Amid the heated debate about who should be Florida’s QB for this weekend’s game (not to to mention the even more heated debate about Will Muschamp’s job security at Florida) is one simple fact that people seem to be largely ignoring: the last time the Florida Gators stepped on a football field, they gave up more yards than they ever had before in a single game.
I don’t care if Will Muschamp smuggles Tim Tebow into Neyland Stadium and dresses him in Jeff Driskel’s jersey, the Gators simply will not win on Saturday if they don’t play lights out defense. And I know that going forward, Florida will need a serviceable QB if they want to do damage in the East. I do get that. But in terms of this game, the burden lies squarely on the defense that just got burned for the most yards in school history.
The good news is that a lot of the mistakes the Gators made defensively against Alabama were easily correctable. The bad news is that there were so many of them (and this defensive secondary is so young) that I’m not sure it can all be fixed in one week. So I’ve given you one positive and one negative; what’s the verdict? Can Florida’s defense stop the Vols’ offense? The answer is simple: yes, they can. Tennessee’s offense is shot full of holes and Florida’s front seven has at least five future NFL starters. Whether or not the Gators do stop the Vols or not will go a long way in deciding the game’s victor, and more importantly, Will Muschamp’s future.
Whoever Muschamp starts at QB (and it looks like it’s Driskel) is likely going to be fragile one way or another from the get-go. Assuming Driskel gets the nod after all, he’s going to have a ton of pressure on him. He hasn’t played well lately. The fans haven’t been shy to let him know that. He may be 14-4 as a Gators starter, but he’s 3-3 in his last six games as a starter. The memories of those impressive wins at Texas A&M and FSU have been replaced with the much darker memories of a dreadful performance in the Sugar Bowl against Louisville, a pick six and a broken leg against this same Tennessee team, an even worse outing against Miami, and what may have been the worst of all two weeks ago against Alabama. It’s a what have you done for me lately world here in the SEC, and lately, Driskel’s exactly .500 as a starter.
Even if Muschamp pulls a sudden about face and starts Treon Harris, there’s still going to be a ton of uncertainty at the QB position. Harris has won big in high school, but other than two touchdowns against a joke of an Eastern Michigan team, he’s done nothing at Florida yet. Hey very well may turn out to be a superstar, don’t get me wrong. But he’s not yet. And thus, Muschamp and Kurt Roper have to be careful with him- whether he starts or gets inserted for Driskel in a backup role.
The point is that is doesn’t matter who’s taking the snaps. Personally, I’d prefer giving Harris a trial run… yes, with our season on the line, because the last time we gave Driskel the call with our season on the line, he was responsible for four turnovers in a ghastly 17-9 loss to Georgia in 2012… but it’s ultimately a moot point. The defense has to come through. It has to.
Will Muschamp’s back has been pinned solidly against the wall as the Florida coach. He simply can’t lose another game if he wants to ensure himself the 2015 season as Florida’s head coach. His only hope to save his job at this point is the same thing he promised to bring to Florida… his defense.
Let’s be real, Will Muschamp is not the defensive genius we once thought he was. Defensive geniuses don’t get burned for 645 yards by a new starting quarterback for a team that’s known for defense, not offense. It’s not like that was the first time his Gators have been shredded, either: that was the eighth time under Muschamp that Florida surrendered 425 yards or more. But by and large, Muschamp’s defenses turn in more than respectable performances. However, given the current state of the Florida offense, “more than respectable” won’t be enough. This defense will have to play their best possible game against Tennessee- to save their offense, their coach’s job, and their season.
It’s on you, Muschamp & co. You’ve gotta get this defense ready to hunt for blood. Tennessee has a decent passing attack with Justin Worley at the controls, but the entire unit can fall apart like a house of cards because the offensive line is so bad. Tennessee quarterbacks have been sacked 10 times in the last two weeks (against Georgia and Oklahoma), and Florida’s front seven is clearly the strength of its defense. It’s doable, Bill from Gainesville. Send the pressure nonstop and good things will probably happen.
Or we could take a different approach, since pleading and cajoling with Muschamp for big performances hasn’t really worked so far. Let’s go with this instead: one more performance that’s even half as bad as what we saw two weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, and you’re done. No two ways about it.
Think about this. Muschamp’s Gators are 19-5 when holding opponents below 20 points. I know, you probably shouldn’t lose five times in three years and a small percentage of a fourth when holding your opponent to less than 20. But still, I’ll take the odds- just about four out of every five times Florida’s opponent scores 19 or less, they win- because this defense is usually so good, holding the other team to under 20 isn’t much trouble. On the flip side, Muschamp’s Florida teams are 3-9 when giving up 24 points or more, and 0-6 when giving up 33 or more.
Basically, if this defense has a bad day, it’s all over for Muschamp. The Gators have never won games with their offense under Muschamp, so with their QB situation in a state of flux unlike one I’ve ever seen, his baby- his defense- has got to be at its absolute best. Or he will- not should, but will- lose his job.