August 25, 2009

Florida Gators Football - Keys to Success

With the Florida Gators football team fast approaching their season opening game against Charleston Southern, I've decided to take a look at some of the key factors that will make this season a success for the Gators.

I will only list the five most important aspects, but please feel free to add other important factors for the Gators in the comments section and I'll try to respond where appropriate.

Also, just a a little news tidbit to get you started, Florida QB Tim Tebow recently stated that he feels better than ever, despite recent speculation that his back injury was more serious than reported.

In fact, Tebow admitted to having to take pain injections for his bum shoulder in every game in 2008 after the Hawaii game. The shoulder is reportedly feeling better than ever and Tebow said he can now take hits fine, rather than "with a grunt."

A better Tebow only means a better offense this year, something that should make the rest of the country a little more wary than they already are.

Now, let's take a look at the five keys to success for the Gators this year:

5. Stay strong against the run - If there has been one constant about the Florida Gators football team over the course of the past few years, it has been dominant defensive line play. When the Gators boast one of the best run defenses in the conference, their record is usually a direct parallel. Likewise, when the Gators have struggled against the run, so too has their record.

The Gators had a much more dominant defensive line in 2008 than they did a year before, and it showed in all aspects of the game. In fact, the defensive line probably didn't receive enough credit a year ago in helping to turn around the entire defense. With the added pressure the defensive line put on opposing quarterbacks, a secondary that was more porous than a sieve in 2007 grew into one of the best playmaking units in the nation.

4. Don't try to replace Percy Harvin - At first, this key might seem a bit strange, seeing as how Harvin was one of the most dynamic players in all of college football and a huge part of the Gators' success in winning a National Championship a year ago. What I mean by not trying to replace Harvin is not scrapping the "Percy Package" altogether, but making sure not to try to replace that role with one individual player.

Simply put, the Gators don't have anyone on the roster that can singlehandedly do what Harvin did. And that's not necessarily a bad thing for Florida. In fact, during Harvin's three year career, the Gators never lost a game that Harvin did not play in. The main reason for this, and the statistics bear this out, is that the Gators did a much better job spreading the ball around in those games. If they do the same this year, there's no reason to think the offense won't be just as productive as it was a year ago.

3. Stay healthy on the offensive line - While the Gators have considerably more depth on the offensive line than they did two years ago, they still lack ideal playing time when you start to dig into the two deep. The Gators can probably survive an injury to one starter, but if multiple guys go down for multiple games, the offense may sputter.

While the defense should be good enough to keep the Gators in just about every game, there are sure to be at least a few teams who give the Gators their best shot and make the games much closer than expected heading in. Experienced offensive lines win games in the third and fourth quarter. Having multiple injuries to key guys on the offensive line could really hurt the Gators' chances at a potential repeat this season.

2. Keep Tebow healthy - This seems like one of the most obvious statements in all of college football. In fact, most would probably have this as the top factor that could keep the Gators from repeating as SEC and National champions. However, this falls much more on the coaches themselves than on any particular unit or group of players.

The Florida coaches have shown a tendency to rely on Tebow much too heavily in crucial games when other players are struggling. With Percy Harvin gone, the Gators will likely run into at least one or two games where the offense just doesn't seem to click. Harvin was always the one constant offensively, against just about every team.

If that disappears in one or two games and the Gators just can't find any one player that is having above average success against the opposing defense, they must avoid relying on Tebow too heavily. Tebow will take it upon himself if called to, so the coaches must realize that they are much better off relying on the defense and an average offensive output than they are jeopardizing Tebow's health.

1. Finish strong - Everyone has talked about avoiding complacency over the offseason, to the point where it's become almost more common than the word repeat in discussing the Gators. This ties into that theme, but also takes into account the leaders of the team. While I don't feel like Tebow and Spikes are likely to let the Gators slip up early to mid-season, like many seem to think, I do think complacency can start to set in towards potential SEC Championship or National Championship games.

What I mean by this is that the players will feel "on the verge" of having accomplished their goals. They will know that they have been there before and have the upper hand in experience in an SEC Championship or National Championship berth. With this type of thinking, could come a sense of "already being there," something the Gators must avoid at all costs.

Simply put, if the Gators make it to the SEC Championship or National Championship Games, they have to come out with the same energy and intensity that they did against LSU and Georgia a year ago.

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