With LSU heading to Gainesville this weekend to play Florida, we caught up with Mike DiRocco of GatorNation to check in on the 4-0, 10th-ranked Gators
Q: Does Florida get enough out of Jeff Driskel to win against the better teams it will face in the SEC?
Despite being a sophomore who rarely played last season, Driskel has been surprisingly efficient: He doesn’t turn the ball over, he’s accurate with his throws, and he’s been able to check the Gators into the correct runs when he gets to the line of scrimmage and sees the defense.
Plus, he’s able to make plays with his legs. He’s able to get out of trouble and scramble to buy more time and he’s also a good runner, somewhat in the mold of Tim Tebow in that he’s a got good size (6-foot-4, 237 pounds), though he’s faster than Tebow.
That being said, Driskel hasn’t faced a defense as good as the one LSU brings into the Swamp. He’s going to be under a lot of pressure from the pass rush and is going to have to accelerate his decision-making and get the ball out quickly. Driskel doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards for the Gators to beat the SEC’s better teams, but he has to be efficient and not make big mistakes.
Q: Is the Gators' running game for real? As a follow-up, how good is Mike Gillislee?
UF has run the ball much better this season, for two reasons: The Gators have a back that fits the power-run, between-the-tackles approach coach Will Muschamp wants and because the offensive line is better. UF hasn’t faced a fantastic run defense yet, although Texas A&M is fourth in the SEC in rush defense (106 ypg) and the Gators did rush for 142 yards (after losing 57 yards in sacks and kneel-downs) in College Station.
Gillislee has been very good through four games, averaging 100.5 yards per game. He’s a one-cut runner who hits the hole aggressively. He’s big enough to run between the tackles (5-11, 209) but has the speed to get outside and out-run defenders, too. Perhaps his best quality is his shiftiness. He never seems to take a direct hit and he’s able to twist his body and slide through cracks in the offensive line.
The big question entering the season has been his durability because he battled a chronic ankle injury the past two seasons, but he hasn’t missed any time yet. He did suffer a groin strain against Texas A&M but stayed in the game and played the following week against Tennessee.
Q: Is the offensive line significantly better than the one that struggled in Baton Rouge last year?
It is better – it would be hard for it to be much worse – but we won’t know if it’s significantly better until Saturday. Muschamp hired a new strength and conditioning coordinator (Jeff Dillman) and offensive line coach (Tim Davis) and so far those two have made the line tougher physically and mentally. At least that’s what the players – including the defensive linemen -- and coaches are saying, anyway.
But the Gators haven’t faced a front like LSU’s group yet. Some are calling Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Anthony Johnson and Bennie Logan the best defensive line in LSU history. All the talk of being tougher and stronger means nothing if UF’s offensive line gets dominated again like it did last season.
A potential issue already for the Gators is left tackle. Senior Xavier Nixon has struggled and was benched in the second half of the Kentucky game for true freshman D.J. Humphries. Muschamp said the player who practices best will start against LSU, but it might be asking too much of Humphries to hold his own against the Tigers.
Q: LSU is impressed by Florida's defense. What makes it good and when's the last time UF has been this good on defense?
This defense is pretty good, but it doesn’t compare to the units of 2006, 2008 and 2009. Those defenses had one thing this group doesn’t: elite pass rushers.
This defense’s strength is its depth. UF has two more linemen and a couple more linebackers that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn feels comfortable playing this season. While that may not seem significant, that has made a huge difference. The approach has been to play more guys early in the game so the first-line players – like LBs Jon Bostic and Lerentee McCray, DE Dominique Easley and DT Sharrif Floyd -- are more rested for the fourth quarter and won’t wear down like they did last season, when they were manhandled in the fourth quarter of SEC games. UF gave up 72 points in eight league games in 2011. The Gators haven’t given up a fourth-quarter point in three SEC games so far this season.
UF likes to play man coverage and they’ve got a pair of pretty good corners in Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins. The secondary is deep, too, and led by a pair of physical safeties in Matt Elam and Josh Evans, who leads UF in tackles.
Q: Has the good start regained the good will toward Will Muschamp in Gainesville?
Absolutely. The road wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee – with a sophomore quarterback making his first and second career starts – were impressive, especially considering the way the Gators were able to make half-time adjustments and dominate the final two quarters.
Of course, some of those good feelings would be washed away if the Gators aren’t competitive against LSU because the 4-0 start has raised the preseason expectations. Fans who were expecting an 8-4 season are suddenly thinking 10 victories and an Eastern Division title.
Realistically, the Gators are probably a season away from really challenging for a division title but fans are encouraged about Muschamp because they’re at least season progress.