Cotton Bowl Time…

January 2, 2009

It’s 2:00 pm, which means it’s Cotton Bowl time. Your bizzarro stat of the day: in Ole Miss’ nine games against BCS conference teams, six times the team that outgained the other lost.

Texas Tech will almost certainly outgain the Rebels today, so maybe that bodes well for their cause. It projects as a 36-28 Texas Tech win, but we saw how much that matters in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

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Ole Miss’ Climb

October 8, 2008

Head on over to SB Nation’s SEC blog Team Speed Kills for a piece I wrote on Ole Miss and it’s attempt to climb from the basement of the SEC West with Houston Nutt. It even comes with the Ed Orgeron Hummer ad, because the irony of a fired coach hawking a brand that GM can’t even give away at this point is thick and delicious.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for hilariously bad local commercials that SEC personalities inevitably get roped into doing.


An Analysis of Florida’s Offense Against Ole Miss

September 29, 2008

Urban Meyer likes to say that games are won and lost in the five minutes before and the five minutes after halftime. Florida’s game against Ole Miss was decided in large part thanks to the five minutes after halftime, proving his maxim true.

I went through all of UF’s 71 plays to find out more about the offense’s performance in their first loss of the year and to see what should have been done differently.

First Half

Florida had the game mostly under control. The Gators enjoyed a 17-7 lead and had all the momentum. Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt was even visibly frustrated when he came out after halftime. The storyline for the game was following along the same way it had for the previous three games: Florida’s defense was holding its opponent down and the offense was doing enough to get by.

Before the break, 17 of the 33 plays were runs, and Florida scored on three of its six drives. Even Aaron Hernandez’s lost fumble was on a play that was on its way to gaining more than ten yards (before, of course, being called back for illegal formation).

Even so, the offense was not fully clicking. It only had more than two effective plays in a row on the sixth and final drive, when all five of its plays were effective. Prior to that, the Gators could only muster back-to-back effective plays at most before bad execution or a good play by the Rebel defense prevented a play from doing well.

Second Half

Florida passed a lot more in the second half because the sense of urgency grew. Six of the first eight plays after the break were runs, but only two were effective and two others produced lost fumbles. Most importantly, the fumbles allowed Ole Miss to tie up the game and it gave them a lot of confidence.

From that point on, the Gators ran the ball just seven more times. Five of them were on a touchdown drive (one of which was a scramble on a pass play) and two more were their final two plays of the game.

UF actually had eight distinct and meaningful drives in the second half, a remarkable stat considering that they had only six meaningful drives the whole game against Tennessee. The first two ended due to lost fumbles. The third was torpedoed by a third down penalty and a missed block on the same guy by both Phil Trautwein and Marcus Gilbert.

The fourth drive was done in by a first down sack that was followed by a catch out of bounds and Tebow being hit as he threw. The fifth drive was when the offense finally found a rhythm, making six effective plays in a row despite the linebackers dropping into coverage only once in that span. It ended in a touchdown. The first play of the sixth drive was also effective, but a sack the second play could not be overcome thanks in part to a drop by Carl Moore.

Five of the six plays on the seventh drive were effective, with the other one being an overthrow on a 20-yard fade route. It ended in a touchdown. The final drive of the second half as we know ended because of a failed Tebow smash play, but two more overthrows on first and second down were counter productive.

A Word on the Rebel Defense

Houston Nutt may seem a little crazy from time to time, but he is not stupid. He took a look at Florida’s three games so far. He probably tossed out the Hawai’i game because of the talent differential, and stuck with the Miami and Tennessee games.

Miami blitzed most of the game and held the Florida offense to just a touchdown in the first three quarters. Tennessee dropped its linebackers into coverage most of the game and allowed UF to score on five of its six meaningful drives. You can probably imagine which approach Nutt took.

Ole Miss blitzed much of the game, and most of the rest of the plays the linebackers stayed up close to add pressure. All but one of the times Ole Miss brought a Gator down behind the line of scrimmage came on a blitz.

The Rebels dropped the linebackers into coverage just 17 times. Only one of those times did they get genuine pressure on Tim Tebow. Only four other plays were not effective, and two of those were drops, one was a pass that was caught out of bounds, and the other was a dump off pass on third-and-17. When the linebackers dropped back and gave Tebow plenty of time to throw, Florida moved the ball with ease.

Following the lead of LSU and others, Ole Miss almost universally blitzed the Gators when they went with an empty set, except on third and a mile and late in the fourth quarter. All three of the Rebels’ sacks came against an empty set, and twice a linebacker came through untouched.

Florida’s Play Calling

On the Gator message boards, the people are ready to run offensive coordinator Dan Mullen out of town. To be fair they’ve wanted to do that almost since he arrived 2005, even during the 2006 national championship run and during 2007’s campaign that led the SEC in scoring. Was it as bad as they say?

As I said, the first half scheme matched what had been going on before. No surprises there. Over the three previous weeks some wondered whether the Gators had used the whole playbook, and if when the pressure was on if they could execute when that time came.

Only three of the eight second half drives ended in punts solely because of poor execution. The first two were turnovers of course, and one was bad execution and one was a good play by the defense. That bad execution fumble was on a read option play, however, something Tebow has run thousands of times in games and in practice. It was not related to that extended playbook.

The plays that Florida ran in this game that it didn’t in the previous ones mainly were intermediate to long pass plays. The ones that were quick worked fine. The ones that were not quick ended in sacks or scrambles. It also did not help that Tebow overthrew every pass that had to travel in the air more than about 12 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Florida actually did pretty well beating the blitz with quick passes over the middle and option plays. Only three throws over the middle didn’t work; two were drops and the third was a low throw. The other 15 short or medium throws over the middle were effective. The read option plays in the center of the line didn’t work very well, but the standard option left or option right plays did a great job at beating the blitz.

The killers were slow developing pass plays from an empty set. All three sacks came on such a scenario, and most of the hurries did too. Thanks to Ole Miss blitzing on nearly all of them, the numbers just didn’t allow that kind of play to do what it was supposed to do.

That’s where I am upset with the play calling. I understand that there’s a need for variety to keep the defense guessing, but there was no reason at all that supported anything other than fast passes from a five-wide set. Ole Miss made its intentions to blitz very clear from the beginning, so those plays should have been scrapped instead of appearing in the second half.

Florida was getting everything it needed on medium-length quick hitters and options. The Rebels couldn’t do a thing to stop Percy Harvin running or catching. Tebow was overthrowing all of his longer passes anyway. Slow developing pass plays from the empty set have been failing against the blitz since the LSU game in 2005. Why they keep getting sent down from the booth in 2008 is beyond me.

The final set of downs was not a failure of play calling, by the way. There were short routes by the sideline that were open on first and second down; Tebow chose to throw to the lone long route both times.

I was fine with the throw to Murphy since it was first down and there was a lot of separation there. The throw to Harvin on second down was not a good decision in any way. The option on third down nearly worked, and on fourth down Florida’s offensive line simply got dominated. The Tebow smash had worked all three other times they used it, so there wasn’t a whole lot of reason to think it wouldn’t the fourth time.

Injuries

Florida missed Jim Tartt, who went out after the first drive. He is a fifth-year senior and a mauler on the line. Even so, Ole Miss’ front four rarely got much pressure when they weren’t assisted by a blitzer.

The bigger loss was probably Emmanuel Moody, who had three very hard and productive runs before going out. All three of his plays were effective, and he also picked up Florida’s only third down conversion.

The Takeaway

Ole Miss didn’t have to make many plays to win. It gained over half of its offensive yards on four plays (two of which were touchdowns) and its three sacks put the Gators in second-and-20, second-and-17, and second-and-19 (all three of which led to punts).

My final diagnosis is that the two turnovers to start the second half did the Gators in. For as flat as they played and for all the big plays that went against them, those turnovers ended up the deciding factor.

They gave the Rebels 10 quick points to tie up the game, and the two teams were basically even from there on out. They were not even in the first half, however, showing that those giveaways by Florida reversed momentum and gave Ole Miss some actual confidence.

Even if Florida punts on those drives instead of fumbling, the Rebels would not have gotten 10 points that fast or probably at all given how the teams were playing at that point. Minus the shot of adrenaline to the Ole Miss sideline, Florida probably would have ground out another nondescript win.

Ultimately, this game leaves plenty to think about and work on for both players and coaches. We’ll find out how much they got from it when LSU comes to Gainesville in two weeks.


Gators Go Through Looking Glass in Loss to Ole Miss

September 28, 2008

Nearly everything about Florida’s game against Ole Miss was the polar opposite of what happened through the first three games of the year. I have not gone through my recording for a full analysis; ideally that will come tomorrow. For now though, just consider these things.

Third Downs

Florida entered the game first in the SEC in third down conversions, at 53.85 percent. Against Ole Miss, they were just 1-11 on third downs.

Turnovers

Florida came into the game +9 in turnover margin and had yet to turn the ball over. While Tim Tebow’s school record streak of pass attempts without an interception is still alive, the Gators fumbled five times, losing three, and finished -2 in turnover margin against the Rebels.

Preventing Big Plays

You can question the competencies of the offenses UF had faced so far, but the Gator D had been doing well in preventing big plays. The longest pass play allowed to Hawai’i, Miami, and Tennessee was 26 yards, and the longest run play was 16 yards.

Ole Miss gained 169 of its 325 yards on four plays. One of those four plays was a 40-yard touchdown run by Dexter McCluster and another was Jevan Snead’s 86-yard touchdown pass to Shay Hodge. Both of those plays came within 16 minutes of the end of the game.

On the Rebels’ 59 other plays, they managed just 156 yards, or 2.64 yards per play.

Tebow’s Production

Coming into the game, Tim Tebow had played a relatively limited role in the offense compared to 2007. His 311 total yards against Miami were by far his highest, and 256 of those were passing. He had yet to score a rushing touchdown.

Against Ole Miss he had 319 yards of passing alone, and he had two rushing touchdowns.

Harvin’s Production

Partially due to injuries, Percy Harvin had played a very limited role in the first three games of the year. His largest involvement was against Tennessee, where he had eight touches for 80 yards.

Against Ole Miss, he surpassed that mark in both rushing and receiving. He had 10 rushes for 82 yards, and 13 catches for 186 yards. He was far and away the best player on the field.

Taking a Lead

Florida had not trailed in a game yet this season. Ole Miss scored first, ending that streak with 3:12 to go in the first quarter. UF would take the lead back with 12:26 to go in the first half, but the Gators would lose the lead for good with 10:32 to go in the third quarter when Ole Miss tied the game 17-17.

Special Teams

Brandon James was largely held in check thanks to some occasionally suspect blocking by Florida but mainly good kick and punt coverage by Ole Miss. Saturday’s game was also the first game of the year in which the Gators’ special teams did not score.

The final margin of the game was made possible by Ole Miss’ special teams, who blocked Florida’s final extra point attempt.

Overall

“We didn’t play Florida football.”

Those words from Urban Meyer in his postgame press conference basically sum up the game. I am still going to do the analysis pieces, but the whole game can be summed up in that phrase.

It was like a combination of some of the worst parts of 2006 with some of the worst parts of 2007.

They had a third quarter meltdown, an infamous recurring nightmare of 2006’s run. They also had the offense making mistakes and hoping the defense could bail them out, a storyline taken directly from the script of two seasons ago.

They also had critical breakdowns, like Snead’s 86-yard pass, and some bad tackling, like on McCluster’s 40-yard run. The offense basically ended up the Tebow and Harvin show as well. Those bits are vintage 2007 Gators.

The critical thing from here on out is figuring out this team’s identity. The identity it had tried to forge in the first three games was completely reversed. Bad habits from the past couple seasons reemerged.

All is not lost since it’s still September and because Georgia was administered a beatdown by Alabama. Arkansas, Florida’s next opponent, has looked so positively putrid this season that they present a great opportunity to get the house back in order.

Florida came out flat, didn’t do a thing that brought them success in the three games prior, and they only lost by one point (a freak margin at that, considering how few PATs ever get blocked). It was also to a rapidly improving Ole Miss team, whose new coach Houston Nutt always pulls off an upset or two every season.

There are worse ways to take your first loss, and there was enough good in it to build on that the Gators can still accomplish every goal they have for the season.


Box Score Gazing

September 27, 2008

The Good

First Downs: Florida 24, Ole Miss 10

Total Yards: Florida 442, Ole Miss 324

Penalties: Florida 6-40, Ole Miss 10-69

The Bad

Third Down Conversions: Florida 1-11 (!!)

Turnovers: Florida 3, Ole Miss 1

The Ugly

Ole Miss 31 – Florida 30


Ole Miss Game to be on Raycom

September 16, 2008

Raycom has picked up the Florida-Ole Miss game. As always, that means it’s a 12:30 game with the Daves calling the action. Plan accordingly.


SEC Power Poll Ballot, Week 2

September 9, 2008

1. Georgia

I have a few quibbles about their performance, but really they’re nothing more than nitpicks. CMU got more pressure than I thought it would, which happens to be “any at all,” and the defense lost focus early in the second half. This game would have been closer for longer if Dan LeFevour actually ran the ball before the final drive of the second quarter.

They played like they should have played and won like they should have won.

2. LSU

Will Hurricane Ike let them play next week? It’s looking better now than it did Sunday when I originally drew up these rankings and comments.

3. Florida

The 26-3 final score doesn’t give a fully accurate impression of the game. The UF offensive staff got outcoached, but fortunately the Miami offensive staff did too. The Gator defense looked really good against a vanilla Miami attack, but they didn’t look as dominating as the stats make them out to be.

4. Auburn

They started strong and kind of let off the gas a bit, but the passing game had a pulse and the defense and running were still there. Without some uncharacteristic fumbles, Auburn’s margin of victory would have been much greater.

5. Alabama

Welcome back down to earth, and how. Without some great special teams plays, the Tide might have only won this one 7-6.

6. Ole Miss

Jevan Snead is Matt Jones, Jr. and Ole Miss would qualify as about the third best team in the ACC. They battled the whole game and easily could have won. This one portends good things in Oxford.

7. Tennessee

They better show something against UAB. And by that I mean the Blazers better not be anywhere near contention in the fourth quarter.

8. Vanderbilt

This year’s Mississippi State? A definite maybe on that for now.

9. South Carolina

They had their chances, but the offense stunk without McKinley. Then again, it wasn’t exactly putting up fireworks with him. They didn’t play like they wanted it as badly as Vandy did, and the defense fell apart to a degree in the second half.

I never thought I’d see Spurrier lose twice to Vandy, much less twice in a row.

10. Kentucky

Maybe Cobb is the answer at quarterback, but how much can you really learn against a I-AA team?

11. Mississippi State

You beat SELA. Congratulations.

12. Arkansas

Another close call against a bad team. They will be fortunate to win more than one conference game.