(Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE)
Saturday in Gainesville we face a wounded Gator squad that has not won a game in over a month. Following consecutive losses to LSU, Missouri and Georgia, Florida now stands at 4-4 – and there is turmoil in Gatorland. Coach Will Muschamp has referred to his own offense as “inept” and Florida currently is dead last in the SEC in total offense and yards per play.
Saturday in Gainesville we face a wounded Gator squad that has not won a game in over a month. Following consecutive losses to LSU, Missouri and Georgia, Florida now stands at 4-4 – and there is turmoil in Gatorland. Coach Will Muschamp has referred to his own offense as “inept” and Florida currently is dead last in the SEC in total offense and yards per play. They are next to last in scoring, too, averaging only 21 points per game. At the same time, Florida has beaten us in 22 straight games and the Gators defense ranks near the top of all SEC categories. Just as we faced a Texas A&M defense with bad stats in our last outing – this did not translate into any sort of cakewalk. In fact, it translated into an opponent focused on change.
When this trip to Gainesville first appeared on the schedule, wedged between Florida’s match-ups with Georgia and South Carolina, it looked like a potential trap game. As it turns out, it is not a game Florida will be looking past. With only four wins – and SC and Florida State still left on their schedule – Florida’s 22-year bowl streak is very much in jeopardy if they cannot handle us.
Word out of Gainesville is that Florida will try to quicken the pace Saturday. It is well-chronicled that hurry-up, no huddle offenses have challenged us, but this is not Florida’s natural tendency this year – they have plodded a bit while consistently piling up an edge in time of possession. We fared well against Georgia’s pro-style, non-hurry-up attack which gave us time to breathe. Our D-line and LBs, for whatever reason, seem to thrive on huddling.
Tyler Murphy, Florida’s QB, can run, but he has been reined in much of the year (as the cupboard is bare behind him.) With this game approaching “must win” status for Florida, Murphy is likely to get the green light to do his best Jeff Driskel read-option imitation this week. Last year Driskel ran wild against us and we will need to be prepared to stop Murphy. For that matter, WR Trey Burton has had a quiet year for the Gators, but always seems to thrive against us. I would not be surprised to see him in a wildcat formation. Notably, our defense was sound coming off our first bye – and this second week of healing cannot hurt. We are also expecting back LB Chase Garnham for this game.
The injury bug, which has been particularly cruel to Florida’s offense, has also been unkind to us. Neither team’s season-opening starting QB is healthy and Florida’s defense will be a very difficult match up for redshirt freshman QB Patton Robinette. The Gators’ secondary is talented, deep and coming off a mediocre performance. If Robinette gets banged up, Johnny McCrary’s redshirt will probably get burned as back-up Josh Grady is already injured, too. Given Florida’s issues on offense, our offensive game plan is likely to focus on taking care of the ball. For the same reason, our special teams need to be on full alert. Florida’s returners are a threat to score – and we have had several serious scares on punt blocks. Points will be at a premium in this one and we cannot afford to give any away.
One interesting stat involves fourth downs. On offense, Vandy is not afraid to roll the dice on fourth down and we boast a respectable 70 percent success rate. Florida’s defense, by contrast, leads the league in fourth down stops – holding opponents to a 25 percent conversion rate.
Vegas does not like our chances in this one – listing us as ten point underdogs. At the same time, there is a lot of pressure on Florida in this game. It will be interesting to see how they respond to it – especially at home where the natives are restless. A quick start by Vandy could ratchet up the Gators’ angst-level – but quick starts have not been our forte this season.
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The marquee game in conference this week is LSU at Bama. LSU is a talented and physical opponent – but Bama seems to get better every week. At home, nursing a bye, I like Bama in this one, and so does Vegas – by 12. If these teams had tangled opening night, the result might have been different. Now, LSU’s two losses leave them out of the National Championship hunt, and Bama is home, the better team and needs the game more. UT’s solid play in Knoxville will be tested this week by Auburn. The Vols are 7½ point underdogs – and they are coming off back-to-back road losses at Bama and Missouri to the cumulative tune of 76-13. Bouncing back from these demoralizing outings will be a test of character, not to mention a tough match-up – Auburn has not scored less than 30 points in a game since September.
Missouri will manhandle Kentucky. Mississippi should keep Arkansas winless in conference play. Texas A&M should take down MSU. Georgia hosts Appalachian State. South Carolina gets a bye and lays in wait for the Gators next week – thus, in Columbia, Florida will play a team coming off a bye for the third consecutive week. Some kind of record? All of SC’s remaining games are at home – if the Gamecocks win out in conference, and Missouri stumbles even once, SC will take the East.