Opportunity Knocks! Someone Answer The Door

I've heard all the complaints and I've been to almost all the games to see it for myself. Everyone wants to know what is wrong with the Florida Gators and why a team that was supposed to have so much firepower on offense coming into the season seems to be struggling at times? How can a defense that at one point was ranked second in the country allow 42 and 30 points on respective weekends against unranked teams?

Everyone wants to blame the coaching with all the marvelous athletes on the Florida roster. I'm not going to go there. It's time for some players on this team to step up and make plays. The Gators have blown opportunities twice now to win close ballgames on the road in the SEC. What has been missing? The big play, that's what.

Don't get me wrong, there have been a few spurts with promising runs, catches, sacks, hits, and interceptions, but when is the last time a Gator offensive or defensive player just dazzled us with a big play?

It's not all of the players, either, because there are some that show up regularly on the big play stats column. There is an oft-maligned offensive line that is currently playing very well and has out-muscled several consecutive opponents. There are others. My intent is not to name anyone whose game may be slacking a bit. My point is to call attention to the lack of plays being made by a cast of players that have been highly touted and aren't living up to their billing.

Let's first look at the offense. The Gator offense churned up 359 yards of offense against South Carolina even after giving up five sacks on Saturday. They put 71 points on the board in the last two games. The coaching staff put these players in position to make a lot of plays --- they made some but they missed many more.

Two players missed deep post passes on Saturday. One would have most certainly scored while the other would have put the Gators deep in the red zone. Both would have turned up the volume for a team yearning for a big play from some of the players that are expected to make them. Both let the ball go through their hands and hit the turf.

In the South Carolina game Chris Leak threw the ball 18 times where the ball traveled over 10 yards in the air. The caveat would be that eight of those came on the Gators last offensive drive. There were also five sacks and two scrambles that were most likely long pass calls. In contrast, the South Carolina quarterback threw a total of seven passes that traveled through the air at least 10 yards. The fact is the Gator play calling is looking at deep, shallow, and medium routes. In this man's mind they are trying to use the entire field.

The running game, while really productive, failed again to produce a long run that shows the big play capability of any of the Gator backs. The backs seem to be getting to and hitting the hole but where is the one play where they make the safety miss and take it to the house. We haven't seen that except for maybe Kestahn Moore's touchdown run against LSU.

Some offensive facts on the season: The Gators have a total of six offensive plays over 40 yards this year. In 197 completed passes on the season only five have gone for 50 yards or more. Some want to blame it on the offense having too many stop and catch it routes. First of all, I have already presented two passes in the last game that could have been caught for huge yardage that were not of the stop and catch variety. Second, it didn't seem to affect South Carolina's big playmaker when he rambled for 64 yards after catching a ten-yard out.

In 253 rushes this season, the Gators have exactly one run of 40 yards plus and that was DeShawn Wynn's run against Louisiana Tech for 50 yards. As a matter of fact, five of the six offensive plays that covered at least 50 yards this season happened against Wyoming, Louisiana Tech, Kentucky, and Mississippi State. For the most part the offensive players are not making a statement on the big stage or in front of crazy environments.

To put this in more perspective, the Gators opponents have had the same number of 40-plus-yard plays against a Gator defense that has been heralded most of the season. Alabama and Mississippi State each had two plays of over 40 yards against the Gators. LSU and South Carolina each had one. Is it a coincidence that the Gators gave up big plays in the LSU and USC games but didn't counter with big plays on offense … and the Gators lost? Probably not.

The defense is certainly not blameless in all of this. Giving up the six big plays in ten games is not a bad number. I am indeed calling out the offensive personnel for having the same number. The defense has given up the big plays, but lately it has given up the five yard play that becomes 12 or 15 yards because someone's out of place. Not making the average, every down play is enough to draw criticism.

It isn't poor coaching when players get pass interference calls, when two players miss tackles and give up a huge play, or when players commit personal fouls. It is called lack of execution or lack of control. All of these were huge Saturday against South Carolina and most helped the Gamecocks continue on drives that otherwise would have been stopped.

Think about it this way. If a player is flagged for pass interference and the receiver didn't catch the ball that means the defender was coached to be in the right position to make a play. He just didn't make the play he is supposed to make. At some point players have to take responsibility on the field and make the plays without committing penalties. We aren't talking about "has been" players, either. We are talking about players that are highly rated and contemplating leaving UF early for the NFL draft. Maybe they should rethink their draft-ability.

As far as the big play is concerned, how many dropped interceptions have we seen this year that were right in the player's hand? Is that bad coaching? I don't think so.

The truly sad thing is there are players on both sides of the ball that are playing up to their ability and at a very high standard. These players deserve more than what they are getting from teammates. Maybe they deserve more from some of their teammates.

Is it time for Gator Coach Urban Meyer to say we went with the guys that have shown the ability in practice but now we need to find someone that is willing to make a play in the game? This is where it falls back to coaching in my book. Probably the main thing that cost Coach Ron Zook his job in the previous three years was his unwillingness to play inexperienced and younger players. Meyer would call it the trust factor but Zook and his staff would not put someone in the game that they thought might make plays attributable to inexperience even if those players had the ability to make some big plays.

I think it's a little different for Meyer. I think he has shown he will use some young players --- Reggie Nelson, Kestahn Moore and Jim Tartt come to mind. He seems to have a hard time finding players on this squad that fit his schemes. But as the great basketball Coach John Wooden once said, "The bench is the ultimate motivator; kids would rather play than sit on the sideline."

It's not for me to say who should sit, or if anyone should for that matter. But, at this time it looks like some players need a little more motivation to live up to their abilities. Are there capable players on the bench? I don't know. The object here might not be to get the backups to perform, but get the people with more ability and experience to play up to their potential. I just feel we aren't seeing it.

Is the staff totally blameless for the losses this season? Certainly not. Necessary personnel changes certainly fall on them. The lack of a sense of urgency late in the game against South Carolina certainly led to a rushed change of personnel for the miscue on special teams that cost Florida any chance to come back with less than a minute to go. Until the last tedious drive for a field goal in the fourth quarter, I thought the play calling had been exceptional.

The offense has grown and changed due to personnel much like Meyer said in the beginning of the season. He has tried to adapt the passing game around Chris Leak's down field passing talents but we have also seen Leak grow as an option/shovel pass guy who looks almost natural doing those things now. He has his times where he blanks out and takes sacks he shouldn't take. Maybe a little of Josh Portis out there could alleviate that. Still, Leak seems to be performing better.

The defense was burdened with three short field drives worth 17 points, but had their biggest problems with execution not play calling. Outside of a few busted coverages against Alabama and Vanderbilt the defense has played very well this season.

My thought is this: Winning the game is what matters the most. Maybe it's time to use that bench as a motivator to get some players to play like they are capable of playing. Opportunity keeps knocking for some of them and they don't answer the door.

Fightin Gators Top Stories