By Shannon Snell – OnlyGators.com Featured Columnist
I’ve always loved the lyric, “Mama said there’ll be days like this.”
Saturday’s game against East Carolina, well, that was one of those days. ECU stayed competitive the entire game and even had the chance to tie things up with a few minutes left. The box score did not really indicate how many facets of the game Florida needs to improve in before it hits SEC play this weekend.
As with most things in life, there’s good and bad. One of the most significant problems for the Gators right now is their offensive line. Look, I ain’t gonna sit here a bash these guys. I think there are a few guys, as I mentioned last week, who can be very, very good. But I think for all of them, with the exception of Trip Thurman, the lack of experience is really an issue.
Let me give you a bit of insight on this. I remember playing my first game as a freshman against Ball State. I thought I was ready, but in all actuality, that was far from the case. The Cardinals had a defensive tackle that kicked my ass half the time I was in the game. Was he better than me? Hell no, at least I don’t think so. I was playing against way better players in practice, such as Alex Brown and Gerard Warren. The problem for me then is the same one a lot of these Florida linemen are facing now: absolutely no real life game experience.
It’s easy to perform well in a controlled environment like practice, even against extremely talented teammates you see every day. But when the bullets start to fly, everything changes. And for a lot of these guys, better play will only come with more experience. To relate another experience, my second game (against Middle Tennessee State) was a much better showing for me – even against better competition.
I know offensive line coach Mike Summers is all over these guys, and he should really be commended for the job he is doing with such little experience across that line. But in order for the Gators to actually win some of their SEC games, the play has to step up and get better. Most SEC teams are far superior to the competition that the Florida has faced the last two weeks. Yes, even Kentucky, which is much better than it has been in recent years.
It is important to point out another misconception still in the air from last Saturday: the Pirates were not a bad team. This was the same East Carolina team and coach – minus a couple offensive starters – that took Florida down to the wire less than a year ago in the 2015 Birmingham Bowl. Make no mistake about it, ECU is no slouch; they had playmakers and were well-coached. There were a lot of other SEC teams that had much worse weekends against not-as-talented opponents.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing coming out of that game, though, was the Gators’ secondary giving up over 300 yards passing. For a team that credits themselves as “DBU,” it hasn’t look very DBU-ish the last couple of weeks, as Adam alluded to in a story published Wednesday. Injuries are somewhat to blame as cohesiveness needs to build; over time, they should gel and become a dominant unit again, but it needs to happen sooner than later. Sooner as in Saturday.
Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towels can really sling the ball around, and while that was a concern a year ago also when the Wildcats nearly beat the Gators in The Swamp, UF may be able to match them better this year. Florida’s passing game has really shined with Will Grier at the helm. I like his confidence, and he seems as if he has a really good feel for the offense. Don’t get me wrong, Treon Harris is a playmaker in his own right, but let’s be honest here, this is Grier’s job to lose.
And so it begins: SEC play. The Gators have all the ingredients necessary to be a very good football team, perhaps even one that can compete for the SEC East crown if they can get it together.
I hope the players are taking things as seriously as the coaching staff, because I have no doubt that head coach Jim McElwain knows Florida is capable of looking a lot better than it did last Saturday.
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 fourth year sharing his musings and will do so through the 2015 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.