Thousands of words have been printed regarding the Gators and the drive to repeat as conference and national champs.
But when you boil down what has transpired over the offseason, issues have cropped up that could play a huge role in determining the outcome of the season.
If tough opponents wasn't enough—here are five areas of concern for the Gators this year...
Remember what happened to Georgia last year?
Attrition due to injuries is “normal” for any college football team. However, the Blinding Flash of the Obvious is that the loss of two or three key playmakers, or veteran linemen, on the Gator squad will significantly impact the performance of the team.
Florida did well when covering for a sidelined Harvin last season but what would happen if two or more offensive threats had to sit out? A loss of Rainey or Demps would significantly impact the speed rotation in the backfield. The loss of Moody would make third and short, now no longer just Tebow’s domain, a “backfield by committee” position.
Offensive Line? The depth chart at guard looks strong but there are four true freshman backing up three seniors at the tackle spot—a traditionally injury prone position under Meyer. The tight end position, a growing playmaking threat for Florida, finds Arron Fernandez backed up by yet another freshman, Desmond Parks.
Freshman wide out sensation Andre Debose is already gone for the season and if history is repeated then the Gators are due a few more.
If there’s an achilles heel to the Gators this year it would have to be the potential impact of injuries.
Who gets sidelined and for how long, unfortunately, is just a question of time.
Study the game films from the 2008 season and you will find that almost every off tackle rush that gained over five yards included a well executed block from a member of the receiving corps.
Wideout blocking is the most underrated and overlooked element of the Gator’s offense.
But it’s a secret no longer.
Florida created a monster when Meyer and Mullens demanded that the entire receiving corps learn to open field block better than any in the nation. Now it’s an arms race…defenses will no longer be surprised—they will be better prepared. This year, the Gators need to step up their blocking performance to meet an improved level of competition.
Tebow’s a lefty and Brantley’s a righty.
Not much of a big deal when running the shotgun but how about when operating from behind center?
Passing plays, run from under center, now have two additional elements… protecting the blind sides of both quarterbacks. Not just spread option protection but under center, drop-back passing blind side protection.
So what? Will we even see an under center pass play?
Maybe not, but with Meyer wanting to show new fronts it’s to be expected.
Sure, Tebow will take over 90% of the snaps this year so Brantley’s drop back issues aren’t that significant, but how well will the offensive line adjust to protecting a drop back passer? Under center plays don’t allow for the fluid line movement found in spread option plays. There is much less time and room for error.
The Gator line is good but SEC defenses have made names for themselves by tearing apart traditional offensive schemes. Expect the LSU and Georgia left defensive sides to start drooling should they see Tebow line up under center on a potential pass play…
There couldn’t have been more talk on the subject of the Gators’ new offensive formations this preseason. Under center plays, power line formations, loaded backfield designs—apparently all added to the playbook with the aim to confuse defenses, maintain ball control, continue a high scoring attack, and give Tebow a bit more pro like experience.
Rumor has it that 10-20 plays will be run under center each game.
Changes of this nature require a number of on-field tactical adjustments but the most important is timing.
Two kinds of timing…
Be it a simple two-step handoff or a seven-step pass drop, the entire Gator offense must adapt to this new environment and incorporate it, seamlessly, into the game plan.
Execution, perfect execution, will be required not only to make the play productive but also to keep the potential for penalties down to a minimum.
This is very important because for every new under center play run—one proven spread play is removed. This is a huge issue since Meyer’s offenses traditionally rely on wearing down defenses on the corners and spreading out the middle. The new under center plays must equal or exceed the yardage production (or time consumption) of the plays they replace.
Second—play calling timing
Dan Mullen operated the Gator offense better than a well oiled machine. Now that Steve Addazio has taken over Offensive Coordinator duties the play calling path might be muddied a bit.
All it takes is one poorly timed delay of game call or botched sideline audible to ruin or stall a drive.
Yes, the Gators have a history of surviving excessive penalties but this year they really need to keep it as clean as possible. With the changes being made to the offensive playbook and a new play relay system in place the potential for mistakes is high.
The Gators are a very talented bunch but the Charleston and Troy games are now more than just simple warm-ups. These games will be the proving grounds for a revised and updated system that aims to repeat as national champions.
But only if Urban decides to show his hand early.
Of all the opponents the Gators face this year the toughest one might be found on the practice field, in front of the microphone, and off campus…
Urban Meyer is one of the nations’ best at keeping his players on track but he’s not perfect. Last year, the Gators played well enough to win, and win big at times, but they suffered a huge mental hiccup against a very motivated, and visiting, Ole Miss team.
Yes, this loss was the springboard that propelled Florida into the national championship game but this year a perfect season may be the least of the requirements needed to duplicate that feat.
With few reasons not to repeat as conference and national champions, the Gator coaching staff and team leaders must make maintaining mental focus the number one—and season long—priority. Not an easy task since this year’s squad is loaded with personalities and a few celebrities!