I’m not sure if you heard, but the University of Florida participated in a pretty closely contested football game this past Saturday afternoon. I was prepared for a close game, chock full of could’ve and should’ve beens on both sides of the ball going into this game. I was not, however, prepared for a game that would take approximately five years off of my increasingly short lifespan. Because I’m incapable of discussing Florida Football concisely without parameters under which to work, I’m going to break down my thoughts on Saturday’s win into various topics of note (Note: this is not meant to mean that this post will be concise. Far from it, in fact):
Frustration: This is, without a doubt, the most frustrating 9-1 team in the history of 9-1 teams. Most of my frustration with this team stems from the offense, or more specifically, the offense’s inability to establish any consistent rhythm. There is more talent at the skill positions on this offense than any Gator team since 2001. I would even submit that this team, while not as dynamic at the top of the depth chart as say 2001 or 1996, boasts even more depth at the skill positions than just about any Gator team in the past 20 years. This depth seems to be one of the problems. While this may seem strange, it’s struck me over the past couple of weeks that some of the problem with Florida’s offense is the constant attempt to involve all of Florida’s playmakers as opposed to sticking with the “hot hand”. Instead of punishing defenses with a steady diet of what’s working, Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen too often tries to keep defenses off balance by changing up what is working. By doing this, Mullen allows defenses to regain momentum while also throwing his “hot” playmakers out of their rhythm. Evidence of this can be seen in the stats of DeShawn Wynn against USC. Despite averaging over 7 yards a carry, Wynn was limited to 13 carries for the game. While I’m not saying that Florida should abandon their passing game, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt Florida to call Wynn’s number a few more times on Saturday. Especially in the red zone, where he was completely ignored by Mullen on, not one, but two scoreless trips during Saturday’s game.
Chris Leak: I’m not one of the Florida fans who’ve been calling for Tim Tebow to play more. In fact, I think that the Florida coaching staff has done a great job of putting Tebow into situations that are geared for success. While nobody is denying Tebow’s talent, it should be stated that he is a true freshman with a rudimentary understanding of the passing game. To put him into too many varied situations would not only run the risk of damaging his confidence but also, possibly, result in a season changing turnover (see Shockley, DJ: 2002). For further proof of this, one need only look at Tebow's two passing attempts against USC. On both occasions, Tebow had a receiver open (Dallas Baker & Tate Casey) but focused only on his primary receiver. Thankfully, the result was a couple of incompletions. Things could’ve turned out much worse, especially on Tebow’s first attempt where he tried to squeeze a pass into double coverage in the endzone.
With all of this being said, Chris Leak’s inaccuracy as a passer continues to be his Achilles heel. Simply put, he too often forces his receivers to “make a play” when an accurately thrown ball would result in huge gains. He needed an unbelievable effort from Dallas Baker on his TD pass to avoid a disastrous turnover late in the first half. Beyond that, he badly missed on a couple of other passes that surely would’ve resulted in large gains for the Florida offense. Leak deserves credit for his gutsy running and play calling on the final drive (he checked into both of his draws on the final drive) and he did look more in control of the offense than he has in weeks but he’s still far behind what should be expected of a senior QB who has been starting since the 4th game of his freshman year. In an effort to curb some of these mistakes, I would suggest that Meyer and Mullen employ more basic routes such as shallow crosses and outs. Use of these routes have two positive offshoots, they allow some of Florida’s "playmakers” (Harvin, Ingram, Caldwell) to operate in space while also not forcing Leak to make a perfect throw into tight coverage. The use of these, and other, shorter more basic routes should be viewed as one of the primary reasons that Leak finished Saturday’s game 23-29.
“Cute” playcalling: This was an especially frustrating aspect of Saturday’s game. Nearly every time the Florida had the ball (Only 7 offensive possessions…this clock rule SUCKS!) the offense marched down the field with relative ease only to stall once within South Carolina’s 30 yard line. The main culprit for much of this wasn’t penalties or dropped passes as has so often been the case this year. Rather, it was the playcalling of Dan Mullen. On Florida’s first drive, after moving to the USC 4 yard line, Mullen called for a shovel pass despite the Gamecock’s complete inability to stop the ball being run directly at them. The result? A seven yard loss. This put Florida in a clear passing situation on second and third down and eventually ended in a missed FG by Chris Hetland. More notably, during the fourth quarter, Mullen called a reverse throwback pass at the South Carolina 13 yard line for Andre Caldwell that ultimately resulted in a 16 yard loss. This loss would eventually lead to Florida coming up short on 3rd and 2 and having to settle for a FG. Mullen called a very good game on Saturday, involving many players and keeping USC off balance. However, he nearly cost the Gators the football game by trying to trick his way into the endzone instead of simply lining up with superior talent and forcing Carolina to stop the Florida offense. While this sort of thing may have been somewhat necessary at Mullen’s previous stops, he must realize that, in most cases, his team has a talent advantage and he doesn’t need gimmicks to get 6.
Defense: The Florida defense is officially vulnerable. The loss of Marcus Thomas has been covered here. However, it bears noting that the Gators have given up over five yards a carry since Thomas was booted off the team. This shouldn’t be all that surprising when you consider that Florida is now starting three DEs on their D-Line. Additionally, Florida’s pass rush has suffered without Thomas’ push up the middle. Not only did Florida fail to record a sack for the first time all season on Saturday, they weren’t ever really that close. The loss of a consistent pass rush combined with an inability to stop the run (Siler’s injury could continue to be a BIG factor here) further exposes a thin Florida secondary that has had it’s hands full on numerous occasions this year. While no secondary can survive without an adequate pass rush, Florida’s secondary is absolutely cooked if front seven can’t find a way to put pressure on opposing passer and at least provide a mild resistance to runs up the gut.
Wow, that was awfully negative wasn’t it? It sure was, but what do you expect after a game that was so thoroughly given away by the home team? I can promise you that it would’ve been a whole hell of a lot worse if not for the fantastic hands on one Jarvis Moss. In an effort to at least appear positive, I’d like to specifically site the performances of the following people:
Jarvis Moss: Another in a long line of Jarvis’ at Florida, and now, perhaps the most famous of them all. Moss’s block(s) will go down in Florida history among the greatest moments that the Football team has ever seen. I was at the last game saved by a blocked FG (Auburn 2002) and that was absolute pandemonium in the stands. Considering the stakes involved in this game (on a number of levels) I would imagine that the scene in the stands after this block was somewhere between bat-shit crazy and, well…I guess I don’t have to imagine.
Reggie Lewis: He’s never going to receive enough credit, but for my money, Reggie Lewis made the most important play of the day by anybody not named Jarvis. His perfectly timed slap-away at Sidney Rice’s sure TD catch kept Florida in the game and completely changed the complexion of a second half that seemed to be quickly getting away from the Gators. I’ve watched the replay at least a dozen times and he could not have played the ball or the receiver any better than he did. The fact that he made the play against Sidney Rice made it all the more clutch and spectacular.
Urban Meyer: By now, nearly every Florida fan has commented that “Zook would’ve lost this game”, and they’re right. Personally I don’t think that it would’ve even come down to a FG if Towlie was still running the show in Gainesville. I’m not completely sold on all things Urban just yet, (His team’s still seem a little erratic and sloppy to me for a guy who pushes discipline so much) but he’s instilled a sense of pride and overall toughness in Gator football that I haven’t seen since the mid-90s and that alone is remarkable. His players believe in him and he reflects that belief in his players. He deserves a ton of credit for the changes he’s made in this program.
Florida fans: I wasn’t there but I’ve spoken to two separate people who were in attendance on Saturday who both said that the Swamp was “louder than I’ve ever heard it” on the final USC drive. I’ve been in that Stadium when its so loud that you think the ground is gonna open up right there at the 50 yard line, so it must’ve something special in that Stadium on Saturday night. Florida’s crowd never gave up. Florida’s players never gave up either. Pardon me if I think that there’s some connection there.
Thank god for Western Carolina this week...