Four things we learned: Florida Gators are still pretenders, not contenders

By Adam Silverstein
November 5, 2016
Four things we learned: Florida Gators are still pretenders, not contenders

Image Credit: ESPN Images

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.


  1. Michael Jones says:

    Adam summed it up well. I am shocked at how poorly coached we appear to be. As well as how uninspired much of our play is.

    How has Del Rio regressed this badly? The things he supposedly had to compensate for his lack of mobility and average arm strength were reading defenses and accuracy. . but that’s no longer even true as he throws to the wrong guy and misses open guys with regularity.

    And how are our special teams so poorly coached?

    And was that the offensive genius calling the plays? Or the ghost of the defensive genius (Muschamp)?

    Finally, please PLEASE stop with the “great defense” nonsense. We are a good defense at times. . but far from great.

    And the worst part of it all is that we still haven’t played anybody. Well, check that. . the worst part of it all may be that McElwain seems to be a below average recruiter on top of everything else.

    • Tractorr says:

      That is that Collins defense, boom or bust. His defenses did the exact same thing at MSU. When the pressure was getting to the QB and blowing up the run then the defense looked great; when it doesn’t the other team scores big play after big play.

  2. James says:

    One of America’s 5 or 6 truly elite athletic programs with world class facilities, team jets, money-out-the-wazoo supporters, national championships in baseball, football, basketball ……. and we’re well into another season of a small time coach’s mess of a team. Foley The Great AD on his way out left us with this high skool coach, I’m sorry, I mean former head coach of the highly regarded Colorado State Rams of the always exciting and historically renowned Mountain West Conference where he battled such historic football dynasties as UNLV, Wyoming and the Air Force Academy.Send him packing along with his serial LOSER wunderkind Luke Del INT.

  3. Fatback says:

    With the annual lighting of the dumpster now complete it is interesting and depressing to track the course of the Florida and Michigan programs, both in the same situation two yrs ago and in very different locations now. I can hear the pregame discussion for next years opener already…

  4. Alex says:

    We can not pass
    We can not run
    We can not block
    We can not tackle

    This is a below average football team, we have benefitted by playing a joke of a schedule. There is a good chance we do not win another game this season.

    But dont worry: Gee Golly Coach Mac says it was a cool stadium and great experience

    • Michael Jones says:

      Ha ha. . yeah, the “and yet, aw shucks, just look around at how thrilled those Arkansas fans are at the butt kicking they just gave us” routine is starting to wear a little thin.

  5. Scroud says:

    Bench Del Rio. The season may already be lost but at least with some new QB, we can see if we have something to build on and have some positive direction towards the end of the year.
    Completely agree that coaching is to blame. this game and most games are painful to watch and it has to affect recruiting. At least with Spurrier when we lost, it was still enjoyable to watch the games.

    • M. Palmer says:

      We need changes immediately; this product is horrible to watch. We are a laughing stock nationally……We supposedly hired a “offensive genius”; paying out millions & this is the result. So now in his 2nd year still no results…poor coaching has lead to a consistent poor product on the field. Look at the stats from playing below average teams in another down sec east division…embarrassing…..
      This season is lost so put one of the Freshman in. Other teams are playing freshmen with great success what’s our problem !!!!! It will give a freshman playing experience & encouragement for our recruiting class; why worry about burning a redshirt when the whole program is in a downward spiral !!!!

  6. John B says:

    Ad usual, fans overreact whether it is to a win or a loss. We were way overrated, but this was worse than our potential, starting with the opening kickoff. The one negative confirmed is that even with time in the pocket, LDR is not going to improve even to the level he was at in game 2 of the season. That is for all aspects of QB duties. However, we have seen enough of Appleby to know he isn’t much better and know from the mindless decisions of Franks repeatedly in the O&B game that he was a disaster waiting to happen. The only question is why Trask isn’t getting a look. Regardless, play calling looked atrocious at Arky when you consider what the defense gave us that we could potentially execute (e.g., not deep throws that we can’t execute and not inside runs into their stacked strength). The best possible outcome is getting to Atlanta and that should the focus and should have been all season. Anyone with other goals was mistaking us with someone else (e.g., like Michigan as another commentor astutely brought up). We have problems but the overreaction of fans is, as usual, off base. The biggest problems are the QB situation, ineffective offensive play calling, progressing on the OL, and better awarness and continuance in pass coverage (didn’t go into that, but it is our most noticeable issue on defense).

    • Michael Jones says:

      Your comment reads like you’re the voice of reason and the rest of us are hysterical, but your criticisms are basically the same as everyone else. Granted, you’re not calling for McElwains’ head, and neither am I, YET, but he needs to get better. . IN EVERY PHASE OF THE GAME AND RECRUITING.

      One thing that did seem hysterical, though, was how you claim that one football game was enough to know everything about Applebee (also arguably a victim of terribly conservative and predictable play calling) and a few series in the Spring game was enough to throw Franks, a true freshman 4 star #2 rated QB, in the garbage. I strongly disagree. Both players deserve more of a chance than that. However I, like you, was pretty impressed with the little bit I saw of Trask in the O & B game.

      • John B says:

        Appleby had two games. His decision making is not good, which used to be the strength of LDR. I am one of those who believes LDR has had a right arm/shoulder injury ever since his first game back that has significantly affected him. I have seen too many QBs making bad decisions at UF to want to see more of Appleby or Franks. Franks was not just bad, he appeared to be instinctively mindless in his decisions and not just one or two series — four series of repeated events. I am sure he will improve, but I saw his instincts displayed quite clearly on that field that day. It takes a long time to overcome one’s instincts when they are pressured. I don’t know the status of Trask, but now that the coaches finally benched the inured LDR, they need to give him a chance with first-team reps early this week.

        As far as overreaction, I am talking about fans calling out Foley or calling for McElwain’s head.

  7. MAR says:

    I came into this game expecting nothing more than that out of Del Rio. Before the game even started, I figured he would be pulled at some point. It was obvious after the first two drives that he wasn’t going to be able to contribute. He should have been benched after the first quarter. I am vey disappointed in the coaching staff that no changes were made.
    I think the ceiling is much higher with Appleby starting. He looked great for 2 quarters at UT. He started in a hostile environment and gave us 2 quarters that Del Rio simply isn’t capable of. I think Appleby fell victim to lame duck coaching in the 2nd half that didn’t adjust to the half time changes UT made in their game plan. Not saying Appleby is great, but he’s better than Del Rio.
    In the Vandy game, well, Vandy’s D has slowed down a lot of teams this year. That was going to be a tough game no matter who QB’d.
    Very stubborn in my opinion to keep Del Rio in that game. We needed a spark and the coach is too stubborn try and make that happen.
    I’ll give him a hall pass on this one if we win out. But it’s hard to see that happening. Right now it looks like we are in for a similar ending to the season as last year. Hope not.
    Go Gators!

  8. thomas rotter says:

    All of the above observations are dead-on. McElwains offensive product is a joke, remember when he arrived and said his dog could play qb effectively? Well he hasn.t got any production since before and after Will grier was in there. Where is the offensive genius coach we thought was hired? LDR is a sad example of his qb play and execution. I thought from the beginning of the yr he should have been bringing in at least one of the freshmen to get some real-time playing experience, he had opportunities to do that. Both LDR and Appleby are re-tread Qb,s from other conferences, who, sad to say, were not very good there either. And that is what he chose to lead this team in the sec. Other teams can utilize their freshmen, and build upon their success this yr, guess Fla is unable to do that, instead wer’e stuck with two qb.s with way more INT/s than TD,s. It,s a sad day to be a long-time, mostly suffering Gator fan..

  9. SL says:

    If this was the 1st time under coach Mac for how the Gator Nation feels today, that’s 1 thing. BUT we all know this is the case.
    When a team under performs on BOTH sides of the ball this many times under coach Mac in his 1 ½ years of being here, the root cause is in fact is poor coaching.
    Again people can say it’s going to take time to recruit etc, but when you take a step back and look at lack of adjustments, questionable play calling (even during the wins), and just overall lack of accountability from the head coach, sorry I put where we are at 100% on the coach.
    I love the Gators with all my heart but anyone with half a brain knows this program is indeed heading in the Wrong direction.

  10. G2 says:

    Wow, did we get out butts kicked, literally…those injuries will kill us next week.

    Unpack for Atl, that’s not happening. Maybe its all for the best, getting routed by Bama gets a bit old. At least we pounded the dawgs last week, that will be the highlight of this year I’m afraid.

    I guess Coach Mac might be having second thoughts about running Grier off about now, he was the first legitimate qb prospect we have had since Tebow. Why he didn’t pull Del Rio is amazing to me. Although I do remember Mac saying he could win with his dog at quarterback, well there you go.

    Its really going to be hard to swallow when Muschamp comes in and spanks the Gators. This was way bigger than just losing one game, the wheels came off and I don’t see it getting fixed.

    At this point we can’t even say wait till next year, it only gets worse with all the “talent” we have that will be moving on with very few blue chippers coming in…here we go again!

  11. James Westrick says:

    We have 2 freshman quarterbacks sitting on the bench and another 4 star quarterback coming in January. Why haven’t we tried at least one of the freshman already? Do you really think Del Rio is a long term (2 more year solution???). If we don’t use the freshman they are going to walk away as obviously they have no chance at UF just like Grier if McElwain is in love with Del Rio. Del Rio is an honor student. Del Rio is a great student of the football. Del Rio is quarterback companion in the film room. Del Rio can’t run! Del Rio can’t throw! Del Rio is NOT an SEC quarterback…..not even a Colorado State quarterback. Make him a student coach if you want to keep him Coach McElwain, but get someone else on the field before we lose them.

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