Talking Florida Gators Vs. South Carolina Gamecocks On WACH Fox With Leftover Hot Dog

I had a chance to talk with Tyler Ryan of WACH Fox out of Columbia, SC and Billy Kohler of the South Carolina blog Leftover Hot Dog. We discussed our thoughts for the game between the Gamecocks and Florida Gators, Marcus Lattimore, and (begrudingly) gave our predictions on the game. Not to worry, they were on location, so you don’t have to stare at my ugly mug; I called in. A big thanks to those guys for asking me to appear and represent the Gators side of things, though the feelings might not be so friendly come Saturday.

Bruised Hip May Limit Marcus Lattimore; Florida Gators Game Plan Shouldn’t Change

When news broke on Wednesday that South Carolina star running back Marcus Lattimore had missed practice with a bruised hip, the outlook of Saturday’s game changed. With their offensive star far from 100%, the Gamecocks’ chances against the Florida Gators took a hit. That is, if he is truly limited.

Marcus Lattimore - South Carolina Gamecocks

At this point, we’re hearing that Lattimore “might not start.” That’s very different than “will be out.” If Lattimore doesn’t start, but is available, it means he can play if needed. If South Carolina takes care of business without him, Steve Spurrier and the rest of the Gamecocks’ staff would be comfortable with him watching from the sidelines. That, though, isn’t desired. South Carolina wants Lattimore to play and may even need him to play.

The Gamecocks are much more than Lattimore and what he brings to the team, but there’s no denying his star status and what he brings to their offense. He has three 100-yards games and has scored each time South Carolina has taken the field this season. If you need proof of what he can do, you can simply go to his stat line from the 2010 game against the Gators: 40 carries, 212 yards, three touchdowns. He was a true freshman at the time and the Gamecocks won by 22.

But, as I said, he isn’t the entire team. South Carolina took care of business in 2011 against Florida without him. Sure, it was a very different Gators’ team just one season ago, but a win is a win is a win and the Gamecocks are 6-1 in games he hasn’t appeared in. Think about that for just a moment. They are 20-7 with Lattimore, but their win percentage is actually better without him. Is he an important part of their offense? Definitely. Can they win without him? They sure can.

For now, his status is uncertain. It shouldn’t matter to the Gators though. In the first half of the regular season, Florida has proven to have one of the better defenses in the nation. The Gators are playing fast (which is nothing new), but are also playing a physical style of football that was missing at times the past two seasons. Marcus Lattimore or not, the Gators’ game plan doesn’t change.

If Lattimore can go, they have to contain him. If he can’t, they shift their attention to Kenny Miles and Mike Davis (yes, that Mike Davis). Miles, a senior, has gone over 10 carries 11 times in his career. Six of those times came way back in 2009. Davis, a freshman, has 13 career carries to his credit. He’s averaging 9 yards per carry, but that number is lifted by a 50-yard gain against UAB. There isn’t a lot to the Gamecocks’ run game from the running backs not named Marcus Lattimore, but the Gators should still stick to their plan. And they will.

This game means too much to Florida to deviate from what works and what they hope to do. Injury reports, whether real or not (as some speculate Spurrier is playing mind games with the Gators), don’t matter much. The Gators are preparing for another hard-fought SEC battle. The Gamecocks without Lattimore are still a very good, talented team. They still have playmakers on offense and a frightening defense. And that describes Florida as well. Lattimore or no Lattimore, the Gators can win this game, if they prepare for it and play it their way.

Day 1 Is Complete; Bring On The Rest Of The College Football Season

It’s official; the college football season has begun. We were witness to it all last night. The big plays, the rusty teams, the fans – it’s all back. And it’s only the first day of five consecutive days of games. Not only is college football back, but it’s back in style.

We had a chance to witness the SEC right away. Always a treat, even if there were plenty of kinks to work out. South Carolina got the win – which was expected – but it was hardly convincing. 67 passing yards may get you a victory on occasion, but it won’t work if you hope to maintain a No. 9 ranking. The Gamecocks will have serious troubles if Connor Shaw can’t remain injury-free – his backups combined to go 0-for-4. But where South Carolina lacked a passing game, they made up for it with a running game. Marcus Lattimore looked to have no lingering effects from last season’s injury. 110 yards and 2 touchdowns was a nice way to open the season. Shaw added 92 on the ground despite having an arm hanging lifelessly from his body. The Gamecocks’ defense was solid for the most part and will be their strength, but the offense needs to find the ability to stretch the field with the pass, otherwise that top 10 ranking will quickly disappear.

We were also treated to Mike Leach’s return to college football, although he may want that first game back. The Washington State offense was very unLeach-like, but that may have been expected early. He did put the ball in the air 45 times, compared to 16 recorded rushes, but couldn’t generate an offensive touchdown. It could be a rocky season for Leach and the Cougars, but success and excitement is ahead. (For those wondering, I made it to halftime of this game.)

Also on the slate were big wins for Arizona State, UCF and UCLA. And then there was this…

“Holy moly” is right. Welcome back college football.

South Carolina Gamecocks 17 – Florida Gators 12: Another Loss, Another Series of Frustrations

I find it hard to put Florida’s latest defeat into words, but I’ll try for a number of reasons. The first reason is, although this is a few days late, I’m sitting in an airport waiting for a flight that doesn’t leave until twenty after midnight, so what else am I going to do. The second is because the Gators are yet again .500 with a grim immediate future.

Saturday’s game brought an amount of pain to fans that was all too familiar. There’s little frustration involved with winning 30 of 32 games over a span of two full seasons and the first third of another. Even if you saw some holes in the offense that could impact the future, you were still looking at back-to-back 13-1 seasons followed by a 4-0 start in 2010. Frustrated that they lost those two games? I’ll take that frustration every day of the week.

Oh how things have changed. Florida has played 19 games since that time and has a record of 9-10 in those 19 contests. That’s not the worst part though. No, the worst part is that little has shown that that mark will improve any time soon. Against Furman, the Gators are the favorites, but wins over instate rival FSU and a bowl game opponent are far from guaranteed. If the play of the offense against South Carolina is any indication, things will get worse before they get better.

Let’s go through the rundown, but be warned, it’s not pretty. You should know that by now. You’ve watched the games and read the reviews. You should be quite aware that this team has a far road to travel before dreams of even 10-win seasons are realized again. Against the Gamecocks, offensive line play was atrocious, a passing game was non-existent, and we saw the Gators play another game without wide receivers. Harsh? Maybe, but maybe not enough. Even the lone bright spot – Chris Rainey, who finished with 132 yards on the ground and another 30 receiving – brought about frustration because of what more he could have done with consistent blocking.

I’ve been kind to the offensive line for the most part this season. I’ve harped that they were the key and needed to improve week after week after week, but I’ve still been kind. That has to stop now. The line is battling injuries, yes, but there has to be a point where improvement is seen. 10 games in and that hasn’t happened. Why? It’s not a sarcastic or mean-spirited question; it’s a serious one. Why hasn’t the line improved? Is it a case of drastically wrong recruiting rankings? Too much of a change from one offensive system to the next? A true lack of talent? We could talk about how John Brantley only passed for 119 yards and spent another afternoon relying on his tight ends and running backs because the receivers weren’t doing their part, but how much time did he have to make decisions in critical moments? We could have assumed the line would struggle. There was limited overall experience and even less, if any, experience playing together. However, none of us expected it to still be an issue 10 games into the season. Injuries or not, there has to be improvement somewhere. In this case, there isn’t.

On the other side of the ball, the defense has trouble stopping the run, but they all but eliminated the pass. Say what you want about the young defensive backs, but South Carolina star receiver Alshon Jeffery had two catches for 17 yards. Even the big pass play of the day – a 46-yard strike from Connor Shaw to Ace Sanders – was a near-perfect throw that few could have defended. But there is the matter of stopping the run; a matter that focuses directly on angles yet again. A simple fundamental of football is that you can’t tackle someone if you’re running to where he was instead of where he’s going to be. Time after time, Florida defenders were misjudging angles and allowing Shaw and Brandon Wilds to gain extra yards. Without Marcus Lattimore in the lineup, the Gamecocks run game was supposed to be stalled against the Gators. Um, South Carolina ran the ball 52 times for 215 yards. That’s not stalled. That’s a fully functioning engine with a brand new battery.

There’s definitely more to cover, but you already experienced it. Why bring too much of it up again days later when we may have to revisit it all in a couple of weeks? The loss was ugly. Ugly because for the reasons listed above and those others that don’t appear here. Tougher to swallow because it was another game that despite poor play in areas, Florida was in until the end. 6-4 doesn’t sound much better than 5-5. How does 7-3 sounds? Or how about 8-2? The Gators are now looking at a best-case scenario of matching last season’s 8-5 record. That would require winning two games they won’t be picked to do so. 7-6 seems more likely and 6-7 seems highly possible. I go back to this article I wrote before the season started. It seemed like a joke at the time. Jokes are never that funny when you’re living them out.

South Carolina Gamecocks 36 – Florida Gators 14

GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 13: A South Carolina Gamecocks fan holds a sign claiming the SEC East Champions during a game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida. The Gamecocks beat the Gators 36-14. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)I debated skipping this altogether or forcing myself to put type to screen and go through with it. I decided, against my best judgment, to go for it and put something together. This is the result. Not very thought out. Just jerky rambling with as much coherency as I could muster without really editing myself. One could say it resembles the Florida offense at times. Little planning, just going out and winging it, and hoping for the best.

The best didn’t come against South Carolina in the SEC East championship game. It actually may have been the worst. That offensive performance was beyond offensive. For three quarters, the Gators did anything but help themselves on that side of the ball. By the time the offense did put anything together, it was only because the Gamecocks were in safe mode and were just doing what they could to get the game over. There were actually a few well-executed plays late in the game, but Florida fans should realize it wasn’t because the Gators changed what they were doing, it was because the Gamecocks had the game wrapped up and knew it.

Before the game, some said Florida didn’t deserve to be in the SEC Championship Game even if they beat South Carolina. I wouldn’t go that far, because even though the Gators didn’t seem worthy at times, they would have deserved it if they had technically won the SEC East. Then I watched them bow down to the Gamecocks and I thought different. Now I’m actually glad we won’t be subjected to an extra game in which we might have to watch that ineptitude. And I’m not blaming the players. I’m really wondering what the coaches are thinking.

Chris Rainey was a spark in his return to the Florida lineup, but in the game against South Carolina he was used too much. That may seem weird to read given that Rainey only touched the ball nine times on offense, but look at those nine times. Six were in the first quarter. In fact, those six were in the first eight offensive plays the Gators ran. During their first two possessions, Florida went three and out. Rainey touched the ball five times in those six plays. Why am I pointing this out? Because he was used too much early and then barely used again. Rainey averaged 6.4 yards per carry and 8.0 yards per catch yet only ran the ball five times and caught only four passes. The Gators made a commitment to involve him, then almost immediately abandoned it.

The running game as a whole was non-existent, despite the fact that Rainey had moderate success. Some will be quick to point that 25 of Rainey’s 32 rushing yards came on one carry, and that’s true, but why give him the ball only five times? The Gators never even attempted to control the clock. 20 rushing attempts (three were sacks) and 19:14 in time of possession. You don’t run 100 plays by running the ball the majority of the time, but Florida only managed 59 plays with their “high-octane” offensive game plan. I’m not a rocket scientist and definitely not a football coach, but the entire offensive flow to the game couldn’t be explained. Whether that’s on Urban Meyer or Steve Addazio, I don’t know, but I have a feeling one of them (and you can guess which one) may only have three games left in his current position.

On the defensive side of the ball, the same questions can be asked of the coaching. The Gators have a number of extremely talented linebackers. Jon Bostic, Brandon Hicks, Jelani Jenkins, A.J. Jones, and Ronald Powell would start anywhere in the country. The schemes Teryl Austin and company run have made them virtually invisible. Marcus Lattimore is an extremely talented player and I don’t want to take anything away from him (seriously, he’s an absolute stud and will be a superstar for many, MANY years), but part of his career-day could be attributed to the fact that if he got past the line, he didn’t get hit until he reached the secondary. Linebackers were nowhere to be found. I have to imagine that’s because of the schemes and not a lack of talent. When Ahmad Black leads the team in tackles (16) in a game during which the opponent runs the ball 54 total times, that’s not a good thing. Not a good thing at all. Black had a great game, but he shouldn’t have had to do so much.

That’s just about enough for now I think. I could talk about Andre Debose (who I hope returns every kick for the next three seasons). I could get into the offensive line. I could question going for it on fourth down. I could even turn red yelling about the same offensive problems the Gators have had for most of the season. But that’s enough. There’s still some season left. Still games to be played and plenty of more words to write. So I’ll end with this…

Congrats South Carolina. You’ve made it to Atlanta. Sure it was an off year for the SEC East, but you accomplished the number one goal. You’ll be playing in the SEC Championship Game against an offensive juggernaut, but one you’ve faced once before. For now, celebrate the accomplishment, take care of business against Clemson, and go into the SECCG strong.

A Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks at Florida Gators

JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 30: Jordan Reed  and Mike Pouncey  of the Florida Gators celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at EverBank Field on October 30, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)60 minutes to Atlanta. That’s been the theme of the week. It seems like a Florida chant coming from a Florida fan, but South Carolina could be saying the same thing. In fact, they should be. You’re not supposed to look ahead, but adding another dimension to the importance of winning doesn’t hurt. For the Gators, Atlanta would be a shinning accomplishment at the end of a tough season. For the Gamecocks, it would be an arrival, it would be respect, it would be the knowledge that there really is a new challenger in the SEC East. For both teams, this is more than just another game.

I’ve said this before, but it must be discussed again. The number one goal is to get to the SEC Championship Game. That’s it. For fans, getting to Atlanta is merely a step to the top of the rankings. It’s easy to get caught up in the National Championship picture early. Easy to immediately become discouraged when you accumulate lose number two. But there’s still that achievable goal. The one SEC teams start with. Both of these programs have that dream alive. One has a head of steam while the other seems to have lost its way. This game brings back memories to the 2006 matchup, one of the greatest games in recent memory.

We’ve already gone over the history between Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier and the similarities between the two legendary coaches. This is another chapter in the book about the former Florida head coach and the current one. With Spurrier adding years and Meyer’s long-term status always a question mark, there won’t be many more of these. And there may never be another one that acts as the SEC East title game. The rest of the world may not think much of this one, but it has plenty of meaning for both schools and all of those involved.

For the Gators, the game plan seems simple enough on paper, but not in practice. Contain Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery. Lattimore may contain himself after injuring his knee against Arkansas. He might not be 100%, but that doesn’t mean he still isn’t a threat. The true freshman looks like he’s been playing at this level for years. There’s nothing first-year about him. He has shown he can be a banger and get the ball as many times as the Gamecocks want to give it to him. If he can’t go consistently, South Carolina takes a big hit. Jeffery will go and could be a headache for Florida. The sophomore has already surpassed his numbers from his freshman season and has turned himself into one of the nation’s best wide receivers. It’ll be Jeffery versus Janoris Jenkins all night. Jenkins did an admirable job shutting down A.J. Green earlier this season, so there’s no reason to think he can’t do the same against Jeffery, but he’ll have his work cut out for him.

This game represents part two of the Florida three-headed quarterback monster. One thing is probably for certain, Trey Burton will have the least pass attempts among the three. Fortunately, for the Gators, letting Jordan Reed throw has given them an added dimension which will keep the South Carolina defense guessing. It’s hard to say who will get the call when and who will come away as the star. All three have the potential, but if one gets into a rhythm, will coaches keep him in? While the system worked against Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks are a much tougher opponent. It may be hard to pull a guy who gets himself going early and is moving the ball. Alternatively, it may be hard to leave in a guy who isn’t getting it done. We’ll see all three, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how much.

Quarterbacks aside, speed could win it for Florida. If Jeff Demps can go and Chris Rainey continues to play like he has since his return, speed could help pull the Gators away. It’s hard to match Florida’s speed when healthy. If Demps and Rainey are going strong, teams rarely have an answer. With a still shaky passing game, both – and Mike Gillislee – should see the ball plenty. The Gators have a variety of run plays designed to confuse defenses. The South Carolina defense has played well at times this season, but they don’t have an answer for the Florida speed.

Florida needs to play an intense game from start to finish. On offense, take shots down the field. The Gamecock secondary is suspect. The Gators should be able to have some success in the deep passing game, if they choose to use it. On defense, the linebackers need to show up and the secondary needs to shut down Jeffery. And on special teams, keep bringing the heat. The fire is back for the Florida special teams. Every unit. 60 minutes.

The Long Snapper (2/3/10)

It’s National Signing Day.  Are you prepared?  You should be by now.  If not, you’re useless.  You’re a half-fan.  Sure we’ll share a drink come game time.  We’ll debate game performances around the water cooler (do offices even have these anymore?).  We’ll cheer with you as our favorite player rumbles to the end zone.  But today, we are completely different animals.  You are going about your day as planned.  I’m seeing how many times I can hit the refresh button in a single minute.  If you want the updates, odds are you already know where to look.  But if you want to get them via me, continue to come back to this site throughout the day, become a fan of the Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter.  I’ll be updating obsessively.  Join the fun.
Signing Day has had some definite intrigue in years past.  If you don’t remember the story of Kevin Hart, go ahead and get caught up.  It’s a good one.  But there was a year when Florida was directly involved in an interesting situation.  In 2000, Jonathan Colon signed letters of intent from Miami and Florida.  Technically, he should’ve ended up with the Hurricanes because they received their LOI back first, but Colon had actually signed that letter the night before and Miami decided not to pursue the issue.  Colon ended up with the Gators.
If there’s one bad thing about Signing Day, it’s the theatrics.  And no I don’t mean the theatrics created by the media (how else would those like me get their fill?).  I mean the ones some of the recruits feel the need “perform” to announce their decision.  Marcus Lattimore pulled one of the biggest bait and switches of recent memory when he had former Auburn star Stephen Davis bring him a bag with two hats.  Of course the hat on top was an Auburn one, but the one hiding behind it, the one that Lattimore put on his head, was that of South Carolina.  I can’t imagine Tiger fans are too happy with their former running back Davis at the moment.
Florida commit Mack Brown has been told some tall tales from opposing head coaches throughout his recruiting, and the latest one is great.  One of the coaches still pushing hard to reel in Brown has told him Urban Meyer will leave the Gators after Signing Day to, get this, become the new head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.  Let’s just say if that happens I’ll pay a little more attention to Cowboys’ games next fall.  If you don’t believe coaches lie to recruits, you were born yesterday.  If you don’t believe 99.99% of all coaches do it, you’re still in the womb.  And if you believe Urban Meyer will be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys for the upcoming NFL season, well, I don’t know exactly what you are, but enjoy fantasy land.
Coordinator salaries are hitting new highs that could change the landscape of the college game over the next few years.  Why take a shot at being a first-time head coach at a smaller program or in a smaller conference when you can earn just as much money being the coordinator of a national power?  As each SEC program brings in more money, expect assistant salaries to rise.  The latest is Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.  In 2009, Smart made $360,000 and received $72,000 in bonuses.  In 2010, he’ll get $750,000.  Not a bad raise if you ask me.  It’ll only be a matter of time before the coordinators in the big conferences make more than half the head coaches across the country.  The top programs are doing everything they can to ensure they stay on top.  This is just one step.