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The No. 11 Florida Gators looked dreadful on Saturday while suffering a 31-10 loss at the hands of the Arkansas Razorbacks on the road in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
With the SEC East seemingly slipping through their fingers and the Gators putting forth their worst effort this season, there’s plenty to discuss about a Florida team that does not look like it’s made much progress in Year 2 under head coach Jim McElwain.
Here are four things we learned from Florida’s loss on Saturday.
1. The Gators are still pretenders: The entire week leading up to this game, the question that filled the air nationally was whether Florida was legitimate. This stemmed from the team being slotted at No. 11 in the initial College Football Playoff Rankings, but it’s been a question that’s been asked McElwain’s entire tenure and dating as far back as 2012.
Faced with an opportunity to prove they were indeed relevant and deserved national respect, the Gators collapsed. Florida’s offense could not move the ball. Its defense gave up 466 total yards to Arkansas including 223 on the ground, which is a ton regardless of how long the unit was on the field (39:21 of 60 minutes). The Gators did manage to only commit three penalties on the afternoon, but they countered that by going 1-of-11 on third downs.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio threw two interceptions, including a pick six on the first play of the game, and Florida’s offense only managed three points late, going without scoring a touchdown for the second time in 11 games. The Gators dropped passes, failed to block and gave up running the ball, only rushing 11 times on Saturday for 27 total yards. As much as it can be blamed on the Gators’ lack of execution, Florida looked unprepared to play Saturday, particularly offensively, which is on the coaches.
2. Del Rio is not the answer: It was obvious to most for much of the season, though McElwain and optimists were holding out hope. At this point, there’s no question that Del Rio is not going to solve the Gators’ offensive problems. Whether Florida moves on from him to graduate transfer Austin Appleby or one of the team’s two freshmen remains to be seen, but even if Del Rio helps UF beat South Carolina next week and the Gators somehow wind up in the SEC Championship Game, he’s not someone this team can rely on going forward. It may very well be time for Florida to burn a redshirt on Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask, and next season, Del Rio should not even factor into the quarterback battle. Del Rio has thrown for two touchdowns and six interceptions over his last three games since returning from injury. Did that time away from the field — along lingering effect from that hurt knee — play into his recent struggles? Probably some, but certainly not where he should be playing this poorly.
3. If you think this is bad, just wait: Let’s start with the biggest news coming out of the game — injuries to some of the Gators’ most important players. Florida lost redshirt junior center Cam Dillard (knee), senior linebacker Jarrad Davis (ankle), redshirt junior LB Alex Anzalone (wrist/shoulder) and freshman wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland (leg) — all starters – during the game. McElwain said afterwards that he expected all to be out, presumably for next week, though some additional insight on duration will probably be available on Monday. Senior WR Chris Thompson was also knocked out of the game after taking a vicious hit on a kick return, and a number of other players were hurt but returned to the field.
So Florida will be down about one-quarter of its starters — some of the most important ones at that — as it faces must-win situations against South Carolina and LSU in order to maintain hold atop the SEC East. Since switching to freshman QB Jake Bentley, the Gamecocks have averaged 29.7 points per game and are 3-0 with victories over UMass, Tennessee and Missouri. The Tigers are 3-0 since moving on from Les Miles to interim coach Ed Orgeron, averaging 41.7 points per game. LSU is currently in a dogfight with No. 1 Alabama. The Gators are looking at the very real possibility of either losing out or finishing 1-2 in its last three SEC games, which would have them dropping the division to either the Vols or Kentucky.
4. Special teams is awful except for the kickers: Outside of a lucky onside kickoff return against Mizzou, Florida’s return game has been nonexistent this season. The Gators have also been unable to get pressure on field goal tries or punts — let alone blocks — no matter how bad the team has needed game-breaking plays in order to change the momentum of a game.
Where Florida has been solid is in coverage. It has also done a good job blocking for redshirt junior punter Johnny Townsend and redshirt sophomore kicker Eddy Pineiro, who were the lone bright spots for the Gators on Saturday. Townsend had a couple rough punts but hit a long of 59 and averaged 44.4 on seven boots with four downed inside the 20-yard line. Townsend was so good Saturday that he even made the tackle on that 59-yard bomb after two of his teammates missed takedowns. Pineiro has not been given too many chances over the last few weeks, but he nailed his only opportunity from 50 yards out against Arkansas to account for Florida’s only offensive points on the day.