Long Plays Against Hawai’i

September 4, 2008

What broke the Warriors’ backs, what limited Florida’s number of offensive plays, and what made last Saturday’s game feel so disjointed was a lot of long plays.

The UF offense only had one drive where it really got into a rhythm because it of so many big plays. Of course, that’s the only reason you would want for not getting into a rhythm on offense. Just when you think they’re getting it going, Chris Rainey, Louis Murphy, or Jeffrey Demps ruin it by getting a touchdown on a 30-yard, 50-yard, or 60-yard play.

All told, Florida had six scores on plays that were 30 yards or more. Here’s a video montage that I put together of all of them, one after another:

My favorite part is Dave Archer saying that Urban Meyer “is not off the accelerator yet” right before Demps’ 62-yard run. Nope, and in fact it was about to be pushed to the floor by the ball carrier.

The best part to me of the whole thing was the blocking done by the defense on Ahmad Black’s 80-yard interception return. It’s the very last clip of them all. It shows that Meyer’s investment in great special teams play can pay off in other situations, as most of the guys out there had put time in on special teams somewhere along the line.

Black had a nice juke in the middle, but most of the rest of that return was caused by guys on defense blocking as though it was a punt or kickoff return. It’s those sorts of details that make me love football in general and that make me very hopeful for the rest of the Gators’ season.

Now, it will a lot more difficult to pull these kinds of things off against tougher opponents. UF won’t get that many big plays in every single game all year, though keep in mind that Percy Harvin and Aaron Hernandez still have yet to hit the field because of injury.

However, if these long plays keep happening the rest of the season with any kind of regularity, it will be mighty tough to beat Florida.

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Florida-Hawaii Eyewitness Report

August 31, 2008

By now you’ve probably already read all of the analysis of the game. Tebow hardly had to do anything. The running backs stole the show. The defense looked good. So on and so forth. Here’s how it went down from where I was sitting.

It was one of the strangest games I’ve ever attended at Florida Field. It began with a quick but persistent and cold rain shower from one of the outer bands of Gustav. That right there negated any and all climatological advantages related heat and humidity associated with Gainesville. From there it was relatively cool and breezy, and it probably felt a lot like how the islands do this time of year.

Because of the rain, the marching band was not allowed on the field. Sometime during the time I was in the band a few years ago, someone in the athletic department decided that marching bands destroy wet turf, and that policy has held ever since. It played only the national anthem, the alma mater, and “Orange and Blue” from the visitor sideline before retreating to the stands. The band also played its halftime show, the music of The Who, from the stands as well.

The first quarter was entirely frustrating. The offense got only one complete possession, and it ended because of the Gators mucking it up more than anything Hawai’i did. Almost the rest of the quarter was taken up by the Warriors controlling the ball and the clock thanks to shovel pass screen plays and Florida’s inability to line up onsides.

By the end of the quarter, a lot of people around me were wondering if this was an “I can’t believe this is happening” game as flashbacks of last year’s defense swirled in everyone’s minds.
Less than four and a half minutes into the second quarter, the Gators were up 14-0 and seemed to be in complete control.

The points kept coming and the offense spent a lot of time off of the field. That’s what an interception return and a punt return will do for you. It wasn’t really even the real offense because it seemed like the coaches were making a point to make it a running-back driven day. Urban Meyer’s comments after the game confirmed that was exactly the plan.

After halftime, it seemed for stretches like the Gators were losing interest. It’s difficult to say that when they posted another four touchdowns, but if you were watching (and especially if you were there) you’d know what I was talking about. By the time it was 48-0, the coaching staff really took its foot off the gas and the team basically coasted from there on out.

As I was talking to friends before the game, I came up with the idea that the biggest statement Florida could make was shutting out Hawai’i. For all intents and purposes they did, with the Warriors’ two scores coming in garbage time with both teams roughly playing street ball.

There was never any real doubt who was the better team, and ultimately this game didn’t prove anything with the score. The most important thing I saw was fundamentally sound one-on-one tackling by the defensive backs. That is something we never saw last season.

I don’t dismiss teams lightly, because if I think there is any chance of UF losing, I don’t want to jinx anything. I know that made some people upset, but we saw on Saturday the size of the gulf between Florida and a WAC team that lost everyone important.

As we now turn to Miami, I feel good about our chances from what I saw. I’m guessing the defense was just eager to make a statement, and hopefully it will not start a trend of racking up tons of flags in first quarters of games.

Go Gators!


Wear White to the Game

August 29, 2008

As the graphic above indicates, Florida is doing a white out to raise cancer awareness. Specifically it’s for skin cancer, which is apropos for the Sunshine State. I also know that’s a cause that’s important to Urban Meyer.

That graphic indicates that that the Gators will probably be wearing their white jerseys, but Florida officials have said we won’t see a white-on-white look. That combination worked well in Columbia last season as Tim Tebow put up seven touchdowns on the Gamecocks.

By default, home teams wear colored jerseys and the visitors wear white, and both teams must agree to a deviation from that. Hawai’i must give its consent to UF wearing white jerseys in other words, which would not really be in their best interest. One of Tebow’s high school teammates plays for Hawai’i, and he says his fellow Warriors have “no clue” what the heat and humidity in Gainesville will be like.

If Florida wears white, then Hawai’i will be wearing their dark green road uniforms. Dark colors at 12:30 pm in August in Gainesville? No thanks.


Gator News Roundup: Game Week Edition

August 25, 2008

Captains named

Urban Meyer does captains a little differently than most coaches do. He has his players vote on who will be captains for the year, and then each week he selects players from that group to be go out for the coin toss. They’re all technically captains the whole year, but only a few get to be captain for a particular game. It’s kind of confusing, but they make it work.

This year’s captains are: senior DT Javier Estopinan, injured senior TE Cornelius Ingram, senior RB Kestahn Moore, senior WR Louis Murphy, senior long-snapper James Smith, junior LB Brandon Spikes, junior LB Ryan Stamper, senior OG Jim Tartt, junior QB Tim Tebow, senior OT Phil Trautwein, and senior OL Jason Watkins.

The captains for each game are announced during the week leading up to them.

Wide receivers

Percy Harvin has been back practicing again, though not participating in everything. Tebow remarked that Harvin looks extra fast because he hasn’t been practicing as much as everyone else. Harvin already knows the offense and has great rapport with his quarterback, so the lack of practice is not really a concern. Being fully healthy is the most important goal, so Meyer has yet to fully commit to Harvin playing against Hawaii.

JUCO transfer Carl Moore had a rough spring, which he attributes to the complexity of the Florida offense compared to his junior college offense. Murphy took him under his wing a bit during the offseason, and now Moore is said to be one of Tebow’s favorite targets. Meyer has gone so far as to compare him to Dallas Baker. Urban is very reluctant to compare players to his favorite guys from past teams and Baker was certainly one of those favorite players, so that says a lot.

Moore, Murphy, Riley Cooper, and Deonte Thompson have separated themselves from the rest of the receiving corps, and along with Harvin make up perhaps the most formidable top-five receivers of any team in the country.

Running backs

For the first time in his tenure at Florida, Meyer has said he is excited about the running backs. Meyer hasn’t been completely pleased with Emmanuel Moody, saying there is room for improvement. However, he also has indicated that up to four running backs could be used regularly, and Chris Rainey has said the goal is to get the backs as a unit over 1,000 yards collectively.

Kestahn Moore and Moody figure to be the workhorses, with Rainey and Jeff Demps as speed backs. If either Moore or Moody catch fumblitis or otherwise upset the coaches, Mon Williams could step up in place. We also know that Harvin will be getting carries, potentially up to 15 a game, and Tebow of course will be doing some running of his own.

Defense

Meyer thinks DE Jermaine Cunningham was just OK last season, but he should be “better than OK” in 2008. Freshman DE Earl Okine will probably redshirt thanks to some lingering injuries and the emergence of fellow freshman DE William Green.

It is almost certain at this point that Major Wright and Ahmad Black will be the starters at safety, with highly-touted freshman Will Hill as a backup. It is partly due to strong play by Black and partly due to inconsistency in Hill’s play.

Special teams

The Gainesville Sun put up an excellent article on the Gators’ special teams. Did you know UF led the SEC in punt blocks last season with four?

Brandon James will still be returning kicks and punts. He was so effective a season ago that opponents began kicking away from him or doing squib kicks to keep him from ripping off a long return. Rainey and Demps are also expected to put in some return work.

Meyer says that senior Brandon Phillips is slightly ahead for the starting place kicker job. Competitor Caleb Sturgis should see the field regardless doing kickoffs since he has the stronger leg of the two.

Et cetera

The quarterbacking situations for the Gators’ first two opponents is looking shaky. Newly-named Hawai’i starter Brent Rausch has missed recent practice with a strained arm, a serious deal for the leader of a pass-heavy offense.

Meanwhile, Miami redshirt freshman Robert Marve has been suspended for the first game against Charleston Southern because of an arrest last Halloween. The coaches did not tell him until last Friday that he would be suspended so as not to affect his motivation in trying to win the starter’s role over true freshman Jacory Harris.

The Gators did not practice last Thursday due to Tropical Storm Fay. Practice on Friday was in sloppy conditions, but no one complained or slacked, much to the coaches’ delight. There have been many reports that last year’s team did not handle the recent success well and didn’t always put forth maximum effort in practice. Giving good effort in adverse conditions is a great sign for this year’s team.

Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen has been getting help from Dirk Koetter in understanding the new NFL-style 40 second play clock. Koetter is a former head coach of Boise State and Arizona State and is now the offensive coordinator for the nearby Jacksonville Jaguars.

For whatever it’s worth, Florida is a 34 1/2-point favorite over Hawai’i. I don’t gamble, but personally I’d take the over. The Gators put up 59 on Troy, Tennessee, and FAU last season. This year’s offense (which will be even better) should be able to put up 60 or 70 on Hawai’i if they want to, and the defense isn’t going to let the Warriors get to 30 points.

Raycom Sports (formerly Lincoln Financial Sports and Jefferson Pilot Sports before that) has renewed its partnership with Yahoo! Sports this season. If you don’t have a Raycom affiliate in your area and would like to see the Gators eviscerate Hawai’i, you can stream the game live from here.


Hawaii QB Graunke to Miss Some of Training Camp

August 3, 2008

Here’s a bit of news on UF’s first opponent.

Hawai’i QB Tyler Graunke, the guy who everyone assumes will start this fall, is going to miss part of training camp to “resolve a personal issue.”

New head coach Greg McMackin pointed out that Graunke is not suspended, and the fact that Graunke has been talking to the press about it means it’s probably not a legal issue either. Both declined to specify what it is.

I have no idea what this is or what it could be, but it does hamper things in the islands a bit. Graunke is technically not the starter yet since the coaching staff called him and redshirt junior Inoke Funaki “co-No. 1 quarterbacks.” He was Colt Brennan’s designated backup under June Jones though, so he has some game experience. Plus, the fact he’s a fifth year senior probably means he’ll be the starter in Gainesville no matter what the coaches want us to believe.

I hope whatever it is gets cleared up well for him, but this is not a good thing for the Warriors. They’re replacing their best quarterback ever, their best head coach ever, and their top four receivers from last season. Distractions are probably not what they need right now.

Not that it will matter anyway.

(H/T: Da Wiz)


Seven Ways 2007 Could Have Been Crazier

June 16, 2008

The 2007 college football season will long be remembered as a season of chaos. The #2 ranking was a curse, Appalachian State and Stanford supplied two of the biggest upsets in the history of the game, and we ended up with the first two-loss champion since the polls named champions before the bowls.

It was a season for the ages, and we’ll likely not see anything like it again. Before we permanently put it in the past with the 2008 season, let’s take a look back at seven close calls that could have made 2007 even crazier than it was. All rankings are the teams’ rankings at the time of the game.

September 1: #4 Texas 21, Arkansas State 13

As you can tell by the ranking, expectations were high in Austin at the beginning of 2007. Everyone was looking forward to seeing how Colt McCoy would follow up his excellent freshman year, and the assumption was that the Longhorns would have a chance to win two titles in three years.

Arkansas State had other plans. The Indians outgained the Longhorns by 57 yards for a total of 397, and they scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to pull within eight with a minute to go. Texas recovered an onside kick to ice the game, and they were just happy to win on the same day that Appalachian State took down Michigan.

Texas had another close call two weeks later at UCF, but the Knights at least won Conference USA. The Indians finished 5-7 out of the Sun Belt, but it still says a lot about a season when Arkansas State winning in Austin would not have been the lead story of the day.

September 8: #5 Wisconsin 20, UNLV 13

The Texas-Arkansas State game had the underdog score late to pull it close. In this contest, it was four-touchdown favorite Wisconsin overcoming a one point UNLV lead by scoring a touchdown with 1:53 to go.

It was a rather pedestrian game, with UNLV leading 10-9 after three quarters. The result was very surprising considering Wisconsin had just put up 42 points in a win over Washington State. The Badgers just slept on the overmatched but very game Rebels in a match played far from the cozy environs of Camp Randall.

In the end, Wisconsin controlled the game with its rushing attack and some heady play from QB Tyler Donovan. After a couple more close calls, Wisconsin would lose its first game a month later against Illinois, but it nearly was one of the first in the long line of huge top 10 upsets in 2007.

September 8: #20 Hawaii 45, Louisiana Tech 44

Hawaii had many close calls on it slate in 2007, but none was closer than its game in Ruston. Hawaii needed overtime to defeat head coach Derek Dooley’s upstart Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.

In a decision reminiscent of Boise State’s in the Fiesta Bowl, Tech decided to go for two in the first overtime, figuring it would be next to impossible to keep Colt Brennan from scoring again. The conversion pass was deflected and the Warriors escaped.

It turned out to be the first of two trips to Louisiana for Hawaii. The Warriors became the second WAC team to break into the BCS but collected its first loss at the hands of the team once coached by Derek’s father, the Georgia Bulldogs.

September 29: #12 Boston College 24, UMass 14

It seemed like it was going to be a nondescript win for BC against an in-state I-AA opponent. The Eagles had a 17-0 lead at the half and everything was going swimmingly.

UMass is a power in I-AA though, having not lost since the championship game against Appalachian State the previous season. As BC head coach Jeff Jagodzinski pointed out after the game, the Minutemen had plenty of I-A transfers, and they showed their ability by scoring 14 points to pull within three in the third quarter.

BC would answer with a touchdown late in the third, and the 24-14 margin would hold up for the rest of the game. UMass would go on to make the final four of the I-AA playoffs where it fell to Southern Illinois.

October 20: #5 Oklahoma 17, Iowa State 7

Oklahoma had already been upset by Colorado, and in preparation for this game, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops gave his team a list of top 25 upsets that had happened the previous week. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference as the normally potent Sooners needed the entire game to beat Big 12 North doormat Iowa State.

The Cyclones scored their only points of the game in the first quarter, but it wasn’t until a Sooner field goal with 1:34 to go that Oklahoma put the game away for good. It was the closest game between the teams since Iowa State lost by a count of 17-14 in Norman in 1998.

This one was in Ames though, and had the Cyclones pulled it out it would have been a signature win for new head coach Gene Chizik. Instead, Oklahoma headed home with its national title aspirations intact for another week.

November 17: #20 Tennessee 25, Vanderbilt 24

The last time the Commodores went to Knoxville, they pulled off the upset and got their first win over Tennessee since 1982 and first win in Knoxville since 1975. For most of the game, it looked like they would make it two in a row.

Tennessee made a 16 point comeback in the fourth quarter and Vanderbilt missed a field goal with 33 seconds to go to give the Vols a one point win. It’s difficult to believe, but Vanderbilt actually had a 24-9 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

By pulling this one out, Tennessee prevented Georgia from facing LSU in the SEC Championship Game, something that perhaps would have given us a more satisfying end to the season.

December 1: #13 Arizona State 20, Arizona 17

USC clinched a berth in the Rose Bowl earlier in the day, but Arizona State was still in the race for a BCS at large bid. All it would take to remain eligible was a win over its in-state rival.

Arizona, who was playing to become bowl eligible for the second straight year, had other ideas. The Wildcats jumped out to a 7-0 lead and kept within a score of the Sun Devils until an Arizona State touchdown with 4:27 to go. Arizona would tack on a touchdown with 26 seconds to go, but an offsides penalty on the ensuing onside kick would end its hopes of winning.

Arizona State would end up getting passed over in the BCS selection process for Georgia, Kansas, and Illinois, but had it lost this game it wouldn’t have been in the discussion at all.


Why Florida Will Pound Hawaii

May 5, 2008

I was out of town all weekend, so I am woefully behind on news and current events. In lieu of anything on Ryan Perrilloux being kicked off LSU’s team or Ryan Mallet having to redshirt at Arkansas (both of which were inevitable, really), I offer you this really early analysis of the Hawaii at Florida game on Labor Day weekend.

Florida will pound Hawaii. It won’t be close. Florida could sit Tim Tebow out for the game and it still would be ugly.

Now, Hawaii’s new head coach A. Nonymous Whatshisface (actually, promoted defensive coordinator Greg McMackin) says the Warriors are not rebuilding and that they plan on playing like the WAC champions they are. He is keeping as much continuity as he can while imposing his personality on the team. He should know how to do this from his previous head coaching job at… Oregon Tech?

Yeah! Goooooo… wait, does Oregon Tech even play football anymore? (answer: no)

Yes, that Oregon Tech. At the very least he has the Warriors convinced they’re a good defensive team, having placed 34th in total defense a year ago. I guess he left out the part about posting that against the 111th rated schedule.

So, back to Florida. The reason the Gators would decimate Hawaii even with one arm tied behind their back is this: the game is taking place east of the Pacific time zone. Hawaii is awful east of the Pacific time zone. To wit, here are Hawaii’s last several games played in the Mountain time zone or farther east against notable teams:

  • Georgia 41 – Hawaii 10 (2007) – In fairness, Georgia was really good the second half of last year
  • Boise State 41 – Hawaii 34 (2006) – Boise did break through to the BCS, so props for a close game
  • Alabama 25 – Hawaii 17 (2006) – Bama went 6-6 and fired its coach in 2006
  • Michigan State 41 – Hawaii 14 (2005) – MSU went 5-6 and nearly fired its coach in 2005
  • Boise State 69 – Hawaii 3 (2004) – Sure Boise went 11-1 that year, but look at that score!
  • UTEP 51 – Hawaii 20 (2004) – UTEP was only 8-4 that year; not a juggernaut or anything
  • Rice 41 – Hawaii 29 (2004) – This was no miracle year for the Owls; Rice went 3-8, but one of those three was a demolition of a Hawaii team that beat Northwestern at home the same season

If you go even farther back, you find losses at Boise State, USC, BYU, Michigan State, and Navy as well as a 5-point win over a 4-7 Rice team in 2002. The wins in this category are generally over bad teams like Louisiana Tech, Utah State, and Idaho.

The pattern with the Hawaii Warriors is pretty clear: if they go east of the Pacific time zone and play anyone with a pulse, they get smoked. The close games were against a conference rival they knew well (Boise State) and against a lifeless Alabama team with an atrocious offense. They even lost to a normal (read: pitiful) Rice team by two scores.

The travel involved from the islands to the mainland must be killer, so its understandable to a degree. However, when Cam Newton is playing target practice in the late third quarter on August 30th, don’t say you weren’t warned.