Sunday, February 12, 2012

National Signing Day

by Arnaldo
Since this is a blog for everybody, including, and especially, those less knowledgeable, let's explain recruiting real quick.

Coaches and scouts for college programs spend all year traveling to high schools talking to prospective recruits, watching them play, and discussing why they should come to their institution.  If a coach is impressed with a player, he'll schedule home visits during the offseason and invite the potential recruit to visit the campus during a football game weekend in the fall, with dozens of phone calls in between.

The recruit juggles several pursuing coaches, visits, and offers while trying to graduate high school.  When they've reached a decision, they'll typically let the coach know how committed they are towards the institution, but until the papers are signed on National Signing Day, absolutely nothing is final.  Verbal commitments mean very little now a days.  Recruits sometimes decommit from one program only to commit to another and then subsequently decommit all over again.

"Recruiting's kind of like shaving.  If you don't do it every day, you look like a bum." - Will Muschamp

This leads to a good amount of National Signing Day drama and plenty to cover on ESPN, which held an eleven-hour block of live coverage.  We're gonna examine some of the National Signing Day drama that affected Florida, and the incoming freshmen that should make an immediate impact for the 2012 season.

I should mention that all recruits get rated two ways:  a 1-5 star rating, and a national rank.  There are several entities that rate recruits but the most popular are Rivals and ESPNU.  Then, an aggregate score determines a national ranking for overall recruiting classes for a school.  These are usually great for getting an idea of how talented a player and class should be, but in reality they should be taken with a giant grain of salt.  None of these players have made it to the SEC field of play yet.  A strong recruiting class determines very little actual success down the line.  Florida recruited the nation's top class in 2008 and look at all the national championships that class won for us in their four years.  

Okay, so we won one with them as freshmen, but that just brings me to my next point.  Players don't usually make the starting teams until their sophomore year, at least.  Only about an eighth of the class will see the field at any given game their first year.  That 2008 National Championship was won by the impressive sophomore and junior classes and the only freshman who really contributed was Jeff Demps.  The moral of the story is to not take any ratings for any player or recruiting class too seriously, sometimes these recruits prove they were underrated, and oftentimes they prove they were overrated in the years to come.

National Signing Day 

So what happened on National Signing Day for the Gators?  In short, not much.  We had already had 21 commitments and went into February 1st expecting news on a handful of swing prospects, the ones that decided to withhold their announcements until the very last moment.  Recruits do this for a variety of reasons, the most popular of which is simply to become famous.  If a five-star recruit announces where he'll be playing in the summer before his senior year in high school, it barely makes a blog.  No one is that interested quite yet.  However, if that same player withholds his announcement until say, the All-American Game, or National Signing Day, he gets treated like Tim Tebow.  Less than half of these guys have truly successful college careers and even fewer end up in the NFL so this kind of publicity is a lifetime achievement, even though they haven't actually done anything yet.  Once they sign, they become first year players and are back on the bottom of a totem pole where they'll only be noticed if they play spectacularly, or get arrested.

Or sometimes, both.

The second reason is simple:  they still can't decide where to play.  This even applies to the recruits who have decided where they're going.  Like I said earlier, even verbally committed players change their minds on National Signing Day.

Florida had essentially four recruits that could still chose the Gators:  Nelson Agholor, Tracy Howard, Raphael Andrades, and Stefon Diggs.  In a one-two punch, both Agholor and Howard chose against us.  Agholor, a five-star athlete chose USC, and Howard, a five-star cornerback (and the No. 1 CB in the nation) chose Miami.  A bit of a blow considering both players are among the nation's elite.  Later that day a big surprise came when five-star defensive end, Dante Fowler Jr., announced he was coming to UF.  Though heavily recruited by Florida, Fowler kept saying he was "100%" a Florida State Seminole.  No one, especially FSU, expected him to decommit and join the Gators, marking an always satisfying victory over FSU.  Soon after, three-star wide receiver Raphael Andrades committed to UF.  The only piece of the puzzle left was five-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who opted to visit Maryland after National Signing Day, postponing his decision to February 10, delaying this article to today, two weeks after.  Diggs decided on Maryland over Florida, wrapping up our 2012 class to 23, and ranking us (according to Rivals) No. 3 recruiting class behind Alabama and Texas. 

You mad, Bros?

Players to Watch 

In general the entire class looks good and favors what the Gators lacked in 2011.  8 of the 23 are defensive linemen, which is a huge amount for a class.  Will Muschamp knows his top rebuilding needs are at the line of scrimmage, both of them.  

D.J. Humphries.  Who's ready to block?!
This brings up our top recruit, D.J. Humphries, five-star offensive tackle and the nation's top offensive lineman.  Rivals has him ranked No. 2 overall player, as in regardless of position.  He should make an immediate impact on pass rush protection, and power running game.  Offensive tackle is probably the least glorious position in football but for last years Gators squad, it was the most transparent.  Between the amount of John Brantley sacks and lack of run yardage accumulated, the impact D.J. Humphries has next year, even as a freshman, should be night and day.

Dante Fowler Jr., moments after flip flopping from
FSU to Florida. 
The next two players I'm most excited about happen to play the same position, which is great for us:  Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler Jr.  They'll both help contribute immediately to the depth of a defensive line that already oozes talent but has lacked productivity.  Excess depth is always the best solution for such a problem and both of these players happen to be two of the nation's best at defensive end (both five-star).  Fowler Jr., who has played both end and outside linebacker, will be a good fit at the buck position with Ronald Powell and William Green.

Is it me, or does he kind of look like John Brantley?
No matter what the recruit rankings say, the quarterback position is always incredibly difficult to predict.  Elite quaterbacks may come from no where while highly touted ones may disappear.  Enter Skyler Mornhinweg, a three-star prospect who happens to be the son of Marty Mornhinweg, the offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles.  Needless to say, Skyler has football pedigree and a full time quarterback coach on his side.  I'm not here to say the Gators need him, but a year after recruiting two out of the top three quarterbacks, depth and competition are definitely healthy.  Look for solid competition between Jeff Driskel, Jacoby Brissett, Tyler Murphy, and Skyler Mornhinweg. 

Lastly, here is the entire 2012 Florida Gators class (position / hometown / high school / size).

Florida Gators Recruiting Class of 2012

Raphael Andrades  ★ ★ ★ 
WR / Tallahassee, FL/ Lincoln / 6'0'' 190 lbs

Willie Bailey  ★ ★ ★ 
DB / Hallandale, FL / Hallandale / 6'1'' 167 lbs

Jonathan Bullard  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 
DE / Shelby, NC / Crest / 6'3'' 263 lbs

Bryan Cox Jr.  ★ ★ ★ 
DE / Fort Lauderdale, FL / St. Thomas Aquinas / 6'3'' 247 lbs

Jessamen Dunker  ★ ★ ★ ★ 
OL / Boynton Beach, FL / Boynton Beach / 6'4'' 320 lbs

Dante Fowler Jr.  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 
LB/DE / St. Petersburg, FL / Lakewood / 6'3'' 261 lbs

Austin Hardin  ★ ★ 
K / Atlanta, GA / Marist / 5'10'' 204

D.J. Humphries  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 
OL / Charlotte, NC / Mallard Creek / 6'6'' 271 lbs

Damien Jacobs  ★ ★ ★ ★ 
DT / Houma, LA / H. L. Bourgeois / 6'4'' 290 lbs

Matt Jones  ★ ★ ★ ★ 
RB / Seffner, FL / Armwood / 6'2'' 213 lbs

Rhaheim Ledbetter  ★ ★ ★ 
S / Shelby, NC / Crest / 5'11'' 195 lbs

Jafar Mann  ★ ★ ★ 
DT / Stone Mountain, GA / Stephenson / 6'3'' 293 lbs

Marcus Maye  ★ ★ ★ ★ 
S/ Melbourne, FL / Holy Trinity Episcopal / 5'11'' 200 lbs

Alex McCalister  ★ ★ ★ 
LB / Clemmons, NC / West Forsyth / 6'6'' 223 lbs

Skyler Mornhinweg  ★ ★ ★ 
QB / Philadelphia, PA / St. Joesph's / 6'3'' 190 lbs

Antonio Morrison  ★ ★ ★ ★ 
LB / Bolingbrook, IL / Bolingbrook / 6'1'' 209 lbs

Omari Phillips  ★ ★ ★ ★ 
DT / Venice, FL / Venice / 6'6'' 315 lbs

Latroy Pittman  ★ ★ ★ ★ 
WR / Citra, FL / North Marion / 6'0'' 195 lbs

Brian Poole  ★ ★ ★ ★ 
CB / Bradenton, FL / Southeast / 5'10'' 202 lbs

Jeremi Powell  ★ ★ ★ ★ 
LB / Largo, FL / Pinellas Park / 6'1'' 193 lbs

Kent Taylor  ★ ★ ★ ★ 
TE / Land O'Lakes, FL / Land O'Lakes / 6'5'' 225 lbs

Colin Thompson  ★ ★ ★ ★ 
TE / Warminster, PA / Archbishop Wood / 6'4'' 252 lbs

Quinteze Williams  ★ ★ ★ 
DE / Tyrone, GA / Sandy Creek / 6'5'' 255 lbs

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

BCS National Championship: Louisiana State University v. University of Alabama

by Arnaldo
It's the "Rematch" of the "Game of the Century"!  What more could you want out of a National Championship?

Funny to ask since a large minority of pundits and fans would rather see Les Miles' old team, Oklahoma State, try their best against his new team, LSU, but that's behind us so let's focus on the match-up at hand: Nick Saban's old team, LSU, against his new team, Alabama (see what I did there?).  We haven't seen a rematch in the title game since 1996 when Florida beat Florida State, who had previously lost to FSU at the end of the regular season.  That game should inspire hope, in the days before the big game, that we should see the best game college football has to offer, and that anything can happen.  As for the coaches, there's plenty of talent on both sides.  Nick Saban has won two titles with LSU and Alabama, and Les Miles was here four years ago with LSU.

"Umm . . . Awkward?"

Round I: FIGHT!

So how should this game play out?  Well luckily we already saw these teams duke it out.  First of all, let me just say, that game was not boring.  I mean, you may have been bored watching it, but there's nothing boring about a stalemate, the culmination of solid, mistake-free, perfectly coached football.  For most teams, there's a looseness about calling and executing plays when a team usually has a go-to play with a high rate of success.  This wasn't that.  This was 60 minutes of high tension and insurmountable anxiety.  Neither coach could call the wrong play; neither group of players could make a single mistake, the other team would capitalize.  When you have two teams with great offenses but phenomenal defenses, this is the type of game you're gonna see.

Round II:  FIGHT!

For those of you who did think the first match up was boring, you should be pleasantly surprised with this National Championship game.  There should be more scoring this time.  These teams have an advantage most college football teams never have: extensive experience against each other.  Watching film on your opponent's last match up is one thing; having actual experience is a whole 'nother game.  These coaches have footage on how exactly each player should match up against their assignment.  They don't have to estimate how to give their offensive/defensive line the edge, they don't have to look at 40-times to match up receivers on defensive backs.  They were already there.  Unlike the NFL, college teams very rarely play each other more than once, and players are constantly moving around; having actual field time against the opponent is a Christmas gift neither Nick Saban nor Les Miles will take for granted.  This should translate to slightly more success on offense for both teams.  Look at the NFL where teams have to play their three divisional rivals twice per season.  Nine out of ten times, the second game will be higher scoring than the first.  Each team will be more confident on the success of their plays and will be a bit more liberal with their play-calling.  Expect to see a few more long passes and at least two more touchdowns than before.

On the opposite side of the coin, each coaching staff knows what the other team is studying, and know what didn't work the first time around.  As a result, expect plays, coverages, and especially blitzes you've never seen from each team before.

Keys to Victory

For LSU, it's one word: consistency.  Les Miles prides himself on consistency, but something is getting lost in translation.  LSU is undefeated because of three things: near-perfect defense, near-perfect special teams, and a stellar offensive line, but LSU is not a perfect team.  There is a severe lack of consistency in the offense, namely the skill positions.  They're quick fix has been their depth.  Two quarterbacks (though expect much more, if not all Jordan Jefferson over Jarret Lee), five runningbacks, constantly in rotation.  When one guy drops the ball (both literally and metaphorically) Miles just sends in his replacement.  It's like covering holes with duct tape; it's not a real fix.

CB Tyrann Mathieu
As an offense, LSU is hot and cold.  They've gotten away with being so inconsistent because the defense gives them infinite opportunities and their special teams gives them favorable field position, or touchdown returns.  The problem is that eventually, and against the top defense in all major categories in Alabama, all cylinders have to click, or the entire game will break apart.  They beat Alabama the first time because they were hot.  Against Georgia, they were cold.  The first half of the SEC Championship game saw an LSU offense that could produce zero first downs and -2 yards.  Now, Georgia's defense is good, but Alabama's is the best.  A performance like that will not be forgiven next Monday and will result in a steady field position battle that Alabama can easily win.  Expect a good battle in the trenches between LSU's offensive line and Bama's defensive front.  LSU likes to run the ball a lot whether it's from the I to Singleback and a good amount of spread option.  Either way, a strong (and always consistent) offensive line and five effective and healthy running backs will deliver a solid run game.  If LSU wins, however, the difference maker will be special teams.  With one of the best punters in the nation and definitely the best punt returner in the nation (Tyrann Mathieu), LSU's special teams has the ability to inch their team closer to the endzone on each possession transition.  Make no mistake, the field position battle will be THE most important in this game.

For Alabama, it all goes back to Nick Saban.  Love him or hate him, there's no smarter coach in football, and with him comes a big strategic advantage: his team didn't have to play on championship week and LSU's offensive holes were severely exposed against Georgia's defense in the first half.  You can bet Nick was licking his lips watching the golden footage while his team gets an extra week to rest.  Alabama needs to limit Jordan Jefferson to either the pass or run game.  Alabama's defense is first in every major category so it should be pretty easy to stop the weak passer.  With LSU focusing on their powerful run game, they'll need to use their outside option game to widen the box to set up good interior runs.  Alabama's only weakness is outside linebacker speed and defending the option (they allowed 307 run yards against the triple-option FCS Georgia Southern).  In their last meeting, LSU was very capable of moving the ball on outside speed options.  Look for Saban to keep his linebackers a little more spread out and prepared for outside options.  There may also be less use of a true Buck (hybrid linebacker/defensive end).  Either way, Saban will be out to turn LSU into a one-dimensional offense.  One-dimensional teams do not win against Nick Saban.

RB Trent Richardson
On offense, expect a lot, a lot, of Trent Richardson.  LSU may have a better offensive line, but not by much, and they don't have a Trent Richardson.  My personal pick for the Heisman, he's more than a runningback.  He's an all around athlete.  He's their leading rusher, obviously, with 1583 yards, but is also curiously Alabama's second highest receiver with 327 yards.  That's not a lot for a receiver, but having a do-it-all player on the field opens up all sorts of possibilities.  Throwing good screens, checkdowns, and underneath patterns to a talented runningback is like running a spread offense.  It'll force a defense to spread out into looser zones, and make bigger passing lanes for Marquis Maze, and also even more running lanes for Trent Richardson.  As I mentioned, special teams will play a huge part of this game and Alabama will be prepared.  They don't have the same return game as LSU, but they will be well prepared for Tyrann Mathieu and company.  On punts, look for Alabama to sacrifice punt blockers to suffocate Mathieu and force him to fair catch.

Arnaldo's prediction:

Alabama beats LSU 20-10

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Gator Bowl: University of Florida v. Ohio State University

by Arnaldo
The "Urban Bowl".  An unfair moniker in my opinion with Urban Meyer having nothing to do with this bowl game, but it is the featured storyline nonetheless.  And why not?  Florida and Ohio State are both in a dismal state of despair.  They are not typically 6-6 programs, and Urban Meyer becomes the source of despair for one program, and the source of hope for the other.

"Do battle, my children!"

What's at Stake?

Fans of each program who started the season with big expectations might just want to get this season over with, but there is serious pride on the line for both teams.  Both narrowly escaped losing their very long bowl eligibility streaks, but at 6-6 each, one squad is going home with a losing record.  Ohio State hasn't sustained a losing season since 1988 when they finished 4-6-1, their first year under John Cooper, and the Gators haven't had one since 1979 when they went 0-10-1, their first year under Charley Pell.  Note that this is the longest active winning season streak in FBS.


Year one under Will Muschamp with a new coaching staff and a new style of play, the Gators were destined for some growing pains.  Combined with injuries across the field and one of the hardest schedules of all time (back to back National Championship contenders in Alabama and LSU) and the result is a soft defense and a nonexistent offense.  Florida suffered its first under .500 SEC season since 1986.  The most recent blow has been celebrity offensive coordinator Charlie Weis's decision to take the Kansas head coach job and forgo his play-calling duties for the Gator Bowl.  Running backs coach Brian White will be taking the reins as interim offensive coordinator, effectively "trying out" for the still vacant job for the 2012 season.  The Gators will be playing the without right tackle Matt Patchman, who sustained a back injury during practice last week, or defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against against Florida State.

Ohio State

Ohio State is in no better shape.  After the violations by players selling jerseys and other memorabilia for cash and tattoos in 2010, Jim Tressel resigned and Terrelle Pryor left to enter the supplemental draft, leaving Ohio State under interim head coach Luke Fickell and an unexpected disappointing season.  Last month, the NCAA further sanctioned Ohio State with a one-year bowl ban (2012) and the loss of nine scholarships over three years, effectively punishing a team two years removed from the actions of players no longer on the team and a brand new coaching staff under Urban Meyer.  Sure there's not much else the NCAA can do, but don't ever call them swift or fair.  The Buckeyes went 3-5 in Big 10 competition, capping their season with a loss to archrival Michigan for the first time in seven meetings.  Ohio State will be playing the Gator Bowl without injured tight end Jake Stoneburner or running back Rod Smith (unknown off-the-field reasons), but linebacker Andrew Sweat will be returning from his concussion.

Keys to Victory

Both teams are hot and cold.  Florida has had moments when they held their own against competition like Alabama and Georgia, but others when the offense is can't find a first down and the defense looks like they've never seen a run game before.  Ohio State has been competitive, either winning or losing most of their games by ten or fewer points.

For Florida, the key to this game is fairly simple: establish an offense.  The Gators this year are either producing solid offensive gains, or stuck in neutral, 3 downs at a time.  Like most games this season, it's going to come down to John Brantley and a shake offensive line.  Brantley has proven he can momentarily pretend to be Tom Brady, carving chunks of field against the nation's best secondaries, and then switch gears to throw uninformed passes and consecutive interceptions.  He works terribly under pressure, so a Patchmanless offensive line needs to man their gaps and give Johnny decent pocket time.  Just as importantly, they'll need to run block better than they have all season to give Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps sufficient room to find open space, where they can be lethal against a slow Buckeye defense.  If the Gators are to win, they'll do it the same way they did the only other time they met up with Ohio State, with speed.  On defense, if the Gators can reproduce the Florida State performance, even without Dominque Easley, they should be fine.  Solid tackling and containing OSU's quick-footed quarterback, Braxton Miller, are key.

For Ohio State, it also comes down to a shaky dual-threat quarterback in true freshman Braxton Miller.  While hoisting undeniable running and tackle-breaking abilities, Miller handles pressure like any true freshman would and is quick to rely on his feet.  To relieve some pressure, the Buckeyes need to establish an effective run game and keep the Gators' blitz game in check.  Miller needs to be kept out of impossible situations and in his comfort zone, where he passes effectively.  On option runs or when the pocket does break down, which it will, Miller just needs to focus on what he does best, and take off.  The Gators will put extra emphasis on containing Miller so he and his receivers need to exploit defenders who may give up on their assignments when they see him on the move for some clutch passing opportunities.  On defense, the Buckeyes need to improve all around, especially their linebackers, to keep a potentially effective Florida offense in check.  They can't magically get faster, so to win, they'll need to play smarter.  Defensive coordinators Jim Heacock and Luke Fickell will need to prepare for anything and everything against the new play-caller in Brian White across the field.

Because of the inconsistencies in both teams this season, making an accurate prediction is extra tough, but in an informed and slightly biased twist, I'm going to have to pick:

Gators over the Buckeyes 24-21 in overtime.

Let's go for more of this!

Special thanks to Chris Pinson for his Ohio State expertise.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust: Charlie Weis

by Arnaldo
It's been rough few years for coaching at the University of Florida.  In case you haven't noticed, we've lost a top coach (head, offensive or defensive coordinator) every year since 2008: Dan Mullen, Charlie Strong, Urban Meyer, Charlie Weis.  It's clear we've been feeling the effects.  Stability is one of the most important aspects of a coaching staff; where would we be as a country if we switched presidents every year?

Someone pointed out we don't need
his "fupa" around anyway.
Since Charlie's hiring as Florida's offensive coordinator, many fans have had mixed feelings about his possible contributions and whether or not he would fit in the culture we have. As I've said, I was a Weis fan, along with many Gator fans. Dub, however, stands on the other side of the ropes. He feels Weis was a big sexy hire by a new coach who felt like he had to make a splash to get Gator fans excited.

We have the most demanding fans in the nation, at any level, in any sport. It's a culture that was rebuilt by Urban Meyer and his all-star coaching staff, which can only lead to heartbreak. From 2005-2009 (Urban's glory years at Florida) we had one single digit win season, and three 13 win seasons, all of which resulting in a BCS National Championship or BCS Bowl victory. Our team was so hypercompetetive, that we as fans grew to accept nothing less than elite national contention year in and year out.

Coach Muschamp stepped into a position where he had to make noise immediately. He had to get someone as flashy and as storied as the Florida program had been during it's streak of absolute dominance. He went after the man who coached the offense of the New England Patriots during their historic "3 out of 4" Super bowl run, circa 2001-2004.

So What Now?

First and foremost, there's a bowl game to be played.  In situations like these, a departing coach makes the decision to stay to coach the bowl game, or get a head start at his new institution, familiarizing himself with the team, fellow coaches, perhaps hire new coaches, recruiting, etc.  When Dan Mullen accepted a head coach position, he stuck around to coach the 2008 National Championship game, but it seems a 6 win Gator Bowl isn't enough to keep Charlie Weis around.  This promotes current running backs Brian White to interim offensive coordinator, which has its advantages and disadvantages.  On the one hand, he hasn't called plays since 2007 at Syracuse, but on the other, Ohio State has absolutely nothing to study and must prepare for everything.

Now let's look at some candidates to replace Charlie Weis.

Leading Candidate: Kerwin Bell

Who's Kerwin Bell?  Kerwin Bell is probably Florida's most prolific quarterback not to win a Heisman Trophy.

He's even in the "Gator Legends" painting.

Suck it Palmer!

Bell walked on to the 1983 Florida team as a quarterback and earned a scholarship and the starting job the following year.  He led that team to a 9-1-1 record, an SEC championship (later vacated), and a No. 3 AP end-of-season ranking.  The following year was a repeat 9-1-1 record and atop the SEC (though ineligible to hold title or bowl game).  Bell was awarded SEC Player of the Year in 1984, finished honorable mention All-American in 1985 and 1986, first team All-SEC in 1985, and received Florida's Fergie Ferguson Award as a team captain his senior year.  While at Florida he passed for 7,585 yards and 56 touchdowns.  In 1997, he was inducted into UF's Athletic Hall of Fame as a "Gator Great".

No joke: voted 2nd ugliest football
uniforms ever on an ESPN fan poll.
Drafted in the seventh round by the Miami Dolphins, Kerwin Bell didn't see the field despite being traded twice.  He played for several non-NFL teams before landing a spot in 1996 for the Indianapolis Colts where in week 15 was put in late for his only NFL appearance.  Interestingly, he completed five for five passes and one touchdown, giving him the highest passer rating in NFL history.

Bell began coaching as the offensive coordinator for the Toronto Argonauts for the 2000 and 2001 seasons.  He then was the head coach for Trinity Catholic High School from 2001 to 2006, where he briefly coached our very own John Brantley, and led the Celtics to a state championship.  This led to the head coaching job at Jacksonville University.  He took a 3-8 Dolphins squad and made them a 9-4 Pioneer Football League champions in 2007.  2008 had Bell recognized as the PFL Coach of the Year and a finalist for the Eddie Robinson award.  His 2010 squad went 10-1 and ranked No. 22 in the FCS, an all-time high for the young program.

It is clear that Kerwin Bell has an immense talent for coaching, and has sufficient experience in running an offense as a quarterback, coordinator, and head coach.  Also, he is very familiar with the recruiting landscape in Florida, having played and coached almost exclusively therein.  Will Muschamp has stated he is looking for a coordinator who is very proficient with a pro-style game and assures the Gator Nation he will hire "the nation's best offensive coordinator."  He has already interviewed Bell, but the nature of the interview was kept private.  No official decision has been made.

Secondary Candidate:  Brian White

Brian White, as mentioned earlier, will be the interim offensive coordinator for the Gator Bowl this January.  He is officially our running backs' coach and is one of the only staff members retained by Will Muschamp from Urban Meyer's administration.  Meyer hired him days after the 2008 National Championship game as the tight ends' coach.  White served the University of Wisconsin for 11 years, under icon Barry Alvarez, as running backs' coach and offensive coordinator in 1999.  He led the Wisconsin offense to its Big Ten prominence it still enjoys today, and earned an Assistant Coach of the Year award in 2004.  He was the unfortunate collateral damage of Alvarez's retirement from coaching in 2005.  White made his way to Washington and Syracuse as offensive coordinator before Urban Meyer brought him to Florida.

It is uncertain if he's been interviewed for the position since he is already part of the program.  However, White has a giant opportunity calling plays at the Gator Bowl to impress Muschamp and secure his future at Florida.

His advantage over Kewin Bell: extensive resume.  His disadvantage: his extensive resume.  Let me explain.  Assistant coaches who have high level experience (offensive/defensive coordinator) coupled with success, do not last.  They'll receive head coaching jobs elsewhere that will pay much better.  One of the reasons behind hiring Weis was that he already tried head coaching and was not very successful; we thought it was unlikely he would receive, or accept, head coaching offers.  If we choose Brian White and have a successful year, there is a risk he'll be noticed again and picked up.  Kerwin Bell, on the other hand, has no FBS experience and shouldn't be offered another job, no matter how much success he has, for at least three years.  Keep in mind that what the Gators need now more than ever is stability.

We aren't in the business of speculation so we won't go into detail on any other possible candidates.  However, he is a list of some being mentioned:

Todd Monken - Oklahoma State offensive coordinator
Major Applewhite - Texas co-offensive coordinator
Greg Davis - Former Texas offensive coordinator

Friday, December 16, 2011

Letter to the Editor

Dear Bucs,

     Before I begin, let me openly state that I have been a fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization since I was old enough to hold a football.  My entire family is from the bay area, and I have been a fan through thick and thin; through 12-4 Superbowl winning seasons, and through 4-12, not-so-super seasons.  One thing has always seemed constant, among the winning and the losing seasons, though. One thing I have never seen the Buccaneers do is play without heart.

     Maybe it's our lack of vocal, outspoken leaders.  Maybe it's having the youngest team in the league.  Maybe the culture of the NFL has changed so that the focus is less on pleasing the fans, and more on personal goals and gains.  Maybe undisciplined football, poor technique, and little effort is what this team is all about. We started out 4-2 this season, hit a rough stretch, and gave up like a little kid who gets beat in a game, saying "well I didn't want to win anyway".  What you don't realize is that you play for a lot more than yourself or this team.  You are a source of inspiration for people everywhere, and to see you get shellacked by a bad Jaguars team leaves quite a bit to be desired.

     What you, and the other 31 teams in the NFL, have forgotten is that we are the biggest reason you play this game.  America can survive without football.  The NFL can't survive without viewers.  You can read this and pull a LeBron and say "I don't care what you think, because at the end of the day, I'm still an NFL player, and you're still a sad, broke fan".  Or, you can read this and realize that you are a highlight in some of our lives. You play for our favorite teams.  We wouldn't rather cheer for anyone else, and we will stick with you until the last seconds of every game.  Watching you play warms our hearts, and we will root for you any day of the week, but you have to know that we can not tolerate the indifferent acceptance of mediocrity, the "meh" that we've been seeing on the field the last couple of weeks.  As my parents taught me, if it's worth doing, it's worth giving 100%. Go Bucs.

The Fans

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Xs and Os: Basic Offense

by Arnaldo
As we all know, there are two ways of advancing the football: running and passing.  There are dozens of different ways to execute each of those, however.  In this Xs and Os, we'll be looking at types of offensive plays, with some detail into specific plays.  Here's a review of offensive positions, if you need one.

Running Plays

Today's football strives for a 50:50 distribution of run and pass plays, but at its origins, football was strictly run oriented.  A run play is much more than just a hand off to a running back.  The entire offense has a job to do, from different routes to formations and blocking schemes.  Essentially, a run is defined by two things: the formation and the play.  We're going to focus on the plays instead of the formation, but keep in mind most of these can be adapted into most common formations.

Dive - A dive play consists of a the half back receiving the ball and running straight forward into the A-gap (the gaps between the center and either guard).  Typically the full back will run ahead and serve as the lead blocker, though dive plays can be run out of formations without full backs.

Power - a power run consists of an angled exchange between the quarterback and half back, leading the half back into a route towards either the B-gap (gap between a guard and a tackle) or the C-gap (between a tackle and a tight end).  There is typically a full back as the lead blocker (but again not necessary), and there is always a pulling guard from the backside (the side where the play is not developing, opposing the playside).  "Pulling" refers to a player leaving his usual post to block elsewhere.  This is one of the most common run plays in football.

Counter - a counter run starts like a power run, but after the half back takes one or two steps in one direction, he cuts to the opposite direction.  The counter technique can be applied to more than just the power run, but is most commonly so.  It is designed to trick linebackers to start moving to one side, only to be delayed in recognizing and reaching the true play side.

Dotted lines denote toss
Sweep - a sweep refers to the direction of the running route and can be run several different ways.  The route moves directly outwards towards the sideline and curves up towards the endzone, beyond the tackles.  There are 3 basic sweeps: Toss, QB, and jet.  A toss sweep, the most popular, usually run out of an Ace or I-formation, involves the quarterback turn around and toss the football back to the half back as he begins running the sweep route.

A QB sweep is a sweep patter ran by the quarterback himself.  It can be run out of almost any formation and is popular in the spread option style where quarterbacks are typically mobile.  The jet sweep has the backside slot receiver in motion before the snap towards the quarterback.  The ball is snapped as the receiver is close and immediately handed off to the receiver who is already at near top speed.  This is a great way to get the ball quickly to the outside, before the majority of the defense can react.

Green denotes pre-snap motion
The jet sweep is also ran effectively from a empty backfield set, where the quarterback is alone in the backfield and the defense does not expect a run play without a running back on the field.

FB run - a full back run refers to any run play where the full back is the designated ballcarrier (excluding the option).  This is typically ran out of the I-formation but again can be run from where ever there's a full back.  The play sacrifices a lead blocker but gains an element of surprise.  The fullback is much closer to the line of scrimmage and so the play takes off in less than half the time as a conventional dive play.  Also, full backs are typically larger and stronger than half backs and can push through defenses.  Some instances have the full back actually switch to the half back position for extra momentum on short yardage situations (see Mike Alstott).

QB sneak - a run designed for the quarterback from under center.  As the name implies, the play is sneaky.  From under center, the quarterback wastes no time to hand the ball off to anyone and immediately starts forward progress.  This play is fairly commonly used in very short yardage situations (inches).  Most of the responsibility actually lies with the center and the two guards to push the defense enough for the quarterback to get the ball passed the first down marker, inches away.

Draw - a draw is any type of run that is first disguised as a pass.  The key in recognizing (and executing) a draw is a delayed hand-off.  The quarterback will take his drop into the pocket as if looking for receivers, but then hand the ball off.  Draws can be made out of almost all conventional run plays where the quarterback can at least appear to be passing.  In offenses with mobile quarterbacks, the quarterback himself can run the ball in a QB draw.  Draws are a way to open up running lanes by "drawing" linebackers back into coverage as they expect a pass.

Passing Plays

Passing plays are nothing but a combination of different parts: formation/personnel, routes, and protection.  Each formation puts a different number of receivers in different places on the field.  Formations can put together a different combination of wide receivers, tight ends, full backs, and half backs, but all of these are eligible receivers.  Each runs a different route that is predetermined, and the quarterback has a "progression" of receivers he will try to throw too on each play.  A half back or full back might run a short route and wait as a last resort, called a "checkdown".  Alternatively, the half back or full back, or both, may stay in the pocket to help the offensive line block for the quarterback, which is referred to as "max protect".  I intend on delving into formations later on, so for now let's look at some common routes.

Slant - a slant route is one of the more common patterns.  It has the receiver run directly at a 45 degree (or less) angle from the line of scrimmage.  Slants may be towards the center of the field or away.

Hitch/comeback/curl/hook - these are a group of routes that are all fairly similar.  Each has the receiver run straight forward (towards the endzone), stops, and turns around to make the catch.  Hitch routes are shorter (two or three steps before turning) while curls and hooks are longer (four or five yards).  These are common checkdown routes.

* From the right side of the field (slot or Z receiver)
Go/fly/seam - a go route has the receiver go in a straight line directly towards the endzone.  Hail Mary plays consist of four or five of these.

Post - a post route begins like a go route but cuts into an angle towards the center of the field (the goal post).

Corner - a corner route is the opposite of a post route where it begins like a go route straight forward but cuts in an angle towards the sidelines.

Drag/in - a drag or an in route has the receiver take a few steps forward and then cut at a 90 degree angle towards the center of the field.

Out - an out route is the opposite of a drag route, where the receiver will take a few steps and then cut 90 degrees towards the sidelines.

Flat - a flat route is ran exclusively by running backs that start near the quarterback, and run directly towards the sidelines.  Flat routes may be flat or slanted.  They can also be used for a lateral pass that won't count as a forward pass, allowing the receiver to then make a forward pass himself, which is considered a trick play.

Wheel - a wheel route is also usually ran out of the backfield (though less commonly also by wide receivers).  It starts as a flat route that cuts 90 degrees towards the endzone.

Sluggo - a sluggo route is a "slant and go".  After the receiver makes his initial slant cut, he makes another cut into a go route to shake off his defender.

These routes combine with formations to form specific passing plays, like "all slants" or "double sluggo".

Unconventional Passing

Play-action pass - play-action passes are like draw runs but reversed.  They are passes disguised as runs.  The quarterback will fake a hand-off with a running back, who will fake "running the ball".  The quarterback then resets himself into the pocket and makes his pass.  Most passing plays can be made into a play-action pass with the addition of the running fake.  It has its advantages and disadvantages.  Play-action passes take much longer to develop and requires the quarterback to read his progression much quicker since the play has been in motion for some time before he sets in the pocket.  This extra time also makes the quarterback more susceptible to pressure and sacks.  If executed well, its advantages outweigh these.  Defenses first need to recognize the play as a run or pass.  If fooled into a run, they might forget their coverage assignments and pursue the ball carrier, leaving receivers wide open.  Even a small hesitation by linebackers or cornerbacks can be exploited by an experienced quarterback.

Flea-flicker - the flea-flicker is a more extreme play-action pass.  In a flea-flicker, the quarterback will actually hand off the ball to a running back, who will then take a step or two with the ball, stop, turn around, and toss it back to the quarterback, who then makes a pass.  The flea-flicker is rare because it shares the same advantages and disadvantages of the play-action pass, but amplified; high risk, high reward.

Andrew Luck on a simple flea-flicker

Screen pass - a screen pass is a specially designed pass.  As I mentioned earlier, on a pass play, the quarterback goes through a progression of potential receivers.  Screen passes are designed with one receiver in mind, and moves other players around him to block for after the catch.  There are several types of screen passes but two I want to focus on.

Bubble screen - a bubble screen is thrown to an outside reciever (X or Z) as makes a "bubble" route behind and around the slot receiver.  It can also be thrown to a slot receiver as he makes a bubble route around the outside receiver.  The other receiver serves as his lead blocker.

Notice the pulling linemen
Slip screen - a slip screen is the most common screen pass.  Three offensive linemen (center and guards) will block for only a moment, leave their assignments and move the pocket towards a sideline with a running back following.  The quarterback is left alone and typically finds himself backing up several yards as the unblocked defensive linemen pursue.  Once the "side pocket" is formed and clear of defenders, the quarterback makes the easy pass to the running back, who now has several blockers ahead of him.  It takes very experienced defensive linemen to recognize this play as it develops and react appropriately.

Bootleg - the bootleg is really both a run and a pass play.  The bootleg refers to the route ran by a quarterback on certain play-action passes.  It begins with the normal fake hand off but instead of setting himself in the pocket, the quarterback will look for receivers in a run towards the sidelines (concealing the ball behind his hip like a bootlegger).  A half back or full back might serve as his lead blocker for protection or if the quarterback decides to tuck the ball and run it himself.  If no blocker accompanies him, it is called a "naked bootleg".  Several conventional running plays will have the quarterback run the bootleg route without the ball anyway to try to confuse the defense and to set up the bootleg play-action.  Bootleg passing and running are integral components in several offensive philosophies.

Peyton Manning on a bootleg keep

Monday, December 5, 2011


by Arnaldo
Heismanology: the study behind the assessment of players and their skills, and their likelihood of being awarded the Heisman Trophy.

The Heisman Memorial Trophy Award is the single most coveted award in sports.  Only 56 living persons can call themselves Heisman Trophy winners.  That title will accompany their names for as long as they live, and will be uttered just about every time they are mentioned.

How do you not trust this face?
The Heisman Trophy is presented to the most outstanding college football player.  That term is important because it's supposed to mean the "pursuit of excellence with integrity", which its recipients are expected to represent.  2005 Heisman recipient Reggie Bush returned his trophy when allegations of NCAA violations arose, but interestingly enough, O.J. Simpson still has his.  So when looking at Heisman candidates, unlike other awards where stats are read and trophies are appropriately awarded, the Heisman Trophy requires its voters to take several different factors into consideration.

Who is considered?

Who gets chosen to compete for the Heisman is a delicate subject open to much debate.  It's why the term Heismanology exists.  How do we compare a quarterback to a running back?  Where to defensive backs fit it?  And what if there's a REALLY good offensive lineman?  Shouldn't he be able to receive the award?

All legitimate questions.  Unfortunately, there are no conversion factors for passing touchdowns to rushing yards or tackles for loss made.  Instead, voters have to rate a player in his position and compare him to other players in theirs.  But at least players within the same position are easy to compare, right?  Give it to the quarterback with the most passing yards.  Done... Still not that easy.  There are other factors which need to be considered.  How did that player earn those statistics, and against what competition?  Conferences and strengths of schedule are all factors which are heavily considered.  Another significant intangible is referred to as "Heisman moments".  Voters and fans like to see candidates have a big plays around the end of the season, despite their progress throughout the entire year.  This is purely political and subjective, but unfortunately it has a huge influence on voters.  Minor factors include players' activities off the field, and how they influence their team's moral and performance.

Cast on your non-throwing
arm? How original.
Tim Tebow: trend setter.
For example, in 2008, the top two candidates were Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow.  Tebow had just won the award the previous year and had to compete against himself as well as Bradford, but team circumstances prevented Tebow from achieving the same stats.  The Gators were winning games by very comfortable margins and sitting Tebow early in the 4th quarter (sometimes in the 3rd) and had more playmakers to spread the wealth, so his stats were naturally less impressive, though Tebow was widely regarded as much improved from '07.  Oklahoma had a very similar season winning the same number of games by giant margins, but while Tebow was sitting on the bench, Bradford was still throwing touchdowns late into games.  Voters were forced to choose between who they believe was more skilled, or who was having a more outstanding season.

How are they voted on?

The Heisman recipient is chosen by mostly football journalist, because they are "informed, competent, and impartial."  145 media voters are chosen from each of six regions for a total of 870 media votes.  All living Heisman winners also get a vote, totaling 56 (Reggie Bush is ineligible, but somehow O.J. is, though it's not certain if he's allowed to vote while imprisoned).  One last vote is given to a fan poll on

Voters are given access to an online ballot where they enter their top three candidates in order.  Each first place votes receives 3 points, second place votes get 2 points, and third places votes receive 1 point.  The candidate with the most points is awarded the Heisman.  This brings up another BCS-style controversy.  Under this system, a candidate could receive the most first place votes but not win the Heisman, as long as another candidate accumulates enough second and third place votes.  Back to 2008; Tim Tebow had the most first place votes, but Sam Bradford won the trophy with a flood of second place votes.  Think this through: most people felt Sam Bradford was the second most outstanding player in college football and he won the Heisman. 

2011 candidates

Andrew Luck #12 - Quarterback, Stanford

Trent Richardson #3 - Running back, Alabama

Robert Griffin III #10 - Quarterback, Baylor

Montee Ball #28 - Running back, Wisconsin

Tyrann Mathieu #7 - Cornerback, LSU

Andrew Luck has be revered as the most complete and NFL-ready quarterback.  Not only is he ready to dominate in the NFL, he was ready last year.  Despite being the Heisman runner-up to Cam Newton, it was unquestionable that Luck would be chosen No. 1 over all in the 2011 NFL Draft.  Instead Luck decided to stay at Standford for another year, and he's still eligible for yet another.  Since that time, he's been the clear favorite to win the 2011 Heisman and the No. 1 pick all over again.  Luck had a flawless season up until Stanford's loss to Oregon where he threw two interception, the most in any game this season.  Since the loss, Luck never again reached the 70%-85% completion rating that earned him such a lofty lead early on, and interceptions became a weekly occurrence.  He lacked any definite late-season "Heisman moments" which will hurt his stock.  He finished the regular season with 3,170 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions.  Voters will be torn with Luck.  They will recognize his remarkable ability as second to none, but must also admit that the Stanford quarterback's year was not outstanding.

Trent Richardson is your prototypical freight train running back.  When he's not plowing over linebackers, he's juking them, stiff-arming corners, and out running safeties; there's little Trent Richardson can't do.  His biggest claim is the list of defenses he did so against.  There's no longer any debate that the SEC houses the best defenses in amateur football.  Draft experts point at almost the entire LSU and Alabama defensive starters as draftable, and not just that, but all in the first three rounds.  And it was against the nation's best defenses that he racked up such staggering numbers.  125 rushing yards and 85 receiving yards against Arkansas, 181 rushing yards for 2 touchdowns and 27 receiving yards against Florida.  A definitive "Heisman moment" in the always difficult Iron Bowl against Auburn for 203 rushing yards with a spectacular 57 yard run.  And probably the most telling statistic is what he accomplished in the loss against LSU and the unquestionably best defense in the nation: 89 rushing yards and another 80 receiving in that "boring" game of the century.  His season all purpose totals are 1,910 yards for 23 touchdowns.  These factors combined tell me Trent Richardson will either place second overall or bring Tuscaloosa its second Heisman Trophy in the last three years (also ever).

Robert Griffin III would've fallen under "dark horse" candidate in the beginning of the season, and that might be an overstatement.  As usual, not much was expected from the Baylor Bears as preseason polls had them unranked and receiving no votes (putting them at best No. 51), but a stunning performance in the season opener against No. 14 TCU had the nation wondering where this prodigy with the fancy name had been its whole life, and the stellar throwing just kept coming.  His completion ratings vary from high 60s to low 90s, which is amazing even at practice.  What might hurt his resume are his team's losses.  A loss makes every player on the field look bad, and it always reflects on the Heisman ballot, even though the Heisman is an individual award.  What might remedy this are his stats on his worst lost.  Against an obviously very talented Oklahoma State, he may have thrown two interceptions, but still managed to rack up 425 yards in the air, and put up 24 points.  Numbers like those usually never result in an 'L'.  His "Heisman moment"?  Well he seems to be constantly having one.  From strong performances under difficult circumstances to the sheer number of yardage in a season, Robert Griffin III lives the "Heisman moment".  His end of regular season stats read 3,998 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, and only 6 interceptions.  He's tied in my mind for the trophy with Trent Richardson.

Montee Ball has been a staple in Wisconsin football for the last three years, so unlike RG3, he's no secret.  What shines about Ball is his new-found athleticism.  He lost 28 pounds over the off season to add speed and more importantly, elusiveness.  He's been cutting out of defenders' grasps and finding the endzone time and time again.  His other golden ticket lies in his number touchdowns.  He has 38 of them (all purpose).  To give you an idea, Trent Richardson has 23.  Quite frankly, that number alone got him in the Heisman debate.  What will deter voters is Wisconsin's use of Montee Ball.  He has a similar amount of rushing yards to Trent Richardson but 12 more rushing touchdowns.  When you look at Wisconsin's stats, Ball has more touchdowns than the team has passing touchdowns.  He has more than four times the touchdowns as their leading receiver Nick Toon.  Wisconsin is a one-trick pony and everyone knows it.  Whether they only give the ball to Ball in the redzone to pad stats or to win games is the coach's business, but with such a heavy touchdown to total yardage ratio, voters will consider these stats skewed.  Combine that with the argument that the level of defenses he's played against don't match those of the SEC, and things don't look too hopeful for Montee Ball.  He will, however, have a significant effect on the vote.  As a running back with 38 touchdowns, voters will be split from Trent Richardson's campaign.  Montee ball has a total of 2,014 yards for the 38 touchdowns.

Tyrann Mathieu is the "Honey Badger".  There's little debate that LSU fields the nation's best defense, and there's no debate that Mathieu is LSU's best defender.  He covers the whole field, tracks down the ball, and most importantly, makes game changing plays on special teams.  He's your do-it-all defensive back, a security blanket for any head coach.  As a defensive back, he's gonna be hard to compare to other offensive candidates, and as a cornerback, it's gonna be even harder.  Only one defensive back has ever won the Heisman Trophy, and even he lined up at wide receiver occasionally.  Offensive plays get the ball and are expected to do something with it.  Defensive players are supposed to cover their man, and if they do it well enough, nothing will happen.  That man won't be passed the ball, and as a corner, a running back has to escape some closer defenders before reaching him.  This is why Mathieu has a thin stat sheet; average tackles, average sacks, even average interceptions (2), because Tyrann Mathieu plays excellent coverage.  One defensive stat that does stick out is forced fumbles; he has five of them, and scooped two of those up for touchdowns.  What's most exceptional about Mathieu is his punt return ability.  Teams who've played LSU have had to punt a lot, and when they do, Honey Badger makes them pay.  He averages 16.15 yards per return (when not calling a fair catch) and has returned four of them for touchdowns, one of which was returned at the 8 yard line.  Voters will be conflicted to put Mathieu any higher than 4th for two reasons.  First, it's too hard to compare defensive backs against the skill positions.  If Mathieu had more sacks or more interceptions, he might have made more waves in the poll, and second, Mathieu was suspended for a game for breaking LSU's drug policy, and is considered a bit of a "dirty" player.  As mentioned earlier, voters like to see off the field attitudes that reflect their athletic performances.  I have Mathieu around 4th place, but Honey Badger don't give a . . .

Arnaldo's Heisman ballot:

Trent Richardson
Robert Griffin III
Andrew Luck
Tyrann Mathieu
Montee Ball

Arnaldo's Heisman prediction:

Robert Griffin III
Trent Richardson
Andrew Luck
Montee Ball
Tyrann Mathieu