The Gators were supposed to romp all over Kentucky on Saturday in The Swamp. While the final score and statistics somewhat hint at a blowout win, the 12-7 halftime score left Gator fans feeling a little queasy. There was a lot that went right on Saturday night and definitely some issues that need to be solved. Here are my thoughts on just what went right and wrong.
What Went Right
The Gators could have done what they wanted to on offense since the Wildcats were almost totally vanilla on defense. With a constant seven men in the box on normal down and distance situations, Florida took advantage of the running game. If you take away Leak’s sacks, the Gators ran 35 times for 259 yards or 7.4 yards per carry. The holes were there early and often and Meyer talked about the reason for such great success against Kentucky.
“They sat in a seven man front,” Meyer said. “When you see a defense playing with two safeties it means they are giving up the run to defend the pass. I thought we blocked it well and I thought DeShawn had a good game.”
DeShawn Wynn finished with his second 104 yard game in a row on Saturday and it was the first time in his career he has had back to back 100 yard games.
The running game gets a new dimension when freshman quarterback Tim Tebow gets in the game. The dynamic play caller averaged 12.2 yards per carry and gained 73 yards on 6 carries in the game. Tebow had two highlight runs in the third quarter before being pulled because he was gassed.
Besides Tebow being a terrific runner and a quarterback who ran for 1,000 yards a year in his high school career, the fact is general math tells us that a running quarterback makes for a better running play. In a general running play in any offense the quarterback is not accounted for. The quarterback hands the ball off and becomes a non-factor. When Tebow fakes the handoff and then keeps the ball, there are two things happening: One, just like in play action, the defense originally flows to the running back, and two the running back acts as an extra blocker or a decoy from the fake. So, the seven men in the box now have one more blocker to contend with and have to respect the running back that burned them for 7.4 yards a carry all night.
This isn’t to take anything away from Tebow, who turned in another great performance. It just shows why the coaching staff is probably eager to install the whole package with someone that can do all the things they would like to do with this offense. Meyer praised Tebow Saturday night.
“I felt a lot like those 93,000 people, he kind of fires me up,” Meyer said of Tebow’s play Saturday night. “We just wish we had seven quarterbacks and hope he doesn’t get hit too often. He is an extremely smart guy. Tim is a spark plug. He and Chris (Leak) are great compliments.”
Getting the ball to Dallas Baker has been a smart thing for Chris Leak this season who came into the Kentucky game leading the country in passing efficiency. Baker has been a big part of Leak’s success and on Saturday night showed some new resiliency after contact in maybe his best yards after catch game of his career. Baker finished with seven catches for 148 yards and I would bet that more than half of the yards came after contact from a defender.
The Gator Nation finally got to see what pressure looks like from a ferocious front seven, when a quarterback sits in the pocket waiting to throw down field. For the first three and half games the opposing quarterbacks have been throwing quick pass after quick pass and not allowing the defensive rush to be a factor. Tennessee took a few chances and the pressure resulted in three sacks. On Saturday, Kentucky got behind and needed to throw down field. The defensive front showed up without heralded defensive tackle Marcus Thomas and made life miserable for the Kentucky quarterback in the second half.
“I saw great pressure from the defensive ends coming off the edge in the second half and that quarterback not having a chance,” Meyer said. “A lot of that came from a four man rush and if we are able to do that with a four man rush, we can do a lot of things.”
What Went Wrong
It is hard to get on to Chris Leak when the guy is the leading passer in college football. He then goes out and completes 15 of 26 passed for 267 yards and interception and two touchdowns. But, I am not sure Leak had that real sense of urgency at the start of the Kentucky game. Lackadaisical throws during the night rendered an interception and almost decapitation of Andre Caldwell. My biggest concern with Leak on the night is pocket awareness.
I am not talking about finding his receivers; Leak is doing that with ease these days. I am talking about staying in the pocket. Too many times the play called was a five wide receiver set and five man protection. More often than not a beautiful pocket was there and Leak stepped outside the confines of the pocket where looping linemen had no one blocking them. If Leak steps into the pocket, he has all night to throw.
Turnovers were costly. Leak’s interception in the end zone certainly almost looked careless. Although Kentucky used so many different zones on the night he certainly got confused. However, had he just lofted the ball a little higher or even better just zipped it in there, it is a touchdown. Both running backs will be doing extra cardio this week for their fumbles. They were careless and that just hasn’t happened under Meyer.
The Kentucky offense completed more 10 plus yard catches than I can remember against the Gators with the underneath routes. Most of their yardage was due to sloppy tackling and that could be linked back to Tuesday. The Gators had to practice in a gym on Tuesday instead of their normal hard hitting because lightning caused them to practice inside. That was something Meyer thought made a difference on Saturday.
“I thought we played very hard but not very smart,” Meyer said. “I don’t think we had a great week of practice. On Tuesday we shuffled around a little bit and were on a gymnasium floor and I let them go. We can’t let them do that. You start feeling good about yourself because we go on the road and beat Tennessee. If we don’t practice very well on Tuesday, that is on me.”
Meyer explained away issues with the place kicking game after the game. Kentucky was illegally hitting the long snapper and allowing them a great jump in the middle of the kick protection. Whatever happened, the kicking game has needed work from the first game.
What’s Up Next?
The Gators’ revenge game against Alabama looms in The Swamp next week and they’ve probably circled this particular game on their calendar after last season’s embarrassing 31-3 loss. Bama will be limping into Gainesville after an overtime loss to Arkansas on Saturday but they will be bringing a much better defense than Kentucky. Still, it should be a much less stalwart offense than Kentucky brought to Gainesville as Bama’s offense has not been that great and very one dimensional this season. If the offense gets rid of the turnovers and finishes drives next week, the final score could be more lopsided than the Kentucky game.