Alabama 29, Florida 15, Game Recap: Gators put up a fight, but can’t match Bama

Jim McElwain trotted to midfield with his head held high, shook his former boss’s hand, shared a few words with him and then walked off the field with the body language of a man who had done all he could do.

Because there was nothing else he could do.

Already way ahead of schedule in his first season at Florida, McElwain guided his program to an SEC Championship Game on the strength of a solid defense and just enough offense. But when his Gators got there, and took their shot at the Alabama, they fared no better than most, falling 29-15 in the schools’  eighth SEC Title Game meeting.

Given the Gators’ offensive struggles since Treon Harris replaced Will Grier, though, it’s something of a miracle that this one was even close.

The Tide got on the board first by blocking a Johnny Townsend punt out the back of the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead, a mere preview of the ugliness that was to come. Florida actually put together a solid drive on its next possession on two nice throws by Treon Harris, but it ended by Alabama blocking Austin Hardin’s field goal attempt, and the Gators regressed back to punts on their next two drives. There was the briefest, faintest glimmer of hope when Antonio Callaway took a punt 85 yards for a touchdown to put Florida up 7-2, but that was followed up by back to back three and outs.

And then finally, Florida’s defense- its one saving grace- simply wore down, and crumpled.

After adding a field goal to make it 7-5, Alabama got the ball back near the end of the first half. Jacob Coker lofted a deep ball in the general direction of Calvin Ridley, who went up and beat Vernon Hargreaves for the ball to come down with a 55 yard reception. That put the ball on the shadow of the goal line, and Florida’s vaunted defense on the brink of collapsing. Derrick Henry plowed in two plays later to give Alabama the lead for good, and even though it wasn’t even halftime yet, it felt like the game was over. Florida had won every game it won with Treon Harris at QB because of its defense, and now that the defense had just been badly beaten, where else was there to turn in terms of hope?

That premonition was proved correct as the game went on. Alabama rolled up 437 yards of total offense on the day, including a 32 yard touchdown pass from Coker to Ardarious Stewart over two Gator defenders and an 82 yard touchdown drive following it. This defense has been put in unenviable positions over and over again this year, and they finally broke after being overused in one too many games. It mattered not the least that Treon completed a Hail Mary to CJ Worton for a touchdown, as it was 29-7 at that point and the game’s outcome had already been decided.

Harris finished with his usual dreadful stat line, going 9-24 with an (awful) interception and 165 yards- and 92 of those yards came on two plays. Those are outliers; throw them out and his stat line would read 7-22 for 73 yards. He also made the boneheaded play of the year, catching a deflected pass and then trying to throw it again with all the common sense of a four year old playing in his backyard. But I’m not amused by his mind-boggling naivety given all the other blunderful plays he’s been responsible for this year. I’m also not fooled by Worton pulling down a Hail Mary and Callaway hauling in the one decent throw Harris made all day into thinking that he actually earned all those yards in his final stat line, nor is anybody else who watched this game with an objective attitude.

But if McElwain had a better quarterback to play, he would have played him long ago. And so as he walked off the field, he knew he’d done the job he signed a contract to do. He had done what he could with the team that he was given.

Now comes the fun part: reconstructing the team he was given the way he wants to. Keep your eyes peeled for recruiting news in the coming days and weeks, as National Signing Day is only two months away. Then it will come time to develop the talent that he signed. And, you know, play games on future schedules with it. This should be a substantially more enjoyable journey to behold than watching Harris attempt to Hellen-Keller his way down the field, and wear down the defense to its breaking point in the process, and I implore you all to hold on and just wait a little while longer.

The bottom line is this, though. Blame whoever you’d like- Harris, the offensive line, the wide receivers, Grier for getting himself suspended or even Muschamp for leaving McElwain with nothing- but Alabama was the better football team, any way you want to slice it. The blame game at this point is irrelevant. Nick Saban would have called a much different game if Florida had Grier and the ballgame would have played itself out in a totally different manner. Given the wide variety of ways in which Alabama has won games this year, I’m still not sure Florida wins even if Grier is eligible and comes into this game red hot. It would certainly have been fun to watch a Grier-led team take its shot at big, bad Bama, but it’s not as though beating them would have been a given (FSU, maybe.)

But without Grier- and I think many Florida fans will agree with me- Florida had absolutely no shot whatsoever in this game unless Coker threw a pick six and Florida blocked a punt for a touchdown on top of the Callaway punt return TD they already had. The Gators’ regular season ended exactly the way we all knew it would with Harris, and so there’s no reason to develop any additional feelings of anger or hatred toward anybody you may blame for the way the season ended based on this game. We may have teased ourselves with hope, but deep down, we all knew it was futile.

Now all we can do is regroup, hope for the best in the Citrus Bowl against Michigan, and then watch as McElwain hits the reset button. He’ll recruit better players, find a new quarterback this fall, and then get back to doing what he signed that contract to do- coach his team to the best of his ability on game day.

But with a team he’s more capable of winning with.

9 thoughts on “Alabama 29, Florida 15, Game Recap: Gators put up a fight, but can’t match Bama

  1. There was no “deep down” for me. I have been warning about this for a couple of months. UF Football is not Championship caliber. Not Yet. The defense, a BIG Yes. But, it takes both sides of the ball to win the big ones.
    You are absolutely correct. No blame game warranted. We all knew Treon was a small band-aid on a very large, gaping wound. The O-line isn’t deep enough. Regardless, Coach Mac turned lemons into lemonade. The drink got a little bitter at the end of the season, but it was still better than the sh*t sandwich he was handed last winter.
    Let’s celebrate the Gators’ overachievements and look eagerly to 2016. I care about the bowl game, don’t get me wrong. After all, we have big time recruits still riding the fence that need some impressing. But, I am already looking to NSD and the O&B Game. I do believe strongly that the foundation has been laid. It’s there.
    As Coach Mac loves to say, with that sly grin… Isn’t this Fun?!
    GO GATORS

  2. Yes, UF was badly outclassed by FSU and Alabama, although the truth that FSU is just a good a team as Alabama, and put aa ass whipping on Florida that was much worse, in the Gator’s own stadium too boot, is something this writer can’t bring himself to admit. One is completely ignored is one simple fact about FSU and Alabama that seems to have gone past almost everyone. It’s ridiculous to blame Harris, and this fantasy about Will Grier is the product of those who are always saying “if”…I thought UF would beat Alabama, but I expected the defense to perform better and not let Coker, yes Coker, dominate them. The big difference between UF and the two schools who beat the hell out of them? FSU had a fourth year Junior at quarterback, and Alabama had a fifth year Senior. Grier or Harris would not have even seen the field at either school in their first or second year, except in a mop up situation. Is Harris a worse quarterback than Blake Sims, who only became Alabama’s starting quarterback in his fifth year? Someone like Jameis Winston or Deshaun Watson is a rarity, usually a quarterback doesn’t,and isn’t expected to, play well in their first couple of years on campus. Expecting things to change next year is a longshot, as well. UF returns Harris, Luke Del Rio, who hasn’t been able to get on the field at the other two schools he’s attended, and Grier, who is a proven liar and cheater that won’t even be available until the last half of the season. There will also be a true freshman, or two, that has the same handicap I illustrated above as to why FSU and Alabama are so far ahead of UF. UF is exactly where they were under Muschamp, as far as he offense is concerned. UF sees to have a reservation in the triple digits in total offense, and they certainly kept it this year. Maybe UF will win the East again, but that’s not saying much when you see how pitiful the East is.

    1. The difference between now and muschamp though is that UF has proven offensive coaches but a lack of bodies.

      Muschamp HAD bodies but no good coaches who also happened to be handicapped by his ridiculous “philosophy”

      Will Eason or Franks lead them to an unbeaten season or SEC title ? Of course not.

      But 2017 should be promising and it could certainly happen then

    2. If only we could play such perennial powerhouses as Boston College, Syracuse, and Wake Forest…

      1. Well to be fair Vic FSU does have to travel to those places every other years which means climate differential which can certainly offset a talent disparity

          1. Really, guys… don’t feed into the clown-college rep’s diatribe. He isn’t deserving of the recognition.

  3. They usually play bc early not always. But they are in a conference where they go to new York, Pittsburgh, Indiana etc

    Much harsher climates than Tennessee and Missouri

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