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Playin’ Nice: Florida

We talk about this weekend’s long-awaited matchup with SB Nation CFB Writer and Florida Gator fan/alum Richard Johnson.

NCAA Football: Florida at Louisiana State Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

1. Florida comes into this game ridiculously banged up. How do you see that impacting things?

So on offense, with three offensive linemen out one-on-one matchups are one thing, but communication is going to be the hardest thing Florida will struggle with. Offensive lines are a unit, the right side and the left side work in concert. Florida might be down to its third-string center in T.J. McCoy. He could be tasked with line calls and protection adjustments in a rabid Tiger Stadium. I don’t envy him in the least bit.

On defense, it’s more of a common depth thing than anything else. How will Florida rotate defenders? If they don’t end up doing so, how much can Fournette and Guice just bang the whole afternoon until the dam breaks?

2. Is there any injury in particular that would be the biggest concern for the Gators?

Has to be the injury to offensive lineman Tyler Jordan. McElwain said Monday “we’ll see where that is” in regard to Jordan’s ankle injury. An offensive line typically goes as its center goes. Jordan was the second man up at center after Cameron Dillard went down (although Jordan starts at right guard normally). Because Jordan might be out, redshirt freshman McCoy (who has never started a game) could be tasked with piloting protection. If I’m Dave Arranda, I’m licking chops and scheming stunts.

3. Austin Appleby played relatively well in place of Luke del Rio last week. Given that del Rio hasn't exactly been great, any chance this might be an upgrade?

It’s a wash for the most part at the quarterback position, although I do think Appleby’s mobility is a plus. I think people hoped that Appleby (and Del Rio before him) would magically become quarterbacks that they just aren’t. That’s not going to happen. They are what they are as football players, they are stopgaps in a grander scheme to plug offensive holes until either Felipe Franks or Kyle Trask can take over next year. There’s a reason Appleby couldn’t start at Purdue, and there’s a reason he couldn’t start here over Del Rio. Whether it’s a matter of physical tools, chemistry with receivers, general offensive comprehension and command or a combination of all those things, we don’t know. But it’s his show now, and the competition is about to ratchet up.

4. Do you expect to see any extra emotion in this after the way the controversy of moving the game played out?

Good God what a mess getting this game played was. I think much of the emotion will actually have little to do with the ridiculous way the thing was handled by both schools last month. Sure there’s probably a bit there about being the only conference game worth a damn this Saturday, and playing each other as opposed to Presbyterian or South Alabama. But I look mostly to both team’s defensive back groups. Yes, I’m going to bring it up: The DBU thing is important to these guys.

When it’s largely a pissing contest between fanbases I hope both DB corps get savaged so nobody is happy. But then I think of the players, who take real and legitimate pride in the DBU thing. They care, and they should want to be the best. Both secondaries will be ready to rock Saturday and they’re talented enough to add some flare to this game with athletic plays and maybe even some turnovers.

5. What is your perception of the job Jim McElwain has done so far at Florida?

I think that McElwain is playing a precarious game with personel and betting big on his coaching staff’s ability to win talent. That’s an optimistic look at a recruiting situation that should be better. The prophet Bill Connelly has three tenets of team building:

  1. talent acquisition
  2. talent development
  3. talent deployment

Florida has not been where it needs to be at No. 1 and that’s fine if (and only if) you hit on Nos. 2 and 3.

The judgment of those take time, but this is Florida so you don’t have much of that. Last year was Year 0, and it doesn’t count in my opinion. This year, you try to build the pieces and the foundation. But next season this team has to improve from Game 1 to Game 12. Not even so much a win/loss target he has to hit, but the way the team looks on the field. Success can be your worst enemy when it comes too early as a coach. An SEC East title (which was a mirage) came crashing down at the end of the season, and Florida could still get to the title game again this year too as a similarly underwhelming end.

But I’m not so concerned with how they finish this year with all the injuries and the known limitations at QB. Get healthy and get into spring and start building something. If they go out and lay an egg in Jerry World against Michigan in Week 1, people are going to start to hand-wring, but if he can right the ship and get them to become noticeably better by the end of 2017 than Florida has something going forward.

The wildcard: new athletics director Scott Stricklin. It’s the classic “new AD stepping into a situation he may want to put his stamp on.” Judging McElwain to this point isn’t something I’m comfortable doing, but once that bowl game ends this winter, the clock starts ticking. Oh, and it’ll be an even bigger uphill climb because the further you get from Will Muschamp’s tenure, the less the defense can be assumed to continue its elite clip automatically. It will take a step back next season. But can the offense take one forward?