VETTEL: Slow Starts Need to Stop

You really have to be a bit of a jerk to sit back and harp on shortcomings after the first 5-and-0 start the school has enjoyed in the last five years. Well, sometimes that’s what I gotta do. Florida’s 5-and-0 start is something to be celebrated and enjoyed; I have no problem with that. But for this to be a championship season, the Gators simply MUST figure out how to start a game in style.

After five games the Florida Gators still have not been able to post more than one score in the first 15 minutes of a contest. To their credit, the Gators have been able to cross the goal line in four of the first games’ opening periods, but that’s simply not enough. A 27-point second quarter against overmatched UCF was impressive, I suppose, but by and large this team has not been good enough in the first 30 minutes.

Against Toughest Opponents, Difference Dramatic

Discounting the rout of UCF, the Florida Gators have not been a good first half team in 2006. Against the four best teams on the schedule, the Gators have combined for a marginal 40-to-34 advantage at halftime. Opening day against Southern Miss, Florida led seven-zip until a DeShawn Wynn touchdown made it a two score game with 6:02 to go in the first half. Florida trailed 10-7 at the half in Knoxville, and then fell behind 17-to-7 midway through the second half. Against Kentucky, Florida had to score late in the first half to take the lead at intermission. Then, against Alabama the Gators were down 7-0 after the first quarter and needed a 95-yard drive late in the second quarter to avoid being shutout in the first half.

In those four games, Florida came out strong in the second half, outscoring those teams by a combined score of 69-to-13. It’s just hard to understand how a team can struggle so much out of the chute week in and week out and then dominate in the second half.

Second Half Comebacks Impressive

Of course for everyone who sees the “glass” at half empty, there are just as many who see it as half full. Sure, the less than impressive first halves are a bit of a concern, but look at the comebacks! Florida trailed Alabama by the score of 10-0 and proceeded to outscore the Crimson Tide 28-to-3 over the final 40+ minutes. The Gators were down 17-to-7 in the third quarter at Tennessee and came back to win on the road over the boys from Rocky Top. Two ten-point rallies against quality teams in the SEC is certainly impressive, but you can’t count on living that dangerously week after week. With the three best teams on the schedule coming up, Florida simply MUST learn how to come out strongly and put their opponents behind the eight-ball so to speak.

Gator Defense Deserves Praise

There’s no way the Gators could be 5-and-0 at this point without superb play from the Florida defense. Despite dealing with a rebuilt secondary, multiple suspensions and more, the Gators have posted some incredible numbers through the first five games.

The Gator defense has allowed just four touchdowns in five games. That’s just tremendous in this day and age. The first TD against Southern Miss came after a turnover and was the result of a scoring drive of just 28 yards. Tennessee reached the end zone twice, with solid drives late in the first half and early in the third quarter and Kentucky had one scoring drive in Gainesville. That’s it!

Through five games the Gators are allowing just 50 yards a game on the ground, and 198 in the air. They are out-gaining their opponents by almost 200 yards a game (438-to-248) and overall are scoring 30.2 points a game to their opponents’ 9.4.

Big Challenges Coming Up

While the national media points out that Ohio State, Southern Cal, West Virginia, Louisville, Notre Dame and others have just one or two ranked teams remaining on the schedule, the Florida Gators will face three top ten teams in their next three contests. LSU (#9), Auburn (#2) and Georgia (#10) form one of the toughest three-game regular season stretches in school history. As far as I’m concerned winning two out of three would be outstanding and three in a row would be simply phenomenal.

But if they’re going to do it, they better stop sleeping through the first 30 minutes.