Florida And A High-Quality Boxing Glove

What do the great spiritual teachers say about the greatest problems and the most paralyzing fears faced by the human person? One cannot run away from them -- not forever. You're going to have to stare them down and confront them at some point. A person has to walk over the hot coals of fear and find a way out of a crisis-level situation. Florida did this against Georgia. What about Vanderbilt?


The story the Florida Gators authored last Saturday is such a rich yet simple one. The Gators penned a narrative that daddies have taught their sons through many decades: To grow up and be a real man, you have to learn how to fight, to fend for yourself. No one else can fight certain battles for you; you have to be the one to take a stand and let others know that you can survive if backed into a corner. Then you’ll be respected.

Last week, Florida took the tattered remnants of its season – and its confidence – to Jacksonville for the Cocktail Party against Georgia. The Gators had a coach who was almost certain to be fired (and is still a near-lock to be gone before 2014 ends). Florida’s season was destroyed by injuries in 2013. This season, it’s been more a case of pure ineptitude, hampered by a lack of player development. Will Muschamp entered the game against Georgia – this is a very intentional use of the phrase – without a leg to stand on. This phrase applied to Muschamp and Florida on multiple levels.

Muschamp didn’t have a leg to stand on in the sense that time had just about run out for him at Florida, but he also lacked a leg to stand on in the sense that Florida could only do one thing well on offense: run. The Gators simply could not pass the ball. This is precisely why Georgia, for all its many flaws, was still supposed to be able to win without too much incident against the Gators. When Florida scored on a fake field goal for a touchdown early in the game, it was easy to behold that event and say to oneself (or to a friend, or on Twitter), “Well, that was pretty much the only way Florida was going to score a touchdown today, right – something on special teams or defense.”

Florida really was a one-legged team led by a coach whose tenure had already been undercut to the point of impending doom. Yet, when backed into this corner without the ability to run away from misery, the Gators had no choice but to fight. What was the alternative? A bloodbath suffered at the hands of a foremost rival.

Florida won’t play for a division title. It won’t play in a prestigious bowl game. However, the Gators did have the opportunity to win a rivalry game, and instead of lamenting their one-legged fate, they used their fighting skills to compensate for the fact that they couldn’t escape the larger season-long fate which awaits them.

Florida couldn’t throw against Georgia. The Bulldogs knew the Gators couldn’t throw. Moreover, the Gators knew the Bulldogs knew the Gators couldn’t throw. This was the kind of situation which lends itself to utter humiliation: Florida – according to the experts – was going to just dump the ball between the tackles all game long. Georgia was supposed to stop the obvious plays it was expecting all along. Florida would meekly submit to defeat because it just couldn’t throw a downfield pass to save its life.

Yet, in one of the amazing 180-degree inversions of the college football season (especially in the SEC), the humiliation was served by Florida to Georgia, not the other way around. With this one-legged offense against a defense that knew what was coming, Florida simply pounded the Bulldogs into the ground. The Gators threw for only 27 yards, yes.

They rushed for 418 and didn’t give two fire trucks about how pretty it looked. The rest – very much including Georgia – was history.

Is there something for Vanderbilt to learn here? You’re darn right there is. The Commodores might not suffer from the run-pass imbalance that befell Florida, but it’s reasonable to say that the rest of the SEC looks at VU and associates the word “weak” with the Commodores based on their level of play to this point in the season. Florida just dispelled several notions of its perceived level of weakness by throttling Georgia and catapulting Missouri into the SEC East driver’s seat. Vanderbilt now has a chance to throw that same dynamic in Florida’s face, giving the Gators a taste of the medicine they just doled out to the Dawgs in Jacksonville this past Saturday.

Vanderbilt – the players and coaches themselves, but also the program just as much – needs to emerge from this season with at least one SEC win. The Commodores need to do whatever it takes to secure such a result. VU needs to absorb the fullness of what Florida achieved against Georgia. The Commodores have a chance to say, “Florida fought like hell when backed into a corner. Why can’t we do the very same thing?”

Indeed. Why not Vanderbilt? Why not use this occasion to finally break through in SEC play this season? No one gave Florida much of a chance against Georgia, and similarly, no one’s giving Vanderbilt a real shot against the Gators. It’s precisely the time for a team to fight with the desperation Florida showed in the Cocktail Party. Something special could happen if the Dores put up their dukes and land some impressive punches with the boxing gloves they bring to the ring in Nashville.

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