Between the lines – what worked and didn’t

The Florida Gators had an emotional and convincing victory Saturday against a top ten LSU team. The Gators really out-toughed the so called “tough” Tigers in the Swamp. They did so to the tune of a 23-10 victory and in front of a national television audience.

What Went Right

First and foremost, the offensive game plan maybe couldn’t have been better. Maybe the execution wasn’t perfect, but the plays drawn up were wonderful for almost the entire night. The speed of the Tiger defense wasn’t an issue when the Gators ran wide on sweeps with backs or receivers. The passing game produced wide open receivers down field, some beautiful screens, and passes off of fake screens.

Maybe the biggest part of the passing game plan was the use of the bubble screen and then fakes on the bubble screen. The Gators ran a bubble screen early to Andre Caldwell that was successful. That set up a fake to the bubble that had Jemalle Cornelius fake a block and then ease into the secondary for a long pass. Later on the bubble turned into a tunnel screen when Caldwell reversed directions and ran towards the line where the linemen were heading down field to block. The secondary folks on that side were left guessing the whole day. It was fun to watch.

Of course using Tebow as a fake runner only to have him pass twice for touchdowns was a great call. You can go back to the first series to see how the long touchdown pass was also set up. Everyone including Gator fans was as surprised to see Louis Murphy catch the ball for the touchdown. On previous plays this year Murphy has been used primarily as a blocker on running plays. In a nutshell, all of that could have been a set up for the touchdown Saturday. On the first series of the game Murphy, along with four other skill position backups, went in for a single play. It was a running play that resulted in a third and long situation. The regular receivers re-entered the game. This was yet another set up for later.

Finally, the substitutions in the middle of the field called for Tebow and his running game to take control. His meant the run blocking Murphy would be out on the field. Only this time Tebow fakes a step towards the line and then drops back to see a wide open Louis Murphy streaking towards the end zone. The safety on that side never considered Murphy a threat to catch the ball. The previous play calling, some from games leading up to this one, worked to perfection. It was a touchdown for the good guys.

A big atta boy needs to be given to the entire Florida offensive line. Not only for this game in which the quarterback was sacked only once. They also deserve credit for a very good first half of the season. In the first six games of last season, the Gator offense surrendered 23 sacks. Through six games this year, playing four common opponents, the Gators have surrendered only 10 sacks all year. The rushing game is also averaging more than a yard per carry more than last season in the same time frame. The offensive line was supposed to be an Achilles heal of the Gators and other than too many false starts, they have been really good this season.

On defense the Gators continue with their bend but don’t break defense. It drives some nuts to watch teams throw underneath all day long and move down the field. What can not be argued is the success the defense is having. Through six games, the Gators are ranked fifth nationally in pass efficiency defense. This comes from not allowing many touchdown receptions (only four all year), intercepting the ball a lot (11 this year which is the second most in the nation), and passing yards per attempt (5.41).

The Gators continued their plan and allowed Jamarcus Russell to throw underneath, the thought being that they couldn’t sustain full drives and punch it into the end zone. This worked like it has all year when Russell finally went to the middle of the field and was picked off three times.

This Gator defense is based on speed and the speed is all over the field. With the ball in the air that many times, there is going to be plenty of chances to make a play on the ball and the Gators did a great job of doing that Saturday.

On special teams there is a whole lot to be excited about. The coverage units have to be at the very tip of the list. The Gators rank first in the nation in punt return yardage given up allowing a total of nine yards on nine returns. The Gators rank 7th nationally in kickoff return yardage given up allowing only 15.88 yards per return.

No one will forget Riley Cooper’s forced fumble for a safety in the LSU game. Wondy Pierre-Louis came up big inside the five yard line on a booming punt by Eric Wilbur. Wilbur was also one of the things that went really right on the day, outside of a blocked punt.

What Went Wrong

The thing that continues to haunt the offense is penalties. False starts have plagued the offensive line and three more happened on Saturday. A delay of game penalty has happened just about every game and maybe should be expected with the quarterback revolving door, but it certainly bogs down the offense when this happens. The set of downs leading to the first punt was encumbered by a delay of game penalty.

There wasn’t a lot of successful interior running with the ball and that was mostly do to game planning away from the strength of the defense. Still there were times when it seemed crucial the gators needed to get a couple of yards and they could not in the middle of the line. One huge time was when the Gators were backed up to their own goal line and they managed nothing on first down which put them in a little hole for the rest of that series. That kind of series is no doubt one the staff will have to work hard on this week as the Gators got maybe one yard and no cushion for Eric Wilbur to punt the ball from the back of the end zone.

Bubba Caldwell certainly is playing well at times, but he made a key mistake on Saturday. Chris Leak’s long post throw to Caldwell was under thrown, but Caldwell has got to come back and make a play on the ball. He cannot give the ball up that easily to one guy that is defending him. He is well past that stage in his playing career in my opinion.

On defense the main concern again has to be penalties. Two personal fouls and a pass interference call could loom large if they happen in the wrong game. A constant problem has also been jumping off sides on the defensive line and that happened twice on Saturday.

One thing I see a lot of that I don’t mind a little of is dropping the Fox defensive end into coverage as much as the defense does. I don’t understand taking the pass rusher and dropping him 6-8 yards away unless it is a surprise and you catch the offense off guard. Too many times Jarvis Moss was no where near the backfield and no where near the ball when thrown.

What’s Up Next?

The Gators will face a beat up and pissed off Auburn Tiger team next week. The Tigers are pretty one dimensional on offense and seem to be a little light in the shorts on defense. The Gators are pretty healthy outside of starting tailback DeShawn Wynn and a few defensive back ups. The Tigers are beat up pretty good, but should have a nasty taste in their mouth. If the Gators continue on their business like approach this week, they should be able to come out on top.

Look for the Gator offense to do a lot more traditional pro set formations or at least use the fullback and tight end more with the Auburn three man line defensive scheme. It is a scheme that at times has given the Gators trouble and the speed of the Auburn defense is unmatched, while the beef up front is a little less than most.

The Gators defense should be a perfect fit to go against Auburn. The Tigers want to run and the gators have the best run defense in the league. The Tigers want to drop back and throw and the Gators have maybe the best set of defensive ends in the league. I really like the match up for the Gators defense this week.

Just don’t take this road game lightly.