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Florida Gators

Recent history shows Saturday will be tough for Gators at LSU

Matt Zemek

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The last few Florida-LSU games have been slugfests, and beyond that, most Florida-LSU games this century have been slugfests. If you like offense, it has died an ugly and violent death in many Gator-Tiger tussles.

Given that Florida used a late pick-six (photo above) to beat LSU last year, 27-19, the UF offense was responsible for only 20 points in that game. Based on that reality, no UF or LSU offense has scored more than 20 points in any of the last three meetings between the two schools.

If you think that Florida-LSU games usually are grinders, you are correct, at least in the context of the 21st century.

Since Steve Spurrier’s last LSU game at Florida in 2001, the subsequent 17 Gator-Tiger games have produced only six games with more than 50 total points, only four with more than 52.

A score of 17 points or fewer has won this game five times in the last 17 games. A score of 21 or lower has won this game seven of the last 17 times.

LSU scored 30 or more points against Florida four times in six seasons, from 2010 through 2015, but other than that brief period of success, the Tigers have scored at least 30 points against Florida only one other time in the post-Spurrier era, encompassing the past 17 meetings between these teams.

A bonus fact extending beyond the 21st century: From 1979 through 2009, LSU scored at least 30 points against Florida only once: 36 in 2002 under Nick Saban. That’s it. When LSU crushed Florida in Year 1 of the Ron Zook disaster, it marked the first time LSU cracked the 30-point barrier against Florida since 1978, when the Tigers scored 34.

There is a long history and track record of Florida playing LSU in the mud and – certainly over the past 30 years – winning most of the time. The Gators are 19-11 in the last 30 meetings, and in their most recent trip to Baton Rouge, they won in typically rugged fashion.

The 2016 trip to Tiger Stadium was a rescheduled game due to Hurricane Matthew, which caused the originally scheduled game in Gainesville to be postponed. LSU agreed to host the 2016 game in exchange for Florida hosting in 2017 and 2018. This makes the 2019 game the first LSU home game in the series in three years.

In 2016, Ed Orgeron was on the LSU sideline – not as LSU’s permanent coach, but as an interim boss after Les Miles had been fired earlier in the season. Orgeron watched Jim McElwain’s limited and clunky Gators – a team which very rarely entertained the UF fan base but was good enough to win consecutive SEC East championships – lock down another trip to Atlanta with a 16-10 victory in Death Valley.

Florida won on the strength of a late-game goal-line stand. This was 1970s SEC football, the hard-nosed, turn-back-the-clock violence grandfathers knew well.

It was the kind of game Florida needed to play to beat LSU that year. It was the kind of game Florida needed to play to beat LSU a year ago.

It is the game Florida needs to play this Saturday to have a realistic chance… which is why the Gators are – let’s not beat around the bush here – in deep trouble.

Ed Orgeron has shown a lot more wisdom than I or other college football commentators expected two years ago. Orgeron never meshed well with highly-paid offensive coordinator Matt Canada. He intervened in the offense and gave the impression that he wouldn’t let his coaches coach.

What was happening, though, was not a process in which Orgeron was being more stubborn. Quite the contrary. Orgeron began, in a tough 2017 season, a process of evolution. He and his coaching staff gradually developed Joe Burrow into a competent, effective quarterback in 2018.

Burrow wasn’t a fully finished product, but he certainly complemented the Tigers’ defense and moved LSU toward its goal of creating an offense which didn’t get in the defense’s way. Les Miles’ offenses (with coordinator Cam Cameron calling the shots) often tore down what the defense built.

Orgeron’s 2018 season changed that dynamic in Red Stick… but Coach O wanted more O. He wasn’t satisfied.

Orgeron brought in Joe Brady from the New Orleans Saints to teach the passing game. Orgeron arrived at the fundamental realization so many of his fellow coaches – inside and outside the SEC – have failed to make: You can’t beat Nick Saban on Saban’s terms. You have to beat Saban with something different from what he wants or is used to.

LSU and Orgeron saw the light and pursued offense, not defense, as the primary gateway toward elite status in college football. This has not been the modus operandi at LSU. It wasn’t under Miles, despite a national title and a 2011 runner-up finish. It wasn’t under Saban in 2003, when the Tigers won it all.

LSU did develop a high-octane offense in 2013 under Zach Mettenberger, but that was the exception which proved the rule. LSU hasn’t generally had dynamic passing quarterbacks, and it hasn’t had the innovative approach to offense needed to get the most out of its still-position talent.

Until now.

From 1990 through 2001, LSU-Florida featured an old way of doing things against a new way. LSU was the bearer of the old way, Florida the new under Steve Spurrier, who transformed the way offense was played in the 1990s SEC.

In 2019, Florida is the bearer of the old way. LSU is the bearer of the new way.

Joe Burrow is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. His receivers are the best in the country – they torched the Texas secondary in a huge Week 2 victory. LSU can now legitimately claim to be on the same plane as Alabama because it has the offense it lacked in previous years.

Does Florida want to muck up this game? Of course it does. Yet, precisely because LSU has made the changes it needed to make, and has evolved in step with the times in college football, it will be exponentially harder for the Gators to play this game the way they want to.

We all know what Florida has to do, but the agility of Ed Orgeron has made it that much harder for the Gators to win this game.

We will see if the old ways prevail on Saturday night, in the same Tiger Stadium where Jacob Hester won the 2007 game by sheer force of will, and where the Gators won a 19-7 grinder to spoil LSU’s perfect season.

Maybe Florida has a 2003-style surprise to offer the Tigers.

Just don’t expect that to happen.

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 face annual challenge of who’s leaving?

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Gators end to the season was just as predicted, and now, so too is the leaving of significant players for the NFL, etc.

Florida ended up getting the Virginia Cavaliers in the Orange Bowl and the second-best team in the weakest conference in Power 5 football was no match for the strong talented Gators.

Just before the conference championship games, it was predicted almost everywehre that Virginia would get trounced by the Clemson Tigers, but still be the most likely candidate to face the Gators in a “New Year’s Six Bowl”.

Once the game was confirmed and the lines came out, the Gators were listed as massive 16 point favorites at the best Sportsbooks around the nation.

And, when it came time to tee it up? Florida delivered a win.

The final score was 36-28, as Virginia hung tough by scoring 14 in the 4th quarter and got the backdoor cover on the point spread. Still, the Gators finished sandwiched between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Oregon Ducks at No.6 in the AP Top 25. But, will the Gators still be as good next season?

Will they be better? And who might they be missing?

That brings us to a few key players that have declared for the 2020 NFL Draft. Let’s start by taking a look at them.

It seems that as receivers get bigger, corners have been getting smaller. So, C.J. Henderson (above) at 6’1” and 191 pounds is almost an oddity nowadays. He is long, athletic and extremely fast. In short, he was one of the best corners in college football. He’s declared for the 2020 draft and could go in the first round.

But with so much talent at QB, we could see Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Tua Tagavoilva all go in the Top-10. Then, when you factor in team needs and a few other great corners from Alabama, LSU, and Clemson in Treveon Diggs, Kristian Fulton, and A.J. Terrell, Henderson could fall into the second round. And, it could end up being a steal for some lucky team if that happened.

That said, the Broncos, Seahawks, Vikings, 49ers, and Dolphins all need help at corner. And the Seahawks would be a great landing spot, as they may favor him over some of the other top contenders for his excellent ability in man coverage. That is, if they don’t fill another position need such as DE or OLB – which would make sense as well since they had the leagues lowest number of sacks during the regular season.

Seniors who will go on are Van Jefferson, Josh Grimes, Freddie Swain, and Tyrie Cleveland. And the Gators will lose some talent in their TE depth with Lucas Krull hitting the bricks. He was usurped by Kyle Pitts but still caught nine balls for nearly 110 yards.

It isn’t a huge loss, as Pitts is one of the best TE in the SEC. But not having that extra option with experience at TE will hurt a bit. A handful of QBs will also be leaving. For starters Nick Sproles, a walk-on back-up out of Winter Park has been sitting behind both Franks and Trask. So, he elected to hit the transfer portal and take off.

QB Feleipe Franks will also step through the transfer portal to another school. His horrible ankle injury opened the door for Kyle Trask to take over. Now, we very well could see Franks move over to Kansas, as he had originally committed to former LSU coach, Les Miles, who’s now there.

Although Trask is on the rise, this does hurt the depth chart. Emory Jones is reliable, but he’s no Franks … at least not yet.

On top of this, Chris Bleich and Umstead Sanders both hit the transfer list. But, the Gators actually are not hurt by this, as they picked up Brenton Cox at OLB which is probably a big part of why Umstead elected to transfer.

Cox has solid experience at Georgia and will likely earn a starting spot with the Gators. He tallied 20 tackles, a sack, a pair for loss, and six tackles in the Sugar Bowl alone! Then, he also racked up three pass deflections on top of all that.

The Gators lost a lot of depth at receiver, but they pick up one with Jordan Pouncy. He’s big at 6’2” and 205 and has decent speed.

All in all, the Gators won’t be too much worse for the wear. And, with the shift in emphasis to the SEC West, they have great shot at winning the East and to play for the SEC title next season.

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Florida Gators

How legit are Dan Mullen to Cowboys rumors?

Florida Football Insiders

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Spruce Derden- USA Today Sports

The Cowboys finally made the move to fire longtime coach Jason Garrett on Thursday night and there has been great debate about whether Oklahoma college coach Lincoln Riley will be his replacement? Now, comes more speculation that the Cowboys may be going with a college coach, but not Riley. Rather, it’s a name that’s very familiar in our state.

With the understanding that no one has credibly tied Gators coach Dan Mullen to the Cowboys vacancy, as of yet. There are rumors and speculation in the Dallas Market and around Mullen in Gainesville that there is mutual interest in him potentially heading to Big D. And there, he would be reuniting with his star college protege’ from Mississippi State, Dak Prescott.

Prescott took over has the Cowboys starter unexpectedly in his rookie year (2016), when Tony Romo suffered a back injury. And, Prescott has had a very successful four year career in Dallas going 40-24 as a starter in the regular season, and including leading them to the playoffs and a playoff victory a year ago.

However, the Cowboys faltered down the stretch of the season and Prescott has been mostly blame for the offensive struggles. They lost head-to-head with the Eagles in week 16 and ended up finishing 8-8 losing the NFC East leading to Garrett’s dismissal.

Another factor is Prescott is slated to be an unrestricted free agent after only making $2 million this year, and clearly, the Cowboys have to commit to him first before any rumored reuniting with Mullen could take place.

As for Mullen, he clearly has resurrected the Gators program over his two years since coming to Gainesville from Mississippi State. They have won 10 or more games in each of the seasons and won a “New Year’s Six” bowl game over Michigan and Virginia in those two years.

It’s unknown how much Mullen would value heading to the Cowboys vs. staying in Gainesville, but clearly he would make more money coaching for Jerry Jones in the NFL. Perhaps, he’d get as much as double his believed $6 million salary for the Gators.

Mullen and Prescott turned Mississippi State into a national power in 2014. That’s when Prescott broke 12 school records, and finished eighth in the Heisman voting as Mississippi State ascended to the number one ranking in the country in October of that year.

The Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, as Prescott had over 500 yards of total offense in that game. He came back for a senior season in 2015 under Mullen and was first team All-SEC as well as a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, while accumulating 4,300 yards of offense and 39 combined touchdowns.

By the time Prescott left Starkville he owned 38 school records and was a two-time All-American. Mullen and his staff deserve a good deal of credit for helping him with that.

So, on the surface, it makes sense that the Cowboys might have interest in Mullen, but then again, Jones has been infatuated previously with Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and now with Riley.

And, Riley produced back-to-back Heisman winning number one overall draft picks with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray the last two years. And, it’s expected that his quarterback from this past season, Jalen Hurts, will also be drafted, if not in the first round, at some point.

Now, we wait to see if the rumors are just that, or if the Prescott-Mullen previous connection gains traction on Mullen heading to the NFL

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