Florida did not play very well against Alabama — you could end the article here if you wanted to, really. But there's always an underlying tale to the tape.
We decided to peer into what worked, what didn't, and which components of Florida's roster let them down. It's easy to generalize and ask obvious questions: "The run game needed to be better" or "The secondary should not be on fire" are fun to say, and "Why does Driskel have a scholarship?" is a fun sarcastic question to proffer. Taking a closer look at some of the metric grades Pro Football Focus released from the game gives better clarity to what was an ugly loss.
For those who don't know Pro Football Focus, well, 1) you should, and 2) it's a place where writers watch a astronomical amount of game film to break down production grades for players and teams based off each individual play. Grading can sometimes vary between the different contributors who write each breakdown, but I'll try and establish a feel as to how each of the numbers compare as we work our way through the roster.
PFF's grading scale revolves around assessing players a value of +/- 2.0 points for each play, but you rarely see an act worth +2 or -2 on any given play. Here's how most are graded by percentage from PFF themselves.
Jeff Driskel | Grade: -3.7
Driskel's grade mirrored his performance two weekends ago, and negative 3.7 is baaaaad. He was given a -4.3 grade in the passing category while receiving a positive 0.5 in rushing (not a big deal). The breakdown also notes, "Driskel was 2-for-16 for 45 yards on passes thrown at least 10 yards down the field." Yikes...
Matt Jones | Grade: -2.2
Kelvin Taylor | Grade: -1.6
I was kind of surprised these grades were this low. Jones' 3.1 YPC and Taylor's 2.8 averages surely hurt their overall performances, but the two only receiving 16 total carries is more troubling, in my opinion. Taylor's -1.1 pass block rating is a reason why fans calling for the young back aren't seeing him as much as they'd like. An increased workload and a non-Alabama front seven should allow them to rebound against Tennessee.
Quinton Dunbar | Grade: -1.6
Demarcus Robinson | Grade: -0.7
Ahmad Fulwood | Grade: -0.2
Andre Debose | Grade: -0.6
Valdez Showers | Grade: 0.6
YAY, A POSITIVE GRADE! Showers was the only non-offensive lineman to receive a positive grade on Florida's offense. (Hint: That's bad.) Showers was also the only receiver to catch a touchdown. Dunbar's low grade can be credited to his crucial third-down drop. Robinson was abruptly thrown off his 15-catch, 216-yard high horse performance against Kentucky with just two catches for 14 yards against Alabama. Was it because Driskel didn't look his way when he was open? Partially. But maybe kinda sorta throwing your starting QB under the bus on Twitter after the game probably wasn't the correct way to respond, either.
Chaz Green | Grade: -3.8
Trenton Brown | Grade: 2.7
Trip Thurman | Grade: -1.6
Max Garcia | Grade: -0.4
Tyler Moore | Grade: -3.6
Rod Johnson | Grade: 3.6
After a shift on the line due to injury, Rod Johnson recorded the highest grade of any Florida player. Johnson was stout in run blocking and pass blocking, surrendering only one pressure player in 34 pass blocking attempts; this was a great start for the redshirt freshman.
As for the rest, it was a spotty day. Brown received a positive 2.1 grade in run blocking, and overall, the run blocking grades were much higher than the pass blocking grade (the negative grades were a result of heavy emphasis on the passing game). Situational football — being the scoreboard and the team they were playing — probably fouled up Florida's plans to run the ball, but going back to Kentucky, the power run was showing very good signs of success. These grades and previous tape show this offensive line and type of running backs on the roster are built to capitalize off power runs. That doesn't have to take away from the spread system, either. Both can co-exist. Expect a heavy dose of Matt Jones in the near future — if the Gators know what's good for them.
Jonathan Bullard | Grade: -3.2
Leon Orr | Grade: 1.5
Bryan Cox Jr. | Grade: -3.0
Joey Ivie | Grade: -0.6
Jay-nard Bostwick | Grade: 0.5
Caleb Brantley | Grade: 0.2
Alex McCalister | Grade: -2.5
Dante Fowler | Grade: 0.2
Darious Cummings | Grade: -3.9
That's a lot of names and a lot of varying grades. Orr and Fowler performed well against the run, both scoring more than a positive 1.0 in that category, but it's worth noting not a single UF defensive lineman recorded a positive grade in pass rush. What's more troubling is that this subpar performance wasn't unusual for this year's front four (or, three, sometimes, whatever). Florida has really struggled in the pass rushing category, and it starts with an absence of disruption in the middle.
In previous years, Dominique Easley's ability to time snap counts gave opposing offensive linemen so much trouble because it forced them to shift focus from the outside edges to inside gaps. This created advantageous one-on-one matchups off the edge for Fowler and former defensive end Ronald Powell.
This year, Darious Cummings has shown flashes of disruption up the middle, but he's certainly no Easley — not that anyone was expecting him to be. If teams can afford to double team Fowler off the edge, the poor pass rushing slump won't be just a phase, it will become a full chapter in the story of Florida's 2014 defense. With an inexperienced secondary, no pressure up front means big holes in coverage.
Neiron Ball | Grade: 1.3
Antonio Morrison | Grade: -5.3
Mike Taylor | Grade: -2.6
Jarrad Davis | Grade: -1.3
(puts head down, rubs eye browns with thumb and index finger as he exhales)
Antonio Morrison has been bad, like, really bad, and it's trickling down into the rest of the unit. I thought losing weight this offseason would do Morrison some good (it was said he lost around 15 pounds to try and play lighter), but he's still just too slow. He's not instinctive enough to burst through running lanes, and he doesn't have the recovery speed to be trusted alone in coverage. Because of this, Mike Taylor is, at times, hung out to dry covering more space/gaps, and secondary players are then forced to keep an eye on bigger zones because Morrison's range is so limited. It's not good. I had hoped Jarrad Davis would be an above average reliever for most of the linebacker spots, but even he in this game drew negative ratings in run and pass defense. On a positive note, Neiron Ball received positive grades in both pass coverage and pass rushing.
Still, it's not encouraging to see UF's two main linebackers, Morrison and Taylor, struggle so much against the run. I get that it was 'Bama, but their role at linebacker is to stop the run. We already know they won't be the best in coverage, but if they can't give better run support to make up for it, this unit is in trouble.
Marcus Maye | Garde: 1.3
Brian Poole | Grade: -1.7
Keanu Neal | Grade: -2.8
Jabari Gorman | Garde: -5.8
Quincy Wilson | Grade: -0.3
Jalen Tabor | Grade: 1.1
Vernon Hargreaves III | Grade: -1.2
Florida's secondary showed its inexperience against against Alabama with some wide open, long touchdown passes. But, Alabama quarterback Blake Sims's 445 yards through the air means it wasn't just a few miscommunications here and there; it was here, there and everywhere.
The safety play for Florida has been very spotty. Keanu Neal is Florida's most talented safety, but as just a sophomore, he's not as reliable as he is talented (yet). Against Kentucky, Neal had two interceptions, something that shows up on a stats sheet, but he also gave up two touchdowns himself, something that doesn't. Gorman — Florida's lowest-graded defensive player — was part of the first 'Bama touchdown that torched Florida for 87 yards. And in the matchup everyone was looking forward to seeing, Hargreaves vs. Cooper, VH3 ended his day with a -1.2, while Cooper ended his with an astounding positive 4.9. Fun fact: Marcus Maye was the only defensive starter to not record one of Florida's 30 missed tackles against Alabama.
You begin to see how certain struggles can trickle down on the defense. Inexperience in the secondary means defensive backs can't be left with too much coverage time. That requires a good pass rush. Florida doesn't have one. Florida's linebackers are slow in assistance. That leaves the defensive backs hung out to dry, no matter who they're facing.
Despite plenty of uncertainty going into the year, UF was picked to have one of the SEC's top defenses. Against both Kentucky and Alabama, I haven't seen that.