This is what I waited anxiously all summer long for? That was my initial reaction to the game Saturday. This game was ugly. Again. The aftermath? For the first time since he was hired I have serious doubts about whether head coach Jim McElwain will get the job done at Florida. This was supposed to be the season he finally had the pieces in place to field a viable offense. This season, there are six scholarship quarterbacks to choose from. This season, there is a long list of available offensive linemen, many of whom have game experience. This season playmakers abound in the passing game. This season, the excuses for offensive ineptitude are all gone. The Gators should finally be in the upper half of the nation in offense. And yet, in a nationally televised season opener, the Gators managed just 192 total yards of offense and only three points scored by said offense. That is pathetic ladies and gentlemen. What I find most concerning is that it is quite clear that coach McElwain was as surprised as anyone by this drubbing. He thought he had gotten the job done this offseason. He thought he was going to win this game. I must point out here that this was just one game. The season is extremely young and this game COULD turn out to be the aberration. It doesn’t feel that way. And, by the way, you should never lose a game where your defense scores twice AND you block a punt. NEVER.
Any discussion of game one must begin with the debacle that was fall camp for this football program. People want to minimize the seriousness of the behavior that lead to the suspensions. Notice, I did not say game one suspensions. This investigation is not over and this issue is not behind the Florida Gators. The ONLY player that has been cleared to play in game two is James Robinson because he was not involved in the stupidity surrounding school debit cards. The idea coming into Saturday’s game was that only two of the suspended players were expected to be big contributors in the game anyway and they were each at positions where Florida had good depth. My concern, and I seemed to be a minority here, was that this event was indicative of a lack of focus and dedication among a large group of players on this team. What I witnessed on Saturday was a football team that was not prepared for the game they were playing. I put most of the blame for that on the coaching staff which I will get to later, but I also blame a group of players that had to deal with a circus throughout camp and did not seem to do that well. Where was the leadership among the players this summer? Why aren’t players holding their teammates accountable for such a lack of respect for what they are all supposedly working hard toward?
Now, let’s talk coaching. I did not really expect coach Mac to make significant changes to his staff after the first game, but I think I speak for virtually everyone without the last names McElwain or Nussmeier when I say that evidence suggests that Nussmeier is inept at calling plays during a game. He isn’t just average or slightly below average, he is truly bad at the process. One of the reasons we were told not to be too concerned about the suspensions was the existence of speedsters Dre Massey, Kadarious Toney and Malik Davis. A creative offensive coordinator would have designed and called plays to get these potential big play guys the ball a combined twenty or so times. Nussmeier managed to get the entire trio a total of five touches. FIVE! I think Nussmeier goes into a game with a decent enough game plan but that completely vanishes from his head, and apparently his clipboard, as soon as adversity occurs. Coach McElwain’s job is the one on the line and he must make the decisions HE feels best serve his purposes, but I firmly believe that he must find someone else to call plays during the game. He can do it himself, he has done so nicely in his past. He can go down the hall and ask Steve Spurrier if he would like to call plays on Saturday. He can hire someone for the job, but that will be difficult to pull off one game into a season But, I believe he is dooming himself if he continues to let Nussmeier attempt play calling. And I stress the word “attempt”.
Before I go in depth into the offense, I want to discuss the Gator defense on Saturday. The common consensus is that the defense played well until they became exhausted by the lack of offensive production. And that is true to some extent. However, the defense was struggling against the run right from the start. What I took from game one is the Gators lack the depth and experience needed in the secondary and linebackers for the defense to carry this team to many wins this season. Those elite defensive rosters are gone and Mac is just now starting to recruit at that level again providing this season’s on the field performance doesn’t lead to de-commitments. This defense will not cover up for inept offenses like the past two seasons. It tried Saturday by scoring twice but even that came with nearly as much downside as upside. Back to back pick sixes where great for the scoreboard and fun to watch, but it kept the defense on the field non-stop for a big chunk of the first half and prevented the offense from having the possessions needed to try to establish an identity and rhythm in the game. That said, it is quite possible that if those interceptions had not been returned for touchdowns the Gators may well have ended up with only nine points in the game.
Which brings us to the offense. What the heck was that? Seriously folks, can anyone on this coaching staff actually explain what I watched on Saturday? I was under the impression practices were closed throughout camp to allow the staff to install and implement a surprising offense that utilized all of those new weapons we have all been hearing about. Now I wonder if it wasn’t to hide how badly things were going in year three of the McElwain era. The offense was horrid. The offensive line, which was touted as a team strength all offseason and WAS NOT missing anyone due to suspensions or injuries, was horrid. I would state that the offensive game plan was horrid, but how would we know? I believe that Nussmeier failed completely to even execute ANY of the offensive game plan. Although, I must say that I do not fathom why he would have ventured away from his game plan since he seems to have no success at adjusting what he is doing to what the opponent is doing on defense. I hate to be that harsh, but I trust my eyes. I have not been a huge believer in Nussmeier all along based simply on what I perceive his history to be at other stops along the way but I was willing to give him a pass to some extent his first two seasons at Florida based on the holes in the roster he was handed. And, I figured McElwain would be able to steer him in the right direction with regards to running the Gator offense. That is not what it feels like right now. Why can this staff not find a way to throw a short crossing pattern to Massey or Toney when being blitzed as heavily as we saw on Saturday? Or perhaps a shovel pass?
The offensive line looked completely lost. This was the area where I, along with most of the Gator Nation, anticipated seeing great improvement. I have not re-watched the game yet to really pay attention to the line play but it appeared the offensive line did very little well. I did notice multiple horribly missed assignments. Did new offensive line coach Brad Davis make this too complicated? Even when one of the linemen was in place to make his block, far too often they were just thrown aside by defenders that seemed much stronger than our blockers. What went on this offseason? Other than scoring pot and scamming cards for cash to cure the munchies that is. Sorry, but that point deserves to be driven home. If the team had come out and played a great game in a win over Michigan you could write off all the suspensions. When the team comes out after the sideshow that was this camp and virtually every unit looks baffled you must question the overall mindset of this football team. Which again, calls into question aspects of the coaching. Am I seeing a trend here?
We need to remember that this was one game. The first game of the season which can be unpredictable for the best of teams. If there was ever a season where the Florida Gators needed a cupcake for the first game, it was this season. This game may not be indicative of the overall season. Weather permitting, Florida will get a chance this Saturday to work out some of the issues that plagued the team Saturday. It is time to pick a quarterback and let him take over the offense. I believe that will be done this weekend and that quarterback will be Felipe Franks. If Nussmeier expects to keep his play calling responsibilities he must show the ability to form a game plan and then actually execute that plan. Because I believe I speak for most of the Gator Nation coach McElwain when I say, “No, this ain’t cool.”