My hypothetical Gators are on a nice run right now, having just won at Vanderbilt and then pulling the upset at home against South Carolina. That puts them at 7-3, which should certainly cool the seat of the Head Gator, but Will Muschamp’s not out of the woods yet.
Say what you want about last year being a fluke. The fact is that the Gators not only lost last year to FCS team Georgia Southern, but in three games against FCS schools, Florida is only +39 in the total point differential. By contrast, Urban Meyer’s Gators beat individual FCS teams by 62, 59, 51, 46 and 38.
The point is this: nobody’s overlooking this team. Even if Florida’s favored to beat them by 20+ points.
Game Ten: Florida 30, South Carolina 20
EASTERN KENTUCKY COLONELS
2013: 6-6 (4-4 OVC)
Coach: Dean Hood, 7th year (40-29)
Who Are You?
Eastern Kentucky is nothing more than the Gators’ shot at FCS redemption. Though I will point out the Gators are 2-1 all time against Georgia Southern, that won’t erase the memories of what happened last year. Blowing the doors off an EKU team with a suspiciously weak defense will.
But Dean Hood has wrung some production out of this program, including an impressive 8-3 record in 2012 an FCS playoff appearance in 2011. To sum it all up, this is not the worst FCS school Jeremy Foley could have possibly scheduled. But it’s not the best, either, and anything less than a three touchdown victory will be a complete embarrassment.
Returning Starters: 6
Breathe deep folks, Eastern Kentucky does not run the triple option. But they do have a few playmakers.
Jared McClain returns to battle Cincinnati transfer Bennie Coney for the starting QB job. McClain is my pick to win the job because of the superior experience, and because he’s a true dual threat- last year, he threw for 1,535 yards and ran for 414 more (in fact, he led the Colonels in rushing touchdowns). But he’s not the only running threat. Kentucky transfer Dy’Shawn Mobley figures to get the majority of carries, and JJ Jude is a solid second back.
The receivers are good, if by FCS standards: Devin Borders (last year’s OVC freshman of the year), Jeff Glover and Trenard Chester are all 6’4 or taller, which gives EKU a height advantage over most team’s corners. Rounding out the pass catching unit is tight end Matt Lengel. Finally, the offense is anchored by a decent line, with three starters returning. But this is where the Colonels will most likely be tested against the Gators. Can they stave off the ferocious Florida front seven?
Offensive Grade: C-
Not a bad offense, but not a juggernaut. By and large, EKU lacks the firepower to compete with the Gators if Kurt Roper’s offense is half as good as we expect it to be.
Returning Starters: 3
With a boatload of starters to replace, the Colonels figure to have quite an adventure on this side of the ball. Other than third year starting DT Bryce Krebs, linebacker Khiry Maddox and safety Brandon Stanley, every single position will have a new starter.
They’re just names at this point. Avery Pitt slides in at the other defensive tackle spot and the two defensive ends figure to be Daryl Taylor and Floyd Coffey. At linebacker, Tyrelle Johnson takes over at middle linebacker and Chris Owens and Trey Thomas will battle for the strong side spot. Cornerbacks Kiante Northington, Stanley Absonon and Johnny Joseph all received praise from Hood during the spring, so they’re likely all going to see time. Theron Norman and newcomer Tyrell Curry also received kind words from Hood at the safety position.
But this defense looked bad, really bad at times last year. Forget the walloping they took from FBS opponent Louisville; how about the 68 points they gave up to Jacksonville State? And if you think that was a fluke, what about the 51 points they surrendered to Coastal Carolina, and the 42 points given up to Eastern Illinois?
Defensive Grade: D+
Maybe having so many new faces is a good thing after the beatdowns they suffered last year, because hey, it can’t be any worse. In any case, Florida should make toast of this defense for three and a half hours.
Florida Key: Offense
Hold onto the friggin’ ball. The only possible way I can see Florida losing this game is if they lose it. What that means is this: EKU does not have the talent, the experience, and on the best of days for them, the luck to pull this out. The Gators would have to gift wrap them several turnovers deep in their own territory for this to even be a game. I don’t care what sort of offense Florida runs, it should be enough to win this game.
Florida Key: Defense
If there’s a question mark in this defense, it’s at the secondary position. Sure, Vernon Hargreaves may be the best cover corner in the game. But after that, Florida has little proven talent back there. Tons of potential, yes, but not proven talent. Eastern Kentucky has a bunch of receivers that are bigger than each of Florida’s defensive backs. The safeties have to be aware of this fact, and be there to help out in case Hargreaves, Duke Dawson or Jalen Tabor get beat.
Key Matchup: Eastern Kentucky offensive line vs. Florida front seven
EKU’s only hope to make this a game is to have a functioning offense; failing to control the line of scrimmage and allowing the Gators’ front seven to consistently invade their backfield eliminates that possibility. It’s all hands on deck here: linemen, running backs, tight ends and receivers will all have to make their blocks. It only takes one guy to whiff for a charging Dante Fowler to record a strip sack.
What Does This Game Mean?
A loss and Muschamp is gone for obvious reasons (the one exception being if Florida comes into this game undefeated… but really, now, how likely is this? Florida wins in Tuscaloosa, beats Georgia, LSU and South Carolina but loses to Eastern Kentucky? Come on. Steve Addazio has a better chance of calling an effective drive than that happening). No further explanation necessary.
A win, and the Gators do what they’re supposed to do- beat the team they pay loads of money to come to the Swamp in exchange for a nuking. No further explanation necessary for that, either. At this point in the season, the Gators’ SEC East fate is likely sealed one way or another, and they probably have a good idea as to where they stand in the bowl lineup.
Coming into this game on a two game winning streak, this game is all about building confidence for a road trip to Florida State. The Gators shouldn’t be too scared of Tallahassee- they won their last game there, and four of the last five- but considering the fact that FSU is a safe bet to be a top ten team heading into this game, they just need a performance to feel good about. Never mind that it’s going to come against a team from the FCS that’s barely worth a betting line; they just need a lopsided W. Period.
And against the Colonels of Eastern Kentucky, the Gators figure to get one. There’s no wacky triple option to stop, there’s nothing and nobody to be afraid of on EKU’s defense, and you better believe Will Muschamp is going to have his team ready to play after the embarrassing loss against… well, we know. I’m not going there again.
So, yeah. Florida wins. Big.
Projection: Florida 55, Eastern Kentucky 13