By Shannon Snell – OnlyGators.com Featured Columnist
I’m sure Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is so close to UF Health, because after Saturday night’s Florida-Kentucky game, I’m guessing a whole lot of people had to be admitted.
This may not be a popular opinion, but the first thing everyone should know coming out of Saturday’s game is that the Wildcats are a good football team. Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops and his boys did not make the trip to The Swamp just to put on a good show and play in a close game. They came to win and gave themselves every opportunity.
In reality, there are a lot of things that the Gators can take away from a game of this nature, one they won – not lost – in three overtimes.
There were three standout players that changed the dynamic of this game and were the reason Florida walked away with a win. If you watched the game, you should already know who I am referring to here.
Regarding sophomore Demarcus Robinson, I honestly cannot remember personally seeing a finer performance from a Gators wide receiver, ever. This young man is an absolute beast, and he is simply on a different level compared even to his own teammates. The Wildcats found that out first-hand. It has been a long time since Florida’s had a playmaker of this caliber out wide, and he is only going to get better. That should be frightening for opposing defense, which will likely lead to double coverage for Robinson and more open passing lanes for his teammates.
The Gators’ defense got beat up pretty bad, especially the secondary, but junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. is living up to his preseason billing as a future first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Fowler was in the backfield all night making plays and wrecking havoc.
Not only that, but his versatility was on display, as he was getting moved around to multiple positions throughout the contest. I noticed he played as a standup linebacker and at three-technique over the guard in addition to his normal pass rushing position. It’s not easy for offensive coordinators to scout a defense when the best player lining up across from them can play all over the field.
Then there’s junior running back Matt Jones, who was tremendous on Saturday despite being overshadowed by Robinson. Yes, Jones carried 29 times for over 150 yards, but I do not think anyone realizes how he helped break down Kentucky’s defense.
Jones cannot be tackled by a single defender. He was breaking tackles left and right, wearing down the Wildcats throughout the game with tons of yards after contact. Everyone was ready to name sophomore Kelvin Taylor as Florida’s starter, but Jones proved that it is still his job to lose.
The statistics say that the Gators’ offense had a great night; anyone who watched the game will tell you otherwise. Simply put, redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel – and his offensive line – did not play well. The line run blocked well late in the contest, which was encouraging, especially when the coaches called five-straight power plays that all gained positive yardage.
However, the pass blocking was awful and absolutely contributed to Driskel’s struggles. The offensive line struggled against the blitz, which the Wildcats called on about 90 percent of Gators third downs. Driskel took a number of unnecessary hits, and it looked like they rattled him some. Offensive line coach Mike Summers must clean this up or else other teams, especially those with better, more talented pass rushers, will use this blueprint to dominate Florida.
Driskel himself seemed lost at times. A couple Gators wideouts had drops, two in particular on third down ere maddening, but he appeared to hold the ball longer than normal and was obviously erratic with his throws. In addition to his interception – a careless throwaway that he was supposed to have eliminated from his game – he threw another that luckily bounced off a defensive back’s chest and into Robinson’s hands.
This is clearly not the performance Florida fans want to see from their veteran quarterback. Mistakes, such as the ones he made and nearly made on Saturday, can and will lose games for the Gators. Driskel simply has to play much, much better if UF hopes to have a truly successful bounce back season.
It seems like Gator Nation’s confidence was shaken on Saturday. I get it, I do. I was sitting in the stands sweating bullets like the rest of you. The Kentucky team Florida played on Saturday was legitimate. It was well-coached and had some talent, especially at the receiver position.
[Editor’s Note: It is important to remember that while the Wildcats are not historically a successful program, Kentucky has put together some solid seasons with big-time wins over top-tier opponents. Just look at the 2007 campaign, the last time UK really gave UF fits in a game, as an example. It has happened before.]
If your team is going to go into triple overtime against an opponent, no matter what respect level you had for said opponent entering the game, a win is better than a loss. And guess what? The Gators won on Saturday. Florida scored in all three overtime periods and nearly scored touchdowns in each period save for a Driskel miscue. UF showed perseverance and tenacity against an SEC opponent, something missing last season.
Anything can happen when Saturday rolls around. A program like Kentucky can compete with Florida, a team like the Gators can surprise a top-10 team like the Crimson Tide. If Florida-Alabama was to finish in a similar fashion, would that indicate that the Crimson Tide are worse than expected or the Gators were able to hang with one of the best teams in the nation?
A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell joined OnlyGators.com in 2012 as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team. He is now in his third year sharing his musings and will do so through the 2014 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 of those contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.