Wow, not quite what anybody had in mind… Hopefully we can piece together a team to deal with those pesky reptiles from below the border. A win Saturday clinches the SEC-East for us, something we've not done prior to the Auburn game under the current divisional format. Cross your fingers and hope for the best…
The Arkansas Game
Where do you begin to describe what happened Saturday? Just about everything that could go wrong did. D.J. Shockley went down early, Joe Tereshinski wasn't particularly effective (not bad at all, just not DJ), the run game was DOA, our banged up D got even more banged up, those D guys that could play were missing tackles, etc and so forth. It wasn't pretty. It was a game where for all of Munson's attempts at painting a gloomy picture, even that didn't do it justice. It was pretty much a worst case scenario and yet this team of guys that no one in the country gave a fighting chance to coming into the season reached down and found a way to win.
Sure the D got gashed and pounded by a stout running attack that's near the top in the country, but they rose to the occasion and seemingly fed off the crowd on that last stand. Personally, the whole game had the feel to it that we were trailing. Even when we were up 20-10 it felt like we were down because so many things kept going wrong. At one point, against the top rushing attack in the SEC we had to put our nickel D in because our LB corps was stretched too thin to absorb the injury to Brandon Miller. That's not the ideal scenario to employ your nickel package I can assure you.
This team showed some incredible resiliency Saturday and I continue to recall what Coach Mark Richt said was his main question about this team coming into the season. He said he just wanted to know how this team would respond to adversity. Well, when he huddled the team together on the sidelines at the end of the 3rd quarter, I think he essentially asked them how they were going to respond. It might not have been pretty, but it was a win, and I don't know too many Dawg fans out there that wouldn't take another ugly win this weekend.
• Well, Urban Meyer's offense was supposed to come in and light the SEC on fire, at least if you were buying into what Meyer was selling as he toured the Gator fan clubs this past summer. He's since toned down the talk a little and has tipped his hat to the level of play exhibited nearly week in and week out by the SEC defenses. It was a lesson you could argue Richt learned his first year here, he just did it without the giant hype machine Meyer seemed to embrace this preseason.
• At QB, Chris Leak is a fine player, although Meyer has shown a complete refusal to tailor the vaunted spread option attack he's developed to best suit his talent. The result has been what many expected: Leak's been banged up pretty good. The spread option is based on a smart, mobile QB who can make quick reads, is willing to run and can throw the ball with some zip. Leak's got 2 out of 3, which ain't bad, but he's not holding up too well with the pounding he's taking. Leak's got the arm and the head to make this offense work, but he's never been a QB that wanted to run. When he scrambled in the past, it was to find an open receiver downfield and it worked more often than not, as he would torch LBs or Safeties that broke coverage to stop him running the ball. This season, the hits have taken their toll on his shoulder, as he's had to have cortisone shots in his shoulder prior to their last two games. While he's likely fully ready to go after their annual pre-UGA offweek, he's still susceptible to getting banged around some. Backup Josh Portis is more of the typical spread option QB in that he's more than willing to run. He's played a good bit this season so if Leak goes down, they'll certainly be in better shape than we were when DJ did.
• AT RB, Ciatrick Fason is gone (which is a good thing given the way he ripped through us last year). DeShawn Wynn has taken the bulk of the carries so far and is averaging nearly 60 ypg for a rushing offense that has struggled to get on track. A bevy of relatively unproven underclassmen fill in the depth chart, but Wynn is the main guy here. At 5-11, 230, he's a bruising back but has good enough speed to hurt you too (Not Darren McFadden from Arkansas type speed, more normal RB speed). He started breaking out against LSU in the team's last game, so perhaps he's ready to take a more commanding role in the offense. One of the tenants of the spread option is that the RBs get a lot of touches. One of the patented plays you'll see is the safety valve shovel pass to the RB. Utah seemingly ran this every other play last year under Meyer and it's a play that UGA has had some trouble with in the past, so watch those RBs Saturday even after Leak has completed his drop.
• The UF WRs are a talented bunch, but they've been slowed by some injuries of their own. First teamer Andre Caldwell was lost for the year against UT on a nasty break in his upper leg. Chad Jackson is the main threat here with over 50 catches on the year including 6 TDs. He's a big receiver with deep speed, which isn't all that surprising anymore. Dallas Baker and Jemalle Cornelius are excellent threats also. Baker's got great size also.
• The UF OL has received the brunt of the criticism for the lack of production of their offense. Leak had been sacked 19 times in each of his first two full seasons. This year, through 7 games, he's already been brought down 21 times. As a team, they've given up 24 sacks, last in the SEC (tied with Miss St actually). The UF rushing game has struggled mightily behind a unit that should be solid. The star is OC Mike Degory, who I think was Terry Dean's original center. As a group, their top 7 guys average 312 pounds. They've got some beef, so if our DL continues to lose players at the rate we have been, the UF running game might get back on track by default. Despite our troubles on the interior of the DL, our banged up DEs turned in a good performance late, pressuring Arkansas every time they tried to pass. The UF OT's will have their hand full Saturday with the threesome of Quentin Moses, Will Thompson, and Charles Johnson.
• Bottom Line: Florida hasn't been very good on offense. Each time they've faced one of the conference's better defenses they've struggled. LSU gave them the ball 5 times and they still only managed 17 points. UT held them to 16 points. Bama pretty much shut them out, only allowing a late FG. Our D is banged up, but we get a few guys back, guys who are key. If Taylor and Anderson can play at their early season level coming off injuries, we'll be pretty stout up the middle again. We should get pressure on Leak and he'll take some shots because that's what happens in the spread offense. I don't think we'll blitz a lot, as we haven't done that much this year anyway, but it's not really the best way to attack the spread anyway. LSU blitzed them simply because LSU blitzes everyone, they don't care, even when we were hanging 40-something on them last year. Good D's have gotten tremendous pressure on him, as UT, Bama and LSU each had 4 or more sacks against him (Wyoming did too). If our front 4 continues to get pressure, we can afford to drop into coverage. The key will be how well we can contain the run after Arkansas went nuts on us.
• Key matchup to watch when they have the ball: Watch DeShawn Wynn or whoever's in the game at RB. They'll try and establish the running game against us after the Ark debacle, but more than that, watch those little shovel passes which typically extend drives on 3rd and 8 or so. Arkansas killed us with RBs out of the backfield Saturday.
• Preseason, this was supposed to be the Achilles heal of the UF team. It's turned out to be their strength. They come in ranked 5th in the country in total D, 12th in each rushing and passing. They haven't exactly played USC yet (I'm not saying they will Saturday), as the top ranked offense they've faced is completely inconsistent LSU (ranked 57th in the country), who as previously mentioned, managed to turn the ball over 5 times and still win.
• The UF DL gets it's best player back in DE Ray McDonald. The converted DT is a terrific pass rusher who has the size to excel against the run as well as the speed to get to the passer. At 6-3, 285, he's a big end and will be a different challenge than many of the pure speed DEs we've faced so far. With McDonald out with a banged up knee, the backups stepped up and played well, with former RB Joe Cohen getting the starts in his absence. Cohen was a Charles Grant type RB at 6-2, 275. DE Jeremy Mincey has started every game at the opposite DE spot and leads the team in tackles and tackles for loss and is 2nd in sacks (with 3.5). Starting DTs Marcus Thomas and Steven Harris are mirror images at about 6-3, 285. Thomas is having the better year with 6 tackles-for-loss. The Gator defense leads the SEC in sacks with 23, leading the Dawg D by 2 sacks. They have enough depth (with McDonald's return) to rotate heavily if we try to pound the ball.
• The Gator LB corps is without the ever-interesting Channing Crowder this year, as he's getting paid to play now. In his place at MLB is Sophomore Brandon Siler who had a tremendous freshman year in 2004. Siler plays all over the place, is 3rd on the team in tackles, has 3 sacks, 5.5 tackles-for-loss, 6 QB hurries, good size and is of course, plenty fast sideline to sideline. He's flanked on one side by Earl Everett who is so athletic that Nebraska recruited him as a QB (back when they ran the option…and were good). He takes that athleticism to OLB and is second on the team in tackles and is tied for the team lead in INTs with 2. Opposite him is OLB Todd McCullough, a big 6-5, 230 pounder who will probably be used on Pope and Milner a good bit from his strong-side spot. With his size, he'll matchup better than most LBs. The best matchup the Gators will have in that arena though is using converted DE Jarvis Moss on Pope. At 6-6, 228 pounds, Moss was a rail at DE and has played some LB this year. He's responded well with 4 sacks, playing a sort of hybrid LB/DE position. He's listed as a LB in some places and a DE in others. Look for him more at DE in passing situations.
• The Gator secondary got torched by Bama, but has generally been pretty good this year. Granted, they've enjoyed playing some pretty anemic offenses, but they've still been very good. Bama had some success getting the ball to WRs in the middle of the field and letting them outrun the safety help. That's a throw JT3 can make, and with their safeties likely pulled up to help against the run, if he can thread the needle with a pass, we might could break a long one. Anywho, as with the rest of the defense, the Gator secondary is loaded with HS All-Americans that Ron Zook assembled but didn't know what to do with. Charlie Strong could make a living off of scheming against us, he's darn near based his career on it. CB Dee Webb leads the team with 7 pass breakups and is a physical player with lots of speed. Opposite CB Vernell Brown is a Tim Jennings type small, feisty fella who is a surprising 4th on the team in tackles. Jarvis Herring has started every game at SS while Kyle Jackson has started all but one at FS, but the safety that's intriguing on paper is backup Reggie Nelson. A former top recruit who ended up in JUCO before making it to Gainesville, Nelson has 4 sacks on the year and has made more tackles than either of the guys who have started at FS. Their secondary is 2nd in the conference in INTs with 10 (2nd to UGA, with 11).
• Bottom Line: The UF D has looked really good this year against pretty much all but one team, Bama. Surprisingly, The Tide, not exactly a passing juggernaut, had most of their success through the air. Actually, much of their success came from a defense that had Leak on his back most of the day, but that's not what this is about. Bama only ran for 121 yards in that game. UF got almost no pressure on Brodie Croyle and he responded with a tidy little 15-18 passing day for 286 yards. Granted, I'd feel better about this matchup if we were to have DJ, but we don't, so you can't worry about it. We've got an OL and group of RBs capable of moving the ball on the ground and JT3 knows the offense essentially as well as DJ. If we keep the turnovers down, I think we've got a good shot at moving the ball and scoring some points, not a lot, but hopefully enough. We've got too many weapons. Don't be surprised to see JT3 run the ball some, he's not immobile by any means.
• Key matchup to watch when we have the ball: Our OL is far and away the key to this game. If we can establish a running game, Richt can key off of that for playaction. The other side of that coin is that if we don't show a passing threat at all, we'll be in the same boat as Arkansas last week, where they'll let us run some but not enough to hurt them. JT3 will have to have protection.
The Florida Game Overall
When it comes to Tereshinski, his arm strength won't allow us to run some of the same plays as often as we did with DJ. The 10-yard out that DJ threw like a rope is a throw that JT3 just doesn't have (see the pass that Michael Grant intercepted last week). Quite frankly, it's a pass that not many QBs in the country have. I think with JT3 we'll have to keep it more in the middle of the field with slants to WRs and passes to TEs in the seam, and mixing in fades and timed deep outs that allow him to put air under the ball and put it on the spot. We had some success with that against Arkansas after DJ went down, as I can think of 3 different occasions where JT went up top to take advantage of what the defense offered. Also look for a good bit more dumpdowns to RBs in the flats, especially if our running game isn't stalling. With a full week of preparation with the #1s, I think we'll see a more assertive JT, but perhaps more importantly, a more trusting playcaller in Richt. Richt admitted after the game that he got conservative against Ark and would not do that this week. Pope could obviously be a big key in the middle of the field as he provides such a large target with nice hands to boot.
One massive "if" for Saturday is the OL. Arkansas brought the house on every play once DJ went down and it wreaked havoc on our running game. Richt's conservative playcalling coupled with Arkansas putting 8 or 9 in the box meant our OL looked completely abused. This week everyone and their brother knows that our OL is being called onto the mat to show up. This unit has a history under Richt of showing up when they're most needed. Folks said that UT's front 4 would handle us this year and we responded with 198 yards on the ground and a pretty dominant performance. With all the other injuries on the team, the OL and RBs are one of the few healthy spots and I look for them to come up big Saturday, Lord knows we need 'em.
What do you do if you're Urban Meyer? You have no idea how to prepare for what UGA is going to bring Saturday. He even said he was going to prepare as if DJ were playing (he's not). No one knows what changes we'll make to the offense, and Richt might use that to his advantage Saturday. There's something to be said for keeping the D guessing and now's the perfect situation to do it in. UF has very little footage of JT3. Last week was a damage control situation losing someone mid-game. With a week to prepare, JT3 should be much more equipped to run the offense and I think Richt will call the O accordingly.
Our special teams have really started coming along, playing better and better as the season has progressed. That culminated with Thomas Flowers' punt return in Knoxville and has continued nicely with the punt block at Vandy and some crucial plays last week as well. I really think we might see a big special teams play Saturday, as UF's special teams aren't all that special. Maybe not big in the sense of a TD scored, but in a game where I don't think you'll see a lot of points, field position swings can be huge and Gordon Ely-Kelso can be a big weapon.
It just never seems like it's easy when we play Florida. There's always something. The difference right now is that no one is giving us a chance. We're #4 in the country, playing a reeling #16 team and we're as much as a 6 point underdog. We've got a QB back there that the national media has completely written off as a stiff and our defense is so banged up that we'll probably go no-contact all week in practice. We're underdogs and I like it. Everyone has passed us off and frankly I like the mindset that will put our team in. It should never be difficult to get the guys ready to play UF, but there have been more than a handful of motivational tools available this week. Then again, who needs motivational tools, it's Florida.
• I know Arkansas was throwing everyone at the line, but I was surprised to see our backs struggle as much as they did. Ware just doesn't seem to have the same burst he did last year. Thomas Brown hasn't been getting that last push that was so commonplace last year. In our final scoring drive Saturday after Hillis fumbled the punt, Brown broke free and had one man to beat in completely open field and ran straight into him, you expect to see him make someone miss in that situation.
• Tony Taylor returning shouldn't be underestimated at all (it won't be by most UGA fans), as he allows Jarvis to slide back to WLB. With Miller being probable and already practicing this week, Danny Verdun can go back to subbing at both the WLB and SLB spots, allowing folks to stay fresh.
• A.J. Bryant returns to give some depth and speed to the receiver corps. Not sure how much he'll factor into the gameplan (if at all) as he had not made much of an impact prior to his injury, but he's got the speed to stretch the D and maybe spell Sean Bailey on the deep route some.
• Given all the injuries, I was surprised after the game that I couldn't remember seeing Marquis Elmore on the field at all. He must be really struggling in practice.
• Greg Blue had one of his worst games I can remember. McFadden's speed really caught him off guard. Hopefully he can bounce back again, but that's two straight sub par games from the leader in the back.
• Brandon Coutu is amazing. Nothing fazes that kid. Same goes for Gordon Ely-Kelso. Those two guys should get some serious attention for all-conference honors.
• Urban Meyer's headset is absolutely never on straight. It looks goofy. Always.
• Tommy Tuberville pulled no punches commenting about ESPN this week. It needed to be said, but I'm not real sure why he ripped into Lou Holtz like that. He pretty much nixed his shot at a post-coaching analyst gig at ABC or ESPN. I suppose his complete lack of charisma probably already killed that shot, but now we know for sure.
• That Arkansas RB was fast. REALLY fast.
• I think Saturday was the perfect day for watching a game in Athens. Gotta love it when it starts turning cold.
• For those of you who follow HS football at all, I hated to see that Dublin gave up a late FG last Friday. For those of you who don't know, that was the first time they'd been scored on all year…they still eked out a 63-3 win.
• It got so bad at one point Saturday that coaches were getting injured…I think Van Halanger is ready to go though. It's Florida coach, put some ice on it and get back out there.
• Munson's comments about how there wasn't going to be room for the team in the locker room after the game because there would be too many folks from St Mary's and Athens Regional in there fixing our banged up guys was classic Munson…don't know how much longer he's going to be doing this, and I know he's not quite as sharp as he once was, but not too many announcers out there are going to give you that…not too many are going to describe the sun going in and out of the clouds every other play either…I thought the "we've got bodies all over the field" line was a nice touch to add drama
• You think this game means much to Tereshinski? Win this one and you're a UGA legend. Not only are you the first guy to be a 3rd generation UGA football player, you can be the guy who stepped in when the all-everything QB went down and led a beat up team to a victory. What a story.