It’s been a long month for the Gators and their fans. Losses at LSU, Missouri and the third straight loss to the Georgia Bulldogs have moved the Gators from the driver’s seat in the SEC East to merely a spectator.
With four games left the Gators are now turning their attention to bowl eligibility and not making a run at a SEC Championship. It’s not a place that anyone could forecast heading into the season and certainly not where the coaching staff thought this team would be heading into the second weekend in November.
Taking a look back on the past weekend there was a lot to learn from the game. It was my first trip to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail party — a great experience for any fan. Here’s five things that stood out to me throughout the day about the team.
5. The offensive line played a great game.
I’ll take my crow medium rare, please.
I’ve been extremely critical of the offensive line this season and with D.J. Humphries going down before the game against Georgia, I predicted that the offensive line would look like a turnstile against Georgia.
I couldn’t have been more wrong and the line played what could be their best game of the season after having to move Tyler Moore from right tackle to left tackle and starting Trenton Brown for the first time this season.
Moore was a left tackle at Nebraska his freshman season where he was the first freshman in school history to start their first collegiate game at left tackle. Moore went on to be named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team. While it may seem easy to flip from one tackle spot to the other, it is actually a difficult task. Moore looked more comfortable on the left side and maybe he has found a home in the Gators’ offense.
The line did a very good job of giving Tyler Murphy time to throw and got a pretty consistent push when run blocking. It was a performance that surprised me on Saturday and it makes me think that maybe, just maybe, the coaching staff has found their five starting offensive linemen for the rest of the season.
4. The Gators won’t be a two-back team for long.
Coming into the season the plan was for Matt Jones to get the lion’s share of carries out of the backfield. The stomach illness that kept Jones on the sidelines for all fall camp and the season opener against Toledo derailed those plans and the Gators turned into more of a two-back offense while trying to find consistency in the running attack.
The days of running back by committee may be and should be coming to an end after the performance that Kelvin Taylor put out against Georgia. Taylor carried the ball 20 times for 76 yards against a Georgia team ranked fourth in the SEC in rush defense. Taylor ran the ball with conviction and appears to have a firm grasp on the starting tailback spot from here on out.
On Monday Will Muschamp said that Taylor was “pretty much” the feature back against Georgia and that Taylor would continue to be that feature back the rest of the way.
3. Another slow start for the Gators defense.
In 2012, the Gators started slow in most games but they consistently made adjustments at halftime and were able to overcome starting slow. That hasn’t been the case this season.
This year the Gators have given up 137 points on the season with nearly half of those (62) coming in the first quarter alone. There are slow starts and then there are the Gators in the first quarter in 2013.
I can’t explain why the defense has started slow this season. There isn’t one thing that you can point to and say, “That’s why they’re starting slow” because there is seemingly something different each game.
Will Muschamp took the blame on Monday saying that the staff needs to coach better but at some point you need the defense to come out and punch the opponent in the mouth from the first snap and not waiting until the third quarter.
2. The fight that the team showed in the second half was encouraging.
The Gators got beat down in the first half against Georgia but showed resiliency and a new-found sense of urgency in the second half.
Sitting high up in the press box it seemed like the team came out of the tunnel in the second half with a fire lit under them. The players on the bench were turned around, pumping up the fans as the defense clenched their jaw and clamped down on the Bulldogs.
After just one drive the fans — who resembled a church congregation in the first half — woke up, feeding off of the energy that the team was giving them, in turn giving the team even more energy to mount a comeback.
In the end, the comeback fell short but you have to be proud of the way the team came out in the second half. They rallied around each other, around the fans and around the coaching staff and came a few plays short of what would have been one of the most incredible comebacks in Florida-Georgia history.
It does beg the question of why the team didn’t come out and play the way they did in the second half to start the game? Why has the team been unable to put a whole 60 minutes together this season?
1. The atmosphere around the stadium was incredible.
This was my first trip to Jacksonville for a Florida-Georgia game. I arrived at EverBank Field around 10:30 to give myself some time before the game to walk around and soak up the atmosphere at The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
People tell you that when you first drive over the bridge and see the sea of orange/blue and black/red that it’s a sight to behold. They’re right.
When I pulled up to the stadium the tailgate was already in full swing, there’s nothing like a little beer for breakfast and the alcohol was flowing in the parking lots around the stadium. There were chants of “orange, blue”, “Go Gators” and more people barking back at them (literal barking) than I had ever seen.
The Georgia fans’ bark was worse than their bite and from what I saw the two fan-bases were cordial with each other throughout the morning.
If you haven’t been to Jacksonville for the game it is a trip that I would highly recommend. It’s the kind of game day experience that can’t be put into words, it needs to be experienced.