FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
- 10 Takeaways: Florida readies for season’s toughest test
- Recruit Reaction: ‘I’m just waiting for the Auburn game’
- Could four-star flip from Miami to Florida
- Even after feel-good win, there’s work to do
- Instant Analysis: Gators tame the Tigers
- WCC: Running list of visitors for UF-AU game
- Mullen Post-Game: Toney out 2-3 more weeks
- WCC: UF-TU Game Thread
The “easy” portion of the Gators’ schedule is over following their 38-0 defeat of Towson on Saturday. Auburn, LSU and Georgia await over the next month.
Here are three observations, two questions and one prediction as UF prepares for homecoming.
1) Dameon Pierce needs to get more carries moving forward. He carried the ball six times for 84 yards and a 37-yard score against Towson. On a couple of his runs, he broke tackles in the backfield and turned negative plays into two or three yards. Meanwhile, Lamical Perine gained just 16 yards on six carries. Giving Pierce more carries isn’t an indictment on Perine; it’s a result of the offensive line being as bad as it is. Florida’s running backs are going to get hit in the backfield all season because of the line, so it makes since to give the ball to a running back who has the power to break tackles and the speed to hit the tiny holes that are opened up. Pierce is that guy.
2) Florida’s defense is going to have do a much better job of stopping quarterback runs against Auburn. If you take out sacks, Towson quarterback Tom Flacco ran for 50 yards on six carries. Most of his damage came early in the game, as he ran for 40 yards and converted a pair of third downs on the opening drive. Flacco is a solid athlete but nothing like what the Gators will face next week. Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix was ranked as the No. 1 dual threat quarterback in his recruiting class, and he rushed for more than 100 yards against Mississippi State on Saturday. For the Gators to have a chance to win, they can’t let him get anywhere near the 100-yard mark.
3) The Gators’ three-tight end sets have a chance to be real weapon for them on the goal line. On at least three plays against Towson, Florida utilized a three tight end set: Kemore Gamble, Keon Zipperer and Dante Lang. This formation makes a lot of sense. UF struggles to run the ball out of basic formations, so why not get your three best blocking tight ends on the field and see if you can’t generate more push? Playing three tight ends also gives Dan Mullen the ability to be creative, as evidenced by the touchdown pass to Zipperer on a screen pass in the fourth quarter. It’s a nice wrinkle for the offense that opens up more options for them on the goal line and gives opposing defenses more things to prepare for.
1) How effective will be CJ Henderson and Jabari Zuniga be in their return from injury? This might be the biggest key to the game. Henderson has missed most of the last four games with a sprained ankle, while Zuniga has missed most of the last three games with the same injury. Mullen said after the Towson game that he anticipates them both being back for the Auburn game, and he suggested that they probably could’ve played against Towson but were held out for precautionary reasons. Freshmen cornerbacks Kaiir Elam and Jaydon Hill filled in admirably for Henderson, but you’d still rather have one of the best corners in the nation on the field than freshmen. Getting a healthy and productive Zuniga back might be even bigger than getting Henderson back. Jeremiah Moon, Zuniga’s replacement in the starting lineup, struggled to set the edge against Towson and missed a couple of opportunities to make impact plays. Zuniga is masterful in run defense, and he’ll prevent offenses from focusing entirely on Jonathan Greenard.
2) Can Kyle Trask improve his pocket awareness, or is that going to be a liability for the rest of the season? He held onto the ball too long a couple of times against Tennessee and lost a fumble as a result. Against Towson, it looked like he had enough time to get rid of the ball on two of the three sacks he took. How much of that lack of awareness is attributable to him not playing much in his career until the past three games, and how much of that is just part of who he is? Can he improve in this area as he gets more snaps? He’ll need to be much better next week because Auburn’s defensive line is one of the best in the country.
1) There will be more hype surrounding the Auburn game than UF’s campus has seen in a long time. For starters, it’ll be a top-10 matchup in a sold-out Swamp with a national audience viewing on CBS. ESPN will host their College Gameday pregame show on campus for the first time since 2012. UF and Auburn used to be annual rivals before the SEC expanded to 12 teams in 1992, but they haven’t played since 2011 and not in Gainesville since 2007. As if there wasn’t enough excitement already, the Gators officially announced on Sunday morning that they will be wearing throwback uniforms from the 1960s. Whichever team wins this game will position themselves as a legitimate national title contender, while the loser will face an uphill battle.