Updated: Sep 17, 2019
The No. 9 Florida Gators have started a new streak against the Kentucky Wildcats, beating them 29-21 in Lexington, Kentucky on Saturday night. It took a 19-0 4th quarter run from the Gators to make the comeback and lost starting quarterback Feleipe Franks for the year to a dislocated ankle and fracture during the matchup. While the quarterback change from Franks to Kyle Trask has understandably dominated the conversation since—and will continue to for the foreseeable future—there are ample topics to cover from the whiplash win on Saturday.
As you head back to work this week—and before kicking up the Tennessee trash talk—catch up with these notes for your watercooler topics.
The Jet Sweep
Josh Hammond's jet sweep at the end of the game was mesmerizing. When the call was made, Mullen simply told him, get the first down, stay in bounds. Hammond did more than that. On a play that the receiver revealed would normally be called for the injured Kadarius Toney, Hammond took the handoff from Kyle Trask and hoofed it 76-yards for the dagger with 0:33 seconds left in the game.
Both the coach and Hammond point out if he'd gone down at the one yard line, the offense would have been able to kneel out the game in victory formation with a 1-point win. But not only did Hammond's score help deliver a bad beat to those who had Kentucky with the 10-point spread, it gave a moment of celebration to a team reeling from losing their emotional leader in Franks.
The run blocking. Eesh
The run blocking is greatly suspect due to both the inexperienced offensive line and lack of blocking production from the tight ends. Both have proven to improve as games progressed, but for a Top 10 team gearing up for a gauntlet stretch that includes three matchups against Top 8 teams within the next six weeks, there’s a lot left to be desired. The tight ends are a greater receiving threat in this Dan Mullen offense, but has it come at the expense of bringing in those with greater blocking skills? This means senior running back Lamical Perine has been hampered with what he’s able to do on the ground. Through three games in 2018, Perine was averaging 9.26 yards per carry. Through the first three games in 2019, he has averaged 3.53. The senior has incredible vision but hasn’t been given lanes to work within. As such the staff has sent him more towards the edge and decided to utilize him more in the passing game. The running back is currently tied with Van Jefferson for a team high 12 receptions.
Mullen says the plan for the run game moving forward will depend not only on the blocking ability, but also what the defense is giving: “What we've got to do is just take what they give us. As you get into the flow of the game, [Kentucky was] going to let us throw it. We threw it. And so sometimes that's just how it goes. You've got to adapt. I mean I love being balanced, right? We threw it 30 times, ran it 27. Somewhat balanced. Obviously you always like to tip the scales on the side of the run, that's me, I love to run the ball. But if you're going to sit there and let us throw it and say, 'We're not going to let you run it,' we'll throw it.”
The passing game. Whoa
On the flip side of that, as Mullen mentioned, teams are letting the Gators throw the rock. A lot of this had to do with the thinking that if they forced Feleipe Franks to stand in the pocket and make throws, that his accuracy—or perceived lack thereof—would bail out the defense. Instead, Franks and the receivers revealed a much more pinpoint passing game with the ability to make everything from short slants to deep balls. Through the first three games in 2018—against arguably a weaker slate of opponents with Charleston Southern, Kentucky and Colorado St.—the passing game averaged 197.3 yards per game. This season—against Miami, UT-Martin and Kentucky—the passing game has averaged 288.7 yards per game with the last two each bringing 300+ passing yards. And Kyle Trask is more of a pure passer than Franks, the latter of who thrived outside the pocket. There shouldn’t be much of, if any, drop off with Trask passing. So just sit back and enjoy the return of the fun-and-gun, featuring new receiver Lamical Perine.
Third and Grantham
Todd Grantham’s defense is a gridiron version of Jekyll and Hyde. A large part of that is because of the aggressive style that allows big plays early on before adjustments are made. The Gators defense gave up 5-7 to Kentucky on 3rd down in the first half. Big ones, like a 3rd and 21 that saw Sawyer Smith bring Ahmad Wagner over to the sideline and deliver one in under Marco Wilson. Then they gave up the first three 3rd downs out of halftime. But Grantham’s halftime adjustments have become something of lore and we saw it again in Lexington. After the first three out of the half, the Gators stopped the Cats on the next five. In total the defense held UK to 3-8 on 3rd down in the 2nd half. But those in the first half are not forgivable, as both Mullen and defensive veterans David Reese II and Jon Greenard said over the weekend.
Said Greenard: “I gotta do better. It seems our defense as a whole has gotta get better as far as me getting to the quarterback, the guys up front getting to the quarterback and making him feel uncomfortable. There are some things, a couple of issues in the back end. There are some minor issues that will cost us later on, on the road, if we play a bigger opponent. Overall we’ll just continue to practice and I feel like credit to UK as far as calling the right plays just to find our weak spots and plays where it helped to a first down and be successful.”
But as Mullen pointed out—and the stats confirm—when the Gators had to be tough on 3rd down, they were. "We weren’t very good on third down, we did a lot of things poorly, really bad on third down all night long on defense until we found a way to be good and then we were good until the end."
STAR Trey Dean III says even when big plays are being given up in the first half, it's all part of the game long plan of Todd Grantham. "He’s great. A lot of people think we’re gonna run the same calls but when we go into the locker room, we gonna change it up. Offensive coordinators can’t plan for him cause he got so much stuff in the bag so he’s just a great defensive coordinator all around so he’s gonna call different plays to see what the offense is gonna bring to him."
With corner CJ Henderson and money linebacker/STAR nickel backup Amari Burney both out, the Gators started with Trey Dean III opposite Marco Wilson at corner. It looked at first like Grantham was lining up outside linebacker Jeremiah Moon at the STAR nickel position—something they mentioned in fall camp as a possibility—but the University Athletic Association clarified that the Gators actually started two outside linebackers: Moon and Greenard. They ended up playing this front a lot, especially after end Jabari Zuniga went out after the first series with an injury. The defensive line became Adam Shuler and Kyree Campbell -or- TJ Slaton with Zachary Carter lining up at defensive end but with a hand in the ground. Moon and Greenard both lined up at outside linebacker with Greenard rushing and Moon dropping into coverage. Ventrell Miller played the majority of snaps at money linebacker. In the secondary, when Kaiir Elam would come in at corner, Trey Dean would move back to STAR and Moon would rest. Shawn Davis and Brad Stewart played the entire first quarter at safety.
On a night when the officials were quick to draw flags, Kentucky lost two players to ejection following targeting calls but so did the Gators. Safety Donovan Stiner was ejected during the second half for targeting, meaning he will also have to miss the first half of the game this coming Saturday against Tennessee. Cats receiver Ahmad Wagner was deep on the sideline and hauled in a 21-yard completion from Sawyer Smith. Gators corner Marco Wilson was on the coverage and got his hands in to try to break up the pass, meaning Wagner and the play stayed in bounds for a second longer than a normal sideline pass would. This meant Stiner saw a possible need to come over and make a play in case Wagner stepped out of Wilson’s hold. He went for Wagner’s upper body but with his head slightly lowered, the officials saw fit to call targeting, a call that was upheld. Mullen said all three calls fit the criteria for the penalty but credited Stiner for doing what he’s asked to do on a tackle to keep it safe for both him and the receiver, while not drawing a foul. Sometimes though, as Mullen explained, it can be a difference of just a couple of centimeters in the head position that will cause a crew to make the controversial call: “From my coaching point Stiner there, he didn’t go high, he didn’t hit him in the head. Watch me here,” he paused, mimicking his head bobbing slightly up and down. “That’s the difference. That’s what I told him, ‘hey, you did what [we] asked you, want to do and it was just this much. But that’s for him, that’s protection of him as much as the other player, of keeping that head up.”
The Gators stayed steady in both polls; No. 9 in the A.P. and No. 8 in the Coaches Poll. They will kick off at Noon ET on Saturday against the Tennessee Volunteers. The game is set to broadcast on ESPN.