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Iowa Football Opponent Preview: Florida Gators

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Back in the Outback...

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

After experiencing a break that felt like an eternity, we’re so close to seeing the Hawkeyes back on the field.

Let’s talk some football!

So they meet again…

Even if you didn’t happen to view it live, by now every Hawkeye football fan is familiar with what is now the infamous 2006 Outback Bowl, which featured the Iowa Hawkeyes and … you guessed it, the Florida Gators.

In the matchup, there were a host of absurdly incorrect calls from the officials, which, in all likelihood, cost the Hawkeyes a victory in that game.

If you’re struggling to recall the game I’m referring to, allow me to jog your memory:

However, the 2006 Outback Bowl isn’t the only Outback Bowl matchup the two programs have shared, as they also met in the 2004 iteration of the game, that contest ending in a 37-17 Iowa victory.

Now, 10 years removed from their last meeting, the Hawkeyes will look to end a four-game bowl losing streak while fans look for a bit of revenge after having to cope with the nostalgic nightmare that was the 2006 game.

Struggles on Offense

Finding stand out players on the Gators offense was a difficult task and it’s not hyperbole when I say that Gators are one of the worst offensive teams that the Hawkeyes have faced this season. So, with that said, I’ll try my best to keep this as brief as possible.

Let’s start off by addressing the complete mess which is, and has been, the quarterback position.

For the third time this season, the Hawkeyes waltz into a contest where they’re not completely certain who they’ll be facing at quarterback, as Austin Appleby has started the last four games after former incumbent Luke Del Rio went down with an injury. With that said, even before the injury, head coach Jim McElwain was non-committal towards Del Rio’s status as the team’s starter, so if he’s healthy and ready to go, who really knows what will happen.

With all that said, the bottom line is this: Appleby and Del Rio really just aren’t impressive players and both really don’t present the Hawkeyes with anything they haven’t already seen; I wouldn’t be losing much sleep over any of these guys.

When you try looking for the playmaking talent on this offense, the results are practically non-existent. However, the Gators do feature an exciting playmaker on offense that is more than worthy of a mention in this section — sophomore Antonio Callaway. When I came across Callaway, I experienced a feeling that I hadn’t felt with any other player on the Gators offense — excitement.

Coming in at 5’11”, 198-pounds, Callaway is the one true playmaking threat the Gators possess on offense and luckily for them, he’s an impressive player.

When I watch Callaway I see an explosive player after the catch as well as a physical player with the ball in his hands. In addition, Callaway also serves as an excellent addition on special teams, where his contributions as a returner are not to be taken lightly.

The Gators may not have a lot to offer on offense, but the Hawkeyes will certainly be faced with a challenge come Monday.

Showing Their Teeth

Now, that we’ve gone through the woes on the offensive side of the ball, it’s time to center our focus towards the strength of this Gators team — the defense.

On defense, the Gators have playmakers at every level, but the bulk of the premier talent comes in the secondary where the Gators feature two of the nation’s best in junior cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor.

With Wilson, you’re truly talking about one of the more physically impressive and most refined corners in the country, as he possesses the size and athleticism that so many teams covet. However, in addition to Wilson’s size and measurables, he’s also a proven technician at the cornerback position, as he exhibits tremendous eye discipline, trail technique in man coverage, press technique off the line of scrimmage and ball skills to force turnovers and break up passes.

With all that said, Wilson’s one true weakness is that he can be too much of a gambler at times and is prone to losing track or getting baited away from his assignment with good eye deception from opposing quarterbacks.

With Tabor, it’s really just more of the same, which is a testament to how well the Florida football program has been able to produce quality secondary players in recent years.

When I watch Tabor play, I see incredible physicality and a level of scrappiness and confidence that you expect to see from a shutdown defensive back.

Label me bold, but I think maybe, just maybe, the Hawkeyes receivers will have a bit of trouble getting free against these two come Monday.

At Linebacker, the main focus will be on the 6’2”, 238-lb senior Jarrad Davis, who although has been hobbled for much of the season, is still a tremendous player for the Gators defense.

With Davis, you’re looking at a player who has the ability to truly make his mark against the run or against the pass — both in coverage and while blitzing.

When Davis decides it’s time to shoot a gap he does so with violence and burst; he satisfies the football cliche of a man “possessed” when he’s coming after the ball.

That also happens to be one of his Davis’ weaknesses, as he’s prone to whiffing on tackles or over-pursuing on run plays or when the quarterback is able to move away from pressure. In addition, because Davis tends to play all-out nearly every snap, there are times where it’ll look like he’s taking plays off and that’s simply due to exhaustion.

With the Gators defensive line, this is where I believe — having watched them in the offseason — that they took a bit of step back in 2016, as they had more players seemingly regress than improve.

Coming into the season, there was a lot of unproven talent on the Gators defensive line, but in recent years the defense really has never been an issue with this team. However this season the only two players that really stood out on tape to me were defensive tackle Caleb Brantley and defensive end Jordan Sherit (who will miss Outback Bowl with a knee injury).

In my opinion, Brantley is, without question, one of the best defensive tackles in college football, as he’s an absolute force on the inside. Something that many of you will take notice of is that Brantley’s game is similar in a lot of ways to Jaleel Johnson’s. With that said, I feel as though Brantley is the superior player, as his arsenal of pass rushing moves coupled with his explosive get-off make him an extremely difficult player to get a hand on as an offensive lineman.

All in all, yards and points will both be at a premium in this matchup for the Hawkeyes, as the Gators notably rank sixth in total defense, third in passing yards allowed, and tenth in scoring defense.

With so many playmakers and game-altering talents on the Gators defense, it certainly won’t be easy to move the ball. However, when you look at the attrition this Gators team is currently facing with their front seven, I think there will be some opportunities on the ground in this game and it’ll be absolutely crucial not to waste them.

Coming to a Close

When you look at an overview of this matchup, it’s hard to imagine two teams as even on paper than Iowa-Florida. Both squads pride themselves and excel on defense while simultaneously trotting out lackluster offensive play.

As I mentioned earlier, points are sure to be at a premium in this game and as I say that, I truly believe that the Hawkeyes have the advantage in regards to how they’ll be able to move the ball on Monday.

When you take a look at injury report, the Gators will be lining up on defense without star defensive end Jordan Sherit, star safety Marcus Maye, and, likely, senior linebacker Alex Anzalone, all of which are great run defenders. And if there’s one weakness that the Gators have on defense, it’s against the run. When you couple that with how well the Hawkeyes ended their regular season moving the ball down the field on the ground, it seems as though they should have a leg up in that regard.

As we put a bow on the football season with the last opponent preview of the season, I’d like to thank all of those who supported these pieces throughout the year, as it’s truly been another great season of Iowa football.