Andreu’s Answers: Gators improve play on line of scrimmage

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Florida running back Malik Davis (20) follows his offensive linemen, including guard Tyler Jordan (64), in the first half Saturday against Colorado State at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gators beat the Rams 48-10. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

Before every Florida game, veteran college football beat writer Robbie Andreu comes up with five pertinent questions and then answers them after the game. Here’s Week 3:

1. How will Florida’s depleted secondary hold up against a very potent Colorado State passing game?

The secondary became even further depleted in the second half when nickel Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and cornerback CJ Henderson went to the sideline with minor injuries. (They returned later). When they were out, the Rams burned the Gators for a 48-yard touchdown pass to wide open tight end Trey McBride down the middle. Overall, the secondary gave up some plays, but managed to hold up, limiting the Rams to 217 yards passing.

2. Will the Gators lose both lines of scrimmage again?

The defensive line, with two new starters at tackle (Adam Shuler and Kyree Campbell), clearly won its battle against the CSU front. The Gators held the Rams to just 70 yards rushing and brought steady heat throughout the game, sacking quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels five times. The offensive line didn’t necessarily win the line of scrimmage, but performed better than in the loss to Kentucky. So, we’ll call it a tie.

3. Can Feleipe Franks take advantage of a Colorado State defense that has been burned in the passing game?

After getting off to an awful start (0 for 6 with a pick in the first quarter), Franks settled down and played OK the rest of the way. Over the final three quarters, he completed 8-of-9 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns. He was a little slow on some of his decisions, but overall, it was another small step forward in his development under Dan Mullen.

4. Will defensive end/outside linebacker Cece Jefferson have an impact in his return from a two-game suspension?

On a very hot day, the senior helped the depth situation at rush end, but did not have much of an impact on the game coming off the bench. He did not even make it onto the defensive stat sheet, which means he had zero tackles, zero quarterback hurries and zero everything else.

5. How flat will The Swamp be coming off the loss to Kentucky?

The potential was there for the atmosphere to be real flat, but it actually wasn’t. It was not a big crowd by Swamp standards, with an announced crowd of only 80,021. But it was an engaged crowd that provided a pretty typical Swamp atmosphere. The first topic Mullen mentioned after the game was the great fan support, and how the loud environment helped energize the Gators.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or robbie.andreu@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.


Up next

Who: Florida (2-1, 0-1 SEC) vs. Tennessee (2-1, 0-0)

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.

TV: ESPN

Radio: AM-850, 103.7-FM

51 COMMENTS

  1. There are mostly incremental improvements. The offensive line benefitted when Brett Heggie replaced Fred Johnson at right guard. The interior defensive line gained traction with the switch to Shuler and Campbell and every aspect of our defense will be better once David Reese II can go. Because the Gators took away the running game all Colorado State could do was throw the ball. Running lots more plays than our offense, in large measure because our special teams and offense created so many big plays that led to scores, the Rams’ passing yardage isn’t so impressive.

    The touchdown pass notwithstanding, the Gator secondary otherwise seldom had a Ram receiver break free behind coverage. Preston Williams was a physical mismatch yet was not able to create a big play. This young secondary has only two juniors, everyone ride a sophomore or freshman, and Trey Dean showed off enormous potential in the game. Dean will make some errors but his development likely accelerates the more he plays.

    Colorado State is not SEC caliber — neither is Arkansas at present. While our team might improve enough again to knock off Tennessee this weekend, the next two look even tougher now that we’ve seen the LSU defense emerge. Those incremental improvements better keep coming for the Gators and a breakthrough or two along the lines of our special teams’ success, as well.

  2. Greatly enjoyed seeing good special teams play. That’s coaching & has been several years since we looked good on punt blocks & kick returns. Being able to run the ball some is going to be a must the rest of the year, Perine & Pearce are the bangers. Pearce looks like a fassst bowling ball but was playing against a very tired D. Greatly needed Gator win. Hope to see continual improvement weekly. Going to UT Neyland is always a tough place to get a W. Go Gators!

  3. CeCe needs to ask himself why he came back for his SR year if he is going to be AWOL, suspended or nonproductive. He represented UF at media days. All that can’t look good to the No Fun League. This is the stuff Mullen must purge.

    • Steve W. I disagree with the shot taken at CeCe in this article. In reviewing the game, I saw CeCe effectively set the edge very well and turned the RB back inside for a short gain. I also saw him put pressure several times on the QB and forcing the QB to release the ball earlier than he wanted to release it. Good play is not just reflected in stats and can also be how a player influences the game and helps others get stats. I saw CeCe do that. And it was his first game back. It was good to have him back out there. CeCe has mostly been a really good teammate, and I am glad he came back. I just wish he had not ignored his academics, resulting in his suspension. Having him could have made a difference vs. Kentucky.

  4. There was one CSU possession in which Zuniga had 2 sacks and 1 hurry. I think it was in the second quarter. Then I only saw him again in on one other play the rest of the game but TV angles were not good. I was wondering what happened to him the rest of the game. Where can I find how many plays he played in per quarter?

    • Sly. Zuinga is in a strongside DE rotation with several other DEs including Carter. Jefferson also moved over at time during the game from the hybrid LB position to play the same strongside position. So, I think four guys were playing the strongside DE position in the game vs. CSU. I doubt you will see that rotation number in SEC games with Zuinga on the field more. But Zuinga has a tendency to take plays off and also has trouble holding the edge against the run. Most of the strongside ends have had that issue so far and likely why Jefferson played some strongside end during the game vs. CSU.

      • Just seems odd that when CSU couldn’t block Zuniga, we didn’t see much of him after he had shown success. I think it would be interesting to see how much each SDE played broken down by quarter and the coaches’ rationale for playing time. Maybe they just wanted to give Jefferson more PT after the suspension.

  5. There was some noticeable improvement on the OLine and DLine with the substitutions made. Keep the progress coming. What’s up with CeCe?
    CSU is a good, not great team, but good enough to beat some SEC teams on any given night (eg.Arkansas.)
    The point is that we needed to improve to beat CSU and we did. The Special Teams are a real bright spot. Anyone else jump out of their chair when Swain ran into the end zone on the return? Dameon Pearce should see more action in the first half. He is a force. Maybe he can spell a nicked- up Davis this weekend in the 1st half?
    I suggest that Van Jefferson take the rest of the receivers aside and teach them everything he knows. There is just no comparison in the way he runs his routes and gets separation. Let’s also get the TE’s in the game more. I may have seen enough of Cyonte, but would like to see more of the other guys especially Stephens. Gut check time: Gators 24 Vols 21.

    • The pessimistic fans who always find something to complain about will say it’s only CSU, but that QB came into the game as the #2 QB in the nation with 1,102 passing yards in the first 3 games. He threw for 537 yds and 5 TDs in a loss to Hawaii in game 1. When you have those stats and lose, it’s obvious what their weakness is. They’re a very potent offense and if they had a defense, they’d probably beat a lot of SEC teams. The fact that the Gators were down 8 DB’s going in and then had some more injuries during the game and still held him to 217 yds, that’s very impressive.

    • Lakeland. CeCe played better in the game than the article gave him credit for (stats do not tell the entire story). I expect Pierce will get into the rotation earlier if Davis cannot go vs. the Vols. But he is a rising talent for sure. He is very explosive, something lacking at RB so far. The other RBs always seem a half a step from breaking loose for big gains and Pierce just explodes through the line of scrimmage if given any light at all. Concerning receiver separation, I so see Hammond, Swain, Grimes, and Toney getting separation along with Jefferson. But what I also see is Franks not always delivering the ball in a timely manner to take advantage of them getting it initially and they then get covered up as a result. The one WR who is hardly ever getting separation is Cleveland, and I have no idea why he is starting over Grimes or Swain. He rarely impacts a game. Not sure why, as he has the talent to do so. But, then again, maybe a Will Grier type gets him the ball more. Oh well, can’t go back there.

  6. Does anyone else question why Scarlett is still starting, and getting the most carries? He is not hitting the holes anywhere as hard as he did two years ago, and nowhere close to how Pierce or even Perrine and Davis hit the hole. And that happy feet hesitation dance that his does drives me nuts, like he’s afraid to pick up his knees, drop his pads and just hit it. Man, would love to see Trask and Pierce for one quarter. Just one. Oh well, I can dream.

  7. The things I took from this game include:
    1. Damien Pierce may be our best overall back;
    2. Franks has big play potential but boy is he a work in progress. Unfortunately, our schedule does not allow him any breaks and he needs to get smarter faster;
    3. Our receivers can get open;
    4. Swain is a quick learner;
    5. Amari Burney looks like a specimen but was a deer in headlights when he got on the field. He was looking around on the sidelines wondering what to do and his guy ran right past him wide open in the end zone for what would have been an easy TD if their QB would have looked for him instead of throwing the ball to a player that four of our guys, including Burney, were covering;
    6. We will be tested on offense this weekend against Tenn. I don’t think they will score much but their defense will be the best we’ve seen yet; and
    6. Our special teams are special.

    • I can’t help but wonder too, vulcan, but I do think the mechanics have improved somewhat across the board, and the physicality +/- in general terms. I’m sure someone will give you a lecture for even daring to opine that, but we’ll find out this Saturday for sure. Not being a coach or former NFL player, it’s difficult for me to sort out other than by impression, but I do think for sure that our progress is going to be incremental for a while.

      • sometimes you go backwards, sideways or even nowhere and then leap. as fans, and even the coaches all of the time, you don’t totally know where the muscle memory/ brainstem cells are in their progression towards mastery. I suppose this is what Nick Saban / Alabama folks mean by “the process”, some of our gator fans seem to think you can get their without a process, or you just recruit perfection and your there. then I see people wonder why a 5 star recruit isn’t dominating. I suppose the real miracle is someone mastering their craft at all, considering everything involved….
        or I guess I am giving excuses for my shortcomings. so let me end this tortured comment by saying you have to admire the good performances you see out there, these guys worked for it. even the ones that made it look easy

        • I am fascinated by the intricacies involved by something as “simple” as a block, mveal. In fact, it strikes me as a miracle that the human body can do so many complex things to culminate at exactly the right time and place. For instance, I’d give anything to know what is going through Dameon Pierce’s mind as he coordinates such diverse sensations while he blasts through a hole in the line…

          It’s part of why we love the game!

    • CSU has the #2 passing offense in the nation and is sitting at #46 in total offense, which just so happens to be 13 spots above Kentucky, who’s sitting at #59. They’re a very respectable offense that gets dragged down by the defense. Not saying they’re a great team, but if they had a defense to go with that offense, they’d beat a lot of power 5 teams. They’re a far better opponent than Charleston Southern was.

  8. Ok, I’m going to dare to do it. I really like Coach Mullen (no I don’t want him fired!), was happy with the decision to hire him, love the way he represents, and carries himself and his rah rah Gator attitude…..but….if I see one more QB draw, I think I’m gonna throw up! We have all these great running backs and time and time and time again I see Felipe on a designed run. Why? Speaking of running backs….are we blind? Pierce has run the ball BY FAR better than the rest, and Scarlett (while not getting much room) has looked AWFUL! Why do we have to debate the most obvious? Felipe….ughhhh…..what is it with the insistence to watch him struggle? There are some things which can’t be taught….reads and decision making….are terrible….and I think if you go back and look at both games (esp the first) you will see pass after pass behind receivers, who made good adjustments to catch, but no YAC). Why not at least give Trask a try? We ain’t winning anything with Felipe….and we’ve given him plenty of tries. If Trask fails, we can go back to Felipe, his ego can take it. But to be clear…no OL, no way to win in the SEC.

    • Do you really believe a coach with the proven QB track record of Mullen would actually keep the better QB on the bench? I think it’s pretty obvious, despite what all the fans say and think about Trask’s abilities, that Franks is the better QB as scary as that sounds. I’m pretty sure Mullen knows full well that his job is to get the offense to produce or he won’t last long, and to think he’d be stupid enough to hold back a better QB is a bit crazy. If Mullen doesn’t truly believe Trask gives them a better shot, then there’s no reason to start the QB flip flopping cause it for sure kills a QB’s confidence, especially a QB like Franks who gets frazzled easily. You stick it out with the guy you think gives you the best shot until the right QB for the system steps in, which will more than likely be next season. I’m pretty sure all the fans screaming for Trask are the same fans that were screaming for Mac to burn Franks’ redshirt in ’16 claiming he was the second coming, savior QB we’ve all been waiting for. The backup QB is always the next Payton Manning in most fans eyes. I do agree with you about the QB draws though, not sure what that’s all about.

      • Do you really think there are never cases where a 2nd string QB gets a shot due to injury of the starter or whatever, and ends up playing better than the starter and takes over? Are you that clueless? There’s more examples than I could fit in one post. That doesn’t mean the coach was purposely trying to hurt the team’s chances to win. He just might have it wrong. Imagine that.

      • Joe you nailed it. Enough already with this same, old, tired argument that Trask should be starting. It’s not just Mullen … it’s literally every coach that has ever evaluated this kid. Every coach has reached the same conclusion … he’s not a starter. Every. Single. Coach. Including his freaking high school coach!

        Franks has a LOT of obvious shortcomings. But he’s starting because there isn’t another QB on this roster that gives us a better chance to win. If you love Coach Mullen, then have some faith.

      • I’d say that Coach Mullen is putting out the best QB he can (Franks) based on everything he has seen. If Trask were truly better, he’d be playing. Mullen didn’t recruit Franks and has no otherwise obvious allegiance to him, so I’d say Coach thinks he gives the Gators the best chance.

        It may be baby steps, but Franks has improved. This is a long term rebuild, so I’d expect to see steady, but slow improvement overall.

    • Honestly though… if Trask isn’t good enough to play over Franks, why not put Emory Jones and see what the future holds? At least get him some valuable reps for the future. Franks is a work in progress and late on more reads and throws than he is on time with, so why not at least give Jones a shot. He played a little in the opener so he still has 3 more games and can still keep his redshirt.

  9. Guys…. Let’s relax… We are 2-1. We have improved enough to make all games before the off week winnable. The VOLS are a disaster, so make that 3-1. If we can go 2-1 into the break, that is 5-2. I think ALL of us would have taken that pre-season (or at least predicted it). RIGHT ???

  10. At least with CDM we get real answers about what he is seeing on the field. I’m trusting CDM as to which quarterback should start. I’m also seeing improvement in Franks’ ability to make progressions. Last year he would bolt almost ever time if the first read wasn’t open. This year I have seen him often get to the third read. Yes, he is still sometimes slow progressing through his reads like with the interception last game, but it is improvement nonetheless. It is only his 3rd game with a new system. His TD passes to Swain and Jefferson were nicely thrown and accurate. Lastly, 9 TDs to 2 INTs, that is a ratio I will take any day. I started the year wanting to see what Trask could do. I’m now happy to see how Franks keeps developing. Tennessee’s defense will be a better test.

    • Exactly right. It’s insane how many fans are expecting him to completely transform from arguably one of the worst QBs in college football, who looked like he had no business playing QB period, to an all SEC QB in less than 9 months, all the while forgetting about the fact that he’s trying to learn a completely new offense at the same time. Last year through 3 games he was 30-49 for 372 yds with 3 tds. Through 3 games this season he’s 41-77 for 570 yds and 9 tds. He didn’t throw for 9 TDs till his final game last season. He didn’t even have 570 yards till his 5th game. Of course he’s going to have some games where he resorts back to past mistakes or just makes you shake your head and wonder what the hell he’s thinking, but that’s fully to be expected this early in the transition. It’s almost impossible to completely transform into the QB Gator fans expect this quickly. If you actually look past some of the stupid mistakes he makes, he’s a far better QB than he was last season and should get better as the season goes on. Time will tell on that one.

  11. I strongly suggest that DM put a diversified package together for Toney as a QB. We need more production from that position. Franks was very slow to release the ball on plays where the receiver was open, but due to his delay the coverage reemerged on the receiver. He lacks certain basic skills. Toney has NFL moves and can actually throw the ball. He could definitely run some RPO. Praise to all of the players who competed in the heat! Jordan Scarlett is not our best TB.

  12. Pierce is a beast. I can’t wait to see him get more action, but I understand why he’s not. Several coaches have already explained it. He’s hits the hole with speed and power, but that’s about his only trick right now. It’s a great trick, but he needs to learn a few more first. He’s got to grow and learn the offense and increase his skills. He doesn’t know the blocking assignments well enough or even how to block in this offense, he can’t read the blitzes, and he doesn’t know the playbook well enough to exectue as much as the others. (This, btw, is also why Scarlett is starting. He’s doing a really good job in RPO, blitz pickups, and pass protection even if he may not be the best runner on the team) If Pierce were to start right now, he’d have a few good runs but defenses would soon key on him, we’d have much less pass protection, the offense would be simpler, and would be 3-and-out even more than we already are. IOW, we’d be on here screaming how much worse Franks is and that Pierce should be benched.

    I’m not knocking the kid. I can’t wait to see him bust some skulls and break some long runs. He runs like a boulder shot from a cannon. Good times are ahead. Just not yet.

  13. Tampa Gator, I appreciate your insights. I think Cece needs to get some rust off, hopefully he is ready in Knoxville. I agree, that with Malik Davis out, we need to rev up Pierce and keep him there learning until Davis gets back. Pierce runs like a Bama RB and he is our future. Your’e right also about Franks being a tad late on his throws. The recovery speed in the SEC is fast. Franks relies too much on his arm strength and while that worked for him in H.S. it’s not enough in the SEC. He needs to build confidence to the point where he releases the ball before the WR breaks. Of course, you need confidence in your WR’s to run the right routes. Maybe he can work on his release first with Jefferson in games. I suspect that Cleveland’s problem is between the ears and he still hasn’t mentally gotten over his injury last year. He doesn’t look like the Cleveland of old.