1. Jalen Tabor takes center stage
All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves left the sideline early in the second quarter with an illness. The Florida Gators defense has been the strength of the team this season and one of the best units in the country. Other than the two established names of Hargreaves and Jon Bullard, the defense is really doing what they’re doing this year kind of like the 1972 Miami Dolphins did with a “no name defense.”
That’s the mentality the players have taken on as well, but one player in particular has taken over and is making a name for himself.
Jalen Tabor had five pass breakups on Saturday against FAU, that’s more than every Florida Gators other than Brian Poole has all season long. Tabor leads the SEC with 18 pass breakups, one shy of the school record that was set by Louis Oliver in an All-American season in 1987.
Tabor has taken a starring role on Florida’s defense. He’s playing at an All-SEC and an All-American level as a sophomore.
2. Florida’s offense is regressing
This has been true for several weeks now, but Saturday exacerbated the point to another level.
Florida Atlantic ran for more yards, passed for more yards, had more first downs, was better on third down and ran 23 more plays that the Gators — who had become an offense that could at least hold on to the ball, limiting their opponent’s possessions.
The Owls also tallied five sacks on Saturday. They had not registered a sack in their previous three games against FIU, Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State.
The offensive line didn’t get any push and made defensive tackle Brandin Bryant look like an All-American. Kelvin Taylor willed himself to 98 rushing yards on 25 carries.
The Florida offense needs to find answers but none are readily apparent. Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier are talented, impressive offensive minds, but even they are coming up blank in trying to figure out ways to make this offense run more efficiently.
3. Mixed bag on special teams
Johnny Townsend was named a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award prior to the FAU game and he looked every bit of the best punter in the country on Saturday.
Townsend tied a career high with nine punts, totaling 391 yards (43.4 average), had six punts downed inside the 20 and two that sailed more than 50 yards.
Similar to Kyle Christy in 2012, Townsend’s efforts have allowed Florida to stay in games, pinning opponents back deep in their own territory, which, in turn, allows Florida’s defense to play more aggressive.
On the other side of the coin, Florida’s placekicking continues to be a mess. Austin Hardin missed two field goals inside of 35 yards on Saturday and had an extra point blocked in overtime.
Hardin has plenty of leg to make field goals from 50, as you can see based on his ability on kickoffs, yet twice on Saturday Jim McElwain elected to punt when Florida was on FAU’s side of the field rather than letting Hardin kick a 50-yard field goal.
McElwain continues to publicly support Hardin, but his decisions on game day tell the real story. There is no confidence in Florida’s placekicking and with games coming up against Florida State and Alabama, placekicking may come into play and could determine the outcome of a game.