Know Your Enemy: Florida Gators
Apologies for the short preview this week. The combination of midterms and my computer’s decision to call it a career on Wednesday has made for a rather hectic and frustrating week. On that note, I’ll probably be updating the #Analysis section throughout the day on Friday, so stay tuned.
Despite throwing four interceptions, a beaten and battered Missouri team traveled to Gainesville and nearly took down the No. 7 Gators last November.
This season, the narrative has shifted. Mizzou, following its win over No. 7 Georgia last Saturday, seized control of the SEC East entering the second half of the season. However, if the Tigers are going to going to make a move and claim their first division title since 2010, they will have to do so without quarterback James Franklin, who will miss the next 3-5 weeks with a shoulder injury.
Enter: freshman quarterback Maty Mauk.
“[Mauk] just got thrown into the fire pretty quickly there,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “He is a pretty poised guy. He is thoroughly excited about this opportunity at hand. He is surrounded by an experienced offensive line, and receiving core. He has a lot of good people around him, that will step up their game and that will help him out.”
For Florida, its defense is still its biggest strength, but its offense has plummeted to new depths, a problem exacerbated by the loss of quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Matt Jones. The Gators are no longer able to rely exclusively on their defense and still win games (see: L-at LSU). Saturday’s 17-6 loss to No. 10 LSU dropped Florida to 1-4 in its last five games against ranked opponents.
“It’s unfortunate more than anything; I hate it for the young men. They put a lot of time and effort into playing this game and for that to happen…I’m disappointed for them first of all,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “That’s what hurts the most, to see guys go through the struggle and having to make that phone call and tell them what’s going on or having to walk them into that training room and tell them what’s happening. And that’s very frustrating for a young man as much time and effort as they put into it.”
Three Gators to Watch
QB Tyler Murphy
Tyler Murphy, who was the Gators’ third string quarterback in 2011 and 2012 after redshirting as a true freshman in 2010, was thrust into action after starting quarterback Jeff Driskel broke his fibula in the third game of the season. The dual-threat quarterback looked decent in his first two starts (at Kentucky, vs. Arkansas), completing 33 of 40 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns. He also carried the ball 14 times for 51 yards and a touchdown (he had 10 carries for 84 yards and a score after Driskel went down against Tennessee).
The key, as LSU demonstrated on Saturday, is to relentlessly pressure Murphy. His inexperience was exposed in Baton Rouge as the Tigers shredded the Gators’ front line, putting pressure on the junior quarterback nearly every time he dropped back to pass. Murphy finished the game 15-for-27 for 115 yards passing, with zero touchdowns and no interceptions (although plenty of his passes were batted away by defenders).
WR Solomon Patton
Prior to this season, senior Solomon Patton, for his career, had a total of eight receptions for 79 yards and zero touchdowns. This season, he’s caught 22 passes for 380 yards and four scores. The difference? Joker Phillips. In a feature published by ESPN, Patton explained how the former Kentucky coach taught him how to dissect defenses before the snap and run routes. He has a knack for evading defenders immediately after making the catch and is utilized both as a receiver and as a runner via the jet sweep and screens. Unfortunately for Patton, he’s struggled to consistently produce, due in large part to the Gators’ offensive ineptitude. Nonetheless, Mizzou may be forced to double-team him if cornerback EJ Gaines is unable to play.
LB Dante Fowler Jr.
Dante Fowler has stepped up in the absence of defensive lineman Dominique Easley, who tore his ACL earlier this season, recording a team-high seven tackles for loss and three sacks. The 6-foot-3, 266 lbs. defensive end/linebacker also has three quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. He’ll be a key participant when Florida dials up the pressure against Mizzou’s freshman quarterback, but it will be interesting to see what the Tigers do in response–specifically how frequently they keep the tailbacks in the backfield to assist with pass blocking (I doubt we see many empty backfield sets).
Matchup to Watch
- Florida’s offense is stagnant. It’s so bad.
- Through six games, the Gators are one of four SEC teams averaging fewer than 400 yards per game and their 21.8 points per game is the second fewest in the conference (Kentucky averages 20.3).
- The Swamp inhabitants thought backup Tyler Murphy would save the offense following strong performances against Kentucky and Arkansas, but after Saturday’s beat down in Baton Rouge, the tone from the Gator faithful has changed:
“So much for Murphy being the cure-all for all that has ailed Florida’s offense during the past four seasons. It turns out, he was like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet hole. Once again, Florida’s offense is bleeding this team and its fan base to death.”-Mike Bianchi (Orlando Sentinel)
- Getting pressure on Tyler Murphy early and often will be crucial. LSU, which entered its game versus Florida allowing 466 yards per game, absolutely owned the Gators’ front line, recording four sacks (UF averages 1.83 sacks against per game). The quarterback was rarely able to get comfortable inside the pocket and when he did manage to get the ball off (short crossing routes, hooks, etc.) the passes were often into coverage where the LSU defenders were able to bat them away.
- With EJ Gaines likely out for Saturday’s game, Mizzou must focus on taking Patton down as soon as he catches the ball. There were a few plays against Georgia, Indiana and Arkansas State where poor tackling allowed the opposition to break off a big play. That can’t happen against Florida.
- It’s safe to say the Gators will be bringing the heat against Mauk early and often Saturday morning, but Mizzou must establish the run on its first few drives of the game. LSU found success running the ball up the middle, exploiting the soft center of Florida’s defensive line for 175 rushing yards.
- If Mizzou can build itself a two-score lead, this game could get out of hand real fast. The Gators are not built for playing from behind.
Mizzou has hit its stride on both sides of the ball. Despite the loss of James Franklin, I think his teammates will pick up the slack and help Maty Mauk succeed in his first career start. On a side note, I hate defensive tussles, so I’m probably going to be miserable Saturday morning/afternoon (read: low-scoring game). Mizzou wins by 6Brian Haenchen founded Hank’s Sports Blog in 2009. You can follow him on Twitter (@Brian_Haenchen) or email him (firstname.lastname@example.org).