November 27, 2011

Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down: Disappointing finish

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After the game each week Inside the Gators will take a closer look at the football team by awarding them either a thumbs up or a thumbs down to either specific players, coaches, positions or areas of the team.













BRANTLEY ERA COMES TO A BEFITTING END



After earning the top spot here one week ago for his career-best game and being called "on the spot" to lead the Gators this Saturday, John Brantley absolutely collapsed when the pressure was the greatest.


He threw three first-half interceptions against rival Florida State (at home in The Swamp), telegraphed his passes and made absolutely terrible decisions that put Florida in a big hole early. His first two picks gave FSU short fields in which to score touchdowns; the Seminoles scored 14 points by moving the ball a grand total of 24 yards thanks to Brantley miscues.


Brantley's best pass of the game came on a beautiful strike to Quinton Dunbar. Unfortunately, he suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit on the same play and appeared to be concussed while also being cut on his left cheek.


Could the Gators have rebounded offensively if Brantley was never knocked out? Maybe. He has shown an ability to put together drives this year even though Florida State's defense had owned him early.


It would not have been likely by any means, but losing Brantley at the end of the second quarter put a spear in UF's offense that was not removed for the remainder of the game.


Despite some bright spots this season, Brantley's final game at The Swamp was a microcosm of his career - flashes of talent but simply not good enough.

















DEFENSE DOES THE JOB




Florida may have lost on Saturday, but the Gators' defense undoubtedly did its job. The unit held Florida State to just 14 points (both on extremely short fields after turnovers) and 95 yards of total offense, the lowest total for FSU since 1957.


The Seminoles averaged just 0.7 yards per carry, and quarterback E.J. Manuel only completed 6-of-13 passes for 65 yards in the game.


UF got good pressure on the quarterback, was stout in the run game and did a good job covering receivers down the field, too.


There is one caveat here, Jimbo Fisher was not trying to beat Florida with his offense once Florida State took a two-touchdown lead. He was just trying to manage the game and limit mistakes.


FSU preferred to run the ball on 2nd and 3rd and long rather than throw a pass and potentially give up an interception.















NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED


Florida's defense almost made up for Brantley's first interception with a top-notch goal line stop of Manuel on 3rd and goal from the two-yard-line. Not only did the Gators stop the Seminoles, UF was able to strip the ball, which was recovered by Manuel on the one.


However, a personal foul penalty on Ronald Powell gave FSU a 1st and goal from the one rather than a fourth down that Fisher may have chosen to kick a field goal on.


That early miscue set the tone for the game, which saw three more interceptions (two by Brantley, one by Jacoby Brissett) two more personal foul penalties (including a flag thrown against Jon Bostic after UF tackled an FSU back for a 15 yard loss) and plenty of offensive ineptitude.


These issues shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone who has watched the team. As has been the case most of the season, an already bad Florida team continued to hurt itself with dumb play after dumb play.















PLAY OF OFFENSIVE LINE IS, WELL, OFFENSIVE

If a team cannot move the ball one yard at will, there is no shot for it to win any given game. Florida continued to struggle in this regard Saturday.


The Gators offensive line got no push on the Seminoles' stout front four at any point Saturday, and an important 4th and 1 redzone run by Trey Burton wound up going for -14 yards after he saw no space in front of him, tried to make something happen and got pushed back.


As a team, Florida averaged just 1.6 yards per carry. Jeff Demps had -8 yards on four rushes, and Chris Rainey gained just 42 yards on 15 carries. UF's best runner was Hunter Joyer, who touched the rock three times for 30 yards (with a long of 23).


After the game, Will Muschamp commented on the Gators' inability to run the ball vertically all season and said it is one of the main reasons the offense has continued to struggle.















RECEIVERS CONTINUE PLAYING CATCH



For the second straight week, a pair of Florida's pass catchers showed significant signs of improvement.


After reeling in two passes for 54 yards and a touchdown against Furman, Quinton Dunbar added to that performance with three receptions for 40 yards and a late game touchdown on Saturday.


While it was Andre Debose and Jordan Reed were bright spots one week ago, yesterday it was A.C. Leonard who showcased his receiving ability with three catches for 65 yards and a long of 24 in the first half.


Considering the Gators will be trying out a pair of sophomore quarterbacks next season, the team's ability to find some reliable pass catchers late in the year may be a huge positive when it comes to bowl practice and spring practice heading into 2012.


















QUESTIONABLE COACHING DECISIONS


Florida's best play call of the day - a fake field goal on 4th and 2 - was undoubtedly a solid decision, but the Gators followed it up with an equally terrible choice going for it on 4th and 1 instead of kicking a 32-yard field goal.


With about five minutes left in the second half and the Seminoles showing an inability to move the ball on offense, the Gators should have taken the points to get on the board and reduce their deficit.


As it turns out, Florida got the ball back with just under two minutes to play anyway and had an opportunity to drive the field again if not for Brantley being knocked out right away.

Another questionable coaching decision was the choice not to bring Jeff Driskel in the game after Brissett struggled mightily early. Driskel may be No. 3 on the depth chart, but he is more athletic and mobile than Brissett.


The Gators were only down two scores (before Brissett's pick-six). With FSU's ability to get through the line and force UF's quarterbacks out of the pocket, Driskel could have used his athleticism to extend plays and drives that were otherwise stopped flat.


He also could have added an element to the struggling run game. Even if that was a yard or two per series, it may have made a difference in the long run and *could have* gotten Florida back in the game.


It's not that Driskel has shown "more" than Brissett at any point this year, simply that he has another dimension that the Gators could have used on Saturday when the going got tough.

















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