My Glass if Half Empty

I’ve opened up a new blank document far too many times over the past week and a half. Each time, I’ve starred at my laptop’s screen wondering what would come out of my head and onto the ‘paper.’ And each time, the result was the same—nothing. No words, no thoughts, nothing to say. Just a blank document looking right back at me wondering what to make of the Florida Gators football team as much as I am.

Florida Gators Fan

Today was a different day. Any other season, it was would have been a day of hope. A day during the week leading up to the Georgia game and a rivalry renewed for another season. As our venerable friend Lee Corso would say, “not so fast.”

I’m not excited. I’m actually as close to the exact opposite as any one person can get. In effect, my perpetually half full glass of hope has spilled all over my desk, ruining my keyboard and destroying my just-win attitude in the process. I’m a forlorn Florida fan of the worst kind.

Let me say that losses happen. They happen in a variety of ways. They happen against an Alabama team that at this moment in college football history is superior in every way. They happen in a wild few minutes against LSU where a win was within reach a number of times before it suddenly wasn’t. But they’re not supposed to happen the way they happened against Missouri. The Gators managed to lose a game during which they allowed just 119 yards of offense to the Tigers. And not only did Florida lose, they lost by 29 points. There’s getting kicked in the stomach and then there’s getting kicked in the stomach, sucker punched in the back of the head, drug into the alley, and thrown in a dumpster.

That game—game six of the season I remind you—left far too many questions. The first of which is where exactly are the Gators improving? Florida should have done what it did to Eastern Michigan. It was fun to watch and, despite the opponent, raised our hope level a couple of notches. Then came Kentucky and an overtime thriller. But these Wildcats may have more fight in them than the Wildcats of old, so we can come up with enough excuses to accept the outcome. And, hey, a win is a win. Right? RIGHT??? Alabama is, well, Alabama. All hail thee Nick Saban. The Tennessee game brought another win-is-a-win feeling even as concerns mounted. Then back to The Swamp and LSU. A catch is made and we’re looking at 4-1. Issues aside, that’s 4-1 with one loss to the mighty Tide. I could have accepted that and continued to be my happy-go-lucky self. Glass half full I tell you.

But that catch didn’t happen. Things turned. The Tigers won and then a different set of striped beasts pushed us down the stairs we were playing too close to in the first place. 10 days later and the Gators are still stumbling down those steps, the bottom nowhere in sight. There’s talk of a new coach before Will Muschamp is even given the notice to clear out his office. There are looks to an old friend or two, new hot options, and even the NFL.

Where no one is looking is at Muschamp himself. With five games left, we’re looking to 2015 and a new leader. Let me say that again, with five games left it appears that Gator Nation has given up hope on the 2014 season and on Muschamp and has moved on. That’s sad on many levels, but it has come to that. Is it justified? In the eyes of some, yes. In the eyes of others, maybe not. But one thing is very clear, there are glaring issues that need to be fixed lest our beloved Gators fall further down the college football ladder.

In two days, the Gators will head to Jacksonville for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and a less-than-favorable matchup against the Georgia Bulldogs. Yes, I’m still calling it the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Yes, the Bulldogs are favored and should be.

I don’t have my usual hope at the moment. I’ve searched high and low for it, but it’s nowhere to be found. Maybe it made the road trip to Jacksonville. That would be good—my hope there in the stands, wearing orange and blue, cheering on the Gators. I doubt it though. In reality, it’s probably hiding under my bed or in the woods behind my house waiting for the right moment to return. If we’re being realistic (which we obviously are, because I just said “in reality”), then that moment isn’t just around the corner. There are coaching holes and execution holes and scoring-more-points-than-the-other-guys holes. My love of the Florida Gators hasn’t diminished, but my hope for the remainder of the 2014 football schedule may have.

It’ll be there in spurts as we continue our approach toward Saturday. There will be moments of “why not?!?” and posts of pictures of games past. There will be a #justwin here or there and more than a few To Hell with Georgias yelled out. This is a great game and a great rivalry and I won’t let my melancholy ruin that. Then again, you may want to steer clear of me for the first few hours after the game depending on the outcome. I can only handle so much.

So we go into the final stretch. No more rain outs and no more bye weeks. Instead, five consecutive November games—two against hated rivals, one against a rival we can’t quite decide if we want to call a rival or not, another against an SEC East opponent that embarrassed every fiber of our being one season ago, and Eastern Kentucky. (If 2014 Eastern Kentucky becomes 2013 Georgia Southern, I’ll have a hard time watching another minute of college football this season.)

I feel a dash of hope just writing this, despite its reached-a-point-of-no-return overtones. It’s the “wait, is the glass really half empty?” part of me. At the moment, I feel like it is indeed. Here’s to praying the next 48 hours bring me back to life.

[INSERT TITLE THAT HAS TO DO WITH THE FLORIDA GATORS STRUGGLING OFFENSE, AGAIN]

My calm is my 15-month-old son. No, his name isn’t Tim or Percy or Danny or Reggie, but he’s awesome all the same. He’s at the perfect age where he loves the Florida Gators, but also doesn’t know they exist. I can say “Where’s chomp chomp?” and he’ll run to his playroom, find his football with the Florida Gators logo, run back to me, and point at the logo. He does so smiling the entire time as if nothing could make him happier. When the games start, he points at the television, cheers and sometimes even claps (he does the same for Chugginton and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse). The key, though, is that he has no idea what’s really happening. He doesn’t know they are playing football and has no idea who wins or loses. Not only does he not know the outcome, he doesn’t care. He likes chomp chomp, but has no concern over silly things like scores. The game ends and it just means it’s time to play with Daddy. That makes him happy and it makes me happy. He is my calm and the reason I haven’t seriously thought about seeing how far I can launch my Gators garden gnome into the conservation area behind our house.

Tyler Murphy Florida Gators

This season has given us all many reasons to not be calm. There is an offense ranked in the 100s, where it has been during Will Muschamp’s entire tenure. Even without injuries to its starting quarterback and running back, the offense was far from productive. It was a case of “let’s hope this works, but not get too risky in the process.” You know, because taking chances is highly overrated. It has essentially become the opposite of exciting. And there’s nothing we can do about it, but watch, shrug and laugh (painfully).

We have to make it through four more games. I won’t say five because there’s a serious concern that the Gators won’t become bowl eligible. You’re looking at Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern and wondering how that could be possible. I’m looking at the Commodores win over Georgia and last season’s miracle victory over Louisiana-Lafayette and not penciling in game number 13 just yet. It’s so far from guaranteed, we barely want to mention a bowl. That’s not how Florida football should be, at all.

(more…)

To Heck with You Georgia, to Heck and Beyond

As a fan of the Florida Gators, you’re afforded many rights this week. Among those is the right to tell Georgia exactly where you think it should go, or be banished to. You can also ask them if they’d like to bite something in particular. The options are really endless for it is Florida-Georgia week and the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has arrived. (We’re not supposed to call it that, but our goal should be to ensure the moniker lives on with future generations.)

Florida Georgia Football

Your mind will be emblazoned with images of Brandon Spikes playing the role of Top Piece of Bread in the Spikes-Knowshon Moreno-ground sandwich, and it should be. There are moments that live with us forever and that is one of them. Another is the one of those damn dancing Dawgs in what we are required by University of Florida law to call a classless and utterly inappropriate display of arrogance. To take us back to positive images, I must quickly mention that Mohamed Massaquoi is still afraid of Reggie Nelson (REGGIE F’ING NELSON!).

Saturday is a date with destiny that isn’t. More was expected of both the Gators and the Bulldogs, but less has occurred for a variety of reasons. Injuries can be blamed and are the easy way out. Blaming injuries gives us comfort because it means our team doesn’t have offensive issues, wasn’t overrated to begin the season, and doesn’t have questions at various coaching positions. It means that a few very unfortunate circumstances led to 4-3 and the losses can be blamed on the absence of a key player or two or three or seven.

Quick side-note relating to records and not injuries: six of the seven teams in the SEC East are currently on losing streaks (including first-place Missouri). Look across the standings and you will see that six of the seven SEC West teams are currently on winning streaks. The lone West team on a losing streak is last-place Arkansas. Hey, the Gators beat them! YAY!

Moving past the injuries, we get to the issue of offense. No, we don’t. Let’s move right past that because we’ve talked about it all before here, here, and here. I don’t know how much more of it I can stomach and I can only imagine that you all are in the same boat. We need offense. We don’t need it next season. We don’t even need it next week. We need it now, or else the Bulldogs of Georgia will chew us up, spit us out, and end zone dance to an easy victory.

(more…)

With a Week Off Before Georgia, The Florida Gators Need an Offensive Rebirth

The Florida Gators don’t play this Saturday. Some of you may actually be breathing a sigh of relief knowing that. I am with you. I need a break, and I’m just a fan. I’m not a player and I’m definitely not the head coach or offensive coordinator. The players need a week off, Will Muschamp and Brent Pease need an extra week to determine the direction they’re going to head, and fans need a nice, relaxing Saturday with nothing on the line.

Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs

I will be perusing college football betting at TopBet, looking for games I can watch in a calm environment that doesn’t include me pacing in front of my television. Surprisingly, this season has been a calming one for me when experiencing our losses. I know that sounds, well, off and not right at all, but here’s the scenario: the losses to Miami and Missouri had me at home alone with my one-year-old son and the loss to LSU saw me in Minneapolis for a wedding. The losses stung like they always do, but I had plenty to distract me immediately following their conclusion. I didn’t have the opportunity to stew in the pain of defeat; I had to move on quickly. If another L works its way on to the Gators’ record, I hope I can find something else to take my mind away.

During the bye week, I’ll be relaxing (actually, I’ll be taking a redeye back from San Francisco only to return home to a pile of housework). The Gators, however, will not be. They will be wondering what happened to the defense against Missouri, but—most important—they will continue the hunt for offense. Are we at the point where tweaks are no longer the answer? Does the entire offense need to be re-imagined and reborn? The answer to both is yes. Muschamp, Pease and the Gators need to try something new. Slogging through the rest of the season with the current offense will see a team with talent crash and burn several more times.

We could make a list of aspects of the offense to look at. Actually, let’s go ahead and do it:

(more…)

Florida Gators Vs. Florida State Seminoles; Final Thoughts Before The Big One

It’s close now. The rivalry has returned to the heights where it belongs and today we will witness the No. 4 Florida Gators take on the No. 10 Florida State Seminoles. Hatred is plentiful just two days after we all gave thanks. That’s how it is meant to be though. There’s a purpose to the hatred between two bitter rivals and we all accept it as the norm. We’re taught not to hate as children, but this sort of hate is a different animal all together. It’s rivalry hate and we all have it flowing through our blood today.

Jeff Driskel - Florida Gators

The Gators have a chance to finish the 2012 college football regular season with a record of 11-1 (7-1 SEC). That’s right, this Florida team already has 10 wins (Achievement Unlocked) and is one rivalry-fueled, 60-minute battle away from win 11. On the other side, FSU is in the same position. The Seminoles are also 10-1 with just one conference loss, looking to not add another L to the tally. These teams always want this one with an added sense of accomplishment when the victory comes, but with lofty heights renewed it feels bigger.

For the Gators to remain mighty and get that final victory on the regular season, they have to be flawless. We’ve experienced a team with a sluggish offense, a stellar defense, and so many questions in between. Florida’s one loss was an ugly six-turnover debacle which the Gators were actually in until the very end. This Gators’ team has defied logic and won games that felt like losses and somehow remained in that loss to (another bitter rival) Georgia despite putting forth a stomach-turning effort. That all means, despite nervousness reaching epic proportions, that Florida could come out of today victorious.

Many believe the Florida State offense will be too much for the Gators. Not that the Florida defense can’t contain the ‘Noles, but more of the thoughts that the Gators’ offense can’t keep up. If FSU can manage to get north of 20 points, that nervousness sets in because none of us have any idea what we’re going to get out of Florida’s offense. Due to that, the Gators must limit turnovers (read: not have any, at all) and cut down on the three-and-outs.

Florida gave an ugly game to Georgia with turnover after turnover. Due to problems moving the ball on offense, the Gators can’t afford to turn over the ball to the Seminoles. FSU could easily take advantage of Florida mistakes and jump out to an insurmountable lead. Along those same lines, the Gators must extend drives. We’re all very aware that Florida won’t score on every drive, but three-and-outs that take less than two minutes off of the clock have killed the Gators this season.

So…hold on to the ball and extend drives. Those keys are for the offense, where the most improvement is needed. Then again, the Gators are 10-1. Basically, what do we know? Whatever they’ve done has worked 10 out of 11 times this season. It hasn’t always been pretty, but it has resulted in more wins than were expected. But, that said, limiting turnovers and putting together lengthy drives only increases the Gators’ chances of securing another victory. A victory we’re nervous we may not see, but also one we’re confident Florida can get. And that pretty much sums up the entire 2012 season for the Florida Gators.

Florida Gators 14 – Missouri Tigers 7; We Have Experienced The Defining ‘Just Win’ Game

Just win. It has become a motto of sorts around these part over the last few seasons. On Saturday, when the Florida Gators defeated the Missouri Tigers 14-7, we experienced a game that truly defined it. If ever there was a Just Win Game, this was it. The Gators won to improve to 8-1 (7-1 SEC) on the season, but the game felt like a struggle–one during which early you thought to yourself “just win.”

Omarius Hines - Florida Gators

The Gators were once again a second-half team. Not scoring until the 9:03 mark of the third quarter raises concerns. Not doing so against a team you’re heavily favored against and should defeat rather easily raises more. But Florida finds itself in the same situation over and over again this season: thankful for the defense, and this time it wasn’t as dominating as it can be. Therefore, as we thank the defense, we also have to thank Missouri quarterback James Franklin. If Franklin had been even slightly more “on his game,” there’s a decent chance this would have been loss number two instead of win number eight.

There were offensive stats, but they were offensive. (Saw that one coming from a mile away didn’t you? Two miles? You’re more in tune to awful jokes than I thought. Kudos.) It’s not what we’ve come to expect, so I won’t go that route, but more what we’ve come to accept. This is a team that is still light years away from offensive consistency. It’s disheartening, sure, but the Gators are 8-1. If you can honestly say you predicted that (and we’re hopped up on orange and blue Kool-Aid at the time) at the beginning of the season, you’re a fabulous liar. We still love you, but you’re a liar all the same.

Brent Pease has his work cut out for him. This isn’t the WAC (or whatever conference Boise State was in, used to be in, or was going to be in while he was there). He’s learning that the hard way. The Gators are lucky they can lean back on the defense and that they can win games without being elite. However, it is a problem. Proof Point #1: the loss to Georgia. With just a smidge more out of the offense, 8-1 is 9-0 and that’s why it’s frustrating. Knowing that the Gators have the record they have and seeing that it could have been even better is painful.

We’ve been spoiled by the past and spoiled by the present. Because of the high-flying offensive teams of the past, we expect it in all versions of the Florida Gators football team. Because of the current season’s record, we expect more out of this specific version. But maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe we should expect and hope for the one thing that really matters—winning.

The Gators have not accomplished that goal only once this season. Eight other times, Florida left the field as victors. Saturday’s outing wasn’t pretty, but not many of them have been recently. We have been brainwashed to want style points and yards upon yards upon yards. It’s a hard concept to grasp, but we should always want the win first regardless of how it comes. 14-7 when it should have been 27-10 or even 38-7 isn’t ideal, but the result is the same—W.

For three seasons now the Gators have struggled to find an offensive identity. Pease may be the answer and he may not be. He needs more time, but we also need to focus on that phrase—“just win.” We worry about the other things because we look ahead to opponents like Florida State. We wonder if the Gators were to get to the SEC Championship Game how they could possibly keep up with Alabama. For now though, just win. 8-1 with 9-1 on the horizon. That ninth win may be a thing of beauty or it may be the most destructive of dumpster fires, but if it’s a win, it accomplished goal number one whether we liked watching it or not.

The Gators can check Missouri off of the schedule with a heavy sigh of relief. On to the next opponent. Just win.

Preview: Florida Gators Vs. Missouri Tigers; Welcome To The SEC Part 2

The Florida Gators have the rare opportunity to welcome both of the SEC’s new members to the conference during the 2012 college football season. The Alabama Crimson Tide are the only other team that will be able to say they did so. Oddly enough, if we go back in time just one week, those were the top two teams in the nation. The Gators have fallen since after an ugly defeat at the hands of the Georgia Bulldogs, but still possess one of the country’s better teams. And that Georgia loss may have made what many predict will be a cakewalk even more so of a…um…well…walk over cake. Translated, them Gators will be angry.

Matt Elam - Florida Gators

As I write this, the Gators are favored by 17.5 points over the Missouri Tigers. Those of us that witnessed the debacle that was the loss to Georgia may find it hard to believe this Florida team can even score that many points, let alone win by as much, but that’s just the hangover talking. We’re quick to realize that the Gators scored 44 a week before that and overall are performing better than we could have expected in 2012. That doesn’t necessarily lessen the impact of last week’s loss, but 7-1 is 7-1. 7-1 with a real chance to be 10-1 before heading into the regular season finale against Florida State is even better.

But before we get to talking about the Seminoles, we have the Tigers waiting. Some may call this a trap game, but my thought would be that it could only truly be defined as that if the Gators had beaten the Bulldogs and were sitting at 8-0. They aren’t and there could be some much needed aggression waiting to get out. That’s not good news for a Missouri team that just got its first SEC win last week. And, oh yeah, they made shirts for it. You’re new at this Mizzou, so we’ll forgive you for that, but don’t let it happen again.

This will be one of those rare instances where I won’t be watching the game live–at least not the second half. I’ll be racing home right around the end to watch the recording. You’ll already know what has happened, but I’ll be doing my best to avoid it. We’ll see if that actually works or if I can hold out not checking my phone every few minutes. I’ll be with you in spirit through it though, even if I’ll be about two hours behind you in watching it. As always, just win and Go Gators!

Georgia Bulldogs 17 – Florida Gators 9; Jordan Reed, Hold Your Head Up

Jordan Reed came to the Florida Gators in 2009 out of New London, CT. He was recruited as a quarterback and was considered one of the better dual-threat QBs in the nation. There weren’t many out there that expected him to stay at the position, but he would…at first.

Jordan Reed - Will Muschamp - Florida Gators

Reed redshirted in 2009–his first season on campus. In 2010–as the Gators would look nearly everywhere for a serviceable quarterback–he got the chance to play his high school position at the college level. Reed was efficient, but not overly so. Still, he put together a passer efficiency rating of just under 120 and had some memorable moments. Against Vanderbilt that season, Reed went 11-for-19 through the air for 130 yards and ran for another 84. He would pass for one touchdown and score another on the ground. There were flashes, but nothing spectacular. Ultimately, it was fairly obvious he would have more success at another position–tight end.

Having played some tight end in 2010, Reed went to the position full-time for the 2011 season. There were some growing pains as a TE, but Reed turned himself into a solid player with great promise as a pass catcher and a big target. Reed was putting together a good 2012 despite Florida struggling to find it’s way as a passing team. There were already whispers of where he might go in the NFL Draft in a year or two. On Saturday–while down 17-9 to the Georgia Bulldogs–the Gators went to their reliable (and now possibly even “star” tight end). As Reed sprinted toward the end-zone looking to get the Gators closer to a possible eighth victory, he fumbled. The air was let out of every orange and blue balloon at the same exact moment.

It could have happened to anyone, but it didn’t. It happened to Jordan Reed. It happened to a hard worker that switched positions and became one of the most reliable and productive players on the Florida roster. It happened to the player Jeff Driskel was looking for when the Gators were nearing the end-zone.

It’s not Reed’s fault the Gators lost. He obviously took it hard–anyone would–but the Gators turned over the ball five other times. Florida gave Georgia the ball in great position to score and while the defense held as tight as they could for most of the night, they couldn’t do it on every play. Reed plays one position and will be remember for one unfortunate play. He was chased from behind by one of college football’s best players–Jarvis Jones–and fumbled the ball into the end-zone where the Bulldogs recovered. There’s no blame to be put on Jordan Reed. Far from it. He should hold his head high, as hard as it will be to do that. Much more than that contributed to Florida’s loss. This has been a particularly odd season as it is and a six turnover game almost seems par for the course. Reed didn’t fumble that game away, something else entirely did.

Preview: Florida Gators Vs. Georgia Bulldogs; It Is The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party

It’s funny the things people choose to worry about. I could go down a variety of paths with this–especially during an election year with all of the crap being slung by all sides–but I’ll stick to the important one: college football.

Florida Gators Vs. Georgia Bulldogs 1985

What was once known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the Florida Gators annual contest against the Georgia Bulldogs is no longer named that. In 2006, the schools and the SEC asked that it no longer be referred to as a cocktail party. I can understand their reasoning, but it will always be met with a “lighten up” thought springing into my head. Again, there are a number of paths this discussion could go down as well, but let’s stay with college football. This weekend is the rivalry; the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has returned.

Florida-Georgia has a mystique to it with few equals. If you spent your formative football years in the Steve Spurrier era, as I did, the rivalry with the Bulldogs wasn’t much of one at all. In fact, for 14 years from 1990 to 2003, the Gators were 13-1 against the Dawgs. Incidentally, that one loss came during my freshman year at the University of Florida. I’ve mentioned being a jinx of sorts before and there’s just one more example for you.

Since that time, Florida is 5-3 against Georgia and the rivalry’s fire has been reignited. But that’s still new to many of us who were too young to truly remember Georgia’s dominance through the 1970s or 1980s, and were definitely not around when Florida ruled the 1950s and early 1960s. Through it all, we learned though. We learned to hate our neighbors to the north as much as they looked down upon those to the south. It was a mutual hatred fueled by years of growing up knowing who your true rivals were regardless of how many times you had beaten them or lost to them recently.

Here we are in another season with another Cocktail Party on the schedule. In recent seasons, it hasn’t seemed as important to the landscape of college football. Florida fans never let go of the power of the game–neither did Georgia fans–but when one team is having an off season, it doesn’t jump out to you as much as it can. This, though, is one of those seasons where the entire nation will be watching.

Continue reading (more…)

Florida Gators 2013 Football Schedule Released; Gators Keep LSU, Add Arkansas

The Florida Gators 2013 football schedule has been released and the debates have begun. Although, there weren’t really that many and all remains well in Gator Nation. Without delay, here’s what the Gators will face in 2013:

Will Muschamp - Florida Gators

August 31 – Toledo – Gainesville, FL
September 7 – Miami – Miami, FL
September 21 – Tennessee – Gainesville, FL
September 28 – Kentucky – Lexington, KY
October 5 – Arkansas – Gainesville, FL
October 12 – LSU – Baton Rouge, LA
October 19 – Missouri – Columbia, MO
November 2 – Georgia – Jacksonville, FL
November 9 – Vanderbilt – Gainesville, FL
November 16 – South Carolina – Columbia, SC
November 23 – Georgia Southern – Gainesville, FL
November 30 – Florida State – Gainesville, FL

Not many surprises and there really shouldn’t have been. This is the bridge season. 2012 was the first season of the 14-team SEC. 2013 is the bridge to the future. And 2014 should show us what to actually expect in the future. For now, things remain fairly typical. For example, Tennessee remains in the third-game-of-the-season spot, LSU is still on the schedule and in October, and Florida plays Georgia in Jacksonville right around the same time of year they always do.

There are some points of note though; the first being the bye week. In 2012, the Gators were off the week before facing LSU. At that point, Florida had played four games. That won’t be the case in 2013. The Gators first bye comes after just two games. BUT…there is a second bye in late October between the games against Missouri and Georgia. Thank the calendar for that. 2012 was one of those weird years during which September had five Saturdays. In 2013, that would be November.

For the second season–and for obvious reasons–the Gators get only two SEC West opponents on the schedule. There was wonder whether the annual contest with LSU would stop, but it hasn’t…yet. For 2013, the Tigers are still on the schedule. The Gators also get Arkansas, who will visit Gainesville just one week before the Gators travel to Baton Rouge. So Texas A&M was one and done. They’ll be back, but we won’t know when for a while now.

We knew about the out-of-conference schedule, so there are no surprises there. No surprises overall really. 2013 will come and go and the schedule will look similar to those of the past (or at least the one 14-team SEC schedule we have to compare it to). Now we wait for the 2014 one to be released…a year from now.