The rest of the college football season has been cancelled because Georgia won the national championship Saturday night. Don’t believe it? Just ask them. It is brutal living up here right now. You would think that the Bulldogs won the game with LSU by three touchdowns. Based on the talk you hear around town, you would have no idea that a fortuitous dropped punt created a 14-point swing in a game where both teams seemed to score on every possession. Nope, Georgia proved to the world that they are unbeatable and now it is just a matter of waiting until December when their unstoppable offense will score a hundred points on Alabama in the Georgia Dome. Uh-huh.
Meanwhile, Florida and Alabama have other plans. The Crimson Tide defense returned to normal against a decent Ole Miss team Saturday and pitched a shutout. Nick Saban has no intentions of seeing his team continue to give up thirty points. Make no mistake it is defense that has made the SEC the premier conference in college football. Maybe 44-41 scores belong in the PAC 12 or the Big 12 but not the SEC. This is important if the SEC wants to continue its streak of national championships. If UGA or Texas A&M or LSU get to the national championship game they may very well be no match for an Oregon or Ohio State because you beat those teams with defense not offense. Defense is what has dominated these last seven national championship games for the SEC.
One thing Georgia fans have been quick to point out this week is that Florida could only muster 24 points against lowly Kentucky. If you watched the game and have any real understanding of the game of football you know that the Gators could have scored 45 or more had that been the game plan. The television coverage made a big production of pointing out that Florida averages 31 seconds per offensive play. Oregon averages in the upper teens. The Gators hold onto the football for almost two-thirds over every game. This is by design. Florida’s defensive talent is superb but some of the dominance is due to the fact that the other team’s offense only gets around twenty minutes per game on the field. No matter how good your quarterback is he cannot throw a touchdown pass from the sideline.
Head coach Will Muschamp absolutely let the air of the ball in the second half against Kentucky. Like most Gators I was kind of hoping he would turn the offense loose for at least the third quarter, build a real nice lead and play some of the freshmen. However, that is not the Muschamp way and the Muschamp way gives Florida the chance to win every game they are play. If at any point in a football game Muschamp determines that the opposing team can only beat him if he helps them he will play keep away for the rest of the game. Equate it to the old Dean Smith four corners offense. One constant about prolific offenses is that you cannot let them get into a rhythm. Once that happens they will light up the scoreboard. Virtually every team that beat Steve Spurrier’s Gators did so by running the ball down Florida’s throat and keeping the Fun ‘N’ Gun from getting in rhythm.
When one of those high flying offenses figures out that they are only going to get a handful of possessions they force things and make mistakes. Suddenly, they are throwing the ball at the receivers’ feet on a screen play or horribly overthrowing a pass downfield and soon they are faced with third and longs. This is why Florida leads the SEC in third down defense. With the run play off the table and third and long, Dante Fowler and Ronald Powell can pin their ears back and meet at the quarterback. Then the grinding Gator offense is back out on the field using every second of each play clock and frustrating the opposing offensive coordinator. This philosophy is not pretty but it wins football games. In fact, about the only way it fails is if the Florida offense gets generous and turns the ball over. It is reasonable to believe that Muschamp’s Gators will not lose any game where they win the turnover battle and keep the penalties at least in check.
Of course, Florida has not faced the better teams on their schedule just yet. LSU, UGA and FSU will all be far more potent on offense than anyone the Gators have played in this young season. And before we get ahead of ourselves, Arkansas brings a pretty good offense to The Swamp on Saturday. This will be a step up from Tennessee and Kentucky, which means it will also be an opportunity to continue improving as a team with hopes of reaching the level it will take to defeat LSU in Baton Rouge on October 12. More importantly, from my perspective, at least, is enough improvement by November 2 to beat Georgia. I might have to move if the Bulldogs win that game again this year.
I, like most Gator fans, continued to be haunted by that Miami game. That game should have been a Florida victory and the public perception of the Gators would be different now. However, all of the goals are still intact and if allowed to do things his way, Muschamp could actually lead the Gators to an 11-1 regular season again. That may prove to be too big a task this season but I will all but guarantee that those predicting a five-loss season after the Miami game were wrong. For now Florida has to follow that most overused of all coachspeak and take them one game at a time. Arkansas can beat you if you do not play your best game. Get this one in the win column and then things get REAL interesting.