Billy Donovan deserves better than this. He should have had his 500th win as a college basketball coach long ago and would if his team would bother to hit a few free throws.
After Tuesday night’s pathetic 9-23 effort from the foul line, the Gators dropped to 13-15 on the season and 64.4% from the foul line. The Gators lost by 12 to Missouri, but should have won the game if not for so many empty possessions due to missed free throws. Every Florida miss empowered a bad Missouri team to score the win and keep Donovan one win away from #500.
The Gators have lost three games by one point, two by two points, one by four points, two by six points and two by seven points. In five of those close losses the Gators were a combined 47-83 from the foul line. A couple of free throws in each of those games and the Gators are sitting at 18-12 and still with a chance to play in the postseason.
As it stands now, the Gators will miss the postseason for the first time since Donovan’s first year on the job at UF. Between bad free throw shooting, suspensions to key players and injuries, it’s been a nightmare season. Instead of a nightmare it could have been just an unpleasant dream. A few free throws would have ensured that.
FLORIDA: Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have their work cut out for them. Florida took a serious hit on the offensive line (four starters gone) and had serious issues (accuracy, interceptions, dropped passes) in the passing game last year. Those things have to improve from the first day of the spring if the Gators figure to be competitive on that side of the ball next season.
Next year’s go-to guy: If he will remember to concentrate and catch the football, Demarcus Robinson (53-810, 7 TDs) could have the kind of season that could make him a serious candidate to leave early for the NFL. He had way too many dropped passes and bad routes last year.
The big question this spring: Will Grier has the size and the big arm, but can he beat out Treon Harris (55-111 passing, 1,019 yards, 9 TDs) who got six starts last year?
Alabama: Alabama heads into the spring with more questions on offense than any year since 2007. There will be a new quarterback, new wide receivers and three new starters on the offensive line.
Next year’s go-to guy: Derrick Henry (172-990, 11 TDs) averaged 5.76 per carry. He only has 207 career carries so it’s his turn to carry the load.
Biggest shoes to fill: Wide receiver Amari Cooper (124-1,797, 16 TDs) was the best wide receiver in the country and Alabama’s go to playmaker.The big question this spring: FSU transfer Jacob Coker was expected to be the quarterback last year but since he couldn’t beat out Blake Sims, there is plenty of doubt that he’ll win the starting job this year.
Arkansas: With nine starters returning including 1,000-yard running backs Jonathan Williams (1,190) and Alex Collins (1,100) and four starters on the O-line, expectations are higher in Fayetteville than they’ve been in years, especially if quarterback Brandon Allen (20 TDs, 5 INT) shows as much improvement to his senior year as he did from his sophomore to junior season.
Returning offensive starters (9): Keon Hatcher, WR; Cody Hollister, WR; Dan Skipper, LT; Sebastian Tretola, LG; Mitch Smothers, C; Denver Kirkland, RG; Hunter Henry, TE; Brandon Allen, QB; Jonathan Williams, RB
Next year’s go-to guy: With the Hogs, it’s go-to guys. The two-headed monster of Williams and Collins are the guys defenses have to stop if they want to beat Arkansas.
Biggest shoes to fill: Backup tight end A.J. Derby was like having another tackle.
The big question this spring: The new offensive coordinator is former Central Michigan head coach Dan Enos, who grew up in the Brian Kelly-Butch Jones spread system. Is this an indication that Bret Bielema is going to open up the offense a bit?
Auburn: Auburn lost a two-year starter at quarterback in Nick Marshall, the SEC’s leading rusher in Cameron Artis-Payne (303-1,608, 13 TDs) and the fastest wide receiver in the SEC in Sammie Coates (34-741, 4 TDs). You’d think Gus Malzahn is worried. He’s not.
Next year’s go-to guy: Williams (45-730, 5 TD) has size, great hands and speed. He stretches defenses and he’s not afraid of contact across the middle.
Biggest shoes to fill: Reese Dismukes started every game at center for four years and won the 2014 Rimington Award as the nation’s best.
The big question this spring: Jeremy Johnson isn’t much of a runner but he’s got a cannon of an arm and has stud receivers in D’haquille Williams and Ricardo Louis to throw the ball to. Will Malzahn tweak the offense to more throwing and read option?
Georgia: The Bulldogs have to replace a quarterback who rarely made mistakes in Hutson Mason and their best two wide receivers, but there is no question what the offensive game plan will be next year – hand the ball off to Nick Chubb.
Next year’s go-to guy: Chubb gained 1,547 yards even though he carried the ball only 31 times in the first five games last year. The Louisville game (33-266, 2 TDs) should be the offensive model.
Biggest shoes to fill: Wide receiver Chris Conley (36-657, 8 TDs) was the only Georgia wide receiver who could stretch the field.The big question this spring: Can last year’s backup QB, Brice Ramsey (24-39, 333, 3 TD, 2 INT) hold off the challenge from redshirt freshman Jacob Park?
Kentucky: The first half of last season the Wildcats moved the ball and put points on the board. Then came the LSU defense and nothing was the same again. There is a new offensive coordinator in Shannon Dawson, who comes from West Virginia and is from the Mike Leach system, same as last year’s coordinator, Neal Brown, so nothing should really change.
Next year’s go-to guy: Timmons (45-536, 2 TDs) established himself as an SEC-caliber wide receiver last year.
Biggest shoes to fill: Javess Blue (29-525, 5 TDs) gave the Wildcats a deep threat who kept the safeties honest.
The big question this spring: Patrick Towles (2,718 passing yards, 14 TDs; 303 rushing yards, 6 TDs) has the talent to be one of the best QBs in the SEC. Can Dawson take him to the next level?
LSU: LSU’s offensive problems last season centered around the play of quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. If either of them had played very well, the Tigers might have won the SEC West. This year, there is the usual abundance of talent and speed on the offensive side of the ball. Unfortunately for LSU, both Jennings and Harris return as the QBs.
Next year’s go-to guy: Fournette (187-1,034, 10 TDs) was allowed to progress at his own pace last year as a true freshman. This year, Terrance Magee and Kenny Hilliard will be playing in the NFL so Fournette will get their carries. Scary.
Biggest shoes to fill: Left tackle La’el Collins didn’t just block people. He buried them.
The big question this spring: Can either Jennings or Harris upgrade from horrible to simply average? If LSU can get average play at quarterback the Tigers could contend for the national championship.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have to replace seven offensive starters including their three best offensive linemen. Mississippi State returns the best quarterback in the SEC in Dak Prescott (3,449 yards, 27 touchdowns passing; 986 yards, 14 TDs rushing) and lots of skill people but somebody has to block.
Next year’s go-to guy: Wilson (47-680, 9 TDs) came on strong at the end of the year and was Prescott’s go-to guy. He’ll get more opportunities to catch the ball this year.
The big question this spring: Mullen is very happy with his skill people. Can he find three starters who can step up on the offensive line and give Prescott the protection he needs?
MISSOURI: The Tigers lost only four offensive starters but three of them (Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White) accounted for 147 catches for 2,073 yards and 23 touchdowns. For a team with a quarterback (Maty Mauk) whose receivers had to constantly bail him out (13 picks, only 53.4% completions), that’s not a good sign.
Next year’s go-to guy: With four starters returning on the offensive line, the Tigers would be smart to feed the ball to Russell Hansbrough (205-1,034, 10 TDs), who had four 100-yard games last year.
Biggest shoes to fill: Bud Sasser caught 77 balls for 1,003 yards and 12 touchdowns. He didn’t stretch the field but he kept the chains moving.
The big question this spring: The question is two-fold: can the Tigers find some wide receivers and can Mauk improve his accuracy significantly?
Ole Miss: The Rebels can throw the ball and they have plenty of people who can catch it. But can they run it? The running game was average at best last year but with all five starters returning on the offensive line it should be much improved in 2015.
Returning offensive starters: Laquon Treadwell, WR; Quincy Adeboyejo, WR; Cody Core, WR; Laremy Tunsil, LT; Justin Bell, LG; Benn Still, C; Rod Taylor, RG; Fahn Cooper, RT; Evan Engram, TE; Jaylen Walton, RB.
Next year’s go-to guy: Laquon Treadwell (48-632, 5 TDs) is well ahead of schedule rehabbing that broken leg. He will get the ball far more often this year.
Biggest shoes to fill: When Bo Wallace (3,194 passing yards, 22 touchdowns) was good he was very good. When he was bad he was very bad. He had more good moments than bad ones last year.
The big question this spring: Can juco transfer quarterback Chad Kelly keep his nose clean? He’s got the talent but he’s seriously immature.
South Carolina: The offense wasn’t the problem for the Gamecocks last season, but with no experienced quarterback returning and having to replace the left side of his offensive line, Steve Spurrier has plenty of holes to fill this spring.
Next year’s go-to guy: Cooper is one of the most exciting players in the SEC. Last year he caught passes (69-1,136, 9 TDs), threw passes (5-8, 78 yards, 2 TDs) and ran the ball (27-200, 2 TDs). He’ll do all those things with more frequency in 2015 when we see him line up as the wildcat quarterback far more often.
Biggest shoes to fill: Dylan Thompson (270-451 passing, 3,574 yards, 26 TDs) was a more than adequate quarterback. The two backup QBs threw all of eight passes and completed two last year.
The big question this spring: Does Spurrier go with incumbent backup Connor Mitch or does he turn the offense over to dual threat QB Lorenzo Nunez? When Spurrier had Connor Shaw as a dual threat QB, the Gamecocks won 11 games three straight years.
Tennessee: Once Butch Jones inserted Josh Dobbs at quarterback after Nathan Peterman got hurt against Alabama, Tennessee’s offense took off. With Dobbs and nine other starters returning plus wide receiver Marquez North coming back from injury, the Vols could be scary good on this side of the ball.
Returning offensive starters (10): Jason Croom, WR; Pig Howard, WR; Von Pearson, WR; Kyler Kerbyson, LT; Marcus Jackson, LG; Mack Crowder, C; Jashon Robertson, RG; Ethan Wolf, TE; Josh Dobbs, QB; Jalen Hurd, RB.
Next year’s go-to guy: As a true freshman Hurd (190-899, 5 TDs) had four 100-yard games. He’s a 225-pound load with speed.
Biggest shoes to fill: The Vols only lose one starter, right tackle Jacob Gilliam, so he’s got the only shoes that have to be filled.
The big question this spring: When Dobbs (1,206 passing yards, 9 TDs; 469 rushing yards, 8 TDs) took over in the eighth game, the Tennessee offense suddenly became explosive. He needs polish as a passer. Can he take his throwing game to the next level.
Texas A&M: The Aggies are going to throw the ball and they’re going to score points. They had some unexpected offensive hiccups last year but still averaged 35.2 points per game. Expect the points to be in the mid- to high-40s next season now that Kyle Allen has some experience.
Next year’s go-to guy: Last year as a true freshman, Speedy Noil (46-583, 5 TDs) was the third guy in the passing game progressions. This year, he’ll be the top option and should at least double his 2014 production.
Biggest shoes to fill: Left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi rarely gave up a sack at left tackle.
The big question this spring: Is Kyle Allen (118-192 passing, 1,322 yards, 16 TDs) the passer with surgical precision (see Auburn, see West Virginia) or the one who struggled to hit wide open receivers against the likes of Louisiana-Monroe?
Vanderbilt: The Commodores weren’t pathetic on offense last year, but they were whatever is next. They have a new offensive coordinator in Andy Ludwig, whose Wisconsin offense averaged 469 yards and 34.5 points per game.
Returning offensive starters (9): C.J. Duncan, WR; Latevius Rayford, WR; Andrew Jelks, LT; Jake Bernstein, LG; Spencer Pulley, RG; Will Holden, RT; Steven Scheu, TE; Johnny McCrary, QB; Ralph Webb, RB
Next year’s go-to guy: Ralph Webb gained 907 yards as a true freshman operating behind a below average offensive line. He’ll get ample opportunity to increase his production in 2015.
Biggest shoes to fill: Joe Townsend was a 3-year starter at center. He will be very tough to replace.
The big question this spring: Can any of the incumbent quarterbacks play well enough this spring to hold off the challenge of freshman stud Kyle Schurmur, son of Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Schurmur?
Which is the bigger concern for you as the Gators get ready for spring practice in a few weeks: quarterback or the lack of experience on the offensive line?
After watching the Gators hit nine free throws and throw up nine SCUDs in their 64-52 loss to Missouri Tuesday night, Billy Donovan must be humming the old Kris Kristoferson song “Why Me Lord?” When your point guard goes 1-8 from the foul line, there are serious problems.