Celebrate the first half, Gator Nation
The Florida Gators football team, after limping to a 7-6 finish a year ago, have jumped all the way up to No. 4 in the national polls following the program's biggest win since Mr. Tim Tebow was calling the shots.
That said, there is still a lot of football left to play. While the Gators' chances of reaching the SEC Championship Game are looking better and better by the minute, there are plenty of unknowns remaining that could manage to veer a crowded bandwagon far off course.
How many unknowns?
Ten, in fact. Read up on which Gators must step up and fulfill various roles and duties if the program is going to make the jump from a one week wonder to a sustained status as a member of college football's elite.
10. Coach Will Muschamp is only in his second year as a head coach. Can he keep it together?
Many folks like to point out that Mr. Meyer won a national championship in only his second season at the helm of the Gators. However, he had already been a head coach at Bowling Green and Utah, even leading his Utes to a BCS bowl game in the process.
Thus, the comparison is not quite apt (and yes, that is just a fun vocab word right there).
Muschamp is a ball of pure energy wrapped up in an old-school, beat-your-face-in state of being. He was tutored under Nick Saban and headed up some of the most ferocious defensive units to ever grace a college football field.
If he can keep his energy up all season, his athletes will follow.
They have already started, and the result has been wildly successful.
9. Can the Gators’ defensive front-four put enough pressure on the opposition quarterback without having to break out elaborate blitz packages?
Shoot, I dunno!
Just kidding, Gator Nation; before the season even began, most did not believe McCray would be up to the task of taking on SEC offensive linemen in his efforts of getting into the opposing quarterback’s grill.
However, an injury to 2011 sacks leader Ronald Powell, followed by a recent re-injury to the same knee, has forced McCray into the every-down role, and he has thrived.
He forced Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray into throwing an interception to Matt Elam with his ferocious pass rush, and he harassed Zach Mettenberger of LSU all day long.
He will be the key to opening up rushing lanes for Easley, Hunter and Floyd the rest of the way.
8. How will the team’s freshmen, especially defensively, continue to grow, mature and improve?
There are several young guns that have earned significant minutes only halfway through their first years in Gainesville.
Antonio Morrison, out of the Chicagoland area, earned the starting nod at weakside linebacker after veteran Jelani Jenkins went down with a broken thumb. Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler have both earned a slot in the defensive line and Buck linebacker rotation with their super-studly play and prized recruit D.J. Humphries has been pushing his elder counterparts for playing time along the offensive line.
Some people talk about ‘growing’ in the personal sense, or spiritual sense.
However, and this holds especially true for Morrison and Humphries, a lot of ‘growing’ will be done in the buffet line this offseason. Morrison weighs in at 218 pounds, less than a standard SEC safety. Luckily, he hits harder than a hammer coming down on a do-it-yourselfer’s thumb. Humphries is 6-foot-6, but barely 275 pounds. He will continue to earn reps and gain experience as the season wears on, but for him he is going to have to crush his fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh dinners this offseason.
7. Will Florida see the return of Matt Patchan anytime this season?
Coach Will Muschamp has been insistent all season that Patchan, now in his 17th year with the program, will see the playing field at some point this season.
Ok, so it’s really only his redshirt junior year, but after only playing in four games in 2009 after injuring his knee and missing the entire 2010 campaign, it just feels like this massive individual has been with the program for ages.
Currently, he is nursing a slight tear in his pectoral muscle. Unfortunately, it’s got to be at a full 100-percent for him to go.
Offensive lineman push people away from other people. You have to use your chest muscles – yes, the pecs – in order to push people.
Getting this type of body, as Patchan is listed at 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds, back in a set of shoulder pads could prove to be wildly vital to the team’s chances of reaching a BCS bowl game. He will add depth, talent and leadership experience to a team that is already sitting pretty at the moment.
6. Will Pease find ways to use multi-purpose threats Trey Burton, Jordan Reed and Omarius Hines?
With games still remaining against South Carolina, Georgia, Florida State and finally a potential matchup with lovely Alabama in the SEC Championship game, one would assume so.
However, coach Pease has been predictably mum on how he is planning on using his three multi-purpose threats as the team moves forward.
Thus far, Reed has been the most stable, playing almost exclusively at tight end, although he was a star quarterback in high school and has lined up under center for the Gators in the past. Not to mention fullback and running back as well.
Hines probably gets the least amount of pub of the three, but he has made spectacular catches for huge gains against both Texas A&M and Kentucky. He has carried the ball six times this season, including once for a 14-yard gain against LSU.
Could Hines take on a larger role out of the backfield moving forward?
Finally, Sir Trey Burton, he of the immense talent and jack-of-all-trades playmaking ability.
However, they say a jack-of-all-trades never gets paid. So far, Burton has lined up at tight end, running back, wide receiver and quarterback. Defenses, especially after he broke out for 91 rushing yards on a mere three carries against Tennessee, have begun game planning for him.
That showed against LSU, when he finished with only seven yards on the same three rushes and did not catch a pass.
Pease has got his work cut out for him. Who will be backing up his star running back? Will his young quarterback continue to evolve and mature under center?
How will he find ways to attack defenses utilizing the unique skills of his three hybrid tight ends?
5. Will there be a substantive Andre Debose sighting at any point?
To be or not to be?
Everyone who has ever attended or graduated from UF had to pass high school English first, and that includes Shakespeare. Watching a few facets of the Gators’ offense this season has been poetry in motion, but not for Debose.
After leading the team in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2011 with 432 and four respectively, the man with the most kick returns for touchdowns in school history has been watching most of the Gators offense from the sidelines.
Not everyone (read: hardly anyone) is a fan of grinding through a Shakespeare book when they could be out and about as a teenager.
Debose, likewise, is not a fan of grinding through a season with hardly anything to show for it in terms of individual effort. He is arguably the most talented athlete on the team, and he recorded his first catch of the season against LSU, a whopping five-yarder.
Unlike Shakespeare, a five yard grab is not going to change the world, but maybe it is the start of something bigger for yet another Gators offensive weapon.
4. Will the offensive line continue to come together and play up to its potential?
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease has insisted since Day 1 that his offensive line has been the strongest, most experienced and even most talented unit he has been working with since joining the UF coaching staff before the season began.
Since Day 1, he has been laughed at.
Watching guys like left tackle Xavier Nixon rip his own helmet off for no reason, only to draw a fifteen yard penalty, made skeptics of most. However, a lot of the laughter directed at the Gators’ offensive line has changed from a tone of nauseous, nervous chuckling to full-throated shrieks following the team’s old-school 14-6 win against an LSU team with possibly the best defensive line in the country.
If this group of uber-talented, previously underachieving individuals can continue to create holes Gilly could drive a bandwagon right on through, then members of Gator Nation had better hop on now, because it is already getting pretty crowded.
3. Who will back up Gilly going forward?
True freshman Matt Jones came in with all the hype, but unlike the big mac or a Mac computer, he has yet to make countless Americans happy with his substance and style, even if only for a short while.
Against LSU, Gillislee toted the rock 34 times, as mentioned previously, but after him redshirt sophomore Mack Brown, supposedly Gilly’s primary backup, only received two carries. Wildcat quarterback Trey Burton ran a bootleg three times, but only accrued seven yards. That was a far cry from the insane runs he was breaking off against Tennessee earlier in the season.
Jones did not receive a single carry.
If neither Matt nor Mack (dubbed here and forever the M&M boys) can find any sort of rhythm moving forward, the senior Gillislee might be in trouble of wearing down.
That candy would not be very sweet for Gator Nation.
2. Will Mike Gillislee make a run at the Heisman?
When in doubt, Free Gilly!
In the Gators’ 14-6 manhandling of LSU recently, Florida ran the ball on its final 25 plays. The playcalling was not so much because Driskel was struggling, but more due to the fact that UF’s offensive line and Mike Gillislee were bashing the Tigers right where LSU was supposed to be the most fierce.
Sir Gilly tallied career highs in both carries (34) and yards (146) against a defensive line that boasts future NFL standouts across the board.
Very few people in the nation can say they have done the same, and should Gillislee continue to put up big numbers against some of the best teams in the country, Gator Nation might just be represented by Gilly in a suit and tie in New York City.
1. What kind of improvement can we expect from Jeff Driskel?
Driskel came into the University of Florida as the No. 1-rated quarterback prospect in the country – high billing to say the least. The only problem, of course, was the arrival of Jacoby Brissett onto the UF campus only a few short weeks later. A member of the same recruiting class as Driskel, Brissett was the No. 3-rated recruit nationwide, also carrying the weight of high expectations.
Both endured an intense quarterbacking battle throughout the offseason, with Driskel coming out on top after coach Will Muschamp used the team’s Week 1 game against Bowling Green as an audition for both. A true sophomore, Driskel has already been through the grinder, having seen the field as a wide-eyed freshman and getting pummeled before having to fend off Brissett for months of daily workouts, practices and film sessions.
He earned SEC Player of the Week honors following his 300-yard effort in the team’s come-from-behind victory over Tennessee. However, he seemed to have taken a step back against LSU, throwing for a mere 61 yards on 8-for-12 passing.
He has exemplified the mental toughness over the last year one has come to expect out of a University of Florida quarterback. However, at some point he will be asked to carry his team to victory against a team far better defensively than what Tennessee showed. Will he have improved enough to take that weight upon his young shoulders?
Information and statistics sourced from ESPN.com.