First Look: The Florida Gators

Who: The University of Florida
What: The 2016 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
When: January 1, 2016, 1:00 PM EST
Where: Orlando, FL
TV: ABC National

Program Facts
Mascot: Gators (Albert and Alberta)
Location: Gainesville, FL
Colors: Orange and Blue
Athletic Director: Jeremy Foley
Stadium: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (88,548)

Series History
Michigan record: 2-0 (1.000)
Florida record: 0-2 (.000)
Current streak: 2 Michigan (2003-2008)
Last meeting: 2008 Capital One Bowl, UM won 41-35

2015 Florida Gators Football
Conference: SEC
Record: 10-3 (7-1)
     AP: 19
     Coaches: 18
     CFP: 19
Head Coach: Jim McElwain (1st year)
Off. Coord: Doug Nussmeier (1st year)
Off. Scheme: Multiple
Def. Coord: Geoff Collins (1st year)
Co-Def Coord: Randy Shannon (1st year)
Def Scheme: 4-3
Last Game: Lost to Alabama 15-29 (SEC Championship Game)

After finishing the 2014 season with a 7-5 record, which included an impressive 38-20 win over #9 Georgia, head coach Will Muschamp simply just couldn't get it done consistently and was let go after his 4th year in Gainesville.

Enter Jim McElwain. The McElwain era got off to a strong start with 6 straight wins against, let's just say...a relatively light non-conference schedule, but a very impressive win over #3 Ole Miss on October 3rd. The Gators lost their first game 2 weeks later in Baton Rouge to LSU 28-35 following the one year suspension of starting quarterback Will Grier earlier in the week after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance that was found in an over-the-counter supplement he was taking. The Gators' offense, which had been rolling up to that point, has struggled to regain the same momentum since.

But 4-straight wins against Georgia, Vandy, South Carolina and Florida Atlantic vaulted the Gators back into the top 10 before losing their final 2 games against Florida State and Alabama in the SEC title game. There's no question Florida benefited from the rather down year the SEC east was having. Much like the Big Ten, the two division's of the SEC are very lopsided.

Michigan fans will instantly recognize Florida's offensive coordinator, former Michigan OC in 2014 Doug Nussmeier. McElwain and Nussmeier run a multiple style offense that's heavy on the spread out of shotgun formations.

The Florida offense is really the tale of two seasons. The suspension of Will Grier really hurt this Gator attack. Up until his departure after 6 games, Grier was putting up impressive numbers, completing 65% of his passes for 1,204 yards and 10 touchdowns with only 3 picks. His replacement, Treon Harris, has been much less consistent, averaging only 139 yards per game passing with a completion percentage of just over 50%.

After watching the Florida State and Alabama games, it's clear he just doesn't see the field as well as Grier does. He tends to sit and wait too long, and then scramble to try and buy some time once the pocket collapses. In a way, he reminds me a lot of Denard and Gardner as passers...he has that escapability, but he's not nearly refined enough or have the arm strength to make big throws on the run. It's clear that short passes from the pocket and screens are about all you're going to get from Harris.

Florida does have some running threat options with Kelvin Taylor (son of former Gator Fred Taylor) and Jordan Scarlett. Taylor is really the primary back in this offense, and does have some big play ability. He's not very big, only 5-10, 205, but he runs fast and has the ability to cut quickly and nail the hole. QB Treon Harris can run as well (he's Florida's 2nd leading rusher), but he's far from JT Barrett-esque. Florida's spread seems to favor the pass more than the run. Against Bama last week, Florida only managed 15 yards on 21 carries as a team.

Harris's most dangerous target, especially on downfield attempts, is freshman Antonio Callaway who leads the team with 30 receptions for 603 yards. Junior wideout Demarcus Robinson gets the most looks on average as Florida's #2 receiver, but did not play against FSU and didn't register a catch against Alabama.

Florida runs a traditional 4-3 set and runs it very well. Without a doubt, the strength of this Gator team is their defense...which up until the last two weeks, was ranked as one of the best defenses in the country. They're currently 6th in overall defense and 8th in scoring defense. Where they've really taken a hit is their rushing defense which was gouged by Alabama's Derrick Henry last week when he roughed the Gators up for 189 yards on 44 carries.

Much like Michigan, Florida is a little banged up along the defensive line. Depth is an issue there. Jonathan Bullard is a beast along the D-line. He leads the team in tackles for loss with 17.5 and has registered 6.5 sacks this season.

Depth is an issue because Florida's defense spends an awful lot of time on the field. This unit has been asked to do everything while the offense has become pretty non-existent these last few weeks of the season. As a unit, they're disciplined, and don't make a ton of mistakes...they're just spent by the 4th quarter.

Special Teams
Florida had both a punt and field goal attempt blocked in the first quarter of the Alabama game. While Florida's punter Johnny Townsend averages almost 45 yards a punt on the season, one of the best in the country, they're clearly susceptible to an errant gaff. Florida's punt coverage is also very good.

The same can not be said for the Gators' field goal unit. Junior kicker Austin Hardin only made 5 of his 14 kick attempts on the year.

Wide receiver Antonio Callaway is a huge threat as a punt returner for the Gators. He brought one back against Alabama (giving Florida at least a fighting chance early in the game). He averages over 15 a return on the season and had 2 touchdowns.

Overall impressions
This Florida offense (with Harris as QB) reminds me a lot of Michigan teams of recent years. Very one-dimensional with that one dimension not being that impressive. Florida is not a broken team by any stretch, but they're just beaten down. Offensively, they just can't get it together. Against Florida State and Alabama, there was no cohesiveness. Mistakes and player miscues truly hurt the Gators on multiple occasions. They might score once or twice against Michigan, but I'd be shocked if they can string together drive after drive of consistent offensive attack.

The defense is tough and aggressive, and will surely keep this Citrus Bowl close at least for a while. The Gators are +10 on the season in turnover margin. They were +4 in both the Ole Miss and Georgia wins. I don't see Michigan pounding the ball against this Florida defense the way that Alabama did (obviously). They will need to channel the same sort of game plan Michigan had against the Gators in the 2008 Citrus Bowl and just throw the ball all over the field. Rudock can do it, and maybe that will help open up some sort of running game. 

I don't see this game becoming a shootout unless Michigan's pass defense just simply doesn't show up. In a battle of good defenses, I give the edge to Michigan simply because of Rudock's vision and arm plus the ability to just make better plays with his talented corps of tight ends and receivers.

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