Long before the Texas A&M Aggies became the second unranked team in as many weeks to celebrate a victory over Florida in the Swamp, the Gators’ season was a jumbled mess. When Feleipe Franks threw the last of his long line of ill-advised passes directly to Aggie linebacker Tyrel Dodson, that jumbled mess suddenly got a whole lot worse.
Forget winning the SEC East now. Florida will be lucky to make a bowl game. That’s the cold, hard truth for a program that came into the season wanting to believe it was a legitimate contender for prizes greater than the East titles they’d won in recent seasons under Jim McElwain.
After losing back to back home games to unranked opponents for just the second time since 1979, Florida now sits at 3-3 on the season. After a much needed bye week, the Gators will start the second half of their season against a top five Georgia squad in Jacksonville. They’ll follow that up with a pair of road trips to the Columbias to face Missouri and South Carolina before returning home to face UAB and FSU.
And if the Gators continue to play the way they did against Texas A&M, they might not win any of them.
Florida started the game with a well crafted opening drive from the brain of Doug Nussmeier, a 13 play, 63 yard drive that ended in an Eddy Pineiro field goal. The next five drives ended as follows:
-Three and out
-Three and out
-Interception in the end zone
-Three and out
-Three and out
In retrospect, it was during this interval of time that Florida lost the game. Aggie quarterback Kellen Mond looked like the true freshman he was, often missing reads and sometimes wide open receivers, and the Aggies’ offense appeared stuck in reverse. But with receivers Damion Ratley and Christian Kirk at his disposal, it was only a matter of time before Mond found his groove and got things going. The Gators had a chance to stomp on their heads and put them away while they were struggling and running around trying to figure things out in the interim, and they didn’t do it.
As it was, Florida managed to take a 10-3 lead at halftime thanks to a violent 15 yard touchdown run by LaMical Perine with 1:41 to go. The Aggies responded right after the break with a 10 yard touchdown run from Mond. Florida then used the play of Feleipe Franks’ life- a 79 yard run from the marginally athletic quarterback- to get into the red zone, and then score on the next play on a jet sweep to the seldom used Dre Massey six seconds into the fourth quarter.
And for Florida, that was it. The Gators had exhausted all the offensive creativity they were going to display on a given night, forcing Randy Shannon’s young defense to have to hold a seven point lead for nearly the entirety of the fourth quarter without the slightest bit of help from its end. The Aggies reached the red zone three times, the Gator defense stiffened and held each time to force field goals, and A&M’s Daniel LaCamera connected on all three, the last of which came after a long punt return from Kirk with under a minute to go. There was never any doubt that Florida’s final drive of the night was going nowhere, and Franks made sure to add to the suspense by waiting all of two seconds in the pocket before flinging the final duck of the night into Dodson’s hands.
I’m sure that Franks is a really good kid who works hard and does everything in his power to improve, but the fact of the matter is that as of right now, he is not a competent quarterback. There is a reason the Gators recruited Jake Allen from St. Thomas Aquinas, and it’s the same reason the Gators poached Malik Zaire from Notre Dame. Maybe he needs another year to learn, or maybe he never will pick it up, but either way, we have seen more than enough of Franks to know what the offense is capable of with him this year. And it’s not what most fans consider acceptable, so McElwain needs to find a new quarterback to lead the offense the rest of the way.
On a similar note, I’m sure that Doug Nussmeier is a good man who does everything in his power to lead the offense, but the fact of the matter is that he is not a competent offensive coordinator and play-caller. The only difference with him and Franks is that we’ve seen two and a half years of ineptitude out of him, which is more than enough to know that he never will improve to the level that is expected at Florida. So McElwain needs to get to find a new play-caller to guide the offense for the duration of the season.
Of course, those two do not monopolize the blame for the loss. Florida has been decimated with injuries throughout the season, and lost linebacker Jordan Sherit for good during the game on top of it. Randy Shannon failed to put a spy on the mobile Mond throughout the game, allowing him to rush for 52 of the Aggies’ 82 yards on the night. McElwain’s decision to punt on fourth and less than one with four and a half minutes to go rather than have Franks fall forward for a foot and a half for a first down so the Gators could run another few minutes off the clock led to Kirk’s big return and the game winning field goal.
But those are all micro-issues. Jim McElwain’s Gators lost another game because of subpar quarterback play and a subpar offensive coordinator’s subpar game plan and play-calling.
Credit card fraud aside, it is McElwain’s undying loyalty to these two, above all else, that has sunk this season to the status of utter failure. And if he remains too loyal to either for too much longer, it could ultimately be what sinks him, too.