GC VIP Stadium Road Audibles — 8/26/19 Edition

Florida’s opener against Miami might be the sloppiest game I’ve ever seen outside of a hurricane/monsoon game. If there’s another that beats it out, I don’t know that I want to be reminded of it.

It did recall a number of past games for me, though.

The first that strongly came to mind in the first half was Florida’s Week 2 game against Texas A&M in 2012. Kevin Sumlin didn’t yet know what he had in Johnny Manziel, but you could see the guy had sky-high potential. You could also see that the game plan wasn’t going to let him get there. The Gator defense did just enough to enable a 20-17 win, but you knew they wouldn’t have won if the game was a month later when Sumlin would’ve had the chance to maximize Manziel’s talents.

Jarren Williams is not Johnny Manziel, and Miami’s line is a far, far, far cry from the future pro-laden Aggie line in 2012. However, you could definitely see that UM has a good one in Williams. You could also tell that the game plan wasn’t going to get everything out of him they could. They might never with Dan Enos as OC, since Enos doesn’t run his quarterbacks. Williams did cool off some in the second half but still made some big-time throws. He’s a keeper.

Another game that came to mind because I just did a film study piece with plays from it was the 2017 Egg Bowl. Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State was the better team but lost in no small part because it turned the ball over five times compared to Ole Miss’s two. It’s not easy to win with a -3 turnover margin, but the Gators did it Saturday night. It’s even harder when the team you’re playing is close in talent, and UF and UM are very close.

A couple others were Arkansas’s 2015 loss to Toledo and LSU’s 2017 loss to Troy. It’s not because Florida-Miami was a comparable mismatch, because again, the Hurricanes are about even with the Gators in talent. Rather, the SEC teams in those games lost because they kept blowing chances to score.

Florida had six trips inside the Miami 40-yard-line and only got 24 points. On four red zone trips, they got 17 points. Both lost fumbles came in the scoring area, one of them in the red zone. The field goal came after extremely conservative red zone play calling.

The good news is that Florida’s defense stiffened up and denied Miami’s scoring chances. The Hurricanes got inside the UF 40-yard-line seven times but came away with just 20 points. They only had one drive get to the red zone, and that was the one where CJ Henderson broke up the third down pass in the end zone followed by the field goal miss.

The thing is, a lot of stuff went well for the Gators, like the ten sacks. It’s just that when things went wrong, they went very, very wrong.

The Gators only ran seven plays in the fourth quarter because of Feleipe Franks’s two interceptions and four pass interference or personal foul penalties in that frame alone that extended Hurricane drives. There were five fumbles in the game and the Gators recovered only one of them.

Or, take DeeJay Dallas, the Miami running back that Florida only occasionally tried hard to tackle. When Gators were bouncing and sliding off him because they were being lazy in their technique, he took a short pass for 40 yards and had carries of 24 and 50 yards.

Outside of those he had four catches for -3 yards (yes, negative) and nine carries for 14 yards (1.56 yards per carry). When the Gator defense did what it was supposed to do against Dallas, he was a total non-factor. When things went wrong in their effort to bring him down, things went very, very wrong and he gained a combined 114 yards on three plays.

I feel confident in saying that not every game will be like that. The chances are very low that an opponent’s tipped pass will hit a receiver in stride and the Gators will pick up multiple pass interference flags because the DB beats a weak pass to the receiver due to the quarterback being hit while throwing in the same game. This was close to being a Murphy’s law game, and Florida still won.

That’s not to say there aren’t real things to work on. The offensive line stands out there, not just in them learning to execute but the coaches learning what they can and can’t call. There were at least a couple of plays done in by Mullen asking them to do advanced things they’re not ready to do yet. Another game that came to mind was last year’s Kentucky game when the announcers were diagramming how UF kept calling slide protections and the line kept failing to execute them. The Gators at least came out on the right side of Saturday night’s contest.

Fortunately, the line that couldn’t get it right against UK eventually steamrolled opponents with good defensive fronts. I have real questions about Franks’s ability to make decisions under pressure, but he was good when he had time. He should get more time as the season goes along and the line improves, so we shouldn’t see the wild swings in quality of play the whole way.

This game showed why power teams so often like to start with cupcakes. UF now gets a week off and a virtual practice against an FCS team before playing another P5 opponent. They have time to work on the issues we all saw. I’m not hitting the panic button yet, but I’m looking at the team with clearer eyes today than I was this time last week.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2