I’m at the point where I struggle to find words.
I played football for a total of 11 years: high school, college and pro. I’ve been watching football for my whole life, even as a toddler when my dad played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I grew up in Tampa, 125 miles from the school I had always dreamed to attend, the University of Florida. I always had visions of playing for my favorite coach, Steve Spurrier, in his Fun ‘n’ Gun offense with the hopes of winning an SEC Championship. The cool thing about it was, in the end, I was able to accomplish all of those things.
I started that journey in 2000. I went to Florida, and when I left in 2013, there was no doubt about it that I was a Gator. For me, being part of the Gator Nation is a state of mind. It’s an attitude. And as a former player, I know that it’s something that can be taken from you and it not something that should be taken lightly.
I say all of this for a reason. After all these years of being an avid Gators football follower, this past Saturday against Arkansas was probably the most angry and disappointed I’ve ever been in a Florida team (with the lone exception being the Florida State game I played in during the 2003 season).
It’s a strange feeling because I always told myself that, after my playing days were done, I would never be one of those people that let a football game that has no bearing on my life affect me. Well, as I stated above, “Once a Gator, always a Gator.”
It’s not the outcome of the game that upset me. Losses are part of sports. The 1996 Chicago Bulls, 1993 Dallas Cowboys and 1927 New York Yankees were some of the greatest teams ever assembled and they all lost games. Sometimes losing is a necessary step in becoming a winner.
The anger is more about how and why the Gators lost last Saturday. Two weeks ago, Arkansas played Auburn in a game that should have been closely contested as both teams were ranked in the top 25. Well, this obviously didn’t play out on the field as well as it did on paper for Arkansas, as Auburn demolished them 56-3. It was a straight up ass whoopin’, and it started up front with the Tigers accounting for 543 of their 632 total yards on the ground. They bullied the Razorbacks on the scoreboard and beat them down in the trenches. Auburn is a good team, sure, but Arkansas’ defense was embarrassing — at least on that day. Leave it to Florida’s offense changed that perception — quickly.
You cannot tell me that the Gators do not recruit equal or better than the Tigers, and you cannot tell me that the talent gap is so wide that while Auburn can put up 56 points on a team that Florida can’t even score an offensive touchdown against.
This Gators offense is lost, and more importantly, it’s been lost since 2009 when Tim Tebow was walking the halls of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The constant struggle that seems to be associated with awful offense has to be the quarterback position. But if you’re looking for me to bash Luke Del Rio, forget about it. Even though it was rare, I made some terrible plays myself when I was active. No player goes out there with the intention to screw up, especially not when so many around you are happy to tell you how bad you’re playing.
Unfortunately for Del Rio, quarterback is the most scrutinized position in football. Win and everyone thinks you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. Lose and everyone thinks you suck at life. Obviously with Del Rio now being out due to an injury, the conversation is no longer about him. In steps Austin Appleby once again, a signal caller who has shown flashes of a big arm and decent decision making but also floundered in the last six quarters he played. I’m still waiting for head coach Jim McElwain to pull the redshirt off one of his true freshmen, Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask. At this point, however, I don’t think either gives the Gators a better shot of winning a game than Appleby. Only Coach Mac can make that call, and we’ll just have to see how it plays out.
I know everyone is ready and willing to put McElwain on the hot seat, but that would be really reactionary. Just last year, he took a very young team to the SEC Championship Game. And despite its play, Florida still controls its destiny to Atlanta this year. I know the SEC East hasn’t been very good for the past few years, but it doesn’t matter, every team in division that is not the Gators wishes they could be in this position right now. So everyone chill on the “get rid of Mac” bullshit. At lease right now.
As Michael Jordan once said, “Some people make want it to happen, some wish it would happen, and other make it happen.”
Excuses and time have officially run out for this team. There can be no more losses. If it truly wants to have a shot at returning to Atlanta for a potential rematch with Alabama, Florida players have to step up. No longer can they rely on the defense because injuries have taken a huge toll on that side of the ball. At some point, it has to be up to the Gators offense to win a game or two. And that time is now.