Image Credit: ESPN Images
The Florida Gators were brought back down to Earth after a thrilling road win at LSU last week as the Florida State Seminoles manhandled their in-state rivals on the way to a 31-13 victory at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida.
The win was the Noles’ fourth straight and sixth in the last seven games against the Gators. As FSU held UF’s offense to six points in the contest, it has now only allowed Florida to score six offensive points in the last four halves and seven offensive points or fewer in five of the teams’ last seven meetings.
The Gators (8-3) will still move on to the 2016 SEC Championship Game next week where they will face the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, which have been decimating opponents all season.
Here are five things we learned from the Gators’ win on Saturday.
1. Florida cannot match up to Florida State: Forget the injuries for a moment (we’ll get to that later). The Gators are still far behind the Noles in the talent department, and it was quite obvious on both offense and defense in the contest. Whereas Florida State’s porous defense improved as the season went on, Florida’s offense is simply unable to take a consistent step forward. The Gators gained 207 yards of total offense in the game, 41 in garbage time and 99 mroe after driving for 67 on the game’s opening series and winding up with no points for their efforts. The talent disparity over years of bad offensive recruiting remained glaring, and one must wonder whether it will swing in Florida’s direction anytime soon with head coach Jimbo Fisher continuing to do a great job recruiting such talent at FSU and Mark Richt now at Miami.
2. Inconsistent offensive philosophy apparent: Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has received a lot of just criticism for his playcalling this season and that heat will only intensify this week after the Gators chose to give up on the running game early and have graduate transfer quarterback Austin Appleby throw the ball. Florida ran just 14 times with sophomore running back Jordan Scarlett compared to throwing the ball 35 times, this despite Scarlett gaining a perfectly fine 3.8 yards per carry. No, it was not a great game for Scarlett when he was touching it, and the offensive line played horribly, but it was effecitve enough to continue pounding away in order to help open up the passing game, which suffered even more from the line’s lack of protection. Appleby had absolutely no time in the pocket and fumbled the ball twice on sacks, but a few more breakway runs from Scarlett may have taken some of the pressure off.
3. Sometimes injuries cannot be overcome: In a game like this against a Florida State team with one of the most explosive playmakers in the country (RB Dalvin Cook) and a variety of other talent on offense, it would be difficult for a team to defend with one player injured, let alone six. Florida entered Saturday’s contest without its top three leading tacklers and two starters lost at each of the three levels of defense. During the game, the Gators lost two more starting defenders in redshirt junior defensive end Jordan Sherit (knee) and junior defensive back Duke Dawson (ankle). Junior cornerback Quincy Wilson also missed the end of the game, but there was so little time left whether he was “out” or not is tough to determine. UF was so thin defensively that it played entire series with a base 4-3 defense, meaning it had three linebackers on the field when it almost always prefers playing nickel. With an offense unable to move the ball and a defense down so many players, it’s a surprise Florida was able to keep it as close as it did on Saturday. That’s a testiment to the effort given by the Gators, particularly on defense and special teams.
4. Questionable coaching decisions continue: In addition to Nussmeier’s offensive issues, it’s apparent that Florida has regressed significantly on special teams. Forget that the Gators blocked a kick or punt for the first time in 46 games on Saturday, Florida never goes all out for punt block and blocks terribly in coverage on kickoff and punt returns. As much as there may be calls to replace Nussmeier, special teams coordinator Greg Nord has been the weakest part of UF’s coaching staff to this point. Moving off special teams, head coach Jim McElwain decided not to kick a field goal on the opening series of the game — giving him points and an early lead — that weighed heavily on the team through the first three quarters. The Gators are playing a different game if they had those points on the board, and as was apparent early in the game, Florida needed every point it could get on Saturday.
5. It’s not all on the coaches: Keep tweeting me “fire McElwain” all you want. It’s not happening this year. Next year? That’s another topic to discuss another time. For now, it’s important to remember that coaches can only do so much. Players have to take responsibility, too. The Gators offensive line played so poorly on Saturday that Appleby, who looked to be making some improvement week-to-week, had little to no time to do anything in the pocket. He fumbled twice and was hit numerous other times with seemingly little effort to block for him. Senior wide receiver Chris Thompson fumbled a kickoff and Florida started a drive at the eight. Redshirt junior punter Johnny Townsend, the model of consistency, hit a 38-yard punt while backed up when the Gators needed a rocket. Junior cornerback Jalen Tabor dropped an easy interception in the end zone. Redshirt sophomore kicker Eddy Pineiro put two kickoffs out of bounds. A stupid roughing the passer penalty on sophomore defensive end CeCe Jefferson negated a big tackle for loss. Oh, and the Gators as a whole went 0-for-12 on third down.
Look, there’s a lot to blame McElwain for, and he’ll get his just due, but sometimes guys just need to step up and make plays. One week after Florida did just that on the road at LSU, it completely failed to live up to its billing against Florida State.