Happy Labor Day, Gators!
I don’t know how Saturday was for you, but it was nice for me to be able to flip around, take in all the season-opening games, and not have to worry about whether Florida would win or lose. The Gators were already in the clubhouse with a W, so it was a stress-free day of laughing at FSU, Tennessee, and assorted other programs.
It was a nice release after a week of Gator fans wringing their hands about a win over Miami that wasn’t as big as they would have liked. It occurred to me not long after FSU dropped its game against Boise State that from a certain standpoint, playing a week early wasn’t entirely without a downside.
Every so often, a slate of games will go by where an underwhelming performance from Florida — usually a loss, don’t forget — is one of the top few storylines. With the Gators playing in Week 0 with only Arizona at Hawaii to go with it, UF was guaranteed to be the top storyline no matter what happened.
When the Gators came out in various ways flat, undisciplined, and struggling through standard opening game issues, it meant that there would be almost an entire week after where all anyone would look at is those things. Until the Thursday night games happened, there wasn’t much of else to pay attention to aside from Kevin Sumlin’s buyout and the horriblawesome job Cole McDonald did in taking down Zona with five TD passes and four picks.
On a normal Saturday when there is a full set of games and Florida fails to cover the spread and looks frustrating in the process, there are a bunch of other teams doing the same thing or worse. In Week 11 last year, the Gators needed a lucky bounce to help execute a comeback against a mediocre South Carolina team.
But also on that Saturday, No. 6 Oklahoma had to stop a two-point conversion late to beat an eventual 7-6 Oklahoma State team, No. 11 Kentucky lost to Tennessee 24-7, and No. 19 Texas needed a last-minute touchdown pass to beat a Texas Tech team on the way to firing its coach. The twin titans of Alabama and Clemson failed to excite in muddling past Mississippi State 24-0 and Boston College 27-7.
With Week 1 in the books, Florida is the only FBS team in the state to have a win over an FBS opponent. UCF throttled FAMU, but FSU, Miami, USF, FAU, and FIU all lost. The Hurricanes were the most respectable in going down too, as the Seminole offense stopped doing things that made sense in their second half shutout against Boise, the Bulls had no answers for Wisconsin, the Owls took their paycheck for getting blown out, and the Panthers were surprising in how badly they lost to Tulane.
In this light, Florida’s just-win-baby victory over Miami doesn’t look so bad.
To be sure, all of the mistakes, miscommunications, turnovers, and penalties are real problems that need to be addressed. The fact that Tennessee just took arguably its worst loss in program history doesn’t erase the fact that the right side of the Gator offensive line needs work and James Houston should not hit kickers five yards out of bounds.
It’s just that seeing other programs fail to meet expectations puts the Gators’ performance into perspective. It could’ve been better. A lot better. It also could’ve been a lot worse, and not to be forgotten is the fact that they did actually win their opener.
As for some of the teams that struggled:
* I had two big takeaways from FSU’s loss. One, Boise State had an amazingly easy time running up the middle. The Seminole defensive front harassed BSU’s freshman quarterback some, but it was not tough in the run game. Two, they kept throwing low percentage long passes in the second half. It had a real panic button feel to it. I think it’s more a James Blackman tic than a Kendal Briles thing, but Briles didn’t coach Blackman out of that rut either.
* When Steve Spurrier realized he needed to modernize his offense at South Carolina, he hired App State’s OL coach Shawn Elliott to the same position to bring in some spread option. Elliott is the head coach at Georgia State, so you know the HBC was smiling for more than one reason at Tennessee’s loss. The Vol defense is again the weak link, which is funny considering who their head coach is.
* If you’ve been reading this newsletter since about February or so, you already knew to be skeptical about Missouri this year. In short: Derek Dooley no more proved himself as a play caller in 2018 with senior Drew Lock than Brent Pease did in 2011 at Boise State with senior QB Kellen Moore.
Mizzou’s offense struggled last year when now-graduated WR Emanuel Hall missed time to injury even with Lock, and Dooley had nothing in his past to suggest he could maximize the talents of a dual threat guy like Kelly Bryant. Top it off with Barry Odom having produced no good defenses as a head coach and a postseason ban, and you have a recipe for skepticism about MU this year.
* I didn’t catch much of the South Carolina-UNC game. What I did see was mostly Mack Brown making the most conservative possible coaching decisions at the time. A former blogging partner of mine who is a Gamecock fan took to Twitter after the game and said this:
“No, Will Muschamp has not changed. Will Muschamp will never change, no matter how many times he says he will change. Will Muschamp is incapable of change. That does not make him a bad person. It does make him an incredibly bad football coach”
I made a joke about replacing Muschamp with a different former Saban assistant, which led to someone suggesting that South Carolina will hire Steve Sarkisian next. While I think that fan base has suffered enough and doesn’t deserve that, can you categorically rule out them doing it? Sark now has SEC experience, and as an offensive head coach, he is the opposite of what they hired in Muschamp.
That’s all for today. Enjoy your cookouts, please stay safe with Dorian coming near, and get ready for a nice, fun exhibition this upcoming weekend.