By Andy Hutchins
I think the key to understanding this year's Florida football team is patience — not just having it, but realizing that Florida's approach to the game is predicated on it. This Florida offense is not oriented around big plays, but long drives; the defense has one game of chaos caused by turnovers, and three of play-by-play dominance; the special teams that were poised to be explosive with Andre Debose returning and Loucheiz Purifoy starring appear to have taken a step back without Debose (and perhaps without D.J. Durkin's full-time attention), and are content to pick their spots, like on that punt block against Miami, for maximum effect.
Jeff Driskel going down reinforces the need for patience from both fans and the offense: Tyler Murphy, for his many successes through two games, is not the big-play threat as a runner or passer that Driskel is — Driskel is slightly faster at top speed and more capable of running over a defender, and he has a much bigger arm. But Florida's offense has arguably been better without Driskel, who has struggled throughout even his finer games with knowing the difference between resilience and patience. His pressing against Miami helped cost Florida that game; his persistent attempts to find the right receiver, no matter how long it took, maddened many fans to the point of souring them on his other gifts. Now, with a quarterback who has better balanced patience and decision-making in his tenure at the helm, Florida is poised to make patient, attrition-based victories happen for as long as it can impose its will on both sides of the ball.
- The best thing about Florida's depth, which is at its strongest since at least 2010, if not 2009, is that it allows the Gators to absorb injuries to both Driskel and Dominique Easley without panic or radical change. Murphy has been a godsend for a Florida team that was thought to be sunk if Driskel was seriously hurt this year, and JUCO recruiting yielded Damien Jacobs and Darious Cummings, who seem likely to be the combined replacements for Easley, and spare Florida from having to insert freshmen and burn their redshirt years. Marcus Roberson, Florida's best returning corner, has been out for the first two games of SEC play, and, thanks to Vernon Hargreaves III, has barely been missed. Even the oft-maligned offensive line, which has suffered its share of injuries, has been able to keep freshmen far away from the field thanks to its depth.
- If Matt Jones has one clear weakness that may not be a result of his viral infection, it is his acceleration. When Jones gets the ball, even in formations that allow him space to take a few steps, he isn't nearly at top speed, and thus can't hit a wall and push it over; if he needs to change direction in the backfield, he's forced to start all over again. This is just part of what he brings, as a big, bruising halfback, and I don't anticipate him getting a lot quicker over the course of his career, so it'll be imperative for Florida to open holes that give him room to get up to speed, or at least to get the steam necessary to fall forward for a few extra yards, something Jones excels at.
- Demarcus Robinson had just one target on Saturday, but made good on it with a nice catch and a superb stretch for a first down on Florida's first drive. You've only seen blips of Robinson if you haven't seen him in practice, but the fluidity and quickness he showed on that (fairly difficult!) catch were excellent, and are rare for a player his size. As he works his way into Florida's offense, the Gators will be better for it. And had Robinson not converted on that third down, Florida would likely have trailed, 7-3, after the fake field goal on the subsequent drive, and the complexion of the game might have been very different.
- On the play immediately after Robinson's catch, Florida used Trey Burton in the shotgun and ran an inverted veer option with Mark Herndon as the running back; it was good for about 15 yards, despite Burton taking a long time to make a decision. To put it another way: Florida ran an inverted veer with its starting slot receiver and its third-string walk-on running back, and it still went for 15 yards.
- Michael Taylor finding and dropping a Kentucky running back on the Wildcats' first drive was maybe the defensive play of the first half. Kentucky had gained seven yards or more on each of its first four plays, and was steaming toward an answering touchdown, but Taylor threw the Wildcats out of rhythm with that stop. Kentucky would manage another first down on the drive, before sputtering out, but Taylor gave the Gators valuable breathing room.
- One of the players most responsible for that first Kentucky drive was freshman Ryan Timmons, who had four catches for 26 yards on it. Timmons was recruited by Florida at the end of the 2013 cycle, has been a spark for Kentucky this year, and finished with 49 yards on just seven touches; given Florida's apparent lack of a backup to Solomon Patton, a similar player, and how Timmons has played, this feels like a rare Kentucky win over Florida for a good football player.
- On Kentucky's field goal fake, it appears that Florida's actually in very good position to respond to a fake at the snap. After it, Jaylen Watkins, the man who should be closest to Mansour once he crosses the line of scrimmage, stays with and actually engages a Kentucky receiver, dooming Florida to giving up a touchdown.
- Mansour, however, deserves full credit for burning Ronald Powell and Loucheiz Purifoy, beating both to the corner and sprinting to the end zone. (Purifoy, in particular, is smoked: He makes the same mistake of overpursuit that Janoris Jenkins did on LSU's very similar fake in 2010, but stumbles when trying to correct and is beaten in the backfield.)
- The play Murphy made on his long throw to Quinton Dunbar was good. Dunbar had to look back and sneak behind the defense on it, too, though.
- Vernon Hargreaves's leaping interception was his best play of the night. I have no idea, though, how he even thought to make the play that he made to end Kentucky's second drive, on which he dives below a Kentucky receiver from behind and deflects a pass that is about a foot off the ground. He is a freak, athletically, but his brain is by far his biggest asset.
- While Matt Jones is the biggest reason his 67-yard carry happened, D.J. Humphries makes one excellent block on the edge, and Jonotthan Harrison pulled all the way to outside the numbers from his center position and wiped out a defender seven yards downfield to set the edge.
- On two plays in a three-play string on its fourth drive, Florida faked a reverse to set up a wheel route and faked a reverse to freeze defenders and open a lane in the running game. I imagine that no team in college football uses the threat of quick runners like Patton or Purifoy (or Valdez Showers) coming around the edge more effectively than Florida does.
- Cody Riggs continues to struggle when in coverage as a nickel back. If I were to attack Florida's defense in the passing game, that's the mismatch I'd try to exploit.
- A couple examples of Kentucky being too cute, which I'll bet Brent Pease shook his head at in the booth: Neal Brown had a third and one on the first drive of the third quarter, and had just run it up the middle for nine yards on second and 10, but chose to run a sort of option reverse that Kentucky blocked horrifically and Florida sniffed out immediately, even if Jonathan Bullard was one of three Gators made to miss on it. Riggs cleaned up the play, which ended that first drive, and Kentucky wouldn't get the ball back for eight more minutes, and needed an interception to get it back. Then, after getting it back, and driving to Florida's 22, Kentucky ran a throwback screen that could've been a touchdown ... except that Daryl Collins hesitated to throw the ball back to Jalen Whitlow, missing his window to get it away, and had to take a sack for a loss of 11 yards. Next play? VH3's third pick of the year.
It took eight minutes to get that ball back, even though Florida never even got to the red zone on it, because that drive began with three consecutive sets of down progress like this: First and 10, second and five or four, third and one, first down.
- Florida went for it on fourth down twice in this game after failing miserably to convert on a sneak against Miami. On the first play, Florida's line cut blocked to create a pile Jones dove over for just enough yardage; on the second, excellent blocking from Hunter Joyer, Jon Halapio, and Latroy Pittman — three players Florida didn't have for the Toledo game — sprung Jones for seven yards on a fourth and six that allowed the Gators to kneel it out.
The Difference is borrowed from Rob Mahoney's feature of the same name at The Two-Man Game, his thoughtful Dallas Mavericks, which makes a number of points equivalent to the margin of victory about the game just played. I used it last year to make that number of points about the weekend in Gator Nation and in college football, and ran it on Mondays, but I think I'm going to use it to talk only about Florida's games from here on out, run it on Tuesdays around noon, and make it the last word of sorts about the previous weekend's game.
Andy Hutchins is Alligator Army's managing editor. Follow Alligator Army on Twitter and Facebook.
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