Another soul-crushing “offensive” performance, another loss to F$U, and the late-season regression continues. A great crowd, great defensive effort, good running game, and decent play from the O-Line weren’t enough to make up for a terrible passing game and lack of performance by QB Treon Harris, to go with more missed FGs from Austin Hardin. I really feel bad for Harris, as he’s doing his best after being thrown into a bad situation, and his play is so limited that it’s easy for defenses to stop the few things he’s capable of. He again missed wide open receivers that could have led to scores, could not check down quickly, and had multiple passes batted down. He continues to be excoriated by the fans and media, but has been a great Gator in the face of a difficult situation.
The O-Line actually held up and played well, considering they played with no passing threat and a QB that will be at WR or possibly at another school next year. There were occasional holes opened for Kelvin Taylor, and he ran hard through some nagging injuries. He has really developed and improved as the season has progressed, and has shown toughness while going through a ton of punishment. Taylor needs 23 yards this week to get to 1,000 for the season, and has already tied his dad’s record for rushing TDs by a RB at Florida with 13. The pass protection broke down a few times, but, again, they had no help from the QB and WRs. Trip Thurman had to play at center due to an injury to Cam Dillard, and he made quite a few bad snaps, some of which really killed some decent drives. Freshman Tyler Jordan had to fill in at guard, while Martez Ivey and David Sharpe continued to play through nagging injuries. There’s no questioning that this group (including Mason Halter) played hard and played close to their maximum capability.
The suspension of Demarcus Robinson really hurt, and the WRs that were left struggled. Even when they did break open, Harris was (again) painfully slow in delivering the ball and often inaccurate. Antonio Callaway had at least two opportunities to score if the ball was delivered accurately and on time. Chris Thompson did his best to fill in for Robinson, but his lack of playing time and experience was obvious. Brandon Powell’s output has fallen off dramatically this month – he is battling through a painful foot injury, but his limitations are apparent. I hoped Ahmad Fulwood would contribute, but he was hardly targeted all night. This is a group that desperately needs an upgrade next season.
The Gator defense made another heroic effort, an dominated for 50 minutes before finally showing some cracks after tiring. They allowed no consistent passing game, and completely shut down Dalvin Crook until the middle of the 4th quarter. It has to be hard for those guys not to flash back to the past 2 seasons, as the offense dies on the vine. Jon Bullard and Joey Ivie played well even through injuries, and the entire D-Line was disruptive most of the evening. Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison flew around the field to make tackles. Morrison really earned his nickname of Tank playing through a lot of injuries, but what a season after coming back from ACL surgery in less than 8 months to play in every game – a real inspiration and show of toughness. VH3 and the secondary were tough all evening, allowing only a few decent completions despite knowing they were fighting an uphill battle. Props to Keanu Neal for playing the flats so well on swing passes to Crook.
Finally, the special teams did what they’ve done all season. Great punting form Johnny Townsend, solid kick coverage, and……lousy FG kicking. Hardin may keep his scholarship next season, but it will be only for kickoffs. His confidence is completely gone, and those missed FGs directly contributed to this loss. Yeah, it’s a team game, but sometimes a lack of performance is so apparent it can’t be glossed over.
It’s on to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. Despite the depressing “offensive” effort against F$U, what a great reward for this team, especially looking back just 4 months to most of the preseason projections from the media and most of the fans expecting 6-8 wins. I hope the staff and the seniors can lift the spirits of the team and try to coax one more total effort, because it will be needed to have any chance of winning or even keeping the game close against an excellent Alabama team.
It’s usually about matchups, and this one is especially bad on paper for the Gators. Bama’s strength is on the D-Line, led by DTs A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed who head one of the best rush defenses in the nation. LB Reggie Ragland leads a solid group. The weakest unit is the secondary, but Florida is showing no real threat in the passing game. This is house money for the Gators, and Coach Mac and Coach Nuss should take some chances with long throws, jump balls, and fade routes to the WRs to try and generate a few big plays. There’s nothing to lose, as Treon Harris is struggling so badly right now to complete any passes let alone get them past the LOS without being batted down. If that means going to low-percentage throws that aren’t as risk-adverse, so be it. Robinson has been reinstated, and could be a huge boost to the WR corps. Callaway and Powell need some help……I hope Fulwood can shock Bama and make a few plays. The Florida O-Line actually played pretty well against F$U, considering the passing game was of such little consequence and they had to block so many opponents in the box. I’m not sure they can open the same holes for Taylor again against a better D-Line, but they have to try and open some cracks at least occasionally. One thing that seemed to work against F$U was when the offense went up-tempo on occasion – perhaps that helps Harris by keeping the defense simple, and allows his to use his legs more.
I’m not sure how much gas is left in the tank for the Gator defense. They were fantastic against the Criminoles before cracking, and it is starting to become eerily similar to what Gator fans have witnessed the previous 2 seasons. Hopefully the staff can pump the guys up for 60 more minutes, as the bowl game isn’t for another 3 1/2 weeks – plenty of time to rest and recoup their physical and mental energy. Alabama is led by Heisman candidate Derrick Henry at RB, who is a unique player with size, power, and deceptive speed, as well as a decent receiver in the screen game. I expect a heavy dose all afternoon, even if the Gators can slow him down early. I’m sure Lane Kitten will take some long shots to WR Calvin Ridley in specific situations to try and fool Florida’s secondary, but VH3, Jalen Tabor, or Quincy Wilson will have to be relied upon to play solid man coverage while the front seven (or eight) try and contain Bama’s running game. Davis and Morrison are beaten up at LB, but have to go to the well one more time to try and slow Henry. If Florida does slow down the Tide’s running game, I would not be surprised to see underutilized TE O.J. Howard get some targets – he’s a real threat and can be a dangerous weapon. QB Jake Coker has managed their offense well this season. He isn’t the most accurate passer, but does a nice job of keeping plays alive with his legs and is a better runner than many realize. Hopefully the Gator secondary remembers their performance at Alabama last season – and atones for it.
Going off of recent performances, this game likely won’t be close at the end. If Bama follows the defensive script that teams have employed against Harris and the Gator offense the past month, Florida will again struggle to move the ball consistently, let alone score many points. I really think that other than the Gators having a +3 or better turnover margin, the only scenario to play out that gives Florida a chance to win is for Bama to sleep-walk through the first half which keeps the score close, then they start to tighten up in the second half as they realize what’s as stake and perhaps start to press. I fully expect an early onslaught from the Crimson Tide to try and get a double-digit lead and force Florida out of any balance on offense, and into that “here we go again” mentality on the Gator defense.
No matter the outcome, congratulation to the Gators for a great season. They have accomplished so much more than expected, and (hopefully) have laid a foundation for the new coaching staff to build upon to reclaim dominance in the SEC East on a regular basis and to eventually have the talent level in “reload” vs. “rebuild” mode.
Prediction: Alabama 31 Florida 10