In many sports, 4-3 isn’t an awful record; a win percentage like that may even get you into the playoffs. In college football, 4-3 is a disaster. With their latest loss—this time to the surging Missouri Tigers—the Florida Gators are 4-3 and in a position where all hope may seem lost. There’s still a chance for 10 wins (always a good thing), but the Gators would have to win out. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that currently believes Florida has a chance of doing that. In order to come even close, the Gators must first find an offense.
NCAA expert betting lines (click here for view more) will tell you Mizzou isn’t a bad team. In fact, they’ll tell you the Tigers are a very good team. Sometimes losing to a team of that respect can lessen the blow, but not when you lose the way the Gators did. While the offense I already mentioned looked for any possible way to move the ball, the defense finally gave in. Try as they might, Florida was no match for Missouri on either side of the ball. When hope was briefly restored after Solomon Patton’s kickoff return, it was quickly taken away by the Tigers’ offense.
Before the game started, I would have told you I was 50-50 on the outcome. The Gators’ defense had the talent and ability to keep Florida in any game regardless of the opponent and, if the offense could do just enough to put a few points on the board, then the orange and blue would be right in it. Add that to the fact that the Tigers would be without quarterback James Franklin and the Gators had a real shot to take down a ranked opponent. Unfortunately, it was the other side of that 50-50 that would prevail.
Despite being without the starting quarterback, Missouri would put up 500 yards of total offense. 500 yards?!?!? Yes, half of a thousand, against what was considered an elite defense. And a balanced 500 at that—295 through the air and 205 on the ground. The Tigers’ replacement quarterback, Maty Mauk, completed 18 passes for 295 yards. Not far behind him, Gators’ QB Tyler Murphy completed 15. The problem? Murphy’s 15 went for only 92 yards. Let’s be clear, I’m not putting the loss on Murphy. It’s hard to expect any quarterback to be successful when he’s given no time to process, well, anything.
And there’s where one of the major issues lays—the offensive line. There is talent and there is experience, but little of either came through on Saturday. Murphy was credited with eight rushing attempts for a loss of 45 yards. Remember, sacks go against a quarterback’s rushing totals, so those 45 lost yards weren’t all a result of Murphy running poorly. They were a result of the QB having little time to do anything other than think “this is about to hurt.” Revamp number one needs to be the line. In order for a team to be successful, the quarterback needs to be protected. That’s before you even get to Football 101. We’re quick to look at the numbers the receivers aren’t putting up and think there is a problem with the unit, but how is Murphy supposed to get them the ball when he’s running for his life or picking himself up off of the grass?
Next, fireworks. There haven’t been any and there weren’t any on Saturday either. This offense doesn’t wow you and it doesn’t wow its opponents. The longest play from scrimmage against LSU one week earlier went for a grand total of 20 yards. The longest play against Missouri was once again 20 yards. The lone bright spot (again) was freshman running back Kelvin Taylor, who had that 20-yard gain. Taylor would finish with 12 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown. The freshman is the real deal and will be a delight to watch throughout his career. Unfortunately, he’s the only thing worth watching at the moment.
That last statement isn’t entirely true as I’ve immensely enjoyed witnessing the progression of Solomon Patton. He’s a spark plug and a big play waiting to happen. Patton’s 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half pulled the Gators to within three. It was still anyone’s game. One minute and 24 seconds later, Missouri answered to go up 10. The aforementioned bright spot, Taylor, pulled the Gators to within six near the end of the third, and then the fourth quarter happened. What should have been 15 minutes of hard-played football as both teams fought for a win, was all Missouri.
So to ask the question presented in the title of this post, have the wheels fallen off? The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Gators. Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State are all waiting. There’s also Vanderbilt, fresh off of their upset victory over the ‘Dawgs. Wanting to believe Florida can go 5-0 to close out the regular season and actually believing it are two different things. I want to believe I’ll come home to an organized garage tonight, but I know there’s no conceivable way that will occur. The Gators’ garage is a mess and the current coaching staff may not be able to clean it up.
I’ll get to the staff in another post later this week (because I’m a glutton for punishment and I have a couple of long plane rides ahead of me), but for now I will openly wonder about its future. If Will Muschamp is holding back the offense, something needs to be done to stop him from doing so. If, on the other hand, it’s Brent Pease not cutting it in big-time conference football, then there needs to be someone else running the offense next season. Whether it’s the head coach or the offensive coordinator, you can bet we’ll see changes for 2014. With five games left in the 2013 season, it’s early to talk about that, but it’s actually not early enough.