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Monday, October 15, 2012
Florida is an enigma, like 2006

By Edward Aschoff

Halfway through the 2012 season, the comparisons are already coming: Is this Florida team destined to repeat what it accomplished in 2006?

It sounds crazy, it really does, but the similarities are there. The offense isn’t exactly pretty, but the defense is stellar. Both running games have bulls in the backfield (2006 had a young Tim Tebow and power back DeShawn Wynn). Urban Meyer used more of a pounding spread, while Will Muschamp (also in his second year, like Meyer) has his team grinding along and outplaying everyone in the second half.

Chris Leak
Chris Leak was a legitimate threat throwing the ball for the 2006 Florida team, something that lacks in this season's version.
The 2006 team didn't really feel like a true national championship contender halfway through the season because it never blew anyone away with the offense dragging along.

But somehow, the wins kept piling up, as toughness, not flash, got it done ... just like this year's team.

But can these Gators make a run to the national championship, or even the SEC championship? Can a team that has averaged 69 passing yards in its past two games really make it through the rest of its SEC schedule and beyond?

So far a mediocre passing game has been enough with that tremendous defense and rugged running game. But for this team to get on the 2006 team’s level, some things have to change, especially with No. 7 South Carolina venturing into the Swamp on Saturday.

For starters, the Gators have to be a threat to throw. In 2006, Chris Leak, who eventually became Florida’s all-time leading passer, was very much a passing threat. He didn’t throw for a lot of yards, averaging just 210 yards a game, but defenses had to account for a balanced Gators offensive attack.

This year’s team doesn’t really have that in Jeff Driskel. He’s a tremendous athlete and can throw a good ball, but he’s averaging just 139 yards a game and has four touchdown passes.

Now, Driskel doesn’t have the receiving threats Leak had. Frankie Hammond Jr., Quinton Dunbar, Jordan Reed and Andre Debose just don’t generate the same excitement as Percy Harvin, Andre Caldwell, Dallas Baker and Cornelius Ingram.

Sure, the Gators haven’t exactly needed to throw the ball with their running game and defense, but when Driskel has to pass against good defenses, will he be able to? It’s still a mystery, and that has to be concerning.

When you compare the defenses, the pass rushes are very different. The 2006 team had Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey, who combined for 18.5 sacks. That team had 34 sacks. This one has just 12. Quick passing teams hurt Florida’s pass rush to start the year, but it has to be more consistent in SEC play.

This year’s team does win the kicking battle with All-American hopeful Caleb Sturgis, and you could argue that the running game is stronger with Mike Gillislee.

Even with Tebow and Harvin helping out Wynn, those Gators averaged 160 rushing yards a game. Having more of a passing game cut into the rushing numbers, but Wynn wasn’t Gillislee, who leads all SEC running backs with 615 rushing yards and is one of only two backs to average 100 or more yards a game (102.5). Wynn finished the 2006 season with just 699 yards.

Mike Gillislee
Mike Gillislee is averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season.
Add Driskel, Omarius Hines, Solomon Patton and Trey Burton, and these Gators are second in the SEC in rushing, averaging 233.3 yards per game and 236 in conference play.

When it comes to points, both teams are pretty even. The 2006 team averaged 29 points and gave up 9.5 through the first six games (all wins as well), while this year’s team is scoring 27.8 and allowing 12.3. This year’s team is also averaging around 20 yards fewer (378.3) and giving up 40 more yards (297.2).

So the similarities are obvious, but this team doesn’t have the experience the 2006 team had, and you have to wonder if that will eventually catch up to it.

I have to admit I was very surprised to see Florida at No. 2 in the first BCS standings. Don’t get me wrong, the Gators have been impressive with those back-to-back SEC road wins, the second-half pushes, the win over LSU, and that defense and running game.

But No. 2?

In the right light, is this Florida team really a 2 or is it more like a 4, or even a 5? We’ll find out with South Carolina and Georgia next.

Florida might be a tough team to truly figure out, but the 6-0 start is a pleasant surprise. A team that was expected to be nothing more than a distant third in the East could be playing in Atlanta in early December.

That’s something the 2006 team would be very proud of.