Preview 2017: Florida Gators

Preview 2017: Florida Gators


Preview 2017: Florida Gators


Preview 2017: Florida Gators

Previewing and looking ahead at the Florida Gators season – and what you need to know.

Contact @PeteFiutak

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2017 Florida Preview: Winning SEC East Is Good, But …
2017 Florida Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– Florida Previews: 2016 | 2015

What You Need To Know About The Florida Offense

Okay, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. It’s time to make the Florida offense interesting and explosive.

The overall formula relied on a great defense to win games and for the offense to be along for the ride, but that didn’t work against the elite teams on the slate. Being 116th in the nation in total offense and scoring just 24 points per game isn’t going to cut it anymore if Florida is going to go from being great to turning into the SEC Champion.

It starts by getting better quarterback play. Luke Del Rio was fine before getting hurt, and Austin Appleby was passable, but the offense needs a star. That’s where Feleipe Franks was supposed to take over, but now he has a massive challenger. Franks – one of 2016’s star recruits – kept the redshirt on, and now he should fight through the early growing pains and be ready to roll. But he now has to hold off Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire, along with Del Rio and Kyle Trask.

The Gator offense always seems to want to power the ball, and it never seems to work, cranking up more than 2,000 yards once in the last four years. Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine and Mark Thompson form a veteran trio if the line can do its job.

A disappointment, the line has the talent, but it has to be far better in pass protection and has to generate a more consistent push. Even though losing David Sharpe at left tackle isn’t a plus, moving star blocker Martez Ivey from guard to tackle should be fine. Across the rest of the line, the hope is for the underclassmen youth of last season to grow into a stronger, more consistent unit.

The receiving corps has the potential to be amazing if everything breaks right. Can Antonio Callaway stay out of trouble? Can Dre Massey return 100% from a knee injury? Can the quarterbacks start to stretch the field a little more? The experience is there, the speed is in place, and the talent is good enough to be far, far better.

Biggest Key To The Florida Offense

Run better and more consistently It didn’t matter against the bad teams – the defense picked up the slack – but not being able to blast away was a disaster against the good defenses.

Florida came up with just 106 yards in the loss to Tennessee, almost got tagged by Vanderbilt after being shut down, and was a disaster against Arkansas – 14 carries for 12 yards – and was embarrassing up front netting a grand total of zero yards in the SEC Championship loss to Alabama.

What You Need To Know About The Florida Defense

It flew a wee bit under the radar this offseason, but Florida boosting up Randy Shannon into the defensive coordinator job is a big deal. Geoff Collins took off to take over the Temple head coaching gig, and there’s almost certainly not going to be a drop-off in coaching chops.

However, it’ll be tough for the defense to be No. 1 in the nation in passing efficiency D and second in pass defense with Marcus Maye, Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson gone from the secondary. Nick Washington should be the next star NFL prospect at one safety spot, and leading tackler Marcell Harris is back at the other. Some shifting around should keep the overall production from taking a tumble.

Shannon will almost certainly use more three-linebacker sets and take a defensive back off the field, but he’ll have to do it without Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone. Fortunately, there are plenty of big-hitters back – restocking the shelves here won’t be a problem.

And then there’s the defensive line. While the back seven should be able to reload, this year, the Gator front four might need a little bit after losing Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie. Can CeCe Jefferson and Jabari Zuniga start to generate more of a pass rush? Are the backups in place for a good rotation?

Biggest Key To The Florida Defense

Get the pass rush moving. When it was on, the defense was able to crush and kill, especially early on with 16 sacks in the first three games – giving up a total of 14 points. On the year, the Gators generated 31 sacks, but just four of them came in the four losses. They didn’t generate a sack in the loss to Florida State, and they only got to Joshua Dobbs once in the loss to Tennessee.

Florida Will Be Far Better If …

It just scores. Always. Okay, fine. It didn’t really matter all that much since almost all of Florida’s games were blowouts, but at some point, being bad in the red zone is going to be a big deal.

Eddy Pineiro turned in a strong season hitting 21-of-25 field goals – he wasn’t the issue. The offense, though, scored just 30-of-42 trips inside the 20 after a disastrous 2015 in the red zone, scoring a pathetic 34 times in 51 trips. For an inconsistent O that’s been having problems putting points on the board, when there’s a chance to score, do it.

Best Florida Offensive Player

OT Martez Ivey, Jr. – Antonio Callaway is the team’s best offensive player. He’s the most dangerous weapon, best all-around explosive talent, and is the game changer the offense has lacked – but is he reliable? Considering his off-the-field problems, can he be counted on game-in-and-game-out? If so, then put him in this spot.

Ivey might turn out to be even more of a top pro prospect depending on where the scouts see him playing. He’s undersized for an NFL guard at 6-5 and 305 pounds, but he’s got the length and quickness to be a solid right tackle. This year, he’ll likely kick out to left tackle where – given a little time – he’ll turn into a force.

2. WR Antonio Callaway, Jr.
3. QB Feleipe Franks, RFr.
4. RB Jordan Scarlett, Jr.
5. WR Dre Massey, Jr.

Best Florida Defensive Player

S Nick Washington, Sr. – Marcell Harris ended up leading the team in tackles, and CeCe Jefferson could blow up into an SEC pass rushing star, but if healthy, it’s Washington who’ll rise up and be the new main man in the always star-studded Gator secondary.

A top pro prospect, the 6-0, 197-pounder might not be all that bulky, but he can fly, and he can hit, making 45 tackles and a pick before getting knocked out for the year with a knee injury. He’s got the smarts and the skills to be the team’s new leader – he’ll be a lock for all-star honors.

2. S Marcell Harris, Sr.
3. DE CeCe Jefferson, Jr.
4. CB Duke Dawson, Sr.
5. DE Jabari Zuniga, Soph.

Key Player To A Successful Season

QB Feleipe Franks, RFr. – Or Malik Zaire. Either option has to finally get this whole thing going for the Gators.

Okay, Florida. Enough is enough. The passing game is supposed to be far more dangerous, and it starts with getting better quarterback play. The combination of Austin Appleby and Luke Del Rio threw for 2,805 yards and 18 touchdowns with 15 picks. That’s not good enough.

The legend of Will Grier will only grow if he rocks at West Virginia, but his suspension and departure could be a step back to take a giant leap forward if Franks is as good as advertised, or if Zaire steps in and plays up tot he transfer hype.

The 6-6, 219-pound Franks and the multi-talented Zaire will fight it out, and they’ll both have to battle with Kyle Trask and, eventually, Del Rio – but for the future of the program, Franks is it. He’s the guy. He’s the one with the size, the arm, and the skills to finally make the Gator offense look the part again. There was some thought to throwing him to the wolves last year when Del Rio went down, but he saved the redshirt, and now he appears to be ready to roll.

Now he has to lock down the job this August and make the team his, or else it’ll be Zaire who comes in as a stopgap, and then Franks will have to prove himself all over again next year.

The Florida Season Will Be A Success If …

The Gators get back to the SEC Championship – again. Of course, if you’re Florida, you’re supposed be in the SEC title game every year – and actually win it. Alabama will still be fantastic – duh – and no matter what’s coming from the West, the championship in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta will be tough to get. But get there for a third year in a row, Gators, and roll the dice.

Considering almost all the key games are at home, or at a neutral site, and with South Carolina or Kentucky the toughest-looking road date, take care of things in Ben Hill Griffin, win the Cocktail thing against Georgia, and take down …

Key Game To The Florida Season

Sept. 2 vs. Michigan – So, Florida, do you want to be a player or not? Of course beating Tennessee matters, and the showdowns against LSU, Georgia and Florida State are going to matter on a national level. But the Gators aren’t going to be good enough to get through the schedule unscathed – even though the dates with the Vols, Tigers and Noles are in Gainesville.

For those Gator fans waiting to get their revenge after the 41-7 loss to the Wolverines in your 2016 Citrus Bowl, here you go.

Beat Michigan – who has to replace seemingly everyone but Jim Harbaugh off of last year’s team – in the massive battle in Arlington, and the excitement will be there for a potentially huge season. Lose, and the pressure will be on more than normal.

2016 Florida Fun Stats

– Penalties: 88 for 758 yards – Opponents 56 for 466 yards
– 4th Down Conversions: Florida 7-of-15 (47%) – Opponents 4-of-16 (25%)
– 2nd Quarter Scoring: Florida 105 – Opponents 47

2017 Florida Preview: Winning SEC East Is Good, But …
2017 Florida Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– Florida Previews: 2016 | 2015

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