Florida Gators: Offensive Players Who Need To Step Up In Outback Bowl

The Florida Gators football team will play the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl. Which players need to step up and save the Gators’ offense?


Nov 19, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Austin Appleby (12) hands off to running back Jordan Scarlett (25) during the game against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium. The Gators defeat the Tigers 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators football team have more on the line in the Outback Bowl than one would like to admit. The goal is never to lose a bowl game, of course, but it feels as though Florida is in a position where it needs to win.

Most know what to expect from the defense—simply elite play—but the offense hasn’t been quite as reliable.

Jim McElwain enters the Outback Bowl at 0-1 in bowl games during his tenure as head coach of the Gators. Florida enters the Outback Bowl at 8-4 overall, but has lost back-to-back games in a lopsided manner and is 2-3 since starting the season at 6-1.

One of the primary culprits in the Gators’ collapse from elite play to relative mediocrity has been the inability to consistently generate offense.

Defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes and winning the Outback Bowl would change the tone of the 2016 season entirely. It’d send the seniors and NFL-bound juniors off on a high note and positively influence the trajectory of the Gators football program for future seasons.

The question is: which offensive players need to step up when Florida takes on Iowa in the Outback Bowl?

Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Florida Gators tight end DeAndre Goolsby (30) runs the ball against Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Tony Brown (2) during the second quarter of the SEC Championship college football game at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

5. DeAndre Goolsby

Position: Tight End
Class: Junior
2016 Season Statistics: 36 REC, 315 YDS, 2 TD

The Florida Gators received a pleasant surprise when tight end DeAndre Goolsby stepped up with a career-best performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide. He was one of the few players whom Austin Appleby managed to find on a consistent basis.

If the Gators are going to defeat the Iowa Hawkeyes, then Goolsby must continue to find openings and enable check-down throws when the pocket collapses.

Goolsby pulled in seven receptions for a season-high 91 yards and a touchdown against the vaunted Crimson Tide. It was one of the few reasons to be optimistic about an otherwise forgettable SEC Championship Game.

The obvious question is: can Goolsby continue to develop into the next great Gators tight end by having a signature moment in a bowl game?

It’s worth noting that Goolsby’s two touchdowns were scored against quality opponents: Alabama and the Tennessee Volunteers. Thus, it’s hard to accuse him of being afraid of the moment, even if consistency has been elusive.

Appleby will be tasked with moving the ball downfield, which makes Goolsby’s versatility on short and intermediate routes invaluable to team success.

Oct 15, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland (89) carries the ball to score touchdown in front of Missouri Tigers linebacker Donavin Newsom (25) during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gators won 40-14. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

4. Tyrie Cleveland

Position: Wide Receiver
Class: Freshman
2016 Season Statistics: 13 REC, 282 YDS, 2 TD

The Florida Gators football team may have a future star on its hands with freshman wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland. There are still areas in which he must improve, but Cleveland is a big play waiting to happen.

Though he only has 13 receptions in 2016, Cleveland is averaging an insane 21.7 yards per catch—a number that he may need to replicate against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Cleveland’s average of 21.7 yards per reception is clearly influenced by the 98-yard touchdown he scored against the LSU Tigers. Even if you subtract that score, however, he’s still averaging 15.3 yards per reception.

The bottom line is that, when Cleveland touches the ball, big yardage is usually gained—something of extreme importance for an offense that struggles to move the chains on a consistent basis.

Cleveland had a 36-yard reception against Tennessee, a 46-yard catch against Missouri, and the previously alluded to 98-yard haul against LSU. He doesn’t need to go off for 100-plus yards against Iowa, but Florida will need another big play.

If Austin Appleby and the Gators continue to struggle to move the chains, then it’s players like Cleveland who will define this game with their big play ability.

Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Florida Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) scores a touchdown while defended by Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) during the first quarter of the SEC Championship college football game at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

3. Antonio Callaway

Position: Wide Receiver
Class: Sophomore
2016 Season Statistics: 47 REC, 666 YDS, 3 TD; 4 ATT, 26 YDS, 1 TD; 24 PR, 177 YDS; 3 KR, 97 YDS, 1 TD

Give Antonio Callaway consistent play under center and he’ll be mentioned amongst the country’s elite all-around players. A dynamic playmaker who does a bit of everything, Callaway has been held back by the Florida Gators’ erratic play at quarterback.

Against the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Gators will need Callaway to make the most of his opportunities to create offense against a sturdy defensive unit.

Thus far in 2016, Callaway has caught three touchdowns, rushed for a touchdown, and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Some have compared him to Percy Harvin, with the primary difference being the absence of Tim Tebow under center.

In other words: Callaway is capable of taking over a game in any number of ways—a truth that must shine through against Iowa.

Callaway torched the Kentucky Wildcats for 129 receiving yards and a touchdown, and posted 134 receiving yards against the Tennessee Volunteers. He pulled down six receptions for 58 yards against the Florida State Seminoles, and had 63 yards and a score against the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Austin Appleby needs to look Callaway’s way early and often if the Gators are going to move the chains and put up points through the air against Iowa.

Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Florida Gators running back Jordan Scarlett (25) runs the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first quarter of the SEC Championship college football game at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

2. Jordan Scarlett

Position: Running Back
Class: Sophomore
2016 Season Statistics: 165 ATT, 795 YDS, 4.8 YPC, 6 TD; 4 REC, 23 YDS

The Florida Gators have been able to rely upon sophomore running back Jordan Scarlett for quality production throughout the 2016 season. Though he hasn’t yet established himself as an elite running back, the general consensus is that he’s dangerously close to doing so.

Following a tough two weeks against the Alabama Crimson Tide and Florida State Seminoles, however, Scarlett will need to bounce back strong.

Scarlett ran for 53 yards on 14 carries against the Seminoles and had 17 yards on 11 attempts against the Crimson Tide. Those were uncharacteristically poor showings that were undeniably influenced by the Gators’ erratic passing attack.

Scarlett had run for at least 93 yards in four of the previous five games and 100 in three of those five, however, which is why optimism persists.

The Iowa Hawkeyes are solid against the run, but Scarlett carries high expectations into this game. Lamical Perine could also be featured on this slide as a future star in his own right, but regardless of who does it, Florida needs a running back to move the chains and find the end zone.

The passing attack has been one of the least reliable in the SEC, which makes the running game the primary source of offense for Florida.

Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Austin Appleby (12) scrambles on fourth down against Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson (54) during the third quarter of the SEC Championship college football game at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

1. Austin Appleby

Position: Quarterback
Class: Senior
2016 Season Statistics: 1,225 YDS, 61.4% CMP, 6.66 YPA, 8 TD, 5 INT

The Florida Gators could receive elite contributions from every other player on this list. The harsh reality is: if starting quarterback Austin Appleby fails to step up with a quality performance, the Gators will not win this game.

The Outback Bowl will be the final game of Appleby’s college playing career, which is reason enough to step up and lead Florida to victory.

It’s worth noting that, during his tenure with the Purdue Boilermakers, Appleby has played three games against the Iowa Hawkeyes. He went 5-of-6 for 83 yards and a touchdown in 2013, and 2-of-6 for 11 yards, an interception, and 11 rushing yards in 2014.

In his only full game against Iowa, he completed 23 of 40 throws for 259 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions.

Purdue lost that game 40-20, but Florida has the defensive personnel and running game to better complement Appleby’s efforts. The Boilermakers ran for an average of 3.6 yards per carry and allowed 40 points, which is a combination of truths Florida will look to avoid.

Appleby has a track record of playing well against Iowa, but the Hawkeyes also have game film to study of him.

If the Gators are going to finish the 2016 college football season at 9-4, then Appleby will need to stand tall in the pocket and help lead Florida to victory.

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