First, sorry about not getting the game recap done quickly. They’ll usually be done within an hour or so after the game, for future notice. It was just very late on Saturday night, and I had an all day tennis tournament on Sunday (which I’m happy to report I did very well in), and by the time I was done, I’d played four matches and was ready to hit a wall.
Yes, the Gators did pull out a triple overtime win over Kentucky at home, thanks in part to a huge game by DeMarcus Robinson. The Gators really did win. The streak of 27 wins over Kentucky is still alive, and is now 28. Will Muschamp has survived to see another week as the Gators’ head coach (and yes, to answer that question, a loss would likely have cost Muschamp his job).
The close call against a team that Florida had outscored 195-29 in the last five games in the Swamp raised an interesting question after the shock of being in a 3OT game with a team that hasn’t beaten Florida since 1986 wore off. Was Kentucky that good? Or was Florida that bad?
The short answer is, “both”.
Obviously, Kentucky is a much improved football team. The Cats played sound fundamental football for the majority of the game. Their offense moved the ball against Florida better than they have in any game since 2007, and their defense is much improved from even last year.
Patrick Towles threw for more yards against Florida than any QB has against a Will Muschamp led Gator defense, beating Jameis Winston by some 40 yards. Part of that was Florida’s secondary screwing up their coverage assignments, but he also made some really nice throws that Kentucky QB’s of past seasons don’t make. Only Andre Woodson has thrown for more yards against Florida in my lifetime (in 2007), and that was against a porous defense with more youth than a preschool (which is only a slight exaggeration, that’s the funny thing).
When coming after the QB in previous years, I’m convinced the Kentucky defensive linemen decided on which gap to shoot by rock-paper-scissors, or some equally random method that led to two of them running into each other and effectively giving an offensive lineman a play off. I remember a play in 2010 where two Kentucky linemen had only one offensive lineman to beat to get to John Brantley. They both tried to beat Mike Pouncey on his left side, but from slightly different angles, and wound up crashing into each other and laying each other out. That kind of “Kentucky thing to do” is a thing of the past. Every Cats rusher came after Jeff Driskel with a purpose, and it made the Gators’ offensive line have to work. And more than once, it led to confusion and a free shot at Driskel, such as the time Rod Johnson totally struck out trying to pick up DE Bud Dupree, who laid him out with no resistance.
The entire Kentucky team has a new and improved attitude about them, one that I think will carry them to a bowl game this year. Mark Stoops will get this team out of the SEC cellar, and may even pull off an upset or two against a Georgia or South Carolina type team. I’m convinced that at the very least, his team will die trying.
But the Gators did not play well at all, and any player would be the first to tell you that. Jeff Driskel was not particularly accurate for much of the night, his receivers dropped passes, and the offensive line missed several assignments. Florida probably doesn’t win the game if not for one gigantic error by Kentucky. On a second and nine just inside UK territory, all Cats DB Fred Tiller had to do was cleanly catch a terrible pass from Driskel that hit him right in the chest for the easy interception, and then take it down the vacant sideline for (probably) a pick six that would have put Kentucky up 17-6. Instead, Tiller deflected it right to DeMarcus Robinson, who took it down to the Kentucky 10. Two plays later, Driskel hit Tevin Westbrook for the touchdown and the lead.
Even the defense was off, a rarity for a Will Muschamp team. The Gators twice got burned down the right sideline by Garrett Johnson for touchdowns. On the first one, Patrick Towles made a great throw that Johnson caught at the 30. OK, so even the best DB’s get burned sometimes. And Jabari Gorman was beaten by a step when Johnson made the catch at the 30, but here came Keanu Neal, presumably with the intention to push Johnson out of bounds somewhere around the 26 yard line. But Johnson made them both whiff and trotted the remaining 20 yards to the end zone for an easy touchdown. The second one was even worse. The picture fuzzed out on me so I couldn’t see who it was, but a safety bit and Johnson was open by 10 yards when he caught the touchdown.
But the worst mistake of all was in overtime. Stanley Williams took a screen pass on the first play and went right. The play should have been stuffed for a minimal gain, if not a loss, but Gators totally over pursued, and when Williams decided to reverse his field, there was nobody back to contain it. In actuality, he may have been out of bounds at about the one foot line, but still… that’s a 24 yard gain on a play that should have lost a couple.
Then there were the self inflicted issues that made we want to scream. Again. The Gators committed eight penalties, a few of which were understandable, but the majority of which were totally inexcusable. What excuse is there for two seperate delay of game penalties when you’re about to punt and pin Kentucky back as far as possible? Then there was the face mask penalty on Darious Cummings on a 3rd and 15 in overtime- a play that would have been stopped far short of a first down- that led to a much easier field goal for Austin McGinnis, and allowed the game to continue.
And it’s true, Florida only turned it over once, but that stat makes it easy to forget that Driskel nearly threw a pick six to Fred Tiller- a ball that he most definitely should have caught. I’ll reiterate: if Tiller makes that play, Florida probably loses the game, and Muschamp probably gets fired. But because Tiller not only didn’t catch it, but turned what should have been a gift for Kentucky into a gift for Florida by tipping it right to Robinson, I don’t get to write about how turnovers once again screwed this team in the end (which I don’t like doing, contrary to what Muschamp apologists think, but it’s become a pattern).
Where have I heard of these types of self inflicted wounds before? Oh, that’s right; I wrote about this issue three years ago when this site was on its first life. That link was my write up of the Florida Atlantic game in 2011, Muschamp’s first game as head coach. Why am I still writing about the same problems in his fourth year? I also continually mentioned this team’s propensity for silly mistakes throughout the 2013 season, and wondered, week after week, when Muschamp would get rid of these mistakes. There’s still time, of course, and it’s very possible that it gets cleaned up next week in Tuscaloosa.
So, to sum it all up: that wasn’t a terrible Kentucky team Florida beat on Saturday. It wasn’t a national title contender, but it wasn’t a bad team at all. If you want a comparison, think of 2011 Vanderbilt, in James Franklin’s first year. New attitude, new mindset… and much better execution on both sides of the ball by players that are modestly talented but extremely confident (in the right way) about what they can do. That said, Florida has a lot to clean up if they want even a puncher’s chance to beat Alabama. Can they do it? Sure. Alabama looked quite vulnerable against West Virginia, and though it is in Tuscaloosa, I believe the Gators will not be scared of the hostile environment. Jeff Driskel boasts wins at Kyle Field and Doak Campbell Stadium, easily two of college football’s ten rowdiest places to play. But he and his teammates didn’t make too many major mistakes, either.
Oh, and one more thing: the Gators did win the game last Saturday, and remain unbeaten. And they’re alone atop the SEC East. So these issues have not cost Florida anything yet.