think FSU can beat Florida outright. The Seminoles will need help from the visitors in the form of turnovers or busted coverage on defense as Ole Miss received. If Florida comes out sharp, they will win going away.

I still don’t fully trust them, or any other Gator team for that matter, to absolutely win in a blowout in Tallahassee because it hasn’t happened in my lifetime. However the Gators have delivered Les Miles, Mark Richt, and Steve Spurrier their worst losses ever all in this season, a fact I never would have believed before the year began. If there ever was a year to break a trend, this is it.


The Curious Case of FSU’s Attendance

September 12, 2008

FSU made a conscious decision this season to start with a pair of I-AA opponents in Western Carolina and Chattanooga. The idea was that the team would not be ready to play a real opponent because of the early season suspensions related to last December’s academic scandal.

On the surface it makes sense. Coming off of back-to-back 7-6 records, the program could use some tune up wins to get a better record and get the fans energized. It worked on the field, with the Seminoles posting a 69-0 win over the hapless Catamounts of WCU. So how about those fans?

Energized isn’t quite the word for it. A crowd of only 73,204 showed up to watch the bloodbath, the lowest attendance for any game since the stadium expanded in 1993. In fact, every season since 2004 has seen a lower average attendance in Tallahassee than the previous one did.

Contrast that with the all-time record crowd of 90,833 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for last Saturday’s contest between Florida and Miami, and you can see the gap that has formed between the two in-state rivals. The Swamp does have a larger capacity than Doak Campbell Stadium has, but the attendance for FSU’s game against WCU represented just 88.73% of its capacity.

One advantage that Florida has over FSU is location. Gainesville is about an hour drive from Jacksonville, less than two hours from Orlando, and about two hours from Tampa. Tallahassee is out in the panhandle, and the more than two-and-a-half hour drive from Jacksonville is the shortest trip from any of the state’s major population centers. In an era of high gas prices, that can make a difference.

Regardless, FSU still pulled out all the stops to get as many people to come as possible.

The school offered $19 single-game tickets to Saturday’s matchup, an unthinkably low amount for most big programs around the country. The Tallahassee Visitor’s Bureau helped identify hotels that did not require a two night minimum. The school has even offered special ticket packages for Tallahassee Community College students (undergrad population: about 14,000), which is odd since FSU has more than 32,500 undergrads and over 41,000 students overall.

Miami has always been the joke of the state when it comes to attendance at games. For example, the Hurricanes only managed an average of 65.21% capacity filled in 2001, a season in which they won the national championship. While that is an inexcusable amount for a metropolitan area with over five million residents, Miami is still a small private school in a city that really only cares about the Dolphins when it comes to sports.

FSU is now backsliding in that general direction. One would figure the attendance will rise for conference play, but before that the team has another dog of a game against Chattanooga this weekend. The first real test, both on the field and in the stands, will be when Wake Forest comes to town on the 20th. The Demon Deacons are the ACC’s only ranked team, and they have defeated the Seminoles two years in a row.

The cure, of course, is putting a winner on the field again. There are signs that Jimbo Fisher is taking more and more control of the program, most notably in the fact that a senior quarterback with lots of starting experience got demoted to third string behind two much greener players.

The greater transitioning to Fisher is the first step, and the two easy wins that FSU is using to pad its record will likely help some too. It will all be for naught if the NCAA drops the hammer on the university in its final judgment on the still-unresolved academic scandal case, but any future penalties are purely speculation at this point and may not even happen.

However, it is a reflection of the sad state of affairs in Tallahassee when on opening weekend the combination of discounts, help in circumventing ridiculous hotel restrictions, and special packages for the local community college resulted in the lowest attendance in over 15 years. Fisher has a lot of work to do, and FSU had better hope he’s up to it.

Note: This was written before the revelation of FSU’s response to the NCAA investigation into the academic scandal. Any big news in that has not been considered.


FSU’s Response to NCAA Released

September 12, 2008

Today is the day that FSU’s response to the Notice of Allegations regarding the academic scandal of last December is being released. The time is supposed to be 9:00 AM, so be on the lookout.

What’s that? You wanted a link to it? Sorry, like most things around here, this was written well in advance and scheduled to be published rather than posted live. Tallahassee.com is probably the place to start though, then work your way around to the newspapers in state starting with the Orlando Sentinel.

Just throwing out a reminder to check for it, considering FSU has had the NOA for several months. It sure took them long enough.


2008 Season Outlook

August 28, 2008

I’m going to do my season outlook a little differently than I have done the past two years. I’m not going to go through and break down every game because injuries, schemes, and circumstances are never the same throughout the season as they are in the preseason. Instead I will pick the points of interest and call them how I see them.

The Team

The offense will be excellent. It will be able to get whatever it wants against many opponents, and even if the defense isn’t much better, it should be able to win any shootout. Not much else needs be said. The defense of course is the concern.

The line should be much improved. The ends will continue to be the strength, and no one the two deep will make Gator fans worry. They can go four deep at each tackle position if they wanted to, constantly rotating fresh bodies in and out. As it is, they probably won’t go more than three deep at each, and the coaches are more or less happy with the progress they’ve all made. There should actually be some real push up the middle this year.

The linebackers are the strongest group on the defense with a healthy Brandon Spikes. Once his foot heals, they’ll be the closest thing to a set-it-and-forget-it unit, with a great first line and capable backups. Some day, Dustin Doe will get the credit he deserves.

The secondary will remain a concern naturally, but not nearly as much as last season. Joe Haden was a quarterback in high school, Wondy Pierre-Louis never played football before his freshman year of high school, and Major Wright admitted he was kind of just playing center field without knowing fully what he was doing last season.

Those three have been starters in the SEC now, and along with Ahmad Black make up the first string in the back. Safety is thin, so losing Wright would be disastrous. Assuming health though, which seems to be a pretty big if this year, they will be much, much better. Urban Meyer calls them the most improved unit on the team, and he rarely gives out praise like that.

The most important thing is that everyone has the right attitude this year. Both the football team and the basketball team in their most recent seasons ran into the problem of assuming that showing up in orange and blue means you’ll win. They didn’t work as hard and didn’t develop the camaraderie that the championship teams had.

Well, that has changed. Meyer says the group is a lot closer and they had the right attitude in camp. In fact, he has said the fall camp was the among the best he has had at UF, and his comments so far indicate he likes this group more than even the 2006 squad at the same time of the year.

For the first time since that game in the desert, intangibles are on the Gators’ side.

The Schedule

As many people have pointed out, Florida’s schedule looks pretty doable. Hawai’i would have been a better game last season, while Miami would be a better game next year. FSU still has three quarterbacks battling for the starting role (which means they have no quarterback), and Florida has a lot more talent on the field and on the sideline.

As you can probably tell, I don’t think the non-conference schedule will be too difficult. The FSU game will be closer than it was in Gainesville last year just simply because of the site. The Gators didn’t win there between 1986 and 2004, and the wins in ’04 and ’06 were by just seven each time. There’s something about Tallahassee that keeps Florida from playing all that well, but I still think the Gators will prevail.

I’ve said this a few times this offseason, but here’s how I view the year: the team will be better and the schedule will be easier, so a 10-2 regular season is where the expectations start. Dropping Auburn for Arkansas is the primary reason for that. The other is that in my estimation, playing in Baton Rouge last season was more difficult than playing in Knoxville will be this year.

The three games I see as the greatest chance for losing are at Tennessee, home against LSU, and against Georgia in Jacksonville. South Carolina will probably be tricky since outside of the game during the collapse last season, Spurrier has played UF pretty close. Plus the Gamecock defense should be among the best in the conference.

Playing at Tennessee will still present atmospheric challenges even if it isn’t quite LSU. Dave Clawson’s new offense could also present a lot of trouble for the Gators’ young defense. Something that helps considerably is that UT plays UCLA this weekend, and the Bruin defense will be good enough to force the Vols to open the playbook a bit. Add to that Florida’s bye week before the game and the defense should have enough tape and time to get ready.

LSU’s issues at quarterback have been well documented, but ultimately I think they’re overrated since Andrew Hatch knows Gary Crowton’s system and was good enough to sign with BYU. There is so much talent on that LSU team all around that they don’t need fireworks from their signal caller; after all, Matt Flynn led them to a title without being a YouTube superstar.

The real issue to me is the Tiger defense. That may sound odd, considering how many great players are on it, but Bo Pelini has a special defensive mind. They will miss him, and the fact they replaced him with a committee would make me nervous. Florida was a couple well-timed stops from beating LSU last season, so
it’s not like it’s a lost cause for the Gators. Playing the game in the Swamp will definitely help.

The Georgia game is a bit problematic to project now. A lot depends on whether Matthew Stafford makes the big junior year leap or not, if the wide receivers stop dropping as many balls, if the offensive line will mesh into a unit as good as last season’s, and if super freshman A.J. Green is as good as advertised. Moreno will get his, Caleb King will get some more. Florida has more talent on offense, but Georgia has more experience on defense.

Meyer has been rattling his saber about last season’s Bulldog celebration, and he’s 8-1 against the three rivals. Florida was down by just five points last season with nine minutes to go, so, stop me if you’ve heard this before, getting a defensive stop would have given the Gators a great chance to win.

Florida will be better, but so will Georgia. It’s too tough to say conclusively today who will win, but you can’t rule either out as well. I suspect Florida will win, but I will get into that more around the time of the game.

Overall

In essence, nothing looks to me like an obvious loss candidate on the schedule in the way that the game at Auburn in 2006 and the game at LSU in 2007 did. The Gators leave the state just four times and have a bye before the worst trip.

If the expectations begin at 10-2, then they must go no worse than 1-2 in those three tough games. Florida has lost to an SEC West team every year since 1999, so if you believe in patterns, LSU is the most likely loss. Ole Miss and Arkansas just aren’t ready to beat a team like UF yet. Georgia would be the most crucial win since the Bulldogs are more likely to be competing for the SEC East crown than Tennessee is.

I think they’ll go 2-1 in those three tough games. Only one Florida team ever, the 1995 squad, has made it through the regular season unscathed. That’s once in 101 seasons.

In some ways, this team is like the 1995 team. It will be an offensive juggernaut, but it just does not feel like it’s ready to win it all yet. The core is still on the young side, especially on defense, and the injuries are well-documented. Things are set up to be at their best next season, but there still is a sense of urgency to get something done in 2008 with the potential of Tebow and Harvin going pro after the season.

Winning the East and then winning in Atlanta is a reasonable expectation. Going 10-2 or 11-1 in the process is also reasonable. There’s no shame in finishing second in the division to a loaded Georgia team, of course, but another 9-3 regular season would be a disappointment. That would indicate the defense didn’t get better, a significant setback considering they face seven first-year starters at quarterback (if you count Tommy Beecher) and three brand new offensive coordinators.

I certainly hope this isn’t the last year of having Tebow or Harvin. I can’t blame them if they go, but the 2009 team would be just phenomenal if they stayed. Now’s not the time to worry about 2009 though.

Enjoy this season, Gators. We may never see another one like it.


Florida State is a Six Win Team in 2008

August 5, 2008

It hasn’t been a good 12 months for Florida State.

The football team stumbled to another 7-6 record. Wholesale changes to the offensive coaching staff led to an offense that was if anything slightly worse. The Semis lost to Miami 37-29 and to Florida 45-12. At the end of the regular season, a large academic scandal broke out involving several different teams that resulted in large suspensions for the bowl game and the first three games of 2008.

The FSU recruiting class was rated in the top ten by Scout and Rivals, headlined by dual threat QB E.J. Manuel. The lift from that was tempered by offensive star WR/RB Preston Parker getting arrested and suspended for the first two games.

To circumvent deal with the suspensions, Bobby Bowden and FSU decided to schedule two I-AA teams to begin the year: Western Carolina and Chattanooga. They’re not just I-AA teams, they’re bad I-AA teams. They went a combined 3-19 last year.

The problem at FSU right now is not talent, at least according to those who track these things. Over the past five years, FSU is in the top ten of programs in terms of bringing in talent according to Scout and Rivals. In this year’s Athlon preview magazine, an anonymous opposing assistant coach is quoted as saying, “I still think they’ve got the best players probably in the conference. I mean, they are really, really talented.”

The most glaring problem has been quarterback. Forget not having someone the quality of Chris Weinke, the last consistent and reliable signal caller at the school, they haven’t even had another Danny Kanell. Having Jeff Bowden replace Mark Richt certainly didn’t help, but the overall player development at Florida State just hasn’t been up to snuff.

That brings us to this year. Drew Weatherford is presumed to be the starter at quarterback, but Christian Ponder’s strong play at the end of last season could help him take the job at some point. One would also figure Manuel would get some snaps somewhere since the fans will want to see the jewel of the new recruiting class play. This is all nice, until you remember the old adage: if you have three quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks.

FSU will begin the season with two I-AA opponents, which brings their possible win total against I-A competition down to ten.

Wake Forest comes to Tallahassee in the third game when Parker comes back but while the academic scandal suspensions are still in effect. Given that Wake has won the past two against FSU (including a 30-0 beatdown in Tallahassee in 2006) and that eight Seminole starters will be out, the Demon Deacons will almost certainly win that game.

Florida State will also have to play at Clemson. Tommy Bowden sure seems to have figured his dad’s team out as he’s won four of the past five games in the series. Clemson also has the most talented and deepest team in the conference, so I don’t see much of a reason why Florida State will win this one either.

Then you have the final game versus Florida. The game is in Tallahassee, which almost by definition means the Gators will not play at their best. UF has won the past two in Tallahassee by seven points each but prior to that hadn’t won there since 1986. It will be uncomfortably close for those in orange and blue, but Florida outclasses FSU by such a large margin at this point it’s difficult to see a win for the home team.

That puts FSU down to seven possible wins against I-AA opponents. There will probably be a game where no one riding the garnet and gold quarterback carousel can get anything going, resulting in another loss. That leaves the Seminoles with just six wins against I-A competition.

It’s possible, though certainly not guaranteed, that Florida State will return to national prominence under the Jimbo Fisher administration. For now though, it’s going to be another long, disappointing season in Tallahassee.