Florida’s 28-20 win over East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl was pretty much what we’ve come to expect under Will Muschamp, even if he is now an Auburn Tiger and it was DJ Durkin who led the Gators yesterday. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t exciting, and it wasn’t glamorous. But it was a win nonetheless, and now the Gators have something they have never really had under Muschamp- momentum going forward.
With the win, Florida finishes the season at 7-5. They also have a winning record in bowl games now, at 21-20. Most importantly, though, Florida has a strong selling point in recruiting- and considering the fact that Jim McElwain now has to clean up the mess than Muschamp started, he’ll take all the help he can get.
But back to the game itself. There was a lot to like, and a lot more to work on.
Let’s start with the positives. We got to see Dante Fowler (and possible a few other juniors) shut down an offense one last time. Fowler recorded three sacks of Shane Carden in his Gator finale, which was definitely the right way to go out. But more important looking ahead was how the rest of the defense played- and they played as if they were trying to impress their new head coach, Jim McElwain. Jon Bullard destroyed Carden on this 3rd and 10 early in the second half. Brian Poole jumped a route, picked Carden off and took him to the house (after the front seven pressured him to throw the ball). And young linebacker Alex Anzalone absolutely eviscerated ECU wide receiver Justin Hardy on this punt return.
We also got to see the emergence of two new stars on offense. Running back Adam Lane, lost in the shadow of Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor, exploded on the scene for 109 yards on just 16 carries. Those numbers eclipse his regular season totals in both categories (eight carries for 72 yards) and won him the MVP trophy. It’s nothing short of astonishing that he only saw action in two of Florida’s 11 games, but then again, we’ve come to expect such blunderful decision by Muschamp. Also exploding on the scene was receiver Ahmad Fulwood. He caught a screen pass from Treon Harris and took it 86 yards to the house. In truth, it was just as much due to good blocking help from his teammates as it was his speed, but combine the play with Lane’s huge day and the Birmingham Bowl could serve as a legitimate opening statement in a court of law that Muschamp wouldn’t know offensive talent if it jumped up and bit him in the throat.
Finally, we got to see a happy ending for the much maligned Jeff Driskel, who is expected to transfer out of Florida. In all fairness, he deserves much of the criticism he receives as a quarterback, but he deserves no such criticism as a human being, yet some fans unfortunately can’t tell the difference. And so to see him leave Gainesville with his game clinching run as the last memory fans will have of him- not to mention that that’s his own personal final memory- was nice.
But all of these positives were nearly nullified by a late rally from ECU. Down 28-20 (but driving) in the waning moments, Carden completed a pass to Isaiah Jones, who fumbled the ball forward- and was kicked forward and recovered by Jimmy Williams. Carden then took a shot for the end zone, but Vernon Hargreaves picked it off, and that was that.
That doesn’t mean the Gators’ performance was anywhere near perfect.
Fulwood’s catch and run for a touchdown made it 28-14 for Florida; it also marked the end of the Gators’ offensive production. The Gators would then possess the ball seven more times- and gain a grand total of 91 yards. That is horrid. It’s easy to blame Jeff Driskel for that, except that Harris played on three of those seven drives. Hopefully stats like that are gone for good with McElwain in charge.
And then there were some defensive lapses that made me shake my head. Florida’s defense, which has been heavily criticized for having a shaky secondary, allowed 526 yards of total offense, including six plays that gained 25 yards or more. They did make some positive plays, but overall, their performance left something to be desired. I get that ECU had a decent offense- they put 70 on UNC- but to be gauged for over half a thousand yards by a school that essentially is a mid major is not acceptable, and it’s not even like it’s the first time we’ve seen it this year. Remember the Alabama game?
But… we’re done with that. We got our bowl win, we got our winning season, and we got our winning bowl game record back. It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing in particular, but we did those things. We have national signing day coming up with a new head coach. It’s the dawn of a new day, and it promises to be a much prettier one than the four year thunderstorm of Will Muschamp football.
Onward and upward, in all kinds of weather.