Florida's special teams were terrible. Perhaps this is where Ron Zook's absence was most telling. The initial disaster, the blocked field goal for a Hurricanes touchdown was just one of several problems. A punt return for a TD put the Gator s down 17-3 even though they had far more offense than Miami had managed. Late in the half, the Gators had another missed field goal that could have given the team a list heading into halftime. Instead Florida had a 14-point deficit despite holding Miami to 50 yards in the first 30 minutes. That's discouraging.
Florida's offensive game plan was terrible. Ciatrick Fason averaged over five yards a pop against Miami, yet got only 17 carries all day. The Gators kept shifting into a tightly bunched formation which takes away the opportunity to spread the field. Guys bunched up need more time to get free, and with awful protection for Leak, that just didn't make any sense.
The team's focus and concentration was terrible. Call it "not being ready to play" if you wish, but Florida was the less focused, less energetic, less competitive and far less intelligent team in the Georgia Dome. Having ten men on the field, leading to a crucial penalty on the first scoring opportunity is inexcusable. Having more than double the penalty yards of your opponent is inexcusable. Trying to run a high, deep kickoff back form six yards deep in the end zone is inexcusable. Chris Leak sliding short of the first down on third down scrambles is inexcusable. Chad Jackson sliding in the open field was one of the goofiest things I've seen in years.
The defensive effort was sensational in the first half and more than good enough throughout the game to win. But the defense shares in the loss because of dropped interceptions that could have been big plays the other way. Dee Webb had two potential TD interceptions go off his hands and there were several others. Still, any defensive shortcomings were more than overshadowed by the ineptitude of their teammates elsewhere on the field.
Appropriate Ending For Three-year "ERA"
While the loss won't go on Ron Zook's career record, this was still the Zooker's team. And the game was the final chapter in a three-year journey that took the University of Florida football program from elite status to its more familiar "underachiever" label of the sixties through the eighties.
The "Zook era" three-year tally is 23 wins and 15 losses. Six of those wins were over what I call the "checkbook opponents" that come to Gainesville for a beating and a payday. So the log against BCS conference teams comes to 17-15.
For all of Florida's apparent success on the recruiting trail the last three years; four of the top five offensive linemen (Colon, Butler, Degory, Mitchell) signed with Spurrier as did the Gators best receiver (OJ Small) and best safety (Herring). The top running back (Fason) was already committed.
This is not meant to bash Ron, although some will see it that way and I am certainly not blaming Zook for Florida's miserable play against Miami. I'm just pointing out that Ron Zook did a decent job, nothing more. I must add, I was nauseated to read quotes from Zook that he wished he could have coached the team in the bowl game, but "Florida wouldn't allow me to".
What a load of crap!
Ron Zook had ten days after the FSU game to decide if he really meant it when he talked about the special bond with this team and agree to see it to the finish line. Yet he still would not commit to it on December sixth. I don't fault his reluctance to coach the bowl game, heck I agree with it. He was within his rights to decide not to spend another month as a lame duck, but at least he should accept the fact that his indecision led to UF's decision.
I'll offer a detailed analysis of the 2005 roster shortly, but suffice to say those who think Urban Meyer is walking into a talent paradise that is virtually guaranteed to be great next season are sadly mistaken. There is much work to do, physically and mentally before the Gators will be championship contenders again.
Teams In Coach Controversy/Transition Faring Poorly
The Gators are not the only team in a coaching transition type situation that has had its bowl experience turn out to be less than memorable. In fact, every team in that situation has struggled and only one, Louisville managed to come away with a win. Florida, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) all looked bad in losses after losing their coach or in the case of Syracuse on the verge of losing their coach. California, Louisville and Oklahoma State had their coaches mentioned prominently for vacancies. Two of them played very poorly while Louisville barely survived Boise State.
That theory got thrown out the window Saturday evening when Utah played Pittsburgh in what could be called the AFLAC Fiesta Bowl. The showdown of lame duck coaches favored Utah which promoted from within and had its new guy, Kyle Whittingham on hand. Plus Utah proved to be a much better team.