Florida made it’s return to Atlanta for the first time since 2009, hoping to shock the college football world with an upset of Alabama. Despite another great performance by the defense, the Gators came up short in a performance painfully familiar for the last month of the season.
The offense was offensive once again, generating only a paltry 15 yards on 21 carries, and gaining only 3 net yards in the 2nd and 3rd quarters combined – another dreadful exhibition that hopefully will be changed starting next season with improved play at the QB and O-Line positions. Treon Harris did not improve, missing lots of open receivers all afternoon and missing on scoring chances in the first half that definitely could have changed the outcome. The O-Line knew going in that running the ball would be difficult against a strong Bama D-Line, and unfortunately that scenario played out. Kelvin Taylor never had a chance to find some open space, and Harris only had a few scrambles for decent yardage. Coach Nussmeier schemed up some potentially big plays in the passing game, but again Harris failed to deliver the ball on time and accurately, killing any real chance at victory. The pass blocking actually was decent again, but poor QB play doomed the offense. If asked about the execution of the offense, I’m sure Coach Mac could easily respond with the old John McKay line, “I’m all for it”.
The Gator defense again played hard for almost 60 minutes until it ran out of gas. The D-Line and LBs laid the wood to Derrick Henry all afternoon, made him earn each of his 189 rushing yards on 44 attempts, and caused a fumble for a turnover. Jon Bullard led an inspired effort by the entire D-Line, while Jarrad Davis was all over the field, disrupting the run and pass. Sadly, the secondary gave up 2 TDs and another long pass that could have been prevented by better ball-awareness by the safeties, especially Marcus Maye. Maye has struggled all season with locating the ball and making a play on it going back to the LSU game, and was victimized again in the second half. The cornerbacks had decent coverage most of the day, but allowed some completions where the ball should have been knocked down, including one TD. Even Vernon Hargreaves had a few opportunities to make some big plays in coverage on some key throws and didn’t do it.
The special teams were right where they’ve been all season. Great kick coverage, another punt return TD by Antonio Callaway, terrific punting by Johnny Townsend, and terrible FG kicking by Austin Hardin. Florida allowed it’s only blocked punt of the season which gave Bama momentum and an early 2-0 lead, and Hardin had another FG blocked – both in the 1st quarter……not the best way to inspire confidence from the rest of the team.
The script didn’t change from the past month, but hopefully recruits see that this staff can put the players in position to win, even with limited depth and talent. Overall it was a great season – much better than most expected, and the opportunity to play for a championship can never be discounted. The coaching staff will be working especially hard on recruiting between now and National Signing Day – there are plenty of holes to fill on the roster, especially at WR, OL, LB, and QB. There will be some early entries into the NFL – VH3 for sure, with Keanu Neal a likely candidate as well, and the loss of key seniors like Bullard and Antonio Morrison will be felt on the field and in the locker room. There is sufficient underclass depth to absorb these losses without a huge dropoff in performance, but those are big shoes to fill.
Florida has been rewarded with a trip to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl against Michigan. This will be a matchup of 2 similar teams – both were lightly regarded going into the season, had new head coaches, and were led by very tough defenses. I’ll be back in a few weeks with the bowl matchup analysis – it should be a good game.