Gators enter stretch run with improvements to make

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GOOD TIMES: Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, left, congratulates Feleipe Franks after the quarterback threw a game-winning touchdown pass against Tennessee at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Sept. 16. The Gators have gone 2-2 since that 26-20 win. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

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.

Quarterback

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.

Grade: C-

Running back

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.

Grade: B

Wide receivers

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.

Grade: C-

Tight ends

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.

Grade: C

Offensive line

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.

Grade: C+

Defensive line

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.

Grade: B

Linebacker

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.

Grade: C+

Secondary

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.

Grade: C+

Special teams

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.

Grade: D+

Overall

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.

Grade: C-

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or robbie.andreu@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.


Up next

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

TV: CBS

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850


46 COMMENTS

  1. Better QB play would obviously help the whole team…remember how Mac got Franks to reneg from LSU and come play here…what’s the caliber of QB play at LSU the last several years? Jamarcus Russell is the last LSU QB to carry a team. Both UF and LSU have both recruited poorly at the quarterback position. Franks has been here for nearly 2 years and we have to SCALE DOWN the playbook for him?!! What’s his mental capacity? He is Schuleresque!!! Physical tools but in the pocket, it’s time to feed the rabbits (love Steinbeck) How about swing passes and dump offs to our amazing RBs? Double or triple TE sets and get them more involved? Enough of the “aw shucks isn’t this a great crowd” and coach em up…seems every OC does pretty pretty well when Saban is Head Coach.

  2. Yes coaching is perhaps F+, QB is D, and special teams F. Improvements are a minimum, total rebuild is more likely what is required. Seems like Urban did that once on an off week. This staff is I bet not that capable.

  3. Poor Dooley and Andrue don’t have the ka-hoo-nies to grade the coaches otherwise they will not be allowed at the press conferences anymore. At least Dooley doesn’t have a love affair with McYet the way he did with Muschump.

  4. Just look at Will Grier stats today 70% now.in Passing also against Baylor 5 touchdowns
    wins the game 35 yard pass and he throws down the middle 50 yards wow
    I am having fun watching Will miss him and just think!!! WV coaching staff lets
    him play football and that he does. he plays to win none of this my way or the highway.

        • Not a fair statement…Will Grier and his dad decided to leave because Coach Mac wouldn’t commit to him starting a year later. Not sure any coach would have made that commitment. Sure, with what we know now, it is a no brainer…you sell the farm to get him to stay, but Coach Mac had no idea what a year off would do to Grier, how our other qbs would develop and what the landscape would look like in a year. A lot of things you can fault our oaches for but not having a crystal ball isn’t one of them. Will Grier could have stayed and embraced the chance to beat out Del Rio, Franks and whoever else was on the depth chart back then for the starting position, but he chose not to. Mac didn’t run him off.

          • But Coach Mac should have been more diplomatic and discerning in the situation. Sure, he has Del Rio and Franks waiting in the wings but they were both unproven especially Franks. 6 games into the next season he has no idea what the situation will be. And as it turns out, Grier could have stepped right in, instead of Appleby. With as volatile as football can be, a head coach should do everything to keep an asset like Will Grier. That’s on Mac

  5. To team grades are the only ones that matters. And it includes coaching. 500 record equates t a C for me. Should of. would of. and could of don’t really matter. You are only as good or bad as your record. Hopefully team can improve or I afraid that grade is in danger of dropping.
    I will say, this team deals with adversity much better than the fan base who I grade out as a D+

    • George. Yeah, that freshman QB at FSU looked great yesterday. He is a 160 lb. turnover machine. Much worse than Franks. And Francois would be a superstar at Florida right now. He is average at FSU. Give me a break with the Dumbo (2-4) talk. Seriously, Dumbo is 2 and 4 with all that multi-layered 4 and 5 star talent there. What a joke that coach is. And he wants to beat up members of Nole Nation now. Or he says he would. He would probably run like hell if someone came down from the stands to meet his verbal challenge while standing next to a police officer.

      • Interesting…I asked my cousin, who still lives in Florida and is a die hard ‘Noles fan year in-year out (graduated from there in 1978), similar questions. He said the same thing: “Loads of 4- and 5-star talent without proper coaching and development”. Hmmmm. This from a guy who can probably tell you the stats on each starter and half the back-ups.

  6. Fans don’t get a D+, Glen, they have shown up consistently, despite enduring EIGHT years now of incompetent offense, at the school which invented imaginative offense in the SEC.
    I think coaches should be graded, too, Pat. And you must consider clock management, use of tight ends, imagination(sweeps, using the middle of the field) of playcalling, QB development, adjustments to simple plays like LSU’s jet sweep, failure of many phases of special teams.
    I think your grade for the OL is generous considering the sacks allowed, inconsistent blocking for the running game(although that IS improving, given we have little threat of a downfield passing game, etc.). The OL is experienced, has mostly been healthy, and Mac proclaimed it “the team strength” preseason.

    • I hate seeing the low grades for the players when they are trying to run the plays that are called by the offensive coordinator. If we had more imagination and variety, the players would be more successful and they would be given higher grades. I give play calling an F-. MacElwain was apparently a good offensive coordinator at Alabama, he should call the plays just like Spurrier did. At least try something.

  7. QB play – F

    Coaching of the offense – F

    The two go hand in hand.

    We have seen the younger players on D make weekly progress. Not so on the offensive side of the ball other than Davis at running back. And Toney. But Toney is a natural. If anything, he has been held back by the offensive coaches at Florida.

  8. Does anyone really think if Will Grier had not decided to use banned substance that our offense wouldn’t be better. I don’t know why I asked of course it’s Mac’s fault even though he was Muschamp commit.

    • The offense would definitely be better with a QB (Grier) who can see open receivers. But lets not forget, Grier was an average QB at UF (look at the numbers, not spectacular by any means). We always think of the Mississippi game and the throw to Calloway at the end of the Tennessee game but forget the average play in between. This is not a criticism of Grier, but more of a reflection of the poor coaching/play calling here at UF. Put him in an offense that allows him to utilize his strengths, and he flourishes. Don’t look for Corral to be a savior unless some major changes are made to the offensive coaching staff.

      • James, I agree, but even Grier’s “average” play during his first six games was far superior to what we have now. He split time with Treon in the first two games, so his six games are really equivalent to five full games. In those games, he threw for 1200 yards (240/game if you consider it 5 games), completed 66% of his passes for 10 TD’s and only 3 picks while also running for a net of 116 yards. I would add that he did that behind an OL that was significantly worse than the current OL. You also have to consider that he only had spring and fall practices to learn Mac’s offense, because he spent his redshirt season under Muschamp and Roper. I agree he wouldn’t put up WVU-like numbers in this offense, but as a fourth year junior he’d surely be better than he was as a redshirt freshman and vastly better than Franks is currently. As many have said, Grier’s no longer here, and we have to move on. I only bring this up because I think he often gets unfairly dismissed by many as only being average during his time here, but they fail to consider he was just a redshirt freshman with a very short time to learn a new offense.

  9. Glen, I understand all of the Will Grier angst floating around Gator Nation, but we need to lay that dog to rest. The good ship Grier and his dad have sailed on to their preferred program and Gator fans just need to move on as well. I’m looking forward to seeing what next season brings with a contest between Allen and Corral for the starting QB job. By the way, that guy in West Virginia is tied for the lead nationally in TD passes, but I doubt that would be the case in this offense. Movin’ on down the highway! Go Gators!

  10. With an off week and extra time to study film, the coaches have a chance to enlighten Franks view of what’s happening on the field where he urgently needs to direct his attention. Open receivers begging to be seen.
    After the last game, he said there’re still a few things he needs to work on. I hope learning to look for open receivers tops the list. He learns that; he gets better grades. Coaches too.

  11. Yes, the Will Grier ship HAS sailed, but the wind that blew it 500 miles north is still with us. I don’t know why Mac did not want Grier to remain here, we may never know, but the simple fact is Will wanted to stay. He was forced out (per media reports anyway). The kid made one mistake (far fewer than a certain WR with initials AC, who is STILL on the team, albeit only technically) and was shown the door, purportedly as Mac was recruiting Franks hard. Missing 5 or 6 games the following season still would have given us a great 2nd half of the season. If Mac couldn’t see the potential in Grier, he has no business being a HC. He never denied pushing him out either.

    This coaching staff has actually done some good things this year with all the player losses, but player development is simply not one of them.

    And can we PLEASE quit blaming Pineiro for the LSU game? My goodness he is the only consistent offensive player we have, and I still think the hold was off, not the kick. Not to mention all this offense had to do was get a few first downs on any of the subsequent 3 or 4 drives to give him another chance to redeem himself even IF it was his fault. They did not do that. The XP would have only TIED the game anyway.

    And why he was not given a chance at a long FG at the end of the half of the A&M game is still beyond me as well. Its like we don’t even want to use the few weapons we DO have. I do like how we are integrating Davis more into the mix, and Toney as well–hope he recovers fully soon!

    I also agree that Dooley et all seem much quicker to throw 18 year olds under the bus than grown men making millions a year. Yes those 9 made a bad choice, and the ringleader (if accounts are true) and AC need to be kicked off the team (he is just a bad influence, and 3 strikes…). But the rest? I think missing an entire year of playing time is punishment enough, especially if they lose a year of eligibility to boot. If they seem like they have learned their lesson, I say give them another chance. But I am just a money paying fan, don’t need to listen to me!

    • We lost the LSU game due to the awful play calling and the same with the A&M game,on our next to last drive at 5 min left while we still had a 1 point lead and desperately needed to keep that drive alive! we had 3 straight dive plays and of course only the 1st one was successful, gave the ball right back and they drove down to score, thats where that game was lost, not on the last second interception.

  12. If this team does not finish over .500, then Mac should be fired. No Gator team should be under .500. We let Muschamp finish under .500 with a ton of excuses and it never got better. We have managed to have a winning record for every year since 1979, before having any sort of reputation or recruiting base. The one year we did not finish above .500 turned this program into what it is today.

  13. It’s just amazing to me how people think that these coaches are suddenly going to experience some sort of “epiphany” and be able to make “adjustments” to make this offense better.

    I’ll tell you this like I said after the end of last season… our PRIMARY problem, the #1 thing holding this offense back, is the man leading it… Doug Nussmeier. I said we needed to replace him as OC after last season and then after the debacle against Michigan…. yet here he is, and has the offense gotten better? No, it’s actually gotten worse.

    Know why our QB isn’t finding open recievers, know why nothing we try doesn’t work? Because “a leopard cannot change it’s spots”, and Nussmeier isn’t going to change.

    Nussmeier is a control freak OC, timid, inconsistent, tunnel-visioned, handcuffs his QB’s and believes pounding a square peg into a round hole will eventually work. Might as well have Muschamp calling the offense.

    We’ve heard remedy after remedy for our offense after tight games or losses… we need a bigger package for Toney, or get Masey the ball more, we have to involve the TE’s more, we need to go up-tempo more…. and NONE of those remedies not only work, THEY NEVER HAPPEN!

    It’s time to stop ad-libbing our way through offense and either bring in a real OC who’s aggressive and innovative, or just start from scratch with a new head coach after this season.

    IMO, there;s a young gun at UCF named Scott Frost who I believe would be the enswer to our problems here at UF. Maybe we should yank the band-id off quickly now and be done with this faile experiement named McElwain.

  14. I don’t want WG back as far as I concerned he is a cheater who screwed the Gators. Not unlike the actions of the 9. I don’t feel it fair to blame Coach Mac for this issues. Is play calling poor yes. Is special teams poor yes and it is fair to blame on Mac for those issues. I think our team one have one lose and better chance against UGA if those players had not made those decisions, Ultimately we will never know because choices they made deprieved us of the opportunity to find out