The Back Nine: Signs of a special unit at UF

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Florida linebacker Jeremiah Moon (7) blocks the extra point kick by Charleston Southern at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday. Florida defensive back Austin Perry would recover the ball and score a 2-point conversion. The Gators won 53-6. [Cyndi Chambers/Gainesville Sun Correspondent]

The Back Nine comes at you after a ton of real football and even though it was less than drama-filled we now have plenty of stuff to over-analyze and, boy, does my AP poll look a lot different from the first week.

10. It was only one game, but we certainly saw a change in Florida’s special teams Saturday. And this is the kind of game Saturday against Kentucky where the special teams can make a difference. Florida coach Dan Mullen learned from a coach he spent a lot of time with in Urban Meyer (barf bag comes separately). But I’ve said all along that it’s not difficult to be good at special teams as long as you TRY to be good. “These guys weren’t recruited to play special teams,” Mullen said. “As long as the head coach is the one sending the message, the rest of the team is going to buy in. If I didn’t make it a big deal, they’re not going to think it’s a big deal.” Bingo. Forget the spread in this game (Florida is a 14-point favorite). I think we all know it could come down to a play here or a play there. That play could be a turnover or a blocked kick or a return that sets up a score.

11. His numbers weren’t anything special, but one of the best things Gator fans saw Saturday night was Malik Davis make a sweet cut on his repaired knee and later get his legs cut out from under him. Because he got up and ran right back to the huddle. The ACL injury that cut short his season last year isn’t that easy to come back from this quickly. It usually takes a full year. “I liked the hit better than the cut,” said Mullen. “I’ve been watching him run and make cuts. But I think for a confidence thing, when you take a big hit on the leg like he did later in the game — at whatever point it was — I think that would give him a lot of confidence that, ‘Hey, I’m kind of back.’ He’s been running and cutting for a while. I know in a game it’s different, but then when you take a big hit like that, I think that can build some confidence for him.” Davis finished the game with 38 rushing yards on six carries and also caught a pass for 8 yards.

12. Here’s what I don’t get. Never have and never will. It’s the coaching cliche that teams make their biggest jumps from the first week to the second week. “You see what you have and now you can work with it,” Feleipe Franks said Monday. Yeah, but if every team gets better from week one to week two, why do some teams stink on ice in week two? Did Northwestern get better last year when it lost by 27 to Duke in the second week? Did Missouri get better when it was handled 31-13 by South Carolina. I guess my point is that not everybody gets better in the second week. It’s a myth. Here’s some good news for Gator fans — Mullen’s last team won 57-21 in week two (against Louisiana Tech). If you believe in such things. Also, there is this — Mullen was 8-1 against Kentucky in his nine seasons at Mississippi State.

13. Obviously, it was a stellar weekend for the SEC and especially for the SEC West, which flexed its muscles and told the Big Ten East to hold its beer. Let’s stop talking about which division is the best in the country because it’s not a lucid argument to say it’s anything other than the SEC West. The big boy division went 7-0 and beat four Power Five teams by a combined 152-74. And while I didn’t get to watch all of the games, the common theme is a familiar one. The SEC West has the best defensive linemen in the country. Miami found that out. So did Louisville. Auburn got a little lucky, but was playing the best team any SEC squad opened with. Meanwhile, the East had the only blemish for the conference on opening day when Tennessee lost to West Virginia. Still, 13-1 is the best opening weekend record ever for the conference. If Texas A&M beats Clemson on Saturday, the SEC may just ask for all four playoff spots.

14. So I made some significant changes in my Associated Press ballot, which will be submitted today. For one thing, I moved Alabama to No. 1. No offense, Clemson. That was the best team in America on Saturday. I also completely dropped Michigan into the abyss because really, when you are 9-9 in your last 18 games would you be ranked if your name wasn’t Michigan? And I didn’t rank LSU in my first poll, because I was like a lot of people who felt like the Tigers may be headed off a cliff. I stand corrected. I dropped Miami all the way to No. 20 and that may be a little high. And I debated on whether to put Northwestern or Maryland at No. 25 before settling on the Wildcats. Here’s a stat that makes you wonder what the heck world we are living in — the third largest losing streak in American college football (four games) is shared by Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Tennessee and Arizona. Yikes.

15. The Summer of Saban is a mini-series that just won’t end. It’s not enough that Nick Saban is featured every time you turn on ESPN or that he is the official coach of the SEC Network or that his team destroyed Louisville in its opener. He had to go and make news by giving a grumpy old man answer to Maria Taylor about his quarterbacks after the win. That’s the thing about Saban — every time you start to like the guy he gives you a reason not to. I wonder if I have the guts at SEC Media Days next year when Saban tells the media how much he respects the job we do to stand up and say, “No, you don’t.” The hacks are supposed to ask questions about the number one story about the No. 1 team which is the quarterback play. Just because you don’t want to answer the question doesn’t mean we have to stop asking it. At least he apologized.

16. It’s that time of year again when I make my NFL picks based on my vast knowledge of the league after watching “Hard Knocks” and a few quarters of exhibition football. Don’t get me wrong, I am fired up to add NFL games to my viewing schedule. It’s just that I read so many teams wrong every year. Like I had the Bucs in the playoffs last year. Here goes nothing:

Divisions winners

AFC

San Diego, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, New England.

NFC

San Francisco, Green Bay, New Orleans, Philadelphia.

Wild cards

Kansas City, Houston, Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta.

Now, off with you. Have fun storming the castle.

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from Smacker Miles, who is the young daughter of Les Miles, who used to be a football coach — “Dad hasn’t stopped pacing and screaming about CFB since 11 am. Someone get this guy a football job.” It is amazing that no team has hired a guy with the track record of Miles. It’s not like there is baggage either. You’d think a Group of Five school would take a chance. Oh well. I have other things to think about. Like how do you get the name Smacker? Wait, your dad is Les Miles? Never mind.

18. Getting old is not for the faint of heart. I went from having a rib pop out in my back to a severe case of plantar fasciitis. Good times. So not a lot of time at the gym. But I still came up with a sweet playlist:

• “No More Darkness, No More Light” by Amos Lee.

• “All My Friends” by The Revivalists.

• “Autumn Love” by Death Cab for Cutie.

• “What’s Your Hurry” by Hush Kids.

• And for an oldie, “England Swings” by Lyle Lovett from the Roger Miller tribute album. I saw Roger Miller in concert once. As previously stated, I am old.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

48 COMMENTS

    • Not only did they both lose, but they both got destroyed. For anybody that wonders how much on the field coaching really matters, look no further than the. Improvement made on the fields in Gainesville and Tallahassee. Taggart is a recruiter, but his coaching is still suspect.

      • “And yet” guys, the first article I read this morning stated that the FSU-Miami game will certainly be a playoff elimination game. That’s our legacy media for you, full of praise for a .500 new coach at FSU, and will probably still have them ranked. Just like Texas, still ranked “just because” when everyone knew they were still going to stink this year.

        Good thing I didn’t read about our last game in the newspaper since it wasn’t even covered. Had it been, probably would have said, “Other 53 – Charleston Southern 6”.

        • Hey 6, I noticed the same thing about coverage of the Gator game in the media. I don’t expect any local coverage here in the Carolinas, but for now, it appears the Gator football program remains off the national radar. No mention of the game in any of the on-line media such as USA Today, Sports Illustrated, even ESPN. Based on our last couple of seasons and the opening opponent, I get that. But Texas recent record has been abysmal yet they remain ranked ( and covered) even after losing to Maryland, and for the second straight year no less! As for new coaches, Chip Kelley and his UCLA team lose to Cincinnati and still get covered. All that said, I like where Mullen and the Gators are right now, under the radar. If this team will keep it’s head down, stay off suspensions, and play to their potential, I believe we’ll be reading plenty about them by November. Go Gators.

          • 6, Dan The GATORS can use the Rodney Dangerfield “No Respect” line. We were the underdogs in 06 I mentioned this before the lead up to the NC was all about TOS. After a Kickoff return for a TD I was thinking maybe there was something to this. But as soon as we took the field that quickly went away to a 41-14 finish. Two years later all I heard was we would struggle with the up tempo OK to a 24-14 finish. We got no respect. That is ok. I think Mullen can use that to fuel the team. Let the other guys have the spotlight we can just keep winning. Of course we do need to be ranked number one should be the goal. SO GLAD we don’t have CK, or WT. There were a lot of Gators saying Mullen can’t do this or that. Well he’s done this (win our first game) when he does “that” (whatever “that” is) I’ll point it out. Again I don’t think he walks on water but I do believe he is going to bring our program back into the NT hunt on a consistent basis.

          • I think the lack of coverage is more about the fact that the Gators are unranked right now. Most of the coverage is centered around the top 25. Even on ESPN.com you have to change the settings to include more than just the top 25 to see scores of games with teams that are unranked. UCLA is being talked about because Kelly was classified as the biggest coaching hire and he lost to an abysmal Cinn team. I suspect when the new rankings come out, the Gators will be in them and national coverage will increase.

          • That’s certainly true out here in Texas too, Dan…..and in the national sports media as you mentioned. I’m really getting tired of it, but knock me over with a feather, I sure didn’t know Willie Taggart walked on water. Who knew? But considering the hire Florida made, the class Mullen put together and the high quality staff he put together — if FSU and Texas were ranked, why not the Gators? Oh, I know….they must have dropped football and we’re just all hallucinating!

  1. Saban is one of those persons who shows his character by his permanent smug facial expression: Un-happy and mad, ALL the time. The apology doesn’t erase who he is. NFL and Nike…whats that? Not in my house. Mullen is the best of the new coaches, but we will see what Jimbo has this weekend.

    • Jimbo will have his hands full, that’s what Jimbo will have this weekend, DeWayne. Got nothing against him at all and I like TAMU a whole lot since they’re virtually next door — but it’ll take a while for them to get their bubble back, if at all.

  2. Neither Miami nor FSU looked well coached on offense, the particular area where coaches Richt and Taggart supposedly stand out. Against the youngest defense in Bud Foster’s 30-plus year’s coordinating those units for Virginia Tech the Noles couldn’t protect from the edge or the middle. It was a delight to these old Gator eyes. It looks as though we’ve brought in our next great coach. FSU is going to live with uncertainty about Willie Taggart. At Miami Mark Richt has to show he can rise above just being a “good” coach but after so many years at UGA without doing so it’s unlikely Richt has much he can improve. What a happy weekend to be a Gator.

    • FSU throwing up all over themselves at the goal line should look very familiar to Gator fans. We saw way too much of that with Muschump and MacElfail teams. Maybe Willie Taggart gets it right. Maybe that was 1st game jitters (we’re still talking about 18, 19, 20 year olds). But maybe that slop is a sign of things to come. It would be great if the Gators were the team that had their act together and their in-state rivals were fighting themselves as much as the other team.

      • I’m not so sure Taggart will get it corrected. He’s got a pretty veteran team, especially on offense, which was supposed to be the strength of the team. Preseason talk said they were loaded and had one of the most talented backfields in the nation and Taggart was going to light it up with his high flying offense. FSU fans will argue till they’re blue in the face that they would’ve been a much better team last season if they didn’t lose Francois. Well Francois’ back and that offense looked like they took about 50 steps backwards. I know VT has a decent defense, but FSU made them look like the 85 Bears. FSU looked eerily similar to the Gators of the last 8 years, with a defense that’s capable of keeping them in games and probably winning a few, but an offense that’s going to keep them on the field too long and drag them down. I’ve said it all along that there’s more issues with this team than meets the eye and Jimbo left for more reasons than just money, and I think we’re going to see it play out this season. I’m predicting right now a downward spiral for that program similar to the one the Gators faced when Meyer just upped and left a successful program like Jimbo did.

        • Joe, One of my comments when Jameis Winston was playing for the Noles was how his athleticism and football IQ helped cover obvious, fatal flaws in their offensive line play. Of course, you can’t find his off-field IQ with a telescope. Shame-Us is long gone. Francois got killed last year. Blackmon got killed last year. My biggest gripe about the Gators’ years of ineffective offense was O-line play. I STILL don’t know if Jeff Driskel can play or not because he was running for his life every time he dropped back to throw. I DO know if the offensive line is a sieve, everybody else looks bad. Good luck with that, Nolies. You smell like 6-6.

  3. Nobody cares where you ranked Michigan, Maryland or Northwestern – where did you put Florida?
    As far as Maria Taylor, the “journalist” must never make themselves part of the story. When will the networks end this nonsense of halftime and post game interviews. I can give you the next 12 weeks of interviews in 2 sentences. “That was a fine team we just played”. “We played hard, never gave up but we still have to correct our mistakes”.

  4. I’m not ready to get too band-wagon-y because the Gators won easily (against a light opponent) while Canes and Noles got curb stomped (against legit opponents). The season is long. The Gators showed enough to be interesting/relevant. If they handle Kentucky, that’s a good sign. If they beat LSU, that’s a REALLY good sign. I really liked that the mistakes were few and the team looked “ready” in the very 1st game. We haven’t seen that in a while.

    FSU will be a better team when the Gators get them. But watching them shoot themselves in the foot (ala Gators circa last 2 coaching regimes) was amusing. Careful what you wish for Nolies. Maybe you should have made peace with Jimbo.

    Miami fans should be shook. They are nursing a 4 game losing streak. And if you revisit last season you notice they had a couple of miraculous finishes to get that gaudy 10-0 record. Maybe they rode out their luck. Maybe they’re not as “clutch” as their front-running-phony fans think. One thing’s for sure – “The U” ain’t back. But the SEC is. And if Jimbo can pull it off against Clemson, it’s all SEC all the time, baby.

  5. My Nike stuff is going to Goodwill today. It’ll make someone else happy – that’s good. Hope others join me. Don’t like to give it away but must. I can afford new shoes from other companies. I’m not supporting a company that happily endorses a vile racist who absolutely hates the United States.

    Nike is screaming at us, “IN YOUR FACE, AMERICA!”

    • bf. Your Noles were absolutely destroyed and embarrassed by a “less talented” and much younger team that was way better coached and far more disciplined on the field (not surprisingly). And far more physical. But relax about your “free shoes” that you now want to give away. FSU plays in the ACC and does not play Clemson for a while. So a win or two is on the way.

    • Nike? Really? It’s interesting (hypocritical) that a company that famously produces their shoes in sweat shops on the other side of the world is (on purpose) posturing as a champion for “social justice”. Just go back to Oregon and smoke some more weed, Phil.

      • Mark. Nike likely moved back to sweatshop production to improve profits (due to increased competition using sweat shops) and to ensure shareholder happiness. The big business way in America. After all, Rich Money Matters. Lives, not so much. Now, off to Walmart to buy a pair of Nike’s for $125 (and cost $5 to make in a sweatshop somewhere in Asia).

      • bf. Why does it not surprise me that you would post something like the above. Your so called football team just got totally humiliated and here you are trolling political crap to deflect from the reality of the situation you are in. It is what good trolls do, I guess.

    • Jackah. GSU has played Miss. State, FSU, and now Florida in recent years. And I believe they also played Alabama not so many years ago. But I wish the NCAA would make it mandatory for Power 5 teams to open their seasons with another same division level NCAA team (not necessarily a Power 5 team). A game with Troy or a La. Tech is far better to watch than a game against a Charleston Southern, a Savannah State, or a Presbyterian. A game vs. a Troy would also reveal more about the quality and development of a team game one. Florida may have needed a confidence building game with GSU, but I have no clue if they will be able to execute at the same level vs. Kentucky. I would be feeling much better about that if Florida had played Temple and executed the offense at a high level. But we certainly now know that FSU’s offense cannot do that yet against another Power 5 team.

      • I have to agree on that, TampaGator, there are plenty of FBS teams out there to work the kinks out on while at the same time giving us a good game.

        I thought I’d never say this tho, but bf actually has a point and the only thing that stops me from never buying their products again is that I never bought them in the first place for much the same reason that Mark Hoffman pointed out.

        • Gator 6. I have never understood why people pay $125 and more for a Nike shoe when you can buy the same sweatshop produced non brand (without all the fancy logos and colors) shoe for $25. But both purchases producing a substantial profit for each company (marketing company, actually) that distributes them to easily manipulated American, European, and Asian consumers. And, of course, Nike uses our favorite sports teams to manipulate us even more into paying $100 and more for a fancier looking shoe. Marketing in its basic form, but executed at the highest level. That is NIKE.

  6. The Gators will destroy KY!!! Sorry, Pat, but this game won’t even be close!!! You guys write articles like the offense will really be polished and this team is special, and then you suggest it will come down to one play to determine the game. KY is not a rivalry game; that is, they are not the Vols, the Dawgs, etc. I would not disagree with you if Mac was still the coach. Here’s my duly noted prediction: KY will be lucky to score one touchdown! I think the first half the Gators put up modest points, but they will end up hanging half-a-hundred on a KY defense that plays MAJOR MINUTES! The KY defense will be gassed because their inept QB has so many three and outs. Snell will be a non-factor, because the Gators will force the new QB to move the football with his arm. Mr. Dooley, care to change your prediction?

    • DrG8r. I doubt you will Pierce in this game except on special teams or if the Gators are up big in the 4th quarter, which they might be. Scarlett, Perine, and Davis will get all the carries in prime time. Pierce’s time is primarily next year and the years that follow. And I hope Lemons is back and is returning kick offs in this game. Would love to see him break one all the way. He is more than capable of that if he ever gets his head on straight.

    • DrG8r. I just hope the Florida players are not as overconfident. I think Kentucky will come into this game very focused and the Florida players better be as well. If they are, I think they will roll by mid 4th quarter. If not, an upset could happen. But not likely in The Swamp under Mullen. More likely under McElwain and Muschamp. And even the Zooker. Go, Mullen’s Gators.

  7. Alabama did nothing in the opener that made me think they will be any better than last year.. Worse if you ask me.. The gators used to do what alabama did last weekend to teams in the top ten.. Just saying.. Remember Georgia, Lsu and others that year? We hung like 50 on all of them.. Tua isn’t that great, not sure why people keep raving about him.. Frank’s looked way better even though it was a high school team we were playing.. If he does it again this weekend, I’ll be saying Franks for Heisman! Never though I would ever put both his name and that word In the same sentence.. Heres to hoping.. Go gators

  8. The thing I find most interesting is that a UF quarterback has not thrown for five touchdowns since Chris Leak in 2004. Franks done that in one half of football!!! (Imagine if he played the entire game?) We’ve played numerous Charleston Southerns over the years and didn’t throw for five touchdowns in a game in that time, even through two National Championships!!! That IMO let’s me know that our GATORS are in good hands with Coach Mullen and all his assistants. The coaches know what they’re doing, the GATORS know what they want and the GATORS are coming after it!!!
    RELENTLESS EFFORT!!!
    GO GATORS