Florida vs. Miami: 5 reasons the Gators should be concerned
The Gators open the season Saturday night against in-state rival Miami. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like much of a game. The Gators are ranked and return a bevy of talent. Miami, meanwhile, changed head coaches after a 7-win season and got smacked down in last season’s opener 33-17 by LSU. The game wasn’t even that close.
But Florida is only a touchdown favorite to open the 2019 campaign with a victory over these same Hurricanes. Is that cause for concern? Seems to be. Here are 5 reasons the Gators should be concerned about Saturday’s opener with Miami.
1. It’s personal
You’ve heard it all offseason. When Miami and Florida get together on the gridiron it’s deeper than a normal rivalry. It’s former high school teammates on opposing sides. It’s former high school rivals going against each other again at the next level. It’s as emotionally-charged as any rivalry in college football. The fact that they haven’t faced each other since 2013 only adds to the fire.
And it usually ends in a close, hard-fought game. Almost half of their 55 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or fewer. Maybe that’s why the point spread is only 7-7.5.
These programs seem to be heading in opposite directions. The Gators went from a 4-win season to a 10-win season in Year 1 under Dan Mullen, who certainly appears to have Florida back on track to competing for conference and national honors. Miami, on the other hand, is still floundering since its glory days.
On paper, the Gators have more personnel advantages and should win. They have the better team. They certainly have the more proven quarterback in Feleipe Franks. The program is in better shape. The swag of coming off a 10-win season would be understandable. But taking the Canes lightly would be a huge mistake because nothing could get their program back on track more than a victory over the Gators on Saturday.
Miami coach Manny Diaz knows Mullen’s offense frontward and backward. Diaz had two 1-year stints as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State when Mullen was the Bulldogs’ head coach. The first was in 2010 and then Diaz returned to Starkville in 2015 before moving to Miami from 2016-18 in the same capacity.
Diaz’s defenses went up against Mullen’s offenses day after day in practice for 2 full seasons. Over that length of time, you get pretty familiar with what his tendencies are and what he likes to do and when. Diaz will be fairly locked into what Mullen will try to do on Saturday. The question is, does he have the talent to stop it. Most analysts believe Miami’s defense is its strength, especially going against an inexperienced Florida offensive line.
4. Conservative play
In analyzing this game player vs. player, it becomes clear that the only way Florida could lose it is if it plays too conservatively. It’s the opening game of the season. And really, by the time the Gators have taken on Florida State in the traditional season finale, it’s importance will have long since diminished significantly.
Of course, the Gators want to win this game. But Mullen is smart enough of a coach to know that he also doesn’t want to put too much on film for his other 11 opponents to dissect. Will we see trick plays? Or will the Gators be pretty much vanilla in their opener, score just enough and let the defense take advantage of a revamped Miami offense?
The drawback to playing conservative, however, is that it would play into the hands of an inferior Miami team looking to make its season and Diaz’s debut a huge success right out of the gate.
Yes, Mullen must keep things close to the vest. But not so close that it gives the rival Hurricanes a chance to win this game.
5. Miami’s LBs
Miami linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney both started as true freshmen. They are now seniors who could have jumped to the NFL. They finished 2nd and 3rd respectively on the team in tackles for the 2nd year in a row. Quarterman has finished 2nd all 3 years and last year led the team with 45 solo tackles and was 2nd with 6.0 sacks.
They are grown men and they come to the line of scrimmage with bad intent. Both were ESPN Freshman All-America selections. Quarterman is an All-ACC First-Team pick while Pinckney is a two-time All-ACC Honorable Mention.
Simply put, they can wreck a game — and Miami is counting on them to do just that.
They will be the focus of the Florida offense, and if not neutralized could make things very difficult for Franks and the Gators’ offense.