Column: UF ekes by Furman … really

Seven yards.

That’s how many yards Florida outgained Furman by Saturday in its 54-32 win.

Seven yards.

Sure, the Gators have struggled on offense all year. Sure, starting quarterback John Brantley and starting running back Chris Rainey were banged up. Sure, Florida didn’t have much reason to get excited about the game.

Seven yards.

That type of production against an FCS team only allowed 63 scholarships – less than even attrition-ravaged Florida – is simply inexcusable.

The Gators have consistently raked in Top 10 recruiting classes nationally over the past decade, yet Florida’s players and coaches simply lavished praise on their opponent after the game.

You would have thought the Paladins were in contention for the SEC East title.

They weren’t. In fact, most Furman players probably never sniffed an offer from a school like Vanderbilt, a perennial SEC cellar-dweller.

This was a Furman team that had lost to Coastal Carolina, Samford, Georgia Southern and Elon heading into Saturday’s game against Florida.

“They’re football players. They put their pads on just like we do,” linebacker Jon Bostic said. “They’re a good team. Offensive line, they’re good at what they do.”

Florida’s defense was shredded by on the ground by an offensive line that started five guys who averaged 14 pounds less than the Gators’ starting defensive line.

The Gators gave up 233 yards rushing. Only LSU has gained more yards against Florida this year, with the Tigers rushing for 238.

Florida coach Will Muschamp said after the game the Furman offense caught the Gators by surprise with a look on offense he hadn’t seen on tape all year.

“Disappointed the way we started, but we responded in the game,” he said. “We hung in there. They were a little overmatched with our talent, and we ended up coming through.”

A little overmatched?

Let’s review: Furman had lost to Coastal Carolina, Samford, Georgia Southern and Elon. Florida’s defensive line averaged 14 pounds more than Furman’s offensive line.

Yet the Paladins gashed the Gators on the ground. Furman had the game within one score until Pop Saunders picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

“Hey, Furman came out and they played well in the first half,” Bostic said. “They really did. They came out and they did what they wanted to do.”

Furman did what it wanted to do against Florida. In Florida’s house. It’s hard to even comprehend what that means.

The Gators got the win. That’s what counts right?

After all, Florida has focused all year long on playing one game at a time and coming out with a win each week. Nameless, faceless.

But this was Furman. This was a team Florida would have wiped the floor with two years ago. This was a team Florida would have wiped the floor with, laughed, put in all backups and then wiped the floor with again.

This year, the Gators didn’t even get to their second teamers until there was 1:34 left in the game.

“That’s a real big one for us today,” Muschamp said. “I know y’all all want to emphasize one or two games on our schedule. They’re all big. They all count for one. That was a big game for us today, regardless of who the opponent was.”

Has Florida fallen that far?

The media (and fans, too) used to emphasize one or two games on the schedule because those were the one or two games each year that weren’t a sure thing. The one or two games that defined the season.

Maybe Muschamp is right. Maybe every game on the schedule is big now. When you play teams like Furman the way Florida did today, it certainly seems like it.

Two years ago, the postgame comments would have been about how the Gators wanted to come out and play hard despite playing an overmatched team.

This year, it was as if Florida was legitimately pleased to beat Furman. Like that was in question or something. It was.

“Furman came in here with a gameplan, a really good gameplan, and we just had to keep fighting and hope things would go our way sooner or later, and it did,” Brantley said.

That’s what Florida has been reduced to. Hoping things can go its way against a team like Furman.

Chalk it up to being short on scholarship players. Chalk it up to not having the right personnel for the schemes. Chalk it up to a young team growing with a first-year coach.

No matter how you write it on the blackboard, Furman should not almost equal Florida.

“Regardless of how it happened, you get a win and you feel a little bit better about where you are and what you’re trying to do,” Muschamp said.

Today was a win for the Gators in the record books. In the end, that’s what matters.

But Florida fans have every right to be upset about how it happened. They should be. Furman just came into the Swamp and looked like it belonged.

That’s a problem.