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Tales from the Swamp: Previewing the Florida Gators offense

Maize n Brew’s resident swamp-dweller breaks down Michigan’s bowl opponent.

Idaho v Florida Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

I feel very confident in saying no one on this planet is less excited for a bowl matchup against Florida than I am. We’ve seen this game played in three straight calendar years, and there doesn’t seem to be a ton of juice in it. It’s super vanilla, but as long as the two fan bases continue to gobble up tickets almost immediately, there’s no reason for the bowl committees to do anything else.

With all that said, let’s discuss the game.

While I was supremely confident going into last year’s game in Dallas, I don’t love the matchup this time around. We’ll dive into everything a bit deeper, but I’m terrified of Dan Mullen. Ryan Day is Meyer’s new Mullen, and we saw how that turned out. Florida’s defense is incredibly fast, so finding athletic matchups to exploit won’t be easy.

I live in Gainesville, I went to three Gator games this year, and they’re my team No. 2. Here are some of my thoughts on what Michigan is going to be dealing with.

Idaho v Florida Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Florida’s Offense vs Michigan’s Defense

The last time we saw Don Brown’s unit, they were getting thrashed by Ohio State. We saw that choke job potentially cost Michigan the commitment of 5-star safety Dax Hill (just kidding, it didn’t!). It was bad, and there’s an outside chance things don’t get much more fun in the bowl game.

Mullen and Ryan Day are two sides of the same offensive coin. They both run a mix of shotgun-based formations with the primary goal of isolating athletes in space. While Day had to adjust his offensive style to Haskin’s immobility, Mullen has had to adjust his to a set of receivers that play better downfield.

Almost-Wolverine Van Jefferson (31/439/6) is their best weapon on the perimeter, and his numbers don’t tell the whole story. He’s as good as we thought he was when it appeared he may be transferring to Ann Arbor with Shea Patterson. He’s big, he’s fast, and has shown the ability to be used in a ton of ways.

Ohio State transfer Trevon Grimes (25/366/2) is a freak beast. He’ll be used in the screen game and on 50-50 balls down field. Josh Hammond (26/308/4) and Freddie Swain (14/265/5) are utility receivers that can both be explosive after the catch. They’ll work a lot over the middle and expect them to be used on crossing routes with Grimes and Jefferson working 1-on-1 on the outside.

There are few teams that can match Florida’s talent in the backfield. If Dameon Pierce runs for 75 yards, the Gators will finish with three backs more than 500 yards and 5.5 yards per carry. They’re deep and ride the hot hand. Jordan Scarlett (122/717/4), who was suspended for the 2017 game, is the closest thing to a bell cow. He’ll get the early carries as Florida eases into the game. Lamical Perine (128/750/6) is the home run hitting bowling ball, and Pierce (65/425/2) is a freshman with other worldly talent.

Now that we’re familiar with the different pieces of this offense, the two most important players for Florida will likely be quarterback Feleipe Franks (2284 yards, 23 TDs) and “athlete” Kadarius Toney.

Franks has been much improved in Dan Mullen’s system, but the sense around here is the Gators’ skill position depth and Mullen’s offensive genius have covered up Franks’ weak spots. Both sides are probably right and there’s a middle ground there.

Let’s talk about what Franks is good at first. He has a rocket arm and has expanded his game to add touch passes and the ability to throw guys open this year. Physically, he has every tool. He looks faster, his throwing motion is quickened and he has control over his arm to make every throw you can imagine — he’s improved so much. It’s why when he gets into a groove, he lights it up.

Franks has Haskins’ arm talent, and with Mullen’s creativity that’s a concern — especially if the game slows down for him. He’s not quick, but he’s an effective runner with top-line speed to beat linebackers to the corner and to get by safeties at the next level. While Michigan has struggled to use Shea Patterson as anything more than a compliment, Mullen has found ways to turn Franks into a legitimate weapon. It shows what imaginative coaching can do.

Where Feleipe struggles is in making quick decisions. If Michigan can cut off his first read, they will be in good shape. However, after OSU, I have tremendous concerns about Brown even having it within this defense’s arsenal to cover the types of routes Ohio State rolled on. Remember, PSU and MSU both had success with the same thing but bailed Michigan out on drops. With Devin Bush missing the game, others really need to step up.

The aforementioned Toney is the type of player that could either kill Michigan on those same sets or bail them out with drops. He’s an unbelievably explosive wild card. Go back 18 months and there was a clamoring for him to be the team’s QB as a freshman. The kid just has the kind of talent that needs to be on the field.

While he’s certainly fast, his threat comes in his ability to make guys miss in small boxes. He’s lighting quick and can get in and out of his breaks as good as anyone with the ball in his hands. He’ll play running back, receiver and probably a play or two at wildcat. You can’t give him a crease.

Teams have generally tried to stuff the middle against UF because of the threat of Toney and the running backs. This has left Grimes and Jefferson opportunities on the outside — where Franks has gotten very good at putting the ball in spots where only his receiver can get it. Unless we see a dramatic shift in philosophy from Michigan, Florida may try to attack a more open middle of the field.

Overall, Florida’s offense has been boom or bust all year, sometimes in the same game. They fell behind big to South Carolina and Vanderbilt before scorching the earth in comeback victories.

In addition to the guys mentioned here, keep an eye out for the Gators’ backup quarterback, Emory Jones. Jones was an Ohio State commit that flipped to Mullen late in last year’s cycle. Florida has limited his reps all year in order to utilize Jones in the bowl game without burning his red shirt. He’s an incredibly talented freshman that could be used as both a wildcat threat and a legitimate quarterback.

Michigan will be missing a few star players, and the Gators are not to be taken lightly.