5 things I want to see from Florida against Miami
No more waiting. It’s here.
GameDay is upon is, all thanks to ESPN moving up the Florida-Miami game to Week 0 instead of waiting until the final weekend of August.
Blessed, we are.
So now, the question Florida and Miami fans have is what will tonight’s opener bring? Will it be a hard-fought, nail-biter between a pair of bitter rivals? Or will it be a loud, one-sided statement to start the season?
We’ll find out soon enough. If the latter is going to happen in favor of Florida, a few things need to happen.
Here’s what I want to see from the Gators on Saturday night:
1. Early, frequent involvement for Kadarius Toney
If there’s one thing that Florida fans can universally agree on, it’s that Toney needs to get more touches. The converted quarterback is too dangerous of a weapon to average a shade under 4 scrimmage touches per game. With 8 months to prepare, Dan Mullen had plenty of time to draw up ways to get Toney involved early and often.
Maybe that’s a jet sweep, a bubble screen or even a little Wildcat pass. Toney is versatile, explosive and a nightmare to defend in the open field. Sure, Florida has plenty of other weapons on the outside who are expected to be involved.
But the clamoring for more Toney touches will be heard loud and clear if he’s not a factor in Mullen’s game plan … especially if the offense starts off slow.
2. Blitzes on blitzes on blitzes
I realize I’m preaching to the choir by saying this.
The choir is Todd Grantham, who treats blitzing like Joey Chestnut treats hot dogs. This won’t be lost on Grantham, but with a young offensive line and a redshirt freshman quarterback in Jarren Williams, there’s all the more reason for Florida to dial up repeated pressure.
In my opinion, this is the biggest advantage either team has in this game. Florida’s got experience in the front 7 — I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the words “Jabari Zuniga strip sack” said — with the right person making the calls. Then again, Florida often found ways to get to the quarterback without sending 6 rushers.
Jachai Polite is the DE who is gaining some steam, but don’t forget about Jabari Zuniga. Wins with a nice outside swim and finishes with a rip to sack Nick Fitzgerald. pic.twitter.com/2MaXVYjfER
— Gavino Borquez (@GavinoBorquez) October 1, 2018
Miami is undoubtedly going to try and get the ball out of Williams’ hands quickly so that Jeff Thomas and Co. can fuel the Hurricane offense instead of watching it dig itself into a hole all night.
“Third and Grantham” is great and all, but I tend to think he’ll try and confuse a young Miami front earlier than that. And if he does, this has the makings of a runaway Florida win.
3. Feleipe Franks … runs
The best thing about what Franks did in the Peach Bowl was that he recognized when running lanes were open. It was the culmination of his Year 1 development in Mullen’s system.
That’s exactly the thing Mullen needs from a quarterback with Franks’ skill set. As long as he continues to show that, defenses will have to at least respect it, which should give him some bigger throwing windows downfield.
I want to see how comfortable Franks is calling his own number and not forcing a throw into double coverage. Let’s see the transformation of his approach continue against a solid Miami defense that’s led by one of the sport’s top defensive minds in Manny Diaz.
Do I expect Franks to look like Nick Fitzgerald as a runner? No, and he won’t look like Emory Jones, either. But the guy who ran for 224 yards and 6 touchdowns in the final 6 games of last season can still be plenty effective picking up 3rd-and-7s when Miami’s coverage is airtight. That’s what can take Frank’s game — and Florida’s offense — to the next level.
4. A healthy Malik Davis
Man, it’s a shame that he’s only been able to play in 10 games so far. When healthy, Davis showed serious promise as a freshman tailback in Jim McElwain’s system. I’d love to see what he can do with a clean bill of health in Mullen’s system.
The good news? After consecutive season-ending injuries, Davis should be at full go after an impressive fall camp. Granted, he’ll serve as a change-of-pace guy with Lamical Perine expected to take on an even bigger workload in 2019. Still, Davis doesn’t need a ton of work to make his presence felt. The guy who averaged 6.7 yards per carry as an emerging freshman can be an x-factor in this game with 6-8 touches.
I imagine Mullen is going to want to ease him into things a bit. With Florida’s backfield depth, he has that luxury. But even with the likes of Perine, Dameon Pierce and 4-star redshirt freshman Iverson Clement, I’d fully expect Davis to remind Florida fans of the potential he flashed a couple of years ago.
5. Foot, meet gas
Florida is the better team. Period. This matchup favors the group that won 10 games and returns a ton of last year’s production over the first-year coach who inherited a 7-win ACC team. It’s as simple as that. Miami is the underdog for a reason.
But the longer Florida lets Miami keep it close, the more belief this new-look Miami team will get. Florida’s biggest issue last year was inconsistency. For a 10-win team, the Gators were inconsistent from week to week and even from quarter to quarter (go back and watch the South Carolina and Vanderbilt games). They’ve made it a habit in the post-Urban Meyer era of playing down to their competition.
I want to see Florida take a page out of that Peach Bowl playbook and keep the foot on the gas. It’s easy to forget that was a 13-10 game at the half. This could be similar. What Florida did so well that game was continue to take chances. That means continuing to jump routes, continuing to stretch the field vertically and continuing to win the battle in the trenches.
I get the feeling there’s going to be a moment in the second half when Florida has a chance to impose its will and put the game out of reach for a young Miami offense. If they can take advantage of that opportunity, the Gators will walk tall out of Orlando.
If not, there will be a whole lot of nail-biting in the center of the Sunshine State.