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?
To answer the first question, I say yes. I enjoy Will Muschamp the head coach and think he has a future at the position. Whether that be at the University of Florida remains to be seen, but what he has done with the defense and how he managed to win 11 games just one season ago is proof (even if small) that he can do the job. However, someone may need to step in a have a talk with him about the side of the ball that isn’t his specialty. He needs help, now.
Muschamp likes control. He wants it as much as any head coach wants it. It’s not just his defense, it’s his entire team. Though, relatively speaking, he’s still a young head coach and has time to grow in the position. One of those areas of growth needs to be a realization that he needs help on offense and, to answer the second question, Pease offering that help has an expiration date.
What Pease did at Boise State is irrelevant at this point. Right now, we must only look at his work with the Gators. He’s 19 games in. That’s enough to establish at least some sort of consistency. Yes, he has lost some talent, including his starting quarterback, BUT (yes, all caps) the backup-turned-starter has performed admirably. In fact, he may have provided a spark Jeff Driskel didn’t. Even against LSU, Tyler Murphy completed 15 of his 27 attempts and didn’t turn the ball over. The problem is that the playbook is the extreme version of vanilla, meaning the exact opposite of anything even resembling extreme.
Florida lost its lead early in the second quarter and never regained it. Despite that, the defense kept the Gators in the game as best they could. Florida would lose 17-6, a score that indicates that at any moment they could have been right there with LSU. However, the offense never took any chances that made anyone believe that would happen. Longest completion? 20 yards. Look back over the previous games and you might find much of the same. Sure, you’ll see some big gains, but look carefully at those plays. They weren’t designed to be big gains; they were plays that someone broke off a long run after the catch or where the defense didn’t do its job. What it all boils down to is that Pease’s offense has no fireworks and, regardless of if it’s ultimately true or not, he gets the blame.
There has been talk that Muschamp holds the offense back. Rumors that he plays it safe not wanting to make the big mistake. If that’s true, then Pease needs to speak up if he hasn’t done so already. If it isn’t and Pease is allowed to run his offense, then he needs to run it to its fullest extent. At the moment, the Gators are beating the teams they should beat and only staying with the ones they shouldn’t thanks to an elite defense. For the first half of the season, that equated to 4-2. The second half features No. 14 Missouri, No. 15 Georgia, No. 11 South Carolina and No. 5 FSU. Think that’s another 4-2 run? Not with this offense.
All is not lost though. Beat Missouri and suddenly the Gators are back in a tie for first in the SEC East. Florida’s destiny is in its own hands. The Gators face each of the teams near the top of the division standings with them. Win the next four and Florida heads to Atlanta, but that means the offense must improve (DRASTICALLY) now, not next week and not next month.
The first change? Take chances. Why not? What would you rather see? No turnovers, but only 240 yards and six points in a loss that felt like one even when you were leading early in the game? Or a misstep here and there, but 350-400 yards, 20+ points and a close game that even if you lose, you feel better about the future of your program? It’s the second one, every time.
Let’s be clear, I’m not all doom and gloom about the future of Florida football. I never have been the glass half empty type when it comes to the Gators. I hold on to hope longer than some, but not as long as others. I’m probably in that middle area that can sink with the ship during a rough season, but believes every new season breathes life into the program. Future of the program, as I stated above, may be a little much, but six points when your defense gives you opportunities isn’t what you, I, or anybody else wants. Basically, there are a handful of different ways a team can be 4-2. After the way the Gators lost to LSU, Florida’s 4-2 isn’t a very good one at all. If it becomes 4-3, many will change their tune and believe the wheels have completely fallen off. Such is the life of the sports fan.
The war cry is the same this Saturday as it is every Saturday—JUST WIN! Do what it takes to win. To do that points must be scored and the ball must be moved. Tyler Murphy is and will be the quarterback. The star recruit we all wanted to see—Kelvin Taylor—will be seen, plenty. The defense is still the defense. Beat Mizzou and move on. There’s a much needed bye week coming. Get the win, take the break, and then face those dirty Dawgs in Jacksonville. As always, just win and Go Gators!