There’s no doubt that what happened in the Swamp this past Saturday night was special. It was a game for the ages, an instant classic, and a lifelong memory. It got the Gators to their first 4-0 start since 2012, extended the winning streak over Tennessee to 11, and vaulted the Gators back into the national rankings for the first time since Missouri unceremoniously removed them from them in October of 2013.
That’s all well and good, but it should be taken with a grain of salt.
As it stands right now, this Gator team is a good one, but not a great one. Florida appears to be on pace for an 8-4 season, maybe 9-3 at best. They still haven’t won a game all the experts have said they wouldn’t; they’ve merely won two of the tossup games. You know. Games that had they lost, they’d be looking at a 6-6 season. All they’ve done is avoid catastrophe, which is definitely a step in the right direction since Will Muschamp couldn’t do so. But what the 4-0 start doesn’t mean is that Florida is ready to compete for, let alone win, the SEC East.
Put simply, beating Tennessee doesn’t mean anything other than bragging rights. As much as their fans yap about the Vols being back on the national scene, they’ll be lucky to finish 7-5 given the schedule that lays ahead of them. And they miserably fail the eye test, too; their defense gave up 557 yards of total offense to Bowling Green and an average of 30 points to BGSU, Oklahoma and Florida.
Yet this Volunteers team showed that Florida still has many things that need to be cleaned up by playing them tough, such as a parade of missed tackles and inconsistent offensive line play. I counted 30 missed tackles against Tennessee, and possibly more tackles that could have been made with the impressive effort I know the guys Will Muschamp recruited here are capable of making. For most of the game, the offensive line was… well, bad. Really bad. It redeemed itself with superb blocking efforts on a pair of Kelvin Taylor touchdown runs, plus the now famous game winning 63 yard touchdown pass from Will Grier to Antonio Callaway, but the line (as do all players) have to be judged by the sum of their performance. And the sum of the offensive line’s performance was not a very pleasing one.
There are other problems that plague this team, too. Penalty flags have rained down upon the field following a pretty clean game against New Mexico State in the opener. Receivers have dropped passes in bunches, the most recent example of which is DeMarcus Robinson dropping an easy pass on the 3rd and 14 play preceding the game winner to Callaway. The defense has been caught out of position more than once, getting burned for big plays that were totally avoidable had more attention been paid (Patrick Towles’ huge run late in the game last week, the throwback to Josh Dobbs that went for a touchdown, the jump pass, Blake Kemp’s touchdown pass right down the middle of the field, and even New Mexico State beat Florida deep a couple of times).
These are the sorts of things that just can’t happen if Florida wants to make the short plane ride up to Atlanta in early December. There’s time to correct these things, of course, but the corrections need to happen sooner rather than later. And in the event that they do happen before the Gators head northwest to Missouri in three weeks, maybe I’ll change my tune and declare that this team is in fact a contender for Atlanta. It’s just not at that point now, or I obviously wouldn’t be writing this.
Bottom line: gloat about this team with care, Gator fans, and do so at your own peril. I’ve said since Jim McElwain was first hired that I believe he will some day make this Florida program a great one again, and I still believe that he will. However, we’ve seen nothing to this point to make me believe that it will happen this year. Patience is a virtue, and because I’ve already seen small signs of improvement so far this year, I’m willing to have more than I normally would.
And I have the strong feeling that some day in the not so distant future, your patience will be rewarded, making the good times I firmly believe McElwain will bring all the more enjoyable.