Florida’s early season schedule has been perfect for what the team has gone through

Florida’s schedule is not the best it could be for maximizing the number of wins the team has in 2019. If it was, then the Gators would’ve played someone like Miami (OH) instead of Miami (FL) and drawn Arkansas instead of Auburn as the rotating West team. It also would’ve put UF on the road against struggling Tennessee and FSU teams to get LSU in the Swamp.

But for as wonky as it is with three open dates and two FCS opponents in September and all the rest, the schedule has provided UF with what it needs when it has needed it.

Playing the Hurricanes in the opener exposed some hard truths about the offensive line that may or may not have been what the coaches were expecting in the preseason. An off week and UT-Martin provided chances to work on the things that only having played a Power 5 team — even one that may not be as good as we thought at the time — will tell you about.

Then Kentucky taught the team a good lesson about needing a sense of urgency from the first snap, and as I noted early this week, Tennessee was the perfect first start for Kyle Trask.

Now, Towson is the last good chance to get the house in order. The Gators have needed those chances more than I think anyone thought before the year. Various realities and injuries have put the team there. I won’t spend a lot of time on the offensive line, since everyone has written and read plenty on that topic, but there are other places where work has been and still is needed.

I can show you a clear example from the first quarter against Tennessee. It’s a place where three guys who didn’t play much before this year each had their issues on a play that led to a turnover.

On 2nd & 21, Dan Mullen calls an RPO. Trask will read a linebacker. If he rushes, then Trask will hit Jacob Copeland on a slant pattern behind him. If he hangs back, then Trask will hand off to Lamical Perine.

The linebacker rushes, so Trask pulls the ball back and hits Copeland in stride with a perfect rhythm throw. Copeland looks for the ball as he makes his break, and he uses a spin move and strength to pick up the first down after the catch.

Mullen calls for the same decision on the next play. The run option for Perine is different, but Trask is reading the same linebacker and Copeland is running a similar route albeit at a different depth because it’s only 1st & 10 now. The linebacker rushes Trask again, so it’s another pull with a throw to Copeland.

Only, Trask can’t throw to Copeland because he’s not looking for the ball. Trask drifts left a couple steps to get away from the pressure and goes to throw a second time, but Copeland still isn’t looking for it. Trask then gives a thought to escaping, but it’s too late. The defense is on top of him, and he doesn’t just take a sack but fumbles away the possession in the process.

The proximate cause of the sack is Jean Delance not getting off his double team fast enough to pick up the linebacker. However, Copeland and Trask bear blame too.

I can only speculate as to why Copeland doesn’t look back for the ball until more than two seconds after the snap. Maybe he thought the defense would adjust to him after the catch on the prior play. Tennessee did try, it although wasn’t terribly good at it; the defensive end jumps fruitlessly with his hands up between Trask’s two attempts at throwing. Whatever the reason, Copeland was open and could’ve caught the ball before the blitzing linebacker got within a yard or two of the quarterback.

And Trask didn’t do the best he could to deal with pressure. It’s an unusual situation to be in to have his open first option not looking for the ball, so I think he’s the most forgivable of the guys on this play.

Still, his mental clock is not completely tuned yet. Even if Delance does pick up the linebacker, a defensive back who’s blitzing gets past Lucas Krull on the edge and would’ve gotten to him anyway. When the defense overloads pressure to one side like that, the amount of time available for sitting in the pocket goes down.

None of these three guys had playbook issues on that snap. Trask made the correct RPO read. Copeland ran a good route against the coverage and was in the right place at the right time. Delance did the correct thing in bailing on the double team to try to get the blitzing linebacker.

But Trask’s pocket timer is not there yet, Copeland didn’t look for the ball soon enough, and Delance didn’t identify the blitz fast enough. These are game rep issues, and only time on the field against an opponent rather than your buddies in practice will get these guys where they need to be.

There are things like that in many places. It’s not just Trask or Copeland filling in for Feleipe Franks and Kadarius Toney.

Krull and Kyle Pitts are getting their first extensive game experience at tight end, and it shows at times. CJ Henderson’s injury exacerbated things, but the freshman corners were always going to play some. Kaiir Elam has been promising, but Chester Kimbrough, while also promising, is definitely learning on the job. And speaking of corners, Marco Wilson has needed some time to shake off the rust from missing 2018 to his own injury. I promised not to go too far on the offensive line, so let’s just say that the best case scenario is that they too need game reps to get up to speed.

Many players are more comfortable in the system in Mullen’s second year, and that shows too. However this is not a situation like Urban Meyer’s second year in 2006 where nearly every starter is a returning starter. For all of the advances in system knowledge, weight training, and practice techniques, there is no substitute for the lessons that real game experience teaches.

So that’s why the early schedule has been good for the Gators. Kentucky is better than I thought it would be, but it’s not a top 25 team and it’s the best UF has faced yet. Miami and Tennessee brought the stakes that nominal rivalry games do without high level teams backing them up. Then there were two FCS teams and a bonus off week.

Towson is one of the better FCS squads, so it at least will put stress on the Gators’ ability to focus. Florida should still cruise if it’s a real top ten team as its ranking would suggest, but it will be an uncomfortable second half if they don’t take this game seriously.

If there is one thing that has been lacking with the possible exception of the Tennessee game, it’s been focus and execution early. While plenty of guys do need the game reps this contest will bring, one more good thing about this game is that it will test those things that have been lacking a bit. Once again, the schedule is providing what the Gators need.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2