Florida Football 3-2-1: Whittemore surprising

Oct 5, 2020 | 0 comments

Now the fun begins. After a pair of wins over lower-tier opponents to open this season, the No. 4 Gators face a two-week stretch that could define their season. They’ll travel to No. 21 Texas A&M this Saturday and will return home for a matchup with No. 17 LSU the following week.

Here are three observations, two questions, and one prediction as Florida enters this pivotal point in the season.

Three Observations

1) Redshirt freshman receiver Trent Whittemore has been the biggest surprise on offense. He’s shown you a little a bit of everything so far. He displayed precise route-running, leaping ability and concentration with his 26-yard catch in heavy traffic against South Carolina. He showed off his elusiveness and situational awareness by making a defender miss and glancing at the chains to make sure he extended for the first down against Ole Miss. He’s fourth on the team in receiving through two games with five catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. Whittemore only saw action in two games last year and entered this season as somewhat of an afterthought. After the South Carolina game, tight end Kyle Pitts referred to him as a “sleeper.” He won’t be for much longer if he keeps this production up.

2) The Gators have become a pass-first offense by design. In 2019, they threw the ball on 54 percent of their snaps. This was largely chalked up to the offensive line struggling mightily to run block. They only averaged 4.2 yards per carry. The thought entering this year was that the offensive line would be much improved and allow Dan Mullen to return to his read-option routes. Indeed, the offensive line has improved, as UF is averaging 5.2 yards per carry through two games. However, they’ve actually increased the number of plays that they throw it to 58.3 percent this year. Dameon Pierce averaged 5.7 yards per carry against the Gamecocks but only got nine carries. Having a star quarterback in Kyle Trask and a deep group of pass-catchers led by Pitts likely influences Mullen to call more pass plays, but it’s fascinating to see Mullen make such a stark philosophical change in his third year at UF.

3) The defense really missed nose tackle Kyree Campbell against South Carolina. The final rushing statistics are a bit deceiving, as they show the Gamecocks rushing for just 117 yards at 3.3 yards per carry. However, if you remove the four sacks from the equation, those numbers balloon up to 149 yards and 4.7 yards per carry. As has been the case throughout his career, Tedarrell Slaton struggled to plug his gaps and keep the linebackers clean. Zachary Carter is better at defensive end and is more of a pass-rusher than a run-stopper. Freshman Gervon Dexter is still trying to adjust to college. With Campbell in the starting lineup for all 13 games in 2019, UF finished eighth the country in rushing defense at 102.8 yards per game. They’re giving up 143.5 rushing yards per game so far this year. Campbell missed the first two games for an undisclosed reason. Texas A&M has an excellent running back in Isaiah Spiller, and the Gators could really use Campbell back in the lineup.

Two Questions

1) Why aren’t the Gators playing with the same level of aggression on defense? Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is known for calling a bunch of creative blitzes to put pressure on the quarterback and confuse him. He sent eight against Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald in 2018. He would blitz guys off of the sideline if he could. For whatever reason, his play-calling seemed a lot more passive against the Gamecocks. They regularly rushed only four players and had a couple of plays where they only sent three. On the back end, the defensive backs gave up huge cushions to the receivers on some plays. The result was some easy throws that extended drives. Why is Grantham not calling the game the same way as he has previously? Perhaps he has too much confidence in his defensive front to get home without sending additional rushers, or maybe he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in his secondary and is trying to compensate by giving them extra help in coverage. Whatever the issue is, it needs to get ironed out quickly for Florida’s defense to play up to its standard.

2) On the flip side, if the defense doesn’t improve, is the offense good enough to win shootouts against the best teams on the schedule? The offense has played exceptionally well so far, but the Gators have also gotten a bit lucky that they played against a terrible defense in week one and a dysfunctional offense in week two. They’re going to play more complete teams over the next two weeks. Texas A&M and LSU aren’t likely to waste scoring opportunities the way South Carolina did, and the Gators most certainly won’t be able to rack up 600 yards against them like they did to Ole Miss’ defense. Can the Gators win a 35-31 or 41-38 game if they need to?

One Prediction

1) You’re going to hear the Gators talk about finishing games better a lot this week. The team was clearly distraught over the way they collapsed on both sides of the ball and let South Carolina back in the game in the fourth quarter. They ran only 12 plays on offense in the fourth quarter, which resulted in an interception, a three-and-out, and three kneel-downs to end the game. On defense, they gave up 160 yards and 10 points over the Gamecocks’ final three possessions. The Gators know they dodged a bullet against South Carolina and might not be as fortunate against other teams on their schedule. Expect them to emphasize finishing a lot this week, and watch for how they finish the Texas A&M game should they get a sizable lead.

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