Florida Gators at University of Miami Preview

By: Shasky Clarke

#12 Florida Gators 1-0 (0-0) at University of Miami 1-0 (0-0)

In what is an enticing match-up, the Gators travel to Miami to play a squad that is exuberant about its explosive offense. Miami figures its herd of playmakers could exploit a Florida defense gutted by graduation and the 2013 NFL Draft. It also figures its improved, beefed up defense won’t be tested too much by an apparently low-scoring, relatively anemic Florida offense.

 

But, buoyed by a fast, well-coached, and physical team and led by super talented and underrated players like quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive tackle Dominique Easley, Florida is still the more reliable and slightly better overall team. The game could come down to turnovers and big plays in what should make for an exciting opportunity to get a top ten upset over a mammoth intra-state foe.

 

When Miami has the ball

 

Ball Protection and Big Plays

Florida’s success over the past couple years is partly a result of its ability to win the turnover battle. In 2012, the Gators were an impressive +15 in turnover margin. Current Gator starting cornerbacks Jaylen Watkins and Marcus Roberson came up with three and two picks, respectively last season. Possibly even more dangerous was physical cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, whose three forced fumbles hinted at a penchant for stripping the ball reminiscent of Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman.

 

But what was also remarkable was the ability of Florida’s defense to prevent big plays downfield. It is strength against strength here as Florida faces one of the nation’s most dangerous big play offenses in Miami. Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris has the arm and running back Duke Johnson and receivers Herb Waters and Phillip Dorsett have all showcased game breaking ability. The ability to strike quickly and pick up chunk yardage lessens the pressure on the offense to consistently move the chains on possessions.

 

Advantage: Florida

 

Dominique Easley and Florida Front Four

Miami has an elite offensive line and will acquit itself well against just about any defensive line. But it will have its hands full in what should be one of the most critical matchups of the afternoon.

 

There was uncertainty about what the Gators defensive line would look like without 2013 first round defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. But it looks like the front four may be even better, led by bonafide star tackle Dominique Easley. Easley is a supreme athlete for the interior, combining excellent power and pad level with often unblockable explosiveness and quickness. He dominated in week one against Toledo and he has shown the versatility to literally play every position on the line.

 

Containing him will be critical, especially in pass protection. Although senior right guard Brandon Linder is himself an elite talent and should hold up well, the real concern should be how left guard Malcolm Bunche handles Easley’s athleticism and pad level. Center Shane McDermott will also be tested.

 

But Florida’s talent doesn’t end there. The Gators will stand up one of their ends, senior Ronald Powell and sophomore Dante Fowler Jr., in some nickel situations. Both are fantastic athletes even as Powell is coming off significant ACL issues. Nose tackle Leon Orr has flashed as well with good size, quickness and versatility.  Big, physical end Jonathan Bullard is an underrated, explosive, violent force.

 

Advantage: Push

 

Miami Run Game vs. Florida Nickel

The Florida defense plays a substantial amount out of their nickel package, lining up with two linebackers and five defensive backs even in base situations. A fast defense, the unit also does an excellent job tackling in the open field. The cornerbacks are all assertive and physical and the team gets back formerly suspended sophomore inside linebacker Antonio Morrison, a monster hitter.

 

Nevertheless, they have shown some susceptibility to downhill, inside running against their six man front. Miami should invest in using their huge offensive line to pound between the tackles. Capitalizing against nickel two-deep looks could make the Gators safeties and nickel back respect the run game leaving receivers in one-on-one situations.

 

Advantage: Miami

 

Final Focus for the Miami Offense

Overall, Miami has to focus on getting a downhill running game going. In terms of the pass, it’s hard to expect much dependence on big plays against Florida. Thus, it will be important to execute their short passing game to take advantage of space given up underneath on the outside and get their game breakers in space where they could use their dynamic run-after-catch skills.

 

Advantage: Push

 

Leaders

 

Miami

Passing:           QB Stephen Morris 15-27 (55.6%), 160 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT

Rushing:          RB Duke Johnson 19-186-9.79-1

Receiving:       WR Herb Waters 2-49-0

WR Allen Hurns 5-34-0

TE Clive Walford 3-34-1

 

Florida

Tackles:    S Cody Riggs– 6

Sacks:        DE Ronald Powell, DT Leon Orr- 1

Interceptions:  CB Vernon Hargreaves III– 1

 

When Florida has the ball 

 

Florida Power Run Game

The Gators rely upon a physical, power rushing attack. They use multiple backs, make great use of their effective fullback Hunter Joyer, and will bring in a third tackle. The backfield features tough and athletic, 6’2” 225-pound sophomore Matt Jones, returning from missing week one to a virus. Junior Mack Brown is a physical, well-built runner. But it is Valdez Showers, a former defensive back, who has impressed with his speed, explosiveness and ball skills playing both in the backfield and as a receiver.

 

Miami is coming off a strong performance from its run defense but it wasn’t really tested. The defensive line has beefed up, however, and now is the time for it to show improvement. Fortunately for Miami, Florida’s line is missing two core starters from last year’s excellent line in graduated left tackle Xavier Nixon and hurt senior right guard Jon Halapio.

 

Advantage: Florida

 

Jeff Driskel and the Passing Game

The Florida offense is very multiple, using many formations, personnel groupings and a lot pre-snap shifts and motions. Play action plays a major role and they will move pocket, effectively getting junior quarterback Jeff Driskel on the move on roll-outs.

 

Jeff Driskel is an underrated commodity, with his skill going unnoticed due to his offensive teammates’ limitations. Well-built, he possesses a big time arm, accuracy, and is a very efficient decision maker who doesn’t force the ball. Further, he is dangerous taking off and running, showing excellent athleticism with underrated open field running ability.

 

Despite his big time talent, the Florida passing game fails to consistently stretch the field due to a lack of great weapons on the outside. Quinton Dunbar and Solomon Patton are smaller, underneath pass catchers, while polished and reliable versatile weapon Trey Burton works in the short area as well.

 

The Gators’ pass protection may have been a somewhat bigger issue if they were facing a more threatening Miami defensive front. But after Florida showed some mistakes in blitz pick-up against Toledo, there may be success to be had with the blitz, especially on third downs. Miami safety Kacy Rodgers II made some splash plays on safety blitzes in week one and the defense could replicate some of that on Saturday.

 

Advantage: Florida

 

Final Focus for Miami

Overall, Miami has some questions to answer in terms of its ability to slow down a productive running attack like Florida’s. They must tackle well and hold the Gators to some third and long situations. Bringing safety help into the box could help and the lack of outside and vertical pass catchers should afford the Hurricanes the ability to be aggressive. Being aggressive could be necessary because it is unclear Miami has the horses to get pressure. If Driskel has time, he will methodically and patiently move the football.

 

Advantage: Florida

 

Leaders

 

Florida

 

Passing:           QB Jeff Driskel 17-22 (77.3%), 153 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT

Rushing:          RB Mack Brown 15-112-4.48-2

Receiving:       OW Trey Burton 5-69-0

RB/WR Valdez Showers 4-23-0

WR Quinton Dunbar- 2-22-0

Miami

 

Tackles: LB Denzel Perryman– 6

Sacks: S Kacy Rodgers II, DT Olsen Pierre, OLB Thurston Armbrister, DE Anthony Chickillo– 1

Interceptions:  None, 0