The Florida Gators face their toughest test of the season Saturday night in Knoxville when they face the Tennessee Vols in Neyland Stadium. It’s their first SEC game of the year and a win is a critical step in reaching the goal of a championship. Here is a look at how the Gators did last week in meeting their objectives and a look at their objectives they need to win against the Vols.
The objectives for game two were all about correcting areas of concern from game one and any lingering questions form the off-season. Although they weren’t a terrible team, UCF was not a very good team, especially on defense. Despite that, Florida’s starting units were pretty crisp when they were in there and graded out well. Here is what I thought about how the Gators met the objectives for the Central Florida game.
Establish the Running Game — The Gators certainly did this. With eight different players running the ball on the night, the Gators amassed 204 yards on 36 carries for a 5.7 yard average. For the second straight game, the Gators had at least two runs of 20 yards or more.
DeShawn Wynn looked exceptional and ran with authority. Kestahn Moore had a great touchdown run of 28 yards. Tim Tebow is the real deal as a running threat. We saw what the line can do when they follow their assignments and make seams for the ball carriers. The line was exceptional on the night opening up lanes. Grade: (A)
Defensive Ends and Linebackers Stay Disciplined — The Gators never really got burned on screens or misdirection in the game. If the Knights went wide, they usually went backwards. The defensive line was in the backfield all night and stayed focus on their individual assignments. Grade (A-)
Offense Takes What Is Given On First Down — I saw that this would be a good night on first down on the very first offensive play. The Knights had two defensive backs trying to cover a trips set to one side of the Gator formation. Chris Leak checked off to a bubble screen for Jemalle Cornelius that went for 17 yards. It is simple math. Two receivers to block two defenders and the third one gets the ball and runs behind the blocking in open space. You take that stuff all day long. Leak mentioned after the game he had certain checks to go to in the game depending on the defense. The offense mixed it up well all night. Grade (A-)
Pressure from Interior Defensive Line — This was definitely missing in the first game and the return of Marcus Thomas sure seemed to make a big difference. He had two sacks and constantly pushed the interior of the offensive line backwards. Over time, teams will have to start scheming to stop this and the outside will open up a little more for Jarvis Moss and company on the ends. Grade (A)
Special Teams Domination — It didn’t happen. UCF punted better, they covered better, and the Gators had two missed extra points. The Gators had pretty good coverage most of the night and Wilbur’s average wasn’t too bad, but the Gators were no where near dominant. Grade (C-)
For the Tennessee game, the Gators can draw from experience. They have matched up physically with the Vols before and pretty much know what to expect from that standpoint. The difference for Tennessee this year is a renewed focus on offensive efficiency with the return of offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. So far that efficiency has led to the Vol skill players to make plays and beat their opponents. On defense it will be a little different. I don’t think Tennessee is nearly the team defensively they were last year.
Throw the Ball Around the Field — Only in 2003 when the Gators were breaking in Chris Leak have the Vols not looked disorganized in the secondary against Florida. They are down two starting corners since the summer for this game. Chris Leak has looked exceptional in the first two games seeing the entire field and if he can do that Saturday, the Vol DB’s should have their heads on a swivel yet again in this newest rendition of the rivalry.
Leak needs to show the Vol faithful what they missed out on by treating his brother the way they did. There is plenty of reason for Leak to want to and be able to do well against the Tennessee Saturday night.
Bump the Receivers — Tennessee’s opponents are making Eric Ainge look like a genius when in fact he is throwing short passes and letting his receivers do all the work. The Gators are not afraid to play man coverage and will a lot. They are going to have to bump these bigger receivers at the line of scrimmage and force Ainge to hold the ball long enough for the pass rush to get there.
Phil Fulmer’s MO is always to be conservative and let the other guy make the mistakes. That conservative attitude is in the passing game with the short passes. The Gators need to force the issue up front and then make the tackles when they have the chance.
Win the Turnover Battle — Home field is such a big advantage in the SEC that losing the turnover battle could be disastrous in this game. The Gators turned the ball over four times against UCF, albeit three were from freshmen. They will have to do a much better job of holding the ball and need to force the ball away from Tennessee. The short passing game that Tennessee uses isn’t really made for turning the ball over, so the Gators will have to capitalize when opportunity strikes.
Run at Them on Defense — The Vols best lineman is Justin Harrell, who is postponing surgery on a torn bicep until after the Florida game. He is going to play but you have to think it’s more for the emotional effect than anything. How good can a one-armed lineman be? While there is still some talent on the interior defensive line, this is not the group of four and five years ago. The Gators need to establish a tenacity up front against SEC competition and it starts here in this game. The Gators have a very young line, but one that is more prone to smash mouth ball than in year’s past.
The running backs need to do their part. Wynn needs to continue to run hard and not tap dance like he has done in the past. The depth of the Tennessee line cannot be great and pounding early and often could help wear them down.
Win on Special Teams — The Gators haven’t been good in kicking extra points and haven’t tried a field goal all season. Eric Wilbur has punted well when trying to pin the ball inside the opponents red zone, but has been sporadic on distance punts. Reggie Nelson has had no room to run on punt returns. Coverages have been pretty good. The Gators need to improve on many of the phases of special teams in order to make this a part of the winning formula