After a certain point, it seemed pointless to keep track of all the mistakes that were littering a dirty field at AllTel Stadium in Jacksonville.
The powers that be in college football wanted this neutral-site rivalry to ditch its longstanding nickname, but this game sure felt like a cocktail party, with all the garbage strewn about the 120-yard-long and 53-yard-wide expanse. In the end, though, there’s only one thing that truly mattered: Florida beat the hated rival from Athens yet again. The Gators have just Vandy and South Carolina in their path on the road to Atlanta. The drive home from Jacksonville will be a happy one. The holy war–while fought with sloppiness and rust–was ultimately won.
Let’s spare you the details. You saw this game. You suffered through the miscues and mental meltdowns and shanked kicks. No need to rehash the woefully obvious.
Let’s deal with game management instead, and probably the biggest development in this contest: the maturation of Urban Meyer.
In the South Carolina nightmare from 2005, Meyer’s sense of late-game clock and game management was quite impoverished, and the way the Florida coach handled those final four minutes in Columbia had more than a little to do with the way that game played out. But against Georgia (the Bulldogs almost always lose to the Gators, but they never allow Florida to look good in the process), Meyer put on a clinic down the stretch.
Coaches have to have a feel for the ebb and flow of a game. They have to know when to step on the gas pedal, and when to hit the brakes. Each game is its own entity, demanding a fresh evaluation based on singular and unique circumstances. On a gorgeous evening near the St. John’s River, Meyer’s fourth-quarter game management was… well… saintly.
Mindful of the fact that Georgia needed Gator mistakes to stay in the game and ultimately draw within seven at 21-14, Meyer–with an offense going nowhere quickly–wisely calculated that by running the ball, albeit with some nuance and creativity, he would maximize his team’s chances of winning. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Florida didn’t need to score in the final several minutes against Georgia. The Gators merely had to shorten the game while avoiding the big mistake (which almost happened had not Billy Latsko, the offensive MVP of this team, pounced on a fumble just inside the three-minute mark).
This strategy proved to be brilliant, as the Gators easily snuffed out Georgia’s last drive without the slightest hint of a threat. The sweat that might have issued forth through the pores of Florida fans in the late going had more to do–in all likelihood–with the struggles of the offense, rather than the ability of the defense to hang tough. Meyer is paid big coin to make the right choices late in SEC deathmatches, and on Saturday, he earned every cent of his salary.
But now, if Meyer wants to continue to prove his worth, he’ll get his offense in shape, because Vandy–while without Jay Cutler–is good enough to pick off Florida if the Gator offense struggles the way it did in Jacksonville.