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Florida Gators

Florida survives with some good and some not

(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)
Christopher Fischer

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Florida’s season opener started out with jubilation, and then was mired in frustration. On a night where “The Head Ball Coach” was honored with the renaming of the Swamp to Steve Spurrier-Florida Field. It was hardly an effort Spurrier would’ve been proud of.

The Good:

Steve Spurrier was the best honorary Mr. Two Bits since George Edmondson hung up his orange and blue tie. Spurrier gave an invigorating speech prior to the game, exclaiming “Only the Gators get alive.” Spurrier’s Usain Bolt impression is a moment that will live forever in the minds of the Gator Nation.

Luke Del Rio showed poise in the pocket in his first collegiate start going 29/44 for 256 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was able to pick up secondary receivers, yet at times tried to force throws in to double coverage. The big thing is, he didn’t turn the ball over. Del Rio will need to improve his accuracy going in to SEC play.

Eddy Pineiro was worth the hype. It may be the first game of the season, but the JUCO transfer was a perfect 3/3 with field goals from 40,49,48 yards. Pineiro showed leg strength by booting kickoffs to the back of the end zone. Pineiro’s energy is a secondary attribute which should bring a big boost to the Gators and the fan base. Head Coach Jim McElwain and the program has finally found that elusive kicker

Brandon Powell’s 7 receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown proved to be big. Powell took advantage of being the secondary receiver to Antonio Callaway. The touchdown came in crunch time in the fourth quarter. Del Rio hit him on a pass in the flat, and a pretty spin move later, Powell took it to the end zone.

The Gators defense against the run was impressive, surrendering 1.3 yards per carry. Alex Anzalone (R-Jr) was able to time out snaps to get in to the backfield. Jabari Zuniga (R-Fr) gave a big push up the middle to get to the quarterback for 2 sacks. The Minutemen were held 1 for 11 on 3rd down.
The Bad:

The Gators paid UMass $1.2 million to put a scare in to them. Florida were 35-point favorites on Steve Spurrier’s night and they didn’t play up to their capability. Or maybe they did and that is a scary outlook for the season.

McElwain will need to solve the penalty problem. 8 penalties for 80 yards allowed UMass to move the ball easily down the field. Two 3rd down penalties proved costly.

The right side of the offensive line struggled. Tyler Jordan and Fred Johnson allowed UMass to get too much pressure on Del Rio in the pocket.

Outside of Scarlett, the rushing attack was unimpressive averaging 3.7 yards per carry against lesser talented UMass.

Overall
The Gators survived and advance, keeping all championship possibilities alive. In the eyes of the Gators faithful, that is all that really matters.

Del Rio looked like he can run the offense efficiently. His weapons of Callaway, Powell and Scarlett flashed their big play ability. Yet, the 363 total yards of offense is nearly fifty-percent of what Florida tallied in last years’ opener.

Florida improved the nations longest winning streak in season openers to 27-0. Now the Gators will look to extend the SEC longest winning streak over anyone opponent to 30 straight over Kentucky next week.

A native Floridian who graduated from Clearwater High School and the University of Florida, Chris Fischer has spent nearly 15 years in Sports Televison, including the last five as Sports Reporter and Anchor with the CBS affiliate in Tampa Bay-WTSP. He is a multi time AP Sports and Local Emmy award winner and will be seen this season as a sideline reporter on CBS-TV’s network coverage of the NFL.Chris brings enthusiasm and passion (particularly when it comes to his Gators) to College and NFL coverage to F.F.I.

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Florida Gators

Gators struggle early-survive Saturday in Nashville

Matt Zemek

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Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Gators can’t say they weren’t warned.

A young team with an unproven quarterback had just scored the biggest victory of its season against a top-10 opponent. The misery of early September had been washed away by a series of steadily better and more encouraging performances. The Gators grew and developed, just as any fan would hope for in a transitional season under a first-year head coach. No one expected all the pieces to perfectly fit together, but Florida gradually assembled the puzzle and solved several of its biggest problems.

The next step for a team which evolves from chaos into continuity: Maintaining that evolutionary process instead of stopping to rest and think it has it all figured out. Weeks 1 through 6 of the college football season brought the Gators to a much better place, but with a month and a half left in the journey, Florida needed to realize the race — entering its daunting middle stages — was only beginning to take on added textures and tones.

Every challenge surrounding a young football team was neatly crystallized — or not-so-neatly, as it were — in Saturday’s game against the Vanderbilt Commodores.

The Florida team which had begun to figure out how it wanted to play; the Florida team which had begun to establish and cement the template for the rest of the season; the Florida team which had begun to breathe in the intoxicating aroma of success, and all the temptations that go with prosperity, had to develop tunnel vision and not rest on recent achievements. Playing a late-morning game in a half-filled stadium against a reeling Vanderbilt side, Florida had to shove complacency and human nature into a dungeon, lock the door, and move on.

That proved to be a huge challenge… and not unexpectedly, either.

Believing you are better than you actually are — in that first moment when a team tastes considerable success — is not an easy thing to confront. Young teams and imperfect teams inevitably have to go through the process of playing a game (or many games) in the face of that complacency before they learn how to master and subdue that inclination.

This game against Vanderbilt was a maiden voyage for the 2018 iteration of the Gators. Without question, this experience will do UF a lot of good in 2019, but the more immediate question emerged as Florida sleepwalked through most of the first half in Nashville: Could this 2018 team, warts and all, find the clarity to dig its way out of trouble?

The answer: Yes… and in the way which has defined the Gators in their upward climb this season.

The central characteristic of the Vanderbilt team which limped into Week 7 is that it had been punched in the mouth, outworked and outplayed by two SEC opponents… and Tennessee State. Vanderbilt had conclusively shown that it could not handle a street fight.

In the first half, Vanderbilt threw and landed the punches, en route to a 21-3 lead.

Would the Gators get off the canvas?

Would they immediately show they could take several body blows?

The eruption of tempers among various players and coaches from both teams late in the first half could have cut in either direction. It could have become an indication of how unfocused and unprepared this team was… or it could have become the application of smelling salts the Gators needed.

Safe to say, they woke the heck up.

The Florida offensive line, which has to flex its muscles in order to minimize and guard against Feleipe Franks’ limitations as a passer, began to roll up its sleeves. The concept of physically dominating an opponent is not hard to grasp, but doing it is the hard part, especially after a first half which sent frustrations past the boiling point.

Florida was tested — physically, emotionally, and situationally — on Saturday in Nashville. The Gators were far from perfect, just as they have been all season… and will continue to be.

That is what they are: very flawed, and unlikely to become a great team by the end of November.

What they also are, however, is a team that is winning more than most people expected at the start of this season, especially after the Kentucky game.

Four wins in a row in the SEC is nothing to disregard.

These Gators don’t play beautiful football… but what they lack in aesthetics is more than made up for in the intangible realm.

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Florida Gators

Gators trip to Vandy starts our Saturday college primer

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the second Saturday in October and the games in conference play start to heat up for state schools. Leading of our primer, USF has already won dramatically on Friday night 25-24 over Tulsa in the final seconds. And Florida State has the bye week off their heart breaking 28-27 loss to Miami and now, dealing with the aftermath and cleanup after Hurricane Michael slammed the Panhandle Wednesday.

Still the games will go on an for all three state school teams in action Saturday, they are on the road. So, here here we go in order:

Gators at Vanderbilt

It’s an early kickoff in Nashville for Florida off an emotional hard fought SEC win over newly formed rival LSU last Saturday in the Swamp. The Gators defense locked the Tigers (above) led by linebacker Vosean Joseph’s 14 tackles and two sacks. Florida had three takeaways, including a pick six in the final two minutes that sealed the deal.

Now, off three straight SEC wins, will the Gators stumble against a mediocre Vanderbilt team with an 11 a.m. local kickoff in Nashville?

It would be a third straight SEC road win, if coach Dan Mullen’s team can get it.

UCF at Memphis

In what is sure to be a wild, high-scoring affair, UCF is the “River City” of Memphis, TN, for their second road game of the year (they had one with UNC wiped out by Hurricane Florence in September).

And this is big one.

The unbeaten Knights have risen to #10 in the AP Poll and are on an 18 game win streak. Led by all everything QB McKenzie Milton, UCF goes for yet another win over the Tigers. They bombed Memphis is in the regular season meeting in Orlando and then, won a cliffhanger 62-55 double OT game for the American Conference Title in December and a perfect regular season at 12-0.

Will Memphis, a team that stumbled two weeks ago at Tulane, be able to score with the Knights? Will UCF turn the ball over and make it easier for them? Will UCF run away with this one and flex their muscle, again?

Miami at Virginia

As already written above, the Canes stormed back to beat rival FSU 28-27 a week ago and keep themselves unbeaten in the ACC. Now, they travel to a placed that has haunted them recently, Charlottesville, VA. The Cavaliers have won the last three meetings at home over Miami.

Will red-shirt freshman N’Kosi Perry improve on his overall play this week? Although he threw three TD passes in the second half of the comeback over the Noles, he was shaky for the first 2 1/2 quarters of the game, as Miami fell behind.

If the Cavaliers have a play maker it’s receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, who has over 2,000 receiving and over 500 yards rushing in his career.

Miami hopes to continue to bring out the vaunted “Turnover Chain” again and again. They have 14 of them now in six games.

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Florida Gators

Guess who moved up on our Power Rankings?

Jamil King

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We roll out our latest edition of our Power Rankings. And yes, there is definitely a college based theme:

5. Jacksonville Jaguars- The Jags are here mostly due to the fact the Bucs were on BYE, and the Dolphins fell to Cincinnati. FAU and FIU haven’t done enough in the conference USA yet either. The Jags had a rough trip to Kansas City suffering their worse loss of the year. The Chiefs came into the game with a defense that was known to be the weak point of the team. They took that to heart and forced five turnovers. Since the impressive win vs. the Patriots, they have had bad games against Tennessee and Kansas City, and a thumping of the Jets. The Jags look to get back into the win column against the average Cowboys offense.

4. USF Bulls- Jordan Cronkrite ran for 302 yards, and three touchdowns and South Florida improved to 5-0 for the second straight season by beating UMass 58-42. The performance earned the former Gator the AAC player of the week. This was the third game in a row Cronkrite has surpassed 100 yards. Barnett finished 17 for 24 for 209 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He once again didn’t have to do much with the ground game on point. The Bulls will be in action again Friday night against Tulsa on national television.

3. Miami Hurricanes- The Hurricanes drop a spot after they sure made last week interesting last week. They were close to letting FSU and Willie Taggart get his first signature win. Instead, the Canes found their mojo and broke out the turnover chain a few times, followed by 21 unanswered points, and all was well in the Hard Rock. N’Kosi Perry threw four touchdown passes and bounced back from early game struggles. The Hurricanes hadn’t beaten Florida State in consecutive seasons since 2003 and 2004, and still control their destiny in the ACC Coastal. They will take on the Virginia Cavaliers Saturday.

2. Florida Gators- Are the Gators back? Tim Tebow delivered a pre-game speech, so they must be right? They sure looked the part after defeating the LSU Tigers and we’ve moved them up. The defense continued to flex its muscles holding the Tigers to less than 200 yards passing. Lamical Perine was able to grind for 85 yards and two scores, and it was just enough for the Gators to win. Up next is a trip to Nashville against Vanderbilt a program they have struggled with in the past.

1. UCF Knights- Another week another game on the Knights roll. This is just becoming a regular thing like drinking water it seems. McKenzie Milton threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns, Adrian Killins rushed for 113 yards and a TD for the Knights in their win over SMU. The Knights got some help with a few top 10 losses and find themselves inside of it now. The question is: if the Knights continue to roll the way they are, can they crash the playoff party? UCF takes on Memphis in an AAC title rematch that will air on ABC at 3:30.

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