I find it hard to put Florida’s latest defeat into words, but I’ll try for a number of reasons. The first reason is, although this is a few days late, I’m sitting in an airport waiting for a flight that doesn’t leave until twenty after midnight, so what else am I going to do. The second is because the Gators are yet again .500 with a grim immediate future.
Saturday’s game brought an amount of pain to fans that was all too familiar. There’s little frustration involved with winning 30 of 32 games over a span of two full seasons and the first third of another. Even if you saw some holes in the offense that could impact the future, you were still looking at back-to-back 13-1 seasons followed by a 4-0 start in 2010. Frustrated that they lost those two games? I’ll take that frustration every day of the week.
Oh how things have changed. Florida has played 19 games since that time and has a record of 9-10 in those 19 contests. That’s not the worst part though. No, the worst part is that little has shown that that mark will improve any time soon. Against Furman, the Gators are the favorites, but wins over instate rival FSU and a bowl game opponent are far from guaranteed. If the play of the offense against South Carolina is any indication, things will get worse before they get better.
Let’s go through the rundown, but be warned, it’s not pretty. You should know that by now. You’ve watched the games and read the reviews. You should be quite aware that this team has a far road to travel before dreams of even 10-win seasons are realized again. Against the Gamecocks, offensive line play was atrocious, a passing game was non-existent, and we saw the Gators play another game without wide receivers. Harsh? Maybe, but maybe not enough. Even the lone bright spot – Chris Rainey, who finished with 132 yards on the ground and another 30 receiving – brought about frustration because of what more he could have done with consistent blocking.
I’ve been kind to the offensive line for the most part this season. I’ve harped that they were the key and needed to improve week after week after week, but I’ve still been kind. That has to stop now. The line is battling injuries, yes, but there has to be a point where improvement is seen. 10 games in and that hasn’t happened. Why? It’s not a sarcastic or mean-spirited question; it’s a serious one. Why hasn’t the line improved? Is it a case of drastically wrong recruiting rankings? Too much of a change from one offensive system to the next? A true lack of talent? We could talk about how John Brantley only passed for 119 yards and spent another afternoon relying on his tight ends and running backs because the receivers weren’t doing their part, but how much time did he have to make decisions in critical moments? We could have assumed the line would struggle. There was limited overall experience and even less, if any, experience playing together. However, none of us expected it to still be an issue 10 games into the season. Injuries or not, there has to be improvement somewhere. In this case, there isn’t.
On the other side of the ball, the defense has trouble stopping the run, but they all but eliminated the pass. Say what you want about the young defensive backs, but South Carolina star receiver Alshon Jeffery had two catches for 17 yards. Even the big pass play of the day – a 46-yard strike from Connor Shaw to Ace Sanders – was a near-perfect throw that few could have defended. But there is the matter of stopping the run; a matter that focuses directly on angles yet again. A simple fundamental of football is that you can’t tackle someone if you’re running to where he was instead of where he’s going to be. Time after time, Florida defenders were misjudging angles and allowing Shaw and Brandon Wilds to gain extra yards. Without Marcus Lattimore in the lineup, the Gamecocks run game was supposed to be stalled against the Gators. Um, South Carolina ran the ball 52 times for 215 yards. That’s not stalled. That’s a fully functioning engine with a brand new battery.
There’s definitely more to cover, but you already experienced it. Why bring too much of it up again days later when we may have to revisit it all in a couple of weeks? The loss was ugly. Ugly because for the reasons listed above and those others that don’t appear here. Tougher to swallow because it was another game that despite poor play in areas, Florida was in until the end. 6-4 doesn’t sound much better than 5-5. How does 7-3 sounds? Or how about 8-2? The Gators are now looking at a best-case scenario of matching last season’s 8-5 record. That would require winning two games they won’t be picked to do so. 7-6 seems more likely and 6-7 seems highly possible. I go back to this article I wrote before the season started. It seemed like a joke at the time. Jokes are never that funny when you’re living them out.