In the week and a half since Michigan’s 41-7 rout over Florida in the Citrus Bowl, the job has been left to us as fans to pick up the pieces of the once promising season that shattered.
In all fairness, Citrus Bowl was a mismatch from the start, so it’s not like the outcome was a total surprise. It’s just that it seemed to epitomize all that went wrong for the Gators in the second half of the season.
After Will Grier’s suspension, the Gators were left to play on the big stages he had set them up to play on without him, such as the SEC Championship and the Citrus Bowl. The only difference was, the Gators were already off to a 6-0 start thanks to Grier’s efforts, which had turned the Gators into a legitimate powerhouse. Only one of Muschamp’s four teams got off to such a start, and they were doing so in spite of the offense as opposed to because of it.
If nothing else, the Muschamp era taught us that a great defense does not win championships, but rather can put you in position to win one by winning 11 of your 12 regular season games. All your offense has to do in that year is win the other one, and the 2012 Gators couldn’t even do that, instead handing Georgia six turnovers in a 17-9 defeat that directly cost them the SEC East title. And the lack of an offense was even more glaring in Muschamp’s other three years, in which Florida finished a combined 17-15, because the defense was good in those years but not great.
And with Harris at the controls instead of Grier, that’s essentially the team Florida was. The Gators didn’t have a great defense this year, but they had a very good one. In six games under Grier, Florida didn’t lose once and bailed the defense out when they had to, which is what championship teams do.
Yes, there were times when Grier struggled, but that was when the defense stepped up and made plays, such as Jalen Tabor’s pick sixes against ECU and Missouri, and the Gators’ sack party of Patrick Towles in Lexington. There were also times where the defense struggled, such as against ECU and Tennessee, and the offense picked up the slack and saved them. The Gators had a very good offense and a very good defense, but very good offenses and defenses do struggle from time to time. That’s why it’s a team, so when one unit is struggling, the other one can step up and bail the first one out. And when both play really well in the same game, you’ll see an extraordinary team. See the Ole Miss game for further clarification.
Then Grier tested positive for PEDs, Harris took over the offense (or attempted to) and the season was shot.
And to anticipate the next question: oh yes, you may absolutely blame Will Muschamp for all this if you want. He’s the guy who only left Florida with two scholarship quarterbacks to begin with, one of them being the ineffective Treon Harris. And when Grier was suspended, there was no other alternative, so whenever you want to blame Harris for something, feel free- he’s been awful- but remember who signed him to play quarterback after he was initially recruited as a defensive back. We know all of Harris’s shortcomings at this point: he’s indecisive at times, makes bad decisions at others, can’t see over the line of scrimmage, is very inaccurate, doesn’t seem to know the simple rules of the game (such as only one forward pass allowed per play) and attempts to elude pressure by running himself right into a sack in the spot the offensive line is pushing the rushers into. And we know them well. But it’s on Muschamp for trying to turn a defensive back into a quarterback (a la Nick Marshall at Auburn, sort of) and failing.
It’s also fair to blame Muschamp for the players getting what Trip Thurman called “complacent” after winning the SEC East Title, as the Gators had never won it in any of the players’ careers at Florida, and only the seniors even came close to it. Oh, and the young and dangerously thin offensive line? Yep, that’s on Muschamp too, as he only left McElwain with six, count ’em, SIX scholarship offensive linemen. Etc.
But through all those issues, a transformation has taken place. Florida won double digit games and the SEC East despite all those issues, and so calling the season anything other than a success just isn’t accurate. This team may have resembled a Muschamp team in several ways, but we got a glimpse with Grier at what the future can hold with an actual quarterback at the controls under an actual head coach.
Instead of wondering what could be with a decent quarterback and a decent coach, we now know, having seen it for the first time since Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer ruled the sport. Grier may be gone, but at least we’ve seen what a solid quarterback can do under Mac- and so the chances are looking good that either Feleipe Franks or Jake Allen will thrive under him. We have actual playmakers in the skill position, between Antonio Callaway, DeAndre Goolsby and Brandon Powell that we can rely on to help the quarterback out. Above all, we’ve seen promise that the offense can flourish with a real quarterback under Mac, and thus, the entire team can.
And so it’s because of the promise shown, even if in flashes between the issues that arose this past season, that we as Gator fans can finally feel confident about our football team again.