A win. A glorious win. You need every win in college football, but some seem bigger than others. When you’ve already lost three games and those three came in the last three, a victory is huge. It seems almost unattainable. Facing a team on a hot streak when you are the underdog, it’s a tough road. Needing a victory to not fall out of the SEC Championship Game race, the odds seem stacked against you. But you won. You came out on top. You beat a rival. In overtime. In a game when your offense put up yards and scored points. Parts were beautiful. Parts weren’t pretty. 34-31 may be all that mattered.
With the overtime victory over Georgia, Florida moved to 5-3 (3-3) on the season. It’s not a great record and definitely not a desirable one, but the Gators are two wins away from returning to the SEC Championship Game for the third consecutive season and fourth time in five years. There are still 120 minutes of football to be played before that’s determined, but it’s nice to know you’re still in the hunt. Vanderbilt on the road and South Carolina at home is all that’s between you and Atlanta. A goal every season that’s still within reach.
Let’s start with the pretty. Florida piled up 450 yards of offense and reached the end zone four times. The run game wore out the Georgia defense as it accounted for 231 yards on 50 carries. There were a few gorgeous plays: Chris Rainey’s 20-yard touchdown run, Deonte Thompson’s catch, Trey Burton’s scamper. The defense forced turnovers and at times made key stops when absolutely needed. One of the nation’s most dangerous weapons – A.J. Green – was also held in check for most of the game.
A few things were less than pretty, but you’re given permission to bask in the glory for a few moments before reflecting on those. The Bulldogs got back in the game thanks to three fourth-quarter touchdowns as the Gator defense started to wear down. What seemed like a game Florida had control of early turned into one that was decided in overtime. And the offensive playcalling was once again interesting to say the least. Let’s start there.
I’m all for creativity. I think most of us are. You need to keep defenses guessing and going vanilla 100% of the time isn’t going to cut it, but is having John Brantley on the field for as many Burton snaps as he was really the best way to do it? Having Brantley out wide on occasion and motioning him into the backfield to take the snap at the last possible second from time to time was a nice wrinkle that kept Georgia guessing, but that much? Since the game was won, it might not be questioned, but if it had gone the other way, it would be the first thing we’d be looking at.
Burton did get the chance to throw the ball, twice. That’s a good, not great, addition. That threat must be there, but having Brantley on the field for as many plays as he was is essentially taking away an option. I get the plus of having to make less personnel adjustments if both he and Burton are on the field, but a blocker out there could have helped. The Gators aren’t going away from the two-quarterback system (and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s how they need to run the offense this season), but there are still some adjustments that can be made.
The run game may have benefitted the most from the “new” offense. Burton went for over 100 yards and Rainey looked good in his return. Each player that had nine or more carries – those two and Jeff Demps – managed over four yards per carry. If Florida can continue to move the ball on the ground, they’ll be successful. And that’s where the passing game can open up.
Brantley wasn’t perfect, but he was efficient enough. Despite not throwing a touchdown pass for the fourth consecutive game, Brantley recorded his highest rating since the win over Kentucky. He may not be spectacular, but if he can manage the pass game and keep mistakes limited, drives will continue. There’s still an accuracy worry (open receivers were greatly overthrown on two short outs), but in this one Brantley seemed calmer than he had in a while. If he can get out of his own head and keep the nerves down, he can be a solid quarterback.
You never want to go into overtime. As a coach, player, or fan, it’s not a desire. Maybe if you’re the team that mounted a fourth-quarter comeback, but even then overtime is a momentum changer, or halter. Georgia had that momentum heading in and one long Will Hill interception runback changed everything. Although Hill didn’t get in, Florida got a spark and a few plays later won the game on a Chas Henry field goal. A great punter who was struggling with field goal accuracy got a chance to redeem himself and did.
A feel-good story for Henry, but one that is short-lived. Just like that another game is over, this time with the Gators on the winning side of the scoreboard. On to the next one and the continued hope for Atlanta.
(And there’s more good news: we don’t have to see those hideous uniforms again. One and done.)