Advantage Gators, Driskel
Published: Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 8:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 12:12 a.m.
Before every game, veteran college football beat writer Robbie Andreu comes up with five pertinent questions and then answers them after the game. Here’s Week 7:
1. Who wins these two key rushing battles: Mike Gillislee vs. Marcus Lattimore and Jeff Driskel vs. Connor Shaw?
With the strong defense by both teams, this did not turn out to be the kind of battle most were expecting. Gillislee and Lattimore, dominant tailbacks coming into the game, were almost no factor. Driskel and Shaw were maybe even less of a factor on the ground. Gillislee had nowhere to run and finished with only 37 yards on 19 carries. Lattimore, struggling with a sore hip, carried the ball only three times for 13 yards. The two quarterbacks have consistently made plays with their legs this season. Not in this one. Shaw was sacked twice and had no significant runs, finishing with minus-2 yards rushing before he was benched. Driskel was sacked four times and also had no impact with his running ability, being held to minus-5 yards. So, by the numbers, the Gillislee-Driskel pairing outgained the Lattimore-Shaw combination, but those final numbers were way lower than anyone anticipated coming into the game.
2. Driskel has thrown for less than 100 yards in each of the last two games. Does he crack the 100-yard mark in passing today?
For the third game in a row, Driskel failed to break the 100-yard mark. But he made the most of his 93 yards, throwing for a career-high four touchdowns. Driskel rarely had time to look down field in the first half, but he was deadly efficient whenever the Gators moved into the red zone. The bottom line is Driskel made enough plays in the passing game to ensure the Gators would move to 7-0, and a victory over Georgia away from clinching the SEC Eastern Division title. And that’s all that matters. Some are going to critique this passing performance and conclude the Gators must get better as they move forward this season. As long as they keep winning like they are (defense, special teams, making game-changing adjustments at halftime), maybe it’s OK if Driskel keeps throwing for less than 100 yards a game.
3. How much havoc will USC defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor wreak on the UF offense.
Like Will Muschamp said after the game, Clowney was so devastatingly good in the first half that he almost made this a bad day in The Swamp for the Gators. Led by Clowney, who was absolutely unblockable and spent his time in the game in the UF backfield, the Gamecocks held the Gators to 29 total yards in the first half. Clowney, who has been battling an ankle injury, played less and was less of a factor in the second half, especially after the Gators drove for a touchdown on their opening possession to open the lead to 27-8. Taylor also played a key role in how well the USC defensive front dominated for most of the first half. Clowney and Taylor will be doing this kind of thing in the NFL very soon.
4. Will the Florida special teams be a major factor like they were a week ago in Nashville?
For the second game in a row, the UF special teams produced some game-changing plays. The Gators forced and recovered fumbles on a punt return and a kickoff return, with both turnovers leading to first-half touchdowns. And then there was the field position-flipping performance by sophomore punter Kyle Christy, who may be the Gators’ best and most consistent weapon. His high, booming punts not only changed field position, they prevented one of the SEC’s most dangerous punt returners, Ace Sanders, from having even a chance to do any damage. He had two returns for all of one yard. It was another dominant, game-changing performance by the UF special teams. And, once again, Andre Debose had a big kickoff return (39 yards) that led to a touchdown in the second half.
5. Turnovers could be huge. Which team does a better job taking care of the football?
The Gators won this crucial category in a landslide, and it all started on the first play from scrimmage when cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy forced a fumble when he hit USC quarterback Connor Shaw in the backfield and Lerentee McCray recovered on the Gamecocks’ 2-yard line. The turnover led to a quick 7-0 lead for the Gators and they rode the momentum — and the turnover theme — for the rest of the first half. Early in the second quarter, UF came up with another game-changing turnover. Trey Burton stripped USC punt returner Ace Sanders and recovered on the USC 29. That led to a 13-yard TD pass from Driskel to Quinton Dunbar. On the ensuing kickoff, the special teams forced another turnover, this time a fumble by Damiere Byrd led to another Driskel TD pass, this one to Jordan Reed from a yard out. That’s three turnovers leading to three touchdowns in the first half — clearly the difference in the game.