In what’s absolutely a must win for Will Muschamp and Florida tomorrow against Georgia, the Gators are going to have to win by doing something they haven’t really done all year.
Throw the ball.
I know, the Gators run the ball better than they throw it (the running game isn’t good enough for me to consider a strength, though). The passing isn’t really one of the Gators’ strong suits. In fact, the passing game is probably the biggest weakness this team has. I get that. I really do. But the point is, that can’t be the case tomorrow against Georgia- for a multitude of reasons.
First, Georgia’s rush defense is quietly one of the best in the country. The Bulldogs employ three linebackers who will be playing on Sundays very soon (Amarlo Herrera, Ramik Wilson and Jordan Jenkins). Between them, they have 18 tackles for loss through seven games this season.
In addition to Georgia being very effective at stopping the run, the ground game (between Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor, mostly) is the only way that Florida has proven capable of inflicting damage on opponents to this point. Now you have the ugly combination of Georgia’s front seven being really, really good, and them knowing what’s coming. Consistently loading the box and selling out to stop the run is going to ensure a Georgia victory- unless Treon Harris can make them pay by picking apart their secondary.
In terms of raw, physical ability, we know Treon Harris has what it takes to make the plays to beat Georgia. Now, of course there’s a difference between making that play up 51-0 against Eastern Michigan and making it in a tight game against a much better Georgia team. But the point is that he’s talented enough to beat UGA’s secondary. So he needs to be given chances to do it.
(Aside: I realize that the burden of the passing game doesn’t fall solely on Harris. The line has to block reasonably well, and receivers can’t drop passes.)
Here’s how I’d do it. Call a pass play on the first offensive snap with Ahmad Fulwood, DeMarcus Robinson, Quinton Dunbar and Clay Burton all running short to intermediate routes. The idea is to get Harris an easy throw to start his day off with a completion. Even if it goes for two yards, Harris will start to feel a rhythm. On the second play, I’d go pass again to try to throw Georgia off by saying, yes, we really are going to throw the ball today, so back off and clear the box. The routes should be mostly short to intermediate again, but this time I’d have Demarcus Robinson run a deep route. And yes, Harris’s primary option should be the deep throw to Robinson. If it’s there to D-Rob, tell him to take it. If it’s not there or he’s not comfortable with the amount of space (or lack there of) Robinson has created, then he needs to hit a second short throw and start off 2-2.
And with two consecutive pass plays, we will have sent the message to Georgia that the first play was not a fluke. We really will try to beat you through the air today. Assuming Harris hits his first few easy throws (if not the long ball), UGA DC Jeremy Pruitt will have no choice but to stop sending seven or eight guys on a rush every play. That will open up more running lanes and allow Florida to mix up the play calling while Georgia is on its heels defensively trying to guess what Florida’s going to do on a particular play instead of just reacting. The Bulldogs have not seen Florida throw the ball effectively all year on tape, so if Harris can hit some throws early, it might shock them and cause panic because they weren’t specifically prepped on what to do to stop it.
But without Harris proving to be a threat through the air, the game is going to be nearly impossible to win. As of right now, Georgia has seen only one threat offensively for Florida- the ground game. So that’s what they’re going to defend until Harris proves that they need to worry about the passing game. And if Muschamp doesn’t allow Harris to have some freedom and pitch it around, (or if Harris struggles) then Pruitt will continue to load up the box and continue to shut the Florida offense down.
It’s that simple. If Harris doesn’t throw the ball somewhere around 50% of the snaps and hit somewhere around half of those, the Gators are going to get absolutely manhandled. I’m talking a 42-3 type game. Because if the offense struggles that mightily and can’t sustain drives, the defense is going to get tired and will eventually wilt. I think they can stop Nick Chubb as long as they don’t have to do it for six minutes of game time at a time, every two minutes of game time, if that makes sense. In other words, if the offense can help them out by giving them rest with long drives, or a cushion by paying off those drives with points, the chances of slowing the UGA offense increase exponentially.
Lastly, we come back to one of Muschamp’s pitfalls: his inability to adjust when things aren’t going well. It took Foley screaming in his ear to fire the god-awful Brent Pease and it took three quarters of goose eggs on Rocky Top to remove Driskel and replace him with Harris. Now we have another inherent problem to deal with: the running game, by itself, is not going to beat Georgia. But at the same time, ground and pound is Muschamp’s favorite method of offense. So I guess the real question is this: can he put that aside and allow Kurt Roper to spring Harris free? Can he stop himself from slapping the cuffs on Roper’s play calling and just keep himself focus on the defense, where he belongs?
We know he has to win. That’s the bottom line. The time for should be, better be, oughta be and needs to be is over; Muschamp WILL be fired with a loss to Georgia. So if he wants to keep his job badly enough, he will make some changes tomorrow. He will grant Kurt Roper the freedom of calling his offense the way he sees fit. If Harris misses throws, receivers drop passes or the line can’t block, well, that’s another story. While that would actually be even more infuriating, it wouldn’t be Muschamp’s fault.
But the thing is, I don’t care who a loss should rationally be attributed to anymore. Muschamp forfeited the right to have people use logic for who’s to blame for a loss when his team, against all logic, lost to a 6-4 FCS opponent in Georgia Southern. At this point, it doesn’t matter if Tevin Westbrook drops a wide open touchdown pass, or if the freshman Harris makes a bad decision to lose the game, or if some other player makes a fatal mistake that you couldn’t normally blame the coach for. All that matters is that the team Will Muschamp coaches has to score more points than the team Mark Richt coaches.
And if that doesn’t happen, then breast cancer awareness month will be extended one more day, and a pink slip will be delivered to his desk.
His best bet of avoiding that? Let the freshman QB play football the way he did at Booker T. Washington.