For Gator Nation Saturdays have become a recurring nightmare, the kind that gives you a cold sweat and sends chills down your spine except, this isn’t a nightmare. It just feels like one. This Saturday didn’t do anything to change that as the season you wish you could forget just became the season you’ll never forget for all the wrong reasons.
Florida’s season has been spiraling out of control with five consecutive losses since recording its last win back on October 5. For the third time since World War II, the Gators have lost six straight games in a season and they will officially end the season under .500 for the first time since the 0-10-1 debacle of 1979, Charley Pell’s first season on the job.
That season will forever be marred by its futility but the loss to Georgia Southern will go down in history books as one of the worst in program history. This was a loss so stunning that the opponent stormed the field and hung around for more than an hour after the final whistle, soaking up the magnitude of their accomplishment and savoring the moment. This was a team that, much like Florida, had a lot to overcome this season. The Eagles traveled to Florida with 19 players on their roster missing due to injury.
Georgia Southern overcame and celebrated. Florida did what Florida has been doing for more than a month.
“Very disappointed for our program,” Muschamp said after the game. “An embarrassment in this situation. Had our opportunities there. The kids kept playing hard.”
As Skyler Mornhinweg’s final pass hit the grass and Georgia Southern stormed the field, Gator players could only look up at the scoreboard, bewildered. What just happened? The team was shocked after a loss to Vanderbilt.
At least Vanderbilt is a conference game.
This was a 6-4 Georgia Southern team with a .500 record in the Southern Conference. That’s the Southern Conference, not the Southeastern Conference.
An upset like this starts with a good scheme and a good game plan. That’s exactly what Jeff Monken did with his football team when they brought their triple option to Gainesville. Muschamp said after the game that the style of offense takes the talent gap that Florida should have had and throws it right out the window.
“That’s what the option does. It takes talent out of the game,” Muschamp said. “You don’t have to block Dante Fowler now. You option off Dante Fowler. You don’t have to account for him anymore in the blocking. That’s why the service academies run it, that’s why they run it, that’s why a lot of these schools run it, because it takes talent out of the equation.”
And the Eagles run their triple option jut about as well as any team in the country can. When the clock was milked of the last seconds remaining in the game, the fighting Eagles of Georgia Southern had attempted just three passes — all incompletions. Florida has allowed two completions four times (Ohio ’02, Auburn ’81, Alabama ’79, Georgia ’77) since 1976 but never have they held a team to zero completed passes.
However, when you run the ball for 429 yards and average 7.9 yards-per-attempt, you really don’t need to throw the football to win games.
“You’ve gotta be able to score and change the scoreboard and get them doing things they don’t want to do,” Muschamp said. “We were unable to do that throughout the game. We had some opportunities. The punter dropped the ball. We didn’t get any points out of it. It’s a combination of things.”
And the head ball coach is right. Georgia Southern turned the ball over twice in the first half. The first fumble came after Georgia Southern blocked Frankie Velez’s 34-yard field goal attempt and set Florida up on GSU’s 14 (Florida would score a touchdown.)
The second turnover came on Florida’s two-yard line and prevented the Eagles from scoring and re-taking the lead in the second quarter. Florida led at halftime but shouldn’t have.
This embarrassing 26-20 loss to a team that sits in FCS/FBS limbo — ineligible for the FCS playoffs or a bowl game this season as they transition from one level of football to another — somehow embodies the season as a whole.
The Gators left standing on the field, hands on hips and jaws near the floor, shocked and bewildered at what had just happened. They walked off of Florida Field with their heads hanging low, wondering when this nightmare season would end.
The end is near, but it is not pretty. Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles will put an end to the season that you won’t be able to forget next week as the Gators send off their seniors in a fashion none of them could have ever imagined when they signed letters of intent four seasons ago.