Da U has always been a paradox of a program. The powerful Miami Hurricanes produced multiple national championships and historically talented teams, but are prone to competitive droughts, have been hamstrung by a lack of funding, and are dogged by lackluster attendance. Toss in the fact Miami doesn't have an on-campus stadium, and it's an interesting history for the program. Florida and Miami haven't played since 2008, and have no plans on renewing the series.
That being said, prepare to roll out of bed early again this Saturday and watch the Gators and 'Canes battle on the gridiron. Here are 10 things you should keep your eye on.
1. It's all about the Duke
Miami's Duke Johnson is an incredibly gifted running back, no argument here. The 'Canes rely on him to be the catalyst for their offense, and he runs behind an equally talented offensive line. Miami rolled FAU for over 300 yards rushing in week one, with Johnson going for 189 yards. If you haven't seen the guy run yet, check out last week's highlights, especially his TD run at the :18 mark.
Obviously, Miami will look to get Duke going early against the Gators. As with many run-first teams (including Florida), the Miami running game opens up cleaner looks for QB Stephen Morris. Miami's QB is in his second year as a starter, and will be asked to do more this season. However, having Duke Johnson at your back is not a luxury to be dismissed. The Gators will need to shut him down and put the onus on Morris to beat them through the air, a prospect the secondary would be fine with.
2. Miami's offensive line
The Gators' defensive front was impressive in the Toledo game. As many have pointed out, the play of so many new starters on defense was quite encouraging against the Rockets, who certainly have the personnel to dial up excitement on offense, yet were held to six points and 54 plays. (Florida's offense had something to do with this.) Miami has an experienced line to open up holes for their run game, but on film, you'll see that Johnson gains a surplus of yards after contact and broken tackles. The Gators will need to be on their game to plug those holes and tackle well.
What's also yet to be seen is how well the 'Canes line protects against the pass. Stuffing the run on defense is a team effort, and usually relies on gang tackling. A skilled offensive line like Miami's will attempt (by design) to overload a certain area of the field and cancel out the defenders, allowing the RB to beat one defender at most. Pass blocking can be a bit more complicated, because one good rusher (Florida has at least two) can disrupt an entire play. If an offense has to double-team a rusher, it leaves other areas vulnerable, or frees up the linebacker who is assigned to the chipping RB to float in coverage or rush the QB.
3. Sold-out Miami
Traditionally, Miami sells out one game every other season: The Florida State game. With Florida coming to town, the 'Canes don't have to wait another year to see the stands full (you're welcome). Miami's curious lack of fans showing up to games is strange one to college football, as no other fan base with the success Miami has had has to deal with such lackluster attendance. Miami fans don't need to protest the fact: It's well documented and even the subject of a lengthy rant from SB Nation's Miami community.
That being said, the stands will be full, the fans will be hostile, the hour is early, and the game is on the road. Florida doesn't play too many non-conference road games, and it's not an ideal place to break in young players, regardless of their performance against Toldeo. Miami is simply a different atmosphere than other college destinations, and it will be a tough test for the Gators down in South Florida.
4. High noon
I was thrilled with Florida's first quarter against Toledo, because too often we've watched teams start sluggish in early games. It's a good sign the Florida coaching staff was able to sufficiently motivate and prepare the team for an early kickoff, and will need to do so again this week. Both teams will be ready and eager to make a statement, and it would be a bigger win for Miami's program, but I also get the feeling Florida's players are tired of hearing this game is a bigger deal to Miami. State bragging rights are a big deal, and many players were high school teammates, recruited by both schools, and want to go home during breaks knowing they took care of business on the field.
Still, early kickoffs suck. Especially in Central Time. I can't imagine the Pacific Time Gators having to be all prepped for kickoff by 9:00, then have the game over by lunch. Breakfast with the Gators, indeed.
5. The banned are back together
Florida had a bevy of players suspended against Toledo, including starters Loucheiz Purifoy and Antonio Morrison (though he's listed as a backup for this week), along with Matt Jones. All of these players have spent enough time at Florida to know what big games are like, and should be fine this Saturday. However, being hit for the first time by another set of colors shouldn't be discounted, and it may take a bit of time for them to settle in.
Brent Pease said Jones will be handed the ball early and often, but recovering from a viral infection is no easy task. Jones basically missed all of training camp, and I honestly don't know what to expect from him. His immediate return to the top of the depth chart was a bit odd considering the amount of time away, and hopefully is an indication of how well he's recovered over the past two weeks. Watching him play on Saturday will be one of the more interesting aspects of the game.
6. Florida's offensive plan
This topic has been discussed over and over this week, and I also thought to myself, while watching the Toledo game, "Well, maybe they're just playing vanilla because Miami is next week." The more I thought about the issue, the more I realized...
This is simply Florida's identity on offense
There's no tricks, and little holding back, just a slow constriction death by defense and power running. While I do think Pease has more leeway in the plays he calls than he used to, I also believe most of his creativity is still limited to certain types of plays, i.e. Florida is going to run the ball, but it's how Florida runs and what formation they line up in that Pease has control over. If you want a lengthier read on the topic (of course you do), then Team Speed Kills has a great one.
I do believe Florida will throw the ball downfield a bit more against Miami, but because it will be open. However, it's clear Pease has coached Jeff Driskel NOT to force throws deep in to coverage. Former coaches may have coached differently, but right now there are also not any future top NFL wide receivers jumping up to catch them.
7. Freshman WRs
Well, that's note entirely true about the wide receivers: There may be one or two on the roster, but Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood are freshman, and were notoriously absent from anything notable against Toledo. I think Gators fans should resist the temptation to think Pease was hiding them from Miami; again, I don't think that's how he operates. Whether the timing, play call, coverage, or game situation didn't work out, it just didn't work out and that's what happened.
What's puzzling is that, by all reports, Robinson had a fine camp and was expected to contribute right away. Realize, though, that Trey Burton was the leading receiver, followed by Valdez Showers (who played defense last year), and finally Quinton Dunbar, who had a very normal two catches for 22 yards. Robinson and Fulwood are expected to change that, but be patient.
This is who Florida is. Get used to it.
8. Trick plays
Trick plays are fairly common early in the season, some teams are still figuring assignments and new positions, and it's a great time for a fake. Both Florida and Miami ran effective reverses last week, though reverses just seem to be another way of running the jet sweep for Florida; Miami also opened with a flea flicker. Don't be surprised to see either coach (I would bet on Miami) try to grab momentum or put the nail in the coffin by running a well-executed special teams fake.
Speaking of fakes, if you haven't seen Villanova's epic fumblerooskie against Boston College, you should.
9. Time of possession
Florida held the ball for nearly 40 minutes against Toledo, while running 70 plays. Only N.C. State (which was also playing an up-tempo offense in Louisiana Tech) held the ball longer in week one than the Gators. These numbers equate to Florida running a play every 34 seconds. In contrast, Toledo ran 54 plays in 20 minutes, equating to a snap every 22 seconds. Miami ran 69 plays in nearly 27 minutes, equaling to a play every 23 seconds. Finally, a grander comparison is to calculate Oregon's snap frequency, which last season equated to every 20.76 seconds. If you doubt my math, here's the formula.
This is a key stat for the Gators under Will Muschamp: They have only lost two games in which TOP was in their favor. The turnover-fest against Georgia in 2012, and against Auburn in 2011. So if the Gators are holding the ball for a while, know it's exactly what Muschamp is hoping will happen.
This is going to sound like a broken record by now, but Florida takes its time on offense deliberately. This gives the defense more rest, allowing them to fly around and terrorize the opposing offense when the time comes. What it doesn't do, and is one of the underlying worries of Florida fans, is show the Gators are capable of scoring at a rapid pace when the situation calls for it, as was the case against Louisville.
And while Muschamp and Pease may understand your concern, they don't care.
10. Third-down conversions
Florida was a crisp 6-for-12 on third down conversions last week, a good start for a team that converted 37.72 percent last season. A 50 percent rate would've been among the nation's top 10 last season, so here's hoping the Gators keep up that rate throughout the year. Miami was a pedestrian 4-for-14 against FAU, which is not an encouraging stat, considering the jump in talent level the Gators' defense brings to the field. (East Carolina was slightly better against FAU last night, going 5-for-13.) For Florida, the abilities of its ball control offense to convert on third down, and its defense to get opponents off the field, are paramount.
That's all this week, folks. Enjoy the game, especially for you fine folks making the drive down to Miami. Take in the sunny beaches and just put earmuffs on the kids when you go through the tailgate area, unless you normally blast 2 Live Crew while in the school carpool line. All I can say about Miami is that it's an experience, and I don't need to have it again.
If you haven't read Ask Alligator Army for this week, go on over and do that. There's a lot of good answers and info from fan questions, and likely many of the questions which have been rolling around your head and keeping you up at night. Do yourself and loved ones a favor and read it, along with anything that goes up here before game day.