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“New Path” for Gators offense begins with Tennessee

Matt Zemek

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Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Florida gets ready for an SEC showdown at home with Tennessee Saturday. And, let’s start with a dose of bitter-tasting realism, but then move to a note of hopeful optimism.

The bitterly realistic outlook for the Gators is that, when Feleipe Franks went down with a season-ending injury against the Kentucky Wildcats, Florida’s hopes of being a genuine challenger to the Georgia Bulldogs were greatly diminished. It is hard to get around that point.

Franks’s mobility gave Florida’s offense an extra dimension which is generally needed to win high-level games against formidable opposition. No, Franks was not playing well at the time of his injury, but his presence on the field – combined with the chance that he would evolve in the first half of the season before finding his groove in the second half of the campaign – gave the Gators and Dan Mullen a legitimate belief that this season could become everything Gator Nation hoped it would be.

Now, those high-end hopes are hard to sustain. Being on the same level of Georgia just doesn’t seem like a legitimate aspiration.

That is the bitter realism.

Now, let’s shift to the hopeful and optimistic part of the program.

All while Florida’s offense and its ceiling have been the primary focal points of the 2019 discussion surrounding the Gators, it has to be noted that the defense has been very uneven as well.

Florida couldn’t tackle in Week 1 – neither could Miami, but that’s for the Hurricanes to sort out.

Florida made a backup quarterback, Kentucky’s Sawyer Smith, look very good for most of last weekend’s game in Lexington. Florida had no answers for Kentucky receiver Ahmad Wagner.

Pass interference penalties have been a recurring problem this year for the Gators, whose secondary has become a primary problem, a source of both instability and constant guessing from a coaching staff which is trying different combinations of players.

As much as the Franks injury has hurt this team, the Gators do have a path to improvement, a path which could make them more competitive and dramatically increase their upside: The secondary can get its act together.

Quarterbacks – often in relationship with their receivers – frequently need time to develop as a season moves along. September can be a choppy and uneven month for quarterbacks, as Franks himself showed. Yet, let’s not be trapped into thinking this is only an offensive problem. Defenses can also spend September slogging through difficult periods.

Had Kentucky made a medium-length field goal in the final minute of Saturday’s game in the bluegrass, Florida would have paid a real price for the sins of its secondary, but the Gators got away with their deficiencies. Florida hasn’t yet learned the hard way that in a pass-first sport – with more pass-first teams, including the 2019 SEC, where LSU and Alabama are gunning instead of running – the secondary is primary.

If Florida can develop and evolve on the back line of its defense – not only cultivating better instincts and in-game responses, but also finding the rotations of players with the appropriately balanced snap counts to give every player the proper workload, relative to his abilities – the Gators can develop a cutthroat defense.

The ceiling might have been lowered for the offense without Feleipe Franks, but the ceiling is high for the defense because of all the untapped potential waiting to be developed in the secondary.

Florida isn’t going to fulfill all its dreams and ambitions with 35-31 games this year. The Gators need to take the 17-10 path instead.

Starting on Saturday against Tennessee – a highly vulnerable offense – we will see if the Gators can chomp down on opposing passing games and concede nothing. That is the new path Florida must take if this season is to come close to fulfilling its hopes and dreams.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

Florida Gators

Gators announced home and home series with Cal Friday

Florida Football Insiders

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Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators continued their philosophy of striking “home-and-home” deals with Power 5 opposition, when they announced on Friday that they will be doing so with the Cal-Berkley Bears out of the Pac-12 coming later in this decade.

The Gators made the announcement through their website and social media mid-day Friday that they will play Cal at home first and then travel to Berkeley the following year:

A.D. Scott Stricklin has broken up the long tradition that Florida would only play two home out of conference games in September and usually, against much lesser competition before entering SEC play. Stricklin has been very outspoken that in the age of the College Football Playoff, strength of schedule is emphasized and the selection committee holds schools responsible for not playing top-notch out of conference opponents, at least some of the time.

With that in mind, the Gators opened the 2019 season in Orlando against the Miami Hurricanes and won a sloppy game. And, they already have other Power 5 schools laid out to play home and away.

As we previously wrote, Florida will be playing the Texas Longhorns first in Gainesville in 2030 and then. return the game the following year in Austin.

Florida had previously announced last year that they will also play the Colorado Buffaloes out of the Pac-12, again with the first game in Gainesville in 2028 and then, returning it to Boulder the following season.

It’s interesting with Friday’s announcement that Stricklin and the football program are working backwards with the schedule. And, they will now play Cal before Colorado in September of 2026, and then will be opening on the Berkeley campus the following season.

Florida and Cal have only met two times, having played first in Gainesville in 1974 as the Gators wo 21 – 17 and then, they also met in Tampa to open the 1980 season with a Florida 41-13 blowout victory.

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Florida Gators

Second National Signing Day recap for top state schools

Jamil King

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

National Signing Day 2020 has come and gone, and several in state schools were able to improve their classes heading into spring ball. The University of Florida watched rival Georgia secure the number one overall class, but the Gators were still able to land the best class in the state with the number eight class overall.

The Gators officially signed former five-star receiver Justin Shorter from Penn State, and Florida stayed in the family today as well, Xzavier Henderson officially joined the Gators. He’s the ounger brother of  former DB C.J. Henderson.

Dan Mullen also able to dip into the state of Texas inking four-star DE Princely Umanmielen. It wasn’t all great news for the Gators, as they missed out on a few key guys, including losing out on arguably top state safety Avantae Williams to in state rival Miami. Overall it was a good cycle for the Gators both recruiting and in the transfer portal.

The Miami Hurricanes continued an impressive offseason on National Signing Day. The Canes made arguably the biggest move in the state by landing Williams and keeping him Florida. Williams became the highest rated Hurricane in the class and propelled the U to the number 13 spot.

Miami has the second-best class in the ACC behind Clemson. With an impressive offseason in the books, once again excitement will be in the air in Coral Gables. The question is: will they live up to it in year two for Manny Diaz?

Florida State and new coach Mike Norvell have been working hard to get this class rolling last minute. After a good early National Signing Day Norvell looked to keep the momentum going. The Noles took a big hit Wednesday though, with the loss of Venice four star WR, Malachi Wideman, who flipped to Tennessee.

The Noles came back from that by landing a handful of other recruits. They got the number six Juco running back La’Damian Webb, ass well as, Robert Scott, an offensive lineman and Corey Wren, an athlete/running back.

Replacing Cam Akers will be tough for Norvell and building the offensive line is a top priority. The former Memphis coach came in late like he did, yet he finishes with a decent class sitting at 22 on 24/7.

Now the work begins turning around the former powerhouse.

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