So many things went wrong for the #25 ranked Florida Gators during their first game of this young season. The defense, as a whole, looked out-of-sync for the majority of the evening. The first half was marred by over pursuits that led to numerous missed tackles that allowed UMASS to maintain the ball. The Gators did not tackle well when they were in position to make a play either. They got little pressure on the quarterback when they only rushed four and numerous mental-mistakes led to costly penalties that could have swung the momentum on numerous occasions. Although the Gators gave up a reasonable amount of yards and points for the competition they faced, fans will feel like Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins did not call his best game against the UMASS Minutemen on Saturday night. When asked what was the problem with getting to the quarterback, senior linebacker and team captain Jarrad Davis told that the defense was too crazed to start the game.
“We just really settled down. We were really excited and didn’t have our eyes on our keys. We put ourselves in too many bad situations and let that team stick around.”
Confusion also led to several big plays for the Minutemen, as evident during Andy Isabella’s 53-yard reception in the second quarter. The Gators are clearly missing the leadership and expertize of junior cornerback Teez Tabor and Davis wasn’t shy about it. “We missed him. We can definitely adjust but everyone is a lot more comfortable with him back there.” He also discussed the impact that Tabor’s absence had on the pass rush. “With him back there locking people down, we can get to the quarterback a lot more.”
Although the performance in the second half was better, it was not enough to keep the Gator faithful in their seats, as almost half of the stadium was empty by the start of the fourth quarter. UMASS certainly appeared to be more comfortable throughout the night than Florida. This was no more apparent than in the play of redshirt sophomore quarterback Ross Comis, who looked composed and undeterred by the pressure the Gators were able to get on him. He made smart decisions and took what the unaggressive playing -calling gave him. When Florida did blitz, Comis hit them repeatedly with well-placed quick slants and underneath routes that hit the Gators for positive yards. The Minutemen clearly came down here well-prepared to take on a Florida team that would have lost to Vanderbilt had they been the opposition.
After the 49-yard effort from freshman Eddie Pineiro sailed through the uprights to push the lead to 13-7, Florida appeared to wake up. The effort was different, the speed was better, and the results spoke for themselves. Once they decided to tee-off on the inferior opposition, UMASS finally understood their place. I say that because for much of the game, both on the field and in the stands, the Gators were uninspiring. On the night when the field was dedicated to Heisman Trophy winner and 1996 National Champion Steve Spurrier, Florida was short of capacity at 88,121 attendees. The only time the fans were truly loud was on third down and that was not the case for the entire evening. This is not an excuse for beating a team from the Mid-American Conference by the score that they did. I believe it is evidence that, although a new man is at the helm, the wounds created during the previous regime are still not healed. All is not well in Gator Nation and Saturday night will be a troubling way to start off a promising season. The atmosphere was unworthy of what was once amongst the most feared destinations in college football. Massachusetts did not receive that memo.
The senior leader had a lapse in judgement early in the game, with a roughing the passer penalty in the second quarter that kept the UMASS offense on the field. “I was frustrated with mine. We were just overly excited. There were a bunch of them and now we’ll settle down.”
There will be plenty of moments that Coach McEiwain refers to as ‘coachable’ on the game film Sunday morning. The Gators, fresh off a summer that brought hope to most, did not have a performance in their opening game that will inspire the natives. 24-7 over UMASS is not the result that fans, the players, or the coaches would have wanted from their opening contest. With that said, there are numerous positives to take away from Saturday night. On a day when few in the conference looked like world-beaters, Florida is 1-0 for the 27th consecutive season, extending their own record. Upon returning from halftime, Florida appeared to be reinvigorated, surely from the tongue-lashing they received in the locker room. With numerous starters and contributors returning to the fold against Kentucky next weekend (3:30 CBS), there is plenty to look forward to. Judging from the demeanor of the team following the victory, they are looking forward to it, as well.