Texas A&M Aggies: Latroy Pittman

Inside look: Q&A with GatorNation

September, 4, 2012
9/04/12
10:30
AM ET
Each week this season, GigEmNation will visit with a reporter that covers Texas A&M's upcoming opponent. This week, we visit Michael DiRocco of ESPN's GatorNation.

Sam Khan Jr.: After playing two quarterbacks -- Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett -- against Bowling Green, coach Will Muschamp named Driskel the starter for Saturday. What's your assessment of the quarterback situation heading into the Texas A&M game?

Michael DiRocco: This will be Driskel’s game from start to finish. Muschamp has elected to go with the more mobile Driskel because that adds an additional element to the Gators’ offense. Driskel was solid against Bowling Green (10-for-16, 114 yards, 1 TD) but he missed several throws and hesitated on several others. That’s normal for all young quarterbacks, though, but getting past that is something that could have been accelerated a bit had he not had to split practice reps with Brissett throughout the spring and in August.

SK: With Texas A&M starting a redshirt freshman quarterback (Johnny Manziel) who will be making his first start, what kind of approach do you think we should expect to see from Florida's defense?

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida sophomore QB Jeff Driskel will be the starter against Texas A&M.
MD: The Gators will play almost exclusively nickel against the Aggies, which allows them to take advantage of their deep and talented secondary. The best way to rattle a young QB is to put pass rushers in his face and make him make quick decisions. UF would love to do that with just the front four, but the Gators were inconsistent with that last week against Bowling Green. If they can’t, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has got several blitz packages designed to get pressure up the middle. Safety Matt Elam is a pretty good blitzer who may figure prominently in those plans.

SK: After piling up 220 rushing yards on the ground against Bowling Green, do you see the Gators continuing to emphasize the run, and particularly Mike Gillislee, when they come to College Station?

MD: Absolutely. Muschamp wants to be a pro-style, power-run team – Alabama is the blueprint – and that means a heavy dose of Gillislee. He’s the Gators’ best back and he’s coming off a 24-carry, 148-yard performance. The question will be whether the Gators will continue to be stubborn and try to run the ball against stacked fronts or if they’ll open the offense up a bit. Muschamp says he’ll take the handcuffs off offensive coordinator Brent Pease this week, but with a young QB making his first career start, the safest play would be to go conservative.

SK: It appeared that the Gators struggled in short-yardage running situations on Saturday. Is that an aberration or do you suspect that could be a lingering issue for Florida?

MD: That’s could be a lingering issue because it’s on the offensive line. The unit didn’t get much movement at all in those short-yardage plays. It’s a group that was supposed to be tougher and stronger this season after working with new strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman. It didn’t look that way against Bowling Green in those short-yardage situations. Maybe that was an aberration, but if the line had trouble with the Falcons, what will it do against SEC defensive lines?

SK: The Gators' defense is clearly fast and athletic. How do you see the unit responding to an accelerated offensive tempo, which Texas A&M is expected to employ?

MD: It’s a concern, but it’s a veteran defense in its second season in Quinn’s system. That should mean better communication from the sideline and on the field between players. The Gators have studied tape of Kevin Sumlin’s Houston teams and should be prepared for the up-tempo style. Plus, it’s Texas A&M’s first game and there’s bound to be glitches, especially with a freshman QB. That might keep the Aggies from being as crisp with the up-tempo pace as they will be later in the season.

SK: Though his tenure hasn't been long, give me your assessment of the job Will Muschamp has done so far.

MD: He’s done a very good job recruiting, although his first class – which he assembled in about two months – hasn’t produced much in the way of significant contributors. This year’s group of freshmen shows promise, specifically defensive ends Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler, offensive linemen Jessamen Dunker and D.J. Humphries, tight end Kent Taylor and receiver Latroy Pittman. His game-day coaching ability remains a question mark.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

4. Texas A&M: This isn't the fastest group out there, but there are some pretty reliable weapons, starting with star Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu was third on the team with 50 catches for 639 yards and three tight ends -- Nehemiah Hicks, Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau -- return. Keep an eye on junior Nate Askew, who could be a downfield threat this fall.

5. LSU: Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top rookies last year and could be even better in Year 2. He'll be joined by potential deep threat and big-play target Jarvis Landry, who developed some good chemistry with quarterback Zach Mettenberger this spring. Russell Shepard is talented, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Keep an eye on junior James Wright and incoming frosh Avery Johnson, who is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson. Also, tight end Chase Clement is on the John Mackey watch list.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
Don McPeak/US PresswireWide receiver Jordan Matthews is one player the Commodores will be counting on this fall.
6. Vanderbilt: This group surprised last year and returns most of its components, starting with Jordan Matthews, who was fourth in the SEC in receiving last year. Sophomore Chris Boyd was solid last year, hauling in 31 catches and eight touchdowns. Jonathan Krause is very good in space and should see his role increase this fall after a solid spring. The coaches are excited about former QB Josh Grady moving to receiver. Replacing tight end Brandon Barden won't be easy.

7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of experience here, but this group has still underperformed at times, especially senior Chad Bumphis, who has yet to live up to all the hype that followed him from high school. Seniors Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 65 catches last year, while the staff is very excited about the big-play potential redshirt freshman Joe Morrow possesses. Tight end Malcolm Johnson serves as a very reliable tight end target, as well.

9. Missouri: The Tigers lost two starting receivers and stud tight end Michael Egnew, but three of the top five pass catchers are back, including inside threat T.J. Moe, who led Mizzou in receiving last year. Big things are expected from Marcus Lucas, who can stretch the field with his speed and physicality, and the coaches think L'Damian Washington can also be a downfield threat. Also, Dorial Green-Beckham, last year's top recruit, should make an immediate impact. Eric Waters is replacing Egnew, but has just two career catches and suffered a knee injury this spring.

10. Auburn: Emory Blake is one of the league's top downfield threats and has been one of Auburn's most consistent offensive weapons. So has tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who should be more of a passing threat with the addition of transfer fullback Jay Prosch. There is a lot of depth, but it's unproven. Trovon Reed was supposed to be a star, but had a lackluster second year. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have 15 and 14 career catches, respectively. Quan Bray has shown potential and could have a bigger role this season and keep an eye on freshman Ricardo Louis.

11. Florida: The Gators have struggled here since 2009 and still lack proven playmakers. Andre Debose is probably the best bet to be one, but he's been very inconsistent. Quinton Dunbar has the speed to be an outside threat, but caught just 14 passes last year. And the coaches are still waiting for senior Frankie Hammond Jr. to turn things up. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring and the coaches are excited about his potential. Tight end Jordan Reed is one of the most athletic players in the league and will be a bigger target with two young quarterbacks throwing the ball.

12. South Carolina: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, the Gamecocks have questions and inexperience here. The fast, athletic Ace Sanders is the only returning pass catcher with at least 20 catches from last year (29). The hope is Bruce Ellington will be more of a factor this fall. Tight ends Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for 26 catches and four touchdowns. Damiere Byrd has blazing speed, but caught just one pass last year. DeAngelo Smith had a solid spring, and the coaches hope he can be a downfield threat. A lot will be expected from incoming freshman Shaq Roland.

13. Ole Miss: Sophomore Donte Moncrief is a budding star in this league and thinks he'll be even better in Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year, but had a very good spring. But Nickolas Brassell was an academic casualty and Randall Mackey had to move over from quarterback. The coaches are looking for consistency from Terrell Grant and Vince Sanders, who are both pretty unproven. Tight end Jamal Mosley is expected to do more in the spread and averaged 13.8 yards per catch last year.

14. Kentucky: Joker Phillips' goal this spring was to find more playmakers and he thinks he did with sophomore Demarco Robinson, who had five receptions last year, and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins. The hope is that they'll take some pressure off of La'Rod King, who is really the only proven receiving threat on the team. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson did well this spring, but combined for just 10 catches last year.

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