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Ask Alligator Army: Antonio Morrison's suspension, the SEC East, Loucheiz Purifoy, and more

Can Florida survive losing its starting middle linebacker? Why are the Gators picked third in the SEC East? And is Loucheiz Purifoy getting overhyped? These answers and more below.


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I like how you skipped over Toledo, a team with a short passing game that a) could give Florida more trouble than most think and b) is more likely to be able to take advantage of Morrison's absence in the middle of the field through the air than Miami. You feel better about this suspension than I do!

Morrison's probably going to be spelled at middle linebacker by Darrin Kitchens, or Michael Taylor, or Daniel McMillian, and the common thread between all three of those players is their shaky play in coverage. Morrison's not exactly an ace at dropping back, but he had more time on the field against passers than Kitchens and Taylor, and neither is that far removed from Morrison when it comes to playing the run. Taylor has always impressed me in pursuit against the run, and 247Sports' Thomas Goldkamp just recently remarked on Kitchens' ability to set the edge; playing either of them would probably be a signal that Florida is trying to maintain as much experience against the run as possible.

Playing McMillian — who is the freshman linebacker most likely to be slotted in for duty here, given his injury-free spring and the maladies Alex Anzalone and Matt Rolin have had to deal with — would, by contrast, be a sign that his superior athleticism might be what coaches want in case of pass-happy offensive schemes.

Either way, I think Morrison's absence is a blow, but not nearly a killing blow, to Florida's chances against Miami. If Miami has success running the ball, it will be more about its offensive line beating Florida's defensive line; if Miami has success throwing, it's going to be because of a lack of pressure and/or bad coverage. Linebackers are important, and Morrison's a good one, but Morrison's more important for the SEC schedule.

I'm of two minds on the Miami game:

  1. It could be a coming-out party for a Florida team that thinks it can be one of the nation's best outfits in 2013.
  2. It could be a shootout, and one that Florida is ill-equipped to win.

I really don't think this game is going to be a low-scoring, 20-14 game — Miami's offense is too good and its defense too shaky for that to be likely, and if Florida's defense dominates, the Gators are going to have the sort of field position necessary to score frequently. But that shootout potential worries me, especially because Miami's vertical passing game is so good.

Miami tied for second nationally in 2012 with 10 passes of 50 or more yards, and its 16 pass plays of 40 or more yards with fifth in the country. Florida's pass defense was very good at limiting those plays in 2012 (the Gators gave up three 50-yarders and six 40-yarders, and tied for the national lead with just seven 30-yarders allowed), but Matt Elam and Josh Evans don't have coverage over the top anymore, ceding those roles to ... well, it's not quite clear who Florida's starting safeties will be right now.

I think my worries about that passing attack mean I won't feel comfortable with a win over Miami until 00:00 on the clock, but I will say that, if I had to guess which of my two scenarios above is more likely, I'd go with the coming-out party. Florida's offensive line is very good, and Matt Jones is very good, and Miami's 2012 rush defense was very bad, giving up 4.97 yards per carry. All three of those things will improve, but Miami's rush defense isn't likely to get stingy by the second week of the season.

Because Florida plays at LSU. Is that an easy enough answer?

The Gators are the only crew of those contenders for the SEC in 2013 — and, being honest, I would be stunned if any other team won the SEC East — that have to trek to Baton Rouge to see LSU: Georgia gets the Tigers at home in September, and South Carolina's foes from the SEC West are Arkansas and Mississippi State. And Georgia's West rival, Auburn, looks weaker than both Arkansas and Mississippi State.

Here's another telling stat for you: Every time Florida has won the SEC East, the Gators have gone 3-0 against LSU, Georgia, and South Carolina on their way. And in the SEC's divisional era, Florida's only gone 3-0 against those three teams and not won the East three times: In 1998, when Tennessee went unbeaten; in 2001, when Florida's November loss to Tennessee spoiled a trip to Atlanta; and in 2003, when Florida's 3-0 mark was countered by losses to Tennessee and Mississippi. (In case you were wondering: Florida's never gone 4-0 against Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, and South Carolina and not won the SEC East in the divisional era.)

I don't think people are writing off Florida as much as they are surveying the minefield before the Gators, seeing something as rough as ever and rougher than the ones Georgia and South Carolina have to traverse, and comfortably figuring there are more chances for Florida to lose. I also think that bringing back an offense like Georgia's helps, because writers tend to know and trust offenses more often than defenses, and that South Carolina having Jadeveon Clowney for one more year helps the "If not now, when?" logic for Steve Spurrier's chances of winning an SEC title with the Gamecocks.

The best thing about being picked third in the East? It's going to do nothing bad except piss off Florida players who want to prove those predictions wrong.

Loucheiz Purifoy, not Marcus Roberson, is the guy all over award watch lists and preseason All-Something teams, and Purifoy, not Roberson, is the guy getting glowing write-ups. Purifoy is also the one of the two Florida corners who has the sort of build and athleticism that is easily projectable to the NFL, and the one whose athleticism is so superior that he can cross-train at wide receiver and be taken seriously. So I get it: It's easier to expect a big year from Purifoy if you're in the business of expecting dramatic improvements or selling stories premised on them.

I'm optimistic that Purifoy will make those expected strides, but I'm far from sure he will. And so I'm comfortable saying that Roberson is still Florida's best cornerback heading into fall camp, and is getting underappreciated. Roberson was, by any stretch, Florida's best cover corner in 2012, notching 12 pass break-ups and two picks while usually matching up against the other team's No. 1 receiver. No other Gator had more than eight PBUs, and Purifoy's five were three fewer than Jaylen Watkins had.

Purifoy's coverage skills were lacking in 2012, and never more obviously so than against Louisville, when he got torched. Watch him get totally lost on a crossing route at 2:46 and get skunked and commit pass interference on a corner fade at 4:39 that he doesn't even try to contest in the air, and it's not hard to understand why you don't see him in the second half highlights, as he's largely not on the field. (Note: You really don't have to watch this video; I'll understand.)

That criticism, and criticism of Purifoy's coverage against Georgia on the Bulldogs' final scoring drive, aside, it's not like he was bad last year, and all of his flaws are correctable with coaching, so there's reason to feel really good about his potential. Feeling too good about it leads to the excessive hype we've seen.

I'll try to strike the middle: If Purifoy can challenge Roberson as the best corner on this Florida squad, he's going to have a damn good 2013.

We'll get back to this tomorrow, but I'll say this for now: I think Florida's in very, very good shape to add plenty more skill position talent, but I worry about the lines, especially on offense.


I dunno. It's only an uh-oh — a ruh-roh? — if the dog in question is a police dog, really.


Andy Hutchins writes for Deadspin and is Alligator Army's managing editor. Follow Alligator Army on Twitter and Facebook.