Questions...Florida head coach Urban Meyer has been peppered with them this week as he prepares his Gators for an evening match with the LSU Tigers.
Obviously, the status of Tim Tebow is first on everyone’s mind.
But assuming that Saint Timothy does not start, what then?
The answers to these three questions will determine just how successful first time starter John Brantley, and the Florida Gators, will be on Saturday night.
Who will block for first time starting quarterback John Brantley?
More specifically, who will block for him in the Gator offensive backfield?
Assuming that Brantley does get the nod over his still questionably fit mentor, it’s hard to imagine Meyer asking the rookie drop back passer to run the spread offense just as Tim Tebow would.
Meyer and Gator offensive coordinator Steve Addazio are working overtime to ensure that Brantley continues to grow more confident with the playbook every day. However, elements of Tebow’s game plan such as power forward rushes and keeper sweeps may be replaced with deep drop or quick release passing plays.
Making the newcomer more exposed to a very motivated LSU pass rush.
Now, Meyer isn’t going to let Brantley hang to dry in the pocket. Who will be there protecting his blind side is a very important question.
Emmanuel Moody is the power running back flavor of the month but his blocking skills are not on par with those of a traditional fullback. Besides, with Tebow out, Moody’s role as a muscle rusher will command all of his attention.
Since overtaxing his rushing rotation won’t be an option, Meyer may include a new face or two into the Gator backfield to provide additional bulk between Brantley and the Tiger defensive line.
Rick Burgess, T.J. Pridemore, and Steven Wilks are all Gator fullbacks that have the strength and the size to meet any member of the Tiger line head on.
Whether or not they have the speed needed to deflect a corner rush remains to be seen.
But experience, or lack of, is also a factor for these big men. Meyer may just have to roll the dice and put his faith into two new faces in his offensive backfield.
Who will Brantley throw to?
With questions still remaining concerning the effectiveness of the Gator wideout corps one issue still lingers—who will Brantley throw to on Saturday?
Each weekend sports pundits dissect the Gator passing game, or lack thereof, and predict that successful changes will be made for the following week. However, significant improvement has not been witness which leaves us to wonder where the problem lies.
This year, regardless of the root of the problem, Tebow just isn’t seeing receivers as open as Harvin and others were last season.
As diminished as the receiver corps has been due to injury and illness, it’s no wonder Meyer has not attempted to force the passing game. To do so would have probably resulted in a 30-40 percent completion rate with more interceptions and a much lower yards-after-catch percentage.
However, there is one Florida receiver that has the speed, the experience, and the fear factor required to become the receiving playmaker on Saturday...
He’s been in every game for the Gators but not as much as the passing attack needs him to be. Against LSU, Meyer and Addazio need to use James as a starting receiver for Brantley even if he’s a decoy to earn double coverage and safety shadows.
It’s been said three times before but this could very well be the defining game of James’ non-special team’s career.
This will also be a breakout game for tight end Aaron Hernandez who will probably be asked to run block/release routes as a safety outlet.
Assuming that Brantley has difficulty finding other open receivers it’s safe to say that Hernandez, wandering in the flats, will be the recipient of many short tosses.
His role on difficult third-down passing situations may be the key factor in this game.
Brantley can certainly relay plays from the sideline but can he read them from the huddle?
Brantley has plenty of experience working with each member of the offensive coaching staff when it comes to relaying plays and audibles to Tebow on the field.
But sending plays in is a lot different than reading them, and understanding them, from the huddle.
Brantley’s toughest test will be to get the play from the sideline, review the Tiger defense, then look for the audible signs and relay that information. He will have to do all this in front of over 80,000 screaming fans and 11 rabid defenders.
Hopefully for the Gators, Addazio has been shadowing Brantley all week and doing nothing but talking to him in sideline sign language.
This will be the first real test of the playfield maturity of Brantley. His decisions, more than his actions, will be the most important aspect of this game.
If Brantley keeps his cool, uses his timeouts carefully, and safely bails on busted plays then the Gators will survive the night.
If he doesn’t then the evening will be a long one for Florida and the Tigers will deaux it to the Gators in Baton Rouge once again.
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