You’ll rarely see two coaches get animated at the conclusion of a battle between two teams that haven’t seen a number next to their name in more than a year, but such was the case with Butch Jones and Will Muschamp at the end of this weekend’s unranked Tennessee/Florida game.
It’s merely another indication of how far these two programs have fallen, and how desperate they each are. Muschamp’s massive fist pump that might have been a kill shot had anyone stepped in front of it, followed by his running onto the field with his hands over his head was a bigger celebration than I’ve seen out of past Florida coaches for an SEC or even National Championship. Yet it came on the heels of a narrow win over a sub-.500 Tennessee team that will probably finish 2nd to last in the east. That’s not to say that Muschamp didn’t have cause to celebrate, because he knew that a loss in this game was the end of the line for him, and it came oh so close to happening. But it’s an indication of where we are right now.
But at least we’re not where Tennessee is. Butch Jones’ frustrated expletive followed by an angry headset slam was frustration in letting slip away what surely would have been a defining win in his “rebuild” of the program. That’s right, as bad as we’ve been lately, Tennessee has been so bad that a win over a bad version of us would have been a defining moment, perhaps THE defining moment of their last few years.
The game started ominously, with the offense looking like….well, the Florida offense. Driskel picked up right where he had left off last week with poor reads and inaccurate passes, and even Demarcus Robinson chipped in this time with several drops and a very badly misplayed ball down the sideline that led to an interception. When Tennessee kicked their second field goal to go up 6-0, it felt like an insurmountable lead despite it still being a one-score game.
That field goal came following Jeff Driskel’s third interception of the day. To be fair, it did bounce off the hands of Tevin Westbrook and only one of Driskel’s three interceptions were really completely his fault, with another of them being the previously mentioned poorly played ball by Demarcus Robinson. It’s not the interceptions that have had people down on Driskel though, at least not on their own. If Driskel was moving the offense and slinging the ball around when he wasn’t turning it over, that would be one thing. But Driskel is like a gunslinger without the gunslinging. He averages 5.5ypa for his career. To put that into perspective it’s about HALF what Gator greats like Tebow and Wuerffel averaged. Driskel still brings along the gunslinger mistakes, but doesn’t bring the upside when those mistakes aren’t being made. He’s like Brett Favre if Favre only threw for 87 yards outside of his typical two egregious turnovers per game. He’s like Tony Romo if Romo only averaged 5.5ypa prior to his 4th quarter meltdown. All the bad things, none of the good things.
Driskel finished with 59 yards passing on the day, the 2nd straight game and 6th time in his career that he failed to reach 100 yards passing in a game he started. Let that sink in for a moment. In one third of his starts, Driskel has failed to reach 100 yards passing. PASSING. The thought of that happening even once was a completely foreign concept to most Florida fans a few years ago.
All of the measurables are there for Driskel. He just has trouble processing what he sees on the field and reading the defense quickly. His second interception against Tennessee was a good indication of this. Florida ran play-action out of the shotgun with Latroy Pittman running an in-route out of the slot. The play is designed to pull the linebackers in with the play-action, but Jalen Reeves-Maybin didn’t bite.
Or at least, he barely bit, taking one small step towards the line of scrimmage and then dropping back into the passing lane.
At this point Driskel should have moved on to his second option, but he threw anyway, and it resulted in an easy interception for Reeves-Maybin. It was a simple play and should have been a simple read, but in his 4th year it is still a read that Driskel struggles with.
Driskel was benched at the start of the 4th quarter for Treon Harris. Finally. As many predicted, it provided a spark for the offense, which scored 10 points in the 4th quarter en route to a narrow win. Before we get too excited, it’s worth noting that spark came as much from Harris being in the game as it did from his play in the 4th quarter, though he did do some good things out there. He threw only four passes, one of which was a poor one that was very nearly intercepted. The other three were all good, with a nice throw on a wheel route to Matt Jones to set up a 1st down in the red zone, a key short completion on 3rd down on the drive that would eventually lead to the game winning field goal, and a deep ball that fell incomplete. The deep ball would ideally have been thrown a little more towards the sidelines, but it was still well thrown and if Dunbar had been able to create any separation on the play the ball would have been there for him.
By and large, Muschamp and Roper were conservative with Harris, though the offense has been conservative in general for going on three years now. I would have loved to have seen them call a pass for him on his first play in there, but that kind of gutsiness hasn’t been the style of the current regime. This week Harris’ presence alone was enough, energizing the running game to lead the team down the field for the game winning score. We can’t rely on that going forward, and will have to unleash Harris, who throws a beautiful ball down the field.
My message to Muschamp would be to let Harris loose if he wants a shot at still being Florida’s head ball coach next year. Mathematically, everything is still there for Florida. I’d much rather thrive or die on the back of Harris than keep him bottled up and have the defense let us limp to a 6-5 record.