Coming out of high school, everybody was raving about John Brantley, the kid from Trinity High School in Ocala.
As the backup to Tim Tebow, Brantley impressed people with his arm and overall QB smarts, and everybody was saying that although he wouldn’t be running the option and running over people, he could make big plays through the air and so Florida was in good hands with Brantley after Tebow departed.
Then came 2010.
Put simply, Brantley did not live up to expectations. Sure, he’d convert a big 3rd and 12 every once in awhile, but those big plays were few and far between. Of course, much of this can be attributed to Steve Addazio being a moron, but Brantley was a misfit in the spread option offense.
Personally, I believe Stevio is 100% to blame, because he permanently wrecked Brantley’s confidence in a number of ways. Between not playing with the offense to work with his skill set, to not talking to him because he was too busy drawing up half cooked blocking protection schemes, to running dives half the time to ensure that the running game would NOT be a help to Brantley, despite having Jeff Demps (and at times, Chris Rainey), Addazio appeared to be TRYING to destroy his self-esteem.
Whatever you think the cause was, this much is fact: Brantley was more like a frightened child cowering behind his dad then a poised gunslinger he was thought to be.
Enter Will Muschamp, who appointed Charlie Weis King of the Offense in Gainesville, who subsequently installed a more typical pro-style offense to fit Brantley.
It all seemed like the perfect fit: Charlie Weis, who boasts a very impressive resume working with QB’s, John Brantley, the golden armed QB who needed a little polishing to be a star, and enough speed in the recieving corps to form an Olympic relay team (not even counting Rainey and Demps).
But something still wasn’t quite right in the spring game. In fact, nothing was right offensively for the Gators. From the 13-10 score, it was clear that this would be a defense first team. That’s fine with me, as defense wins championships in the SEC. But even with a lights out defense, you do need some offense.
Travel back two years to 2009. The Alabama Crimson Tide’s formula for a national championship was: great defense, two great running backs, dependable receivers and a game managing QB. That was part of the reason they steamrolled past everybody to the SEC Championship game, where they defeated Florida and then Texas in the national championship game. That’s how Nick Saban (and his disciples) teams play.
How many of those does Florida have?
The defense is good, not great. But it’s young, too, which means it can get to be great, especially with Muschamp leading the way and because of the freak raw talent it possesses. It’s making mistakes you would expect a young person would make- lots of penalties, dropped picks, mixups in gap assignments, etc. But it compensates that by making a few big plays to counteract it. So leave this blank for now.
Two great running backs? Demps and Rainey. OK, Rainey isn’t a bona fide running back, but when he’s lined up as one he’s a nightmare mismatch, (sound familiar?). The two of them are so fast that people have complained to the Gainesville Police Department about sonic booms coming from the practice field. If you cannot catch them, you cannot tackle them, which is another matter, because both of them (Rainey in particular, but Demps, too) can break tackles at a rate far more than their sizes would suggest. Give this a big fat check mark.
Dependable receivers… is a question mark. Deonte Thompson hasn’t had any oh-my-god-what-the-profanity-of-your-choice-are-you-kidding-me? drops, so count him as one so far. Trey Burton and Jordan Reed have been dependable so far, as has Quinton Dunbar. Of course, none of them have had a lot asked of, which leads me to the fourth piece to the puzzle… John Brantley.
Has he done well so far this year? No. Has he done poorly? No. He’s done average, OK, decent, good enough, respectable, fair… but none of those words describe a true champion QB, even a game-managing champion QB like Greg McElroy. He hasn’t been asked to do much more than dump off flats passes and screens. Occasionally he’ll throw a 20 yard out pattern. Not much more. So: how far can Florida go with this version of John Brantley?
The larger point is this: at some point, overpowering defense wins. I don’t care if you pluck your QB out of a freshman cheerleading team, if your defense is good enough, you’ll win. Florida was close to having that defense in 2009, but they couldn’t get by Alabama. And as much as Addazio was to blame for that, our defense also got torched all day by a pedestrian Bama offense, including a 70 yard screen pass to Mark Ingram and an 89 yard drive to cap off the day. But we don’t even have that defense yet, much less the Muschamp defense we expect, and we have to understand that the suffocating, nasty, Alabama-type defense that we expect from Muschamp might not be fully grown for another year or two. Urban Meyer did not leave the cupboard bare at all, but he did leave it very young, and Muschamp will have to deal with that.
So by doing what he’s doing now, he should be able to beat Kentucky, no doubt. The Wildcats are always the cure for any ineptitude. Even last year, the Wildcats’ defense made John Brantley and Florida look like Tom Brady and the Patriots. Now THAT is an accomplishment.
After Kentucky, though, it gets very tough to say.
Mark down Furman, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Auburn as wins.
Now it gets really hard.
I say with Brantley playing this type of game, the Gators are looking at 1-3 against Alabama, LSU, South Carolina and FSU. They’ll steal one of them because of their defense, not because of Brantley.
But let’s look ahead to the future for a minute before I wrap this post up.
A year from now, Florida’s defense will be tremendous. It will likely return its entire starting defense, which is littered with ESPNU 150 talent across the board.
Rainey and Demps will be gone, and they will be sorely missed, but Mike Gillislee, a slightly slower version of Rainey will step in. No knock on Gilly- he’s got wheels- but not the instant acceleration of Rainey and not the Olympic speed of Demps. Mack Brown, a bigger, bruising tailback will step in as well, and then there will be freshman Mike Davis, who makes nastier cuts than a switchblade.
Jeff Driskel will step in, and with an offense that suits him, he will be free to sling it all over the place… but he, unlike Brantley, can run pretty well if he needs to…
Cut to the chase?
The Florida Gators are my way too early pick to win the 2012 BCS Championship.
All you have to do is endure a 10 win season first.
And remember how many teams in the country would kill for 10 wins. That’s fantastic by other teams’ standards. Yes, we as Gator fans are ALL spoiled.
Just hang tight…