Mid-term grades are in for the Gators
Published: Friday, October 18, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 8:25 p.m.
Florida is halfway through its season, which means one thing — time to grade the Gators.
Despite last Saturday’s disappointing loss in Baton Rouge, the Gators are 4-2 overall, 3-1 in the SEC and still very much in the race in the SEC’s Eastern Division.
The season, to this point, certainly has not played out like many envisioned, especially with so many impact players out for the year with injuries. And there is plenty of uncertainty as the Gators head into the second half of their season.
Here are the mid-term grades:
Injuries have taken a considerable toll. Three key starters — quarterback Jeff Driskel, right tackle Chaz Green and tailback Matt Jones — have been lost for the season. And while Tyler Murphy generated an early spark taking over for Driskel, the injuries have had an impact. The offense looked like it was improving along with Murphy in the victories over Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas, but then regressed in the loss to LSU. In that game, the offense looked a lot like the 2011 version that struggled so much. Sacks. Negative plays. Only six points. That performance does not bode well for the Gators as they venture deeper into their SEC schedule. The running game, which was supposed to be a strength, has been OK but has struggled with consistency and is not producing much in the way of explosive plays. The downfield passing game appears better than a year ago with the emergence of Solomon Patton and Quinton Dunbar, although consistency remains an issue. And the tight end spot is producing nothing in the passing game. The loss of Green has had an impact on the line. It’s forced Tyler Moore to play tackle instead of his more natural position (guard) and it has affected pass protection on the edge. The line has been solid at times, shaky at other times, especially in pass protection. Grade: C.
It’s hard to knock a defense that leads the SEC in seven different statistical categories, including total defense and rushing defense, but in the two losses (Miami and LSU), slow starts by the defense cost the Gators points and early momentum. The loss of tackle Dominique Easley to a season-ending knee injury was felt for the first time in the loss at LSU, where the Gators were gutted in the ground game for the first time this season. Overall, the defense has played at a consistently high level and kept the Gators in every game. It’s hard to ask for much more. Other than giving up 175 yards rushing to LSU, UF has shut down the run and prevented teams from consistently moving the ball through the air. The secondary has emerged as one of the strongest in the nation. Grade: A.
Perhaps the biggest mystery on the team (maybe even in college football) has been the stunning fade of punter Kyle Christy, a Ray Guy Award finalist last season. Christy, in a season-long slump, has been benched in favor of true freshman Johnny Townsend. There’s also been a shakeup at place-kicker, where walk-on Frankie Velez and former starter Austin Hardin are sharing the role. Overall, the Gators have been very good in kick and punt coverage and blocked a punt that set up a TD in the Miami game. But UF has not had much in the way of explosive plays in the return game. Grade: C+
Perhaps no team in the nation has had to endure the number of significant injuries that have hit this team. The Gators have lost three of their most important offensive players (Driskel, Jones and Green), their best defensive player (Easley) and one of the SEC’s best returners (Andre Debose), but UF has still managed to win four of six games. The two losses, however, came against the only ranked teams the Gators have faced. The defense has been strong and, in some ways, exceeded expectations considering all the players UF lost off last year’s team. The offense seemed to be improving earlier in the season, but now seems to have become conservative and punchless, especially in terms of scoring points and making big plays. The special teams have been a major disappointment. Grade: C+