The Florida Gators won an old-fashioned slugfest against Mississippi State last weekend. It would be an act of embellishment to say they looked great, but the defense definitely held up its end of the bargain. The offense did not make a shattering, devastating gaffe. The Gators looked like a well-prepared team which was placed in the right positions and was able to counteract the specific things its opponent tried to do.
By Matt Zemek
It stands to reason that this 2018 Florida team is not equipped to win shootouts. This isn’t Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony, or Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow. This isn’t a team which will slap 51 points on LSU as it did in 2008. This isn’t a team which will play the aesthetically pleasing football which was so attractive and addictive for Florida fans from 1990 through 2009, minus the Ron Zook era. Florida fans got used to sexy football, and who could blame them? Right now, though, Dan Mullen is still trying to clean up the mess Jim McElwain left behind. He is not going to fix everything this year. He has to manage situations and expectations.
Saturday against Mississippi State, Mullen did just that. It’s not only a step forward for UF, but an indication of how it has to play this upcoming weekend against the unbeaten and very confident LSU Tigers.
1 – STRIKING THE BALANCE
The Gators aren’t the better team in this game. If this is a prolonged fistfight, chances are that LSU owns the muscle Mississippi State currently lacks, and would therefore be able to wear down the Gators. Florida is the team which has a more urgent need to hit the big play. Yet, as said above, this is not a team built to win high-scoring games.
The upshot of all this? Feleipe Franks has to strike a balance between being safe and aggressive. He needs to take shots downfield, but he needs to do so in a way that the worst thing which can happen is an incomplete pass, not an interception.
This is playoff baseball season. Pitchers can miss locations if the hitter can’t do anything with the ball, but they CAN’T miss locations by leaving balls over the middle of the plate. So it also is for Franks. If he misses, he needs to miss in ways which don’t lead to interceptions, only to incomplete passes. Walking that line will be very important against LSU.
2 – STRIPPED DOWN
The Gators need to focus on the basics first – this is a game in which even the simplest mistakes will probably get punished – so they need to be concerned with wrapping up and making fundamentally sound tackles. However, provided those fundamentals are in place, Florida defenders need to try for more against LSU: They need to see if they can stack and strip ballcarriers and do other things to create takeaways. LSU has flourished because it has not given up the ball very much. Florida has to change that reality on Saturday.
3 – GAME-CHANGER
Five of the last six UF-LSU games have been decided by one score. If this game is close in the second half, Dan Mullen needs to be ready to call the trick play (maybe on special teams) which turns the tide.