A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under head coaches Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell has joined OGGOA as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.
In all of my years of watching the Gators play football, Saturday’s performance was one of the most disappointing that I can remember.
With a trip to Atlanta, GA and the SEC Championship Game on the line (not to mention an inside track to the BCS title game and an opportunity to get some revenge for last year’s loss), Florida simply did not come out ready to play.
Let’s start with the positives.
I cannot praise the Gators defense enough for its performance on Saturday. This unit came ready to play. Know this: Aaron Murray is an incredible quarterback. I went to Hillsborough High School in the Tampa, FL area, and we were rivals of Plant High School, which is where Murray attended.
I’ve had the chance to watch him grow and mature over the last three years and become one of the best signal callers in the country. For that incredible Florida defense to force him into three interceptions and that many incompletions proved that the unit is simply playing at another level right now. It seemed like every time Georgia got onto Florida’s side of the field, the defense made a game-changing tackle or turnover. It is not often that a defense can single-handedly will a team to a victory but that almost happened.
That’s not to say the defense did nothing wrong. The rushing defense was not up to standard and the number of penalties committed was unacceptable. All things considered, the defense played lights out and made enough plays to give the offense an opportunity to win the football game.
Caleb Sturgis was his usual reliable self. It is amazing how many times this guy converts a clutch field goal to keep the Gators in a game. Sturgis accounted for all of Florida’s points in the game. I saw here on OGGOA that he now has over 300 career points and is just one of three players in school history to reach that mark. Incredible.
OK, here we go…
Wow. Six turnovers. You cannot, cannot, absolutely cannot win an SEC game, not to mention an SEC rivalry game, if you turn the ball over six times. The fact that the Gators even had an opportunity to overcome that is astounding, to be honest.
Read the rest of this edition of Snell’s Slant…after the break!
Jeff Driskel obviously struggled, which was a surprise to me considering I thought he looked better and better each game, even when he was not throwing for a ton of yards. Against the Bulldogs, he took two huge steps back. Opposing teams have long known that Florida is a run-first team, but Georgia did what others have not and forced UF to prove that it could pass the ball consistently.
UGA was willing to let Driskel beat them with his arm rather than his legs or the legs of running back Mike Gillislee. As a quarterback, Driskel is the captain of the ship. If he plays well, generally the offense is going to follow suit. It was extremely frustrating to watch him make mistake after mistake, especially when it is obvious that he is supremely talented and can play much better than he did Saturday.
The worst of his four turnovers, of course, was the interception in the end zone before halftime. That cost Florida at least three points and the momentum it was building in the second quarter. In fact, though play went back-and-forth plenty in the second half, that interception very well may have been the turning point in the game. To have that happen seconds before you are set to regroup during a 20-minute break is a killer. That’s not to say this loss is solely on Driskel’s shoulders.
The offensive line was terrible yesterday. In fact, “terrible” is probably being too nice. It was atrocious. Too many times, actually more than I can could count, I saw offensive linemen standing around while Driskel or Gillislee were getting gang tackled by the entire Georgia defense.
Once the Bulldogs made the Gators one-dimensional, all UGA had to do was pin their ears back and rush the passer, which Jarvis Jones did quite well. What I fail to understand is that Florida, which had been great at second-half adjustments all season long, could not find an answer for Jones. He was never chipped or double-teamed with any regularity.
Nothing against left tackle Xavier Nixon, who I think has made some significant strides in his play over the last year, but he has clearly been mismatched the last two weeks against NFL-caliber pass rushers.
Georgia’s defensive line looked more physical and ready to play and create tons of plays either for negative yards, no gain or short gains. To be blunt, the pass protection sucked. The team knew its No. 1 goal (the SEC East title) was on the line in the game, and the offensive line put forth its worst performance of the season.
The new goal for the Gators has to be putting together an offensive game plan that is much less predictable. Running on first and second down only to throw on third-and-long is not going to work no matter how much you want to establish the run. Fans see it and players know it, too, so obviously the opposition is also aware.
The best thing about this loss is that it takes the target off of Florida’s back and puts it squarely on Georgia’s. The Gators had been carrying a heavy load the last few weeks; despite the six turnovers and numerous mistakes, Florida still had an opportunity to start the season 7-0 in league play, which is incredibly impressive for a team that was 3-5 in the SEC one season ago.