Another week, another win for the Florida Gators. This time they put the game away before the final seconds of the contest and our ulcers got a break. It was a good game plan and it was executed well despite some impactful injuries. The coaching staff had the Gators prepared and ready to win. While we are at it, let’s give some credit where credit is due. Head coach Jim McElwain and his staff are 9-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Had Malik Davis merely gotten the first down to allow Florida to run out the clock instead of breaking it for a touchdown this game would have made that stat 10-1. You do not post that kind of record in close games by accident or luck. That stat is a very real indicator that this staff knows how to improvise during close games and find a way to get the victory. That, my friends, is a wonderful attribute. Eventually, Mac will have the talent to play the Alabama’s of the world close and find a way to get the win. For what it is worth, I am thrilled that Davis got the touchdown.
Vanderbilt boasts a pretty solid defense, yet the Gators found a way to put up 467 total yards of offense including 218 yards by the much-maligned running game. Malik Davis continued to shine with 124 yards rushing, a 7.3 yard per carry average and two touchdowns. After nine games without a rushing TD by a running back, the backs scored FIVE on Saturday. Quarterback Felipe Franks posted a respectable 84.6 QBR after replacing the injured Luke Del Rio. Ten different Gators caught passes. The point is, the offense FINALLY showed up against SEC competition. The offensive line appears to be coming together. The question is can this team carry that over to the following game or will that most timid of creatures, the Gator offense, withdraw back into hiding when LSU comes to Gainesville this week for homecoming?
It gets tougher from here. Yes, LSU has been struggling but you can rest assured that the Tigers will come to town with a giant chip on their shoulder. The Gators will be facing a roster full of talent and intent Saturday. And they will do it without their best receiver as Tyrie Cleveland misses this game with a high ankle sprain. They will also do it without Luke Del Rio who broke a collar bone and will be gone for the rest of the season. McElwain and his crew seems to get a new challenge added every week. So far, he has been able to keep Florida’s SEC East title hopes alive. Saturday will be another big hurdle.
One large question leading up to this weekend is whether future NFL star running back Derrius Guice will return for the game for LSU. Word is that Guice participated in full-contact practice on Tuesday along with DE Rashard Lawrence and fullback JD Moore. I expect all will play and that this will be a different LSU team from the one that lost to Troy Saturday. In Florida’s favor is the fact that the Tigers’ offensive line has been pushed around by both Troy and Mississippi State. The Gator defensive line should be able to wreak some havoc in the trenches.
There are still issues and concerns with this football team. The linebacker play has been sporadic at best. The secondary has given up way too many passing yards including 264 to Vanderbilt. This might not be a huge liability against LSU since Tigers’ quarterback Danny Etling is still struggling. It will be a liability down the road against teams like UGA, but there is time to improve between now and then. The only concern this week is to defeat LSU. That can be done IF the defense can hold the Tiger running game in check regardless of who lines up behind Etling. That will require better tackling by the linebackers and safeties. Force Etling to beat you and you will likely win the game.
The Gator Nation must resign themselves to the reality that this team is not ready to be dominant at this point and probably will not be at any point this season. The goal for 2017 must be to improve each week, try to win each week to keep hopes of winning the East alive and most importantly convince recruits that this program is ready to challenge for championships with a great recruiting class. All these things are attainable and coach Mac seems to be the right person for that task. His calm and restraint keeps the team on an even keel despite the adversity that has plagued them. That demeanor also pays dividends late in these close games. The team doesn’t panic or lose faith. This is why coach Mac wins tight games and a hothead like Will Muschamp loses them. Teams take on the disposition of their head coach. Which explains why LSU seems lost and inconsistent.
I believe Saturday’s game will be a hard-fought battle between two teams with a lot of talent that truly dislike each other. There will be hard hits and high emotions. This may be more like a prize fight than a football game. The team that wins will likely be the one that avoids turnovers, personal fouls and targeting. In the end, I think the better coach will come away with the victory and Florida will advance to 4-0 in league play.