Our friend PullingGuardGator was kind enough to come over and answer our questions about the reptiles. Throw him a follow on Twitter (@PullingGuard79) if you’d like to show your gratitude— or disagree vehemently.
1. Welp, FSU sits at 5-6 and 68th by S&P+, and Florida at 4-6 and 83rd. How'd we get here, at least from your side?
This could take a while. Coming into the season, I saw the Gators as an eight win team with seven wins more likely than nine. Then in August they lose one of their best defensive players (Marcell Harris) at a position they were already thin at. Then the suspensions happen and just like that, their two best offensive players are gone. When they were 3-1, I still felt good about my prediction. Most called the Tennessee and Kentucky games "lucky or flukey,” but if you watched the games, UF was the better team and Bill Connelly's win expectancy numbers backed that up. Then the close losses at home to LSU and Texas A&M happened, where the UF defense played over their heads, but weird things occurred, and suddenly UF was 3-3. The Georgia game was ugly and the weird death threat accusation by McElwain was 'pretty neat,’ and here we are.
I will say after the Missouri game and the brutal start to the South Carolina game, the undermanned Gators have played their butts off. They're down to 52 scholarship players, which is pretty dire circumstances, but they dominated UAB, which I did not expect at all.
2. How has Florida's offense changed since McElwain's departure? How do you expect them to try to attack FSU on Saturday?
I haven't seen much of a difference to be honest. There is still the predictable run on second and long followed by the baffling play-action on third and long. As far as Saturday goes, I think they're going to keep it simple for Franks and try to run a lot. You'll probably see some wildcat with freshman Kadarius Toney and a lot of wide receiver screens. Because of our OL injuries, slinging it all over the field would not be wise.
3. What have you seen from Feleipe Franks that makes you optimistic (or not) about Florida's future at the quarterback position?
I've seen from him exactly what I thought I would this season. I knew Franks was a high ceiling guy, who would be a project and would have a very good arm. His arm is everything as advertised. As far as the future, I'm lukewarm on him, and it's hard to project when I don't know what kind of offensive system will be in place next season. I will say in the past couple games, it seems things are slowing down for him. He's finally going through his progressions and not freaking out when things get hectic in the pocket.
4. What are the current Gator defense's relative strengths and weaknesses? Which match-ups do you like against FSU's offense, and which concern you?
I think the UF DL is pretty good. Taven Bryan is finally living up to the hype, and he's been a monster at DT. He seems to get better every week. He's freakishly strong, which isn't surprising considering he grew up on a farm in Wyoming. Even with the loss of defensive end Jordan Sherit, I like the matchups of our DE group against Leonard and Ball. I was surprised the other day when I was looking up Bryan's stats at how impressive Cece Jefferson's stats were. I think he, Jabari Zuniga, and Jachai Polite make for a nice DE group. They play extremely hard. The corners have played well too. Senior Duke Dawson is solid and the two freshmen, Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson look like they belong.
The weaknesses seem to line up with FSU's strengths, which is good news for the visiting team Saturday. I’m talking about run defense and tackling. This is an atrociously bad tackling team. No other way to put it. Other than a three-game stretch in the middle of the season (Vandy, LSU, Texas A&M) and last week’s UAB game, the run defense has been poor. You can check the numbers yourself, no need to re-hash that here. I did do some research though, and I came up with an interesting point. I’m not sure how much one player can make in team run defense, but when linebacker Kylan Johnson has played, the run defense has been significantly better. He missed the first few games and he played a bunch in the three games I mentioned above. He re-aggravated his hamstring in the Georgia game and missed the Missouri and South Carolina games. He returned against UAB and was very active in a defense that held the Blazers to three yards rushing. It’s just something to watch.
5. Let's take a break from the sadness and talk about the future. What type of system, particularly on offense, do you hope Florida's incoming coach brings to Gainesville? Anything else in particular on your wish list?
Lately, the future has been my only focus. With the names floating out there for UF (Kelly, Frost, Mullen), they seem to be all up tempo, spread attacks, and it’s something I’m looking forward to. I think the athletes in this state are made for that system with their speed. Other than that, I just want to see a functional offense. I’ve forgotten what it looks like. There are some pieces in place on offense for the right coach to make this work, especially if they hold on to their current commits.
6. Finally, and I'm sorry to pull you back to the dark, dark present, but if you had to guess how the game will unfold on Saturday, what would you say? (Aside from "utterly unwatchable")
There are several reasons why I think this game will be close on Saturday. FSU hasn’t been the best road team. I thought they played hard and held up against Clemson, but the Wake, Duke, and BC games make me think UF has a shot. Also, UF has played really hard at home. This is their last game of the season, so I expect a fired up bunch. I think FSU is quite a bit more talented, and it all hinges on stopping Akers and Patrick. If it’s third and long a lot, I like UF’s chances. Ultimately, I think offensively, this will look like the last few years, and it will be a struggle for UF. They’re going to have to find a way to run the ball. All that being said, I’m going to go with UF 23-21. And before you call me a homer, just know that this is the first year since 2010, that I’ve picked UF to win this game. Happy Thanksgiving, Tomahawk Nation!