The Florida Gators know they have to confront their limitations this Saturday when they visit the LSU Tigers.
The question is: How?
How will Florida and Dan Mullen choose to face their weaknesses?
There is no “right” answer – not in a game in which Florida is a 12-point underdog. Florida is playing with house money in this game and is not expected by anyone across the country (outside of Gainesville, at least) to beat the Tigers.
It is true that Florida fans who are at least 30 years old will recall the 2003 game, in which a Ron Zook team stunned the eventual national champions from LSU, 19-7. That result came from nowhere, and if Florida wins this coming Saturday, the outcome will represent a similar ambush.
Maybe Florida can do the unthinkable… but it shouldn’t be expected.
Insisting that Mullen has to take one particular path against LSU seems unreasonable.
This is a game in which Mullen could legitimately eat a blowout loss with a longer-term goal in mind. Mullen could sacrifice this game in service of the more important Georgia game a few weeks later.
If Mullen did that, would it be a wrongheaded approach? I don’t think so… but let’s briefly explain what it means for Mullen to give up this game in pursuit of the Georgia game or other goals in the second half of the 2019 season.
Last weekend against Auburn, Florida and Mullen used a lot of slow-developing pass plays in which quarterback Kyle Trask held the ball for a long time. These plays led to turnovers and other highly negative outcomes.
These plays were frustrating for Gator fans because UF’s defense was smothering Auburn’s offense. It was clear that Florida’s path to victory was rooted in relying on its defense and not making big mistakes on offense. Therefore, any offensive play which took a risk or put Trask in a bad position was a bad call.
Fortunately, Mullen got away with those plays. He also got away with not preparing Trask for the task at hand.
Against LSU, though, the calculus is different.
LSU’s offense is not Auburn’s. LSU has an elite offense which presents a completely different challenge for Florida’s defense and will probably force the Gators to take more chances on offense.
Florida would love to contain LSU’s offense if it can, but the task is not nearly as realistic as it was against Auburn. Chances are the Gators will have to be a lot more explosive on offense to win.
This means that in order to hit big pass plays, Trask will have to hold onto the ball for longer periods of time. You will certainly see a lot of short passes from the Gators, but they will have to hit several downfield strikes if they want a realistic chance of winning.
So: Does Mullen force Trask to make low-margin plays in which he holds the ball too long? It is not a plan LIKELY to deliver a good result, but it might be the path Florida has to take if it wants any shot at winning.
This touches on a familiar tension point football coaches face in their line of work: “Do I want to keep the score close and respectable, but almost surely lose, or do I want to go for the victory, knowing that failure could result in a blowout loss?”
Mullen needs to answer that question one way or the other.
If he puts Trask in difficult or inconvenient positions, in pursuit of the big pass play, he is risking big with the hope of winning… but in ways which will probably lead to a struggle-bus performance and a decisive loss.
The sting of a blowout loss might be considerable in the short run, but by forcing Trask to do things he might not be ready to do at this stage in his evolution (and in his current physical condition), Mullen could absorb short-term pain in exchange for the possibility that Trask might be a much more prepared signal-caller by the time the Georgia game arrives.
This is how Mullen can trade the present moment for the future.
This is, however, not a path Mullen must follow.
This is the other path: Mullen could try to slow the game down and do his best to shield Trask from a high-workload, high-responsibility challenge.
Mullen could try to eschew long passes or adventurous plays of any kind. He could keep his offense very simple, emphasizing the run and draining the play clock to one on every running-clock snap to shorten the game and control the ball.
This approach would not empower Trask as a quarterback. It would make him work within a more contained structure which would sacrifice not the present moment, but future development. It would be the path which tries to defeat LSU in particular by keeping the ball from the Tigers.
Does Florida want to lose 24-7, or does it want to pursue victory knowing that the attempt could blow up in UF’s face and lead to a 49-10 drubbing?
Does Florida want to go into a protective shell against a superpowered LSU offense it has to keep off the field, or do the Gators want to let it ride in a context which suggests that they probably won’t be able to implement a daring game plan… but will likely have to if they want to win?
There is no right answer, but Mullen faces a choice between those two fundamental paths heading into Saturday.
Three state receivers look to make Senior Bowl impression
A trio of Florida collegiate pass catchers will look to make an impact at Saturday’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and it’s very possible that one will be selected the opening night the NFL Draft in April.
First, the Gators have a duo of receivers working out for the South team in this week. As wideouts, Van Jefferson and Tyrie Cleveland have been going through practices and getting attention this week. Obviously, their experience against SEC competition is a key to helping them prepare to take on the North squad Saturday afternoon on the NFL Network.
Cleveland was a late add to the South roster only being notified on late Monday afternoon about the prospect of joining the senior All-Stars in Mobile.
And, as SI.com profiled earlier this week, both Florida guys are anxious to demonstrate what they can do and are grateful that they have each other in Alabama for the experience.
“I’ve seen Mr. Nagy (director of the Senior Bowl), and I heard him say something about Tyrie, so I was like, I was trying to creep in to see what he was talking about,” Jefferson admitted to the site.
“Then he looked at me and said ‘I invited your boy!’, and I asked who and he said ‘Tyrie!’, and so I went and called Tyrie, I’m like ‘Tyrie, where you at?’, and Tyrie’s already in Mobile, so my man, my dawg is here, so it’s just got the week much better, I’m excited to go out there and practice with him for the last time, play in a game with him for the last time, it’s exciting.”
Jefferson, who’s the son of former NFL receiver Shawn Jefferson, had two solid but not spectacular seasons in Gainesville after transferring from Ole Miss catching for just over 1,100 yards and 12 TDs in 23 games.
Likewise, Cleveland does not have fantastic numbers and some of that had to do with the shaky quarterback play at times during his career at Florida.
Still, they are both large bodied and Cleveland ran a sub 4.4 (unofficial), 40 yard dash this week, too.
Now, the probable first round pick from the state as a receiver is FAU tight end, Harrison Bryant. While he’s not a household name on the national scale, Bryant has outstanding hands and put up monster numbers for a tight end in 2019.
Flourishing and former coach Lane Kiffin’s system Bryant (above) led all tight ends in FBS with 65 catches, 1,004 yards and 7 TDs, as the FAU owls rolled to a second Conference USA championship in 3 years.
Bryant also has some raving about his route running, hands and his blocking from the practices this week in Mobile, too:
I watched this kid, Harrison Bryant that plays Tight End for FAU all day yesterday! He is very very good! I like everything about this kid from his route running, his catching ability and his physicality. Gotta be the 1st Tight End off the board. https://t.co/HwOzymrcMK
— Footwork_King 🤴🏾 (@footwork_king1) January 23, 2020
Sure, there will be a lot more time for scrutiny of these guys after the Senior Bowl is played from the scouting combine to their individual workouts and team interviews. Still, they are three names to keep an eye on Saturday and beyond, as the draft process continues.
Former Gators QB Franks transfers to Arkansas
Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks has decided on a new spot for his final year of eligibility and he won’t even leave the SEC. The Gators starting quarterback on and off for the last three years announced on Monday night that he will be transferring to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Franks help lead the Gators resurgence two years ago under first-year coach Dan Mullen, including a Peach Bowl New Year’s Six game victory over the Michigan Wolverines. Florida finished 10-3 with momentum headed into this season.
However, with sky high expectations for Franks, Mullen and the Gators this past season (they were a preseason top 10 team) Franks played inconsistently for a lot of the early part of the season. Then, things ended horrifically as Franks suffered a nasty fractured leg at Kentucky ending his season.
The 6’6 Franks finished his Gator career with 28 starts 4,500+ yards passing and 28 TDs. However, his at times poor play, including crucial interceptions enraged Gator fans. Next, he announced December 1st that he would be transferring for one more season, as a graduate to be eligible immediately.
Arkansas is in desperation to rebuild after having fired coach Chad Morris after two horrible seasons. They hired Georgia former offensive line coach Sam Pittman at their head coach and Franks will be playing for new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who spent last season with FSU.
Arkansas is in desperate need of a quality proven quarterback, as they had just three scholarship signal caller options in senior Jack Lindsey, redshirt-sophomore John Stephen Jones and redshirt-freshman K.J. Jefferson. Jones, who is the grandson of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, is considered the most experienced of the group. But to show how bad it is, he’s thrown for just 106 yards and 2 touchdowns with 2 interceptions in six career games.
So, clearly Franks, if/when fully healed from the ankle fracture will be heavily counted on for 2020.
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