First-year head coach Chris Creighton has an offensive background, leaving his position as the head coach at Drake for the job at Eastern Michigan. That forced the Florida coaching staff to spend time watching Drake film from last season. One other advantage is that the Gators can watch game film from Eastern Michigan’s three-point win over Morgan State last week.
Eastern Michigan doesn’t have the same advantage since Florida’ season opener was suspended.
The film shows an up-tempo offense that loves to run the football. The Eagles started Reggie Bell at quarterback last week. Bell suffered a leg injury in the third quarter of the season opener, forcing backup Brogan Roback into the game. Creighton wouldn’t say who he would start at quarterback on Saturday, but the Florida defense doesn’t expect to see much different on the offense regardless of who starts.
“We don’t know the status of the first guy that got hurt,” Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “Both those guys run the offense the way they want it run. They’re mobile. They showed on tape that they can scramble and get yards on their feet. They also deliver the ball down field. We’re prepared for either one.”
The up-tempo approach won’t catch Florida off guard. They’ve been practicing against it all offseason with Kurt Roper’s new scheme. Continuing the similarities to the Florida offense, the Eastern Michigan up-tempo offense is focused on running the football.
“They ran a lot of plays total,” Durkin said. “The good thing going through training camp with our offense is they prepare us well for tempo. We believe that they do the same. We have to do a good job stopping the run. They’re a run-first team. They ran for almost 300 yards in (the season opener). That’s obviously something that we’re emphasizing.”
The focus on the run game could slow some of the decisions the Gators have to make in the secondary. The starters will all be veteran players, but the coaches want to get their freshmen cornerbacks on the field and see how they handle a game setting.
Both coordinators have mentioned the importance of game action as opposed to simply practice reps, and Durkin will have a close eye on how his young cornerbacks handle the bright lights on Saturday at 4 p.m. They’ll continue to rotate the freshmen and try to find out which they can trust before the start of the Southeastern Conference schedule.
“Our time here together as a staff, we’ve always continued our evaluations throughout the season,” Durkin said. “In certain games, our rotation is one way. In the next game, it’s a little different. We game plan for who we’re playing and what it’s going to be.”
PASS RUSH AFTER FOWLER: The Gators know they’ll get most of their pass rush from Dante Fowler off the edge, but opponents will slide their protections to focus on him. They’ll need other pass rushers to step up and take the heat off him.
Durkin isn’t concerned about it. He pointed out Neiron Ball as a pass rusher that has improved as a stand up rusher. Jonathan Bullard, who will play end and tackle, and Alex McCalister were the other two that Durkin spoke about being able to help right away this fall.
Freshman Gerald Willis will also contribute on Saturday. He looked dominant at times during the open practices and will be trusted for important reps as a freshman.
“(Willis) is another young guy that we’re planning on getting out there, getting reps and seeing what he can do, because all those guys have shown the ability to rush the passer one-on-one,” Durkin said.
Caleb Brantley is also proving that he can help at defensive tackle. With tackles Jay-nard Bostwick and Darious Cummings both returning from suspensions on Saturday, he might not get as many reps, but the coaches were happy with his progress through camp.
He had normal issues that young players deal with in practice. College practices are more intense than what they see in high school, and it’s hard for young players to learn the necessary effort in practice. It takes time for that to happen, but the light came on for Brantley in camp.
“Caleb’s made great strides from throughout his time here,” Durkin said. “He’s gone leaps and bounds. He’s a very talented guy. He’s always been that. We’ve had to kind of work on some of his practice habits and things he does, but that’s natural. He’s not the only one that’s ever happened to. He’s in a good spot right now. We’re going to play him. He’s in rotation. We’ll see how he does with his snaps.”