The Florida Gators had a Jekyll and Hyde football team in 2012. At times, it was their rather pathetic offense and their lack of ability to score points against pedestrian teams; while at other times, they played like world beaters who were only a few plays away from an SEC East championship, or perhaps even a National Championship game appearance. Ultimately, the Gators finished 104th in the country in offensive output (one spot ahead of 2-10 Eastern Michigan), while conversely, the team finished 5th in the country in defense.
The Gators enter the 2013 year with a new running back, new tight end, a few new pieces on the offensive line, a few new defensive tackles, a new linebacking corp, and a new set of safeties. However, the Gators have an abundance of talent and, for the first time under Will Muschamp, some depth at each position.
With the profusion of new talent on both sides of the ball, the Gators will be forced to perform especially well in certain statistical areas to win ball games, or they could see a talented, but green, team struggle mightily.
Here are the three most important statistics the Gators need to be concerned about for next season.
Field Goals and PAT Kicking
The Gators lost, arguably, one of the best kickers in Florida football history. For the past few seasons, Caleb Sturgis was ‘Mr. Reliable’ and was considered one of, if not the, top kicker the country. Last season, Sturgis was 24-of-28 in field goal attempts and 34-of-35 in PAT attempts. The two-time Lou Groza finalist was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Entering 2013, the Gators will rely on walk-on senior Brad Phillips and/or redshirt freshman Austin Hardin to replace Sturgis. Phillips, who has played sparingly over the past three years, is 4-of-4 on career PAT attempts, 2-of-4 on field goal attempts (long of 43 yards), and has kicked off 27 total times with four touchbacks. Hardin, who was ranked as the No. 1 kicking prospect in the country by ESPN in 2012, has not registered an in-game statistic.
No matter who replaces Sturgis, they have a big cross to bear. Will Muschamp, who has said that he has lost some sleep thinking about Sturgis’ replacement, will rely on one of these two kickers to carry the load. The biggest question is how much faith does Will Muschamp have in either kicker? During the spring, both kickers struggled at times, both in accuracy and in distance, and a clear starter did not emerge.
The Gators have relied heavily on Caleb Sturgis the past few seasons, and the loss of him could be the Gators toughest position to replace.
Long scrimmage plays
In 2012, the Florida Gators ranked 88th in the country in ‘long scrimmage plays’, or plays that are greater than 10 yards. The Gators had a total of 162 plays greater than 10 yards. With the loss of four of their top six receiving yard leaders and their starting running back, the Gators will need long scrimmage plays to help compensate for a new running back, a new tight end, and two new starting wide receivers. The Gators will rely on speedy slot wide receiver Solomon Patton, streak wide receivers Quinton Dunbar and Demarcus Robinson, and running back Matt Jones to carry the long yard load.
The Gators offense was pedestrian at best last season and in order to become more potent on the offensive side of the ball, they will need to combine good play calling, strong offensive line blocking, good field vision and good up-field blocking to obtain more long scrimmage plays – obviously, easier said than done.
Last season, the Gators ranked a staggering 115th in the country in sacks allowed with 39.0 total for -283 yards.
The Gators hope for improvement on the offensive line, despite the loss of two offensive line starters – left tackle Xavier Nixon and left guard James Wilson. The Gators are hoping that sophomore D.J. Humphries and junior transfer Max Garcia can beef up the left side of the line, respectively. The Gators were weak on the left side of the ball last season, with Xavier Nixon struggling against most top-notch SEC talent due to a lack of strength to slow elite pass rushers and poor pass protection. The Gators need Humphries and Garcia to step-up, and step-up big time. Max Garcia has been praised as one of the most consistent linemen in the spring and summer, and probably was the best lineman at the Orange and Blue Debut.
The Gators will also benefit with consistency from center Jonotthan Harrison and right guard Jon Halapio returning, while returning 2012 starter at the right tackle position, Chaz Green, is battling transfer Tyler Moore for the role. Behind the starting five, the Gators will rely on Ian Silberman, Kyle Koehne, Trip Thurman, and the loser of the Moore/Green battle to help anchor the line.
The Gators will rely on their veteran line to protect quarterback Jeff Driskel, who will also need to improve his pocket presence next season to avoid a rogue pass rusher. The Gators will be putting a lot of pressure on Driskel to make better passes and lead a more potent offense, but will try to give him the best tool a good quarterback can ask for – a good offensive line. What was a liability last season could actually be a strength of the Florida Gators this season.