It is time for an Orange Bowl which lacks national juice. It is hard to squeeze a lot of nationwide interest out of a game in which one team is favored by two touchdowns, and the underdog has four losses, including a loss to the Miami Hurricanes. (Yep, that bad.)
Yet, the Florida Gators and Virginia Cavaliers will play on Monday Night Football, the collegiate version. It is the biggest football game played all season in the Miami Dolphins’ home stadium. Florida will try to forge its first 11-win season under Dan Mullen and win a second straight New Year’s Six bowl.
Given what is happening with Manny Diaz at Miami, and given what has happened at Florida State the past few years, life in Florida isn’t that bad. Yes, the Gators are coming in second to Kirby Smart and Georgia, which needs to be fixed. Yes, the recruiting of Dan Mullen’s staff needs to improve. That also needs to be addressed. Yet, on balance, life could be so much worse in Gainesville.
Florida could have gotten Chip Kelly.
So, onward we go, into the Orange Bowl. Virginia has absolutely nothing to lose, which makes this game dangerous for Florida despite the two-touchdown spread in Las Vegas. There is certainly a scenario in which the Gators could lose this game and enter the offseason immersed in misery. That scenario obviously involves Virginia playing with supreme passion and confidence, while Florida – reminiscent of Georgia in last season’s Sugar Bowl against four-loss Texas – drifts through the motions and doesn’t give a darn.
If one had to pick a single game key out of a large basket of possible answers, what would it be?
The offensive line stands out.
First of all, Virginia is led by a defense-first coach, Bronco Mendenhall. The Cavaliers do have Bryce Perkins, a very dangerous quarterback. Make no mistake: Perkins is a central reason the Cavaliers have gotten this far and won an ACC Coastal Division title for the first time in school history. Yet, in this matchup, Virginia is counting on the ability of its defensive line to outplay Florida’s offensive line.
It’s not hard to grasp: The offensive line is Florida’s weakest position group. The Gators haven’t been able to reliably run the ball all season It’s amazing Florida has won 10 games with such a limited running game.
If Florida comes into the Orange Bowl with less motivation than Virginia, the offensive line is the obvious exception. If any unit on the Gator roster ought to enter this game with a lot to prove, it’s the offensive line. If the UF offensive line sets a tone in this game, the rest of the team will follow. It is the surest, most dependable way to fire up the team and make sure the Gators don’t drift through a game in which Virginia is playing with house money.
If the offensive line keeps Kyle Trask clean and can be modestly effective in run blocking, Florida should be able to handle a Virginia defense which lost its best player, cornerback Bryce Hall, to an ankle injury in October. Hall is projected to be a first-round draft pick in April of 2020. Virginia’s defense wasn’t the same without him, which magnifies the Hoos’ achievement of winning the ACC Coastal.
Nevertheless, if Florida’s offensive line can handle Virginia’s defensive front, the rest of this game should fall into place for the Gators, who have been able to get healthy on defense after all the key injuries they suffered this season on that side of the ball.
Florida, as a full roster, might not be that excited for the Orange Bowl. We don’t really know what the Gators are thinking or feeling, but if they’re not jacked up for this game, it wouldn’t be the first time an SEC team in a non-playoff bowl game feels a little depressed.
The antidote to the blahs? The Florida offensive line. If you want some juice in your Orange Bowl, that’s where the passion has to pour out for the Gators.
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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