The TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. It doesn't exactly have the same sex appeal as the Sugar Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl or the BCS National Championship. Then again, a 6-6 season doesn't really have the same excitement as the seasons Ohio State has had the past six years either. The Florida Gators have also experienced a bit of a slump this year, under new head coach Will Muschamp.
In what many (admittedly, myself included) have dubbed "The Urban Meyer Bowl," these two coaches, who have guided their programs through the transition into a new era, will face off, both trying to end their season as a winning one.
Urban Meyer will undoubtedly be talked about endlessly, for years to come. In fact, the first question below is about the new Ohio State coach. Until that question arises, let's not forget that this is Luke Fickell's opportunity to close out his year on a positive note. He surely deserves it, after the difficult situation he's been through since May.
This week, Alligator Army's Andy Hutchins joins us to answer some questions on Urban Meyer, the 2011 Florida Gators and what Luke Fickell and the Buckeyes can expect in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.
Despite the fact that Urban Meyer won't be coaching in this game, do you have any indications his hire at OSU is playing a role in the mindset of the Gators, at all?
Most of Florida's players were at least primarily recruited by Urban Meyer; Will Muschamp and his mostly new staff have had about a year with them, while Meyer has known some of them for as many as five years -- John Brantley, for example, was a class of 2007 recruit, as was Chris Rainey. And so I think many players would love to get a win as the team their old coach put together over the team their old coach is going to take over. There are a few players (cough, Matt Elam, cough) who are probably looking at this game as an opportunity to get revenge on Meyer, but I suspect they would be the minority.
What are three quick things you would tell someone who hasn't followed the Gators at all this season, to describe this team and the season it's had?
1. Florida's defense is better than you might think.
2. Its offense is worse.
3. The offensive line is the biggest flaw for a team that has more than a few.
How would you grade the job that Will Muschamp has done in his first year, and how much could that grade change in either direction, depending on the outcome of the Gator Bowl?
I think Muschamp's at a B or a B- for me, though I'm probably more bullish than most Florida fans, who would have him at C or worse. 6-6 is not where any Gator wants her or his team to be, and Muschamp, fairly or not, is going to deal with a lot more heat from the fan base because the team has slumped to sub-Ron Zook levels with him at the helm.
A big win over Ohio State could push Muschamp to a B+ for me, while I suspect it will do no more than solidify him as a B- for most fans; a loss is probably going to leave me and most fans thinking Muschamp gets a C for 2011.
Three of Florida's six losses were to top ten teams, and another to SEC East Champion Georgia. Do you think this team is better than the 6-6 record indicates? If so, what could have been done differently, in order to help the team reach it's full potential?
I think this team is a lot better than 6-6 indicates: the four losses that weren't to LSU or Alabama came by a combined 34 points, and Brantley was healthy for approximately four quarters of those four games. The defense has been able to hold teams to low yardage totals and stave off opposing offenses on third down, but the offense simply hasn't been able to help it out.
Playing more aggressively on offense might have helped turn Florida into a 7-5 or 8-4 team, and sound special teams play at Auburn would likely have swung that game, but the offensive line's problem isn't necessarily a coaching one.
Both Ohio State and Florida have had their issues on offense this year. What are some of the things that the struggling Gator offense can be attributed to?
The "this offensive line is not very good" line will get reused until it's not true. Brantley has been under siege for most of the SEC schedule, and the line's brief stretches of competence in pass protection were often offset by run blocking deficiencies.
Beyond that, Brantley's decision-making still needs work, and Florida's wide receivers have been non-factors for much of the year. There aren't many things that are unequivocally good about the Gators on offense, but the things Rainey, Jeff Demps, and Andre Debose can do in space qualify.
With the departure of Charlie Weis to Kansas, who will be taking his place in the interim, and how do you think it will affect an already struggling Florida offense in the bowl game?
Running backs coach Brian White is taking over for Weis on an interim basis, but Muschamp is using this game as a sort of on-the-job audition for White. I suspect it might actually help Florida's offense: White's background is as a running game whiz, and he was Wisconsin's offensive coordinator under Barry Alvarez, so he might try to make Florida's running game work instead of taking the shots on deep routes that Weis seemed to rely on. If White turns to career backup and fan favorite Mike Gillislee at running back, watch out: Gilly has the size and speed to run inside, and could add a new dimension to Florida's offense.
Offense aside, are there any other glaring weaknesses the Buckeyes could be scheming to take advantage of? For teams that have had success against the Gators' D, what has been their key in putting up points?
Two things have reliably worked against the Gators: running up the middle and throwing against the undersized Florida corners. And with defensive tackle Dominique Easley and cornerback Marcus Roberson both out for the Gator Bowl, Ohio State could exploit both weaknesses.
The Gators managed to put together the 9th ranked total defense in the country. Who are some of the players you would credit most for that, that Buckeye fans can look for on Monday?
Most Florida fans would probably credit Easley most for that, given his ability to disrupt up front. But, really, Florida's got a solid rotation of defensive linemen, including Jaye Howard, Sharrif Floyd, Omar Hunter, and Ronald Powell, and a couple of really good linebackers in Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic.
The front seven is a bit undersized, and has had some problems because of it, but it is also quick and relentless.
Both teams, for the most part, have done better at home than on the road. Do you think the proximity to Gainesville will play a part, at all, in the game?
It certainly might help Florida, though whether Gators fans will show up en masse for a game against a similarly mediocre team (albeit in a game with a lot of pride on the line) in a city they visit annually is anyone's guess. There's certainly some comfort for the Florida-based players who only had to drive or bus to Jacksonville, but I would not put much stock in that as an advantage.
Finally, would you be willing to share a score prediction, or any final thoughts on the game?
I think Florida wins this game because its defense does enough to slow Ohio State and its offense cleans up the errors that have been fatal. Florida 17, Ohio State 10 sounds like a score well within the realm of reason.
Thanks again to Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army, for offering his insight into the world of the Florida Gators. To read more from Andy, and the rest of the writers at Alligator Army, check out the following links. Go Bucks!
Alligator Army: www.alligatorarmy.com
Andy's Twitter: @AndyHutchins
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