The 2017 season came to an ignominious end with an embarrassing 38-22 home loss to F$U. That’s 6 out of 7, and 4 straight losses at the Swamp in the series. Gator Nation is beyond tired of this trend, as poor coaching and recruiting has torn down the huge advantage Florida had gained during Urban Meyer’s reign. It was especially frustrating watching Feleipe Franks single-handedly giving the game away, while the rest of the offense and the defense played well enough to win despite a depleted roster.
The Gator offense actually showed some life and moved the ball effectively at times. Mark Thompson had a fine day running the ball, scoring the first touchdown for the Gators and breaking off some other long runs. Lemical Perine was fairly quiet, however, while Adarius Lemons strangely had only a few touches. Any chance to win the game was sabotaged by Franks, who threw 3 interceptions, one a pick six, and the other two inside Florida’s own 20. Brutal and inexcusable throws that weren’t necessary, as the Gator defense was holding it’s own. The O-Line had it’s moments, but the reshuffled lineup struggled in pass blocking, especially outside at tackle. Franks was under duress most of the day, but his poor throws showed bad judgement and a lack of situational awareness – both consistently bad all season. Brandon Powell showed out on Senior Day, consistently getting open and scoring twice. But, once again, there was no consistency or output from the rest of the WR corps or the TEs.
The Gator defense held on into the 4th quarter, and limited F$U to a paltry 125 yards until Franks’ last interception effectively ended the game. Another solid performance wasted. Taven Bryan disrupted the pocket all afternoon, and CeCe Jefferson actually played one of his better games rushing off the edge and playing the run game. RBs Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick were held in check most of the game except for a few draw plays. As I said in my preview, I wasn’t worried about the Seminole running game – it was the passing game that was the concern, and that’s where they made just enough big plays to extend the lead. Of course, when you’re set up in the opponent’s red zone by stupid turnovers, it’s not hard to deliver. David Reese and Vosean Joseph played one of their better games in terms of tackling and pass coverage, but Reese was isolated in coverage on a slot receiver in the 4th quarter that led to a long completion and subsequent touchdown. Duke Dawson led the secondary with a solid day that included several pass breakups. CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson did a good job of limiting completions to WR Auden Tate, allowing only one jump ball completion despite a height disadvantage. Chauncey Gardner did a nice job of getting the safeties lined up and making some sure tackles, but Shawn Davis continued to struggle in coverage. It was good to see Brad Stewart get some extended playing time at safety, as he will be counted on more heavily next season. Finally, the roughing the passer penalty called on Jabari Zuniga late in the third quarter after QB James Blackmon was sacked completely turned the momentum of the game – what an egregious call. The Gators had closed to 24-16 and would have had great field position after F$U punted. Instead, that drive stayed alive, and with the help of a few more penalties led to a Criminole touchdown early in the 4th quarter to effectively end the game.
Eddy Pineiro was great in what may have been his final game as a Gator, driving his kickoffs deep and making his only FG attempt. Strangely, Johnny Townsend had perhaps his worst game of the 2017 season and one of the worst in an excellent career, not getting some punts to turn over and not attempting to drop a punt inside the 20 while kicking from midfield. Punt and kickoff coverage was solid.
With no bowl game ahead, it’s time to turn attention to the immediate future, beginning with the coaching change. Dan Mullen has been named the new head coach after Chip Kelly used Florida’s offer to manipulate UCLA into giving him more than originally offered. I think Mullen himself has what it takes to be successful at Florida, but has to bring in a solid staff that can develop talent and do whatever he can to salvage the 2018 recruiting class. Bringing in some of the old crew from the Urban Meyer days (John Hevesy, Billy Gonzales) doesn’t excite me too much unless they have improved dramatically in the time they’ve been gone, as it looks like they are going to follow him to Gainesville.
Gator Nation is simply glad this season has ended. What a shame another coaching change has been necessitated, and more transition is coming. Of course, playing at the end of the season short 30 scholarship players out of 85 means there’s a LOT of room for roster improvement, including players returning from injury or suspension. Mullen has his hands full immediately trying to construct his staff and rebuild the confidence of the returning players, trying to prevent transfers, and also convincing the current commits that Florida is still a destination school where they can win and compete for titles. After the disastrous end to Jim McElwain’s tenure, hopefully the cloud that has hung over the Florida football program since 2010 will finally lift. The new staff has to find a way to hit the ground running between now and the early signing period in December, and rebuild the team starting with workouts in January. It will be very interesting to watch what develops leading up to and including Spring practice and the Orange and Blue game. I’m hopeful and cautiously optimistic that 2018 could be surprisingly good, especially with expectations within the SEC and nationally lowered so much.
It was a rough season, but it still Great To Be a Florida Gator! See you in 2018.