Florida's offense produced a Heisman Trophy winner and a handful of NFL stars under Urban Meyer. Before that, Steve Spurrier had a Heisman Trophy winner himself, as well as a litany of NFL stars. However, Will Muschamp has completely changed the mindset in Gainsville. It's all about smashmouth football these days and it only took a year for him to get there. Defense wins championships. It's the truest statement in football. The second part of that statement should point out that a great run game is a defense's best friend. Muschamp has brought that to Florida.
Jeff Driskel easily the most athletically gifted quarterback Louisville will face this year. Driskel has every tool that you want a spread quarterback to have. He's accurate, he has good arm strength, he gets rid of the ball quickly, and he can flat out fly. The one thing he is missing is solid decision making. If you want to know how impressive Teddy Bridgewater is, look at how many bad sacks Driskel has taken this year. Young quarterbacks typically struggle with decisions like when to throw the ball away and when to take a sack. Driskel typically just takes the sack. And it's a lot of sacks. Ask Caleb Sturgis, Florida's kicker. Driskel has struggled mightily in the red zone. He's taken sacks that have killed drives and that could be huge in the Sugar Bowl. If Florida moves the ball, three points is a win for UofL, as it was for the other teams Florida struggled with this year. Driskel must cut down on the negative plays if Florida wants to run away with this game.
It's not all negative with Driskel though. He's obviously doing something right if he's getting his team in field goal range. He's deadly with the read option because of his speed. B.J. Daniels is a shifty guy, but Driskel can run right past you. Ask Vandy. Add to that the fact that he is a very accurate passer and you have a threat UofL hasn't seen this year. Driskel won't miss guys running freely through the secondary like some of the other guys we've seen this year.
How UofL Defends him:
Vance Bedford and Charlie Strong love to blitz. Pressure is what they know. Stopping Driskel starts with making him pass the ball. If the defense can play like they did against Rutgers, Louisville has a really good chance of keeping Florida around 14-17 points. Driskel and his receivers haven't taken over a game this year and I don't see that changing with Bedford having a month to prepare. I expect Louisville to load the box and make Driskel beat them with his arm. The fact that he hasn't had to win a game with his arm, and he's taken so many bad sacks bodes well for Louisville if they can shut down the run game. That's a huge if though.
Louisville's defense is coming off a game in which they shut down a run-heavy offense that featured a workhorse running back. Mike Gillislee is an underrated feature back that can have a breakout game any day. Gillislee was known as a "big play back" coming out of high school. Muschamp and his staff have turned him into an every down back with the best vision I've seen from a back this year. Gillislee is extremely patient and he understands that he doesn't have to score every time he touches the ball. Florida uses a lot of counters and traps in their scheme and if a back can't read his blocks and hit the right hole, it just doesn't work. Gillislee always hits the right hole and he uses his speed well to burst through the hole.
Louisville's defense has struggled to stop the run, and the main issue is gap discipline. Guys haven't been where they are supposed to be and it's led to a lot of gaping holes. Gillislee will run wild if this happens in the Sugar Bowl. The read option has been a thorn in the side of Bedford and Florida runs it well. Driskel hasn't always done a great job of making the right decision, but when he does, they punch you in the mouth with their run game.
Offensive Coordinator Brent Pease brought his mad scientist offense from Boise State this year and it's incredibly hard to figure out. Pease puts all kinds of guys in the backfield and in motion. You can't just key on one guy but stopping Gillislee would go a long way.
How UofL Defends them:
The absolute key to this game will be Florida's running game. It's carried them throughout this entire season, and it's helped to keep their defense fresh. Louisville pretty much has two choices: Load the box and try to stuff the run or bring no pressure and try to keep Driskel in the pocket, hoping that the run game doesn't kill them. I wish I knew which one would work, but loading the box and trying to stuff the run will more than likely be the direction Strong and Bedford choose to go.
I remember growing up watching guys like Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green make highlight reel plays for Florida. Percy Harvin didn't seem human when he did anything and everything for them a few years back. This year's team doesn't really have those kinds of players. Don't get me wrong, they have talent. Just not the type of guys that have taken over a game. Florida doesn't have a receiver with a 100-yard game this year. Louisville only has two as a team, but they spread the ball around much more. Jordan Reed is the top target for Driskel and he's definitely one of the top tight ends in the country. Reed is a blend of size and speed that only Travis Kelce has brought to the table this year. Kelce works the seams well and UofL did a good job of reigning him in. Reed has a much more accurate quarterback and is just a flat out better talent than Kelce. Hakeem Smith could have his hands full with him all game because Reed is consistent. He's going to get his 3-5 catches and 50 yards. The key is to make sure that he doesn't get more than that. Some might say that he's the reason the Gators aren't undefeated, but anyone that has seen this offense knows that he's one of the main reasons they're in a BCS game.
How UofL Defends Them:
Press, press, press, press. Make Driskel throw into small windows and he will either make a few bad throws or he will hold onto the ball too long. None of these receivers outside of Reed are as refined as a Devin Street or Alec Lemon but they have the speed and talent to get open. If Bedford loads the box to stop the run, it will be key for our guys to stay with guys in coverage. The blitz has to get to Driskel and the defense has to cause some turnovers. I fully expect Bedford to press the receivers to throw off the timing for Driskel.
It's easy to look at sacks surrendered when judging an offensive line but I like to look at yards per carry personally. When a defense knows you're going to run the ball all day and you can still average nearly five yards a carry, your offensive line is doing an amazing job. Every team that Florida has faced knew exactly what was coming. A ton of runs out of a ton of weird formations. But they all but always kept it between the tackles. Both of their tackles can pull (which is pretty rare), so at times you have a running back following four massive offensive linemen into a hole. Pease does an amazing job of using his Hunter Joyer as a "seal" blocker. Joyer will replace a pulling guard as the backside blocker on a play. If you want to know the importance of that blocker you can read Shawn Watson's comments about the issues Louisville has had with it here. Florida's pass blocking isn't nearly as bad as the 33 sacks it's given up would lead you to believe, but it's not very good either. They have struggled with stunts and speed rushers. Florida has tried to help by getting Driskel out of the pocket, but Bedford has a month to prepare for that. Louisville getting to Driskel is a very important key to this game.
How UofL Defends Them:
Louisville has always shown it's blitzes before the snap. I would love to see Bedford mix it up a bit and not show blitz from time to time. The constant pressure that we bring seemingly prepares the offensive line for every blitz. Having a delayed blitz here and there would be a nice change up for the defense. Also, widening the blitzing angles could help. Bringing James Burgess, or Keith Brown from outside of the pocket could force Driskel to step up into the pressure, or rush a pass. Confusing Driskel as well as keeping him in the pocket is essential for Louisville's defense.
I personally think that Caleb Sturgis is the best kicker in the country. Hands down. He's got a monster leg and he's consistent. He was called on a lot this year because of the redzone struggles of the offense. He is 8-9 beyond 40 this year and it will actually be a positive for UofL if his average of 2 attempts a game continues. Keeping them out of the endzone is a win for every drive this game. Even if it means Sturgis is knocking down short field goals.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Jeff Driskel, RB Mike Gillislee, TE Jordan Reed
- Fullback Hunter Joyer is the brother of Louisville offensive lineman Kamran Joyer.
- Florida only had two offensive players make either All-Sec teams.
- Jeff Driskel was the consensus top quarterback in the 2011 class, which included Teddy.
- Brent Pease made Jared Lorenzen work at Quarterback. He can probably handle a talent like Driskel.