When records are broken, and not in a good way, things can get interesting. When you have an embattled coach that it happens to, it gets more than interesting.
For Florida fans, the Gators traveled to Tuscaloosa in the unenviable position of just trying to look like a team that could compete with Alabama. Two minutes into the second half, the Gators were in the game with a 21-21 tie score, but that would be the turning point in a game that ended 42-21 at the hands of the Crimson Tide. That score wasn’t even close to indicative of the way the game went.
Florida has some serious issues at hand and on both sides of the ball.As perplexing as it may seem to those that have followed Florida and know about the terrific secondary units that have played here under head coach Will Muschamp, the safety and NICKEL play has been nothing short of horrendous. Muschamp, he of the defensive guru resume, cannot find the answers for his young and inexperienced secondary early this season.
The Gators gave up 645 yards of offense in the game, a dubious new record against any Florida defense… ever. Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims blistered Florida’s pass defense for 445 yards, 166 of those in two plays in the first quarter.The pattern is more than concerning given that an untested Kentucky sophomore in Patrick Towles was able to put up 365 yards and three touchdowns just a week earlier.
Big plays against the secondary have been huge in both games. The pattern continues with completely uncovered receivers running wide open in the secondary and quarterbacks finding those guys. Both of the long passes in the first quarter were completed to receivers without a defender within 10 yards when the ball hit their hands.
Florida had other crazy issues on defense as well. They missed an alignment on tight end O.J. Howard, or should I say no alignment. He was left uncovered and an easy 12 yard catch and first down. The first play of scrimmage was one of the plays mentioned above, an 87 yard strike to running back Kenyan Drake. And while a running back should draw coverage from a linebacker like Antonio Morrison was, Drake is an elite runner with big time speed and it was a mismatch before the snap ever happened. Add to the fact that safety Jabari Gorman didn’t put himself in position to clean up that mistake on the back end and it was a bona fide mess in the defensive backfield on Saturday.
Most of the fingers on offense after the game were being pointed at quarterback Jeff Driskel. The junior quarterback finished 9-28 for 93 yards, two interceptions, and a touchdown.
Driskel’s production was higher than it has ever been in the first two weeks of the season against teams that in no way stack up against the likes of Alabama. That isn’t to say that he was playing great football, but he seemed to show improvement.
There were still issues in those games and they reared their head again. Driskel did hit Valdez Showers for a 28 yard touchdown on a pass that traveled about 20 yards in the air, but the longest completed pass play from that point on was 18 yards. He has not been able to hit targets that have been open deep down the field. It has been an issue not only with continuity of the offense, but in making the defense really respect that deep ball and back off from playing tough up front.
Drops are still an issue as well, and that isn’t on Driskel, but his overall efficiency has to step up if anything is going to happen in a big way on offense. Not many are expecting it at this point.
After knowing that the Gators wouldn’t have even been in the ball park with the turnovers, there are a few positives to take away and build on.
The turnovers are a huge part of what Florida has going for it. The Gators are plus eight in turnovers in three games and little doubt kept them in the game. There are those that would say the Gators were lucky, but they work for the turnovers and Nick Saban’s teams don’t turn the ball over and did.
Staying on defense, given the gaffs in pass coverage, the run defense was pretty good until the defense eventually got gassed. At halftime Alabama had run the ball 22 times for 74 yards, a 3.3 yards per carry average. The vaunted running game didn’t have a big play until mid-way through the third quarter again when the defense had to keep heading out to the field.
One player not getting enough publicity for his positive play is linebacker Neiron Ball. He is always flying around the ball. He hasn’t played perfect, but he is a guy that makes things happen to the ball carrier.
As ineffective and inefficient as the offense was, not many could place the blame on the offensive line. Driskel was not sacked on the day and only three quarterback hurries were listed. Again when you are talking Alabama, we are talking maybe the best program in the trenches in America. This was supposed to be a place where they excelled.
While there were times when they stuffed the run at the line of scrimmage, only three tackles for loss on the day for the Crimson Tide. Matt Jones continued to run hard although his fumble was costly in the game.
Many things need to change. Shortly after the game, Muschamp said there will be changes.
Many are calling for the head of the head coach, but that isn’t going to happen after one loss.
Many are calling for the head of the quarterback. Driskel will continue to be the quarterback of this team, at least in the short term. Muschamp said they considered inserting freshman quarterback Treon Harris in the game at some point, “but Jeff gives us the best opportunity right now. For us to win a football game like that, Jeff needs to play. When we move forward, we need to play better at that position and a bunch of other positions.”
While they want Harris to progress, the thought so far has been for him to be a situational player. They need to find some situations for him and see if he can be a catalyst if not more.
The Gators will have to make some changes in the secondary. In my opinion, the biggest issue on the team is in the secondary, the safety and NICKEL play. There has to be personnel changes there and they have two weeks to figure that out.
There are two weeks until Florida travels to Tennessee. After today and even last week, the likelihood of winning that game doesn’t look as good as many thought in the preseason, but they need to.
At the same time, this team has had to try and come a long way from the worst season in 30 years. Saturday, they faced a team that spot for spot on the roster is probably better, except for 4-5 players at most… the number two team in the country.
As the season progresses, none of that matters. To make the faithful happy, Florida has to win. They have to show they belong. There is a lot of football to be had. And Florida better start having a good time with it.
Playing catch up isn’t fun, but they need to hurry up and get it done.