The Florida Gators have completed half of their 2011 football schedule and are 4-2, and unranked in the polls. This is the first week that Florida has not been ranked this season, and marks the first time since 1982 that no team in Florida is ranked nationally.
After a good first quarter of the season, starting 3-0, Florida has fallen off a little as the competition has risen, going 1-2 in their last three games.
The Gators have faced adversity on many fronts, being blown out in consecutive games, and losing their starting quarterback have caused the Gators to take a step back offensively.
As the Gators prepare for the second half of the season let's take a look back and see how each position has graded out through the last three games.
The last three games have seen three separate quarterbacks take the bulk of the snaps each week. John Brantley managed the Kentucky game as the Gators ran all over the Wildcats. Brantley suffered a high ankle sprain against Alabama, and missed the second half of the game with freshman Jeff Driskel taking over the offense. Driskel also suffered an ankle sprain against Alabama, giving Jacoby Brissett his first start at LSU. It marked the first time in Florida football that a quarterback has taken his first collegiate snap in his first start.
The quarterbacks still have not been anything more than game managers for Florida this season.
In his game against Kentucky Brantley was eight of 14 for 115 yards and a touchdown. Brantley was having the best game of his career against Alabama before going down with an injury. In just under a full half he was 11 of 16 for 190 yards a touchdown and an interception to his credit. The touchdown came on the very first play and was a perfectly thrown ball to Andre Debose. For as good of a pass as the TD was the interception was equally ugly. Brantley was pressured on the play, and threw the ball into the gut of an Alabama defender who took the pass back for a touchdown.
The Gators are now faced with uncertainty at the position. Many believe that Jeff Driskel would start at LSU, but he sat out the game with an injury. Jacoby Brissett's number for the game were deceiving. Brissett finished eight of 14 for 94 yards, one TD, two interceptions. All but 29 of his passing yards came on one play. 13 passes for 29 yards? That's not very good. However Brissett deserves some leeway with it being his first start in a very hostile environment.
The Gator quarterbacks have been nothing more or nothing less than serviceable this season. With half a season still to play Will Muschamp and Charlie Weis will need to work their young quarterbacks so they can open the playbook more until Brantley is healthy enough to return.
The quarterbacks take a slight hit from the last time the team was graded.
The running back core started the second quarter of the season with their best performance of the season. The gators ran for 405 yards and four touchdowns. The Gators have leaned heavily on Chris Rainey this season, but the senior running back was corralled by two of the best defenses in the nation. Rainey was held to four rushing yards against Alabama, and 52 against LSU.
For many Gator fans the attitude of "if it ain't broke don't fix it" was taken early on when the Gators leaned on Rainey to move the offense. Well after combining for 56 yards the past two games, it is quite obvious that the better defenses in the SEC will not allow Rainey or Jeff Demps to beat them, and will force the Gators to find other options.
With defenses not afraid of Florida's passing attack the running backs have faced eight man fronts constantly. Still with the way this team is set up, Florida will continue to rely on Demps and Rainey to be successful.
Running back Mike Gillislee is a player to look for the rest of the season. Gillislee has provided the Gators with the strong running between the tackles, and still has shown the big play potential you would expect from Demps and Rainey. Gillislee had a career high 84 yards, including a 60 yard TD, against Kentucky and was the only Gator who was able to run the ball between the tackles against LSU. Gillislee is the type of strong runner that will compliment the speedier backs well, and could be the spark that this offense is looking for.
The running backs take a small hit since the last time they were graded, but they continue to be the focal point of the offense.
After six game the Gator receiving core still does not have a player with double digit catches.
Andre Debose has emerged as a big play threat with two touchdown catches for over 60 yards against arguably the best two teams in the country. The sophomore is fifth on the team in receptions (8), second in yards (219), and is tied for the most touchdowns (2).
The receivers have stepped up the past three games, but are still not where they need to be. The receivers need to take more responsibility on their shoulders in order to help their young quarterbacks.
The unit has played remarkably better in the second three games than they did in their first three. While their play has been better, they are still not where they need to be.
Jordan Reed continues to lead the TE position with 11 receptions for 86 yards despite missing two games this season. Reed has had his fair of struggles this year. Missing two games with a knee injury, some dropped passes, and Reed struggled a couple times falling down and slowing down on routes against LSU.
The may be the position that the Gators have the most depth at, but are under utilizing their talent here. A tight end can be a safety blanket for his quarterback, and with the inexperience the Gators are now dealing with at quarterback the tight ends should get their number called more often.
Sophomore Gerald Christian had a solid game in Reed's absence against Kentucky hauling two passes for 56 yards and a touchdown. Since the game Christian has yet to have a reception. Likewise highly touted freshman A.C. Leonard has yet to record his first reception and had two penalties against LSU.
While Reed is second on the team in receptions, the overall production from the unit as a whole has left something to be desired. There is still a whole lot of talent at the position, look for them to get more involved to help Driskel or Brissett settle in and get more comfortable in the offense.
The offensive line has been a unit that has taken a complete 180 in terms of production.
With the exception of the Kentucky game where they did not allow a sack, and paved the way for over 400 rushing yards, the line has taken a big step back as far as production.
The line which was the anchor of the once best SEC rushing attack have been dominated physically the past two games. The defensive fronts of Alabama and LSU manhandled the Gators line. After allowing only 2 sacks through the first four games the line has surrendered four more over a two game stretch.
The past two games should be a gut check for this line, and they have a chance to redeem themselves with a strong performance on the road at Auburn.
Their success in the Kentucky game will keep this grade from being even lower.
The Gators entered the second quarter of the season with a warm up game before the toughest stretch of their schedule. While the Gators looked good against Kentucky their youth and inexperience showed when playing LSU and Alabama.
Florida is the most penalized team in the NCAA (55 total) and while some of that can be attributed to their youth some of that must be placed on the coaches. This team is showing that it is undisciplined with another double digit penalty game (12) against LSU. The coaches need to stress discipline and the players need to cut out the mistakes that are costing them precious yards and forcing second and third and longs that the offense is not equipped to convert.
The Gators offense has taken a big step back in their second set of three games, with John Brantley out for probably one more game, the Gators will face another road test this week. In a move that will remind and scare Gator fans the offense has moved to a quarterback rotation that is eerily similar to last season's quarterback debacle. Against LSU Florida had Brissett, Burton, and Rainey all take snaps from under center. At time Burton was running a very similar dive option that the Gators ran ad nauseum a season ago. Hopefully with another week of practice whichever freshman starts the game this week will be prepared and know enough of the playbook to open up the play calling this week at Auburn.