By popular demand, Gator Country is refreshing one of its favorite features, this time in a weekly cadence to get everyone over hump day and rolling into the next Gator game day. Ray (Solari), in his everlasting wisdom (?), assigned the bulk of the newsletter to me, David Parker.
Most of the thoughts will revolve around our beloved Gators, of course, but many will stray about the field of college football, as well as other ports of call along the pop culture spectrum.
Following that, you’ll find additional snippets and tidbits from the Gator Country staff and columnists. Sometimes it’s factual stuff, sometimes it’s insider stuff, sometimes it’s something else entirely. But it’s always relevant to the Florida Gators!
We’ll be mailing this out every Wednesday morning just in time with your coffee, tea, or whatever voo-doo you use to get your day started.
Hope you all enjoy. -PD
Thoughts of the Week
Well that was a sobering Saturday, to say the least. But not unexpected. And not just because Florida for years has continually failed to regard, prepare for, or care to give any discernible effort to beat Missouri like they were an SEC (or even FBS) opponent. Rather it’s because this has all year shaped up to be the worst matchup on both sides of the ball for Florida, and they played like it. The matchups were made all the worse by so many starting defensive backs either lost to injury or the doghouse, or playing injured like CJ Henderson was, against the most potent passing attack in the SEC and Drew Lock, one of the elite quarterbacks in the nation.
Besides that, though, was the simple ebb and flow of the season as the schedule played out. The Georgia game was one of the two most physically, mentally and emotionally draining games on the slate. The other game that fully or nearly equaled the UGA game in that level of comprehensively draining intensity was the LSU game. And we all know how awful the team played the following week against Vanderbilt, especially the quarterback and the defense (the two main culprits in this year’s installment of the annual embarrassment known as the Missouri Game). So I expected a similar output as we saw against the Commodores. Only we got much worse, because the offensive line and skill players joined in the sleep walk this time. That may also have been predictable, given how late in the season we are and how much energy this young and otherwise rudimentary team has spent to get this far.
I knew going in that with our extremely young and extremely depleted secondary and our pass rush having entered the witness protection program after the LSU game, this was always going to be a track meet. And with our offense, we can’t win a track meet against a banana slug.
So, while I am certainly not happy about the abysmal execution against Missouri ,with some exceptions, I am overall very hopeful about finish of the 2018 season, and still perfectly giddy about the near and long term future of the Gator program in the Dan Mullen era.
I was no doubt stretching a bit, but as I watched Saturday’s game, I couldn’t help thinking again and again, “Put Lock on Florida’s team, and we’re a playoff team this year. Put Lock on Florida, and we’re undefeated right now.” Again, I don’t know how accurate that is, but it’s close enough for jazz. Dan is going to get our roster right, but it will take time. You can’t go sign 45 4th-year juniors in one recruiting class. We’d have a much better time of it if we had a QB who could do anything at all…but we just don’t.
It’s just going to suck waiting for that fix to be completed. Just remember that as difficult as it will be from time to time watching this sausage be made, once it is made, Florida football is going to be a giant sausage fest!
There has to be a better way of phrasing that…
Surely by now we’ve all heard or seen Dan Mullen’s comments concerning the Florida fan base, and the chicken & egg scenario. How there is never a championship first, then great fan support; it has to start with incredible home field advantage every time in the Swamp.
I know it rubs many the wrong way, as will what I am about to write, but he’s not wrong. Florida is one of the least supportive, whiniest fan bass on Earth, especially in relation to how much winning and how many championships to which we’ve been treated in the big 3 sports as well as all other sports. There is literally NO fan base in the country that has had it better than Florida across the board of athletics excellence and conference and national championships than Florida fans – and I mean since the 1980s, not just the last few years (although UF has certainly stepped it up a number of notches since the turn of the century). And yet, for the most part, a huge portion of Gator fans act like this level of unprecedented and unparalleled success is a birthright. That winning all these championships, being the only program to ever win football and basketball natties in the same year, that being one of only a small handful of programs to win natties in all three revenue sports of football, basketball and baseball – and the only ones to do it in the last 50+ years – that all this winning is what they deserve, is their entitlement, just by attending, graduating or just liking the University of Florida.
But it just doesn’t work that way. What Florida has is special. And just because football has fallen on hard times because of a couple of atrocious head coaching hires, doesn’t change how lucky we have been over the last 30 years, and even over the last 12 (though the last 12-pack was seriously front-loaded).
I’ve read and heard in the last few days several people complain that they had to spend a lot of money to attend the Missouri game and they didn’t get their money’s worth. And they pointed the finger at Dan Mullen and his staff for spoiling their ROI. Maybe I am the naive child or the fool on the hill, but in my estimation, that’s blasphemy in the church of the fan. You follow and support your school because it’s your school. Giving your full support in thick and thin is its own reward. I fully understand “voting with your wallet” when you’ve got a failure of a coach that the administration is hanging on to well beyond his expiration date, like Ron Zook, Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain. But Dan has given us much more than we ever could have rationally expected this year. And we’ve got fans opening threads before the game is even over, talking about how the honeymoon is over and Dan is on the clock.
Fans want us writers to be direct and “real” when we critique the players and coaches; heck, they vocally call for the head coaches to be direct and call out specific players for bad performances (basically throw them under the bus to give the fans a little red meat); they don’t want us to sugar-coat things when anyone is doing badly; they don’t want smoke blow up their posteriors. Well that street goes both ways. It’s time we spoke frankly and honestly about Florida fans, specifically Florida football fans.
It’s time to look in the deep dark truthful mirror. Dan is giving us our wake-up call, because he will leave this program just like Spurrier and Meyer did, if he feels like the fans are too spoiled, too entitlement-obsessed, too rotten to support anything less than winning the national title every year like the Tuscaloosa Cheaters are doing right now. It’s not the primary reason either of those two legendary coaches left Gainesville, but it was on their lips as they walked out the door – and that speaks volumes. I know that’s the furthest thing from Dan’s mind right now, but we’ve seen this movie before, and we know how it ends.
And it’s time for Florida fans to self-scout and recognize, then acknowledge, that we are no better than Miami fans if we are only going to be front-runners and only pack the stadium and go wild when the program is playing at an elite level every week. Worse than Miami fans, even, because they’ve never had anything about which to be genuinely proud – just a handful of titles won as filthy/dirty as humanly possible. Other than the football and basketball blip in the mid/late-80s, Florida’s always earned all their trophies honestly, with integrity and respect for the rules and the law. And that time when we colored outside the lines in the ‘80s? We were hit with the most disproportionately harsh sanctions ever handed down. Miami? Alabama? FSU? Clemson? Ohio State? Mississippi? Auburn?…you name the school, and the few times the NCAA has even bothered to slow down their locomotives of cheating, they’ve been given mere slaps on the wrist compared to their transgressions. We’ve done it the right way. We’ve earned the fans’ devotion and respect for decades upon decades. I was a student in those lean years of the 1980s, when the NCAA tournament and the College World Series were just fluke novelties, and the races for the SEC and national titles in football were spectator sports only. And you know how many times we sold out our home games in football? Every time. Florida Field was packed with a sellout crowd for every. Single. Game from 1979 to 2011. You know what Florida’s record was in 1979? 0-10-1.Still sold out every home game. The last 4 years of the eighties, I helped fill the stadium to capacity for every game when we averaged a paltry 6.5 wins per year, and never more than 7. And nobody ever complained about their ROI.
So yeah, Dan is right. Gator fans have every right to be bummed that the football program has stunk for the last 8 years, but that’s no excuse for the crummy support that Gator fans have given this program over that time, and certainly no excuses for making the head coach have to resort to begging fans to come to a football game in hallowed Gainesville. If the fans want relentless effort from the players every week, they must apply some version of the same ethic to themselves.
Third and Grantham
Much has been made about how pass pressure has exited the Gator vocabulary since the LSU game, particularly on third down and other obvious passing downs, but rest assured Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham didn’t suddenly get scared. Injuries and quiet pseudo-suspensions (aka doghouse punishments) have made it impossible for Grantham to blitz on 3rd down as he did so successfully earlier in the year. But, like I said after the UGA game, this strategy would have worked great if the Gator quarterback could do anything to stay on the field for a few minutes at a time, let alone score.
“Kyle, and the world smiles with you”
At least in Gator Nation, that’s how the age-old adage has been adapted and adopted. I already had my say last week on the limitations of Feleipe Franks, and I won’t belabor the points or pile on the kid who gives his all every day to all things Gator. But I certainly join the chorus that is singing a plea for a different quarterback tune this Saturday. Even if they are even or if Franks is slightly ahead in both the passing and running game potential, it is his total lack of ball security that has plagued him now for 3-straight games that dictates a change should be in the offing.
Kyle Trask’s father made some gracious comments of praise for his son this week, and I think his dad’s comments inadvertently reveal they’ve been patiently waiting for this shot for a long time, knowing all along that he’d out-perform FF if he ever got inserted into a game in meaningful time. That tells me a lot of good things about their character. We’ve seen (and even had at UF in recent years) backups and their family complaining on social media that they should be starting and are not getting a chance. A certain DB’s mother comes to mind, as does an insufferable dad of a quarterback who just had a great game for a different program Saturday.
Amidst much scrutiny and open questioning of Dan Mullen’s competence and/or stubbornness, I believe the primary reason Trask has not been given a starting shot to date is that he scores very low in the leadership box. As I understand it, while he may have out-played FF all year in practices (not saying he actually has, just hypothetical), he has not stepped up and commanded the huddle, he hasn’t been a vocal leader, he hasn’t grabbed the opportunity that is plainly there.
That in my opinion has been a big reason Dan has stuck with Franks. The higher ceiling and better running element both factor in, but maybe moreso the fact that Franks has grabbed the ring and harnessed the support of his teammates and has stepped up in his ability to help raise the performances around him. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking Tebow territory here, but he’s done enough in this space where Trask has done very little. With a young team struggling with buy-in and struggling to even practice the right way each week, I have no problem seeing Dan prioritizing this element among the highest rungs.
But leadership in the huddle, at practice and off the field erodes quickly when you’re the biggest reason every week that the team is losing or struggling to beat bad opponents. And that’s where we are today. It would appear that whatever Franks had going in the leadership and high ceiling departments, it has been superseded by the fact that he simply can’t do anything on the field anymore. He can’t do any of the things that Dan has nudged him to do outside his comfort zone, and he is so fragile that after failing or struggling in those steps, he has lost the ability to even complete a simple backward pass or a swing pass to guys standing almost close enough to hand them the ball.
When that crossroads has been reached, as it has here, the coach is in a tough spot. But that’s what he gets paid for. Hopefully we will see Saturday that Dan made the right decisions this week, whichever those may be. We as fans, not being privy to the way they practice or lead their teammates, aren’t usually in a position to know what the right choices are. We can see what clearly works and doesn’t work on the field, however, and by that accounting, the starting QB choice for Saturday is very clear.
And if he gets the opportunity, he needs to take it, not accept it. Time to step into the leadership role and own the huddle. Time for Kyle to be a Trask Master.
Chomps from the GC Staff & Columnists —
There was a lot of rumors out there about the locker room on Saturday. Things were not as bad as people made them out to be. There were a lot of upset guys mad about the loss but that’s something that isn’t abnormal in locker rooms. No fight happened like some said.
As far as quarterback play goes, many people say that both Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks have had up and down practices as of late. While no decision has been made, I would say Franks starts on Saturday.
In recruiting things picked up with two commits on Saturday but both were underclasmen. 2019 recruiting has been gaining some momentum as guys see playing time available.
NICK DE LA TORRE
The last two weeks have been hard, I know this, but now isn’t time to give up on the Gators.
Florida can still get to 9-3 on the season and I think most of us would have been happy with that before the season began.
What the team is going to battle now, and what they are battling, is the old “me over team” attitude. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson hasn’t practiced this week and I’m told he should be able to play. We’ll see if he makes a business decision. Jachai Polite was in a non-contact jersey on Tuesday, he wasn’t on Monday. Florida needs to play for something and there are a lot of guys in the locker room more worried about the name on the back of their jersey more than the one on the front. If that takes over the locker room we’re in for a long three weeks. I hope it doesn’t, I don’t think it will.
The Florida offense is one of the nation’s more efficient attacks despite its recent struggles. The Gators are top 25 nationally in success rate according to SB Nation’s Bill Connelly. Success rate is a measure that tells whether a team is moving the ball a good amount on each down.
The offense does well when it keeps up the pace on the first two downs, but it just can’t handle penalties or getting off schedule. The Gators are 127th in the country in third down conversions with at least seven yards to go, converting a miserable 16.4% of them. This fact creates a conundrum for the play caller: taking shots down the field is necessary to keep the defense from crowding the line, but even on first down, not connecting on it puts the offense in real danger of having to punt. It’s a balance that Dan Mullen will have to figure out down the stretch this year.
Oof, that loss to Florida State wasn’t pretty, folks.
It’s a long season so I don’t see this as all doom and gloom, and let’s remember the Seminoles were an Elite Eight team last year that returned most of it’s pieces. Gorjok Gak and Chase Johnson were both out and though it hasn’t been publicly stated by the team, I’m hearing Gak will be out until after the Bahamas trip at the earliest and Johnson has whiplash that could see him out for a few games. Both could have helped on Tuesday.
The Gators now regroup before taking on Charleston Southern.
That’s all, folks!
We’ll send you off with our photo of the week below. Until then, see you in your inbox next Wednesday. : )
All the best,
Your friends at Gator Country…where it’s GREAT to be a FLORIDA GATOR!