The 2012 season was quite the roller coaster ride for the Florida Gators, as they saw extremely inconsistent play from quarterback Jeff Driskel and the rest of the offense, while having elite play from their defense for most of the year. They had a very surprising 11-2 record and made the Sugar Bowl where they got what I call a “good ole’ fashioned butt woopin” from Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville Cardinals. But forget about last year’s team when it comes to the 2013 Florida Gators as they will be a vastly different team on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football. The Gators are one of the biggest question marks in the SEC as many don’t know whether they will be a contender or a middling team this football season. The defense lost a lot of pieces to the NFL, including defensive tackle Sharriff Floyd and Matt Elam, both integral parts of Florida’s defense last season. The offense lost running back Mike Gillislee, who was the center of the Gators rushing attack last season.
Although the defense was the strong point for the Gators last season, look for the defense to struggle early in the 2013 season with some tough games against Miami (FL), LSU, Arkansas, and Tennessee. By the time that Florida faces Georgia the defense will have gotten their feet under them and established themselves as one of the better defenses in college football. Florida’s main problem on defense will be stopping the run and defending play action passes as they lost many of the players that made Florida such a run stuffing defense last year. Florida will now have inexperienced starters across the defense, all the way from the defensive line to the linebacking corps, and both safety positions. The new starters will have trouble learning how to stop the strong running games in the tough SEC. Teams with an adequate running game will be able to run the ball down Florida’s throat and then light them up with the play action game if they can’t fix the run defense quickly.
While the Gators did pick up arguably the best running back in the country in Kevin Taylor, he likely will not be the starter opening day as he is reportedly having struggles learning Brent Pease’s offensive system, so that means that Matt Jones will be the starting running back. Jones is a power back, and will be one of the biggest components on a Gator offense that looks to run first, second, and at every other point possible. Look for Taylor to be the Gators primary third down back, as he starts to get integrated into the offense. Between the two backs, the only way to stop Florida’s run game is to close the holes early and make Jeff Driskel throw the ball. Florida’s receivers will make life hard enough for Driskel as he has trouble throwing the ball as it is anyways. If any wide receiver will take the reigns of this Gator’s offense, it will be the lengthy DeMarcus Robinson. With only one other threat at wide out for Florida, Robinson will need a good showing in 2013 to make much needed plays in the passing game. And if there’s one attribute Driskel has to love about Robinson, it’s his ability to make plays on poorly thrown balls. Along with tight end Kent Taylor, Robinson will be the go to on third downs and in the red zone.
And now comes the most integral and intriguing questions for the 2013 college football season; whether or not Jeff Driskel will make strides as a quarterback and play up to the potential he supposedly possesses being the #1 quarterback coming out of high school. Driskel is a tough and rugged football player but he lacks football I.Q., pocket presence, or accuracy to back defensive backs worry about Driskel lighting them up through the air. Driskel is going to have to improve dramatically as a quarterback for the Gators to compete in the SEC this season, because right now every defensive coordinator is licking their chops at the idea of facing the Driskel-led Gators, as they know all they have to do is put 8 men in the box ad make Driskel try to beat them, which will work if the team has an at least above average defense, as Driskel has not shown yet that he can beat a defense with his arm.
All in all, the Gators look to be one of the more intriguing story lines in college football this season as we don’t know if we will see the dominant team we saw in the regular season or if we will see the team that crumbled under pressure in the Sugar Bowl. The defense will have to get going early in the season for the Gators to hope to have a successful season, because the offense is not likely to give them much help, if any at all. Driskel is going to have make massive strides in the passing game, along with his receivers as well. The running game will likely be solid for the Gators, but defenses will know that they are going to run the ball so that will hurt their ability to run as effectively as they would like.
Tune into next week’s Friday Florida Fix as I give my season predictions for the Florida Gators.