By Shannon Snell – OnlyGators.com Featured Columnist
Why does this feel like we’ve been here before? Reflecting on Saturday’s game brings me back to the 2013 season finale against Florida State when Florida of course wanted to win but might have settled for a moral victory, a hard-fought close game.
Yes, the Gators did fight hard on Saturday. Yes, the game was close (21-21) early in the second half. But Florida lost by 21 and neither an actual win nor a moral victory was in the cards. Plus, when did the concept of the University of Florida playing for a moral victory ever even become acceptable? When did it become OK to play to keep the score close?
The empty feeling in the pit of my stomach is the unquestionable fact that the Gators have become irrelevant on the national stage. Maybe I was just drinking Will Muschamp’s Kool-Aid when he said this was the best and most talented team he’s had in his time at Florida. Perhaps I just wanted to believe Florida was on its way. The fact of the matter is, I was wrong, and the Crimson Tide had absolutely no problem proving that they remain in a completely different league than the once-mighty Gators.
There is no reason not to give credit where credit is due. Alabama is one hell of a football team. Amari Cooper in undoubtedly the best wide receiver in college football. The position that I thought was a weakness for them, quarterback, looks like it is on its way to developing into a strength with Blake Simms shredding Florida’s defense for the most yards given up in a single game in school history.
That’s exceedingly embarrassing, especially for a Gators team coached by a former defensive coordinator with defense serving as its calling card for the last three seasons. It’s another record that Muschamp can add to his growing list of embarrassments.
Let’s stick with this for a moment and put that performance into perspective. Anyone remember the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers? That team, arguably one of the best ever, was led by Tommie Frazier, who tuned Florida up for 629 total yards (previously the most in school history) in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl. Simms may be on the rise, but he’s no Frazier.
Football is a team game – always has been, always will be. An equally true fact is that there is no more important player on the field than the quarterback, a position that benefits by getting most of the credit when things go well and subsequently most of the blame when things fall apart.
Jeff Driskel is lost, and it really showed on Saturday. And that’s a mystery to me. This was supposed to be an offense that would allow Driskel to finally thrive, yet he looked like a freshman out there trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
I really don’t think there is any excuse for his play, either. The offensive line, of which I always cast a critical eye, actually played very well. The pass protection was excellent most of the day and there were quite a few running lanes for the backs. Many expected Florida’s front to be dominated by a more physical Alabama defensive line, yet they stepped up and played like a bunch of studs. I was great to see Mike Summers’s guys perform so well against talent of that caliber.
Back to Driskel. I have a very hard time believing this team will actually take a step forward and win important games unless there is a significant change at the quarterback position. Muschamp likes to point out that Florida is still in control of its own destiny and that Saturday’s game was just one early-season loss, but this game was much more damaging for the Gators than being a road loss to a ranked opponent.
Not only did Alabama (and, let’s be honest, Kentucky before it) give each of Florida’s remaining opponents a blueprint to follow, it was also one of the Tide’s biggest recruiting weekends of the season. I can guarantee you that the ass kicking the Gators took didn’t sit too well for many of those prospects.
While questions about Muschamp intensify, Florida fans got to see first-hand how and why Nick Saban continues to produce dominant teams at Alabama. He wins. Recruits like winning. Winning gets players television exposure, championship ring, postseason awards and a better shot at being drafted early by an NFL team rather than trying to make your mark as a late-round pick or undrafted free agent.
Back in 1999, when I was coming out of high school, I narrowed my list down to Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame and USC. The common denominator? All were winning programs. A lot of times you will hear recruits say they care about academics first. Bullshit. Getting a good education is very important, and it weighs heavily into your (and your family’s) decision, but if football is your chosen career path than you want to commit to a program that will develop you as a player and provide you with not only an opportunity to get on the field but a platform to win football games at the highest level.
Muschamp is on the hot seat and that seat is on its way to becoming white-hot. Things are not getting easier for the Gators after their off week as Florida will play Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, where it has not lost since 2004.
This is no longer about getting things “corrected;” it is about winning. Time is up. The Gators must win football games – big one – and become relevant again. Otherwise, Jeremy Foley will need to intensify his search for finding an answer to Florida’s ills.
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.