I’m back, at least for now. My personal issue was taken care of much, much quicker than I would have dreamed of. I’ll take it, the same way the Gators will take their 6th bowl win in their last 7 appearances.
The game was played in Jacksonville, Florida, not Glendale, Arizona.
The game was sponsored by TaxSlayer, not Tostitos.
The coaching matchup was Will Muschamp vs. Luke Fickell, not Urban Meyer vs. Jim Tressel.
The game was a third tier bowl, not a BCS Championship Game.
The results were still the same.
Once again, the Gators’ speed was way too much for Ohio State to handle. Once again, the Gators’ defense ran all over the Buckeyes. Once again, the offense controlled the ball and killed the clock in the second half to limit Ohio State’s possessions and make them start the few possessions they did get deep in their own territory (for the most part).
And once again, Urban Meyer was the mind behind the Gators’ win. The special teams that Ohio State is so dearly looking forward to will get to Columbus in due time, but yesterday it was used against them as Meyer’s players gave them a preview of what it might look like next year. The problem for OSU is that Meyer’s old players still wear the orange and blue, not scarlet and silver.
I’ll make the recap quick so I can touch on two very important topics: the Gators’ future and John Brantley.
The offense, much like it has all year, was mainly ineffective aside from the opening drive of the game. It did just enough to win the game. There’s a good and a bad to that. The good is, it was enough to win. The bad news is, it was BARELY enough to win and going forward, it needs to be changed. But in any case, the offense did kill the clock late in the game, didn’t turn it over much and basically didn’t lose the game.
The special teams won the game with a blocked punt by Chris Rainey that was returned for a touchdown by Graham Stewart and a kick return TD by Andre Debose. The defense also did its part, keeping Braxton Miller and the Ohio State offense in check all game. The offense didn’t do much at all to contribute.
That’s OK, though. You don’t need an explosive offense to win a national championship. You just need great defense and great special teams. All the offense needs to do is bleed clock, not turn it over and rely on one explosive playmaker.
That’s how championships are won these days.
The Gators had the great defense and special teams in 2006, and relied on Percy Harvin to create huge plays. The offense, whether with Chris Leak or Tim Tebow, would keep moving the chains at least once or twice per drive to change field position, Eric Wilber would then boom a punt and pin opponents inside their 20 and Charlie Strong would unleash his nasty defense and dare the opponent to beat them deep. For good measure, Brandon James would throw in a big return every other game or so to give Florida great field position. Oh, and the Gators would also block a kick every once in awhile.
In 2009, Alabama’s defense stuffed even the best offenses for 60 minutes, and their special teams always came through in the clutch, whether Leigh Tiffin would boot a long field goal or Terrence Cody would block a game winning kick. The offense, highlighted by bruising tailback Mark Ingram, steamrolled past the best of them, then knocked down Florida for the SEC Championship and then Texas for the national championship. The Gators had the defense, but the special teams was merely good, not dominant, and that isn’t enough.
This year, another SEC team will win it all thanks to a bruising defense and great special teams. No, I’m not talking about Alabama. LSU’s kicking game is far better. It gave them in the edge in Tuscaloosa and unless Robbie Gould or Neil Rackers makes the Tide’s active roster for the BCS Championship Game it should give them the edge in New Orleans.
Of course, it’s nice to have an explosive offense. But it’s better to have your defense be great and your offense suck rather than the other way around. Remember how that worked for Florida in 2007, and then remember that our special teams, aside from a punt return TD against Tennessee, wasn’t especially dominant either. You need your special teams AND your defense to be dominant, and a game managing, chain moving offense.
We have the dominant defense and the dominant special teams. We should return at least 9 starters on our starting defense that finished 8th in the nation in total yards allowed. We will lose Caleb Sturgis, which will hurt. We do have one of the top kickers in the nation, Austin Hardin, coming to town, but whether he can replace Sturgis remains to be seen. Kyle Christy silently emerged as one of the nation’s better punters as a freshman, and should only improve as a sophomore in 2012. Andre Debose might have been the best return man in college football over the past two seasons, with 3 kicks taken back for touchdowns and three others of 50+ yards. I see no reason why he wouldn’t continue to return kicks unless he becomes the focal point of the offense.
Which is a work in progress.
I’ll get to John Brantley’s legacy in a bit, but for now, let’s just focus on his performance on the field. He simply was one of the most overhyped recruits in Gator football history. It might not have been his fault, but that’s just the way it is. He was immobile, he was inaccurate and he just wasn’t a good fit for the spread, and no matter how hard Charlie Weis tried to turn him into a pro QB, it didn’t quite happen. The other players were recruited to run a spread, so even if Brantley was ready, the speed guys like Demps and Rainey were not.
My prototypical Florida QB for the future: A pro style, drop back QB who has confidence, an accurate arm and intelligence who CAN run for first downs and CAN escape from a broken pocket but who will ONLY do it as a LAST RESORT. Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett and both athletic enough to fit that description, and they both have the arm. It’s the confidence and intelligence that need to be developed. By intelligence I mean somebody who will take the sack or throw it out of bounds rather than try to force one into triple coverage, and well, by confidence I mean a level at the inverse of Brantley’s.
Speaking of Brantley.
The last 3 Florida QB’s were worlds better than him, and the next three might be too. Aside from Tim Tebow, I can’t really think of anybody as loyal and as tough as Brantley.
I don’t play football due to early arm injuries and my parents freaking out too much to ever let me, but I wanted to remain close to the game and the coach hired me as an offensive assistant so I’m as close to the action as anybody not actually playing. I see guys get nicked up in practice every day. There’s always a player or two that needs a tape job from our trainer before every practice and at least five or six before every game.
I’m not praising the players for playing through cuts and bruises, but I have seen guys play with partially torn ligaments, partially broken bones and other semi serious injuries. During timeouts, I’ll relay in a play-call and I can see when a player is hurting. I see things fans don’t see, such as guys playing through bad cramps, stingers, etc. They never complain, and while I’m not exactly complimenting for that because that’s the required toughness of football, that required toughness is not found in everybody and I do respect that.
This is at the high school level, and while my high school program is one of the better ones in New Jersey, it’s nowhere near the levels of Don Bosco or some of the perennial Florida and Texas powerhouses. Everybody gets hurt at some point in football. But at higher stages comes higher pressure. Combine playing through pressure with playing through injuries. Think about how hard that is to do. It’s only for the elite group of tough kids.
Now combine the pressure of playing at the University of Florida, one of the most prestigious programs in the nation, in the best conference in the nation with the beating Brantley took in 2010. The lack of an offensive line ultimately meant Brantley got sacked and sometimes took a stinger. The boos got louder, and Brantley took almost as heavy a beating from the fans as he did from opposing defenses- maybe even heavier than Addazio at times.
In 2011, the pressure slightly loosened with an offense that somewhat fit his style- kind of a hybrid spread/pro offense- but the beatings got worse. Against Alabama, Brantley was brilliant for a half, but late in the second quarter, he got nailed and his ankle turned in quite an ugly fashion. This was after being lit up by Kentucky the week before.
Now, I’m not in Florida’s training room every day. I don’t know for sure how much time he put into his rehab. I can only base my guess off of what I see in my high school training room. Obviously, UF’s facilities are worlds ahead of my high school’s, but I can understand the amount of time and effort put into the rehab. Let’s just say that it wasn’t easy. I’ve seen some of my players- my friends, really- grunting out stretch sessions, and I felt really horrible, thinking about how much it really took out of them.
Brantley must have gone through some of the same workouts that I’ve witnessed in order to play against Georgia. He took another solid beating, though, and I refuse to believe he didn’t endure another difficult week in the training room to get back for Vandy. Another week, same deal for South Carolina, then for Furman and then for FSU. All Brantley wanted after all this grueling training was to win his last game in the Swamp- but it didn’t happen. He got knocked out after throwing a bad pick, and his career in the Swamp was over.
Why did he endure all this misery? Why did he work so damn hard just to get back on the field? It’s bad for his health, football critics say, and they’re right. Football is a violent game, almost like war. If you aren’t willing to kill somebody, or get killed to win for your side, then go home. That’s just the way it is, the same way that Ohio State bows to the SEC (0-11 now. It’s really a bad time to be a Buckeye fan with any SEC fan in your zip code).
Brantley exemplified a true soldier the whole time. Maybe he leaves a legacy of the most overhyped recruit in UF history, but he also leaves a legacy as a Gator with undying loyalty. He went all the way to hell and back in the training room, in the weight room, and on the practice field just to fight for his team.
It’s easy to quit. Really easy. Garrett Gilbert did it without a second thought. And that’s why Texas fans think of him as… um… let’s just say a cat. That’s a much nicer synonym for another word that Longhorn fans use on internet boards and on the streets.
It’s much harder to never give up no matter what. I can’t say Brantley is the toughest and most loyal Gator ever, because it’s hard to put him behind Tim Tebow, who played with a broken hand in the Capital One Bowl and came back from a concussion to beat LSU when his coaches and doctors thought he should sit it out.
Brantley never wanted to be Tebow, but he always wanted to be mentioned in the same category as Tebow.
So John, you got your wish. You are in an elite class of true Gators to the very end. You always wanted to play for Florida, and you did. Even though you didn’t have the success you dreamed of, you stuck it out to the end and that’s respectable for even the most impatient Gator fan. And you were rewarded with a winning record as a Florida starter, something lots of other QB’s cannot claim.
So I say with all my heart: Thank you, John. You stuck with UF til the very end. I appreciate all your efforts.
Now, though, it’s time to move forward.
Here’s a quick prediction for next year.
We should have the dominant defense and special teams, but whether that playmaker and that chain moving offense can emerge will be the question. With our schedule, I say 10-3 with an Outback Bowl win is realistic. We’ll lose to LSU, we’ll lose to either South Carolina or Georgia and then we’ll lose one more game we shouldn’t, though predicting a letdown game is impossible.
I just hope that our players all take the lesson of loyalty from John Brantley.