VETTEL: Final Score Deceptively Close

Sometimes you walk out of a stadium wondering how the heck you won a particular game (Florida/Auburn '86?). Sometimes you walk out wondering how the heck you didn't get the win (Rutgers '85, FSU '94).

There is no such bewilderment in the aftermath of the game in Baton Rouge Saturday. Florida was outplayed all day long, yet somehow took the lead into the fourth quarter. Florida couldn't protect Chris Leak as LSU blitzed Florida's empty backfield time after time. And in crunch time, LSU got plenty of pressure when four guys were rushing against six blockers. On those occasions when Leak was protected, Leak seemed more interested in the pass rush than where his receivers were.

When you are plus-5 turnovers you should win with ease. But the turnover margin only served to give the Gators a chance to win. A chance Florida could not capitalize on. Once again Florida was awful (2-for-15) on third down and could not sustain drives. The Gators' two touchdown drives began at the LSU 32, and the field goal drive also started in LSU territory.

Florida's defense performed well, despite giving up a couple of pretty long touchdown passes. Joseph Addai had a lot of yardage (156), but all in all, the defense doesn't take much of a hit for this one.

Lucky to be Close at Halftime

Of course nothing that happened in the second half should have even mattered. The Gators were down 14-7 at the half and perhaps had never been so lucky to be within hailing distance at intermission.

Florida was plus three in first half turnovers, and Eric Wilbur was spectacular punt after punt negating the big-play threat of Skyler Green. Those facts should indicate a big advantage, but instead those very significant facts were used to simply stay around.

The front four mustered no pass rush early and Joseph Addai had way too much running room, yet LSU mistakes kept the Gators from falling too far behind. giving up too much. Offensively it was pretty much a disaster with Chris Leak looking like a deer in the headlights and throwing poorly on the few opportunities he had time to look downfield.

Once again it seems Chris Leak connects with one receiver a couple of times early in a game and that's the guy he looks to all day long. For the third week in a row it was Dallas Baker who made several catches although a costly penalty against him during the final drive of the game effectively ended any Florida comeback hopes. Leak also seemed to regress in the running game, declining to carry the ball when he didn't give it to DeShawn Wynn. The Gators ran the ball far better than most expected (Wynn 93), but it simply wasn't enough.

Several Key Moments

Late first half opportunity lost --- Jarvis Moss sacks Russell causes a fumble and recovers it on the LSU 37. With 26 seconds to go, Leak misses Baker on a skinny post that could have been first and goal if not better. Two plays later Leak is sacked at midfield and UF elects to let the clock run out rather than take one shot at the end zone.

Leak loses six early in 3rd --- After another defensive takeaway DeShawn Wynn carried 36 yards to the 10 giving Florida first and goal. On the very first play afterwards Leak is dropped for seven yards and UF ended up settling for a field goal. The difference between a field goal and a touchdown is the difference on the final scoreboard.

Three plays after a big sack --- Jeremy Mincey dropped JeMarcus Russell for a big loss early in the fourth quarter, pinning LSU back in a 2nd-and-32 situation. LSU picks up 17 key yards on the next two plays and then Chris Jackson makes a great punt. Vernell Brown compounds the problem by making the very poor decision to fair catch the ball on his own SIX-YARD LINE. UF had lousy field position the rest of the game.

Crucial play early fourth quarter --- LSU had third and eight on the Florida 38 with the Gators up 17-14. Florida puts no pressure on Russell who finds a wide-open Dwayne Bowe in the middle of the Florida secondary for 31 yards. A stop there and UF has a chance to add some momentum and a lot of pressure. Instead the Gators' lead was gone two plays later as LSU finished off a 75-yard drive.

Jemalle Cornelius can't hold on --- With about three minutes to play Leak finds Cornelius down the middle for about 30 yards but the ball pops out when the Gator receiver hits the ground. Replay fails to overrule and the potential big gainer is gone. Two plays later another big connection to Dallas Baker is voided when Baker is called for offensive interference. It wasn't interference, but I wouldn't quibble with holding.

Looking Ahead v Right now you have to figure Florida is an underdog to both FSU and Georgia and will need at least one of them for an 8-and-3 campaign. But the Gator staff has to look beyond the remainder of 2005. Three consecutive dismal performances (against top opponents) mandate a serious evaluation of the personnel on offense from top to bottom. There are many questions to be answered:

  • No matter how poor the younger guards look in practice, can it really get any worse playing them as opposed to what we've been seeing?
  • While it's been proven Chris Leak CAN run this offense, can he run it at maximum efficiency? Is it time to set a rotation that get certain playing time for Josh Portis?
  • IF teams are going to blitz the empty backfield AND Leak cannot get the ball to a hot receiver, then WHY keep going empty?
  • What does Markus Manson have to do to get playing time?
  • Is there anyone else who can return punts?

The answers to those questions may be more important to the Gators over the next few years than whether or not they can beat Georgia in two weeks.

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