The Great Escape

So much for a fun-filled, relaxed Homecoming.  The Florida offense completely imploded on Saturday, playing a sloppy, mistake-filled game that almost ruined all of the hard work and good fortune earned until now.  Fumbles, penalties, lack of focus, and the lack of depth on the O-Line came together in an almost perfect storm to derail a great season to date.  The O-line had 2 new starters on the left side due to injuries, and the lack of cohesiveness and, frankly, talent-level of the backups killed the running game and really affected Treon Harris.  The O-Line play was so bad that a hobbled David Sharpe and Martez Ivey were pressed into service to try and shore things up, but only with marginal success.  Harris already has enough challenges of his own, but all of them were magnified – slow check-downs, not seeing the middle of the field, and inaccurate short passes.  On top of that, he lost a fumble for the second week in a row, and that will not be tolerated by Coach Mac and Coach Nuss.  Harris is not the only culprit, though – Demarcus Robinson’s propensity for carrying the ball very loosely finally caught up to him, as he fumbled deep in Vandy territory midway through the 4th quarter on a drive that really could have made the rest of the game much easier to manage.  That performance overall brought back bad memories of the 2014 Misschump offense…….absolutely brutal.

I have one criticism of Coach Mac, and it’s his handling of Austin Hardin as the PK.  Hardin has struggled with confidence and injury most of the season, but he is far and away the best PK on the roster.  It’s time to stop beating him up in the press and support him.  Letting the walkon kicker try (and miss) the extra point almost cost Florida the game.  Plus, Hardin saved the Gators with his clutch FG that turned out to be the game-winner, and that’s not his first – he also won the game last season at Elevenessee with a 50+ yard FG late.  Also, Mac needs to stop going for it inside the 10 on 4th down and simply take the points – that decision again almost cost the Gators the win.  Stick with Hardin and stop the games – just hope for the best with him going forward.

The special teams return units were great, consistently starting the offense in Commodore territory.  That just magnified the ineptitude of the offense all afternoon, where simply putting a few first downs together would have practically guaranteed 17 or more additional points and not left the game in doubt until very late.  Antonio Callaway really has come on as a threat as a PR.  Johnny Townsend had another solid game, continually pinning the Commodores inside their own 20.

It’s now on to South Carolina for the final SEC game of the season.  The Gamecocks have actually played much better since the Pariah resigned/retired/quit a few weeks ago, and with the Florida offense regressing weekly, almost any game is a potential loss.  USCe really is mediocre on both sides of the ball, but playing hard makes up for a lot.  On offense they are led by QB Perry Orth, who started the season as the 3rd-string QB until early season injuries elevated him to the starter’s role.  He is a decent passer with some mobility, but his completion percentage is only average and he is susceptible to turnovers – something the defense may have to generate to help the offense score.  They have a quality RB in Brandon Wilds, but their O-Line has struggled most of the season, and this is the most favorable matchup for the Gator defense, as the D-Line has been one of the best in the country this year.  Normally, they would be able to control the Lamecocks for most of the afternoon, allowing the Florida offense enough possessions to (hopefully) scrape together enough points and time-of-possession to get out of Columbia with a win.  However, Jordan Sherit has to sit out the first half due to the ridiculous targeting call against him, Joey Ivie is out with an abdominal tear, and Jon Bullard may be very limited with an arm injury.  Bullard’s leadership on the field would be sorely missed.  Pharoh Cooper is a quality WR and kick returner, and I would expect VH3 to be assigned to him most of the day.  The rest of the secondary should have the advantage as well, but Keanu Neal is fighting through an ankle injury.  Of course, if the Gator offense lays another egg, it only takes a few big plays to win, and no defense is immune to at least a few missed assignments or letdowns.

On offense, the Gators should get LT Sharpe and LG Ivey back in the starting lineup, and that should allow Coach Summers to use his regular lineup and rotation again.  The running game has to take some pressure off of Harris, and Coach Nuss really needs to find a way to get the TEs back into the game plan to help out.  The passing game has to utilize the middle of the field between the numbers more – Harris needs to find some lanes in order to make throws there and step up in the pocket more often.  He is scrambling way too quickly without going through his progressions.  I can only hope the dismal performance against Vanderbilt wakes the offense up and reminds them of how hard they have to practice and play to be successful.  It may be time for the coaches to get after Harris and not coddle him – perhaps that will get him to re-focus on what he needs to do to help the team win.   Jordan Scarlett should continue to see more carries to keep Taylor fresh.  All of the WRs need to step up this week as well.  The defense allowed the offense it’s one mulligan for the season.

Congratulations to the entire team and coaching staff for a minor miracle in winning the East and going back to Atlanta for the first time since 2009 – too long of an absence.  No matter what happens going forward, that should not be lost on anyone who follows the Gators.  There were tremendous obstacles in their path, many left behind by the previous staff.  Of course the defense is championship-caliber, but the offensive staff has somehow managed the players and talent at their disposal to develop a functional unit.  It’s funny how such a close call can quickly make many forget what this team has accomplished and far it has had to come on offense to get to this point.

There are still some huge goals attainable for this team, starting with finding a way to win this coming Saturday.  Burn the game film from last week, and move on.

Prediction:  Florida 20      S. Carolina 17