Blueprint for a Fantasy
Contemplating the Vols’ visit to Gainesville this Saturday made me think about the last visit to The Swamp. Many predicted the No.1 Gators would destroy Tennessee that day and give Lane Kiffin the spanking that he deserved.
The Vols ended up leaving Gainesville with their pride intact after keeping the game within reach well into the fourth quarter.
Even though Gator QB Tim Tebow lost a fumble and threw an interception – both of which were converted into 10 points by the Vols – he was pretty much the difference in the 23-13 loss. His leadership and sheer determination showed why he was indispensible when everything wasn’t clicking.
Tennessee on that day had two major handicapps: (1) Florida was a very, very complete football team, and at home; and (2) the Vol QB was Jonathan Crompton.
Kiffin and staff played to their strengths to minimize their weaknesses - Crompton was tightly reigned in. He threw for only 93 yards on an 11-for-19 afternoon of mostly short passes and screens. Two passes were intercepted. The Crompton Factor was effectively managed by the Vols’ game plan that relied on the running game (117 yards between Montario Hardesty and Bryce Brown).
Based on the scoreboard, there was no embarrassment in the 10-point loss. The game plan was designed to avert embarrassment.
But the score spread was flattering to the Vols. Florida was able to retain possession – they were 8-for-13 on third downs and 1-for-1 on fourth down conversions. Tennessee could only accomplish 5-for-12 and 0-for-1 on those metrics. Florida dominated Tennessee.
So that brings me to Saturday.
Such a game plan to rely on the running game in order to maximize time of possession to keep it close and hope for a big play down the stretch is not in the cards.
We have no such running game.
The big question on everyone’s mind is: How many times will Bray throw the ball. Fifty? Sixty?
Coach Derek Dooley stuck to his roots this week when he said that we have to run the ball to win this game. But it’s important to note that he was talking in specifics – run the ball on third-and-short situations as well as in the red zone (with less room to throw) and during the four-minute package (when you’re ahead with four minutes to go and you need to maintain possession to kill off the game – runs sprimkled with a screen pass or two).
This was not what we tried to do on the opening series last week. If I recall correctly, the first two plays were runs into the line that went nowhere. So effing predictable. But, Bray followed with a conversion on third-and-long with a pass, and he was off to the races.
I can’t imagine that our offensive plan includes any attempts to run the ball into the line…
…at least in the first half, outside of a second-and-short, and not even on third-and-twos. Surely not against one of the best defensive fronts in all of college football.
For Tennessee to win on Saturday, we will eventually have to run the ball. But we will not be able to run the ball effectively unless the passing game puts the Gator defense back on their heels and fatigues them a bit. We simply don’t have the resources to do this the old fashioned way, the old Tennessee way.
Thus, the offensive plan has to be for Bray to not get sacked. Period. Every Gator defender is going to try and kill Tyler Bray. Physically.
Last year, virtually the same Gator front sacked Matt Simms six times and made their way into the Vol backfield on numerous other instances.
Bray has to be protected at all costs.
Against the Gator defensive front, this can be accomplished by employing a mixture of (1) quick passes underneath to safety valve receivers, (2) a heavy reliance on the TE, (3) and an ability for Bray to escape blue jerseys in our backfield.
Part three will likely be accomplished by lots of roll-outs. Remember, Bray is improving his awareness in and around the pocket, but he is going to outrun nobody. If he wants to go middle or long yardage, roll outs will avert the sack.
I’m not leaving out Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter. They have to make big plays again and again for us to win. And, I expect them both to be involved all over the field. But, an all out attack with only the Bray-Rogers-Hunter trio will die in flames.
Out OL will break on Saturday.
Florida’s front five (God help us if Florida has they way with only four up front) will penetrate. But as long as the play has already materialized, it won’t matter that much.
Only then will a running game bear any fruit.
If we’re successful with a diverse passing game in the first half, there will be more room in the middle for all kinds of good things to happen.
Gator QB John Brantley may not be anywhere near the best QB in the short storied history of Florida football, but he can be very, very effective. So look for him to try and exploit our weaker spots – LBs and DBs. He will be throwing longer than he has so far this season.
I honestly don’t expect Florida to run the ball like they did against their two opening cupcakes. But, they will try, and try early. Demps and Rainey will likely be very active – running and catching passes.
Hopefully there are some new-look defensive schemes that haven’t seen film yet.
Many folks are expecting a classic on Saturday. It will be if we execute a game plan to near perfection.
But that isn’t going to happen. Freshman and sophomores aren’t known for doing that at this level of play. We do not have the personnel and ability to dominate in conventional ways.
So, for Tennessee to defeat Florida, we will have to be superior with Game Maxims numbers 1, 2, 4, and 6:
- Make fewer mistakes. [We simply can't be fumbling the ball. No penalties because of mental mistakes.]
- Play for and make the breaks, and when one comes your way – score. [We are going to have to gamble, on both sides of the ball.]
- Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead, and our ballgame. [No sacks or blocked kicks, and we can't be playing from behind.]
- Press the kicking game – here is where the breaks are made. [Short punts are fine as long as they are high.]
I’m very excited and hopeful about a Florida game for the first time in a while.
But that’s way too many requirements at this place and time.
Florida 38 Tennessee 27