Somehow, I am about to do this without any alcohol AND without the aid of being so tired everything seems to have a logical connection. Normally, it is one of those two or a combination that lets me dive elbow deep into whatever gunk has collected in the beloved sunshine pump. Also, the first bit of this article might be very depressing because we had a game last week, but as always, we should all be full of optimism and fun for the game against Florida.
The pump is pretty severely clogged. The turnover monster has left some sort of gooey sludge in the barrel. The injury bug has crawled inside and chewed at the wiring. Concussion protocol has jammed the aiming controls. A goose has also decided my seat behind the controls is the perfect place for her nest and left a big egg there. All of those issues have been found with one eye looking over my shoulder. There was some large cat prowling around earlier this week, but I think it has gone to find other prey. Hopefully it will stay long enough to get this cleaned up.
First off, this sludge is one that we are all way too familiar with at this point. Bad decisions were made this week. However, due to the injury bug which we will get to in a moment and Houston's defense, our quarterbacks were under siege every time they dropped back to pass. It was really not an enviable situation. They did not handle the pressure well, but hopefully those other contributing factors will be lessened this week. However, the best solution here is Kyle Shurmur. He has had 1 turnover in each of his 2 starts. The one against Missouri was more on a blown blocking assignment and a good defensive play than him though. His INT was a throw into coverage, but the receiver seemed to lose his footing while trying to battle for the ball. Otherwise, it likely would have fallen incomplete. Either way, he is protecting the ball much better than McCrary, so we all need to hope he is ready to play.
Hoping players are ready to play is not just about their week of preparation. We have a number of players on the training table. Kyle Shurmur and Adam Butler are the major question marks, but others have been dinged up. Unfortunately, Justin Skule is not going to return this season. Caleb Azubike is back after 3 weeks off due to a dental issue that was apparently very serious. Azubike will simply make a very good defense that much stronger and deeper to help ease the load if Butler is not at 100%. Mason was also optimistic about both Shurmur and Butler. We will see what we have healthy this week, and the coaches should have a game plan to help dampen the effects from any absences.
To give Shurmur a bit more focus since he is seen as such an important piece going forward, the key is understanding how the concussion protocol works. The exact details themselves are not important. The key is that no football coach has any control over it. Kyle has to pass a rigorous set of cognitive tests designed to catch very minute changes in mental capability. These tests are administered by members of the training staff. During the process, as a player passes each step, he is allowed to take part in more and more team activities. If at ANY point symptoms return, the player starts all the way over at step 1. There is no need to worry about Mason, Ludwig, or anyone else rushing him back. If he clears the protocol, there is no reason to suspect he will be more vulnerable to another contact than if he had not experienced this concussion.
All of these issues led to an unfortunate 0 on the scoreboard. Our offense has had trouble scoring this year, of course, but we had not been blanked yet. This was our first truly inept showing. Unlike last year when we failed to score on offense (TD or FG) in 2 of the first 8 and 3 games total, we have moved the ball fairly well. In fact, even with that dreadful showing, we are averaging nearly 4 points per game more on offense than we did to this point last year (15.75 to 11.875). Roughly 16 PPG is not what you want from your offense, but it is a 33% improvement from last year. A similar improvement gets us in the neighborhood of 20 points per game next year. More importantly, Kyle Shurmur should definitely mature and improve to help keep the turnover number down which prevented a number of early scores and has put our venerable defense into lots of tough spots. Simply
In another recurring theme, our defense is still awesome. Some of you may look at the 34 points and think "WE SUCK AGAIN!" You would be very wrong. On Houston's drives 2, 3, and 4, they started each drive on their own 48 (2 yards from midfield) or better. On those drives, the Cougars moved the ball -7 yards AND scored a TD. How does this happen? Well, punt coverage failed miserably after our first drive letting them get to their own 48. A penalty and an Arnold Tarpley sack netted that drive -11 yards before a punt. Vanderbilt's offensive troubles along with an ELEVEN (11) YARD PUNT meant Houston got to start on Vandy's 40 before 2 TFLs sandwiched a pass completion by the Cougars to force a Houston punt after -2 yards. Johnny McCrary made a rushed throw as an unblocked Cougar barreled down on him that was picked off easily and returned to Vandy's 5 yard line. It still took Houston 3 plays to force their way into the end zone. Houston also had a TD drive of 12 yards when Kyle Shurmur was picked off on a bad read. Their other offensive TD drive was 36 yards long after they had added a pick six on McCrary's 2nd INT. They had a total of 371 yards on offense. For comparison, we held one of the most prolific offenses in the country to OUR season average.
We now run into a Florida offense averaging 40 more yards per game than we are. They have just managed to convert yards to points and not turn the ball over while their defense has done a good job of forcing turnovers. However, with Treon Harris not Will Grier, they are more one dimensional and rely on Harris heaving up long bombs more than efficient passing. Harris is a more mobile guy behind center, but we have done very well against those this year. We have done well against EVERYONE this year defensively. That should continue this week since the Gators are actually worse statistically at running the ball, even if they broke out for 255 yards rushing against Georgia.
To repeat the refrain, if we can not turn the ball over, we can be in this game. Our defense is that good. Florida is a better team than Missouri by a long shot, but our offensive game plan needs to be similar. If we can run the ball and chew up some time and clock then win a field position battle that is our chance. The defense stealing a few possessions and/or special teams success would be a huge help.
Oh, and by the way, we have the 2nd best opportunity to win the SEC East. We simply have to win out and have Florida lose to South Carolina in 2 weeks. Alligator Army did a fun write-up about how the scenarios work out. Basically, S&P+ has us at 0.03 percent chance to win the division while UGA is at 0.0008 percent. Everyone else is eliminated. PROGRESS!
Also, our head coach compares favorably to Jim Harbaugh, at least according to one AoG personality. He IS a real coach, so who are we to argue that?
Feeling clean yet? The game is at 11 AM Central. The atmosphere could be subdued, and hopefully we can catch some sleepy Gators. Rise, shine, and fire the newly ungunked pump. Fry some Gator. It tastes like chicken and sweet victory.