Friday, December 01, 2006

All things Florida.

You’ll have to forgive the delay in posting over the past couple of days. I had originally planned on writing some stuff on a certain team currently leading the NBA’s Eastern Conference. However, I have decided, in the interest of perspective, to hold off on any further examination of said team until the conclusion of their west coast road trip late next week.

For today, I’ll stick to some analysis of the University of Florida’s Men’s Basketball and Football teams, respectively.
Florida Basketball

Last weekend’s game between Florida and Kansas was one of the better November basketball games that you’re ever likely to see. While it lacked seamless execution at times, it undoubtedly featured as much (or more) NBA level talent as any game you’re likely to see in college basketball this year (or any year, for that matter). While I was mildly discouraged that Florida lost, I quickly began to see the loss as a positive. That feeling only increased as the days have passed this week. Losing to Kansas is not a “bad” loss, no matter how you slice it. Furthermore, when you factor in the huge “home court advantage” that Kansas had while playing in Las Vegas, as well as the fact that one of Florida’s most important players (Corey Brewer) was playing with mono at the time the loss becomes even less significant in the overall picture for this team. At the risk of sounding revisionist, I’ll even go so far as to say that I’m glad that Florida lost this game. Playing against a team of Kansas’ talent will go a long way towards showing this team that it is not as talented as they have been led to believe by most people since last April. If anything, this loss should prove to UF that they are only one of a number of teams who have the overall talent needed to capture the NCAA Title this year. This realization should go a long way toward upping the overall intensity of this team on the defensive end. Defense and unselfish play is what catapulted Florida to the NCAA Title last year. Without similar intensity on the defensive end this year, no level of talent or chemistry will bring this squad another ring.

Perhaps most importantly, this loss allows Billy Donovan to coach ‘em up (as another former UF employee once said) without worrying about whether or not his lessons are falling upon deaf ears. The longer that UF had remained undefeated this season, the louder the praise of this team (both collectively and as individuals) would have become and, consequently, the more difficult Donovan’s job of building this team would have also become. As it currently stands, Donovan should be able to mold this team in a less pressurized environment than before while also using the game against Kansas as a way to impart his wisdom on this team about the unique task it has in front of it. It’s easy to talk about defending a title but, we all know, it’s a far different thing to actually go out and do that on a nightly basis. Any dfending champion, especially one filled with 19 & 20 year olds, is going to be somewhat unprepared for the intensity, emotion and effort that they will face from each and every team on their schedule throughout the year. Florida’s players have admitted as much in the days following Saturday night’s loss. Now that the undefeated season is lost, Donovan can go back to task of building this team with an eye toward March. After all, that is what matters in college basketball isn’t in.

One last thing: Corey Brewer’s bout with mono should also prove beneficial to this team. While the Gators cannot win without Brewer in the lineup, his absence will allow freshmen such as Dan Werner and Jonathan Mitchell increased playing time while also giving sophomore Walter Hodge a chance to show his improvement from last year. By the time Brewer returns, Donovan will have a much better idea of what he has on his bench, which will prove crucial during the SEC season.
Florida Football

Has it really been six years already? The last time the University of Florida played in the SEC Championship game, I was still but a lowly undergrad, living in an off campus apartment with one of the sloppiest female roomates in the history of time while simultaneously dating two different girls. An awful lot has happened to both myself and Florida Football in that span of time. Too much to recount here, that’s for sure. Suffice it to say, both have changed for the better (Well at least Florida Football, as for me…I’m not so sure). What’s the point of all this you ask? There is none, other than to say: It’s been a very, very long time since the University of Florida was able to play for a conference title. For a school which seemed to compete for the SEC crown every year during the 1990’s, this dry spell has been both unwelcome and unsettling. There was an entire decades worth of UF students (myself included) who considered it their right to play in Atlanta each December. For this group, tomorrow has been a long time comin’, and now it seems as if tomorrow will never come. (Seriously, how am I expected to make it until 9 pm tomorrow night without having a nervous breakdown? McFadden is so very frightening.)

As for the actual game, well, I don’t know what to think at this point. On paper, it seems to line up in Florida’s favor. Florida’s offensive strength is the passing game, led by a senior QB and a fleet of talented WRs. Arkansas struggles to stop the pass and plays almost exclusively man-to-man defense in the secondary. While I have no doubt that Arkansas has talented corners, I have yet to see a group of corners in the country who can consistently cover Florida’s receivers when the Gators spread the field. On defense, Florida excels at stuffing the run (though it’s been less dominant since the loss of DT Marcus Thomas) while Arkansas’ offensive success is almost entirely dependent on its ability to run the ball with their two talented tailbacks (Darren “Night Terrors” McFadden and Felix Jones).

For further proof of this, one need only look at Arkansas QB Casey Dick’s line from last week’s loss to LSU, 3-19 for 29 yards. Those numbers aren’t just bad, they’re atrocious. Even my retard, excuse me, “slow” 12 year old cousin doesn’t put up numbers that bad on All-Madden Level…and she’s got no thumbs! Looking at those stats, It would seem that Florida need only stack the box and stuff the run to win this game. However, Arkansas’ rushing attack is so dominant that it seems able to thrive with or without any hint of presence from the passing game. Much of the reason for this is Arkansas’ use of McFadden at QB in a package OC Guz Mazahn calls “Wildcat” (He is, apparently, a big Goldie Hawn fan). This package allows Arkansas to get both McFadden and Jones in the same backfield while also supplying either back with an extra blocker. The first time I saw this package in use was Arkansas’ thrashing of Tennessee a few weeks back. I was so frightened by the prospect of this use of the already beastly McFadden that I immediately called my friend Vitas and instructed him to change the channel so that he could see what I was seeing. After he did this we both sat silent on the phone for a few minutes staring at our respective TV screens in abject horror before we both finally cursed a few times and hung up.
Florida obviously must stop the Razorbacks’ rushing attack to win this game, but they must also avoid giving up big plays in the passing game to Arkansas WR Marcus Monk when he’s locked up in man-to-man coverage. While none of Arkansas’ QBs strike much fear in my heart, Monk’s size and physicality are imposing enough to allow them to throw up jump balls that can take advantage of a defense stacking the box with 8 or 9 guys. So what have we learned here? Other than that I have a healthy fear of Darren McFadden, probably not much. In light of that, I present you with a few of my “Keys to the Game” ( I totally made that up just now. I know, I’m awesome)

Reggie Nelson: I said it last week and I’ll say it plenty more over the next few weeks. If there is a better, more impactful defensive player in America, well, I’d like to see him. Nelson hits like a truck and has the closing speed of, um, something with amazing closing speed. His play in centerfield will be key for the Gator defense. He needs to be able to provide some run support while still being able to get over to the sidelines and defend the jump balls that Arkansas seems so fond of. Furthermore, an early pick and/or decapitation will go a long way toward making Razorback receivers a little more reticent to go up and chase deep balls.

Steven Harris: A starter at DT last year, Harris was suspended for much of the fall camp due to some personal issues (read: siring bastards like his name is Greg). As a result, Harris has played unevenly for most of this year. However, he played his finest game of the year (and probably his career) last week against FSU while lined up at NT. If he can continue to play at that level and get some push against Arkansas experienced O-Line (four Senior starters) it will go along way toward slowing down the Hogs’ run game.

Linebackers: Both Earl Everett and Brandon Siler are still recovering from ankle and knee injuries, respectively, but they will both be called upon to keep McFadden and Jones from consistently breaking into the second level against UF. This will be the best rushing attack either of them has faced this year and it will be incumbent upon them to fill their gaps and wrap up on the Arkansas backs as missed tackles by them will lead to huge gains for the Razorbacks. Additionally, Brian Crum must continue his improved play while SS Tony Joiner will also have to be strong at the point of attack and record a number of one-on-one tackles as he figures to be lining up in the box on a consistent basis tomorrow.

Dan Mullen & Chris Leak: Make no mistake about it, Florida is going to have to score over 20 points to win tomorrow night. I’d even go so far as to say that they need to score 25+. To do this, Leak will have to play one of his best and most consistent games of his career. Florida cannot afford to have an entire quarter of offensive futility in this game. Leak needs to convert a high percentage of his passes while taking as few “negative” plays as possible. Most importantly, Leak needs to be a steady presence in the pocket who goes through his progressions and steps up to make the correct throw in the face of pressure. This has been a problem at times for Leak this year. He’s seemingly made progress lately, but will face his greatest test yet tomorrow when he faces a fast and physical Razorback defense. Florida’s O-Line is banged up and will not be able to consistently give Leak enough time to convert third and longs and if he can’t check down for 3 and 4 yard gains when the defense gives them to him, the Gators will find themselves in some very difficult offensive situations.

To avoid these scenarios, not only will Leak need to be both efficient and accurate, OC Dan Mullen will need to have a gameplan that is flexible and well thought out. By flexible, I mean that he needs to stick with what is working and/or trash what isn’t. While this sounds simple enough, Mullen has struggled to find consistency in his play calling through a combination of a need to involve all his playmakers and an itch to get cute or tricky in key situations. Mullen must avoid the temptation to call an option run (among other gimmicky plays) inside the opponents 30 when short passes and screens are what’s gotten him down there. Additionally, Mullen must also not be afraid of continually going to some of his more experienced playmakers, guys like Dallas Baker, Andre Caldwell and DeShawn Wynn. Finally, Mullen needs to have a handful of plays that he and the team are prepared to run in various 4th down situations. The time has come to admit that Kicker Chris Hetland is irreparably damaged and is incapable of hitting anything outside of a chip-shot FG and, further, admit that the Gators’ best chance at points from 30-15 yards out is to attempt to convert and continue driving through their opponents’ territory. To do this, Leak will, again, need to read Arkansas and find the open receiver. There will be open receivers in these situations, the key is identifying them and executing.

If you haven’t already guessed, I’m extremely pumped and nervous for this game. So much so that I’m thinking I need to get dirty, stinking, piss yourself drunk tonight, if only to slow my brain activity and keep me unconscious for at least the first couple hours of tomorrow afternoon.
I'm not sure how I'm going to make it until tomorrow night, but I'm willing to be the solution involves me watching this at least 27 times.


TJ said...

Can we talk about the awesome Orlando Magic MySpace page?

Mark said...

No. No, we can't. Actually, I only looked at it very briefly last week. I'll have to go back and check it out.

TJ said...

It is a debacle...might give you a seizure.

Mark said...

You're right about that. What a waste of time and (presumably) effort.

I do get a kick out of the people who have actually posted messages to the Magic on there. Are they expecting a reply?

Mark said...

National. Championship. Game.

Arizona in January sounds lovely, thank you very much.