It’s week two of the season and the Gators are still waiting to get the football season started.
Even if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, we here at Gator Country are protected inside our indoor practice facility and will push on through the rain this week to bring you an inside look at Florida’s next opponent, Eastern Michigan.
This week, Carter Adler of Eagle Totem teamed up with us to give us a better, more in-depth knowledge of Florida’s opponent this week.
1. After a 2-10 (1-7 MAC) season last year the Eagles hired Chris Creighton who previously coached at Drake. A former quarterback, what has Creighton changed about a passing attack that finished 11th in the MAC a season ago?
If we’re just going by what we saw Saturday night, not much. Starting quarterback Reggie Bell completed 11 of 16 passes for a whopping 59 yards, and Brogan Roback was even worse, landing just 7 of 14 for 40 yards — and one of those completions (for 8 yards) was him catching his own pass (off a deflection, I believe) and then running with it. 3.3 yards per pass attempt is an affront to the memory of Bradbury Robinson.
After the game, Creighton attributed the lack of downfield passing to simply being willing to take the running gains and short passes that Morgan State’s Cover 3 defense was willing to give them, rather than trying to throw into heavier downfield coverage. That’s as may be, but 3.3 yards per pass attempt is still rather pathetic.
2. Who’s going to start at quarterback on Saturday and will the Eagles split snaps evenly like they did last week?
First let me clear up a misconception in your question, because Creighton was very emphatic about this in his post-game remarks. Reggie Bell was the starting quarterback last week. He played until he got hurt, at which time, the second-string quarterback, Brogan Roback, went in. Bell’s injury was minor, and he could have come back in before the end of the game (how late I don’t know), but by that time Creighton felt that Roback was playing well enough, and let him finish the game.
Immediately after that comment, Creighton refused to commit to either as the starting quarterback at Florida.
Based on what we saw, Bell seemed to be better, but what we saw was mostly quick short passes, handoffs, and quarterback keepers. It may be that Roback is the better downfield passer, but since neither did any of that Saturday night, we don’t really know.
The depth chart release for this week does still list Bell as the starter and Roback as the backup, and that seems as likely as anything else, but I do think that each will get some playing time this weekend.
3. Eastern Michigan is 0-6 against the SEC. What is the expectation of the fan base this week?
At Eagle Totem, we just debated whether this game would be more like EMU’s 2009 loss at Arkansas (63-27), the 2010 loss at Ohio State (73-20), or the 2013 loss to Bowling Green (58-7). If Florida were coming off something better than a 4-8 season, we probably would have gone to EMU’s 2010 loss to Northern Illinois (71-3), aka “Bleak Friday”.
4. Eastern Michigan ran the ball to the tune of 292 yards last week but only mustered 99 through the air. Was the offense we saw last week a product of the opponent they faced or is the offense one-dimensional?
That’s really the question, isn’t it?
Part of it is that Creighton is playing the cards he was dealt. Unlike Ron English, who took over a perfectly decent spread offense (scored more than 50 points in each of the last two games before he came) and completely and utterly broke it (didn’t top 31 points until his 19th game as head coach), Creighton is willing to play to his team’s strengths, and one of the few strengths that English left us with is the running game. He recruited and trained an offensive line that has struggled in pass protection but is arguably the best in the MAC at opening gaps for the running game, receivers whose primary role was downfield blocking, and a deep corps of strong running backs.
That, plus a weak schedule, got them to 6-6 in 2011. The problem is that when all you have is a running game, teams start stuffing the box with eight or nine defenders, and then you have nothing. 6-6 turned right back into 2-10 and 2-10.
So yes, the running game is good — at least by MAC standards — and since that was enough to beat Morgan State, that was all we saw. I have a hunch that we’ll see more passes from the Eagles this weekend.
5. Who is the x-factor for the Eagles on both sides of the ball?
On offense, it will be whoever is in at quarterback — my guess is mostly Bell, but that’s just a guess. We know that the running game is there. The question is whether they can find a passing attack to complement it. If they can, this could be a decent MAC team — which for EMU is saying a lot — but if they can’t we’re looking at another long fall in Ypsilanti.
As for the defense, the most important position in a 3-4 defense is the nose tackle, but if anyone at EMU is up to it, it’s Pat O’Conner. I know EMU is going to give up yards, but I’d like to see Florida work for them a little, so I’m looking to the safeties, Pudge Cotton and Kevin Johnson, to limit the Gators’ big plays.