Gator Bowl Preview: Florida Gators

So the Gator Bowl matchup may not be the number one concern on the minds of most college football fans this weekend.  It may even bring out more haters than people actually interested in the outcome, simply because OSU and Florida are two of the most loved and hated teams in the country.  I’ll be honest, it’s tough to get very excited about a game between two 6-6 teams having arguably their worst years in well over a decade. 

On the other hand, this game represents a changing of the guard for Buckeye fans, and another chance for Team SEC to prove their dominance by taking down one of the biggest names in the Big Ten.  Regardless of the lack of build-up for this game, it’s still a football game, and a chance for OSU to salvage a winning season and send Head Coach Luke Fickell out on a high note (even if he’s merely switching titles and staying on the same sideline). 

In typical game week fashion, here are a few Florida Gator names/numbers to watch for in this week’s Gator Bowl matchup…

Offense

John "I'm Not Tim Tebow" Brantley

John Brantley (#12, Senior, 6’3”, 219 lbs) – The successor to All-World QB Tim Tebow, Brantley has struggled in his role as team leader since taking the reins.  Brantley missed games against LSU and Auburn due to injury this year, but managed to accumulate a reasonable 2000 yards passing.  Florida’s QB has not looked impressive this year, as the only games that he managed to show flashes of his potential were against lesser teams like Furman and Tennessee.  If OSU is able to apply any pressure to Brantley, he should be in for a long day with the Gator passing attack. 

The true test for Ohio State’s defense will lie in stopping the talented and mature running backs that the Gators possess.  Chris Rainey (#1, Senior, 5’9”, 174 lbs), Jeff Demps (#28, Senior, 5’7”, 191 lbs), and Mike Gillislee (#23, Junior, 5’11”, 198 lbs) provide a scary rushing attack that has the talent to do major damage, but has not quite lived up to expectations this season.  Each back has the ability to break a long run, but Rainey and Demps are typically the main ball carriers in the trio. 

Rainey averages close to 15 carries per game, but also shows his talents in the receiving game, as he leads the team in catches with 28.  Demps will probably get 8 to 10 touches, but was largely ineffective this year against teams not named Kentucky or Vanderbilt.  However, give Demps a hint of daylight, and this is what he can do.  Gillislee is usually a 4-5 carry per game back, but is similar in style to the other two, and could also provide a quick lift for the Gators at any time.  All 3 RBs average over 5 yards per carry on the season.  In other words, OSU will need to break down, wrap up, and gang tackle to stop these explosive running backs.

If this highlight video shows us anything, it’s that Rainey can make a team pay for poor tackling and that slow motion makes any play look amazing…

The Gators’ offense has three main players to keep an eye on in the receiving game, in this order: Chris Rainey, Andre Dubose (#4, Sophomore, WR, 5’11”, 191 lbs), and Jordan Reed (#11, Sophomore, TE, 6’3”, 239 lbs).  Rainey is a constant threat coming out of the backfield to catch and run on screens, dump passes, and quick bubble routes.  Dubose is the Gator used mostly to stretch the field and provide the deep threat.  He may not bring in more than 2 or 3 receptions, but he has had 3 games, out of the 10 that he played in, in which he had receptions go for more than 60 yards, including this opening play against Alabama.  Reed is the prototypical athletic tight end who serves as Brantley’s comfort, possession receiver.  Brantley may look deep to Dubose or another receiver, but will likely check down to Rainey or Reed at the first sign of decent coverage or a pass rush.

Defense / Special Teams

The Florida defense has been able to hold teams to an average of 20.6 points per game, though, like OSU, the stat is slightly misleading due to a couple of nonconference blowouts.  This defense is very athletic, but due to the struggles on the offensive side of the ball, has been on the field far too much against opposing SEC offenses.  Here is a quick look at some of the playmakers that we will surely see on Monday.

Defensive “Top 3” Leaders for Florida:

Tackles:

86 – Jonathan Bostic (#52, LB, Junior, 6’1”, 243 lbs)

72 – Matt Elam (#22, S, Sophomore, 5’10”, 206 lbs)

71 – Jelani Jenkins (#3, LB, Sophomore, 6’0”, 230 lbs)

Sacks:

5 – Ronald Powell (#7, DE, Sophomore, 6’4”, 248 lbs)

4 – Jaye Howard (#6, DT, Senior, 6’3”, 303 lbs)

3 – Jonathan Bostic (#52, LB, Junior, 6’1”, 243 lbs)

Interceptions:

2 – Matt Elam (#22, S, Sophomore, 5’10”, 206 lbs)

2 – De’Ante Saunders (#26, S, Freshman, 5’8”, 192 lbs)

This Florida team is very opportunistic on special teams and all returns (including fumbles and interceptions), so the Buckeyes must properly execute discipline in all aspects of the game to come out on top.  Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps have punt and kickoff returns, respectively, for TDs this season, and the defense has found the endzone at least 3 times on fumble and INT returns.  The kicking and punting games for Florida have been consistent and solid, but nothing to write home about.  There have been few mistakes, especially in the kicking game, unless backed up beyond 40 yards.  In short, if the game comes down to a short field goal attempt, don’t expect M*chiganesque kickers to save the day by chipping it wide of the target.

1/2/2012 OSU vs. Florida (Gator Bowl)

What must OSU do in order to get a win over the Florida Gators?

1) TACKLE!!! – OSU has not been its normal self this year on defense when it comes to sure tackling, especially in the last few games of the year. Whether or not this is the result of young players, this is something that will make or break this game. If the Silver Bullets can bring down Rainey, Demps, and the rest of the Gator crew with their first hit, then this game should certainly swing OSU’s way.

2) Show a similar offensive attack to the first half in Ann Arbor – The slow-playing our passing offense until late November is getting a bit old, but since we all know that things are about to change drastically in Buckeye Nation’s offense, why not come out slinging the ball again? I’m not saying that we completely abandon the run game, but at least show the Gators early that we can complete some passes. If we are unable to do that, then their defense will simply load the box and make Braxton’s life miserable…as Buckeye fans have definitely seen before.

My prediction: OSU 27 Florida 24

Follow me on Twitter @AJBorland and let me hear your predictions for the game

Topics: Chris Rainey, Florida Gators, Gator Bowl, John Brantley, Ohio State Buckeyes

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