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Take Five Breakdown: Florida-Samford Preview

November 11, 2021
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This Saturday in the Swamp, Dan Mullen’s Florida football squad is looking to rebound from a 4-5 start as they take on Samford. 

Inside the Gators has the very latest on the match-up in this Game Week Breakdown.

Allen Barney spoke with Carson Caulfield of The Samford Crimson for answers to five burning questions as well as previewing five Bulldogs players Gator fans should keep an eye on this weekend.

Five Samford Bulldogs to keep an eye on

Montrell Washington, Wide Receiver, Senior

  • The Skinny: To say that Washington can do it all is an understatement, the Georgia native is the primary weapon of the Bulldogs' high-octane offense. He leads the team with 44 receptions, 646 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns but his impact does not stop there as he has two punt return touchdowns and averages 20.5 yards per kickoff return. He chips in on the run game as well with 125 yards and five touchdowns on 15 carries. The Gator defense will have to focus on stopping Washington if they went to slow down the Samford offense.

Nathan East, Linebacker, Graduate Student

  • The Skinny: East is the heart and soul of the defense as he is usually in the middle of every play. He led the team during the 2021 Spring season with 68 tackles and was named to the second-team All-SoCon and has kept the momentum by leading the team with 80 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss during the fall season. If a struggling Samford defense makes any stops expect East to be right there racking up tackles as his college career winds down and he looks to make a big final impression on national television.

Demarcus Ware, Running Back, Senior

  • The Skinny: Ware is coming in with a lot of momentum after scoring two touchdowns against Citadel last week and he leads the team with seven rushing touchdowns. His recent performances indicate that he could be seeing a lot of touches if Samford can jump out to an early lead to keep the ball away from the Gator offense. I would expect Ware and Jay Stanton to be fed the ball a lot in the early parts of the game after the Gators' performance against the run in previous games against LSU and South Carolina.

Liam Welch, Quarterback, Graduate Student

  • The Skinny: After being the backup in 2017, 2018, and most of 2019, Welch finally got his shot at QB1 during the spring 2021 season, and he was productive. He has carried that momentum into the fall season by lighting up the Southern Conference to the tune of a conference-leading 2,697 passing yards and 17 touchdown passes. He has dual-threat capabilities, and it shows with 463 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground. According to Caulfield, he is a dual-threat who can air out and is one of the most talented players on the team. Welch is a finalist for the Walter Payton Award that goes to the best offensive player at the FCS level. Expect Welch to take risks to make big plays as he looks to put his name on the map at the national level.

Trimarcus Cheeks, Linebacker, Junior

  • The Skinny: Cheeks has been recognized for his play on a national level when Phil Steele named him a second-team freshman all-American in 2019. Cheeks has not disappointed in the fall 2021 season as he is second on the team with 64 tackles to go along with four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Cheeks will be looking to make big plays and create havoc as he tries to get his name on the radar for NFL scouts.

Five Fast Facts

  • This will be the third time that Samford and Florida are playing on the gridiron with Florida winning both previous matchups back in 1921 and 1922.
  • Entering Saturday’s matchup, Samford leads the Southern Conference in total yards per game (450.7) and points per game (36.8). Their defense gives up the most passing yards per game in the Southern Conference at 251.9 yards per game and the second-most touchdown passes allowed at 16.
  • This will be the 11th straight season that the Bulldogs are facing an SEC or ACC opponent and they have lost the previous 10 matchups of such. The Bulldogs faced the Gators head coach Dan Mullen when he was at Mississippi State in 2016, Samford had 627 yards of offense in a 56-41 loss.
  • The Bulldogs offense leads the Southern Conference and is 12th at the FCS level in red zone efficiency, scoring on 88.9 percent of their redzone trips. Their 45 trips to the redzone have led to 30 touchdowns and 10 field goals.
  • Head Coach Chris Hatcher won a Division II national championship in 2004 with Valdosta State and is second on the all-time wins list at Samford with 40 wins in 6+ seasons at Samford. Six of the first nine games for Samford have been decided by one possession and they carry a record of 2-4 in those matchups.

Five Game Day Storylines

Can Liam Welch help his case with the Walter Payton Award with a great performance against Florida?

  • As I said mentioned in Welch’s profile, he is a finalist for the highest honor an offensive player at the FCS level can achieve. His numbers are not record-breaking, but he has been the most consistent and productive quarterback in the conference. A big game against the Gators can spotlight himself to the voters of the award and boost his resume against his competition.

What can the Gator defense expect from the Bulldogs offense?

  • The Bulldogs run an air-raid offense and Hatcher is an offensive mastermind that has carved up a Mullen-led team before. The Gator defense struggled with every facet of the game against South Carolina and Samford may choose to continue airing it out, but they may take their cue from previous Gator opponents and try to pound the defense with the run game before taking big shots downfield with Welch’s arm. I expect Welch and Washington to hook up for a deep bomb or two at some point and Welch can take off and run, which has been a thorn in the Gator defenses’ side in years past. Another aspect to pay attention to is if Hatcher will play mind games with newly-promoted Christian Robinson becoming the play-caller and defensive coordinator for the first time in his career.

How will the Samford players react to playing in a tough environment like the Swamp?

  • Caulfield said that the Bulldogs will come out motivated to play but the Swamp will be an issue. Samford has not played in an environment like Ben Hill Griffin Stadium since 2019 when they visited Auburn. That was two years ago, and this is a completely different team with freshman and sophomores getting their first experience in an SEC environment. The big question will be how many Gator fans show up, the situation was mitigated a little bit when Mullen gave Todd Grantham and John Hevesy their walking papers but there is still some residual frustration among the Gator fan base because of other issues under Mullen’s tenure that could lead to half the usual crowd in the Swamp and not allow the crowd noise to be a factor.

Can the Samford defense slow down the Gator offense?

  • As said earlier, Samford gives up the most passing yards per game in their conference and the rush defense is not much better. The Gators have plenty of opportunities to move the ball and score at will on the Samford defense and the stats support that notion with two opponents scoring 50 or more points and four opponents scoring over 40 points. This should be a remedy as the Gator offense looks to get back on track after their second-worst performance of the season.

Does Samford have a realistic chance to pull off the upset?

  • The Gators have more talent, but the fans have seen this movie before. In 2013, the Gators were reeling with injuries and disappointing results with a coach under fire for how the season has transpired. This situation is eerily similar to that year when the Gators lost at home to Georgia Southern, a team that did not complete a pass in that game. The quarterback situation is a little better for the Gators but there are many other deficiencies in other places and there have been rumors that Mullen has lost the team. To go pair with all of that, the Gators fired two coaches and now coaches must step into new roles that they have not experienced during their time in Gainesville. If the players come out with the same mentality as last week and the coaches cannot adjust to adversity, I would not be surprised to see the Gators involved in a close game in the 4th quarter and it is not good to let a team hang around and have them believing they can pull an upset.

Game Prediction

Florida 38, Samford 21

Take Five Breakdown: Florida-Samford Preview

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