Andreu’s Analysis: Gators making grade under Mullen

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Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks takes a snap against Vanderbilt in the first half Saturday in Nashville, Tenn. Franks threw for at least two touchdowns for the eighth time in his career (five of those games have come this season). [Mark Humphrey/Associated Press]

Florida’s bye week has given the No. 11 Gators a chance to rest, relax and recover. And because we’ve brought up the three Rs, it’s also time to hand out the mid-term grades for this 6-1 team heading into the showdown with Georgia on Saturday.

So, here they are, the Gators’ grades:

Quarterback

Feleipe Franks is still in the early stages of his development, but it’s already obvious that he’s a different quarterback than a year ago. He’s managing the offense, handling what the coaches give him and leading this team. The numbers don’t lie. He’s already thrown for 1,406 yards, almost his total for all of last season (1,438), and 15 touchdowns, six more than all of last season. He’s made progress from week to week, and his arrow is trending up. Grade: B-

Running back

The Gators don’t have a dominant back, but they have three good ones who are combining to put up dominant back numbers. Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce are combining to average 150.2 yards rushing a game. They’ve also scored eight touchdowns. Their production has gone up as the season has gone along. Grade: B+

Receivers

As expected, Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson has been the go-to guy in the passing game, leading UF in receptions with 19 for 265 yards and two touchdowns. But this is a balanced group that is giving Franks plenty of options, and he’s been able to spread the ball around. Moral Stephens has emerged at tight end with his three touchdown receptions. Grade: B+

Offensive line

Pass protection remains spotty, but the big guys have started to get some serious push in the running game, and it’s come against some strong defensive fronts (Mississippi State and LSU). Martez Ivey is starting to play up to his potential and the line as a whole seems to be developing chemistry. Like other aspects of the offense, the line seems to be getting progressively better. Grade: C+

Defensive line

With Jachai Polite and Jabari Zuniga coming hard and fast off the edge, the Gators have dramatically improved their pass rush this season, already recording 21 sacks (some, of course, belong to blitzing defensive backs and linebackers). Polite has emerged as one of the SEC’s elite defenders, leading the team in sacks with 7.0. He and Zuniga each have 8.5 tackles for losses. Although usually solid up the middle, the Gators have been vulnerable at times and have given up some explosive running plays. Grade: B+

Linebacker

The Gators probably would love to play Kentucky again with David Reese in the lineup. That’s how much of a difference he makes against the run and getting everyone on defense lined up right and carrying out assignments. After a disappointing sophomore season, Vosean Joseph is having a breakout season, leading the Gators in tackles with 44. He also has three sacks and 6.5 tackles for losses. Rayshad Jackson has been solid, especially against the run. Depth remains a concern. Grade: B

Secondary

Even with the loss of starting cornerback Marco Wilson, the secondary has again become a team strength. CJ Henderson and true freshman Trey Dean III have been sound at cornerback and the safeties — Donovan Stiner, Jeawon Taylor and Brad Stewart Jr. — have been productive after entering the season as a question mark. Junior nickel Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is having a monster junior season and has become perhaps the biggest playmaker on defense. Grade: B+

Special teams

Entering the season, the belief was that the Gators would not be as productive in the kicking phase of special teams, but would be better in all others. Well, the kickers have come up big, showing no drop-off from a year ago. True freshman Evan McPherson has made 11 of his 12 field goal attempts (some will argue he’s 12-of-12) and Tommy Townsend is averaging 43.6 yards a punt. The Gators have also made some big-time plays in the other phases of special teams, including Townsend’s successful fake punt that sparked the Gators in the second half at Vanderbilt. Grade: A

Coaching

Mullen and his staff have come up with excellent game plans on both offense and defense, and they’ve shown the ability to adjust over the course of games, something that has been missing in recent seasons. The players have clearly developed a deep trust in their coaches and the decisions they make. Grade: A

Overall

After the early home loss to Kentucky, many were viewing this as another potential four-win season. It’s been remarkable turnaround since then. This is a team that has come together, is believing in its coaches, and finding different ways to win games. The Gators have a long way to go still, but have shown a willingness (and ability) to address and improve their flaws. Perhaps the most important thing is the Gators have made steady progress over the course of the season, something every coach is looking for. Grade: B

46 COMMENTS

  1. Robbie: I agree to all grades. Thank you for grading special teams an A. Pat always finds something wrong with them??? Our kicking game is as solid as it can be, PERIOD, can’t expect anymore. Yes McPherson is 12 for 12. Dan Mullen has brought in a major league staff. As Howard Cosel use to say about Duran’s record: “the numbers speak for themselves”.

  2. The 2 lowest grades – qb and o line. Spot on. But what I like is Robbie including a comment about each acknowledging that they are improving. That makes all the difference.

    I could quibble with the overall grade of B. Overall grade would be an A if we used original expectations as the criteria. But it’s a B based on football performance. So I won’t quibble Robbie. You nailed it.

    • I’ll quibble with the overall grade. If you go by won-lost record and what’s still within our grasp (SEC East, SEC crown, playoff spot), you’d have to give the team at least an A-. Who wouldn’t have taken a 6-1 mark at the beginning of the season? And who would have thought that we’d still be in the mix for running the table? Those scenarios are second- or third-year stuff for a new coaching staff. And here we’re enjoying it now.
      I admit the dream scenarios will likely shift and perhaps evaporate over the next month or so, but at this point, they are still very much alive.
      And for that, we owe these Gators a freakin’ standing ovation.

  3. After Kentucky I thought we were in for a mediocre season again, but it turns out Kentucky is actually pretty solid. We’ve also made dramatic improvement since then. How I’d love to have that game back!! This is starting to look to me like the 2006 team that never really dominated anyone, but just won and went on to win the NC. Who was the offensive coordinator that year? I forget…

    Of course, in 2006 we didn’t have a monster team like Alabama waiting in the SEC championship game. I can see us beating everyone else on our regular schedule, though Georgia is gonna be tough. I can’t say I see us beating Bama, though. I’d be happy to just be competitive.

    • “What if” can be used after a lot of games. What if the refs in the Kentucky game had called the Field Goal good (as everyone in the broadcast booth and around the country believed after watching)? Maybe the loss was the best thing for this team. Don’t know. Tough finishing schedule will show if this team truly is a “B” team.

  4. ”Mullen and his staff have… the ability to adjust over the course of games.” -Amen! And thank God, finally!
    I never saw, in Mac or Muschamp’s reigns, as much teaching on the sidelines as I’ve seen this year for Florida. And these Gators actually fought back from an 18 point deficit, too. Which shows a strong faith in the coaches, and no panic in the players. So work those red & black U.G.A. leg-humpers over and ”Go Gators! Chomp-chomp!”

    • GI I’ve seen that all year too. Good to see the players getting reinforcement positive and corrective on the sideline after plays. I’m with as to not seeing that years recent past. This is a good group of coaches. May be a great group of coaches. Time will tell. Go Gators!

  5. OSU got stomped, not beaten by Purdue and the ESPN columnist describes how this may help the B10 chances for two B10 teams in the playoffs, LOL…how stupid! I haven’t seen anybody that can stay in the ring with Bama. Only injuries to both Bama QBs could possibly slow them down. Until further notice, the SEC and NC is still already decided until, but it would be cool to beat UGA and win the East as a starter year for Dan’s Gators. Will be interesting to see how our success will affect recruiting.

    (1) Bama
    (2) Clemson
    (3) ND
    (4) OK…..Bama will pound them all

  6. Robbie, your overall grade for this team comes to a B plus, but you write: “The Gators still have a long way to go”. Please explain how that is. Going from a B plus (in your view) and a 6 and 1 record to an A and a 7 and 0 record is not that far, from my view. And my grades are:
    QB – B (Franks is a very effective QB now and has executed repeatedly in the clutch and never gives up).
    RB – A minus (great combination of running and pass receiving, are all about team, and block exceptionally well. Not an A because they lack consistent explosiveness).
    WR/TE – B plus (Clutch catches all year and they block exceptionally well on the edges. Very team and unit oriented. Unselfish group. Not an A because they are not consistently making explosive plays so far.
    OL – B plus (This OL has become a very effective unit and is playing and communicating well. Not an A because of inconsistency in pass protection).
    DL – B plus (not an A because of the disappointing play so far this year of Slaton and Conliffe and for being somewhat inconsistent against the run as a result)
    LB – B plus (too many mistakes in gap coverage and missed tackles in gaps that have helped lead to explosive run plays, as well as inconsistent play in pass coverage)
    DB – A minus (Henderson has been an A all year. Dean has been somewhat inconsistent but is really coming on now. The safeties, after a slow start, have been excelling in both pass coverage and making open-field tackles)
    ST – Clearly an A to me. (Not an A plus because…..?????)
    Coaching – How could you not give this group an A plus grade? Oh, Kentucky.

    • I guess, with a grade of 89 being a B plus and the Gators only getting an overall grade of 88 from Robbie, that Robbie’s overall grade is only a B instead of a B plus. But going from 88 and 6 and 1 to 90 plus and 7 and 0 is not “a long way to go”. But sorry for the original math error.

    • Tampa,
      It’s as a poster stated above, it depends on what is the baseline for these grades? Are the grades compared to ourselves and the expectations from earlier this year, or are the grades based solely on performance. I assume that Robbie’s overall grade of a B+ (with “a long way to go”) is referring to the fact that it appears Mullen has the program going in the right direction, and compared to preseason uncertainty, this season, as a whole (not only the actual play on the field, but the winning attitude, team trust, conditioning, possible future recruiting, play calling, etc) gets a grade of a B+. If we beat Georgia or win the east or land a 5* stud, then the season will be an A. Next season, the grades will be more about the actual game play, but this season has always been more about building a solid foundation and atmosphere so Mullen can recruit his players, than it has been about stats, wins and losses.

      • Dare I say that we ought not forget that either, Willgator? Thanks for saying it.

        I really hope we win out, beat Alabama, and take home a national championship in this, Dan Mullen’s first year. That said, lets not get too far ahead of ourselves.

        • Well, imagine we keep improving, getting better with time and practice. We beat Georgia, win out the rest of our schedule and end up facing Alabama (or quite possibly LSU) in the SECCG. That one game will put Playoff qualification within reach, and if we play our best game of the season it’s quite possible we will win. Then all we have to do is beat one more team not as good as Bama and Clemson or some upstart. But it all starts with Georgia; winning that game will open up a whole slew of possibilities.

    • Or compare their performance to say Bama. I love watching them play great, destroy their opponents early, and get experience for their back ups. Especially when it is the Voles getting what they deserve.

  7. They have a long way to go means, I assume, that these are just midseason grades.

    I understand the dream of replaying the Kentucky game. But the Gators are the team they are in large part due to that loss. A win would have been trivial since it was expected. A loss at home has been just the coaching challenge Mullen and his staff needed to get these guys focused and driven. The wisdom and toughness of this team has not been seen in Gainesville in quite a while. My belief is that the Gators’ potential has been realized because of the galvanizing effect of that loss.

  8. I am totally digging this direction. Nothing against muschamp, he was just not ready for this big of a stage. The last guy was just trash. I am happy with the B grade overall. I mean we struggled against vandy and lost to kentucky so i understand why its not higher….go gators

  9. We’re playing better than we have in the last 8 years. The whole coaching staff have made a big difference in this year’s team. A very big pat on the back to Coach Savage. This team seems to be stronger in the 4th quarter than it does in the 1st. Right now we’re on a roll, and it looks if we lose it will be our own fault. Teams in the top 10 are falling like flies. So, I say why not us. We’ll see as the weeks go by what happens. Looking forward to reading the predictions this week. You know who I’m predicting to win. Good Day……………..

  10. I don’t really care what the grade is. I do care that Dan Mullen is here and is 6-1 with mostly McElwain players that last year couldn’t get out of their own way. Anything else this year will be gravy and am looking forward to next year with great enthusiasm and that’s something I haven’t experienced in several years. Thank God for Dan Mullen and the rest of the coaching staff.

  11. Considering ~365 days ago, we probably only could muster Bs at running backs and secondary and ana a C at special teams solely only the kickers (who were individual A+), this is a huge improvement. Therefore, I would give the Coaches an A+ since they are the only different personnel.

  12. Gator Team gets an A+ when they win! Let’s remember there aren’t any easy games. All teams are built to win. If you win, you have really done something right. What’s really encouraging is the Gators’ will to win! Go Gators!

  13. What grade will we give the Gators when they go to Atlanta? It’s a real possibility.
    Beat Ga. in Jax and we can control our destiny. After seeing how Kentucky barely survived against Vandy its clear that Kentucky has no chance against Ga., and could lose to Missou. So Kentucky will be a two loss team at best.
    We still have Missou and SC after Ga., but they are at home and we should win those.
    LSU showed us how to beat Ga. Stuff their run and make Fromm throw into the teeth of our pass rush and DBU. Special teams can force turnovers and flip the field. A little trickeration also helps.Gators 24-21.

  14. Robbie you next article could highlight the overall trend line for this GATOR Team, which is of course up and up. The psychology of this ascending team seems to be very positive and this is really important in close games, or even when one is behind by 18 points.
    Game Day coaching is really good, making adjustments, not being stuck in one’s mind set that one had going into the game. This involves being intellectually honest when something is not working you recognize that and make changes. High football intellect with these coaches.
    This team needs for depth, a more accuracy in its passing game.