By Shannon Snell – OnlyGators.com Featured Columnist
No one expected the outcome we got Saturday…besides Florida’s players and coaches. I can tell you that a former Gators player myself, one who just two weeks ago said the program was on a path to nowhere under Will Muschamp, I was absolutely shocked to see Florida pull out a victory in one of the team’s most important games – for a variety of reasons – over the last few years.
After weeks of uninspired, mistake-filled football, these Gators looked like they were on a mission. Not a mission to make the College Football Playoff (that’s long gone) or even go win the SEC Championship (still a long shot) but rather a mission to save Muschamp’s coaching career (at least as far as Florida is concerned).
You do not need me to tell you that another loss to Georgia would’ve been a proverbial death sentence for Muschamp. Most already had his fate sealed heading into the contest and were already speculating on who would be replacing him at the helm of the Gators. Well, Muschamp’s boys did not just run down Georgia’s throats on Saturday, they shut up a lot of Florida fans (and this columnist), too.
Most of the game stories you’ve read here on OnlyGators.com and elsewhere have led with the play of the quarterback – for better or worse. Not this time. Freshman Treon Harris, for all intents and purposes, was a non-factor in this game as it pertained to moving the ball offensively. That’s not to say Harris did not contribute. He had a couple nice runs and made a good throw to junior Latroy Pittman – his presence also helped the Gators’ confidence – but it was the running backs that absolutely dominated.
The coaching staff was smart enough to realize that putting the game in the hands of a true freshman making his first-ever start in a rivalry game would not have given Florida its best chance to win. Instead, the Gators – the same program once helmed by pass-happy Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer – ran the ball 60 times on the evening. Who would have thought we would see a day where that would happen at Florida?
To quote my favorite WWE superstar, Triple H, Muschamp on Saturday did what was “best for business.” And that was motivating an offensive line and running the hell out of junior Matt Jones and sophomore Kelvin Taylor. I blocked for a ton of great running backs in my day, and I do not ever remember one rushing for 190 yards, let alone two on the same team in the same game.
As an offensive lineman by trade, I always keep a close eye on the unit, which most of you likely know from reading these columns each week. On Saturday – and still today – I am a proud papa. The Gators shredded the Bulldogs’ defensive line to the point that UGA’s players barely appeared to be on the field. The best thing about all of it is that even though it became quite apparent that UF was going to run the ball and do nothing else the rest of the game, its rivals were unable to do anything at all to stop it.
Not having already mentioned the wide receivers to this point is doing the unit a disservice. A lot of the time, when a running back has a big run, it’s due to great blocking by both the offensive line and the wide receivers, especially when a run is broken to the outside. Demarcus Robinson has been criticized for inconsistent hands this season, but he the primary reason Jones scored his 44-yard touchdown. Robinson blocked not one but two defensive backs on that play, the second one nearly 35 yards down the field after the first. That is pure effort. Robinson and the rest of Florida’s receivers deserve just as much credit as the offensive line for fueling Jones’s and Taylor’s big day.
Here’s the plain, simple fact: the Gators stuck it to everyone that didn’t give them a chance to win…which was almost everyone. Florida accomplished this with an unexpected game plan that worked to perfection. The coaching staff gets tons of credit, and the players kudos for the execution. It was a truly great win for the program.
Now we ask: how does this affect Muschamp’s future at Florida?
Before Saturday, no one could have believed that the Gators had a chance to run the table and help him keep his job. But after a win like this and three-straight dates against Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Eastern Kentucky, it does not seem far-fetched to think that Florida could be 7-3 when it faces Florida State.
Would that be enough to save Muschamp’s job despite his 1-6 record against top 25 opponents over the last two seasons and all of the negativity surrounding the program? Would athletic director Jeremy Foley keep him around even if he doesn’t register an upset win over FSU?
If the Gators continue to play like they did Saturday and keep putting wins on the board, anything is possible.
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.