The 2012 Gator Football Season is very close to being underway, and with the August heat comes the restless anticipation for College Football. Fear not Gator Faithful, I’ve got you covered on what to expect this season for your Orange and Blue. Hostile new SEC environments, an explosive new offense, a ruthless defense, and a competitive quarterback battle are just a few reasons why this football season for the Florida will be unlike any other.
Less “cupcake” games, more tests early:
Due to SEC conference realignment the big boys from the South welcome, and I use “welcome” lightly, Texas A&M and Missouri. What this means for the Gators in terms of scheduling is that instead of having their two usual at home “cupcake” opponents before facing SEC East foe Tennessee in mid-September, our boys will travel 924 miles to College Station, Texas to face the Aggies. This is a crucial game for both of these programs. For one, it is a nail-biting road test for the Gators, in a hostile environment unlike Florida has ever seen. As Will Muschamp puts it, “You ever been to College Station? It’ll be the only time you go”. I wanted to see what the Aggies’ Kyle Field was all about and found this:
Looks a little intimidating, right? This is a crucial win for the Gators to give them some confidence they flat out didn’t have last season, and an opportunity for them to give Texas A&M a taste of what SEC football is all about. A win in week 2 could also give them some on the road coolness that would carry over in Week 3 when they travel to Rocky Top Tennessee. It’s a pretty gutsy schedule for Florida early in the season, huh? With the game being only the second week of the season, under a new offensive coordinator, and a sophomore quarterback who will be only making their second start of the season, this game could give Gator Nation rekindled hope in Muschamp and his “Florida Way”, or lead them to believe another 7-6, or worse, season could be underway.
Brent Pease and his New Offense:
Coming all the way from the blue turf, non-AQ, BCS-buster Boise State, new Offensive Coordinator Brent Pease is expected to give the Florida offense the explosive plays we’ve been eagerly waiting for. At Boise, Pease’s offense was filled with a variety of shifts, formations, and gadget plays. Who could forget that perfectly executed Statue of Liberty play in the Fiesta bowl against Oklahoma? Here’s that play again, just in case you forgot how epic it was:
Boise’s offense consisted of a variety of different formations that their offense used, such as two back sets, one back pistol power, two back pistol read-option, empty sets on the line of scrimmage, and even the Wildcat. These shifts and different formations caused miscommunication and chaos by defenses facing the Boise offense. Boise ranked 9th in total offense scoring 81 TDs last season in the FBS while Florida’s sluggish offense ranked 105th with just 37 TDs at the end of 2011. Last season the Boise offense put up 390 total yards against the Georgia Bulldogs, and an impressive 261 passing yards against a Bulldog pass defense that finished 10th in the nation in 2011. In the red zone, Boise called several gadget plays to put points on the board, something the Gators need to improve upon this year. 2011 had only 32 Red Zone scores, 14 of those being Field Goals. Luckily Caleb Sturgis will return for 2012, but whether gadget plays are used or not, Pease has to call plays that will score TDs. This multitude of formations is going to be very different from the dull, inefficient offense we saw last season.
Look for Pease to use the power run game with RB Mike Gillislee effectively and often, using him fittingly downhill between the tackles. Mike set big goals for himself in the 2012 season at SEC Media days, saying that he wants to rush for 1500 yards and 24 Touchdowns. While the quarterback race is still open as fall camp is underway, I am very confident in Pease’s ability to develop both Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel. Wide Receivers Andre Debose and Quinton Dunbar need to step up this season, especially with the departure of Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, who combined for 47 catches in 2011. Debose had only four TDs last season, and Dunbar snagged only two in the end-zone. While Boise’s passing game flourished due to the accurate and efficient Boise QB Kellen Moore under center, Pease should be able open up the passing game a lot more, and Brissett or Driskel will hopefully execute the new system proficiently behind a stronger, much improved offensive line.
Battle of the Sophomores:
Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel, as Muschamp stated in the press conference Sunday, are still equally in the hunt for the starting job as Quarterback come September 1st. Coach Muschamp did not make any inclination of either QB having the upper hand by saying “they can win with both QBs”. We will see a depth chart the Monday of game week, August 27th, which will put an end to the speculation of who will be under center on the 1st. We saw Jacoby Brissett make his first career start in 2011 against the number one ranked LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge. He became the Gators starting quarterback for the Auburn game as well, and throughout the season had an 86.93 efficiency rating, and performed well under the injury-plagued circumstances last year. Jeff Driskel took over for now Baltimore Raven Johnny Brantley after a high-ankle sprain took him out of the game against Alabama. While he did not have an encouraging showing against the top-ranked Tide Defense that October evening, we all know the boy can play. He was the #1 QB Prospect in 2010, and at 6’4 232 pounds he possesses a Tebow-esque physique. While he is a running quarterback like Tebow was at Florida, I do expect Jeff to pass the ball more than Tim did in his years as a Gator. Driskel threw for a career 4,844 passing yards and 36 touchdowns in high school. It seems neither Brissett nor Driskel had the advantage in the spring game and it will all boil down to who outworks the other come the end of fall training camp. That means whoever runs Pease’s offense most efficiently, shows the ability to make smart plays, and who the players will respond to most will earn the first spot on the depth chart. There could even be a possibility that both will get equal reps in practice and games, but I think this is unlikely. Regardless of who earns the job, I am confident in Pease to call plays that fit their skill sets in 2012.
Ruthless Gator Defense:
There is already a lot of hype surrounding to 2012 Gator’s Defense, and that hype is well warranted. Last season, they finished ranked 8th nationally, and they impressively finished 2011 ranked 2nd in the Nation behind the National Champion Alabama in 3rd Down Conversion defense. The 2012 defense returns 14 of 15 starters from last season, and expect another impressive year by this unit as a whole. ESPN College Football analyst Trevor Matich described them during SEC Media Days saying: “They’re fast, they’re hostile, they’re deep.” Now if that doesn’t pump you up I don’t know what will. Linebacker Jon Bostic is set to have another huge season, currently having a total of 169 tackles, a figure that leads all current Gators. Weakside Linebacker Jelani Jenkins had 75 tackles last year, and these two LBs have combined started 42 games. Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easly should have another productive year; they combined for 83 tackles last year. Matt Elam and Josh Evans, Safeties, will have to make more big plays in the secondary; the Gators snagged only 8 interceptions all season in 2011. The Cornerback position is still up for grabs between Loucheiz Purifoy, Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins. Florida will face offenses in 2012 with efficient quarterbacks and high-flying attacks such as Connor Shaw of USC, James Franklin from Missouri, and Aaron Murray of Georgia. The Gator secondary of 2011 was quite young, but their year of experience could poise them to have a breakout season as a unit.
The biggest blow to the Gator Defense happened during the April spring game. Ronald Powell playing the “Buck” position, a hybrid Defensive End, tore his ACL. However, he was cleared for downhill running in late July, and will be reevaluated October 1st with no set return date as of now. Muschamp has praised fifth-year Senior Lerentee McCray to replace Powell, by saying “I’m expecting a big year out of him, I really am.” McCray did not play in the spring, which was a simple precautionary for a mild shoulder injury. McCray is the best alternative for Powell, having played behind Powell last season, and having 5 career starts. He played in nine games in 2011, missing four games due to injury. He recorded 24 tackles on the season and tied leading the team with four quarterback hurries. Powell will hopefully return to dominance on defense, he started in 12 games last season missing Auburn due to injury . This should be an even stronger defensive unit for Florida in 2012, and it will be interesting just how far this defense can take the Gators.
2012 for the Gators should be a much stronger than the Orange and Blue we saw last year. I am confident with what Coach Muschamp has done this offseason with respect to recruiting, coaching staff changes, and doing things his “Florida Way”. I do not think I am alone when I say I want September 1st to get here as soon as possible, so we do not have to dwell on 7-6 any longer. Buckle up Gator fans, 2012 will be a doozy. And hopefully, it’ll be a good one.
Morgan Moriarty is a Sophomore Telecommunications Major at the University of Florida. She works as a Student Assistant with Gator Athletes at the Office of Student Life on campus, and is on the UF Women’s Club Water Polo Team. Follow her on Twitter here @moriarty343