I’ll be honest. I did not, in any way, shape or form, expect to see what I saw Saturday night in Columbia.
Florida fought. Oh, yes, they fought as though their lives depended on it. The defense played with energy, and flew towards the ball as if shot out of a cannon. Kelvin Taylor ran with a reckless abandon that I can’t remember Mike Gillislee ever having (and that’s a compliment, because I fondly remember Gilly as a tough as nails guy doing his best with his small stature in such a power oriented offense). Skyler Mornhinweg, while not the most talented QB in Florida history, did the best he could with a terrible situation, and played very smart football until he was picked off by Jimmy Legree in the waning moments of the game.
The Gators did commit eight penalties. That’s pretty bad, but the only turnover of the night came late in the game by a rookie quarterback. I can take that, because this was a game against a top ten team on their home turf. I am overall very proud of the players and their effort.
Florida went down early by a field goal, but then Kelvin Taylor went to work. He scored two touchdowns on successive drives, breaking several tackles along the way, and ran up an incredible stat line- 70 yards and two touchdowns on 9 carries. He later cooled off, though, as the Gamecocks figured out that Florida posed no threat to beat them through the air and stuffed he box, daring Mornhinweg to throw, which he couldn’t do. Florida went up 14-6, but was then shut out in the second half. Three more Elliot Fry field goals, plus a connection from Connor Shaw to Bruce Ellington, and South Carolina had a 19-14 lead, which they would hold until the clock struck zero. It was a gutsy performance, but it was still a loss- albeit one that ignited the Muschamp supporters.
Despite the impressive performance, I do stand by my opinions of Muschamp. There are issues with this program that I’m not sure he can fix. The Gators turn the ball over way more than they should, and they have consistently been one of the most penalized teams in the country since Muschamp got here. These problems would be pardoned if Muschamp’s team had an offense to make these issues irrelevant. Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier had these offenses, and even though their teams were heavily penalized as well, none of their penalties were catastrophic because their offense was always a threat to score a touchdown on every single snap.
The way I see it, Muschamp’s not going to get fired after this year, no matter what happened. But if he wants to survive beyond next year, he needs to do one of two things: he needs to completely redesign the offense to make it more exciting and potent, or he can stay with the ground and pound offense, but needs to literally beat the discipline into his players required to not commit penalties and not turn it over. And I’m sure he’s going to choose the second one, because he’s proven to be very stubborn over his time in Gainesville.
Right now, the Gators are on a five game losing streak. Can they snap that next week against Georgia Southern? I don’t know, and that’s a sad, sad fact for a program that’s five years removes from a national championship. Fact is, if they commit stupid penalties, turn the ball over, or just plain fuck around like they’ve been doing for most of the year, they’ll lose. And it will be a damned shame if they do, because after hearing Foley’s endorsement of Muschamp, I’m not sure even a loss to GSU gets him fired. But that’s the debate we’ll be having- whether or not he should be fired with a loss to Georgia Southern- if Muschamp and his team can’t get it together. Yes, you read that right, Florida is going to lose next week to Georgia Southern unless I see some major improvements in the discipline category.
Admittedly, Florida did a good job in terms of not self destructing against the Gamecocks, but let’s see if they can keep it up for 20 games in a row. Does that sound hard? Sure. But that’s what comes with the territory of running this slow paced, clock killing, and supposedly punishing offense. Otherwise, it won’t work.
Here’s an interesting stat for everybody reading. Under Will Muschamp, Florida has lost 14 games. In 9 of those 14 games, Florida surrendered 24 points or fewer. In 5 of those 14 games, Florida surrendered 19 points or fewer. This is a sign of an offense that is among the worst in college football history, and Florida’s sub 100 (out of 123 FBS teams) ranking in total offense for three straight years bolsters that argument. That’s pretty bad by NFL standards, where games go quicker and offenses run fewer plays because the clock doesn’t stop after first downs. By college football standards, where the clock does stop after first downs, giving the offense more time and more plays to score, that’s HORRENDOUS. And we’ve been through this before- it’s ultimately Muschamp’s fault as the head coach for not handing the offense off to somebody who knows what he’s doing. Yes, I believe Brent Pease should have been shown the door several games ago.
This is an offense that relies on getting 4 yards per play, as opposed to 7 or 8 like the Meyer and Spurrier teams. This year’s Gator team can mount a long drive, but one holding call will cripple it. Losing 10 yards for an offense that’s thrilled to get 5 yards on one play is a death sentence to this offense. Holding is one of those penalties that just results in overeagerness, or trying too hard. It’s annoying, sure, but I can deal with it. Not to mention the completely avoidable penalties, like the personal foul on Clay Burton on the opening drive of the Miami game. Clay is a very good guy, liked in the locker room and works hard. He’s not a dumb kid. 99.9% of the time, he is a bright guy with a good head on his shoulders. But that .1% of the time, that split second of foolishness, likely cost the Gators a touchdown. And let’s not point fingers at Clay, because he’s not the only one. Solomon Patton, one of the senior leaders, did the same thing against Georgia, with the same result.
The point is, that’s on Muschamp. Every single personal foul call is 100% on Will Muschamp. He said after the South Carolina game not to blame the players, but to blame him. Well, that’s exactly what I’m doing. These are kids here, 18-22 year old kids who play a game they love. They have deep running emotions, and they sometimes let them get the best of them because their coach lets them. In case you haven’t heard, Will Muschamp is a pretty emotional guy himself, and lets it show on the sidelines. He hasn’t ever shown any sign that he discourages his players from going nuts, even if it costs the team. The players see that the coach flips out, they never hear him tell them not to, so without the warnings in their heads NOT to push an opposing player well after the whistle has blown, they go and do exactly that.
I’m 19, and play college tennis (as I’m sure you know by now if you’ve followed me all around the sportswriting world). I can relate very well to them. I’ve gotten more than my fair share of point penalties for taunting my opponents who bugged me when I was younger. When an opponent, (or his teammates) goes out of his way to piss me off, I’ll usually tug at my jersey with my school’s name on it, or make yapping motions with my hands and slice my throat. In one extreme case, I even did a few Tomahawk Chops to mock a school’s Native American mascot… but I don’t do ANY of this during the match. I wait until I win, then I do it.
Point is, I GET IT. I totally understand why some guys do things to show their pride, meaning try to start a fight. But my coaches have always told me to let my game do the talking, and after enough times, I got the message. I’m different than Clay Burton and Solomon Patton because I wait until AFTER I win to mock people. I try to be a nice person, but there are just some really nasty people out there, and when they harass me and try to pick fights, I respond by beating them, and THEN I open up my heart and let it speak for me. If Clay Burton was really offended by whatever the Miami player said, he should have zipped his lip, gone back to his sideline, done whatever he could to help win the game, and then if Florida won, walk around the stadium looking for ESPN cameras and throw up the “U” with both hands, or just do it in the guy’s face. Winning and then taunting the opposing player who started a fight hurts a lot more than a shove, or a punch, believe me. (Of course, the players could just be more mature in the first place and let it go, but let’s be honest, that’s not how 18-22 year old minds operate.)
Think back to 2007. Remember when Wes Byrum beat Florida with a game winning field goal? Remember how he ran round doing the Gator Chomp afterwards? He’s from St. Thomas Aquinas, in Florida. You don’t think at some point during the game some Gator player gave him an earful? How about Mark Ingram in the 2009 SEC Championship Game, chomping it up as the final seconds ticked away? Surely he was on the receiving end of some trash talk. But Tommy Tuberville and Nick Saban are better coaches than Muschamp, and they installed a certain discipline in all of their players not to do anything to hurt their team. Just like my personal coach, my high school coach and now my college coach have all done with me.
Muschamp’s been here three years now, and here I am, bringing up multiple cases of players doing dumb things to hurt the football team. What’s wrong with that? Why am I talking about a guy in his third season who can’t or won’t get his players to stop doing stupid things to kill momentum?
Turnovers are a little trickier to correct. I was an offensive grad assistant for my high school for four years.There’s only so much you can do to correct a turnover problem. What you can do is limit the turnovers. You can preach ball security all you want for running backs and receivers, and being smart with your quarterbacks, but some turnovers are just bad luck. Note that I said SOME. Not all. I point to Matt Jones’ fumble against Tennessee, and Driskel’s two picks against Miami as examples of carelessness. I pick these examples for a reason. These are starters, so don’t try to blame injuries for the turnover epidemic. That’s been going on since Muschamp first got here. Again, the offense he runs has a very small margin for error, and the Gators just turn the ball over, time and again. Maybe not against the Gamecocks, but this season, Florida has four games of 3+ turnovers. For Muschamp to win with this offense, there can’t be ANY game with more than two turnovers, EVER. So if his team eliminates the careless turnovers, there’s a little margin for error for some bad luck.
That sounds a little unreasonable, I know. To say that this team can NEVER have a game where they turn it over is pretty dramatic. It’s hard to get a good grasp of the concept of “forever”, but the best most people can do is the rest of their lives and beyond. That works for me. If Will Muschamp is the Gators’ head coach for as long as you live, whether you are 88 years old or 8 years old, the Gators cannot have ONE SINGLE GAME of turning the ball over more than twice, or they will lose (the one exception is if the other team turns it over twice as much as Florida, like Tennessee.)
Like it or not, that’s the position Muschamp has put himself in by choosing to run this style of offense. It’s a boring style of football, but it can be effective if you control the ball and bleed the clock, which Florida can’t do because of a weak offensive line and its aforementioned self destruction issues.
But back to Saturday. What this team did with its severely limited roster was very impressive. Had Florida played like that every game of the year, and lost, I’d be FINE with that. I can take losses that come to good teams if they simply beat Florida by being better. But that’s not how the Gators have lost all their games this year. They lost to Vanderbilt by committing four turnovers and 11 penalties, and they lost to Miami by committing five turnovers and 10 penalties. THOSE are the types of losses I absolutely will NOT stand for, and they’re still happening right now, as recently two games ago.
The Gators eliminated the slew of costly mistakes against South Carolina, but the game before that, they self destructed left and right against Vanderbilt. One game of decreased self inflicted wounds isn’t going to convince me that Muschamp has fixed the problems. Maybe 30 in a row with less than three turnovers and less than 7 penalties, if he gets the chance to stay that long, because that’s about how many games his program has killed themselves with mistakes, on and off.
Since Muschamp appears to be safe until next year, I’m just going to have to support him. I still don’t believe he is the right man to lead this program, but he is the man who currently is. Calling for his head when it’s clear that’s not going to happen won’t help matters, but he is going to have a very short leash to work with next year. Plus, I’d rather the Gators be successful than be able to say, “I TOLD YOU SO”, because I’m not an egomaniacal jerk who just likes shoving my correct predictions in Gator fans’ faces. I’d much rather be able to shove Florida’s success in Georgia fans’ faces. So I’d love to be wrong, but Muschamp is running out of time to fix this broken program he inherited from Urban Meyer, regardless of how strong Jeremy Foley’s endorsement of him was.
So, with that said, it’s still great to be a Florida Gator. Some day, the sun will rise on our program again, and however miserable it is to be a Gator football fan right now if you live near a rival’s campus, it’s going to feel that much better when the Gators rise up again.
In All Kinds of Weather, y’all. Even in Category 5 Storms.