On Saturday night at the beginning of the fourth quarter, I was driving on Interstate 93 in Vermont and I already had the narrative written in my head and I knew what statistics I would begin to look up when I got to my computer: How many times have the Florida Gators scored 14-or-less points in the last five years? How many times did the Gators give up less than 30 points over the last five years and end up on the wrong side of history?
You see, I was only getting snip-its of the game because I was on vacation in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, where as many of you know I got engaged. We had a five-day vacation that was full of activities and blocking off five hours for a football game is not the way to a woman’s heart. Between activities, I was checking my phone to little avail because cell phone companies don’t appreciate their customers in the northeast and provide little to no service.
It wasn’t until we pulled into our hotel parking lot in Burlington, VT where I was able to download the “WRUF 850 Radio App” and I caught, no joke, the last 1:07 of the game via Mick Hubert. I could not risk trying to check into the hotel and running to the television, so we both sat there where we listened to Mick Hubert scream “NO GOOD! The Gators have won the game!”
It was improbable for you, but for me, I didn’t know any different. I only really caught the game at 7-0 Gators and 28-27 Gators. It was everything in between the “and” that I did not know, and boy, was my fiancé lucky because had I known, we would have been at the closest bar in New Hampshire or Vermont.
Anyway enough about me.
Since Saturday, I have watched the game and boy, what a hell of a game. It was exactly like what you want games to be – full of excitement.
The game wasn’t perfect and the Gators still have a host of things to work on, but how huge is this win for their confidence? For Will Grier’s confidence? The Gators marched down field twice in under 10 minutes, something they only mustered twice in the other 50 minutes of game time. They snatched a win out of the arms of defeat and they moved to 4-0.
The Gators are still looking just “OK” on offense, even though they turned two great drives in to end the game on Saturday, doing what Jim McElwain says Will Grier “should do.”
Let’s take a look at some of the statistics and trends that have made themselves clear against Tennessee and from the first four games of the season.
- First things first. No matter whom the opponent is, erasing a 13 point deficit in the fourth quarter when you have very little momentum is nearly impossible against any team. But against a huge rival that was using the game as a rallying cry for their coach and program that hasn’t beat you in 11 years is even more difficult. The feat is so rare, that of the 195+ games this season thus far, a team has only won in a game by being down by double digits entering the fourth quarter six times all season.
- Will Grier’s 11-of-17 for 141 yards and two touchdowns cemented his spot has Florida’s starter. For the season, Grier has a 62.6% completion percentage for 725 yards and a 7.3 yards per attempt, but has an 11.69 yards per completion, which is a solid number four games into the season. He does have a lot of things to improve on, primarily on progressions and throwing the ball away because his 7% sack rate on drop backs is rather high for a duel-threat quarterback. Grier has the team on his back right now and I think he has cemented the job unless he digresses considerably.
- Four games into the season, the Gators tight ends have now combined for more yards than all of last season. I still would like to see more wheel routes and cross patterns from the tight ends, as it seems like the Gators cannot seem to consistently keep two tight ends involved each game. In game one, the tight ends combined for eight catches, with each of the three tight ends catching at least two passes. Since then, Goolsby has caught 3, 0, and 1 pass each game and McGee has caught 0, 3, and 5 passes. Each tight end is averaging more than 10 yards per reception, so it would be advantageous to keep them involved.
- Finally, it was good to see the Gators convert in the red zone. After dropping down to a 76.47 red zone conversion after three games, the Gators went 3-for-3 and raised that percentage up to 80% conversion. If the Gators want to win moving forward, they have to continue to score in the red zone.
While the Gators are still winning (and that is the most important things), there are some concerning trends that are starting to become evident.
- Primarily, the Gators have got to figure out their rushing attack. In each of the last four games, the Gators average yards per rush attempt has fallen from 5.41 yards per rush to 4.3 yards per rush now. Of the Gators team that has rushed for at least 10 rushes, only Will Grier has an average of 4.9 yards or greater (7.4). However, according to Football Study Hall, a lot of that falls on the offensive line. According to their advanced statistics, on less than 45% of runs is the offensive line creating enough push to allow five-plus yard gains. While, the offensive line did much better on Saturday at times in pass protection, they are still struggling with run protection and area that they need to figure out before facing Ole Miss’s stout run defense.
- While the Gators are a perfect 10-for-10 on fourth down, they are dropping drastically on third down conversions. After completing two-thirds of their first downs against New Mexico State, they are down to a season success percentage of 35.19% — 101st in the country. Completely unacceptable and something that has plagued the Gators the past few seasons.
- Finally, the Gators are moving at an exceptionally slow offensive pace. They are currently ranked 107th in the country in 28:29 seconds per play and pace that is ranked 90th in the country. The Gators moved, and looked very comfortable, in a faster paced offense in the fourth quarter against Tennessee and should be something that is replicated more often. The slow pace that the Gators are playing is either a combination of a young team or purposefulness of the coaching staff, but their pace could wind up costing them a game or two if they aren’t able to get enough offensive plays (where they rank 83rd in the country).
The Gators defense, while at times seems unable to make stops, is actually doing quite well through the numbers.
- As I told you last week, the most important defensive statistic in my mind is percentage of opponent plays that end in a turnover, sack, or tackle for loss. The Gators have gotten better each game of the season. Currently ranked eighth in the country with only 21.05% has increased dramatically since game one.
- Furthermore, the Gators are limiting opponents to touchdowns or first downs on just 24.81% of plays, which is good for 24th in the country – something that has featured two higher power offenses the last two weeks.
- Give it up for the Gators secondary who only allowed 17 yards on three completions by wide receivers. While, Tennessee completed two trick plays that went for big yards, the Gators were able to control a number of wide receivers that will likely play in the NFL.
- The Gators pass rush as been dynamite this season. They are sacking opponents on 11% of pass attempts and they rank 11th in the country in tackles for loss by defense at 8.75 per game.
- Jon Bullard is having a helluva year. Ranked 5th in the country with 8 tackles for loss. Had a total of 8.5 all of last season.
- I do see the Gators needing to improve in red zone defense, one of the lone bad areas where they are letting opponents score 81.82% of the time.
- Overall, I saw a big improvement in week four over week three, even without Jalen Tabor in the backfield.
Looking Forward to Game Five
The Gators face an even tougher challenge again this weekend with Ole Miss. After beating the Gators in 2008 setting the stage for “The Promise”, Ole Miss comes into Gainesville looking to fulfill a Hugh Freeze promise of National Championship recognition.
In order to win, the Gators are going to need to attack Ole Miss in the following ways.
- The Gators will need to win the battle of Ole Miss’s 20:44 seconds per play and Ole Miss allowing 82.5 plays per game on defense. Ole Miss runs down the field quickly, but also, let’s other teams have the ball. The Gators are only allowing opponents to run 66.5 plays per game, so how the game shakes out with tempo will completely sway who wins or loses.
- Ole Miss only averages 0.75 sacks per game and only a sack on 0.02 of opponent pass attempts. The Gators offensive line is not stout by any means, but could do well against Ole Miss’s line if they can get out quick passes.
- The Gators defense is ranked 24th in the country in opponent plays that go for a touchdown or first down, while Ole Miss’s offense ranks eighth. The Gators ability to stop Ole Miss’s high potent attack will be critical, particularly in the passing attack.
The super smart folks in Las Vegas have the Rebels as 7.5 point favorite with an over/under of 51.5 points, which means they expect a 29-22 or 30-22 win by the Ole Miss. Outside of telling you to take the “over”, I don’t know exactly how this game will shape out, but I’m nearly positive Ole Miss will win. I think Ole Miss is just a bit too talented on offense and capable enough on defense to allow the Gators to stay in this one. Now, the Gators are carrying momentum after a big fourth quarter win, while Ole Miss struggled with Vanderbilt. I think the Rebels pull one out by 9 points.
Prediction: Rebels 32 | Gators 23