Saturday night felt eerily familiar. The Florida Gators lost a game in the Swamp where the defense played inspired football only to be handicapped by an offense that converted just four of its 15 third down attempts.
It’s a feeling that turned toxic and got Will Muschamp fired. It’s the feeling that led to the hiring of Jim McElwain, billed as an offensive guru that would change that very feeling and bring an offense back to Florida.
1,048 days and 33 games later that hopeless empty feeling when the Florida Gators send the offense back on to the field is back and the answers don’t seem to be there.
In back-to-back weeks the Gators scored 17 and 16 points at home. The loss Saturday dropped McElwain’s record to 5-11 when the opponent scores more than 14 points. Not being able to beat an opponent because they scored more than two touchdowns is unacceptable. Doing it in back-to-back weeks at home is unfathomable.
“The plan’s good.” McElwain said after the game. “The execution piece needs to get better.”
The “plan” has been under heavy scrutiny from the fan base, a base that has been collectively calling for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s job. The offensive numbers are hard to look at, specifically when it comes to the passing game.
Florida has four (4) passing touchdowns this year. Navy, a team that is wholly uninterested in the forward pass, has thrown five touchdowns. The historically prolific air raid passing offense of Georgia Tech has five passing touchdowns this season. Florida’s passing offense, halfway through the season, is 103rd in the nation, averaging just 181.3 yards-per-game.
Sure, Florida lost Antonio Callaway before the season and Tyrie Cleveland (ankle sprain) has missed the last two games but that wouldn’t turn Florida’s ineptitude into the offense it should be in McElwain’s third season.
McElwain spent the entire offseason preaching sweating the small stuff. He stressed the details and getting comfortable being uncomfortable. .
And yet, six games into the season we’re still getting quotes like this. Here’s what McElwain said when asked about Florida’s third down deficiency against Texas A&M.
“We just need to go ahead and complete them. The plan’s good. The execution piece needs to get better,” he said. “I thought we turned it around on the other side pretty good from a week ago, but like I said, you’ve got to stay on the field.”
And starting quarterback Feleipe Franks agreed.
“You can’t just nail it down to one thing,” Franks said when asked why the Gators weren’t executing. “The plan was there, I agree with him. Just here and there a couple things we could have did better. Convert on third downs; obviously we want the percentage a little higher than it was tonight. The line did a good job. The receivers did a good job of getting open. Ultimately, like I said, it just falls on me. As the quarterback I just gotta do a better job.”
The same problems executing has been going on all season. Is that on the coaching staff for not preparing players well enough during the week? Or is that on the players for not executing.?
“Ultimately it’s my job to get the offense moving,” Feleipe Franks said. “There’s some series here and there where you want that to happen but I didn’t make that happen. Ultimately it’s on me and something to improve on.”
The offensive line has been a bright spot, as have Lamical Perine and Malik Davis running the football. Florida ran for 242 yards against the Aggies but it wasn’t enough.
The defense was good enough to win on Saturday.
“I feel like defense always does enough,” CeCe Jefferson said. “I’m a defensive player so that’s just how I feel.”
Jefferson went on to say that there are leaders stepping up in the locker room, that nobody was pointing fingers. That sounds good but do you believe it? Do you believe that the defense thinks the offense is pulling its weight?
The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. There is a lot of soul searching that this team needs to do, a lot of soul searching that this coaching staff, specifically McElwain and Nussmeier need to do to figure something out.