What to expect when Florida plays Tennessee-Martin

Games where FBS teams play FCS teams can be something of a mixed bag. It’s hard to remember which FCS teams are good beyond the perennial heavyweights like North Dakota State. If a team doesn’t come out ready to play against one of the good ones, you can get things like Iowa State needing three overtimes to beat Northern Iowa last weekend. UNI is ranked 85th in Jeff Sagarin’s combined FBS-FCS rankings, two spots ahead of Arkansas.

UT-Martin is not one of those good teams. The SkyHawks went 2-9 last year, and they’re presently 180th in the Sagarin ratings. While that’s only eight spots behind UConn and actually seven ahead of UTEP, it’s in the neighborhood of the Idaho team that UF beat 63-10 a year ago.

Thanks to Lib_Gator, there is a copy of UT-Martin’s 42-20 win over Northwestern State (Sagarin rank: 218) from Week 1 available to dissect. I went through it so you don’t have to.

Even though you’re correct in thinking Florida should roll to an easy win, maybe you want to know what they’ll be facing so you can know what to watch for. Well, here’s what you can expect from the SkyHawks in the Swamp tomorrow.

Offense

UTM’s offense is a pretty generic modern spread. There’s not a lot they’ll do that’ll catch your attention.

The most distinctive thing about it is that they use a decent amount of Pistol formation. Brainchild of Nevada’s hall of fame coach Chris Ault, the Pistol is so named because it’s a short shotgun formation. The quarterback doesn’t take the snap under center but is not as far back as he is in the standard shotgun. A running back typically stands behind the quarterback in line.

The main upshot is that the running back can have some forward momentum while taking the handoff instead of being at a virtual standstill while taking a shotgun handoff. Some coaches like the Pistol because it gives the quarterback the sight advantage of the shotgun while giving the running back the momentum advantage of traditional handoffs. And, indeed, UTM used the trusty old I-formation several times in short yardage situations.

The SkyHawks were dependent on big plays. They were outgained 483-309 despite winning by 22, and their five longest plays accounted for 175 yards (57% of their total). Three of those five plays were long touchdowns, however.

The best player on the offense last week was running back Peyton Logan. Listed at 5’8″ and 180 pounds, his size will remind you of a guy like Chris Rainey or Jeff Demps. He doesn’t have the speed those guys do, though he was able to run away from the Northwestern State defense in the open field.

He also was able to make some guys miss tackles thanks to good balance and being a small target, so he actually might pose something of a test for a Florida defense needing to improve its tackling from Week 0. Here are a few of Logan’s best runs.

Defense

As you may have read already this week in various publications, UT-Martin runs a 3-3-5 defense.

Technically Florida’s base defense is also a 3-3-5, with a Buck linebacker as an edge rusher and the star as the fifth defensive back. UTM’s scheme is not like this at all. Because UF’s Buck usually lines up on the edge of the defensive line and most often rushes the passer or pursues ball carriers, the Gator defense largely functions as a 4-2-5 a lot of the time.

The 3-3-5 that the SkyHawks use is a variant of the scheme pioneered by Joe Lee Dunn. They use three down linemen and three linebackers behind them. They do not regularly employ an edge rusher.

If my eyes are correct, they played a lot of zone coverage against Northwestern State’s pass-heavy attack. There were a lot of holes in that zone, hence the almost 400 yards of passing allowed. They did shore a few things up in the second half, as they managed to tip a number of passes. Still, iffy throws and drops by the Demons helped the cause.

Northwestern State didn’t score after halftime due in large part to poor field position and turnovers. The UTM bend-but-don’t-break defense did its job when the Demons were backed up, allowing some movement a lot of the time but no 70+ yard drives like they did in three of the first four series of the game.

The only defensive player who stood out to me was defensive tackle Austin Pickett, who wears No. 47. A 6’1″ and 290 pound senior, he should be up for this one having grown up just down I-75 in Lake Minneola. He got consistent penetration in the backfield, sometimes pushing two Northwestern State offensive linemen back at the same time.

Obviously UF’s line is a lot bigger, stronger, and more talented than the Demons’ line is, but the guys in the middle did have some occasional issues against Miami. Pickett is a high motor guy who will test Nick Buchanan and Chris Bleich.

Special Teams

The game got out of hand despite UT-Martin being outgained by nearly 200 yards in no small part due to special teams.

Midway through the third quarter, the SkyHawks forced a punt that wide receiver Terry Williams returned 41 yards to the Northwestern State 25-yard-line. Two plays later, Logan ran it in for a touchdown that you can see in the video set above. After a three-and-out, Williams took a poor punt 55 yards to the house for a score. In less than three minutes of game time, UTM went from a 20-14 deficit to a 28-20 lead. UTM would block a rugby punt later on, and though the SkyHawks didn’t cash it in for points, it did keep the field position tilted in their favor.

Summary

Toss in a late pick-six, and the possession and play count really got out of whack. Northwestern State ran 91 plays compared to 55 for UTM, which accounts for the massive yardage difference. The Demons’ 387 passing yards boiled down to just 6.2 per attempt, and UT-Martin had a slightly higher yards per play rate over the whole game.

There was nothing I saw that makes me think the SkyHawks should challenge Florida too much. Logan may pop off a run or two, and Pickett will force the middle of the offensive line to stay focused. Beyond that, there isn’t much to worry about.

Outside of those five explosive plays that made up nine percent of offensive snaps, UTM averaged 2.7 yards per play against a bad FCS opponent. Its defense frequently lost track of receivers who were running a lot less crisp of routes than you see from the likes of Van Jefferson and Josh Hammond. If Feleipe Franks is accurate with his passing, he should light it up for a half before yielding to his backups.

According to David Ubben of The Athletic, Tennessee got in trouble against Georgia State in part because the coaches treated the game as a practice and used frequent rotations to get a look at players up and down the bench. There should be no such trouble here if Florida wants to do that against UTM. The forecast is for a real romp in the Swamp for the Gators.