Let me make one thing clear: The NFL and college football are two very different things. In no way, shape or form could the Florida Gators even competitively play on the same field as the 49ers (or any other NFL team, for that matter).
Also, it is still very early in the season. This observation is based only off of Florida’s season-opening 24-6 win over Toledo on Saturday. But, man, do the Gators remind me of watching San Francisco last fall.
Keep in mind; I’m talking about the pre-Kaepernick 49ers, specifically the time when Alex Smith was under center. Even that team made it to the NFC championship game in 2012. Do the Gators have that kind of potential? Can their defense carry their offense to the SEC championship and potentially the title game? Let’s play “Fun with NFL Comparisons”!
I don’t know if any NFL scouts have made this comparison before, but Jeff Driskel reminded me of Alex Smith on Saturday. He was efficient, never really going for the long bomb, letting the running game dictate the pace of the game.
In 2012, Smith had more than 300 yards passing just once in nine games. He attempted more than 30 passes just twice, compiling a 70.2% completion percentage. And most importantly, many would argue, the Niners went 6-2-1 in games he started.
On Saturday, Driskel looked calmer in the pocket than he did most of last season, going 17 for 22 (77.3%) for 153 yards and one touchdown. He may be called a game manager with more similar games, but at least he is a successful one. The outcome against Toledo was never in question.
And unlike Smith, Driskel can tuck it and run. He had 408 rushing yards last season, averaging 3.5 yards per carry, and he ran the ball eight times for 19 yards on Saturday (including two Toledo sacks).
San Francisco’s weapon of choice, for quite a while, has been Frank Gore. He is a bruiser who punches you in the gut repeatedly until you give in. In 2012, Gore had 1214 yards, averaging 4.71 yards per carry.
He was key to the Niners offense functioning efficiently because Smith needed Gore to be productive so he could manage the game well.
The Gators offense, absent a true deep threat, needs a running back like that as well. The plus side is, they’ve got two. Although Matt Jones missed Saturday’s game due to his recovery from a viral infection, Mack Brown showed everyone why he was a crucial part of the team.
Brown carried the ball 25 times for 153 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and scoring two touchdowns. He was the X-factor on offense, opening up the quick passing game for Driskel.
For me, the comp here is Trey Burton to Vernon Davis. Each has proven useful as their quarterback’s security blanket, and each comes up with big plays.
Burton was the Gators leading receiver against Toledo, catching five passes for 69 yards. He has always been the reliable receiver in the Gators offense.
Davis has been reliable for the Niners for a long time, as he has played 16 games per season for each of the last five years. He has 12.6 yards per reception average for his career.
Burton is critical to Driskel’s success, as Davis was to Smith’s.
These defensive lines beat you up. The Niners were widely regarded as the most physical team in the league defensively last season, and the Gators are known around the SEC as one of the toughest matchups for an offense.
Will Muschamp has often talked of his team’s mentality to win the game at the line of scrimmage, and that is what these defenses do.
Led by Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, who combined for 114 tackles and 22.5 sacks last season, the Niners front four created constant pressure on the quarterback.
The Gators defensive line is led by Dominique Easley, and the return of Ronald Powell this season will certainly help the Gators replace Shariff Floyd on the line.
Dashon Goldson and Carlos Rogers were just a couple of the guys who bolstered the 49ers secondary last year, a squad that took a step back from the year before, but was still solid defensively.
The Gators look like they won’t be taking much of a step back this season. Even without top corner Loucheiz Purifoy in the opener, they managed to hold Toledo to 155 yards passing. And the impressive debut of Vernon Hargreaves III, who made an interception by jumping a route and quickly moving in front of the receiver, only adds depth to what is already a strong secondary.
This one is too easy. Both Will Muschamp and Jim Harbaugh are fiery, gesticulation-filled mad men who are known more for their antics than anything else. But they also share another common trait: They are pretty darn good coaches.
Each emphasizes the importance of being more physical than the other team, and neither ever panics. They stick to their game plan, and are patient enough to see whether it will play out.
It’s too soon to say, especially because Florida’s schedule is loaded with difficult SEC opponents, but they definitely proved some people wrong last year in losing just one game.
And if the ‘efficient quarterback, powerful running game, overwhelming defense’ model is a success at the NFL level, who’s to say it can’t work for the Gators?
We’ll just have to wait and see how things play out. Do you think the Gators share similarities with any teams? Are my comparisons completely misguided? Let me know what you think in the comments.