Grading the Florida vs. Georgia game

By Adam Silverstein
November 1, 2009

Each week following a Florida Gators game, ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive will grade the team position-by-position based on each unit’s performance. This week, we look at how the Gators fared against the Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville, FL, at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

After two consecutive weeks of below-average play, Tim Tebow came back big against Georgia in his hometown of Jacksonville. Four total touchdowns including two on the ground as well as 85 rushing yards helped Tebow secure two all-time SEC records (rushing touchdowns, rushing yards by QB). 15-of-21 passing was respectable, though Florida seemed to shy away from putting the ball in the air in the second half. All-in-all, this was one of Tebow’s career-best days and the leader of the Gators offense deserves kudos for a great performance.

It is tough to expect this unit to make an impact when the three main players combined for 16 total attempts. Jeff Demps averaged 6.2 yards per carry while Emmanuel Moody had 3.7 and Chris Rainey had 3.0. Four-star freshman Mike Gillislee got some playing time late in the game and exploded on a 49-yard run but was injured on the play. For avoiding mistakes and contributing when given the opportunity, these guys played just fine.

If the Gators only had one receiver and his name was Riley Cooper, a big fat “A” would be on the line above. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Cooper may very well have had the game of his career with four receptions for 78 yards and two scores. And his second touchdown catch is easily the best of his career and one of the the top receptions in college football this season. While Cooper played well, Deonte Thompson and David Nelson – each with three receptions – only combined 26 and 17 yards, respectively. This unit must continue to improve for Florida to have consistency on both fronts.

Aaron Hernandez was limited for the second straight week as it appears Bulldogs coach Mark Richt took the Dan Mullen approach in attempting to neutralize him in order to stall the offense. Tebow relied on Cooper instead of Hernandez, and his three catches for a tough 29 yards were all meaningful. As I said last week, “he has been playing great all season, so he gets ab it of a pass from me here.” Hernandez must be ready to step up in the next few weeks as he will be needed in tandem with Cooper.

Playing just respectable for the last two weeks, the offensive line seemed to gel a little and stepped up to help Tebow when he needed it. Only two sacks were recorded by Georgia on the day, and Tebow’s fumble came as a result of his wind-up, not protection. Up just one spot in their grade this week.

Powerful sacks from defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham are almost standard operating procedure for the Gators defensive line these days. Cunningham also contributed an additional 1.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. The middle of the line, which supposedly improved with the return of defensive tackles Lawrence Marsh and Jaye Howard actually struggled and surrendered 153 yards on the ground in the game. I chalk that up to the fact that they have been out of action and fully expect improvement next week. Nevertheless, you have to give this unit credit for being consistent every week and a strength for this team.

At this point, I am not sure what more you could ask of this unit. Four interceptions – yes, you read that right – for the linebacking core alone is outstanding. A.J. Jones contributed two, Ryan Stamper grabbed the first of his career and Brandon Spikes brought his back five yards for a touchdown. I have been waiting to give this unit their just do for weeks, and it took the return of Spikes to put them over the top. Could this be the best group of linebackers in college football? I think so.

For the second week in a row, the secondary has impressed. However, Georgia was able to crack it in the red zone. Cornerbacks Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins limited Bulldogs star WR A.J. Green to three catches for 50 yards, but Georgia’s only two touchdowns on the day were through the air to TE Aron White and flanker Michael Moore. There were blown assignments and missed tackles as well, though the Bulldogs were rarely able to take advantage of the miscues. As far as the safeties, I’ve wondered all season if starting Will Hill at either spot over Major Wright or Ahmad Black was the correct move. And just as I suspected then, it is not – Wright and Black should be your starters. The secondary benefits from my soft spot for the unit when it plays well but suffers grade-wise for the same reason when it plays poorly. While the defense as a whole was outstanding Saturday, the secondary was the weakest link this week.

Coming off a “C+” last week, the special teams had a lot of work to do to get back in the good graces of fans and my red marker. Kicker Caleb Sturgis got over his tendency to miss his first field goal of the game, nailing a career- and Florida-Georgia series long 56-yarder to get things rolling. He would also connect on a 44-yard attempt later in the game and made all of his extra points. Punter Chas Henry was just as outstanding, punting three times for a total 145 yards with a long of 61 and two downed inside the five. Returners have yet to gain a single yard on Henry’s punts this season and won’t if all things stay the same. As for kick returner Brandon James, he has certainly lost a step. Either that or every SEC team has figured out exactly how to limit him. (Hint: it is the former.) James alone held the unit back from grabbing an “A+” this week.

Head coach Urban Meyer told the media after the Mississippi State game that his staff would be working on the offensive play calling and team’s red zone struggles on the plane back to Gainesville, FL. Meyer said Monday that the staff was in the football offices until early that morning going over every red zone snap of the season and trying to work out the kinks. While most of Florida’s scoring came from just outside the red zone on Saturday, it was obvious that the team’s play calling and offensive production were improved. That is coaching. Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong‘s looked the same as it has all season – dominant. It seems the staff has finally turned the corner and is communicating effectively. That can only be a good thing.

The Gators looked as if they were just getting by the last two weeks. Just as the coaches turned a corner Saturday, so did Florida’s players. The passing game was more efficient, the defense forced turnovers and the kicking game yielded positive results all game long. Complacency may very well have set in for a few weeks, but the mark of a good team is overcoming that and finding motivation to continue to play hard and win football games. The Gators have done just that and should be able to build on it next week against the Vanderbilt Commodores at home in The Swamp.


  1. gatormiami says:

    You might have added to Brandon James’ lackluster return game that he had other deficiencies as well. He missed 2 passes & worse batted the ball into the air to be picked. His play in the backfield was as miserable, as usual, He’s in the way! Coaches must see that…

    Second half offense devolved into the same old conservative BS, that has prevented the Gators from cruising in the past. (Tebow runs & no passes)Before you praise the offense too much, think where it would have been without 4 interceptions (1 for TD & another prevented a sure UGA score) and the great field position they afforded. It could easily have been a 1 TD victory or less.

    I hate to be a drag… in fact I’m much happier, but not satisfied. Why? Because (1) the Gators are better than they’ve performed this season (2) the 2nd half reminds me that they can easily revert to SOS… (We punted 3 times= 3 stalled drives with great field position vs UGA.)

    Go Gators! And it IS great to be a Florida Gator!

  2. gatormiami – thank you for the comments.

    I did not include that information for James because I was only speaking about his role in the special teams. But considering he is listed as a “wide receiver,” perhaps that unit’s grade should be a B instead of a B+. I wanted to give Cooper his just due for a great performance, but the unit as a whole was not impressive. Oh well, it’s just a half grade difference.

    I also do not see how I “praised the offense too much.” They got a B grade on average. You cannot play the game where you say “where it would have been without ___” because that is how the game is played. What would the Gators offense have accomplished without the three red zone turnovers against Arkansas? Maybe Florida only would have won this game by 10, but it would have beaten Arkansas by 24! Like I said – you cannot play that game. This offense improved, no matter how much you are trying to discount it.

  3. Max says:

    Adam, it might be a good idea for you to create a “Grading the gators” tag to be placed at the end of the article. That way readers could be able to quickly link to previous “grading the gators” postings. I’m very interested to see where the Gators have improved and regressed throughout the season.

    Other than that, the site is great!

  4. Max-

    Thanks for the comment. If you look at the “search” bar at the top of the page, you can type in “grading” and it will pull them all up. But you make a good point. I will figure out the tag right now and add it to all of these posts. Thanks for the compliments.

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