Miami vs. Florida: Breaking it down

The Swamp will come alive on Saturday night as Florida and Miami renew their in-state rivalry (8 p.m., Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, ESPN). The Gators haven’t beaten the Hurricanes since 1985, but led by Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin they find themselves three touchdown favorites.

Here is a breakdown of the two teams head to head:

FLORIDA OFFENSIVE LINE VS. MIAMI DEFENSIVE FRONT: The Florida offensive line has plenty of experience and depth, but the unit that started against Hawaii hadn’t played together as a cohesive group in a game. In fact, only right tackle Jason Watkins was in his usual place the last time the Gators stepped out on the field.

Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert made his first career start at left guard alongside Phil Trautwein at tackle last weekend. Remember, Trautwein missed the 2007 season with a fractured foot. Maurkice Pouncey started at center for the first time in his Florida career after spending the 2007 season at right guard. Mike Pouncey started three games at defensive tackle last season and made his first collegiate start on the offensive line at right guard.

These guys just haven’t played alongside one another in a game atmosphere. If big Jim Tartt returns, then expect the left side of the line to solidify immediately with Tartt and Trautwein, two good friends who are comfortable working together. If not, Gilbert will probably once again take his place at left guard. Meanwhile, the Pouncey twins figure to work better together and alongside Gilbert on the left side and Watkins on the right side. The bottom line is that the play on the Florida front wasn’t bad at all, but should be improved with the opening week under their belts.

Miami has plenty of bulk and quickness in the interior defensive front. Senior Antonio Dixon (6-3, 322) and junior Joe Joseph (6-3, 302) will get the start. The pair teamed-up with senior Dwayne Hendricks (6-4, 300) and freshman Marcus Forston (6-2, 308) for 10 tackles against Charleston Southern.

Senior defensive end Eric Moncur will return this week and he has plenty of motivation. His mother passed away last week and she reportedly told him to go out and beat the Florida Gators. Moncur is on the Ted Hendricks Watch List. Sophomore Allen Bailey (6-4, 285) is also expected back for the Hurricanes.

Junior linebackers Colin McCarthy (6-3, 240) and Darryl Sharpton (5-11, 235) combined for 10 tackles last weekend. Senior Glenn Cook (6-0, 228) got the start at the mike linebacker spot and made four tackles, two for losses. Inexperienced depth is a concern for Miami with true freshmen Sean Spence (6-0, 211) and Jordan Futch (6-2, 220) providing back-up. 

Analysis: The battle for the line of scrimmage will feature some of the most hotly contested match-ups in this game. The Hurricanes definitely feel slighted along the defensive front. Much of the talk has centered around Bailey, who is extremely athletic and fast. They have compared him to former Florida defensive end Jevon Kearse. I also think the battles between the Pouncey twins and Tartt/Gilbert will be extremely intense against the Miami tackles. I do think that each will win their battles, but Florida will eventually win the war.

FLORIDA SKILL POSITIONS VS. MIAMI SECONDARY: The Gators really spread the ball around last weekend. Eleven different players had rushing attempts for Florida. Seven of those players had rushing attempts for 10 yards or more. Louis Murphy and Tate Casey were the leading receivers with two catches each. Two catches? Has that happened since the wishbone days in the ‘70’s? Eight different players caught the 10 passes completed by quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Cam Newton. That’s especially interesting considering they were without the services of Percy Harvin, Cornelius Ingram, Aaron Hernandez or Emmanuel Moody.

I won’t exactly call Florida’s offensive performance against Hawaii vanilla, but I will say that it was indeed very watered down. The Gators didn’t want to show too much last weekend. They’ll definitely want to jump out to an early lead and strut their stuff before an ESPN prime time audience.

Charleston Southern quarterback Tribble Reese completed 10 of 21 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. The Southern receivers were locked into a mismatch against the Miami secondary. That should change radically this weekend. Junior Chavez Grant (5-11, 180) and senior Bruce Johnson (5-11, 182) will start at cornerback for the Hurricanes. Grant was credited with a pass break-up. Sophomore DeMarcus Van Dyke (6-1, 177) and true freshman Brandon Harris (5-10, 185) will be the first off the bench.

Safeties Anthony Reddick (6-0, 212) and sophomore JoJo Nicholas (6-1, 197) will be the two deep with Ryan Hill (5-11, 203) as the reserve. I can’t imagine the ‘Canes allowing them to allow the Florida receivers to get behind them.

Analysis: Expect to see more of Tim Tebow in this game both running and passing the football. The Gators need his leadership and it seems that when Tebow makes a big play, the emotion picks-up tremendously for the team. Florida will have the services of Percy Harvin and Emmanuel Moody, which will only add to the number of tremendously talented playmakers that the Hurricanes will have to keep an eye on. I’m just not sold on the Miami secondary as a group that has the ability to corral the Florida receiving corps.

MIAMI OFFENSIVE LINE VS. FLORIDA FRONT SEVEN: The strength of the Miami football team is the running game and it all starts up front. The Hurricanes are huge with left tackle junior Jason Fox and sophomore Orlando Franklin both standing 6-7 on the left side of the line. Joel Figueroa and Reggie Youngblood are both 6-5 and average 330 on the right side. Senior Xavier Shannon (6-1, 302) is the smallest and lightest of the bunch. 

The Canes ran the ball right down Charleston Southern’s throats. They picked up 224 yards on 38 carries and five touchdowns. The Hurricanes did give up a sack in the game. This is a good group of linemen, who should grow into a very good group if they can stay healthy.

The Gators will probably start Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders inside against Miami. Marsh was credited with three tackles, two sacks. Sanders was credited with one tackle, a sack. Defensive line coach Dan McCarney used a heavy rotation against Hawaii with Javier Estopinan, Justin Trattou, and Troy Epps in there as well. I’m curious to see how true freshman Matt Patchan fares against the Hurricanes. He has to be fired-up for this one.

Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap will work at the end positions. Expect to see plenty of Trattou, too. True freshman William Green saw action as a reserve with Duke Lemmens and Trattou against the Warriors. Florida picked-up four sacks against Hawaii, the most since Florida Atlantic last season. Marsh added a pair of sacks, while Cunningham added 1.5 and Joe Haden .5. The Gators surrendered 60 yards on the ground, 2.5 yards per carry.

Analysis: We didn’t see much of the Florida front four. They were largely in a three-man front against the Warriors. We’ll see a bit more against the ‘Canes though. I really believe that Miami will try to establish the run and mix in the passing of Marve to control the clock and keep Tebow off the field, while attacking the Gators most questioned unit. Miami has the edge here.

MIAMI SKILL POSITIONS VS. FLORIDA SECONDARY:  Redshirt freshman Robert Marve will get the start at quarterback against the Gators. Not only is it his first star as a collegian, but it’s also his first game. Last weekend, true freshman Jacory Harris became the first freshman to start a game since redshirt freshman Bernie Kosar started the 1983 season with true freshman Vinny Testaverde as his back-up. Harris completed 16 of 26 for 190 yards and a touchdown.  How will Marve handle a hostile crowd of 90,000-plus?

I’m not impressed with the Hurricanes veteran receivers. I’ll take Aldarius Johnson (6-2, 205) and Travis Benjamin (5-10, 162) over anybody else on their roster. I agree with Gator Country Radio co-host Brady Ackerman who thinks tight ends Dedrick Epps (6-4, 253) and Chris Zellner (6-2, 247) will play a key role in the Miami attack.

The greatest threats are Javarris James (6-0, 215) and Graig Cooper (6-0, 202) who ran for 95 yards last weekend. James and Cooper are tremendous talents. Both players rank (second and third) on the Hurricanes all-time rushing list as freshmen.

The Florida defense created six turnovers — four interceptions and a pair of fumbles. They returned two of those for touchdowns. Safeties Major Wright and Ahmad Black took interceptions to the end zone.

They appeared to be improved in the secondary, playing a lot of nickel against Hawaii for obvious reasons. Cornerback Joe Haden was everywhere on Saturday. He was just spectacular. Wondy Pierre-Louis and Janoris Jenkins were pretty solid and should be improved this weekend too.

Analysis: I believe the Florida secondary matches-up well against the Hurricanes receivers. There is just no reason for me to believe that Hankerson, Khalil Jones, or Sam Sheilds are better than Joe Haden I like James and Cooper and considered them as a huge positive in the Miami running game, which helped give the ‘Cane a definite edge.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Gators return game received a huge boost with the return ability of Brandon James. He returned four punts for 95 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown. Florida has some issues on the kickoff team. The kickers didn’t seem to do what Meyer wanted them to do and the coverage wasn’t very good. However, the punt coverage was outstanding.

The Hurricanes returned five punts for 98 yards, including a 66-yard Graig Cooper touchdown. Miami also did a nice job of covering punts and kicks. 

Analysis: James gives Florida a slight advantage.