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The Louisville Cardinals Defense has a daunting challenge in stopping the University of Florida Offense. The Gator O is characterized in an exploding emphatic way by their running game as UF has rushed the ball 66.4% of their plays for the entire season and they average a healthy 4.6 yards per carry.
A significant accomplishment of the Florida rushing game is their awesome 5.3 average when they rush on first down --- and they run the ball on first down 77% of the time.
Due to UF's continueous attempt --- and success ---- in running the ball, their Time of Possession is an average 33:07 and they grind down defenses that cannot get off the field. By the 2nd half, many Ds have faltered and the Gators continue to pour it on. They have outscored their opponents 193 to 78 in the 2nd half.
Although they run the ball a healthy 66.4% of the time, they will run it quite a bit more as shown by their 58 rushes against national power L.S.U., the most in any S.E.C. game since 1980. At 9.3 yards, they also had the highest rushing average per carry in all SEC games this year when they beat Vandy 31-17. Additionally, they dismantled the #1 rushing Defense in the F.B.S. when they throttled Florida State for 249 yards and a 5.2 average per carry in their 37-26 victory over the Seminoles.
The Gator Offense hurts their Opponents in Five Ways
1. Offensive Schemes
Offensive Coordinator, Brent Pease, uses numerous formations, personnel groupings, options, and trick plays that keep the defense guessing and furthermore, pressures the opposing coaches and defenses to spend some intense time in preparing for all of these various Offensive arrangements.
Florida’s formations have anywhere from 1 to 4 Wide Outs who can either go out for a pass or end up carrying the ball at any time. Pease uses his Wide Outs for rushing 5 times a game while only throwing to them 7.9 times a game. Trey Burton is their most athletic wide receiver and also lines up in the Wild Cat position. He has rushed the ball 24 times, thrown four completions, and received 17 passes this year. Florida encompasses their receivers in their deadly rushing attack.
2. The Running Game Part 1
UF’s rushing attack starts with their large, experienced, and highly ranked Offensive Line. Scout ranked their starting O Line at an average 4 Stars coming out of high school. Their current average weight is 314 pounds and they have 125 combined games as starters, an average of 25 per man.
They are led by senior Left Tackle Xavier Nixon, a 3rd string All-SEC player who has 33 starts.
3. Running Game Part 2
The SEC Coaches and Media Representatives agree on the top Running Back in the SEC, Florida’s Mike Gillislee. His running style has been described as "relentless." Gillislee averages 4.7 yards per touch and leads the team with 92.0 rushing yards per game and 10 touchdowns. Gillislee also averages 9.7 yards per reception.
4. Running Game Part 3
Quarterback Jeff Driskel can also be a handful at 6’4” and 232 pounds. On passing plays, Driskel will tuck the ball and run if the Defense doesn’t properly contain him --- and his size make him a tough one-on-one tackle by a Cornerback. Excluding sacks, he averages 9.4 yards per carry on 6.3 carries per game. His season rushing high was 177 yards in 11 attempts against Vandy. He is 2nd on the team in rushing and rushing Touchdowns. Driskel reminds many people of Tim Tebow. The Cardinal D will have to keep track of Driskel on January 2nd or he will hurt them.
5. Passing Attack
The Gators are easily led in receptions by AP 1st string All-SEC Tight End Jordan Reed. The 6’4” 243 pound Reed is 11th in the country for receptions by Tight Ends.
QB Driskel has completed 64.8% of his passes for 11 TDs. He only has 3 interceptions in 216 attempts --- which ranks him 6th in fewest interceptions in SEC history. He doesn't make many passing mistakes.
Florida’s Tight Ends and Running Backs average 6 catches per gridiron match. Their Wide Outs only catch 7.9 passes per game but are used significantly in their rushing attack with 5 rushes per contest.
What the Cardinals’ Defense must do to stay in the Game.
First and foremost, U of L has to reduce the Gators’ overall running game success --- particularly their huge first down rushing yardage. If the Gators maintain their 5.3 yards on first downs, the Cards are in serious trouble.
Second, the Cards’ Coaches are going to have to have the appropriate personnel in the game based on the Gator Offensive players and their set up. If UF comes in with four Wide Outs, the Cardinals will need to have enough coverage guys in there. Conversely, when UF subs so that they have a 2 Tight End and Fullback set, Louisville will need enough DL and Linebackers prepared to quickly come in and line up. An improperly substituted group of players could hurt the Cards at any point in time.
Third, Hakeem Smith and the Linebackers are going to have to stop Tight End Jordan Reed from averaging 12.5 yards per reception. Additionally, the RBs are going to have to be covered by the same group of Defenders. They cannot over commit on fake running plays or Driskel will hurt the Cards with a slant to Reed.
Fourth, the CBs are going to have to play one-on-one ball with minimal help. The Cards need to have as many other defenders watching the running plays as well as the T.E. and RB. However, a mistake by a CB could be deadly. They are all going to have to have play alone on an island and be successful at doing it.
Fifth, Louisville desperately need to get pressure on Driskel and force a turnover or two. But the Gators are tough in T.O. department as they are currently tied at 5th in the country in T.O. Margin. A distinct opportunity to cause a critical turnover is when Driskel sets up to pass. The Gators are a lowly 105th in the country with Sacks Allowed and Driskel leads UF with 4 fumbles.
So What does it Mean?
If the Cards can accomplish those 5 tasks, particularly the first one, the Cardinal D will have stopped Florida enough times to give the Cardinal’s Offense a good chance to try and pull the upset. The D has got to get off the field. There are more individual starring efforts needed from the Cardinal Defense than any other contest this year. They can do it but it is going to take a number of major efforts by many individuals. Just remember the prime directive for this game: “Stop the Run!”
Tomorrow, Shane Stovall continues CD’s normal game week series with an overview on how the Card Offense is going to overcome the Gator’s nationally 5th ranked Defense.
Thank you to all the nice comments from many of you and each of you for following my articles this past year. I wish you nothing but the best for the season and always. Kindest regards, Lakinit.