Now that the "will he or won't he" saga has been completed it's time to turn our thoughts toward the January 2nd tilt with the University of Florida Gators.
Much has been said about UF's stout defense. Their national ranking in various categories certainly shows that stoutness. But of course we all are aware of the SEC's penchant for scheduling cupcakes for their nonconference and how some of the offenses in the SEC are certainly questionable (UF's included). With that in mind I decided to look at the stats to see what they show. This is not a scheme or player based evaluation but solely based on the stats. I'm sure gocardsguy will have a player and scheme breakdown for us as the game draws closer.
For the purposes of this analysis, I broke Florida's schedule down to what I call their "core" schedule. These are teams that I felt were as good as or better than the Cards. I did this by using an unscientific eyeball test that encompassed conference affiliation, overall final record, and finish in their conference. I know there could be some argument to include ULL but in the end I just had to eliminate UF's entire nonconference schedule save FSU. After the eye ball test, that left the following games:
Using the stats from these 6 games, what I found did not result in a pants free dance. Their averages in these core games mirrored very closely their final season stats. The only real difference was in sacks per game, but that wasn't a bright spot for us because in these core games they actually had a HIGHER sack per game average than they did in their full season stat totals. Here's the big picture:
Category - Core Avg - Season Avg
Passing yards allowed - 181.3 - 186.4
Rushing yards allowed - 95.5 - 97*
Points allowed - 15.7 - 12.9
Total turnovers - 2.7 - 2.4
INTs - 1.3 - 1.6
Sacks - 2.7 - 2.08
TFLs - 6.5 - 6.33
There is not a whole lot of difference between the averages so it's safe to assume that their defensive averages for the entire season are pretty accurate. I put an asterisk on rushing yards because of something very odd. The total rushes AGAINST UF was the second smallest in FBS. Only BYU had less rushes against them. For reference Alabama was #1 against the run but after taking off the 25 carries Georgia had in the SEC title game they had 19 more rushes against them over 12 games than UF did. Their average margin of victory is an OK 15.8 for the season so I don't know that teams were needing to throw a ton against them. Also at the collegiate level, sacks are considered as negative rushes and their best games at defending the run came when they had the most sacks (in core games). I think you have to at least wonder if their rush defense has really been tested which is amazing to say since they hail from the SEC where running the football is king. But with that being said, their run defense is still very good. It could be that teams just simply stopped running the ball against them because they couldn't get anywhere with it. The answer to that question would take game tape evaluation.
With the core games confirming the season stats are reliably accurate, we can evaluate UF full season defensive rankings. Since we all know how our Cards have played this season, our rankings are included below as a reference.
Category - UF Rank - U of L Rank
Rush Def - 6th - 52nd
Pass Def - 14th - 19th
Total Def - 5th - 25th
Scoring Def - 3rd - 37th
Passes INT'd - 6th - 76th
Pass eff Def - 1st - 49th
TOs Gained - 14th - 59th
Fumbles Recov - 57th - 32nd
TFLs - 39th - 103rd
Sacks - 53rd - 85th
3rd dn Def - 4th - 82nd
Red Zn Def - 14th - 100th
TO Margin - 5th - 21st
So what we can tell from this is that the Gators' defense is the very definition of legit (and that Charlie has a lot of work to do this offseason to get our defense back in order). Florida thrives on turning teams over and eating clock with methodical drives. Luckily for us they aren't particularly adept at getting sacks or TFLs but they WILL eat your passing game for lunch. But also on the flip side of that, I don't think they've faced a QB as complete as Teddy Ballgame. They faced Johnny Football in only his second game as a freshman, not the later season juggernaut that beat ‘Bama (and I don't think Manziel throws the football better than TB, but he does run the ball better). Tyler Bray is woefully inconsistent (less than 60% completion rate) and, well, more or less sucks (13 INTs). Aaron Murray is a pretty good QB and they intercepted him 3 times (he threw 8 INTs all season) but let's just say Murray isn't as light on his feet as Teddy. EJ Manuel comes the closest to mirroring Bridgewater but I don't think he is as good a decision maker as our guy. Manuel was intercepted 3 times in their game, but I think it's obvious that Manuel hadn't faced a defense like Florida's all season (the ACC isn't exactly ripe with good defense since V Tech was down this season). Teddy has seen 2 good defenses in a row in UConn and Rutgers with UConn getting A LOT more pressure on the QB than UF does. The Gators also excel at 3rd down defense and get the opposing offense off of the field. The same windows he saw in those games will be there on January 2nd but they're going to close a hell of a lot quicker than he's ever seen. Folks in this game we're going to find out exactly how good Teddy is.
The key to our game lies at the feet of our offensive line. They need to open up holes for Wright and Lamb. If they can protect Teddy and give him time it will be very, very interesting. If they have a game like they did against UConn, then Teddy may need a hearse to bring his lifeless body back to Louisville. It is imperative that Teddy not throw interceptions. Their defense is not all that great at forcing fumbles or getting behind the line of scrimmage so they live off of INTs (I'm assuming by baiting the QB and picking with the incredible athletes they have in the secondary). Throwing INTs is just feeding the monster. I think we're going to test their run defense early and see what we can get. If we can get something going then we can get some play-action. As good as the SEC is I don't think the Gators have seen a receiving corps as talented and deep as ours. With that said, literally everything our offense excels at, the Gators' defense excels at stopping. This is going to be fun one.
Bottom line: If Teddy throws for 250 yards with zero interceptions, then this is a ballgame. But this is going to be a true test. He could do both of those things and we could still lose this ballgame.
Luckily their offense isn't nearly as scary as their defense. I have just begun an analysis on their O and should be able to post that in a few days. If I've missed something or made an incorrect assumption somewhere above, by all means point it out.