The Gators fell flat in Dallas, getting run off the field with a terrible second half performance and getting embarrassed by Michigan. After an entire offseason to get the offense right and to prepare, the offensive coaching staff was indeed offensive, earning an ‘F’ grade for a dismal game plan that dredged up more of the same garbage that Gator fans have had to witness for most of the last seven seasons. The suspensions of Callaway and Scarlett are no excuse, as Doug Nussmeier put another nail in his coffin by handcuffing Franks and the skill players with a painfully conservative game plan. No throws between the hashmarks, no screens, no throws to the RBs to slow a constant Wolverine pass rush, no getting the ball in the hands of playmakers like Dre Massey and Kedarious Toney, no consistent runs to the outside (one of the few things that had success), no……anything. The O-Line was over matched physically, and became a sieve in the second half as Michigan blitzed unrelentingly and the interior of the O-Line failed to match up. The poor playcalling did not help them or the new QBs at all.
Other than a few nice deep throws by Feleipe Franks, there was no running game, no consistency, and certainly no aggressive calls in those precious few opportunities in Michigan territory. Even the one run by Mark Thompson that broke for a TD and would have given the Gators a 24-13 lead was called back for a phantom holding penalty. I understand why Mac pulled Franks for Malik Zaire after a few shaky series and a fumble, but Zaire did not provide a spark, and by then Michigan was teeing off on the passing game and he never had a chance. I am surprised that Franks wasn’t allowed to go back in after a few series to get more experience and try to generate something. One of the few players who showed out was WR Tyrie Cleveland, who played hard throughout and came up with some tough catches in traffic. But even he wasn’t completely without fault, as his fumble on a kickoff return led to a quick Wolverine FG to stretch their second half lead. Just a complete disaster that has to shake the confidence of a young offense and has the fan base grumbling (again). It’s time for Coach Mac to cut bait and take over playcalling immediately, or else he could derail the season by October and start dragging himself down with his loyalty to Nuss, who needs to be let go.
The Gator defense showed flashes of being a solid unit, but also showed expected problems in the secondary, especially at safety. The loss of Marcell Harris was felt as two blown coverages led to Michigan’s first and last offensive TDs – the first right after Chauncey Gardner had to leave the field for a few series after an injury. Duke Dawson was solid at CB, tying the game with a pick six. True freshmen CBs Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson played very well, with Henderson even giving the Gators the lead with a pick six of his own. There will be some growing pains for the secondary as the season progresses, but there’s hope that by midseason it’s a quality group overall, with a bright future beyond 2017. The D-Line and LBs had some moments, but also some critical breakdowns. The DEs consistently came out of their rush lanes and did not set the edge, allowing some crippling draw plays and rushes bounced to the outside to extend scoring drives. The only DE that doesn’t fall into that category is Jordan Sherit, who actually made some plays and had a sack. The LBs missed a lot of tackles by taking some poor angles, and also were exposed in the passing game, as the Michigan TEs consistently beat them with crossing routes. The tackling exception was David Reese who led the team with 11.
Overall, the defense played well enough to win, especially rising to the occasion in the second half and holding Michigan to 2 FGs after critical fumbles by Franks and Cleveland deep inside Gator territory. They eventually cracked just enough as the offense continually floundered……a theme repeated all too often the past 3 seasons. There’s plenty to work on and to improve. Randy Shannon has to show more looks on the defensive front, and also get the front seven to play with more discipline.
Special teams were solid, even with one missed FG by Eddy Pineiro. Johnny Townsend was terrific as usual in the punting game, continually flipping the field.
How deflating – Gator Nation turned out in force and had the energy and attendance advantage – only to witness a soul-crushing coaching performance.
Next up is the home opener against Northern Colorado. There’s a lot for the staff and players to work on in practice, and hopefully they can shake off the disappointment of last week and show improvement, especially the offense. Coach Mac will start Franks again as he should, but has to take over the play calling and let the skill players play fast, spread the ball around, and actually have some fun. This week should be a good opportunity to play a lot of guys, while giving Franks the chance to develop some confidence. The defense should have little trouble controlling the game. There’s no time to relax, as a big game against Tennessee looms next week, with a tough run of games all the way to the off week before Georgia. Unfortunately, other than James Robinson, there’s no official word on which of the ten players suspended last week will be allowed to play, so their stupidity affects the cohesion of the rest of the team. Hopefully there are no serious injuries before the SEC season begins.
The fans at this point are likely not to be too excited even if the offense improves and the Gators win big, waiting to see good play against a legitimate opponent. Another ugly performance from the offense and things could head downhill really fast, including the defense turning on the offense in the locker room. A rather inauspicious start to 2017.
Prediction: Florida 41 UNC 13