Grading the Gators

Oct 25, 2021 | 0 comments


Coming out of the bye week, Inside the Gators looks back over the first seven games of the schedule and hands out positional grades based on the performance of UF's players and coaches, by the numbers, and the bottom line.

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GRADING THE GATORS
POSCOMMENTGRADE
QB

If there is one unit that has had a complete up-and-down season, it has been the quarterbacks. In what was supposed to be his breakout season, Emory Jones has struggled tremendously. The good? His 1,305 yards and 10 touchdowns while completing 67.6% of his passes are decent. The bad? Jones has thrown nine interceptions, including four in the first two games and two against LSU. Although he looked great against Alabama, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt, his struggles against LSU and Kentucky played a big factor in the losses. That simply will not cut it in the SEC. Behind him is Anthony Richardson, who has been electric, to say the least. He only has 392 yards in the air, but his five touchdowns against three interceptions have come when the Gators need them the most. After Jones’ lackluster start against LSU, Richardson took over early in the second half and scored four straight touchdowns to keep them in the game. However, he did throw two costly interceptions. On the ground, both have been outstanding. Jones leads the team with 495 yards, while Richardson is second with 348. It has been a roller coaster of a season for both guys as both have had growing pains, but with Dan Mullen adamant on playing both, only time will tell if improvement will be made.

C+
RB

It was no surprise that the Gators’ run game was going to improve. However, it is pleasantly surprising just how the running back room has improved this season. Splitting time between three talented backs is not easy, but Greg Knox has done well rotating Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis, and Nay’quon Wright all season. Pierce has impressed the most with a team-high eight touchdowns on the ground. On the other side, Davis has broken out and looked like his freshman self with a running back-high 287 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Wright has been the third option, but his breakout performance against Vanderbilt cannot go unnoticed. On the year, he adds 218 yards and a touchdown. The biggest improvement and least talked about, has been their pass protection. When called to stay back and block, all three have made crucial blocks when picking up blitzes or lead blocking for the quarterbacks. In the passing game, they have been reliable catchers. As one of the most consistent groups on the team, the running backs will need to continue to play a big role if Florida is going to finish the season off with some success.

A
WR

On paper, the wide receiver group has been lackluster. None of the receivers are close to having the season that Kadarius Toney or Trevon Grimes had in 2020. That being said, the group has played well when called. Expected to be his breakout season, Jacob Copeland leads the team in receptions (23), yards (423) and touchdowns (four). Most of these have come when Richardson is passing the ball. Behind him, Justin Shorter finally had a breakout game against LSU with two touchdowns, including the Hail Mary from Jones to end the half. In addition to this, Shorter has been arguably the best blocker of the group, constantly creating room outside for the running backs to make plays. The 2021 Florida Gator offense is a very run-heavy, not wide receiver friendly offense. However, when their number is called, they do a decent job. If there is one area that needs improvement, the group needs to do better at creating space in coverage consistently.

B-
TE

Like the wide receivers, the tight ends haven’t been spectacular on paper, but I do not think anyone expected Kemore Gamble or Keon Zipperer to have the season Kyle Pitts had in 2020. It was a rough start for them as neither had a reception in the season opener against FAU. In fact, they have combined for only 19 receptions, 191 yards, and a single touchdown. However, their biggest impact has been in the run game. Gamble has improved tremendously in blocking. I would like to see them make more of an impact in the passing game, and maybe more playing time for Nick Elksnis and Jonathan Odom, but overall, Gamble and Zipperer (Gamble mostly) have been sure blockers.

B-
OL

The offensive line was arguably the most questioned group coming into the season. In a pass-heavy offense in 2020, the front five did a tremendous job giving Trask time to throw. However, the Gators’ run game was abysmal, to say the least. Now in 2021, with it being clear this would be a run-heavy offense, many wondered how the offensive line would do. Overall, expectations have been exceeded. Halfway through the season, the Gators have already surpassed the rushing yardage total from last season (1,781 in 2021 versus 1,575 in 2020). In the passing game, they have given plenty of time for Jones and Richardson to pass (even when they throw interceptions). Specifically, Ethan White is the strength of the unit. The biggest surprise has been Jean DeLance, who has improved tremendously. The biggest disappointment on the line is Stewart Reese, who is now splitting time with Josh Braun at right guard. Center Kingsley Eguakun has been reliable throughout the season, but his snap count struggles against Kentucky played a major role in the loss, but part of that is also on the coaches for not adjusting in-game. Overall, the offensive line has been one of the best units in the SEC, and look for them to continue that trend for the last half of the season.

A-
DL

Coming into the season, the defensive line had high expectations. With Brenton Cox Jr. and Zachary Carter coming back and Antonio Valentino and Daquan Newkirk transferring in, there is veteran leadership at every position on the front four. Overall, this unit has been a wrecking force and one of the top groups in the SEC. Florida’s 21 total sacks is tied for second in the SEC. Also playing a big role is sophomore Gervon Dexter, whose 27 tackles are the most for the front four. They have even contributed in the pass defense as Newkirk intercepted a pass against Vanderbilt. Against an incredible Georgia rushing attack in two weeks, this group will have to play the best games of their career. As for now, they have stepped up to the task throughout the season.

A
LB

Ventrell Miller’s season-ending injury early in the season has hurt the linebacker group, and that was evident in the loss to LSU. Jeremiah Moon moved from his original BUCK position to middle linebacker, and has played well in the position. With his speed and experience from BUCK, he constantly has been able to chase down runners on the outside. Behind him, Mohmoud Diabate has played well, and leads the team in total tackles with 55. Emerging from the bench is Tyron Hopper, who despite missed tackles by the rest of the team, has been a sure tackler as his role as increased. Amari Burney has struggled this season, and Hopper seems to be taking over in his role. That being said, tackling must improve from this unit. Overall, the group has been solid but creating turnovers and consistent tackling have been an issue and must be improved.

C+
DB

Like the quarterbacks, the defensive backs have been outstanding at times and lackluster at others. Mainly, in pass coverage, the group has been solid, especially against Alabama. Kaiir Elam, Trey Dean, Rashad Torrence II, and Tre’Vez Johnson have played well defending the pass. True freshman Jason Marshall and Avery Helm seem to get better every week in coverage. However, the group only has three interceptions on the season, which must increase if the Gators want any chance at upsetting Georgia. Along with that, tackling has been abysmal for the group, and that was evident against LSU. The positives are that Dean and Torrence II are second and third on the team in tackles with 46 by Dean and 39 by Torrence II. Torrence II made a team-high 15 tackles against Vanderbilt, in which he constantly came out from his safety position to make big plays. However, LSU showed this group has a lot of improvement to make tackling. This group would have a higher grade, but the lack of takeaways and the amount of missed tackles against LSU cost them.

C+
ST

It isn’t a true Florida Gator team without a dynamic punter/kicker duo, and special teams coach Greg Knox has seemed to find that in kicker Jace Christmann and punter Jeremy Crawshaw. At the beginning of the season, Christmann handled kickoff duties while Chris Howard handled extra points. After Howard’s missed PAT against Alabama, Christmann has handled all kicking duties. On the season, he is only 3-for-4 on field goal attempts, but he has made a 51-yard attempt this season, which matched his career-long. His two field goals against Kentucky kept them in the game. Although he hasn’t kicked much, he has been successful when his number is called. As for punting, the Aussie Crawshaw has been outstanding. With 23 total punts this season, he averages almost 46 yards per kick. His longest was an impressive 69 yards. Along with this, Crawshaw got to show off his speed against Vanderbilt with a fake punt that went for 28 yards. The only negative for the Gators on special teams has been the return game. Xavier Henderson has failed to make an impact returning punts, and there has been no impact on kick returns either.

A+
CO

At his best, Dan Mullen has been a genius play caller with an excellent game plan. At his worst, Mullen has looked stubborn and has not adjusted in games. The Alabama and Tennessee games were his best-coached games this season. His spirit and energy against Vanderbilt were refreshing to see. However, failure to adjust in the Kentucky and LSU games cost them wins. On the defensive side, Todd Grantham has left many fans wanting him out of Gainesville. I will give Grantham some credit. From the second quarter of the Alabama game until the second quarter of the LSU game, Florida’s defense looked like one of the best in the SEC. However, the LSU game showed there are still many issues within his defense. With No. 1 Georgia up next and two weeks to prepare, it will be interesting to see what Mullen and tha staff come up with.

C

 

DEFINING MOMENTS  

  • The final three-quarters of the Alabama game were arguably the best three quarters played by the Gators. Down 21-3 at the end of the first quarter, Florida outscored the Crimson Tide 26-10 to finish the game. Unfortunately, a missed extra point and failed two-point conversion cost the Gators the upset. At the time, it seemed that Florida was a top-five team and was the favorite to win the SEC East.
  • The entire Kentucky game proved that Florida was not where we thought they were. The Gators found the endzone on their second drive, but never found it again in Lexington. The defense shut the Wildcats down for the most part, but mental errors and a lack of explosive plays showed that the Gator offense still had many improvements to be made.
  • With just about 14:00 left in the third quarter, down by 15, Richardson replaced Jones at quarterback in the LSU game. Although not a perfect performance, Richardson led four straight touchdown drives with three touchdown passes and a touchdown rush to keep the Gators in the game. Although Mullen stated that they will continue to play both quarterbacks, it will be tough to not give Richardson the most reps going forward.

BY THE NUMBERS  

 

10Dameon Pierce has a total of 10 touchdowns this season including eight rushing, which leads the team. Although he only has 262 rushing yards on the season, he has found ways to get into the endzone when his number is called whether it be in the air or on the ground.


4 – The Gator defense has only intercepted the ball four times this entire season. Although their overall pass coverage has improved tremendously, the inability to create turnovers has cost them throughout the season.

21 – The Gator defense has gotten to the quarterback consistently this season with 21 total sacks. Carter and Cox Jr. both lead the team with six each, and that will go a long way into ending the season on a high note.

– Ironically his number, Jones has only been sacked five times this season. Although he has turned the ball over quite a bit, the offensive line has given him time to throw, and his athleticism has helped create yards when the rush gets to him.

501.9 – The Gator offense averages just over 500 yards per game, with 254.4 coming on the ground and 247.4 through the air. After a pass heavy offense in 2020, it is pleasant to see the balance Dan Mullen has brought back to the offense.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Sitting at 4-3 (2-3) and unranked, hope for a SEC title and College Football Playoff appearance is gone for the Gators, even if not officially. With a matchup with No. 1 Georgia coming up next, the Gators will play their toughest game of the season. After that, it is smooth sailing, but it is hard to predict that after the Kentucky and LSU losses. That being said, a potential 9-4 season with a bowl game win is still on the table for Mullen and the Gators, and technically an improvement from last season.

Yes there were some glaring mistakes, but there were some obvious high points as well.

At the end of the day though, when you are preparing for Florida to face Miami in 2024 you are going to have forgotten how it happened while you are bragging about the Gators one game winning streak over the Hurricanes.

I am going to approach it the same way today.

It wasn’t always pretty, but Florida got the job done and is sitting at 1-0 with the realization that there are things that need to be fixed.

Now, if they haven’t fixed the issues by the time the Kentucky game comes around, then it’s time to be concerned. 

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