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Inside the Gators staffers Andrew Olson and Mark Wheeler take a closer look at this weekend's match-up between Florida and Michigan, including predicting a winner.
1) Which suspension will have the bigger impact: Antonio Callaway or Jordan Scarlett?"
Olson: I think Florida was better prepared to lose its top wide out than its top running back. Against a defense like Michigan, the Gators need to win in the trenches and Jordan Scarlett is the back you count on in those situations. I expect Lamical Perine to get the most carries on Saturday, but I also think the the running back by committee approach will return with Mark Thompson and Malik Davis getting touches.
Perine had his moments last year, notching two 100-yard performances (Kentucky, Missouri), but he did not finish the 2016 campaign particularly strong. He rushed for 36 yards on 13 combined carries against Florida State, Alabama and Iowa (to be fair, none of the Gators were able to run on Alabama). For comparison purposes, Scarlett logged 39 carries for 164 yards in those three games.
I think Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain are in better position to pickup the slack of no Callaway, especially with more time to prepare.
Wheeler: Talk about having to choose between receiving a punch in the face or a punch in the gut, in Callaway and Scarlett you are talking about Florida's most productive returning receiver and rusher. So, losing them both hurts immensely.
However, as for the question as to which loss causes the biggest impact, I have to go with Callaway.
If, as advertised, Florida has dramatically improved up-front, as long as the holes are there, there isn't a huge drop-off from Scarlett to Perine. I also like the added dimension Davis brings to the table as a player with the ability to take one to the house.
In my opinion had either Luke Del Rio or Malik Zaire been chosen as the starting quarterback, I probably would have gone with Scarlett as the bigger loss. Though neither have started a ton of games, they have been there, done that in that they have at least started, and started away from home.
However, on the other hand you have Feleipe Franks making his first start, on the road, minus his most proven, most productive weapon in the passing game. It would have been nice for Franks to have the safety blanket of having Callaway available if for no other than psychological reasons. But, of course, he was once again able to find trouble off-the-field.
2) Which match-up most favorably favors Florida? Where do you think Michigan has the greatest edge?
Olson: Florida's wide receivers versus Michigan's secondary should be the biggest edge for the Gators. The Wolverines are breaking in a new unit on the back end and Feleipe Franks is comfortable throwing to Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond, Dre Massey, Brandon Powell and Freddie Swain.
I think Michigan's defensive line, especially Rashan Gary, will cause problems for Florida's offensive line. Under McElwain, the Gators have had trouble up front against big, physical teams.
Wheeler: It would be easy to go with Florida's huge edge in kicking/punting. Actually, too easy, so I'll go in a different direction.
On paper Florida's offensive line matching up against Michigan's defensive line is supposed to be strong suit vs. strong suit. Even though they are a bit younger and less experienced, assuming Martez Ivey is reasonably healthy going against Rashan Gary, I still like the Gators in this match-up – especially as the game enters the fourth quarter. The Wolverines don't have much proven depth along the line whatsoever. If they aren't able to rotate players in and out without much of a drop-off, that is a huge advantage for the Gators.
Michigan's greatest edge is along the sidelines.
No matter what category they are being judged upon, across the board Jim Harbaugh is considered to be a better head coach than Jim McElwain. One of the most telling stats to me is that in his first two years at Florida, McElwain is 2-6 when facing teams ranked ahead of the Gators in the AP Poll. That boiled down to the bone signifies that if he doesn't have a talent advantage, CJM hasn't shown the ability to get the W.
Well, the Wolverines (No. 11) are ranked ahead of the Gators (No. 17). Also, keep in mind that the rankings came out before it was known that Florida would be down 10 players due to suspension.
3) Which freshman do you expect to make the biggest impact against the Wolverines?
Olson: Marco Wilson has earned playing time over the others as a starter. As far as an x-factor like impact, I like Kadarius Toney. I think he'll make at least one big highlight play.
Wheeler: Since we didn't specify whether the pick had to be a true freshman, this one is easy, Franks should have the biggest impact of Florida's freshmen on Saturday.
What remains to be seen is if the impact he makes will be of a positive or negative nature for the Gators.
I'll go with him being solid, but unspectacular.
That means, I'll say a 60% completion percentage to go with, 2-3 touchdowns, 1-2 interceptions and roughly 225 or so yards through the air.
4) What is your prediction on the outcome of the game?
Olson: Franks has the arm to give Florida a potent passing attack, but the Gators will struggle if they're one dimensional on offense. Scarlett is the team’s hardest runner, a tackle-breaker who gets yards after contact because he’s so difficult to bring down. I think Perine makes a solid complementary running back, but I'm not yet sold on him as a primary ball-carrier. I see more offensive drives stalling out without Scarlett able to pick up those hard yards. More Florida punts will mean fewer points scored.
My score: Before the Scarlett suspension, I liked Florida by a field goal 27-24. Now, I have to take a Gators touchdown off the board and go Michigan 24-20.
Wheeler: To me this outcome will be determined by the play of the Florida defense more-so than the offense. While I do believe the Gators will be at the very least marginally improved offensively, this game, this season, is more about how much of a fall off from last year there is on the defensive side of the ball.
Yes the suspensions are a hit – but they aren't a surprise and though the two players lost are the two most productive offensive players on the team, neither possess the type of talent or playmaking ability that is irreplaceable. To me, Marcell Harris is a bigger loss than either Callaway or Scarlett.
This will come off as me hedging my bets, but what I believe is going to happen here is that the distractions over the last two weeks will either light a fire under the team and the Gators will win a close one. Or, at the first sign of adversity in the game, the load will seem too heavy to carry, that will be the straw the breaks the Gators back, they'll fold up tent and it will be a blowout.
My score: I'll go with all of the side show issues causing the team to come together and win a close one. I'll say Florida 28-27.
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