Six games in, the Florida Gators have reached the halfway point in their football season, which means it’s time to hand out those mid-term grades. (In this case, dreaded mid-term grades).
It has been a difficult first half that closed with back-to-back SEC home losses to LSU and Texas A&M, a double defeat that sent the Gators stumbling into their bye with a disappointing 3-3 record.
For UF, 3-3 is certainly considered below average, so the grades are going to reflect that. But with five games remaining, there’s still time and opportunity to bring them up.
Comment: If the Gators were just getting average quarterback play, they’d probably be sitting at 5-1 right now. But the QB play has clearly been below average. Feleipe Franks has lacked consistency, has struggled to see the whole field and find the open man, and has been not been good on third down. It’s a bad combination.
Comment: Even with Jordan Scarlett, last year’s leading rusher, under suspension, the running back position has been one of the few bright spots. True freshman Malik Davis has shown great natural running and playmaking ability and has turned out to be the gem of the 2017 recruiting class. He and true sophomore Lamical Perine have given the Gators a strong one-two punch in the running game.
Comment: Sophomore Tyrie Cleveland was off to a promising start before spraining his ankle late in the Vanderbilt game and basically missing both the LSU and A&M games. Without Cleveland, the playmaking ability at the position dropped dramatically. Brandon Powell has been solid and reliable, but Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain and Dre Massey really haven’t done a whole lot. Part of the blame, of course, falls back on the inconsistent quarterback play.
Comment: The tight end position is usually a big part of the passing game in Jim McElwain’s offense, but C’yontai Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby have kind of faded into the background this season. Part of the reason is they’ve been asked to stay along the line of scrimmage and help in pass protection. Moral Stephens flashed his ability with his two receptions in the Vanderbilt game, but then he too disappeared.
Comment: The big guys have steadily improved since their epic failure in the opening-day loss to Michigan and have helped give the Gators a pretty productive ground game, clearing the way for Davis and Perine. But protection remains a concern after the Gators gave up five sacks in each of the last two games. This is still a work in progress, and the lack of depth also remains a concern.
Comment: The defensive front has been a team strength, and the reason the defense has been dominant during stretches in games. Losing senior defensive end Jordan Sherit hurts, but the talent and depth at the two end spots should lead to little if any dropoff. Jachai Polite has emerged as a playmaker and Cece Jefferson is playing at a high level. Inside at tackle, Taven Bryan has been dominant at times, while Khairi Clark has been consistent. The future looks good at tackle with the three true freshmen seeing significant playing time.
Comment: The frontline guys — David Reese, Vosean Joseph, Kylan Johnson and Jeremiah Moon — have been good against the run, but have struggled somewhat in pass defense, which has left the middle of the field vulnerable at times. The biggest problem is precious little depth. As a result, they’re probably staying on the field too long.
Comment: With true freshmen playing such a big role, the overall performance in the secondary has been what most would expect: uneven. The Gators have been really good at times on the back end, and really average at other times, giving up big plays in some crucial situations. The positive news is this is a young secondary that probably is only going to get better over the remainder of the season.
Comment: Punter Johnny Townsend has been as good as ever and is having an All-American season, but place-kicker Eddy Pineiro missed the crucial extra point in the one-point loss to LSU and stalled the Gators momentum with his kickoff out of bounds in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M. And the other aspects of special teams — return game, cover game, kick block — have produced almost nothing.
Comment: The Gators definitely get an A for effort for the way they’ve hung in there and competed despite the nine suspensions and all the injuries. But the offense has not improved, it has regressed. And the defense, strong at times, is not playing up to the high standard that’s been established over the past decade or so. Quarterback play remains an issue, along with a lack of playmakers in the passing game. It only gets tougher from here, starting with Georgia in Jacksonville on Saturday. UF’s only big goal left is to try and become bowl eligible down the stretch, which will not be easy.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.
Who: Florida (3-3, 3-2 SEC) vs. No. 3 Georgia (7-0, 4-0)
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850