The Great Trey Burton Debate

An interesting thing happened when One Eyed Willy and I were drafting the Florida Gators last week to form two starting lineups to battle each other head-to-head in the imaginary stadium that exists only in our heads: neither of us seriously considered adding Trey Burton to our rosters.

The entire situation was interesting because of the figure Burton has become over his two years at Florida. He came in as an athlete we thought would be a quarterback and quickly became a utility man of sorts. During his freshman season in 2010, he ran the ball only six times and caught half as many passes in the Gators first three games. And then that magical night happened.

On September 25, 2010, Burton went from a freshman with the potential to become a weapon at a variety of positions to a legend. You surely remember it vividly: Burton carried the ball five times and ended each run in the end zone. He would also add five receptions with another touchdown. When the dust settled, Burton had finished with a fairly average 10 touches on offense for 77 total yards. A good yards per touch average sure, but nothing spectacular. But then there were the touchdowns – six in all. Burton solidified his place in Florida football history in just one night and suddenly expectations were sky-high.

The rest of Burton’s freshman season showed he could be used in a variety of ways. He wasn’t exceptional, but he was solid. There was a flash – a 51-yard run against Georgia – but most of all there was effort. Fans fell in love with the way he played and the way he interacted. Burton took heavily to Twitter, communicating with fans on a regular basis. He was a star in the making…then Urban Meyer resigned for good (well, we now know what “for good” means).

With Will Muschamp coming on as head coach and hiring Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator, no one knew what to expect of Burton. He had enough talent to find a place on offense, but what place would that be? There were even whispers that he could be given a look on defense – anything to give him a chance to get on the field. When the 2011 season came to an end, Burton’s carries were cut in half (75 in 2010, 37 in 2011), his receptions dropped (31 in 2010, 19 in 2011), and his touchdowns trailed off (12 in 2010, 4 in 2011). He was banged up in the season opener against FAU, but overall his position was far from defined and his chances were limited.


The Gator Bowl: Confidence Is…

I awoke this morning from my holiday coma and realized I really don’t know what to think about the Gator Bowl. I know John Brantley’s final game as the Florida Gators’ quarterback won’t reach the must-see levels of Tim Tebow’s. I know the Jeff Demps/Chris Rainey Acceleration Hour is about to air its final episode. I know Urban Meyer isn’t yet the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Basically, I know the facts. But I don’t know what to think about Florida’s chances to finish the 2011 season with a winning record. Just as equally, I have no idea whether Ohio State will be able to do the same.

The holiday season has treated me well so far. I hope it has done the same for the Gators. There was no offensive coordinator under the Christmas tree, which leads us down the continued path of patience. We already know to wait until after the Gator Bowl before the identity of the new play caller will be revealed. Names thrown out there have been less than impressive with many fans hoping to see Brian White remain in the position he is temporarily holding. Others hope Kerwin Bell can find his way back to Gainesville. Both seem like viable candidates and worthy choices, but are we hyping those because we’ve heard the others? Mike Shula? Greg Davis?
One present that was delivered and placed nicely on the doorstep was Jeff Dillman. Dillman comes by way of IMG’s Performance Institute and before that Appalachian State and LSU. He’ll replace Mickey Marotti as the new strength and conditioning coach. For those concerned or merely wondering whether Dillman can cut it, I’ve heard good things about his intensity and focus. He’s liked and respected among the lifting-heavy-things community and should be a good addition. We’ll see his impact in the fourth quarter of games when players would typically start to gasp for breaths of air. Rainey, for instance, did many great things in a Gators’ uniform, but “winded” could have been an accurate description at many times.
As for the Gator Bowl, my confidence is non-existent. Not in the way that I can’t foresee any possible chance of a Florida victory, but in the way that I need to spend the next few days and really, truly think about the game ahead. Florida is favored by two, which means about as much as me declaring the odds of a Gators’ receiver catching a touchdown pass at five-to-one. Without Charlie Weis, we don’t know what we’ll see from the offense. With him, we didn’t either. Will Muschamp surely doesn’t want to be the first coach since Charley Pell went 0-10-1 the year yours truly came into the world to have a losing record, but no one can guarantee 7-6.
We’ll watch the game and at times we’ll cheer and at times we’ll yell. Regardless of the outcome, we’ll still be Florida fans when we wake up on January 3. For now, I’ll be comforted in the fact that there’s plenty of college football to still be played even though the offseason is fast approaching. One more chance to see the seniors and an opportunity to beat a rapidly growing rival.

Charlie Weis To Kansas: Gators’ Offensive Coordinator Becomes Jayhawks’ Head Coach

Florida Gators’ offense coordinator Charlie Weis will be officially announced as the new Kansas Jayhawks’ head coach on Friday. Throughout the day Thursday, rumors of Weis leaving Gainesville for Lawrence intensified. Hard to believe at first, the rumors turned out to be the truth. Weis leaves Florida one season after joining head coach Will Muschamp’s staff.

The impact is difficult to predict immediately. Weis had one season with the Gators. It was a season with an incomplete roster and injury problems throughout. With more time to install his offense and bring in players to fit, we may have seen fireworks. In 2010, we experienced too many duds. For the immediate time being, the impact is on recruiting. Weis had relationships with recruits that he probably won’t carry with him to Kansas, but those athletes will now think about their feelings toward Florida.

As with any departure, there will be those in favor and those opposed. As is par for the course lately with Florida fans, there will also be those screaming at Weis on his way out. Muschamp moves on whether he wanted to or not and the search for someone to run the offense begins now.

More on Weis’s departure to come, but at the moment we all have to wonder what direction the Gators’ football program is headed.

Florida Gators 54 – Furman Paladins 32: When A Win Isn’t A Win

A win should make you happy. Not content or relieved, but happy. Actually, we’d take content or relieved at this point. Those are acceptable emotions after the roller coaster the Florida Gators have been on during the 2011 season. What isn’t acceptable is a feeling of “what just happened?”

After one quarter of what many might try to define as football, although it was hard to call it that, the Gators found themselves down 22-7 to the Furman Paladins and Florida fans found themselves looking frantically for the basketball schedule (and resume templates for head coach Will Muschamp so he could update his). A 20-point second quarter eased the pain for only a moment until we all realized the Gators were up by only five. Another quarter and 10 more points for each team found Florida up 37-32 with one frame to go. Any other season and we’d need to be talked off the ledge, but this one brought nothing more the a sigh. A familiar sigh that has replaced any anger or discomfort in wondering what could possibly happen next. But then there would be the fourth and final quarter. Far from perfect, a close contest became a 22-point game. The Gators would win for only the second time since September while we would begrudgingly move forward to the FSU Seminoles.

Before we move on though, we look at the victory over the Paladins. We look because we are determined to learn. Our curiosity is what overwhelms our ability to go quietly ahead into the night. We can’t do it because it’s not within our nature. Instead our nature says we must evaluate and over-analyze everything that has happened from every different angle. It’s sadistic in a way, but it’s what we do. We praise the good and attack the bad. And here we go…

Games such as those against Furman aren’t winnable for Florida. Beat the Paladins and you were supposed to. Lose to them, or play like the Gators did for much of the game, and there are far more headaches than worth the warm-up for a matchup with a rival. It’s better to avoid games like these all together, and one day a nine-game SEC schedule may solve the problem for us, but until them we stomach what was supposed to go down without the need for an antacid.

No one told the Paladins that they were supposed to roll over and die and for their effort, we have to give applause. Good for Furman for staying in the game. Kudos for taking advantage of a situation and disrupting an afternoon. In the end, it wasn’t enough, but in some strange way it was. By gaining 446 yards, the Paladins exposed the Gators’ defense. In recent weeks, we’ve labeled the defense the rock of the Florida squad. It was the unit we saw marked improvement in. We looked forward to 2012 and the further progression of the defense. After Saturday, we wonder if another step, or leap, was taken back. You don’t give up 446 yards to an FCS team. Maybe you do, but you shouldn’t. Not in game 11, and not in The Swamp, and not with a defensive head coach even if he is in his first year. But if you are weathering through a record of 9-10 over the last 19 games you’ve played as a team, maybe you do. Pick sixes by De’Ante “Pop” Saunders and Jelani Jenkins were highlights, but little else was. Taking a step back in game 11 is like taking a step back for 2012 and, yes, that has us worried.

We find bright spots on the offensive side of the ball because in any 22-point win, you have to find them somewhere. There was John Brantley’s career day; we’ll start there. If the Gators’ 2011 season has been a roller coaster, Brantley’s career has been the fastest, scariest one there is. Brantley’s 329 passing yards? A career high. His four touchdown passes? Another one. We try not to celebrate the FCS wins as much, but we can celebrate Brantley. If this is what the offense was supposed to look like when Muschamp hired offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, then it came too late. Too late to make an impact on the season and realistically too late to change the fortunes of Brantley’s career. But just in time to allow us to enjoy what the quarterback was expected to be able to do. A 64-yard touchdown pass to Andre Debose in the third quarter was only overshadowed by an 80-yarder one quarter earlier. Years from now, when we look back at the career of John Brantley, we may do so with mixed emotions. A game we’ll have to recall was this one. One game where it looked like it was supposed to. One game that gave us hope for the regular season finale.

We can go ahead and classify this as a win; for Brantley, for Debose, and if only because the standings dictate it. Although we’re still not sure to think of what happened (Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army may have summed it up best with words like “worst” and “weirdest”), it’s technically a victory. A victory that is only the Gators’ sixth of the season and one that keeps the hopes of eight alive. It’s not often you dream of an eight-win season, but it has come to that. There are 120 minutes of football left for Florida and two outcomes to be discovered. Confidence in what those two outcomes may be isn’t high, but now the Gators play for something. Maybe state pride, maybe to go out on a winning note, maybe just to shut the door on 2011.

Florida Gators Favored By 14 Over Vanderbilt Commodores

As this is being written (only because Siri said transcribing wasn’t in her job description), Florida is a 14-point favorite over upcoming opponent Vanderbilt. Be shocked, but only initially. That shock must wear over you quickly as you realize A) the Gators have been much bigger favorites over the Commodores in the past, and B) this could actually be the season they should be favored by even less.

It’s tough to determine exactly what one team should be favored over another by. Is 14 points enough or too much? How does home-field advantage factor in? Does it being Homecoming make a difference? Is the “TBG Will Be In The Stands” factor being taken into consideration? Will Jay Cutler’s dad be watching? Will Charlie Weis be cooler sitting at any moment during the game? You can clearly see the dilemma.

Florida’s offense has looked nothing like expected over the last four games as John Brantley was injured only to return three games later at less than 100%. With the quarterback further along, things should be smoother against Vandy, but it’s really anyone’s guess if that will become fact on Saturday. To think Florida can beat anyone on the remaining schedule not named Furman by 14 or more may be asking too much.

For now, a 14-point win is a hop, skip, jump, hope, dream and a prayer away. We’d welcome it, but we aren’t sure of its actual existence until it happens. Until then – if we were betting – we’d take the Commodores and the points and hope all hopes we’re wrong in doing so.

Recap: Georgia Bulldogs 24 – Florida Gators 20

Not your usual recap. Not your usual streak either. The recap will come in one part this week after Florida dropped its fourth straight for the first time since 1988. The reasoning for the short recap could have to do with yet another loss added to the Gators’ record, but has more to do with another one of those excuses you hear from bloggers. It doesn’t matter what the reason, here’s the recap in all its glory even if the actual game brought none.

The hardest part about losing a blowout is if you were never really truly in it. It’s bad from start to end and you never even have a moment of positivity. Maybe that’s a good thing though. Could it be easier to deal with a game that you’re never really in? I don’t know; it’s hard to say. I do know that losing a game you had every opportunity to win hurts. Being so close only to have something come apart late is as tough as it comes. In the loss to Auburn, Florida’s offense struggled, but the Gators were in the game. Against Georgia, the same could be said.

John Brantley returned and looked good bringing a passing game back to Florida’s offense, in the first half. In the second half, any improvement disappeared. 226 first half passing yards were followed by only 19 in the second frame; only three points came in the second half after 17 were scored early; and a seven-point lead evaporated to turn into a four-point loss. A tale of two sets of 30 minutes; a little Texas A&M if you will. What was looking like 5-3 became 4-4. A fourth-straight loss and a fall out of contention for the SEC East title. No, a title didn’t appear likely before the game, but the defeat meant it was a mathematic impossibility.

The run game continued to have problems and Brantley was pressured throughout the contest. The culprit was easy to discover: inconsistent offensive line play. The unit has yet to find its groove and you have to wonder if it will in 2011. From false starts to mental lapses, the line needs to find…something. What that something is would be anyone’s guess, but let’s start with the coaching staff. Will Muschamp, Charlie Weis, Frank Verducci – take your pick. Someone needs to get through to the line and the line itself needs to become the rock of the offense. We knew that wouldn’t be easy this season, but after eight games, things need to turn around. If the current level of play continues, the offense will struggle throughout the remainder of the season and 2012 will be very much in question.

On the other side of the ball, the defense was far from horrible. Georgia managed three touchdowns. The drives that resulted in those touchdowns totaled 89 yards with no single one going for more than 45. The Bulldogs would also have drives of 67, 61 and 61 yards, but those three would only result in three points total. The Florida defense would actually hold the Georgia offense to nine drives of 25 yards or less. There were two problems with that though. Two of those drives ended in Bulldogs’ touchdowns and the Gators’ offense had 10 drives of 25 yards or less, including their last nine. Even with the defense playing a game to keep Florida in it, the offense couldn’t do that same thing in the second half.

We begrudgingly move ahead. It’s homecoming week and The Bull Gator will be going home. To Gainesville, to Gator Growl, to the game. Georgia is behind us all, so is Auburn, LSU and Alabama. After one loss, it’s easy to look ahead and try to forget the past. After four straight, it’s impossible to do that. You reflect on every detail no matter how big or how small. How can you not? There are too many questions about the future that have too much to do on what happened in the past. Could 4-4 become 4-5? Maybe not, but what about 5-5? Is 6-6 a realistic regular season record to expect now? Bowl game? Those questions are only being asked because of what happened in October. Thankfully the month will soon be over. What November brings is up in the air.

Kent Taylor Commits To Florida; Gators Add Nation’s Top Tight End

Nearly a month ago, Land O’ Lakes tight end Kent Taylor told Florida he was committed to the Gators. On Thursday, he made that news public. The nation’s top tight end told the world he would wear orange and blue throughout his college career.

The news isn’t much of a surprise, but is still something to excite Florida fans. After three straight losses, the news of transfers and a decommitment, those cheering for the Gators would take any good news they could get their hands on.

Taylor joins fellow commit and tight end Colin Thompson to form what looks like the perfect pair. With word circulating that Florida will take three tight ends as part of their 2012 recruiting class, Charlie Weis might not be done with the position just yet.

For more on Taylor, head over to Alligator Army. Coming up: I breakdown his highlight reel.

Offense: Auburn Tigers 17 – Florida Gators 6

From Saturday: first thoughts.

Auburn has had a rough go of it this season in terms of defensive performances. The Tigers gave up 110 points in their first three games before holding FAU and South Carolina to 27 combined. Auburn’s defense would take a step back against Arkansas and give up 38 to the Razorbacks – the third time the Tigers had given up that total in their first six games. Due to the points and yards put up against Auburn, it was easy to expect more from Florida’s offense on Saturday night. Then the game started.

With the quarterback position being manned by two true freshmen and a sophomore that had only been asked to throw the ball a handful of times during his career the worst was feared, but progress was hoped for. Jacoby Brissett’s arm and escapability would be accompanied by Trey Burton’s ability to run the option and Jeff Driskel occasionally coming off the bench to give the defense different looks. We didn’t expect a 35-point explosion or 400 yards from scrimmage, but we expected more than two field goals and a total of 194 yards on 59 plays. What could be most frustrating is that the Gators were in the game according to the scoreboard. The Tigers’ offense wasn’t lighting the world on fire either and Florida had its chances, but couldn’t capitalize.

We’re all aware the quarterbacks were going to struggle. Inexperience will do that. It’s not a surprise to anyone that neither Brissett nor Driskel looked like All-Americans. What was surprising was Charlie Weis’ rotation of his passers. No one knows which one will be the Gators’ quarterback of the future, but neither is getting a chance to get into any kind of rhythm. Brissett threw an interception early, but was far from awful. He throws a nice ball when he plants and has the chance to fire it in to a receiver. It’s easy to see why Florida wanted to add him as the second quarterback of the class. No one on the offensive side of the ball was great during the first half, but why bench your quarterback in a one-point game? Again, it goes back to rhythm. Brissett was only given one half to find his and Driskel coming off the bench cold didn’t have any either. If John Brantley isn’t able to go in two weeks against Georgia, Weis may have to pick one QB and stick with him unless the wheels completely fall off.

The running game was a liability yet again. What was the Gators’ most dangerous weapon during the first four games has become something Florida can’t rely on. Brissett enjoyed the long of the night with an 11-yard scamper, but that was it for excitement. Chris Rainey shouldn’t be getting the ball as much as he does. Not to say he can’t be a great asset to the offense because he definitely is one, but he’s not an every down back and it shows. Unfortunately we didn’t see Mike Gillislee nearly as much as we were led to believe. He carried the ball only three times for 16 yards and at one point we saw his ankle being taped on the sidelines. Regardless, all of this goes back to one key item we keep having to bring up: offensive line play.

What more can we say about the offensive line at this point? We can’t. They aren’t opening lanes for runners and they aren’t protecting the quarterbacks. It’s a unit that struggled for most of 2010 and came into 2011 with even less experience. That lack of experience has shown and it was apparent last night. At the seven-game point of the season, you have to have a solution. Correction: Weis has to have a solution. This line will continue to get dominated if it doesn’t improve now. And if this is the best they can be, the points won’t come. 10 points. 11 points. Six points. 4-3 will quickly become 4-4 if that keeps up.

Next up: the defense.

First Thoughts: Auburn Tigers 17 – Florida Gators 6

I’ll go ahead an keep this short because weekends are supposed to be enjoyable and the last thing you need is more frustration.

Florida’s defensive play improved. Tackles were made and pressure was put on the Auburn quarterbacks. It wasn’t a great performance or anything to use as a model game, but it was good enough. Actually more so when giving the Gators a chance to win the game. The offense, however, couldn’t take advantage of an improved defense.

It’s hard to determine exactly what Charlie Weis is doing on offense because, well, we don’t know and there have been injuries. John Brantley was obviously out. Jeff Demps didn’t dress. Andre Debose went out early. Mike Gillislee didn’t get the carries he was expected to receive and we saw him getting taped up on the sidelines at one point. So more than enough frustration sets in with those right there. Then there are the other issues…

Whether a quarterback isn’t putting points on the board or not, by removing one for the other and either for the option guy in between, no one is getting into any kind of rhythm. Jacoby Brissett didn’t light the world on fire, but removing him in the second half put in a cold Jeff Driskel who couldn’t get into a flow either didn’t make a difference. In the end, the Gators managed two field goals and nothing more. That’s a total of 27 points and only two touchdowns in the last three games – all losses.

I’ll have more tomorrow, but for now we mourn. We mourn a chance to turn things in the right direction, a chance to stay in the SEC East race, and a chance to win. Florida falls to 4-3 and we just fall. Goodnight, as good as it can be.

Last 10 Things: Florida Gators vs. Auburn Tigers

10 final things about Florida’s matchup with Auburn.

1. We start with must win.

2. Jacoby Brissett do your worst…er…best. The Gators are lacking in the experience department, but they’re gaining it quicker than they would have been under normal circumstances, so that’s a plus. Brissett should have an easier time against the Tigers’ defense than he did last week. Should.

3. Mike Gillislee got the praise of his offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and earned a starting nod. Good for the hard running halfback. Great for the Gators if he can pound away at the Auburn defense.

4. Odds of an Andre Debose big play: roughly 1-to-1. Is that how odds work? I’m not sure, but Brissett will take shots if last week is any indication and Debose will probably be on the end of an attempt or two.

5. Should we do it three times in a row? Yes? Okay, here we go. The offensive line needs to be tougher.

6. The offensive line needs to be more consistent.

7. The offensive line NEEDS TO PLAY AS A UNIT. On too many snaps, it looks like five individual going their separate ways. If that’s the play call, good. Most times it doesn’t appear to be. It appears like the ball is snapped and five minds go in five separate ways.

8. Tackle. Don’t always try for the strip. Take the right angle. Keep your head up. Hit cleanly. Push the ball carrier back. Stand your ground.

9. Florida needs to attack Auburn in every aspect of the game. Brissett needs to attack the secondary, the lines need to attack the opposing lines, and the defense needs to be on all-out attack mode on every play. This game is winnable. Go win it.

10. And we end with must win.