Well, imagine how the Florida Gators must be feeling. They've been football's version of The Great American Roller Coaster since mid-October. Since the Mississippi State game in midseason, they've seen Ron Zook fired, finished out the season with a win in Tallahassee over Florida State, met their new coach, Urban Meyer, and they've been coached for a bowl game by what can only be described as college football's most dysfunctional staff with all the comings, goings and changes.
So, before we get into some of the reasons the Gators lost to the Miami Hurricanes, 27-10, Friday night in the Peach Bowl in the Georgia Dome, first let's make sure we all have a program so we know the cast in this final chapter of the Florida soap opera.
The old coach who is the new coach at Illinois is obviously Ron Zook. The new coach who is the old and yet at the same time present coach at Utah is Urban Meyer, although Utah's defensive coordinator is actually the head coach, and that is Kyle Whittingham.
The coach for the Gators Friday night was Charlie Strong, who will be the co-coordinator on the new staff with Greg Mattison, the former defensive coordinator at Notre Dame who was part of a similarly dysfunctional staff for the Insight.com Bowl earlier in the week that the Irish lost to Oregon State. Mike Locksley, the running backs coach under Zook, will also be the running backs coach under Meyer. Offensive coordinator Larry Fedora, offensive line coach Joe Wickline and defensive backs coach Dan Disch will all be heading to Illinois with Zook. Bill Miller, the linebackers coach, is heading to Tempe, Arizona, where he will be the defensive coordinator for Arizona State. Tight ends coach Dwayne Dixon, defensive line coach Red Anderson and quarterbacks coach Ed Zaunbrecher still don't know where they will be coaching next year.
Now that we've got everyone identified and their circumstances, is it any wonder that the Gators lost in the Peach Bowl? Is anyone actually surprised that the Hurricanes, whose coach for the bowl game will be their coach next year, found a way to win even though they played far from their best while the Gators were as schizophrenic on the field as their coaching staff has been off the field?
What is shocking is not that the Gators lost or even the fashion in which the deed was done. What is shocking is that the Gators actually had a chance to turn in a dominating performance. This game will go down as Florida's fifth loss of the season. It was ever so close to win number eight, but that's the way it's been in the past three years. So often the Gators have been close, but far too often, they found ways to snatch defeat from potential jaws of victory. In so many respects, this was like 14 other losses of the past three seasons, bizarre almost to the point of being unexplainable.
Consider the first half. The Gators totally dominated Miami, holding the Hurricanes without a first down in the first quarter and only three for the entire half. While Florida was gaining 151 yards in the first half, the Gator defense held the Hurricanes to a mere 50. Miami's Brock Berlin was good for all of 24 first half passing yards.
Yet, the Gators trailed by two touchdowns, 17-3.
Miami got a touchdown on a blocked field goal, a field goal after a bizarre exchange of turnovers and a second touchdown that was like a dagger in the heart on a punt return. Miami was able to manufacture points out of thin air while the Gators practically invented new ways to shoot themselves in both feet repeatedly.
Florida blocked a Miami punt on the Canes' second possession of the game but instead of converting that opportunity into a touchdown, Florida got confused while going for it on a fourth and one from the Miami 11. When two players sprinted off the field when only one should have, a timeout could have saved a penalty, but there was no timeout. Dallas Baker, one of the confused players, turned back from his sideline sprint and tried to get back to the line of scrimmage. The ball was snapped while Baker was moving forward, negating a pass Leak completed into the flat to Billy Latsko which would have put the ball on the Miami three for first and goal.
Instead there was a five-yard penalty against Florida, forcing the field goal attempt that Thomas Carroll blocked. Devin Hester picked up the ball at the 22 then shifted into high gear. No Gator came close to him as he turned the miscue into a 78-yard touchdown.
The Gators put together a 15-play drive that began in the final two minutes of the first quarter and ended 5:05 into the second. For their 7:04 of possession, Florida got only a Matt Leach field goal from 34 yards. The drive-killers for the Gators were a Leak fumble that resulted in a 15-yard loss when he couldn't hold onto the ball while trying to pull back a pass with Carroll in his face. On the next play, Leak scrambled to his left and found Chad Jackson wide open. Jackson hauled in the little dumpoff pass and turned it upfield. He had room to run but for reasons unknown, he went into a slide a full eight yards before the first down marker and a good five yards before the nearest Hurricane defender. Instead of a chance to go for it on fourth and short or perhaps even a first down, Florida had to settle for the field goal.
Florida did what it could to get the Hurricanes going on the next drive, too. The Hurricanes sandwiched a 13-yard run by Frank Gore and a 13-yard pass to Quadtrine Hill around 20 yards of penalties against the Gators. Gore fumbled on the next play when hit hard by Jarvis Herring and Channing Crowder recovered for the Gators at the UF 36. Florida tried to go deep on first down, but Leak overthrew a wide open OJ Small, Hester intercepted and returned 28 yards to the Gator 34. That would lead to a 47-yard Jon Peattie field goal which put the Canes ahead, 10-3.
Florida's next possession fizzled after one first down and the Gators punted to Roscoe Parrish, who caught the ball on the run and sprinted straight up the field 72 yards for an exclamation point touchdown with 3:48 remaining in the half.
The Gators had one more chance to pick up a score before the half, but another drive fizzled with three straight incompletions including an alligator-arm attempt by Chad Jackson to haul in what would have been a 24-yard touchdown pass. Once again, the Gators had to settle for a field goal attempt and this one went wide to the left.
That first half punctuated this game because the Gators were ever so close far too often to a big play that could have changed the game completely. Far too many opportunities were wasted while on the other side of the field, Miami made the most of its few chances.
Florida never figured out the Miami pass rush, in part because the Gators were forced to play backups at left tackle because Jon Colon had a bad bout with the stomach flu. Led by the ultra-quick Carroll, Miami finished with five sacks and forced Leak to scramble 14 times, plus hurried the Gator quarterback to throw the ball away on five occasions.
The fact that Florida had the chances it had says a lot about this team. They played hard and never gave up. The game could have turned ugly in the third quarter when the Canes extended the lead to 24-3, but Florida kept fighting even though the Gators kept making the kind of mistakes the prevented them from getting back into the game.
The fact that the Gators didn't come back speaks volumes of the dysfunctional situation they would have had to overcome to win the game. Miami is plenty tough enough when the situation is normal. When the situation is dysfunctional as it was for this bowl game, asking for a win is almost too much.
So after a dysfunctional loss in a dysfunctional year, the Gators can close the book on the old coach and put it on the shelf. To be opened is a new book that will tell the tale of Urban Meyer. Two days from now, that era begins in earnest. Two days from now, the new coach will have a chance to prove he's every bit as much psychologist as he is football coach. This is a team that needs to heal.