Florida thumped Kentucky, 38-0, on Saturday, for the Gators' 26th straight win over the Wildcats. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, our first look before a second viewing, comes first.
The most important consequence of Saturday's game for me? I managed to forget both to apply sunscreen and to wear a hat, and now most of my face is the same shade of red that Kentucky fans saw after another miserable performance against the Gators. Florida's win may have been even less consequential, given that all we learned from it is that these Gators learn, and that a mysterious Trey Burton absence can overshadow a boring shutout.
How Florida Won
Florida's 3-0 lead after the first quarter didn't seem safe; the 10-0 one established early in the second by a Mike Gillislee touchdown run seemed pretty solid; the 24-0 one the Gators held at halftime was insurmountable.
This defense is doing amazing things in second halves. Kentucky had 50 yards in the second half on Saturday, which is more than the 39 that Texas A&M managed, but only barely, and the Wildcats got two first downs to A&M's three. Some of that is thanks to the offense getting in gear and churning yardage and clock on long drives that leave the defense rested and restless, but Florida makes adjustments and they stick, which is the sign of a disciplined, mature defense. Of the things that go into the "...they're learning" narrative, that comes first.
Mack Brown's running has been one of my worries this fall: Beyond Mike Gillislee, who was excellent as usual on Saturday, Florida didn't appear to have a back who could come in and rip off seven-yard carries every so often. Brown had four carries on Saturday that went for six, four, 11, and 10 yards. If he can do that against teams that are not Kentucky, he's that guy.
Florida won the second quarter 21-0 and the fourth quarter 7-0. The Gators now have a stunning 34-0 advantage in fourth quarters in 2012, but that second quarter performance took them from a 24-17 deficit to a massive 41-24 advantage in the period. Don't be fooled!
Jaylen Watkins led the charge on defense in this game with his sensational read-the-route-and-jump-it pick-six of Morgan Newton, and he's becoming Florida's best cover corner. He's usually near the ball, almost always gets a hand on it when he is, and combines savvy with good size. He's also been the standout interview on both postgame radio shows I've heard, calmly explaining what he did and deftly demurring the questions on what the Gators need to work on in a way that would make Will Muschamp grin.
Cody Riggs being gone allows (and/or forces) the Gators to be a little more creative in the secondary, and using De'Ante Saunders, Matt Elam, and Josh Evans at the same time definitely counts: It makes for a hybrid of the 3-4 and the 3-3-5 that has to confuse defenses, and Saunders' ball skills, demonstrated on an interception pulled from a foot off the ground with his fingertips, are good enough to get him on the field whenever possible.
Florida's pass defense has allowed 4.8 yards per attempt, tied for fourth nationally. But the three teams ahead of (Texas Tech, Florida State, Iowa State) and one tied with (Boston College) the Gators have all played FCS teams, and, in Florida State's case, two of them. All Florida's done is shut down attacks triggered by Bowling Green's Matt Schilz and Tennessee's Tyler Bray, who combined for over 5,000 passing yards in 2011, and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who has thrown for 468 yards and seven touchdowns in two games since seeing Florida.
Jeff Driskel wasn't particularly sharp on Saturday, I thought: His biggest pass play of the day was a heave on a broken play that Omarius Hines hauled in because his Kentucky defender never turned around, and his biggest run was a pistol zone read set up by Hunter Joyer being a bad, bad man. The interception was a brain-dead throw, and Driskel made more dangerous throws throughout the course of this game than he did against either Texas A&M or Tennessee. But Driskel's final numbers look fine, and he didn't look rattled by the pick at all when he returned to the field, what with his pass to Hines coming on his next attempt, on a throw a less confident quarterback might not make after an errant deep throw turned into a pick. (I also think Florida went vanilla again, so take that for what it's worth.) Driskel is our guy, and he's a good one, and the sky's the limit for him. I'm excited to see what he can do against LSU, something I haven't thought about a Florida quarterback going up against the Tigers since the non-concussed 2008 edition of Tim Tebow.
Florida's first drive of the second half covered 72 yards (the Gators gained 82 yards on in, thanks to a holding penalty), took 15 plays, ate up 9:03, and featured five first downs and four third-down conversions. The Gators' opening drive against Texas A&M (13 plays, 75 yards) is similarly impressive on paper, but Florida failed on a third-and-one, converted a fake field goal, and got a personal foul from the Aggies on that drive, so I'm comfortable calling this one the most dominant drive by Florida in 2012.
Muschamp pulled Gillislee after the first drive of the second half. It's like he knows what makes Florida go, and wants to keep that thing in working order!
Both Good and Bad
Jacoby Brissett got to play in the fourth quarter, and even pushed in a quarterback sneak, but he didn't attempt any passes, instead just handing the ball off and playing out the string. That's a sad fate, in my opinion, for a guy who beat out a guy who looks like he could become a Heisman contender in 2011, to be relegated to mop-up duty that has no appreciable impact on his development. I still think Brissett's going to be good somewhere, but it's become abundantly clear that he won't be at Florida with Driskel ahead of him.
While Gillislee was taken out in the third quarter, Driskel played well into the fourth. I realize that Driskel can still use all the reps he can get, and that the injury risk against Kentucky is minimal, but the reward was a few more successful handoffs and the risk outweighed it, in my mind.
The reason I don't think Florida's going to beat LSU (or Florida State, or potentially either Georgia or South Carolina) is Florida's offensive line. Through four games, it's improved from its miserable performance in 2011 by doing well to seal off the edge in the running game and ... by having a mobile quarterback behind it who won't get killed quite so often? The line is about as good a reason why Driskel was named the starter before Texas A&M as any, at least as far as anyone who didn't watch Florida practice knows, and the line failed that test of moderate difficult, too. The ones that LSU and Florida State will administer are practically the bar exam in comparison, and South Carolina and Georgia look like at least the LSAT. Driskel could do some things against all of those teams, but he'll need to be upright to do so.
I can't praise Florida's defensive adjustments without there being something to adjust from, and the way Florida played the first quarter, on both sides of the ball, against Kentucky was about as atrociously somnolent as I feared. Three-and-outs on the first two offensive drives, thanks in part to getting too cute? Check. A defense that forgets what a draw play is every week? Check. A lack of push up front that left receivers with time to work open? Check. The first quarter's going to kill Florida at some point if it keeps going as poorly as it has.
Jordan Reed made the best catch of the day on a play that saw him get tattooed, then had the day's worst drop on a ball that should have been caught. Driskel hit a leaping Reed in the hands on the play in the third quarter, but Reed a) didn't come back to the ball like he could and should have, and b) didn't pull the ball into his chest to secure it, but did c) lower his eyes to look at the safety headed his way. Florida scored on the drive, so it didn't end up mattering in this game, but a Reed that can make every catch is far more valuable than one with iffy hands.
Andre Debose is an unmitigated disaster at this point. He missed the first half of the game, apparently for a week of poor practices, and when he did get on the field, he muffed one punt, returned another for eight yards, and dropped a third. I realize that this is the line that Muschamp and Brent Pease are drawing in the sand for Debose, one that has the consequences of bad practices on one side and the rewards of good practice (probably just a picture of Trey Burton against Tennessee) on the other, but Debose has had chances to force the coaches to play him by using his speed and agility to make plays. Instead, he's giving them reasons to glue his butt to the bench. I'm an unabashed Debose fan, and I think what we saw him do against Alabama and LSU last year on two go routes is evidence that he's got talent that no other Gator does. But, damn, it's hard to be a guy rooting for Andre Debose right now.
This isn't about Florida at all, but Morgan Newton may be the worst quarterback I have ever seen play live. Saunders' interception came on a throw that was nowhere near a Kentucky player, Watkins' pick-six was on a route that would have been more subtly set up if Newton had hired a skywriter to scribble "THIS IS A SLANT" over The Swamp, and the pick that Michael Taylor snagged was on a ball that would have landed between Gators defenders if it had continued on its vector. This is the best quarterback you have, Kentucky? You're sure?
It was about the last thing that Clemson did to embarrass Florida State, sadly.
That's what I saw. What'd you see?