John Brantley’s "Career" Day

It was bound to happen. We didn’t know when or what it would all mean, but eventually Florida Gators’ quarterback John Brantley would have his “career” day. It was the 11th game of his second season as the starter, but for one game it came together and gave us all hope there was enough fuel in no. 12’s tank for just two more.

Here’s the line Brantley put up against the Furman Paladins: 16-for-28, 329 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions

It’s not a great stat line and not even close to the best you’ve seen this season. Take a look at the Oklahoma State Cowboys for instance. Brandon Weeden has had four or more touchdowns three times in 2011 and has only had three games in which he passed for less than Brantley’s 329 yards. But that’s not the point.

And the point in this particular case isn’t the opponent either. It’s what we witnessed and what Brantley did. One touchdown covered 64 yards, another 80. There was one point in the second quarter when Brantley completed five-straight passes totaling 159 yards. The last two of those completions went for scores. His completion percentage wasn’t that of an All-American, the game as a whole may be forgotten in a few years, but for one game, we caught a glimpse of what Brantley could do in the type of offense he was made for.

Part of us wishes this has happened weeks ago, months ago, or even more than a year ago. Instead, we never quite knew what we had in Brantley. We were aware of the hype and had heard of the potential, but little was consistent. A lot contributed to that though, much of which was beyond Brantley’s control. He can’t shoulder the blame for the gigantic offensive question mark the Gators have carried with them for the past two seasons. Regardless, we wanted him to eventually shine through.

If it was just the one time, to witness it may have been anticlimactic, but it was oddly comforting. If it carries over to an aerial display against the Florida State Seminoles and into the bowl game, it will give us at least one positive note on the end of the 2011 season. You may not be a John Brantley fan, but for one day he made a number of us proud. Brantley will get off the roller coaster soon after one of the rougher rides we can remember. He was a good kid that powered through the dips while rarely experiencing the peaks. Saturday was a peak and one he should look back on fondly.

Gators, Seminoles, The Rivalry: All On Swamp Talk

Herc and I recorded a very special episode of Swamp Talk, but – SPOILER ALERT – actually have a very civilized discussion despite it being rivalry week. As the Florida Gators prepare to host the Florida State Seminoles, we looked at the matchups and keys to the game. We even had some predictions and, not to spoil something else, both took the under.

Before butting heads in the least violent sense of the phrase, we reviewed the Gators’ win over the Furman Paladins. While I expressed some concern, Herc believed the game meant little and doesn’t think the Seminoles can learn much from it.

It wasn’t all the play on the field though. We get into what time of year the Gators should face the Noles and even put one foot into the Urban Meyer to the Ohio State Buckeyes water. If you’re looking for something to listen to as you prepare for Thanksgiving, look no further. And for all other episodes of Swamp Talk visit Upon Further Review Sports Talk Radio.

The Florida Gators Defense: Concerns Have Shifted

For most of the 2011 season, it was the Florida Gators’ offense that had us concerned. We wondered if injuries could be overcome, if depth issues would bring down any chance of developing momentum, and, ultimately, if points could be scored. In a number of games, which would result in losses, our concerns were not only answered, they were painfully realized. Even when the Gators’ defense stepped up, the offense had problems doing the same. Most recently, we saw the situation doom Florida in defeat at the hands of the South Carolina Gamecocks. And then there were the Furman Paladins – the only FCS team on the Gators’ schedule – and suddenly a new concern came to light. The far from perfect, but improving and potential-filled defense looked lost.

22 points. That’s how it started. Up until taking on Furman, Florida had faced eight SEC teams, the teams that are currently ranked no. 1 and no. 2 in the nation, and the defending national champions. Up until taking on the Paladins, the Gators hadn’t given up 22 points in the first quarter. Florida only gave up 10 the rest of the way, but the damage had already been done and the questions already asked. Was the improvement a mirage? Does a team just have to plan accordingly to beat the Gators’ defense? Did Florida really just give up 446 yards of offense to Furman? And the numbers don’t stop there. The Paladins had more first downs than the Gators, went 2-for-2 on fourth downs, and had their offense on the field for nearly 37 minutes. Some argue Florida was looking ahead to its next opponent – the Florida State Seminoles - others argue [raises hand] a problem may be present.

Throughout any season there will be glitches in the matrix. It’s inevitable; unless you’re the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers. Moving right along. Teams will hits bumps along the road. Teams with new coaches and fresh out of the box philosophies will hit them at full speed and severely damage their suspension. What you don’t expect is for them to occur in game 11 against an opponent that should be help in check. What is not expected is to allow a team that had gone over 446 yards only twice this season do what they did. To put it into perspective, Furman had more total offense against only the 4-7 Presbyterian Blue Hose and the 1-10 (!) Western Carolina Catamounts. (Side note: FCS mascot names are the best!)

Now, with a questionable performance, Florida challenges FSU. The Seminoles have had their struggles as well, but will be watching tape of the Furman game into the late hours of the night to see exactly how the Paladins exposed the Gators’ defense. We thought we had other concerns: the offensive line, putting points on the board, a healthy run game. We may now have to worry about the defense too. A game like this one is different though and so is preparation. We can take comfort in the fact that this will be an intense week all around for Florida, but we also need to reassured last Saturday’s defense has been put down. Allowing FSU to jump out to a 22-7 lead early could prove insurmountable.

Florida State Seminoles Favored By 2.5 Over Florida Gators

The Florida Gators host the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday, although you would be forgiven for forgetting. In fact, you’d be forgiven for checking out weeks ago. College football is a glorious pleasure in our lives and so is the annual game between Florida and FSU, but this season has taken a stomach-twisting turn at times for both teams and this final regular season contest may be no different.

The Gators host the Seminoles, which may or may not be an advantage. Florida has seen attendance numbers dip this season and a game between two struggling offenses only two days after Thanksgiving may bring much of the same. The hope is that the rivalry is as much alive as it has ever been and the stands will fill on that fact alone. But hope is a dangerous thing, as the 2011 season has proven time and time again. It either springs eternal, or punches you in the mouth. It has effectively broken our jaws this season.

We don’t know what to expect from this one besides a hit parade of sorts on the quarterbacks. Whether that impacts the line or not is up to the men behind the closed doors in Vegas. What they have given us are the numbers: FSU by 2.5 and an over/under of 45. 2.5 seems possible, 45 seems ambitious. Then again, the Gators just gave up 32 to the Furman Paladins, so the phrase anything can happen overwhelmingly applies here. If the defenses show up, don’t bet on 45 being remotely in play. And they should; offensive line play could be an issue for both teams.

Although not a gambling advisor by any means, this is yet another one to stay away from. What we’ll get could resemble your worst video game nightmare or a surprise from an otherwise forgotten source. Take solace in the fact that we all get up a little more and cheer a little harder during rivalry games and this is the one at the top of the list. It’s being played for the victory, but also for that thing called pride. Point spreads, lines and the like be damned.

Predicting the Florida Gators Record After the Win Over the Furman Paladins

The find out what this all means, go here. The short version: One Eyed Willy and I predicted how many times out of 100 each SEC team would beat each of their opponents. Each week we go back and revise our predictions for the Florida Gators based on what occurred. It could be based on Florida’s play or that of their future opponents, but things change. If the Gators win, we bump that game to 100. If they lose, it drops to zero. Simple enough.

If you can squeak out a 22-point win, the Gators did so against the Furman Paladins. Bowl eligibility was at stake and Florida decided it best to make it as interesting and nail-biting as possible until the final quarter. Thanks for that by the way. On to where we stand.

Both of us predicted the Gators would finish the regular season with a record of 8-4. We did so according to overall win average and game-by-game picks:

After the loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks (and the brutal month of October), Florida’s expectations were 6-6:

And after the win over Furman, 6-6 was still the guess:

I decided not to change anything after the Gators defeated the Paladins. The FSU Seminoles were upset by the Virginia Cavaliers, but Florida’s defensive performance didn’t exactly provide me with anymore confidence over their instate rivals. 6.24 total wins became 6.25 by virtue of the victory over Furman, but my 25 wins over FSU remain. Go ahead and tell me I’m crazy, but the step the defense took back would have me worried about any game this week, FSU or not.

Willy was on the same page as he lowered his confidence in the Gators from 35 to 30. Although he’s slightly more confident than I am, five wins can’t be considered much of a swing. We both go into the regular season finale with anticipation of a great game that could be a disaster. There’s the chance of what might or might not be considered an upset, but, again, confidence isn’t as high as it once was. This may sum up the matchup, but a win will need to be earned on both sides of the ball.

Florida Gators 54 – Furman Paladins 32: When A Win Isn’t A Win

A win should make you happy. Not content or relieved, but happy. Actually, we’d take content or relieved at this point. Those are acceptable emotions after the roller coaster the Florida Gators have been on during the 2011 season. What isn’t acceptable is a feeling of “what just happened?”

After one quarter of what many might try to define as football, although it was hard to call it that, the Gators found themselves down 22-7 to the Furman Paladins and Florida fans found themselves looking frantically for the basketball schedule (and resume templates for head coach Will Muschamp so he could update his). A 20-point second quarter eased the pain for only a moment until we all realized the Gators were up by only five. Another quarter and 10 more points for each team found Florida up 37-32 with one frame to go. Any other season and we’d need to be talked off the ledge, but this one brought nothing more the a sigh. A familiar sigh that has replaced any anger or discomfort in wondering what could possibly happen next. But then there would be the fourth and final quarter. Far from perfect, a close contest became a 22-point game. The Gators would win for only the second time since September while we would begrudgingly move forward to the FSU Seminoles.

Before we move on though, we look at the victory over the Paladins. We look because we are determined to learn. Our curiosity is what overwhelms our ability to go quietly ahead into the night. We can’t do it because it’s not within our nature. Instead our nature says we must evaluate and over-analyze everything that has happened from every different angle. It’s sadistic in a way, but it’s what we do. We praise the good and attack the bad. And here we go…

Games such as those against Furman aren’t winnable for Florida. Beat the Paladins and you were supposed to. Lose to them, or play like the Gators did for much of the game, and there are far more headaches than worth the warm-up for a matchup with a rival. It’s better to avoid games like these all together, and one day a nine-game SEC schedule may solve the problem for us, but until them we stomach what was supposed to go down without the need for an antacid.

No one told the Paladins that they were supposed to roll over and die and for their effort, we have to give applause. Good for Furman for staying in the game. Kudos for taking advantage of a situation and disrupting an afternoon. In the end, it wasn’t enough, but in some strange way it was. By gaining 446 yards, the Paladins exposed the Gators’ defense. In recent weeks, we’ve labeled the defense the rock of the Florida squad. It was the unit we saw marked improvement in. We looked forward to 2012 and the further progression of the defense. After Saturday, we wonder if another step, or leap, was taken back. You don’t give up 446 yards to an FCS team. Maybe you do, but you shouldn’t. Not in game 11, and not in The Swamp, and not with a defensive head coach even if he is in his first year. But if you are weathering through a record of 9-10 over the last 19 games you’ve played as a team, maybe you do. Pick sixes by De’Ante “Pop” Saunders and Jelani Jenkins were highlights, but little else was. Taking a step back in game 11 is like taking a step back for 2012 and, yes, that has us worried.

We find bright spots on the offensive side of the ball because in any 22-point win, you have to find them somewhere. There was John Brantley’s career day; we’ll start there. If the Gators’ 2011 season has been a roller coaster, Brantley’s career has been the fastest, scariest one there is. Brantley’s 329 passing yards? A career high. His four touchdown passes? Another one. We try not to celebrate the FCS wins as much, but we can celebrate Brantley. If this is what the offense was supposed to look like when Muschamp hired offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, then it came too late. Too late to make an impact on the season and realistically too late to change the fortunes of Brantley’s career. But just in time to allow us to enjoy what the quarterback was expected to be able to do. A 64-yard touchdown pass to Andre Debose in the third quarter was only overshadowed by an 80-yarder one quarter earlier. Years from now, when we look back at the career of John Brantley, we may do so with mixed emotions. A game we’ll have to recall was this one. One game where it looked like it was supposed to. One game that gave us hope for the regular season finale.

We can go ahead and classify this as a win; for Brantley, for Debose, and if only because the standings dictate it. Although we’re still not sure to think of what happened (Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army may have summed it up best with words like “worst” and “weirdest”), it’s technically a victory. A victory that is only the Gators’ sixth of the season and one that keeps the hopes of eight alive. It’s not often you dream of an eight-win season, but it has come to that. There are 120 minutes of football left for Florida and two outcomes to be discovered. Confidence in what those two outcomes may be isn’t high, but now the Gators play for something. Maybe state pride, maybe to go out on a winning note, maybe just to shut the door on 2011.

Florida Gators vs. Furman Paladins: The Quickest of Previews

A quick rundown of Florida’s game against Furman because there might not be time for a fuller one. Such is the life of the casual blogger. You may have not known this, but our lives are very demanding. We have commitments that include a day job, wasting time reading articles covering sports we don’t even like, trying to watch The Wire from start to finish, and general sitting around. So from time to time, you get the brief.

I won’t even go into the must-win analysis again. You know what this game could mean, I know what this game could mean, the Gators know what this game could mean. It’s not often we find ourselves here. As Florida fans, the sun has been shining as of late and even 2010’s 7-5 regular season was 6-4 after 10 games. (That doesn’t help at all, does it?) But things could be worse; we could be cheering for 4-6 (0-6) Tennessee. Okay, so that may have been a cheap shot, but it’s really all we’ve got this year.

On we go to Furman; to a 6-4 team that wraps up their regular season on Saturday against Florida. A team South Carolina defeated by 19 last season and Missouri beat by 40 the season before that. A team that lost to Auburn by 32 in 2009 and former Gator Ingle Martin took to overtime against Pittsburgh in 2004. A team Florida should beat, but by how much is anyone’s guess.

There are victories and moral victories. The moral type are typically losses, but in this case Florida needs it to be a win. The Gators need a real victory and a moral one and a moral one won’t include anything less than an old-fashioned butt whupping at The Swamp. With depth issues and problem units impeding Florida’s progression as a team, that may be too much to ask for, but this is a game the Gators should win big time after time. The 2010 Florida team had it’s problems as well, but still managed to beat Appalachian State by 38. The Gators need that again. We all need that again.

Predicting the Florida Gators Record After the Loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks

The find out what this all means, go here for the original post. The short version: One Eyed Willy and I predicted how many times out of 100 each SEC team would beat each of their opponents. Each week we go back and revise our predictions for the Gators based on what occurred. It could be based on Florida’s play or that of their future opponents, but things change. If the Gators win, we bump that game to 100. If they lose, it drops to zero. Simple enough.

Here we are again, staring down the barrel of a gun loading with 6-6 bullets. Lose number five comes with the threat of a .500 regular season and an overall season below that. Hard to believe this could happen to our mighty Gators, but it has and we’re all feeling the sting of a transition year, a rebuilding year, a new coaching staff, new schemes and systems, injuries and such a small number of scholarship players you would think Florida was on serious probation.

For a little history, we start with our original prediction for the Gators. 8-4 has never looked so good:

After pretty much the worst month imaginable, Florida beat Vanderbilt and we all let out a collective sigh of relief. 6-6 seemed likely, but 7-5 was a possibility, or so we believed:

Then South Carolina came and the “win streak” went:

With two games left, Willy and I are predicting 6-6. We have to. There’s no other choice. Be as confident and supportive of the Gators as you can leading up to the season finale against FSU - we will be too – but Florida is far from the favorite. We’ll keep the hope alive of a season-ending victory, but can’t predict or guarantee it.

What’s interesting is that of the two of us, I’ve now become the naysayer of sorts. My glass is half empty. Willy dropped the Gators’ chances against the Seminoles by only five wins this week, which coincidentally is exactly how far they have dropped for him over the course of the entire season. I, on the other hand, dumped Florida 15 wins this week and have lowered their win total by 10 during the season. We are still relatively close to each other when looking at the big picture, but my confidence is harder to find this week.

What the Gators need now is a big win. By big I mean blowout. Even against Furman who is 6-4 and coming off a loss to 5-5 Elon, that seems like a tall order. It’s needed though. Not to boost our confidence in Florida, but to boost the players’ confidence in themselves. If mine is hard to find, theirs may be completely lost.

South Carolina Gamecocks 17 – Florida Gators 12: Another Loss, Another Series of Frustrations

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.

Quick Look: Florida Gators @ South Carolina Gamecocks

Florida won it’s must-win game over Vanderbilt and now moves on to another. Sort of.

This one is only a must-win contest in the eye of e beholder. There’s pride and respect and all those things that go along with a victory in a down season; the “we got one” feeling. It’s there and it won’t be denied, at least not here, but most must-win games are labeled so for other reasons. Vandy was such because it all but guaranteed a non-losing regular season record. This Saturday’s visit to South Carolina is a different animal entirely.

Besting the Gamcocks would be a good thing because winning is never bad. It’s also a positive because it solidifies a winning record when you include the bowl game. (Furman might have something to say about that, or they might not.) You could also say it moves the Gators closer to salvaging an otherwise rough season. Remember, there’s still a chance that 2011 could produce nine wins. I know it’s a long shot, but a shot all the same. There are reasons for supporting a win that go beyond “BECAUSE I LOVE THE GATORS!” but are they really must-wins?

No, they aren’t. Think of this game as a would-very-much-be-liking-things-better-if-my-team-won-win. We would love it to happened, but we also have tempered our emotions and reactions in recent weeks. Well, some of us have. That’s not to say we would accept a loss, but that we wouldn’t make a punching bag out of our flat screen if that were to occur. So win Gators, but don’t break down mentally to get to that win. Play that level of smart football you’ve shown just the briefest glimpses of in the past. If it’s there, it’s time to bring it out now. There’s a season to be saved salvaged. Salvage it now.