Notebook: Gators Ranked 10th in First CFP Poll

Nov 6, 2019 | 0 comments

Through the first 10 weeks of the season, the Associated Press Poll and the Amway Coaches Poll served as nothing more than contentious points of discussion for college football fans. Fans used these rankings to brag about their team, poke fun at their rivals and complain about perceived voter biases.

The only ranking that matters was released on Tuesday night.

Following their loss to Georgia, the Gators checked in at No. 10 in the first College Football Playoff poll of the season. If the season were to end today, they would play in either the Orange Bowl or the Cotton Bowl, both of which are part of the coveted New Year’s Six.

UF has played three of the top-11 teams in the standings: No. 2 LSU, No. 6 Georgia and No. 11 Auburn. Two of their final three opponents currently have losing records, and some of the teams in front of them still have tough challenges in the coming weeks, so the Gators could climb in the rankings before the end of the season.

The top four teams that would compete in the playoff if the season ended now are No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Penn State. However, as Florida coach Dan Mullen pointed out at his Monday press conference, the season isn’t ending now.

“I'm going to bet it's not going to stay the same all the way through.” he said. “So, that's why you play the whole season because there's a lot of football to be played.”

Bleich on the Move

Reports surfaced Tuesday afternoon that Gators redshirt freshman offensive lineman Christopher Bleich has entered his name into the NCAA’s transfer portal.

Bleich started eight of the nine games this season at right guard, missing the South Carolina game due to blisters on his hands. However, his playing time gradually decreased over the past month as he struggled and classmate Richard Gouraige emerged as a viable alternative, although Bleich did play the entire UGA game.

Offensive line coach John Hevesy said that “we support Chris and everything he’s doing” but declined further comment. He said Mullen will address the topic on his appearance on the SEC Teleconference on Wednesday morning. It is unknown if Bleich is still practicing with the team.

Related: Bleich tells ITG that he has a family issue

With Bleich no longer available, Gouraige is expected to start at left guard, with Brett Heggie flipping over to right guard.

“He’s still a young guy, things he has to work on,” Hevesy said of Gouraige. “To me, everything for young guys is just pad level of staying down and understanding they’re not bigger and stronger than those guys. I mean, they got away a lot of that in high school. They’re bigger than 95 percent of the people they play. When you get here, it’s not. They lift weights, too. They’re strong, too. So, guess what? It comes down to technique and pad level. He did a lot of decent things, but obviously there’s a lot of things we have to correct.”

Freshman Ethan White, who’s been having “great practices” according to Hevesy, replaces Gouraige as the first lineman off the bench.

“He’s in the position to come in and go play,” Hevesy said. “That’s what I said you come here for, go play now. It’s a good thing we’re home. We don’t have to go to an outside environment where home is a little bit controlled. But to me, it’s an opportunity to go play.”

Rushing Woes

Florida’s offensive line has done a poor job of run-blocking all season, but they reached a new level of futility against the Bulldogs. Their 21 rushing yards were the fewest by the Gators since they rushed for 11 yards in the 2017 opener against Michigan.

Hevesy said one of the biggest keys to improving the running game is to get off to faster starts. Easily avoidable penalties caused them to face unfavorable downs and distances early against Georgia. Falling behind on the scoreboard caused them to abandon the running game earlier than they would’ve liked.

“[We] didn't get a chance to say, 'Hey, let's go pound the ball and run the ball and get those three, four yards,’” Hevesy said. “It became the point of, 'OK, we've got to get bigger chunks. We got to throw the ball.’

“We got to do better than that and stop shooting ourselves in the foot at beginning of the game."

Answering the Challenge

On Monday, Mullen said he wanted to see his players practice with a more intense attitude this week following the loss. While their postseason fate is no longer in their own hands, that’s no excuse to not play to the best of their abilities against Vanderbilt. They’re still keeping score on Saturday, and Mullen said that’s all the motivation they should need as competitors.

“If you’re a competitor, you can’t wait to get back out there and get back to work,” he said. “You can’t wait to go find a way to win the game this Saturday and hit the field again. If you’re a competitor, that drives you, that anticipation to make sure that you correct what happened in the last game.”

According to tight end Lucas Krull, the team has responded well to their coach’s message.

“It's all about your will to want to win, so that's what I've seen in practice this week,” he said. “Every guy has been out there practicing pissed off. You know, we're angry. It's something that's going to translate to a great finish.

“A lot of teams can turn their heads down and be frustrated and quit on a season, and that's not us. That's not the Gator Standard, and that's not how we work here.”

Commodores’ Defensive Intensity

If you look at the statistical rankings, the Commodores have almost no chance of stopping UF’s offense. They rank last in the SEC in total defense, turnovers and sacks and next to last in scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense.

However, Hevesy said their defensive line will challenge his unit because of the effort they play with, their great pad level and their size in the middle.

“You play them, whether it's the first quarter or the fourth quarter, whether they're up, they're down, you see them play hard,” he said. “That's one thing that every year you watch them, you sit there and say, 'OK, whatever their record is, they're playing hard.' And to me, we got to match it every time."


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