Would have. Could have. Should have. When you look back on Florida’s 27-17 loss to Auburn Saturday night, you can see a whole lot of would have, could have and should haves. What makes this loss so confounding is that it not only is a game that the Gators should have and could have won, but if they hadn’t shot themselves in the foot so many times they would have blown Auburn out.
This should not have been a close game. Auburn is a very good football team and on this night, the Tigers got a hard fought win but their win was more the result of the things that Florida didn’t do. Florida had the players and the plays that Auburn couldn’t defend, yet when the smoke cleared and the game was over, Auburn had a win and 27 points without an offensive touchdown.
The Gators? They had way too many chances to win this game and there is no logical reason why the Gators didn’t turn it into a full-fledged rout. File this game under opportunities missed. A Florida win would have told the world the Gators are definitely for real. A blowout, which Florida could have, would have been a shot across the bow of the entire college football world.
But instead of a true statement win, the Gators are now in the position of trying to hold serve the rest of the way. There are no more bullets to dodge now that they’ve lost. They have three SEC games that they have to win and one of those is Georgia. Oh sure, Georgia lost to Vandy in Athens but you can throw records out the window in Jacksonville in two weeks. And Vandy? That doesn’t look like such a sure thing anymore. Then there is the twice removed HBC, now the head Chicken at the ranch in Columbia. He’s coming to town in November, too.
So there is no room to wiggle. And it shouldn’t have been that way. Florida lost a very winnable game and here are some of the reasons why:
HAVE MERCY! NOT ENOUGH PERCY!: Percy Harvin touched the ball four times in the first half for 72 yards including one electric field reversing, twisting, turning, ducking dodging 35-yarder that sucked the air out of the entire stadium. In the second half he touched the ball only once but even though that play went for negative yardage, it took nearly the entire Auburn team chasing him all over the field to bring him down. Trust me, the happiest people in the world Saturday night were those Auburn defenders every time they looked across the line and they didn’t see number eight. Any time he is on the field he commands far too much accountability by the defense to be utilized so few times. Against Auburn, each time he touched the ball was from the tailback slot. Why not run him on wheel routes out of the backfield? Why not put him in the slot and throw him the ball in space where he’s only got one or two to beat? Auburn didn’t have a single player fast enough to stay with him. A wheel route had touchdown written all over it.
GOAL LINE BLUES: Florida departed from the norm on its first possession of the game, using Chris Leak at quarterback under center with the elephant backfield. Okay, I can see trying that once, but that play netted just one yard for third and one and Tim Tebow should have gotten the call. He’s been the money man at the goal line all season long and that was a made for Tebow situation. But instead, Florida stayed with the elephant backfield on third down, lost yardage and settled for a field goal when a touchdown to answer that opening three-point salvo by Auburn would have shut the crowd up and given an adrenaline burst to a Florida defense that was still breathing heavy on the sideline. Florida should have taken a 7-3 lead and realistically, there is no excuse that the Gators weren’t ahead 21-3 at the half. By settling for a field goal on that opening drive, Auburn got a shot of confidence it darn sure didn’t need.
FRESHMAN MISTAKES BY SENIORS: Eric Wilbur and Chris Leak have been in the program long enough to know that their second half mistakes are inexcusable. You can understand it if a freshman punter in his second game on the road in the SEC drops a snap. Well, maybe you don’t understand it but you have a far less difficult time dealing with it. For Wilbur, there is not an excuse. He dropped the snap and then panicked when he tried to boot the ball out with his left foot. He should have had enough presence to realize that he had goofed and taken the lost yardage. Florida’s defense wasn’t given a chance to hold Auburn to a field goal attempt on that one. Leak had the chance to give the Gators the lead. All he had to do was throw the ball into the cheap seats or take a sack so that Chris Hetland could kick a field goal. Instead, he hesitated when he saw the pass rush, then reacted far too late and the result was a fumble. We can argue till the cows come home that his arm was moving forward but in reality, the ball should have been gone long, long before. You expect freshmen to make freshman mistakes. You don’t expect seniors that are fourth year starters to make freshman mistakes in critical situations. You don’t win championships when four-year starter seniors brain fart when the going gets tough.
A LITTLE PLAY ACTION, PLEASE: South Carolina probably beats Auburn if a tight end catches a pass a couple of weeks ago. That was on the same play action that the Auburn safeties bit on all night against Stevie Wonder’s Chickens. You would think that Florida might have used some play action, particularly in the second half when the Tigers were pinning their ears back and bringing the house on the blitz. One of the great ways to slow down a blitz and keep a defense honest is with play action but Florida used it rarely, if ever. And with Harvin such a dangerous weapon and such a distraction when he’s at tailback, why not take advantage of him as a decoy in play action? For example, if Percy had been Florida’s tailback on that third and three at the Auburn six in the fourth quarter, can you imagine what Auburn’s defenders would have done if Leak had gone play action? I would bet at least half the Auburn defenders would have reacted to Percy and at least one or two of Florida’s wide receivers would have been open in the end zone.
LEAK AND TEBOW IN THE SAME BACKFIELD: Florida has been hinting at using this formation all season and we finally saw it in the second half. Leak faked the ball to Tebow and half the defense went with the freshman. That opened things up for a nine-yard pass completion from Leak to Bubba Caldwell. It worked just fine the first time. Don’t you think it would have worked again? With the success of the first play, the Auburn defense was set up on second down. If they bite on the fake to Tebow again, there is another play available for Caldwell or one of the other receivers. If they think it’s going to be another fake, then throw the ball to Tebow. Defenses are every bit aware of Tebow as they are of Harvin. Great playmakers make plays even when they don’t get the ball if you simply use them for their ability to deceive. This was a close game. The Gators had weapons they didn’t use. The weapon of deception wasn’t used nearly enough.
AND JUST WHERE WAS JC?: Check the box score for Jemalle Cornelius. You won’t find him anywhere and the big question is why? He’s averaging 19.1 yards per catch and if you remember the LSU game, he was money in the clutch. Urban Meyer spent the week talking about all the things that JC does for the team. One of the things he could have done for the team is make a play Saturday night if only someone would have gotten the ball to him. Jemalle Cornelius has too much speed and he’s too dependable to go an entire critical game without getting his hands on the ball one time. There is zero excuse for that.
JUMP ONE OF THOSE SHORT ROUTES: By the second half, Auburn’s passing scheme should have been branded on the foreheads of the Florida secondary. Lots and lots of little five yard stop patterns and an occasional crossing pattern over the middle. I realize the goal of the defense is to keep everything in front of them and not allow the big play in the passing game, but with Reggie Nelson as your eraser in the back, Florida’s corners have to realize that they can occasionally take a chance and jump a route. An interception on one of those five-yard routes would have resulted in a touchdown because there was nothing but green field ahead. But instead of taking a shot at making a play, Florida’s corners spent the whole game playing it safe.
SHODDY TACKLING: This has been a problem for Florida’s defense since game one this season. For all their great play, particularly in the red zone, the Florida defense has had too many lapses when it comes to sure-tackling and this bit them in the butt big time against Auburn. How many of those 133 rushing yards the Tigers got came after the second or third contact? A good example is on Auburn’s drive to the end of the half field goal that answered the Tebow touchdown. The Gators missed a chance to nail Brad Lester in the backfield and again five yards up the field. Those missed tackles were critical because when Lester was finally wrestled down, he had gained 33 yards at into a 33-yard gain to the Florida 20. Florida had numerous other chances to make plays in the backfield but couldn’t wrap up the Auburn runners. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Gators finally stopped that little toss sweep to Kenny Irons.