Published November 16, 2010 - 2:43pm
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University of Florida entered the 2010 season with high expectations ranked as high as #5 in the country. Most experts expected Florida to win the East and face Alabama in a repeat of the past two SEC Championship games. What a difference three months makes – the Gators are now 6-4 with seemingly no offensive identity and very little optimism about the immediate future. Florida should win against App State, but will face a difficult challenge the next week versus their rivals at Florida State. If Florida loses against FSU, Meyer will have equaled Ron Zook’s worst and final year record of 7-5.
Here are my thoughts on what needs to change in order for the Gators to return to relevance on a national level.
1) Find a new offensive coordinator: Steve Adazzio is a terrific offensive line coach and relentless recruiter; however, he is not the answer at OC. I do believe that firing Adazzio would be detrimental to the locker room and recruiting efforts. Under Adazzio’s coaching, the Gators had one of the best offensive lines in the SEC. This year, the Gators have struggled mightily, specifically in blitz pickups. I believe this can be attributed to Adazzio splitting his time between OL and game planning as the OC. Too many of the offensive linemen have regressed, including Mike Pouncey, Xavier Nixon, and Carl Johnson. My prediction is that at the end of the year, Adazzio will be offered the opportunity to stay on as offensive line coach, but he will be relieved of his coordinator responsibilities. I would not be surprised to see Adazzio accept this “demotion”, as his stock is very low right now and it would not be a good time to try and get an OC position elsewhere.
2) Fire DJ Durkin: Durkin is responsible for the special teams, until Meyer took this back following the Mississippi St game, and linebackers. Durkin came from Stanford where he was the special teams and defensive end coach; he previously coached at Bowling Green under Meyer. The linebacker position is another spot where I feel the players have regressed. Seniors AJ Jones and Brandon Hicks have taken a step back and lost playing time to Jelani Jenkins and John Bostic. Watching the game tape, the linebackers seem to struggle with separation and avoiding blocks. The run defense has been sub-par, and the linebacker units’ poor play is mostly to blame.
3) Find a new defensive coordinator: Teryl Austin has been a disappointment and schematically appears to be in over his head. Austin was the replacement for George Edwards, who left after signing day to be the Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator. Austin has never been a defensive coordinator, and spent the past seven years coaching defensive backs in the NFL. A possible replacement should be Chuck Heater, who has served as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach for the past 3 seasons. Heater has had tremendous success in coaching Reggie Nelson, Major Wright, Ahmad Black, and Will Hill, and seems poised to take on the defensive coordinator job.
4) Quarterback: I think everyone will agree that John Brantley is not the ideal fit for this offense. South Carolina’s defensive game plan was simple: when Burton or Reed moves to quarterback, go to a cover zero (man to man on receivers, and safeties play the run with no pass responsibility). South Carolina knew that Burton and Reed would not throw, so they were sold out on stopping the run. Florida’s second touchdown came on a simple swing pass, one that has failed many times with Brantley, but it came off a run fake with Reed while the defense was in a cover zero. There have been many rumors that Brantley will transfer after this year, a rumor that his father squashed by saying “John loves Florida and is only 20 hours away from graduating.” I would guess that there is a less than 30% chance that Brantley returns for his senior year. If his intentions are to become an NFL quarterback, he needs to transfer. Brantley is best suited for a pro-style offense, and Florida has made it obvious that they have no intentions to change their scheme for him. If Brantley transfers, Florida must prepare Jordan Reed or incoming freshman Jeff Driskell for the role of starting quarterback in 2011. The thought of entering 2011 with a sophomore or true freshman as your starting quarterback should have Gator fans everywhere very nervous.
5) Develop the talent: Florida has recruited very well the past three years and the talent is there to make a run at a SEC Championship, it just needs to be developed. Florida needs to get more coaches like Chuck Heater, who are not only very good motivators, but also excellent teachers. What he has done with the safeties over the past three years is simply remarkable; Meyer called him one of the best teachers he has ever seen. A staff full of coahces like Heater will have the Florida program back on track in no time.
6) Recruit: Florida is in need of more playmakers on offense and big bodies in the middle on defense. Florida had an amazing defensive line haul with five, 5 star commitments. They will need to sign Timmy Jernigan, who went from a Florida lock to out of his top three, and at least two other run stopping defensive linemen. Florida will also need to recruit a big inside linebacker such as Curtis Grant (I know, he is an OLB, but I see him moving to MLB at the next level). On offense, Driskell is clearly the star but don’t sleep on Mike Blakely or JaJuan Story.
Florida fans should be very nervous about not only the rest of this year, but next year as well. The offense will not improve with Brantley as quarterback; he is a square peg in a round hole. Meyer’s offense needs a quarterback like a Jordan Reed or Jeff Driskell. It cannot work with a John Brantley type. Brantley and his family now realize this, which is why I expect him to be gone after this year. The offensive problems go well beyond the quarterback position, but Florida needs to get that resolved first.
Another reason for concern is the emergence of other programs. Dan Mullen has Mississippi State on the right track, and that program can no longer be considered an automatic win. Aaron Murray is a rising star; as long as he is there UGA will be very tough to beat. Tyler Bray has another four years to throw to Justin Hunter and Darick Rogers, who are the best young wide receiver tandem in the SEC. Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery are dangerous, even with Stephen Garcia as the quarterback. Auburn is more than likely headed to a national championship game appearance. Alabama and LSU are always near the top in the SEC and are not going anywhere soon. Consider this, Florida would have finished fifth in the West this year. In the East, I am less optimistic about them next year then South Carolina and Georgia.
In 2011, could Florida be the 7th or 8th best team in the SEC next year? Maybe….