Glad I get to write this piece on Sunday nights. Especially this year. Gives a body and a brain some time to cool down and allow logic and rational thought play a part in the process.
Just to get this out of the way – I am as angry and disappointed as anyone other than that liquid courage-infused bozo who allegedly flipped off Muschamp from the stands yesterday. This column is called “rants and raves” for a reason, and I have plenty of both (more the former than the latter, obviously).
Depending on one’s perspective, the comeback that was ultimately not to be was either a good or bad thing.
If you happened to be one of those fans who was riding the fence on Muschamp going into yesterday, you were throwing babies from balconies by the second quarter so as to spare them the horror of the post-apocalyptic world they might face. I’ve never seen so many undecided parties choose a side so quickly. And it’s not as though they weren’t given good reason but, the hyperbole; the fatalistic predictions of what might happen to our program, fans, facilities and pets if Will Muschamp is allowed to coach even another half – I felt at times as though it might be Biblical, straight out of Revelations. Again, these were the folks who were seemingly on the fence going in.
I will not regale you with the ghastly reactions from those who wanted Muschamp gone before the game. If you’re reading this article, you read the boards. You know. Kids may read this piece so I dare not repeat any of it.
Those who were firmly with Muschamp, for the most part, still seem to be in the camp, especially after he rallied the troops and almost led them to a seemingly inconceivable victory.
If you’re in Will’s camp, you can point to that comeback and use it as proof that he still has the hearts and minds of the players and that they respond to his emotion and fire.
If you already wanted him gone, well, the first half and the outcome help your cause, but the fact that a field goal or a first down meant the difference in the game after the team picked itself up from the dead muddies things somewhat. If
your goal is to rid UF of Muschamp, the case is much easier to make after a 45-3 shellacking than a tight 20-23 loss.
I wish we lived in some sort of an Orange and Blue utopia in which we all just unquestionably supported the players and coaches, for better or for worse and that we didn’t feel the need have agendas or place labels and question motives of fellow Gators in times like this. But that’s not reality. College football, especially in the SEC, is more competitive than ever before. We all want to win. We all hate losing. And one thing that seems to be universal is that we all seem to think, regardless of perspective, that we’re patient. Most of us aren’t. I know I’m not. But patience and rationality are not two sides of the same coin, nor are they mutually exclusive. As to whether or not I possess either quality, well, read the rest of the piece and decide.
1. The first half. Awful. Pathetic. Abysmal. Uninspired. This first half found more Gator fans jumping ship than wealthy folks fleeing for lifeboats once the Titanic struck the iceberg. There is simply no excuse for that type of apathy from the players nor the lack of preparation from the coaches. None. I was in a state of utter disbelief. With another break here or there, Georgia ends this game in the second quarter. Heck, to many of us, it seemed as though it already had. Coming off a bye against a bitter rival who has been injury ridden just like us, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
2. Play calling. I have been begging this staff to turn Tyler Murphy loose and just let him play. They did that in the second half but not the first. And our offensive staff’s collective sphincter just seals shut when we cross the 25. And the option and … the wildcat … I’m just out of words. Completely inexplicable. The few – very few times in which we stretch the field, we generally see success. Murphy has shown he can throw the ball downfield capably. Why not do it more? I do like the fact that the shackles were taken off in the second half and we generally moved the ball effectively but it shouldn’t have taken that long. And they have to let Murphy run keepers and expose himself to the occasional hit. We have nothing to lose at this point.
3. Discipline and self-control. It doesn’t exist on this team. Moments after Neiron Ball makes a potentially game changing play on 4th and short, he feels compelled to remove his helmet on the field in celebration, costing his team 15 yards of crucial field position and nearly all the momentum he almost single-handedly created. Story of this team. Take one step forward, then shoot yourself in the foot on the second step. Silly, senseless penalties plague this team game in and game out. Might be easy to say “hey, it’s the players doing this stuff – the coaches can’t stop them from being stupid.” To quote Julius Campbell from one of my favorite movies of all time, Remember the Titans, “Attitude reflects leadership, captain.” When the captain of the ship is ready to squash beef with a drunken fan after a game and needs police to restrain him from doing so, well, we all know what they say about apples and trees.
4. Special teams. Been a problem for us from the beginning, and one few of us expected. Francisco Velez has shown himself to be somewhat reliable on short field goals, but Austin Hardin has just gone off the deep end. I can handle him pushing a 48-yarder left or right if it has the distance but leaving it short? Come on. And had you told me in May that Kyle Christy was healthy but we’d have a guy named Johnny Townsend punting for us against Georgia, I’d have guessed we’d be in for a long season. If you’d have told me that in May, sadly, both of us would have been right.
5. Streaks continue. Muschamp 0-3 all time against Georgia. UF on its first three-game losing streak to UGA since 1987-1989.
1. Leon Orr. He picked up more than a dropped lateral – he picked up his entire team and fanbase with his emotion and heady play. Admittedly, five seconds before that play happened, I had already written the game off as a loss and was simply watching to see how grisly the carnage might become. But he changed the game with that play. The difference in the fans and the emotions on the sidelines was palpable. And he played a nice game overall.
2. The second half. This almost dovetails with the above point, but it was mostly meant to be about Orr on a micro level and this is more macro. The team DID pick itself up after the resultant score from the Orr recovery and won the second half 17-0. Sure, without a bunch of stupid plays and missed opportunities, we outscore them by even more in the second half and win but, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, intrepid readers, let us touch base with reality and realize that the very reason we even had life to begin with in the second half was because of a silly Georgia mistake. Nonetheless, the play calling improved dramatically, the players played with emotion and the Gators damned near pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks in the history of the program. I don’t care how you feel about Muschamp, Pease or anyone else associated with this team – that does mean something.
3. Trenton Brown and Tyler Moore. Both of these guys far exceeded my expectations. Heck, the entire offensive line did. That’s not to say that the unit was infallible or even much better than an average group; I’d give the unit a B- for Saturday’s effort. But it is a step in the right direction and maybe there’s hope for Tyler and Trenton yet. They’re certainly big enough.
4. Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown. Looked like quite the impressive duo yesterday. I think PD noticed the same thing I did – Kelvin is still cutting back against the grain unneccessarily. He’s way too fast to not try to outrun the LB’s to the corner. And he is still making silly freshman errors. But the guy is a beast and he just has that “it” factor when he carries the ball. Mack had a lot of big carries yesterday and showed the explosiveness we’ve all been waiting for from him for what – nine years now? Both guys acquitted themselves extremely well yesterday.
And yes, Kelvin lost that screen pass due to the glare of the sun. No question.
5. Tyler Murphy. No, he’s not Johnny Football, but the guy has intangibles and can move the team if he’s allowed to do so. As I said earlier, we have nothing to lose at this point. Just take the training wheels off the bike and let Tyler ride. It’s the only chance we have at 7-8 wins. If we go hyper-conservative against Vandy next week and put the shackles back on Tyler, Muschamp might be looking at his replacement on the opposite sideline.
I’ve been around Gator Country for a long time and I’ve never really been known as one who has a lot of patience. But in fairness, I did join the board at a very young age and, with age comes a bit of patience and wisdom. 15 years ago I’d employ my instant oatmeal, 2:00 microwave meal, hedonism as soon as possible philosophy towards existence and call for the coach’s head. Let heads roll and bring in the super fabulous coach who will win the national championship next year. Who cares how much he may cost? I’m not footing the bill. I just get to act self-righteous because I show up to games and care.
This is not me becoming a softie in my old age. I’d like to think what follows is just a product of me becoming a bit wiser as I get older … instead of merely growing older.
Firing Muschamp now would be a colossal mistake. Whereas he may not deserve all the credit for the successes of last year, so too does he not bear the blame for all the shortcomings of this season. Whereas we were relatively healthy and lucky last season, this season we have been neither. I do fully acknowledge the necessity for any coach to overcome injuries and I also acknowledge that it is his responsibility to keep a stacked 2-deep in an elite program such as this. But we’re 2.5 seasons into the Muschamp Era. It’s not as if he’s had the reins to this horse for years and simply stopped putting corn in the feedbag. Most of his recruits, other than the simply other-wordly talents like VHIII, are in the mix and still getting their feet wet.
I am concerned with the offensive line recruiting this season but other than that, we have another great class (at least according to rankings) coming in. Potential program-changers like Will Grier, Ermon Lane and Dalvin Cook. Fire Muschamp and we can likely kiss all three goodbye. And no, recruits should not dictate the direction of a program but, when we’re talking about relieving a coach like Will Muschamp, who was at the helm of a miraculous turnaround in year two of his tenure, a bounce or two of the ball away from a freaking BCS championship game appearance, we all need to just step back and have a little perspective. Firing him now sets this program back immeasurably. We have so much more to gain, especially in the short term, by
simply writing this season off to bad luck and a little karma from the last than we do by firing him and coming to the stone cold realization that we have no better options to replace him with. I think Will is going to grow into this role and be extremely successful.
We just have to be patient.
As for Pease, well … that’s another piece.