Alabama just took down Florida, 52-46, in a thrilling yet infuriating SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. What stuck out in the process?
The Gators fought, and for that they deserve credit.
Florida was very clearly outmanned tonight. It was a matchup of a very good team with an explosive offense and some talented players here and there on defense in the worst possible scheme for them against an absolutely loaded Bama squad on all three phases with elite proven coaching from top to bottom. And yet with the deck stacked against them, the Gators didn’t back down, fighting back from a 35-17 halftime deficit to close to within 35-31 after three and then within seven midway through the fourth quarter, 45-38. In the end, Bama just proved to be too powerful— but if nothing else, the tenacity Florida displayed to make a game of it was something that this team can build on this offseason… if handled right.
Florida has a definitive ceiling as long as Todd Grantham is the DC.
OK, so the obligatory positive of “Florida fought!” out of the way, let’s get real. It’s pretty cut and dried, really: the Gators will never win the SEC with Grantham as the defensive coordinator. No defense that gets a couple of sacks here and there and then does literally nothing else right over the course of a half— other than intercept a pass only to fumble it right back on the return— ever will. And that’s Grantham’s defense in a nutshell. Guys still can’t get lined up right in the eleventh game of the third year of this scheme. And rushing three guys combined with a soft zone defense that gets punctured with slants and crosses is not going to work if football is still around in the year 3020. Simply put, this ineffective defensive scheme is going to hold Florida back as long as it’s in place. That’s not to say the Gators can’t keep winning the East, or maybe even the stars will align and they’ll win the SEC once or twice. But whatever success on big stages they have will be in spite of the defense and not because of it.
Florida has work to do on each side of the trenches this offseason.
Alabama proved just how far Florida has to go in terms of beefing up on the lines of scrimmage. The Gators have some pieces that they can build on moving forward, such as Ethan White on offense and Gervon Dexter on defense, but overall this was a mismatch on both sides of the ball. Alabama dominated up front on offense, providing Mac Jones with plenty of time to throw (most of the time) and Najee Harris with plenty of room to run. It’s impossible to win in the SEC giving up six or seven yards a pop on the ground. And Florida’s offensive line, while serviceable at times in pass pro, was downright terrible at others, most noticeably when Jean DeLance (who, if we’re being real with ourselves, should have been benched nine games ago) whiffed on a block and allowed Trask to get strip sacked early in the fourth quarter as well as on the fatal final snap. Similarly, it’s impossible to win in the SEC without some hint of a running game, and that just has to be addressed.
One of Florida’s most explosive offenses ever has been wasted by the defense.
It’s always a shame when your defense costs your team a chance to be special. But it’s doubly shameful when your offense is littered with generational talent across the board. Florida hit all kinds of big plays in this game, including a 51 yard strike from Kyle Trask to Kadarius Toney and another 50 yard bomb to Trevon Grimes. Toney turned in a career day, totaling 168 all purpose yards. Trask turned in what should have been a Heisman clinching performance, throwing for 408 yards and three touchdowns. Tight end Kyle Pitts was held in check for awhile, yet exploded late to finish with seven catches for 129 yards. All in all, that should be enough to win a game— even when doing battle with a dynasty like Alabama. Of course, it wasn’t, because Florida’s defense gave up almost enough yardage to form a new dwarf planet, but it still should not go unappreciated. Oh yeah, and Kyle Trask, you sir are a warrior.
The verdict: Florida has taken steps toward the top, but now faces a critical offseason.
Doing battle with big, bad Bama for four quarters, not to mention clawing back from a 35-17 halftime deficit to make the Crimson Tide sweat down the stretch, is admirable. And it’s a hell of a lot more desirable than watching the team slop its way to a 4-8 or 4-7 season. But it’s ultimately not the goal of a season of Florida Gators football. And coupled with losses to Texas A&M and LSU, it drops the Gators out of the College Football Playoff. Florida will still wind up in a New Year’s Six Bowl, but that’s not the goal of their season, either. Personnel decisions— and here I’m talking both in regards to coaches and players— are holding this team back from reaching the ceiling that Dan Mullen declared he would give relentless effort to reach. How does Mullen proceed this offseason? Does he look in the mirror, realize that he’s maybe giving some players and coaches more rope than he should when their output is having a direct negative effect on his team, and begin to make changes when it’s clear beyond a reasonable doubt he needs to? Or does he say, “we lost three games by twelve points and were two plays and a shoe throw away from being in the College Football Playoff,” continue to stick with what he’s done so far and hope that the results will be different next year?