Ten with Thomas: Florida survives Furman

Florida survived an early scare by Furman to grind out a 54-32 win at home to secure its bowl eligibility.

Things didn’t quite go as planned for the Gators in front of a small crowd, and Gator Country’s Thomas Goldkamp breaks down the game with this instant 10-point review.

1. Holding the line – It’s been said all year long, but the Gators have won and lost games on the offensive and defensive lines. They won against Furman on Saturday, but it sure wasn’t pretty. As often as Florida beat Furman in the trenches, the Paladins beat the Gators. In the end, Florida was able to wear an inferior opponent down. But the way the Gators were pushed around up front on both sides early on was disturbing for Florida fans.

Particularly on the defensive line, the Gators seemed absolutely incapable of imposing their will on the Paladins. The line got no push into the backfield and couldn’t make tackles near the line of scrimmage against the run. While the play on both lines was improved in the second half, Florida’s inability to dominate up front was inexcusable. At this point, it has to be chalked up to lack of effort, because the athletes on Florida’s lines were simply on a different level athletically. No lack of technique or coaching or problems with a scheme should keep the Gators from handling a team like Furman in the trenches..

2. Stumbling in the second half – Florida struggled mightily in the first quarter, but after two bad drives on offense, the Gators had things figured out. Right? Throw deep early and often and Furman’s cornerbacks simply couldn’t handle the speed of Florida’s superior athletes at receiver.

Long pass to Deonte Thompson on first down? Forty-one yards. Long pass to Andre Debose on the first play of the drive? Eighty-yard touchdown. Long pass to Quinton Dunbar on second down? Twenty-nine yard touchdown. At that point, it seemed pretty clear how the Gators would win. Throw deep, right? Well, the Gators came out in the third quarter and ran, ran, ran. Not surprisingly, it resulted in a field goal and a punt. Until… long pass to Andre Debose on the first play of the drive? Sixty-four yard touchdown. So why abandon the deep pass for so long in the third quarter? Beats me.

3. Consistently inconsistent – Florida coach Will Muschamp and his coordinators went on and on all week about needing to play more consistently. The Gators did that… sort of. They came out and played exactly how they have played all season long. That’s the definition of consistency, right? Unfortunately for Florida, that probably wasn’t the type Muschamp was looking for.

Despite playing well on offense for nearly the entire first half, Florida couldn’t do it for the entire game. The Gators started off poorly, missing a field goal on their first drive. A bad snap on the second drive resulted in a safety. Then, after cruising through the second quarter, the offense stalled for most of the third. Defensively, Florida just never looked in sync. Offside penalties and tackling were consistent issues yet again. At this point, the Gators are what they are. That’s an average team that is going to have big lapses at certain points in just about every game.

4. Pick and “Pop” – Turnovers have certainly been hard to come by for the Florida defense this season. The Gators entered Saturday’s game with only nine takeaways, ranking 113th out of 120 teams nationally in turnover margin. Safety Pop Saunders came up with Florida’s lone takeaway last week against South Carolina when he recorded his first career interception.

Against Furman on Saturday, Saunders did it again. This time, he picked off Paladins’ quarterback Chris Forcier for a pick-six, the Gators’ first of the season. It was the first defensive score for the Gators since Jaye Howard recovered a fumble in the end zone against Kentucky all the way back in late September. The interception basically put the game out of reach for Furman, as it gave Florida a 47-32 lead early in the fourth quarter.

5. Jelani joins the action – If anyone has dropped more passes this season than Jordan Reed and Deonte Thompson, it’s linebacker Jelani Jenkins. The redshirt sophomore linebacker has gotten his hands on at least a half-dozen balls that should have resulted in interceptions. He couldn’t come up with any of them.

On Saturday, he changed all that. Possibly sparked by Saunders’ pick-six, Jenkins jumped a pass in Florida territory and took it 75 yards to the house for a touchdown that put the Gators up 54-32 with four minutes to play. Teammates jumped on him in the end zone, ragging on him for finally coming up with an interception. The Florida defense could certainly use a whole lot more of that.

6. Take it Easley, big guy – As much of a disruptive presence as defensive tackle Dominique Easley has been for the Gators this season, he has got to tone it down a little bit at times. Easley has been one of Florida’s most energetic players, and he brings a certain swagger to the game that the Gators have been lacking most of the season from other players on the team. But he certainly walks a fine line. He could have been penalized a handful of times Saturday against Furman for extra shoving after plays.

Luckily for the Gators, he got away with it most of the time. On one play, he got tangled up with the punter and intentionally stood over him taunting him. Part of that is Easley being very good at getting into opposing players’ heads to draw personal foul penalties. He did that against Vanderbilt and it worked to perfection, completely taking the Commodores’ center out of the game mentally for an entire series. However, he often lets his emotion get the best of him. On a big second-down play midway through the fourth quarter, Easley helped make a tackle near the line of scrimmage. After the play had been blown dead, he flipped a player backward over his head right in front of a referee. Nine times out of 10, he would have been flagged for a personal foul there. He just needs to make sure he avoids the extra-curricular activity that goes a little past the line. That could have been a costly penalty for the Gators.

7. The “Ds” do it deep – Florida’s downfield passing game had been almost non-existent the past few weeks. The Gators had completed just one pass thrown more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage in the previous month. On Saturday against Furman, Florida connected on five deep passes.

It was the deadly “Ds” who were able to get deep with their speed to open up the vertical passing game for the Gators. Andre Debose caught two deep balls and finished with 151 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Quinton Dunbar caught two deep balls and finished with 54 yards receiving and one touchdown. Even Deonte Thompson caught one deep pass and finished with 45 yards receiving. Those three guys are the deep-ball threats for Florida. The Gators need to find them more often downfield.

8. Brantley brings his best – John Brantley had a pretty good game in the first half against Alabama. He might have played even better today against Furman. With a little more time to operate in the pocket, the senior quarterback put together a career day against the Paladins. Brantley did a good job avoiding pressure when it did come, and he finished the game without getting sacked.

More importantly, he racked up 329 yards passing and four touchdowns. The Gators needed all of them with the running game unable to really establish itself against Furman’s front seven. Brantley was on point in the downfield passing game almost the entire day, though he still forced one or two throws into tight coverage. His play today made you wonder what could have been if you’re a Florida fan.

9. Hunter doesn’t blame the fans – With a 5-5 record entering Saturday’s game, you knew there would be some empty seats in the crowd. Paid attendance was 84,674, but there were at least 20,000 fans less than that actually there, and that’s a conservative estimate. Florida’s players didn’t give the fans who were there much to be excited about early on, quickly going down 15-0 and then 22-7.

Credit Florida’s players for recognizing after the game that it was their fault the fans weren’t there. Rather than make excuses for why they weren’t energetic, defensive tackle Omar Hunter came right out after the game and said it. The team can’t blame the fans for not showing up when they play as poorly as they have. It’s not often we hear a player really put the blame on himself or the team, and hearing Hunter do so was very refreshing. Maybe the lack of fans in the seats will wake the team up.

10. Nixon hurt or benched? – Muschamp said after the game that left tackle Xavier Nixon was banged up when he went over the injury report. Nixon left the game in the third quarter, and Kyle Koehne moved from left guard to left tackle while James Wilson came in at left guard. However, later in his press conference when Muschamp was asked about Jon Harrison’s bad snap, he used the phrase “taken out” when referring to when Nixon left the game.

Either way, Florida’s offensive line seemed to play better once Nixon was out of the game. He has been a liability since he was forced back into the starting lineup when Chaz Green went down with an injury. I’ve been fairly vocal about the Gators needing to make a change at that position, so Muschamp’s comments after the game were intriguing. Whether he was pulled or hurt, Nixon’s departure did seem to help the line.