Posted on: November 26, 2011 3:49 pm

Two Months Later and No Surprises

REMINDER - this blog is written by a 30-year Gator fan but it is called "Gator Plain Talk" for a reason.

The University of Florida Gators underwhelmed Gator Nation, the SEC, and college football in 2011.

That pretty much sums up the first season under wannabee head coach Will Muschamp. The once-mighty Gators are nowhere close to still being in the ranks of the college football elite and unless major changes and improvements are implemented by the coaching staff during the off-season UF is in no danger of rejoining those ranks any time soon.

As bitter a pill as that may be to swallow for Florida faithful, well - as your mama always taught you "the truth hurts". Rather than provide a week-by-week accounting of what the tea leaves were saying was the impending implosion of the Gators, this blog took two months off to see what if anything UF could do over the fat part of the schedule. The Gators failed to live up to even a modicum of the pre-season hype. When push came to shove, UF got butt-kicked from one end of the SEC to the other. Let's examine how it happened.

1) The Abject Failure of the Dual Head Coaching Team. The much balleyhooed coming of MusChomp and Weis the Wise to continue the legacy of Spurrier and Meyer can only be described as a flop. No one seriously believed Will the Younger had the experience to be a head coach anywhere in the SEC let alone at Florida. But the common wisdom was the Big Man would be there to cover the -ss of his would-be boss and prevent him from snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Oops. At best this uneasy partnership has had the look and feel of Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple and at times more like Dumb and Dumber. Their job was to stabilize the Gator program not to oversee its further decline. If this were a classroom Chomp gets D+ and Biggun gets a C- and that's graded on the curve. The other common wisdom was M-Chomp gets three years. Don't hold your breath. If 2012 even remotely looks like the embarrassment that is drawing to a close then at least the interim head coach actually has on his resume NCAA head coach, NFL and Super Bowl. Will Muschamp is a wannanee head coach in the best conference in college football and he had better get bright - and fast - or he'll be going through the same gates to watch the games as the rest of us in Gainesville.

2) Johnny Brantley the Dud and His Protector. If you want to sum up the fifth and final (thank god) season, two as starter, of this otherwise apparently fine young man you can do it in two words - underperformance and excuses. The problem is we're talking about the Florida Gators starting QB here. The first is of his own making and let's say again, one last time, what we've said many many times before. There has never been a QB as overrated as Johnny B. In three seconds you can rattle off the name of three true freshman QBs in the SEC who are far better, show more talent and composure, and produced better results than Florida's fifth year senior. The excuses were the cover provided all season long by Charlie Wide, the most ludicrous of which was the recent quip that Brantley will be playing at the next level. Are you kidding me? If there is one thing that can be said with absolute certainty is that John Brantley III - like most of the tens of thousands of other NCAA athletes - will be going pro in something other than his sport. Adios, John. You are a great kid but you won't even be missed let alone remembered.

3) Munchkins in the Backfield. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps provided four years of hit-and-miss excitement for Gator Nation. From their precocious debut in 2008 during the Arkansas game, you just never knew when either of them was going to pop a run or return for a long touchdown. And therein lie the problem. Statistically, less than 1 in 20 carries ever resulted in a long gainer of the course of their careers. In between that meant a lot of 3-and-outs when they had the life snuffed out of themselves at the line after first the Meyer and then Chomp administrations insanely continued to dial up the dive play. Two GREAT young men, excellent football players, AND with the numbers to back it all up, but they unfortunately became all too predictable and accordingly easy to stop. WE WILL MISS THESE TWO and wish them all the best but it's time for the Gators to move on. If there is truly going to be a pro style offense deployed in Gainesville then the kind of running backs it's going to take have names like Mack Brown, Mike Gillislee, Trey Burton and Hunter Joyer - built to take the pounding play after play and whose size alone are the difference between a 4 year gain and a 4 year loss, not the impossible to expect perfect blocking on every play. Good Luck, Chris and Jeff, in whatever you do and wherever you end up.

4) Charlie the Wide is no Gandalf the Gray. The bottom line is that he predicated the entire season on Johnny Be Bad and the two Flash Gordons and it didn't work out. Period. After that he had no Plan B. It's stupefying to even the dullest armchair QB (that would be me) why he didn't get Jordan Reed in the offense earlier and constantly. In today's NFL pro style, the offensive planets revolve around the sun which is tight end. He Who is Called The Best Offensive Mind In The Game didn't seem to be able to fathom that. Never mind that JBB couldn't hit a TE on a slant route to save his life, Wide had two other freshman QBs that could have done it all season long. Biggun has maintained all along "if I had just one more season" with Johnny B how much differently things would turn out. Well guess what? You never had that extra year. How much worse could 2011 have turned out had Wide abandoned Brantley as soon as it was clear he couldn't even cut bait let alone fish and gone to one of the youngsters? We'll never know that but what we do know is Charlie Wise is no offensive genius. And like Chomp he had better wake up and smell the coffee. If this is supposed to be a pro style offense then jolly well make it at least LOOK like one for pete's sake.

5) Dan Quinn Has NFL Experience. And there you have the entire problem with the Gator defense in 2011. There is this smoking crack myth floating in the world of college football that coaches with an NFL pedigree will make an instant and lasting impact on any college level program. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The same in that NCAA head coaching superstars rarely if ever make it at the pro level (just ask Nick Satan and Steve Superior) there is absolutely no guarantee that NFL coaches can bring a pro system to the college game and make it work. Quinn's nickname in playing circles is "DQ" but the last time I looked that stands for Dairy Queen which isn't far from the truth of how his great plan played out. The fact is Dan Quinn's defensive schema sucks. The once-fearedGator D line was so run overrun this year that to call it bush league would be a conceit. And don't blame the players. There was never a D-coordinator who inherited the kind and depth of talent that was puked all over Dan Quinn and he promptly p-ssed it away. You can hate DCs (and I do) like John Chavis and Kirby Smart but by-god at least they ARE real defensive coordinators. DQ couldn't make a pimple on the butt of either Bob Stoops or Charlie Strong ex-Gator DCs who have gone onto elite success in their own right. As far as this writer is concerned, there SHOULD be a first round draft pick for the Florida Gators this year - Mr. Dairy Queen can catch the NFL bus to any team that wants him back and free us up to go get a real DC.

Well, this will be the final entry for this blog in 2011. Whether the Gators win or lose to FSU this evening and no matter what happens in the bowl game in which UF will undeservedly appear it won't change any of what has happened. This baloney that to finish the season with two wins would propel the program forward and give it momentum headed into 2012 is just that - lunch meat. In closing, here is what you can take to the bank. At tonight's final game of the season there are a half dozen elite high school recruits making official visits which will determine whether in 2012 they suit up in Blue/Orange or Crimson/White. Fast forward now to National Signing Day and see how many of them choose UF or FSU. Whoever wins THAT game laughs last over what happens to the hapless Florida Gators in their final two games of the finger-down-the-throat 2011 season.

May it be our beloved Florida Gators. But if not - then remember where you read it first. Once a Gator, always a Gator. Go Gators - but go sooner than later, ok?

Category: NCAAF
Posted on: October 2, 2011 10:41 am

Florida Gators - Saturday Night Live Revisited

From 1976-79 the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players" on Saturday Night Live (SNL) with the likes of Chase, Belushi, Akroyd, and Murray made us laugh. But they never made us cry, yet last night the Florida Gators were the cause for both to the loyal Gator Nation. This is a team that is the latest incarnation of the not ready for prime time players. On this blog for the past four weeks we have talked about not being convinced by what we had seen in the would-be blow outs to date and whether UF really was a contender or merely a pretender. After last night's thorough humiliation by the Alabama Crimson Tide we have our answer. Last week we said the best we could hope from the back to back games with Bama and LSU was a 5-1 record and realistically 4-2. We have our answer on that, too. If UF is not capable of beating the Tide on their home turf on a Saturday night there is no possible way they come out of Death Valley in a game under the lights with a win.

As the old ball coach Steve Spurrier was in the early years of rebuilding the South Carolina program, he made his first appearance at The Swamp since becoming head coach of the Gamecocks and then-coach Urban Meyer and a Tim Tebow lead Florida team ran up the score so high that at one point CBS Sports color commentator Gary Danielson remarked, "all those years when Spurrier was on the other sideline, he must now be saying to himself so this is how it felt". And that pretty much sums up what Alabama did - again - to the once mighty Gators. In what looked like a SNL sketch gone bad, the Gators simply could not run with the big dogs. Let's take a look a how and why it happened, and then talk about where we're most likely headed from here.

1. Offense Game Plan was Missing in Action. Charlie Weis said he "would throw the kitchen sink" at Bama. In the end, however, there was no rabbit to pull out of his magic hat of tricks. We predicted last week the Tide would have heat-seeking missiles on Demps and Rainey and did they ever. Rainey will end his Florida as never having had one effective game against Alabama. Demps looked early on as if he would have a career night, but instead the Bama D was no doubt given instructions to "tackle hard" and Demps couldn't take the pounding. He was knocked out of the contest early and returned but was ineffective. Weis knew the Gators could not afford to be one-dimensional but how ironic was it that the passing game became the only part of the play book to which he could turn. When he has two enormous and capable tight ends in Gerald Christian and Jordan Reid we'll never know why Weis didn't take a tip from Bill Belecheck's Pats and give his true freshman backup QB passes he at least had a chance of completing and which didn't take 3 seconds in the pocket to develop. The most experienced coach by far on the field last night was Charlie Weis and he couldn't make it happen. He is still working with too many lumps of clay and it will be a long time before we see that beautifully fired pot come out of the oven.

2. Gator D Was No Match for Bama O. Last week we wondered if the D line could get to the Tide's freshman QB, sack him early and often, and make the contest one-dimensional. It was a moot point as UF's defensive front was totally overpowered and outclassed by the Bama front five. It seemed as though Florida was too fast off the line and as a result over-shot the coverage all night, allowing Trent Richardson to blow right past them. Was Dan Quinn even on the sideline last night? If armchair analysts like me can see he needed to make an adjustment two series into the first quarter then our D-Coordinator with NFL experience isn't earning his pay. We noted last week that our secondary was young and inexperienced and that if the game fell to them to save, we would be in for a long night. Florida D was world class enough to win a national championship in 2006. We are no longer capable of beating a team with world class O and unless Dan Quinn wakes up and smells the coffee he is going to squander a lot of defensive talent with a scheme that may be great in the NFL but is too rigid for SEC play. Quinn is looking just as rookie right now as Jeff Driskel.

3. QB is the Gator's Achilles Heel. I said I'd eat my hat if Johnny Brantley ever completed a TD pass down field and/or a fade into the end zone. OK, here goes. Crunch. Burp. That said, in what has become institutional officiating bias against Florida over the past decade, the fade TD was reversed on a replay that was anything but conclusive. That TD should have stood but SEC officials look for ways to throw the game to the other team by making calls like that.  OK, I'm off my soap box and back to the QB conundrum. Yes, JB completed that long throw to AD on the opening play of the game. But look closely at that play, a very very design play. It was so design that after the false start on the first attempt, Charlie Weis dialed it up again. When do O-coordinators ever call the same play twice in a row after having given the opposing D a look at the formation? Never. Which means Weis must have seen from film that Debose was just fast enough to be able to blow past Dre Kirkpatrick and so the offense practiced that play 100 times over the past week. Good News - it worked. Bad News - you can't construct entire seasons out of what amounts to strings of trick plays to be called once per game based on exhaustive analysis of film and custom tailored for one opponent. Give the UF offensive line credit for giving Brantley time all night to pass - an average of 3 seconds which is huge. But while he was yet in the game, JB did nothing with it. On the biggest stage of his life, given the time we have been told for four years now that he needs to not be pressured, our would-be made for pro style offense drop back passer didn't cut it. Being knocked out before the first half was even over is probably just as well. No one wishes any injury on any player, but this now forces Weis and Muschamp to decide which horse they are going to ride at QB - Driskell or Jacboby Brisset - and start to rebuild for next year. I read the sport analysts on this CBS website say that an 18-year old QB will not be able to navigate the Gators through the rest of the schedule and that's about the dumbest thing I've ever heard. If every other team in the SEC - including Bama - can play a true freshman then why not the Gators? Since the summer when we started blogging we observed that the coaching staff was taking a huge gamble by over-relying on the would-be "experience" of John Brantley Jr and it's come back to bite them in the butt. It's time to admit it was a mistake and use the injury as both the excuse and the reason to move on.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Down in the rankings this week, and then most probably out of the rankings altogether next week after the loss to LSU. Tell Dan Quinn to start watching SEC film instead of NFL film. Pick one of your true freshman QBs and give him the rest of the season to get more seasoned for next season. And recognize that the Gators are eminently capable of losing each of the next five games taking a 4-6 record into the final two weeks and hoping just to become bowl eligible. Unless Will Muschamp can prove he is the wunderkind we've all been told he is and his NFL-polished coordinators figure out something else, and quick, there is no reason to expect that what made the pretender Gators look like gods in the first four games will magically transform them into a contender that is capable on a weekly basis of going into a game expecting to win versus not to lose. There is a big difference between the two and this is the turning point. It will be interesting to see how they respond.

Category: NCAAF
Posted on: September 25, 2011 10:49 am

Week 4 Recap - Still Not Convinced

I know the Gators beat yet another SEC team, this time by 38 points. I know that Rainey and Demps once again went over 100 yards each on the ground and the team had over 400 yards in rushing. And I know the defense - overall - once again looked very impressive in dominating the Wildcats.

So why am I still not convinced? Here are my three top reasons:

1) Tennessee and Kentucky have devolved into two of the weak sisters in the entire SEC let alone the East. Florida (or any other SEC team with Atlanta aspirations) had darn well beat both of them by double digits. But now come the real SEC teams with Alabama and LSU. How will the Gator O-line hold up the speed and size of the Tide and the Tigers? Will the D-line be able get past the formidable front lines of both teams? Matchups on both sides of the ball that have come relatively easy for Florida in the first four games are about to get considerably more complex and challenging. If anyone thinks both Saban and Miles have anything less than a bulls-eye on the backs of both #1 and #28 then they are smoking crack. Take away the two game-changers so far on offense and what does CharlieWeis have left? The ESPN announcers last night said "he can worry about building an offense around something else next year". They could not be more wrong. He had better have something he can build around starting next week.

2) Which brings me again, inevitably, to John Brantley Jr. Hooray - he finally hit a receiver deep downfield in full stride that resulted in a TD. But it took an amazing grab by Gerald Christian on a pass that was way too high and was caught only because it was lobbed to a 6-3 TE with arms so long that it would make Wilt Chamberlain blush. And speaking of lobbing the ball, what's with the sideline throws that made it to about the 10th row of seats? Or the 80 mph pass to Trey Burton who was standing maybe 5 yards away? Brantley continues to underwhelm and underimpress. In a previous blog post, I noted we had already seen JB as good as he gets, and nothing has happened since then to alter that opinion. If this is "improvement" under the tutelage of proven QB king-maker Charlie Weis then Brantley must be about the soggiest lump of clay with which Weis has ever had to work. Unless we see a dramatic change in the effectiveness and consistency of his play over the next two games - yes, against the two most difficult opponents he is going to face in 2011 - then we have to conclude there will be no silk purse to be made by Weis out of this sow's ear. And we'll all be glad come December when we can say "Go, Johnny, Go - you were no Tebow".

3) The defense may be one of the top overall in the country but the secondary is young, still learning on the job, and vulnerable. They have given up way too much yardage against weaklings and are about to be tested by the big boys. Will they be up to the challenge? The only way Florida wins either of the next two games is a) if the secondary steps up and stops the big plays downfield, b) the D-line and linebackers continue to force turnovers, c) the offense then does something with it, and d) special teams run back kickoffs and punts and block at least one.

Given a near total lack of confidence in JB's ability, given that Jeff Driskel (the only FR playing on the O-side of the ball) just isn't ready yet for prime time, and with the heat-seeking missles that will be aimed on Rainey and Demps the Gators cannot rely on what has gotten them thus far to a perfect 4-0 record. The best Gator Nation can hope for two weeks hence is a 5-1 record and the sober reality is we're more likely looking at 4-2. If we are 5-1 or a miraculous 6-0 come October 15 then it will be because a transformation of miracle proportions will have occurred from John Brantley. If it should happen then I'll gladly eat my hat on this blog for all to ready. But frankly, I just can't see it happening and am already looking to the remainder of the schedule and life after Brantley.

Category: NCAAF
Posted on: September 11, 2011 9:16 am

Gators Have a Long Way to Go

For their Week 2 effort, Florida almost put up the 42 points I said they needed to log against a vastly overmatched UAB team, and shutout the Blazers when I had said the maximum points the Gators could allow was 13. The mighty Wisconsin Badgers beat a much better opponent in Oregon State by "only" 35-0 so is there a comparison? No. With two games under their belt, we can see that Florida is clearly more than a pretender. But are they really a contender? Not yet, and here are the reasons why.


1. Defense overall continues to improve - though not as dominating as in the season opener, D Coordinator Dan Quinn is substituting personnel at will with an imperceptible change in performance. If Florida has any chance in the SEC East it is the D that is going to have to once again carry the team as in certain years past

2. Freshmen on D making an immediate impact - whether on the line, in the flat, or in the secondary the young players are stepping up to consistently make big plays. Whereas the only FR even playing on the O-side of the ball is Jeff Driskel.

3. Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown finally get into the game and average 6 yards a carry. Hello? These boys are built to take the week in and week out pounding of being a running back in the SEC. Why Rainey and Demps continue to be used for cannon fodder when there are power backs that can take the brunt of the hits is mind-boggling.


1. Offsides penalties will kill the Gators if not corrected - Dominique Easley and William Green need to either line up a step back if they intend to keep taking those "fastest first steps" off the snap or else be taught how to wait for the ball to actually move. Against SEC opponents the Gators cannot afford to hand over five 1st downs on offside penalties and expect to win games. The Gator O would have had the ball five more times if not for the momentum-changer of taking a 3rd and 4 and giving the Blazers a 1st and 10.

2. It took exactly one week for opponents to shut down the flats - the swing pass that was so effective against FAU was all but taken away by UAB. If Charlie Weis is actually dumb enough to pull that stunt against SEC secondaries, he'll be watching pick-sixes all season because Johnny Brantley throws a swing pass that a high school cornerback could intercept.


1. Redzone Performance - the final score might just as well have been 54-0 had the Gators not stalled three separate times at the goal line. When the new O Coordinator has to tell the O Line they can't settle for field goals in the red zone it means the fire isn't there yet

2. Jeff Demps is injured early in the game and doesn't return - as we have consistently said, the two little guys have blazing speed and amazing jukes but can't take the pounding. Unless Charlie Weis gets Wise and starts softening up the defense by running Brown and Gillislee more, it will means short games and an even shorter season for Demps and Rainey

3. John Brantley - he has yet to throw a single successful pass to a receiver in the end zone for a score. He wouldn't make a pimple on the butt of Danny Wuerffel when it comes to throwing an endzone corner fade route. The brick he threw a mile over the head of Andre Debose was pitiful for the 5th year SR that supposedly has regained all of his confidence and come into his own in the Charlie Weis pro-style offense. The Gator O may be scoring points but it's not because the starting QB has anything to do with passing or running for TDs. I think we have seen as good as it gets with JB and can only hope the coaching staff decides to invest in the future or else it's going to be another year of mediocre performance at QB. JB will for sure be one of the 10,000 NCAA athletes that goes pro in something other than his sport.

Category: NCAAF
Posted on: September 10, 2011 11:34 am

Florida Gators - Week 2 Will Tell the Tale

After a solid season opener the Gators now have to show they are for real by not only putting up 42 points against UAB but also holding the Blazers to 13 or fewer points. For more than a decade every Florida season has been foreshadowed by how the Gators perform against both the patty-cake opponents and serious contenders in the first two games leading up to the traditional SEC opener against Tennessee. Beat a team like Hawaii 56-10 and it's going to be a special year of football in The Swamp. But let Troy put up 31 points against your defense and you can expect a disappointing campaign. Two games on Sep 10 will give us a pretty good idea of how the SEC East is going to shape up: SC v UGA and FL v UAB. If the much-hyped-to-repeat Gamecocks fall in the early matchup to a Bulldogs team desperate for a win with Mark Richt's neck clearly on the chopping block, and if the Gators kick butt and take names at BHG Stadium, it's time for the pundits to re-order the likely finish in the SEC East.

Category: NCAAF
Posted on: September 10, 2011 11:12 am

Muschamp Era Debut - An Honest Critique

The Gators put on a solid performance in the debut game of the Muschamp Era. The D in particular looked impressive, swarming to the ball as in Florida defenses of old. True FR "Pop" Saunders could go a long way toward filling the void left by Janoris Jenkins. Plus it's already clear that Dominique Easley is going to be something special over the nose. Overall the O put up good numbers but where the running backs get a solid A the two QBs get a C+ at best. It's true Johnny Brantley showed marked improvement in this game over most of what we saw in 2010. What is concerning/disturbing is that finally given the pocket in which he can operate unmolested the 5th year senior showed disappointing experience by throwing into triple coverage in the end zone. But with Jeff Driskel having a nowhere-close-to-Tebow debut of his own after all the hype, it seems we're going to have to depend on the other great hyped story of the early season which is the ability of Charlie Weis as a teacher to mature KB on the fly. All we can say is had better lay hands on the kid, do a Vulcan mind-meld, or something so Brantley "gets it" asap because he doesn't have the rest of his life to learn the system.


- Special Teams were outstanding, an excellent portent that could allow the Gators to separate themselves from other conference teams

- If this is a pro-style offense then where are the big running backs? Where is Mack Brown, Mike Gillislee? Running little Jeff Demps off tackle leads to no gain or a loss in 4 out of 5 carries. Sure, he eventually pops the big run but not until after putting the offense in a lot of 3rd and long situations. Weis needs to use the big backs to soak up early down yardage and then mix-up the play action pass with a Demps reverse and keep the opposing D guessing. Running Demps out of the I-formation is all too predictable and easy for opposing defensive coordinators to spot and stop

- How great was it to see a healthy Caleb Sturgis back on the field corking off his first FG of the season from 50-yard range? Taking not one thing away from the splendid effort from Chas Henry in 2010 filling in as the place kicker but there is no substitute for the real deal

- It was awesome to see the enthusiasm once again back on the sidelines with the new coaching staff EVERYWHERE amongst the players, giving out high fives and hip checks, teaching and counseling, and just being an integral part of the game. Last year Urban Meyer wandered the bench like a lost soul and players walked by the head coach as if he wasn't even there. His head wasn't in the game and as a result neither were theirs. The difference between this year and last was immediately and obviously visible.

Category: NCAAF
Posted on: August 22, 2011 4:23 pm

Brantley Held Out of Practice

Coaches said it was due to back soreness after a tough camp. Maybe. It's hard to believe with Micky Marotti's strength training that a senior QB who doesn't run the ball and isn't taking full contact has any kind of pain, let alone in the back. More likely is the coaching staff wanted to give the three other QBs - and especially Jeff Driskell - a lot more time with the A-team. As we've observed already, if JB's debut in the new pro style offense for which he was supposedly bred since boyhood to run turns out to be anything less than stellar, then he can and should be given the hook by Weis. In the 2010 season, Urban Meyer made eight weeks of excuses about JB having earned the chance to be #1 on the depth chart, and the Gators watched their season fade into mediocrity as he blew the chance with each successive game. Meyer's loyalty was admirable but it cost his players and their fans. The team of Muschamp coaches has no reason not to build for the future if JB falters. Driskell may indeed not have the command of the play book and the experience - yet - of the game moving very very fast compared to high school. But it's better to have a FR with no fear who will only improve with every game than a RS-SR who will hang his head with every pass that D.T. drops. If JB hasn't found his confidence by now then at least in this writer's mind he has also run out of second chances and it's time to move on.

Category: NCAAF
Posted on: August 14, 2011 10:09 am

2011 Florida Gator Season - The Great Unknown

Only one thing is for sure: no one really knows what to expect from the 2011 Florida Gator season. New coaches, a new offensive system, a mixed bag of mostly inexperienced or yet-to-prove-themselves recruits with only a smattering of seniors. That's already a recipe for a roll of the dice that could come up anywhere from boxcars to snake eyes. Add to that the closed practices and we don't have a clue of what is coming. This season will be full of the unexpected. Be ready for a lot of surprises including at the QB position. If things don't mesh early and well for the offense, this coaching staff has no reason to be sentimental about that or any other senior who can't play up to potential - not when there are so many talented FR and SO players they can start to groom now. This will be nothing if not interesting for the next three months.

Category: NCAAF
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