I don’t think I’ve ever been less upset about a loss. Really. I would have been more distraught if the Gators had been blown out in Baton Rouge. But, trailing by two touchdowns at the half and coming back to tie the game on the road, against one of the best teams in the country and with all of the week’s distractions was a clear demonstration of the tenacity of this Florida team. This is NOT the Gators we have seen the last couple of years.
The game really came down to a handful of defensive breakdowns by the Gators mostly in the first half. Florida only gave up a single touchdown in the second half and that was on a fake field goal that quite frankly should not have happened. I knew it was going to be a fake, there is no excuse for the Florida coaching staff not expecting it. This staff has done so much good that it is difficult to fault them on much, but that could have and should have been prevented. But, what’s done is done.
The simple truth is that this was a game that Florida was expected to lose all along. It is a loss that changes virtually nothing in the greater scheme of things. In fact, I have been extremely reluctant to buy into the idea that the Gators are actually contenders for the four team playoff. Strangely enough, Saturday’s loss has convinced me that Florida is not only still alive for the playoffs but a realistic contender.
Florida will not play consistently good defense again until Florida State comes to the Swamp in late November. With Nick Chubb out for the season at Georgia, there is not another game changer on offense until Dalvin Cook with FSU. While no game can be considered a win in advance, there is no reason to expect Florida to lose to Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina or Florida Atlantic. There is every reason to believe that the Florida Gators may well be 10-1 going into the FSU game with a visit to Atlanta the following week.
I heard or read where several Gator fans voiced extreme skepticism that Treon Harris could move the offense against a quality SEC defense. Treon was 17 of 32 for 271 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Treon can move the offense just fine. He does not have the arm that Will Grier does but he makes plays. And there are finally playmakers on the offense. Demarcus Robinson, Brandon Powell, Jake McGee and most importantly Antonio Callaway have all be dependable receivers. This is a luxury the Gators have not enjoyed for quite some time.
It is not Harris and the passing game that I am worried about. I get tired of saying this every week, and I’m sure you get tired of reading it, but the biggest threat to the Gators’ success remains the inability to generate a consistent running game. A decent running game would make Treon’s job a little easier. Against LSU, Florida averaged a pathetic 1.8 yards per carry. Leonard Fournette gained more yards falling down than our guys did for their entire runs. This shortcoming is mostly attributed to a failure on the part of the offensive line to open running lanes, but at some point great running backs have to make plays. It is time for Kelvin Taylor to make somebody miss, break a few tackles, something, anything. A 1.8 yard average just isn’t going to cut it.
Special teams play is sufficient in some areas. Johnny Townsend is a solid punter and the punt coverage was outstanding. Punt returns were spectacular with Callaway returning one 72 yards for a touchdown. Kick returns are nothing short of horrendous. I am not sure Powell is the answer here. I will say again that if Powell is going to return kicks he should be told to NEVER take the ball out of the end zone since he never seems to get to the 25 yard line anyway. Add in the risk of a block in the back and the ball at the five yard line and it is just a much better idea to kneel and take it out to the 25.
Defensively, the secondary got abused in the first half but seemed to find their way again after halftime. Based on Jim McElwain’s comment at halftime, I assume the breakdowns in the secondary were caused by players trying to do too much and getting out of position. I know that Fournette got 180 yards but he is the best running back I’ve seen since Adrian Peterson and he is going to get his yards. It was the big pass plays that doomed the Gators, not Fournette.
What impressed me yet again, was the adjustments that Geoff Collins and the defense made at halftime. Again, LSU only scored seven points in the second half and that took a fake field goal. I have been incredibly awed by how quickly this coaching staff has turned things around. So much so that it is difficult to fault them at anything, even the fake field goal. Sometimes, the other guy just does his job too. It is clear that these guys understand the game and are capable of making changes mid-game. That is what it takes to win championships.
The Gators now have two weeks to get rested, healthy and prepared for the The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. The game plan for Georgia should be very similar to the game plan for LSU only easier. Stop the run and force them to prove they can beat you through the air. Sony Michel is good but he is not even in the same discussion with Fournette and Bulldog quarterback Greyson Lambert has been atrocious the last few games. In fact, I would not be at all surprised to see Georgia start Brice Ramsey instead of Lambert.
Beat Georgia and the Gators are virtually assured a spot in the SEC Championship Game and would likely go into the FSU game with one loss and ranked in the top ten. That would be an incredible accomplishment from where this program was at the end of last season. Anyone still wanting to lay blame on athletic director Jeremy Foley for the hiring of Will Muschamp must now concede that the hiring of Jim McElwain appears to be sheer genius. Put this loss in the rear view mirror and go thump the Bulldogs and this season could become something really special.