Thursday, November 01, 2007

Two of a Kind...

I’ve resisted writing much about the Florida Football team this year for a number of reasons. Chief among them was the extreme amount of youth and inexperience that this team possessed, especially on defense. However, after watching nearly every one of the teams many flaws be exposed on Saturday against the University of Georgia, I felt the need to address some things.

First, I’m tired of hearing Florida fans complain that Mark Richt and Georgia showed “a lack of class” when they decided to rush the field following the game’s first TD. As the guys at EDSBS put it, “The word class means nothing–it’s unquantifiable, it’s fuzzy, and it’s all too often cited by the team picking their teeth up off the turf following a game.” You know what? They’re right. If Florida didn’t like what Georgia did, then they should’ve come out and shut down Georgia for the rest of the afternoon and wound up being the team doing the real celebrating. You know, the kind you do after you win the game.

Unfortunately, Florida’s defense was exposed as both weak against the run and tentative against the pass. This, in my experience, is the worst possible combination for a defense. Florida’s young corners are afraid to get beat deep so they routinely give up 10-15 yards of cushion to opposing wideouts. Yet, these cushions are largely ineffective because Florida’s safeties, Seniors Tony Joiner and Kyle Jackson, react late and take extremely poor angles. This has resulted in the Gator defense being eaten up by teams attacking the middle of the field in the intermediate passing game. What makes this so troubling is that Florida has also shown a penchant for giving up the long ball (TDs of 84 and 53 yards vs. UGA) as well. Of all the factors contributing to the porous Florida secondary, none is more frustrating than the play of Kyle Jackson. The corners are young and will get better (or they won’t be starting next year) and Tony Joiner has always been a linebacker in a safety’s body, but Jackson is quite possibly the worst free safety that I’ve ever seen start at the University of Florida. His play on Saturday was so bad that Gary Danielson tired of calling him out for mistakes by the middle of the 4th quarter. He just stopped blaming Jackson for continually blowing plays for fear that he might drive the poor kids mother to suicide. Jackson’s lackluster play shouldn’t come as a surprise though, this is a young man who’s now lost his starting position not once, but twice (First to Reggie Nelson and earlier this year to the now injured Major Wright, a true freshman) during his time at Florida. In all my years of Florida Football fandom, I’ve never seen a player’s fortunes change so dramatically. He was the #2 safety in the nation coming out of HS. By the middle of his freshman year he had taken the job of a senior (Cory Bailey) and looked like a star in the making, especially after a two int performance against South Carolina late that year. However, he completely fell apart in the Bama and LSU games (highlighted by insincere tackling and poor coverage angles) early in his sophomore season and that was essentially it for him. He lost his job to Reggie Nelson later that year and then to Major Wright this year after back to back horrible performances vs. Tennessee and Ole Miss. Kyle Jackson wasn’t the only reason this Gator defense got torched on Saturday (the D-Line got no pressure and the Linebackers were consistently out of their lanes) but he was the most egregious offender of all the defensive players for Florida. It sounds strange to say that you’ll be glad when a true freshman safety returns, but that’s exactly how I (and most Gator fans) feel about the return of Major Wright.

Finally, in an effort to spread a little of my hatred fueled blame, I turn my attention to Kestahn Moore, or as I’ve referred to him in this spot before, Smiley McFumbles. At this point, the nickname has gone beyond being funny and ironic and become a plague upon the Gator Nation. He’s become pre-Coughlin Tiki Barber sans the game breaking ability. In the last three games he has: Fumbled in LSU territory late in the 3rd quarter, dropped a wide open pass in the Kentucky endzone, fumbled deep in UGA territory and dropped a direct snap in UGA territory. (Which doesn’t even cover the block he missed on 4th and 2 against UGA that allowed UGA to blow up a reverse to Percy Harvin). Can anybody explain to me why he still is worthy of being on the field with the first team offense at this point? Clearly Urban Meyer cant, as he benched Moore for most of the UGA game and spread his backfield carries out amongst Percy Harvin and Brandon James. Meyer has promised more carries at tailback for Harvin this week against Vanderbilt and I think he’ll handle the bulk of the carries at that spot from here on out. Moore has been given numerous chances to excel at a position of relative weakness for Florida and has consistently underperformed. In fact, his play has been so below average that its left Florida fans yearning for the days of DeShawn Wynn. Which, I can assure you, few Florida fans ever thought they’d do. I even joked to some friends on Saturday night that Meyer was probably text messaging Wynn as we spoke with messages like “Miss U” and “Ur great. Call me.” Sadly, I wasn’t completely joking. Moore’s incompetence hinders the entire Gator offense and is by far the biggest problem with the current Gator offense (though there are others: Inconsistent O-Line play, cute playcalling by Dan Mullen inside the opponents 30, a lack of involvement by secondary playmakers such as Ingram, Fayson, Cooper). That’s why the impact of USC transfer Emmanuel Moody can’t be underestimated for Florida Football. If Moody is even half as good as his rep suggests, he’ll be able to take some of the running load off of Tebow’s shoulders, thereby allowing Tebow to focus on his development as a passer. Furthermore, if Moody can carry the ball 15 times a game (hardly yeoman’s work) then defense will have to honor him which will open up more running lanes for the likes of Harvin, Caldwell, James and even Tebow. That is when you will see the true spread option offense. Right now its less than its at less than its full capability because there is no tailback to employ as a primary ballcarrier.

Unfortunately, Florida is stuck with Moore for the time being and Meyer and Co. are going to have to decide if the risk of a game changing fumble(s) is worth the risk of getting Percy Harvin and Brandon James banged up while they try and form a competent tailback combo. Clearly, neither of these options are preferable but I, for one, would much rather have ball security and game breaking ability at tailback over inconsistency and turnovers. If Moore ever wants to be a contributor at Florida again (He’s a junior…Yay!), I’d advise him to spend the offseason bulking up and becoming a fullback. He’s already the lead blocker on kickoff return and Florida’s losing fullback Eric Rutledge to graduation this year. There’s room for Moore as a blocking fullback who catches the occasional pass out in the flat. There’s just no more room for his mistakes at tailback.

If you can’t tell by now, I feel that there are a number of problems with the current Gator Football team. Many of these can’t be corrected right away (Three healthy DTs is a huge area of concern from here on out) but a number of these can be corrected by eliminating two players from the gameplan. It may sound harsh and reactionary but, if you’ve watched this team play enough this year then you know its true. Both Moore and Jackson have been good students, hard workers and a credit to the Florida Football program. They are not, however, deserving of any more playing time in their current positions. Florida has 3 losses and is (more than likely) looking at a date in the Citrus and Outback bowls. Now’s the time to build for the future and the future doesn’t include Moore or Jackson.


TJ said...

tebow smash?

Mark said...

God, I hope so. Losing to Vandy might push me over the edge.

Jerry said...

It's shocking that a team like Florida doesn't have a legitimate full-time tailback on their roster. Really, it's beyond shocking.

Overall, they just lost too much on defense from last year. It's that simple.

If they win out, I think it's a pretty solid year.

Mark said...

I agree with both your points.

The defense is too young and inexperienced to expect much more than they've gotten thus far.

As for the tailbacks, Florida hasn't had a big time tailback since Fred Taylor, and even he didn't become a full-time back until his senior year. In the past, much of it was due to Spurrier's rep. However, now its a combo of Meyer missing on some guys in early recruiting classes and people recruiting against his system and telling backs they wouldn't get enough carries. I think they've rectified that this year and should pull in a couple of big time guys in addition to Moody. Once Meyer gets a back he's comfortable with (in terms of work ethic and dependability), you'll see him get a bunch of carries and change the overall complexion of the spread option.

This team has plenty to play for still as well as build to for next year when they appear to be loaded at nearly every position.

Jerry said...

Moody should do the trick. It doesn't even have to be a great player -- just somebody who's solid and won't make mistakes.

Post-Taylor I thought Graham was a pretty productive player, but maybe not big-time.

I'm not entirely sold on the DL as a strength for the future. I don't know that many details, but they don't pop enough for my tastes. Plus, Harvey will probably be gone next year. The young LBs and the DBs look real good to me though.

Mark said...

There are some good young D-Linemen in these last two classes. I think you'll see one more year where the D-Line struggles to a certain degree. However, two years from now the depth should be fantastic and I anticipate a couple from the group that includes Torrey Davis, John Brown, Justin Trattou, Lawrence Marsh and Duke Lemmens (all of which are true fr, save for Marsh who is a RS) to become all SEC type players. Jermaine Cunningham is already well on his way if he continues to develop as he's already exceeded many expectation this year. Plus, I think they'll grab a few more good ones in february.

Moody justs needs to be a threat. UF hasn't really had one in Meyer's time. Graham is one of my fave backs at UF and I always thought he was underrated but he wasn't struggled to stay healthy and he was never a gamebreaker.

As for Harvey, he'll be moving out of Gainesville by January 4th.

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