COLUMBIA, S.C.—The No. 7 Florida Gators had to near float out of Columbia, South Carolina thanks to tropical storm Nestor but they did so with a 38-27 win and sitting firmly in the drivers seat of the SEC East (thanks to a Vanderbilt win over Missouri) with a Top 10 Cocktail Party looming.
After seven straight games, Florida will get a bye week to heal and catch their breath before that matchup against Georgia. That also means we have more time to recap the win over South Carolina and what we learned. So as you prepare to head back to work on Monday morning, here are your watercooler topics.
Stop the CJ Henderson slander
The junior corner left Columbia with nine tackles, second best from both teams. He also had a sack and a pass break up. He also dropped an interception in the endzone that would’ve taken the ball away from the Gamecocks. Instead South Carolina was able to connect for a touchdown on the next play. It’s the latter that will get discussed and dissected all week as fan commentary wonders aloud if Henderson has dropped off.
Here’s the thing though; Henderson is still one of best cover corner’s in the country. Quarterbacks can’t throw on him. He had one catch on him versus South Carolina off a flea flicker that was just perfectly executed and an athletic catch. Other than that, he stayed all over his receivers, knocking away balls and stepping up in the run game with the linebacker corps struggling. He’s still the most willing physical guy on the defense, as evidenced by his nine tackles, and willing to chase someone down across the field to make a stop. Marco Wilson did that as well on Saturday, with a touchdown saving tackle on a long run.
But right now, this is about Henderson. He spoiled us in the beginning of his career, showcasing near perfect skills, that it became what was expected each and every time, while also expecting growth. Now anytime he misses one tackle (and let’s be clear, the tackle missed on the LSU touchdown last week was because he was taken out of the play off the rub route. There’s nothing he could have done differently. That’s what makes LSU offense so good) or he drops an interception, people want to take away his All-American status.
Stop it. Stop the slander.
Kyle Trask is noticeably growing week to week
The redshirt junior quarterback has continued to impress each week. Perhaps the most impressive part has been the areas of the game he’s noticeably worked on between each games. Against Tennessee and Auburn he held on to the ball for too long. That was fixed by LSU. Against Auburn, struggled with pocket awareness. That was also fixed by LSU and seemed even better against South Carolina. Mullen praised Trask’s maturation even during the South Carolina game, taking a breath and slowing things down and not trying to force throws. Says Trask: “I would say just with reps and experience, you just gel more, you know get better timing with the guys.” This was Trask’s lowest passing performance against a FBS opponent since taking over the starting job (200 yards) but it also included four touchdowns, making him the first Gator since Tim Tebow to throw four touchdown passes in a road game (Tebow threw four at No. 8 Kentucky on Oct. 20, 2007. The only other Gators to accomplish the feat since 1996 are: Danny Wuerffel (three times); Rex Grossman (twice), Doug Johnson (twice), and Chris Leak (once).
The officiating was horrible, both ways
South Carolina fans have a lot to complain about as far as the officiating was concerned. So much so that head coach Will Muschamp received an unsportsmanlike penalty for yelling at the refs and it was understandable. He felt there had been several missed calls all ignored and piled up. To be fair, two of them were good calls/no calls. A Kyle Trask interception was overturned when a flag was thrown for defensive pass interference. The replay showed a defender clearly had a hand in Van Jefferson’s face mask. And a Kyle Pitts touchdown was made possible thanks to a Josh Hammond pick but replay showed the pass was timed correctly, negating any penalty. But there were also Gator offensive lineman holds that were missed, false starts that were ignored that led to scores. On the flip side, Dan Mullen has reason to be irate considering Zach Carter was held up more often than not. There was a blatant defensive pass interference on Kyle Pitts with a ref staring right at it that was not called. At some point you just have to let them play. But coaches from this game and others around the league on Saturday have a laundry list of complaints for Steve Shaw and the film to back them up.
Florida is firmly in control of the SEC East
Ugh Georgia, what is you doin’? And Missouri?!?! What happened?!?! Both teams had less than stellar showings on Saturday that should do nothing but excite Florida fans. Georgia went into halftime with Kentucky, tied at 0…and the Wildcats had not even completed a pass! By the end of the game, Kentucky only had 17 yards passing in relation to 160 yards rushing and it was still a goose egg game well into the 3rd quarter. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm threw for 35 yards, all game. All game! Georgia did run for 235 yards which could be a problem as we’ll discuss more below. But the Bulldogs inability to get much going in the rain as opposed to the Gators 354 offensive yards in the same tropical storm—and Georgia’s collapse to South Carolina last week—makes one think even more so Florida can take this Georgia team.
In Nashville, Missouri—who had been leading the SEC East thanks to the mathematical algorithm and having not lost to a league opponent through their two SEC games—fell to a 1-5 Vanderbilt team. It dropped them in the standings and set up the Cocktail Party to decide the East just like we all knew it would.
Offensive line and run game is improving
Don’t look now but the Gators offensive line, and subsequently the run game, is improving. Last week Florida put up 143 rushing yards against LSU which was their best number against a FBS opponent, until they garnered 154 versus South Carolina. Neither are eye popping numbers but are vast improvements from the beginning of the season when they often couldn’t crack 100. Some of this has to do with noticeably better blocking in the run game. The return of Dameon Pierce on Saturday was also crucial. After suffering what appeared to be a concussion versus Auburn, he sat out against LSU. Senior Lamical Perine handled the bulk of the load by himself, breaking off the impressive 88-yard touchdown against Auburn and fighting for chunks of yardage against LSU. But having Pierce and his bulldozer style back gives Dan Mullen a different look in the run game and gives Perine a breather. Just in time too with the biggest game of the season on the horizon.
Gators need Greenard and Zuniga
You don’t want your defense to rely solely on two people but man do the Gators need Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga back. Zach Carter and Jeremiah Moon have done well in their place and given confidence that they can handle those starting roles next season. Especially if Mohamoud Diabate drops to money linebacker and Amari Burney takes over STAR (did you SEE that game changing pass breakup in coverage from him yesterday). But none of that matters this season. This season, the Gators came to rely on Greenard and Zuniga and they’re hurting without them. The depth behind Carter and Moon is made up primarily of freshman. The freshmen aren’t doing bad and Khris Bogle has impressed. But they’re just doing like what you’d expect from freshmen which isn’t what you need going into a crucial stretch. The defense is unable to get little consistent pass rush without the duo and Dan Mullen explained on Saturday that’s its effecting the run defense as well. The Gators gave up a 217 rushing yards to South Carolina.
“I thought [South Carolina] did a really good job creating schemes of attacking, you know, when our two best players are out, of attacking those parts of the field, you know what I mean, which is, that’s what you do. You look for your advantage and mismatches, they’re looking and saying ‘hey OK, if Zuniga and Greenard aren’t playing, let’s attack those positions’ and they did a good job doing that,” said Mullen of the Gamecocks rushing attack.
Georgia is averaging 237 rushing yards per game and rushed for 235 against Kentucky (the only bright spot of their game). Mullen said he feels confident both Greenard and Zuniga will be back at practice as a full-go the week of the Georgia game, if not by that Monday, then by Tuesday at the latest.
The Gators get a much deserved bye week to heal up and mentally rest before taking on No. 10 Georgia on November 3.