More on Offense vs. Miami

September 9, 2008

Urban Meyer said that one reason he thought that the Gators struggled against Miami’s pass rush was that “the younger team was wearing blue” on Saturday. He also said Miami has some of the best players in the country on defense, something he’s been repeating since before the game.

He should know well about that second point well since he’s been recruiting against Miami for several years now. That first one probably deserves a fact check, so here goes.

The depth charts I’m using are from Rivals, so they should be more up to date than the offseason preview magazines. They are here: Miami, Florida. For some reason, they got the classes (freshman, sophomore, etc) wrong for some guys, so I used the teams’ official sites to correct those mistakes.

Miami starts two seniors, a junior, and a sophomore on the defensive line. The second unit there consists of a senior, a sophomore, and two freshmen. So on the two deep, Miami has four upperclassmen and four underclassmen.

At linebacker, which was the key for Miami, the Hurricanes start a senior and two juniors. The second unit consists of a senior and two freshmen. That is four upperclassmen and two underclassmen on the two deep.

In the secondary, which had to cover receivers well enough to buy the pass rush time, Miami starts two seniors, a junior, and a sophomore. The second unit is made up of three seniors and a freshman. That means there are six upperclassmen and two freshmen on the two deep.

Overall Miami starts five seniors, four juniors, and two freshmen on defense. The second unit has six seniors, two sophomores, and five freshmen.

On the offensive line, Florida starts three seniors and two sophomores. The second unit has four sophomores and a freshman. However since senior OG Jim Tartt was out injured, UF had two seniors and three sophomores on the line starting Saturday. If everyone’s healthy though, Florida has three upperclassmen and seven underclassmen on the two deep.

At quarterback, Florida has a junior starting and a sophomore as the backup. At running back, Florida has a senior starting and a freshman as the backup. At receiver, Florida has a senior and two juniors starting with two juniors (one a JuCo transfer in his first year at UF) and a freshman at backup. At tight end, Florida has a sophomore starting and a senior as backup.

So at the skill positions, Florida starts two seniors, three juniors, and a sophomore. The second unit has one senior, two juniors, a sophomore, and two freshmen.

Overall Florida starts five seniors, three juniors, and three sophomores on offense. The second unit has one senior, two juniors, five sophomores, and three freshmen.

As we can see, the teams are comparable in experience, though Florida’s backups are a bit younger than Miami’s backups. The front lines are about even though, so was Meyer just making things up?

Probably not. Urban was talking specifically talking about the Gators’ pass protection issues when speaking of experience. His full quote was:

“The thing that happened offensive line-wise is you leave that game thinking we got knocked back and that’s not the case at all. I keep hearing about this young team (Miami). The younger team was wearing blue and those are some of the best players in America.”

In that case, let’s focus on that offensive line. Florida’s starting offensive line plus tight end consisted of two seniors and four sophomores.

Miami started two seniors, a junior, and a sophomore on the defensive line. The guys blitzing from behind consisted mostly of two seniors and a junior. That means six upperclassmen and only one underclassman making up Miami’s 4-3 scheme.

So, Meyer was right. Florida’s protection was a good bit younger than Miami’s pressure. That makes me feel better about the way the game went, though not about the future game with LSU. Jim Tartt, get well soon buddy.

I have one final note on overall seniority of the teams, and not just on Florida’s offense versus Miami’s defense. It’s from the Gainesville Sun‘s Pat Dooley, who put things a little more succinctly than I did:

“Miami started 13 seniors and juniors Saturday night. Florida started 12 sophomores. Florida is the only team in the SEC with no senior starters on defense. Miami started four seniors on defense and eight of its 22 starters were seniors.

“The truth is that Florida is a younger team than Miami.”


About That Last Score…

September 8, 2008

I had a feeling the last score at the end was going to be a point of contention with a few folks. I figured it’d mostly be the gambling types since that field goal allowed Florida to cover the point spread.

Well, Randy Shannon didn’t like it as you’d probably imagine. After the game he gave Urban Meyer a quick hand slap instead of a shake and ran off, and in the press conference gave a brusque “no comment” when asked about it.

I have a few comments about this issue, and that’ll be it.

First, it was a rivalry game. I didn’t think it was possible to run up the score in a rivalry game. It was also the offense’s fourth time in the red zone all game, and one of those trips ended with a 19-yard touchdown pass. There still is a conference season to get ready for, and getting some red zone work in against a good defense is fine with me.

It was also important to get Jonathan Phillips a field goal try. It was his first in his entire five-year career believe it or not, and kicking is as much mental as it is physical. In 2006, Chris Hetland didn’t get his first field goal attempt until the away game at Tennessee. After missing his first one there, he was lost mentally for the year. As we all know, he ended up 4-13 for the regular season.

Now, I don’t know Phillips, so I don’t know how much a 29-yarder at home after the game is already won makes a difference. It certainly couldn’t hurt though. Does the prospect of a guy attempting the first field goal of his career in Knoxville sound enticing to you? Me either.

So the question then remains, why take shots at the end zone if you were trying to set up the kicker? I don’t know; this series has had guys on both sides try to run up the score for various reasons. Meyer apparently said in his coach show that it wasn’t for style points, but since it doesn’t air in Charlotte until Wednesday I won’t know more until then. It most likely was a crime of opportunity to so speak, because if Brandon James doesn’t return Miami’s poor punt so far, Tebow probably takes a few knees and we all go home 23-3.

Running up the score is something everyone does at some point. Miami had starters playing in the fourth quarter against Charleston Southern in Week 1. USC still had Mark Sanchez in the game in the fourth quarter against Virginia in Week 1. Georgia still had Stafford and Moreno in the game in the fourth quarter against Central Michigan last weekend. Oklahoma still had Sam Bradford in the game in the fourth quarter against Cincinnati last weekend too.

Could Florida have had Cam Newton come in and take three knees before giving Phillips his easy first attempt? Sure. Why not? Only Meyer knows for sure, but this is not some crime against humanity like some have made it out to be.

If you’ve got a chance to stick it to a rival, you do it. If you can’t stop it from being done to you, toughen up and deal. End of story.

How Miami’s Defense Was Able to Slow Florida’s Offense

September 7, 2008

I was a very frustrated Gator Saturday night, watching the vaunted Florida offense struggle against an inexperienced Miami defense. What we all were reminded of is that “inexperienced” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad,” and it certainly appears that Randy Shannon and his staff have stockpiled some good players on the defensive side of the ball.

This was a game where both teams’ defensive staffs outcoached their counterparts on the other sideline. Because Florida was supposed to be a lot better, I am first going to breakdown how Miami was able to have so much success on defense.

I watched all of Florida’s possessions twice, with some individual plays many more times than that, in order to write this piece.

Miami’s Game Plan

Three words: attack, attack, attack.

Miami played a textbook 4-3 blitzing scheme, where the defensive linemen ate up blocks and the linebackers went shooting through the gaps. They threw a few tricks in there, but it didn’t get too complex.

They definitely decided to trust the secondary, which according to Athlon has six upperclassmen in the two-deep on the depth chart, and go all out in stopping the run and harassing the quarterback. That is what Georgia did last season and what LSU has done against UF in the past too. Shannon and defensive coordinator Bill Young definitely did their homework.

Florida’s Game Plan

I’m not really sure what the game plan was. I’m guessing that the plan was to use the passing game to pick apart the Hurricanes, under the assumption that the Gator offensive line could handle Miami’s inexperienced front line.

One thing is for sure, Florida didn’t seem interested in establishing much of a run game. Tim Tebow passed 35 times, a new career high, and his pass attempts exceeded the team’s rushing attempts for just the third time during his tenure as starter. Tebow had 13 rushes, three or four of which were scrambles on pass plays or sacks, Percy Harvin had five carries, and no one else had more than three.

Emmanuel Moody being out injured probably didn’t help, but the running backs combined for nine carries total. After last week’s running back showcase, that’s a puzzling stat.

A few folks have put forth the idea that Florida was keeping things basic so as not to give away anything, but I don’t believe it. The coaches before and after the game spoke very highly of Miami, and it did not appear like they were taking it easy in my game review. They were taking it easy on the still-healing Percy Harvin, but that’s about it.

What Miami Did Right

For the most part, Miami stuck to its game plan of sending a linebacker or two on every play. This tactic was especially effective when the Gators went with five receivers, because sometimes that meant one guy went untouched.

I can’t say enough about the Hurricane linebackers. They played an excellent game overall, and senior Glenn Cook was outstanding. He was all over the field, shedding blocks and making plays. Freshman Sean Spence also looks like he could be a special player not too long from now.

The secondary was adequate, but it didn’t really stand out. They covered Florida’s receivers long enough for the pass rushers to get to the quarterback, and they made some nice tackles on a few bubble screens. However when Tebow had time to throw, more often than not they got beat.

Miami did not get too complicated up front, as I said earlier, but what tricks they threw in were effective. Sometimes they would drop a defensive end into coverage against the tight end and rush a linebacker, confusing the linemen. Other times, the lineman would engage a block and then come off it, occupying a lineman long enough for a linebacker to go right on by.

What Florida Did Wrong

The offensive linemen took turns getting beat, for one. Only Mike Pouncey never stood out to me for missing a block. Jason Watkins was probably the second-best, with Maurkice Pouncey not too far behind.

The left side of the line was a bit lacking though. Phil Trautwein did not have his best game in a Gator uniform, and Marcus Gilbert had some trouble filling in for the injured Jim Tartt. Gilbert especially had difficulty with the tricks Miami played I mentioned above, which is to be expected since he’s young and hasn’t played much.

As a unit, they did not finish blocks as well as they need to. A lot of the pressure that Tebow felt was the result of second efforts by defenders who either had shed their blocks or kept trying for longer than their counterparts did.

We finally got to see what kind of formations with two tight ends the coaching staff came up with. The main one they used had one lined up on the line and another lined up behind the line as an H-back. Both would go out to catch a pass.

It didn’t work very well because Miami would line up a defensive end opposite them. Since neither tight end was blocking, the unblocked defender would get to Tebow before he had a chance to make a good read, set his feet, and throw. I hope Dan Mullen revisits this set before using it again.

The most glaring problem was a general refusal to commit to blitz-busting tactics. Every now and then Florida would use the kinds of screens, quick passes, and extra protection sets that are needed to make aggressive defenses pay. However, they didn’t do them enough to get the Miami linebackers to back off consistently. They kept the pressure on nearly the whole game.

That pressure did wear on Tebow. He started off fine, but gradually lost his composure as the first half went on. By the end of it, he had happy feet in the pocket and began throwing everything too hard and too low. He came out fine in the second half and got better as the game went on.

What Turned the Tide

The thing that turned the tide in the Gators favor and allowed them to score so much at the end was finally deciding to do things to counter the blitz consistently. They used more quick passes to get the ball out of Tebow’s hands faster, and on the plays that were slower to develop, they had Kestahn Moore in the backfield to pick up the blitzing linebackers.

As a result, Miami stopped sending the heat so much and instead had the linebackers drop into coverage more. That gave Tebow plenty of time to shop for receivers, and the Gator wideouts consistently won their battles. When the Hurricanes did have extra guys come in, Moore was there to buy Tebow enough time to make good decisions.

Tebow had his issues in the second quarter, but many of the Florida offense’s struggles had to do with scheme and play calling. For whatever reason, Mullen didn’t react much to what the defense was doing until late in the third quarter. That is probably the best example I can give for Shannon and Young outcoaching Mullen.

In an interview during ESPN’s College Football Final, the GameDay guys interviewed Tebow and asked him what the difference in the second half was. He said Miami did a good job game planning, and the key for the Gators was “settling down, regrouping, picking up protections, and then just throwing and catching.”

Kirk Herbstreit said his takeaway from the game is that being aggressive and attacking the Florida offense is the best way to defend it. Tebow said that the way around that is to “throw hot [and] throw quick,” and to “start that a little earlier.” Sounds like I was not the only one frustrated with Mullen being slow to adjust to the blitz.

Final Remarks

We learned a couple things in this game.

First, Miami has a great defense when it is fully motivated. If those guys can play with that kind of fire all season, the Hurricanes will be a legitimate threat to win their conference. The offensively anemic ACC will have some real issues scoring points against them. The trick is getting those guys to be like that all season and not have any more 48-0 debacles like they had against Virginia last season.

Second, attacking Florida’s offense head-on still works. It worked for a few teams last season and it worked in this game. If Miami had any kind of competent offense at all, it would have been a lot closer at the end. The Gator coaching staff needs to expect teams to do this the rest of the year and adjust quickly to it because not a lot of SEC defenses will give up 17 in the fourth quarter as Miami did.

Tebow said this was a good game to have going into the bye week. They get some confidence from winning, but it also exposed a lot of things they need to work on. I couldn’t agree more, as these Gators are far from a finished product.

I take my hat off to Miami’s defense though. It played an excellent game for most of it, exceeding all of my expectations.

Beat Miami

September 6, 2008

No live blog tonight; I’m going uptown to watch the game with the Charlotte Gator Club.

Beat Miami. Repeat that. Beat Miami.

About These Miami Folks…

September 5, 2008

I have a confession to make: I don’t hate the Miami Hurricanes football team. I just don’t.

The game this weekend has more meaning than just a game to some people, but not me. I was born in 1985, coincidentally the last time Florida beat Miami, and the two school have played only four games that I can remember to any degree.

One was the Sugar Bowl after the 2000 season when Miami simply had the better team. That was also the case in 2002. I was at the 2003 game at the old Orange Bowl, and it was the worst of all the Zookian collapses. I was at the 2004 Peach Bowl too, and neither team played like it wanted to be there. It was the worst-played college football game I’ve ever attended.

When it comes down to it, for most of my life Miami has been to me like Ohio State, USC, Oklahoma, or any other national power that Florida doesn’t play regularly. That applies even with the three losses in the Zook era. I mean, it was the Zook era; I don’t harbor deep feelings about Ole Miss, why would I about Miami?

I grew up in Orlando, a city that is roughly split evenly between Gators and Seminoles. Miami fans are rare, so I didn’t hear any of them pumping up their team and getting me all annoyed.

That changed after I got to college. I met some Miami fans who attended UF and refused to become Gators. I saw random Miami fans show up at Florida games, and often they spent the time looking proud of wearing Miami stuff instead of watching the game. I began to learn about the relentless yet often misplaced bravado they usually exude.

The end result is that I just can’t stand Miami fans, but their team still doesn’t arouse the same reaction in me that FSU, Tennessee, and Georgia do. I don’t know that it ever will since Florida won’t play the Hurricanes often enough to get there.

As for the game tomorrow, it appears to be similar to the 2002 game only with the roles reversed. Florida is the national power hunting for a championship and Miami is the team hoping to be good. Miami is a lot younger than UF was in ’02, so it’s not a perfect comparison, but I expect Florida to win by a similar margin and score.

When the teams meet again in 2013, it should be a great game. This one will be uncomfortably close for a while, but the vast difference in depth of talent should let Florida pull away in the second half. There’s no way Miami has the offensive talent to keep up with the Gator offense.

Funny Moment from Meyer’s Call In Show

September 5, 2008

There was a funny moment on Urban Meyer’s call in radio show last night.

Someone named Sandy called in saying she heard Herbstreit and Corso naming Florida the future SEC champs, but she wanted to hear it from “the chief.” Did he think they’d win the conference?

His response: “Beat Miami. Repeat that: beat Miami.”

After saying “I know” over and over, she finally said it. She then said that after beating Miami, did he think they could win the conference?

His response: “Sandy, Sandy, Sandy, Sandy, Sandy. Beat Miami. Say it: beat Miami. Have a good night.”

I’d say Meyer is completely focused on playing Miami, wouldn’t you?

He also mentioned we’d see someone besides Tim Tebow take direct snaps similar to Arkansas. I think he meant what Arkansas used to do under Houston Nutt with Darren McFadden in the Wildcat/Wild Hawg/now Wild Rebel formation. He refused to say who it was, but it’s something to look forward to Saturday.

My guess is that it will be Percy Harvin since he’s experienced and the coaches trust him. Perhaps we’ll see Rainey do it too. We did see Jarred Fayson do this some the past two season, so it’s not entirely new, but it’s interesting to note that he revealed it.

Miami is Talking

September 4, 2008

Louis Murphy got himself a gag order by talking about Miami, but no such things are being passed out down in Coral Gables.

Just from one Miami Herald column alone, we get:

“We want to show them the University of Miami still rules the state of Florida. We wanted the game at 8 o’clock. Let all the other games get out the way and everybody else can see us play. I believe it’s zero and six lately for Florida. We want to keep it that way. We plan on winning this game.” –Center Xavier Shannon, Randy’s son

“That’s what they have to worry about. We feel [our offensive line] can dominate anyone in the country, and that’s what we plan on doing.” -Xavier Shannon again, on running backs Graig Cooper and Javarris James

“Are they going to be able to match up with our defense?” -Safety Anthony Reddick, on Florida’s offensive speed

“Insulting” -Reddick, on the 21.5-point spread on the game

“Charleston Southern helped us find out whether or not we can play with a team of Florida’s caliber.” -True freshman QB Jacory Harris

I shouldn’t need to discuss how preposterous most of these are.

Just keep talking, ‘Canes. Ask Geno Hayes how well that went last year.