Can the Gators avoid free fall?

It is way too early to classify the current two-game skid as a free fall even if the Gators have been dominated on both sides of the football by both LSU and Missouri. Now, if the Gators lose to Georgia in Jacksonville in two weeks, then it’s safe to say they are in free fall and there might not be a whole lot that they can do about it. But that game is two weeks from now and it is not an impossibility that the Gators could use the bye week as a tourniquet to help stop the bleeding.

Bye weeks can be a wonderful thing, especially for a team with as many open wounds as this Florida outfit. This is a team that has been peeled away like an onion with all its weaknesses exposed for everyone to see. A bye week might not be enough time to correct all the problems but it could be adequate for implementing a few new things that might actually work, particularly when the Gators have the football.

Oh, there are some issues that need to be resolved on the defensive side, but most of them are injury-related and there is nothing like a bye week to get some people healed. On offense, it’s a different story.

“We’re inept offensively,” Will Muschamp said, stating the obvious after Florida took it on the chin, 36-17, to Missouri Saturday afternoon.

No kidding.

Scheme and play calling have something to do with it but not everything. The other half of that equation is effective play on an offensive line that gave up six sacks that cost the Gators 42 yards in losses. Florida managed only 110 positive rushing yards but that total was trimmed to a net of 59 when sacks and other losses were added in.

You don’t win games in the Southeastern Conference when your running game nets 59 yards.

Nor do you win when your passing game can only produce 92 and your longest completion is 14 yards.

“We struggle to do anything we try to do,” Muschamp said. “We try and spread it out; we want to throw it and we can’t protect the quarterback. We try and grind it out and we’re not creating enough explosive runs. We need to find some answers and right now we’re not finding any.”

The bye week allows Muschamp and his staff to try to isolate at least a few of the problems and come up with solutions that might be nothing more than band-aids when stitches are required, but he’s got to come up with something because the offense he’s putting out on the field now isn’t working.

Muschamp would like nothing more than to turn the Florida program into a mirror image of the one former boss Nick Saban runs up in Tuscaloosa where there is nothing fancy about the offensive scheme. That doesn’t stop Alabama from putting up huge offensive numbers because the offensive line executes and plays with discipline.

Saturday night, that same Arkansas defensive front that held Florida to 115 rushing yards three weeks ago was gashed by Alabama for 352 yards on the ground in an easier than expected 52-0 victory. In that game the Bama offensive line didn’t give up a sack and wasn’t flagged for a single false start or holding penalty.

This is the same Alabama offensive line that couldn’t block anyone in the season opener against Virginia Tech. It has gotten progressively better to the point that it might be as good or better than any O-line in the country.

This is the part that is so frustrating. While Alabama provides that shining example of how an offense gets better as the line continues to improve throughout the season, Florida is the perfect example of how an offense goes in the opposite direction. Florida’s line play wasn’t very good at the beginning of the season and it certainly hasn’t shown any measurable improvement.

And as the line goes, so goes the offense.

“I’m just very disappointed that we haven’t made more positive strides offensively this season,” Muschamp said.

There have been few positive strides because the offensive line has not made progress.

There is no way the Gators are going to turn into an offensive juggernaut in the last month of the season, but the bye week might offer a chance to stop the wrong way skid. Right now the offense is inept  — “We have a hard time protecting the quarterback … more than most teams do,” Muschamp said – but perhaps there are tweaks that can be made, some changes in the scheme and play calling and maybe some shuffling of personnel.

It won’t be an easy task and he’s only got a week to pull this off, but if Muschamp can at least get the offense turned from inept to functional, then he might be able to avoid a free fall the rest of the season.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.