The Florida Gators won the first half on Saturday against the South Carolina Gamecocks 14-6. Two weeks ago, they won the second half against the Georgia Bulldogs 17-0. The real story, however, lies in the other halves of each of those games. For the second time in the last three games, the Gators couldn’t put together 60 minutes of football and as a result now sit at 4-6 after a fifth-straight loss.
There was hope in this one. It wasn’t the hope of coming from behind for a change. No, this time around, there was hope because of the lead the Gators had put together. Florida’s offense looked like it had pulled all of the pages out of Navy’s playbook. There was motion everywhere and handoffs left and right to backs going in every possible direction. And for a few moments it actually seemed to work.
Freshman running back Kelvin Taylor had a season-high 21 carries, a season-high 96 yards, and (you guessed it) a season-high two touchdowns. He looked, as he has for most of the season even when running behind a pieced-together offensive line, every bit the star he was projected to be. In a season where good feelings have become a thing of the past, Taylor is a bright light guiding us to a promising future. He was fun to watch when he was in high school and he’s fun to watch in orange and blue.
But all good things must come to an end and Taylor’s productive first half gave way to a second half during which South Carolina’s defense tightened. Not having to worry much about the Gators’ passing game, the Gamecocks could key on slowing the running game. That defense did its job, shutting out Florida for the final 30 minutes. In reality, the Gators last score came with 10:51 remaining in the second quarter. 19:09 – 14 points; 40:51 – 0 points. The seemingly hot start cooled rapidly.
Will Muschamp was given a vote of confidence this week—he will be the head coach of the Florida Gators in 2014. Both athletic director Jeremy Foley and University of Florida president Bernie Machen have come out in support on Muschamp; Foley going as far as to say he is 1,000% convinced Muschamp is the right man for the job. Debates will rage on, but are now as pointless as are those regarding possible future coaches. Will Muschamp will return, as far as we know.
With the votes of confidence from Foley and Machen, Muschamp can focus on what is sure to be a tough run of final games. The regular season, and in all likelihood the entire season, comes to an end on November 30 with a visit from the currently undefeated Florida State Seminoles. One week before that, the Gators host Georgia Southern in what at one time was thought to be an easy victory. Easy victories have become a thing of the distant past. Prior to both of those games, there is Saturday’s trip to Columbia, South Carolina to face an old friend and another ranked opponent.
I will always have a feeling of admiration for Steve Spurrier, and maybe that makes me a different sort of Florida fan. There are those, and they still seem many in numbers, that despise the man that once led the Gators to glorious moment after glorious moment. After all, he left the Gators and that is the sin of all sins. You don’t win and win plenty at the University of Florida and then leave for a new opportunity or because the pressure was too much. The Gators have had two national championship winning head coaches do so, and many fans are not pleased about it and never will be.
There are some of us, though, that have moved on. I don’t blame Spurrier for leaving; I praise him for what he built. You can argue that the Florida Gators were destined for greatness regardless of the man that led them there. The school is large enough and the state in which it resides is plentiful of star high school prospects. While the 1970s had low points, the 1980s had high ones before Spurrier arrived. In 1990, things changed though. Spurrier returned to Gainesville and took the Gators to new heights. No one can predict what would have happened if he hadn’t, but I like to think those 12 seasons and 122 wins helped pave the way for SEC titles and national championships after Spurrier had long left the orange and blue.
Twitter could be one of the worst things to happen to our society, or one of the best; there is no in-between. It allows us to find out at a moment’s notice that the Florida Gators are no stranger to injury, while also bringing trash talk to a new level. It also accounts for more moments of awkwardness than possibly any other medium, because as a not-so-famous (at the time) actress once said in a movie about another social network “the internet is written in pen, not pencil.” (That may have been paraphrased for reasons having to do with me being too lazy to look it up.)
What did Twitter bring us today? It brought us Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. Franklin is the motivation type as many coaches are when it comes to Twitter. You won’t find much real talk when it comes to such figures. Instead, it’s all inspirational quotes, motivational sayings, or battle calls to rally the troops. But occasionally awkwardness rears its ugly (and humorous) head.
Put it this way, if you need a disclaimer every time you say something, you should think about saying it in a different way. When “opportunity is now here” quickly becomes “opportunity is nowhere,” it’s time for a new hashtag, even if it is oddly appropriate for the game about to take place this Saturday.
The opportunity for the Gators to secure a bowl berth is now here. That much is true; painfully so. When you’re nine games into the season and need a win against a Vandy team that beat a Georgia team that beat you in hopes of going bowling nowhere better describes things than now here. And that is exactly when we give out yet another large sigh and ugh ourselves into the fetal position. “Opportunity is nowhere, but hey look my vat of beer is now here!”
Opportunity is nowhere because the Gators are 4-4. It’s nowhere because a bowl isn’t a guarantee. It has been too many years since Florida last missed bowl season and too many to even think of a losing record. Opportunity passed us over and moved on to the next man standing. (With Oregon’s loss to Stanford just one night ago, that man may be Florida State. Say it with me again without vomiting just a little in your mouth—“UGH.”)
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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:
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.
Raise your hand if you are pleased with what Will Muschamp has done with the Florida Gators’ defense. If your hand isn’t raised, it should be. The Gators have a head coach that has lost defensive talent to the NFL and injury, but has still produced once of the best units in the nation. It’s Muschamp’s specialty; he made a name for himself as a defensive coordinator before he became the successor to the man we so wish we could never name again. Unfortunately, for Muschamp’s legacy, he is also making a name for himself as a head coach that can’t fit all the pieces together on the other side of the ball.
First the good (or, at the very least, the acceptable). Against LSU, the Gators managed 17 first downs (not an awful number), converted three of their four fourth-down attempts, didn’t turn over the ball, and saw extended action from freshman phenom running back Kelvin Taylor, who finished with 52 yards on 10 carries.
Now to the bad, or ugly. The Gators converted only six of 17 third-down attempts, managed just 240 yards of total offense, didn’t have a play go for more than 20 yards, gained 4.6 yards per pass and 2.8 per rush, lost starting running back Matt Jones for the season, and scored only six points despite winning the time of possession battle by more than eight minutes.
What has become somewhat of a pattern with the Gators of late, brings up two questions: 1) Will Muschamp ever be able to truly lead a team on both sides of the ball?, and 2) Should Brent Pease be the offensive coordinator?
Yes, I am alive. And yes, my love of the Florida Gators hasn’t died. It has just been dormant on this one particular display vehicle. While active on other mediums, The Bull Gator site has been left out in the cold. My name is Joel and I haven’t posted anything on this site in 63 days.
In that time, the Gators have marched (if that’s one way of putting it) to a 4-1 start behind an elite defense, an impressive after-thought turned hero of a quarterback and a schedule that’s about to take a turn into the realm of increased difficulty. I’d like to say I’m pleased with the season so far, and I am, but I’m also cautious and worried about what’s right around the corner. The defense gives me hope, while the offense has my wondering if it can keep up with the scoring prowess of some of the teams on the horizon.
As the Gators continue the 2013 season, I’d like to say my contributions to the blog part of The Bull Gator network will increase, but I honestly can’t promise that. Oddly enough, my first season as a football season ticket holder coincides with the lowest post output since this site’s inception. But the love is there and is never-ending. To use a phrase that honestly makes me laugh just a little every time I hear it, I bleed orange and blue.
For now, I’m back if for one post in the middle of a season with plenty to look forward to. Enjoy the thoughts of someone that has been observing from the sidelines (or, more accurately, from 21 rows up).
Speaking of hope and looking forward, I ever so briefly looked forward to what No. 6 would bring to the Gators this season. His contributions were limited and are now over as it stands for 2013, but that quickly brings me to another No. 6 and a player that is fast becoming one of the nation’s best.
It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited for the NCAA Tournament. As a Florida fan, I’m always excited for the Gators as they make their way to the big dance, but my overall excitement for the tourney as a whole has leveled off in recent years. Call it an overwhelming obsession with one team, too many other sports on my mind at one time, or whatever you want. Whatever it is, it has put the tournament in a place of muted thrill for me.
That doesn’t mean I don’t watch, but I’ve been a halfhearted tourney follower at best. My brackets were completed with little thought and venture too far out of the SEC and I may give you a line similar to “er…uh…yeah…sure they can pull off the upset…they have that guy, don’t they…no, the tall one…you know who I mean.” I was a sports fan that needed a slap on the wrist, or better yet a smack across the back of the head.
For whatever reason, that period of my life has since passed. I’ve become more involved in the college basketball season and more excited for what March brings than in other recent years (and not just because yours truly has a birthday on the horizon). I’ve watched games, I’ve followed the latest stories, and I’ve even found myself fretting over 8-9 matchups. Basically, I’m back.
Just the other day, Mrs. TBG (not much of a basketball fan) said from her spot on the couch “the Florida game ended, we’re still watching basketball?” Yes. Yes we were. And we still are. I’m excited. Overly so.
I printed out my bracket early this morning and it has more corrections, fixes, and edits than I remember it having in five years. March is here and I’m ready. I’m ready too watch the orange and blue try to win a close game. I’m ready to cheer on those other schools I’ve always liked for reasons I can’t understand (North Carolina) and reasons I can (Wisconsin) should something drastic happen to the Gators too early. And I’m ready to be consumed by all that is college basketball for the next three weeks.